Snowmobiling and Snow Camping Near Bennett Pass Sno-Park

Winter finally decided to arrive and snow continues to fall in the Northern Oregon Cascades. With a forecast calling for over a foot of new snow, my friend John and I decided to go snowmobiling and snow camping near Bennett Pass Sno-Park. This SnoPark is about 9 miles East of Government Camp, Oregon across from Mount Hood Meadows ski resort off Hwy 35. The trails at Bennett Pass are popular with cross country skiers and snowshoers. It is normally only safe for snowmobiles in the early season due to a point known as the "terrible traverse" approximately 2.4 miles in (see location on map below). This section of the trail is a dangerous, one lane 4x4 road in the summer and can become a 60 degree avalanche-prone snow slope in the winter. I have been across the terrible traverse a couple times on a snowmobile and it can be scary!

We left my house early Saturday morning to beat the traffic up to the mountain. The roads were slick and I put my truck in four-wheel-drive after I started slipping while trying to suddenly stop near a rolled-over pickup before Rhododendron on hwy 26. It wasn't snowing, but we started to see snow on the sides of the road in Rhododendron and it quickly piled up as we climbed in elevation. By the time we arrived at Bennett Pass Sno-Park, there was about 6-12 inches of new snow on the ground. The parking lot was almost empty and recently plowed. We quickly unloaded my snowmobiles and hit the trail. We decided to ride up to where we wanted to camp without the gear sleds first to pack down the trail. The snow was deep and the riding was fun. It was looking to become a great weekend.

On the way back to the truck we stopped at three spots where small creeks crossed the road and filled in the dips with snow. Once back at my truck, we hitched up a gear sled to each snowmobile and headed back to our intended camping spot. We arrived without problem and setup camp.

After setting up camp and getting the wood stove going, we set off on the snowmobiles toward Bonney Meadows. The "Terrible Traverse" was safely passable even with all the recent snow. Before long, we were playing around in the meadow where we met another group of snowmobilers doing the same.

John Relaxing in the Snow at Bonney Meadows     Lots of Fresh Snow and Snowmobile Tracks in Bonney Meadows

Soon I had a couple of mishaps that started the beginning of the end of our trip. I had two decent crashes while zipping through the snow at Bonney Meadows. The first one threw me off my sled, but I hung on and came crashing back down, hitting my left thigh really hard. I didn't think anything of it and kept on riding. I had my camera recording video from the front of my snowmobile during my first crash. From watching the video it looks like I was trying to counter steer the snowmobile to throw it onto its right side to complete a sharp turn. I must have hit a hidden creek during the maneuver which threw me off balance.

My second crash was similar to the first in that I hit another hidden creek. This time I was just driving fast in a straight line, but the impact of hitting the creek launched me off the snowmobile and I then rolled multiple times on the ground before stopping. My sled continued on and smashed into a big tree, denting the bumper and cracking the hood in several places. There was another snomobiler that was right in front of me and witnessed my crash. She was kind enough to come over and make sure I was okay while helping me peel my sled off the tree. I didn't feel hurt, but I think this is the crash that tweaked my knee.

John and I played a little more in the meadow before heading back to our warm tent at camp. At this point my thigh was throbbing a little, but I could still bend my leg and maneuver my snowmobile just fine.

Hidden Hazards at Bonney Meadows     The Notch at the top of the Terrible Traverse on Bennett Pass Rd

Back at camp, we cut some more firewood and relaxed in the warm tent. My leg started to really hurt and stiffen up to the point where I needed to use a shovel as a cane. I contemplated packing up camp and heading home to have it looked at, but the snow was really coming down and it was getting dark.

I had a first aid kit with me, but unfortunately no anti-inflammatories or pain medicine with me. I ended up skipping dinner (it was supposed to be chili, corn, and cornbread) and going to bed early, as the pain was too much and I lost my appetite. After tossing and turning half the night, the pain finally lessened and I was able to get some sleep.

John Staying Warm by the Wood Stove in the Tent     Snowmobiles Buried in Snow the Next Morning

By morning there was about a foot of new snow on the ground. Everything was buried. My left leg and knee felt better than the night before, but I still couldn't bend it very far. I was able to move around, and being the active person I am I go to work clearing snow from around the tent. It felt good to be out in such a beautiful place even if I had injured myself the day before.

Canvas Spike Tent in the Morning Snow

We ate some food and packed up camp. The ride back was exciting because I could not sit down on my snowmobile. I had to stand the whole way, which was luckily only about 1.5 miles. The snow was deep, but we made it all the way back to the Sno-Park before I got stuck. I was trying to ride around the edge of the parking lot to be able to ride onto the back of my snowmobile trailer, but found a steep deep spot of snow that I couldn't negotiate due to my leg. Another snowmobiler saw me struggle and helped ride my sled out of the tough spot. I have yet to meet an unhelpful fellow snowmobiler!

I got my sled stuck again right in front of the snowmobile trailer, so John and I had to dig it out. After getting it loaded, John got stuck near where I first got stuck so we dug some more. Finally everything was loaded up and we set off for home.

John was kind enough to drive back and help unload all the gear back at my house. It was definitely an exciting trip. I spent the rest of the afternoon in the ER where I learned my leg was not broken, but I would be off work for awhile. I may have re-torn my ACL in my left knee (old skiing accident from high school). Hopefully I will heal quickly and be back out enjoying the snow. If not, I just might go crazy stuck indoors all winter!

Gear List

'02 Polaris 500 RMK Snowmobiles
Pelican Snow Trek 60 Gear Sleds
Pelican Sled Metal Tow Hitches
GMAX GM76X Helmet
Smith Phenom Turbo Fan Rx Goggles
Osprey Variant 37 Pack
Columbia Men’s Bugaboot Max Electric Boots
Columbia Men's Echochrome Ski Pants
Mountain Hardwear Transition Jacket
Columbia Sportswear Men's Lhotse Mountain II Parka
Head Digital Sport Liner Gloves
Outdoor Research Ambit Gloves
Columbia Men's Fast Trek Fleece Hat
Guide Gear Canvas 10x10' Lodge Tent
Four Dog STove Co. Two Dog DX Camp Stove
Alpinizmo by High Peak USA Latitude 20°F Sleeping Bag
Earth Products Jamboree Military Style Aluminum Camping Cots
Blantex HB-2 Non-Sink Folding Chair
GCI Outdoor Quik-E-Seat
Century Mighty Lite Single Mantle Lantern
HighGear ATF8 Altimeter
Petzl TIKKA XP 2 Headlamp
Olympus Tough TG-1 Camera
Lifeline Aluminum Sport Utility Snow Shovel
Echo CS-271T Chainsaw
Fiskars 28 in. Splitting Axe
Kel-Tec P-3AT .380 Auto
First Aid Kit
iPhone w/NeoTreksGPS
Suunto A-10 Compass

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Disclaimer: You are responsible for informing yourself of the hazards of backcountry travel and taking the necessary precautions. Loomis Adventures may not be held liable.