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December has been dry and sunny, but cool, so far. We haven't had any new snow in the mountains since our big storms in November, but thanks to colder temperatures, little has melted above 4,000 feet in elevation. Katie and I took advantage of the gorgeous weather on Sunday and headed to Bennett Pass SnoPark for a day of snowmobiling and snowshoeing. Bennett Pass SnoPark is approximately 9 miles East of Government Camp, Oregon across Hwy 35 from Mount Hood Meadows ski resort. The trails at Bennett Pass are mostly used by cross country skiers and snowshoers. The main trail becomes impassible to smowmobiles later in the year at 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.
We arrived at Bennett Pass SnoPark around 8:30 AM Sunday morning. It was mostly empty except for a few motorhomes. It was sunny and 23°F. Our plan was to hopefully snowmobile about 5.7 miles to the base of the West ridge of Badger Butte (route shown in yellow on the map above). From there we planned to snowshoe about a mile to the summit of Badger Butte (route shown in red on the map above). Our plan was contingent on the "Terrible Traverse" being passable via snowmobile, but I was hopeful, as there was only about two feet of mostly consolidated snow on the ground.
The snow was perfect for both sledding and snowshoeing. It was dry and fairly packed. We set off on the trail at a leisurely pace, enjoying the winter landscape. Soon we arrived at the base of the "Terrible Traverse." We decided to park our snowmobiles and check it out on foot first. It wasn't too bad, so we decided to proceed. I drove our first snowmobile across without incident. I then drove the second sled across while Katie walked. It wasn't bad, but definitely not for the faint of heart. At one point the trail was only as wide as the snowmobile. One wrong move could send sled and rider rolling down the mountain.
Shortly after the "Terrible Traverse", we came to a gap in the road. Apparently it can almost fill completely with snow during good snow years. We continued on our way, bumping up and down and winding around each bend in the road. The trail became narrower as we approached Badger Butte. It appeared as though only one other party had recently been up this far. We had to traverse another slope that ended up being just as bad or worse than the "Terrible Traverse." I wasn't ready and nearly rolled my snowmobile down the mountain as I temporarily lost my balance on the sled. I was more careful on the return trip.
We made it safely to the base of of Badger Butte (Western side). We parked our sleds and began our climb at the Badger Lake/Crane Prairie trailhead. This route gains about 700 feet over a mile. We snowshoed our way through a dense forest and up several steep, open slopes before successfully gaining the summit.
From Badger Butte, we had a spectacular view of Mt Hood. We could also see Mt Jefferson, the Three Sisters, Mt Saint Helens, Mt Rainer, and Mt Adams. The summit was densely covered in trees, but views could be had by walking around the edges of the large summit area.
The temperature never rose above freezing our entire trip. We took a few more pictures before grabbing a bite to eat and heading back down to our snowmobiles.
We didn't encounter another perosn until our return trip. About a mile from the SnoPark, we slowly passed several cross country skiers and snowshoers who had gotten a late start. At least they were able to get out and enjoy such a beautiful day. Now we just need some fresh snow to cover the bare spots we observed on several sun-exposed slopes.