Snowshoeing Barlow Butte Trail, Oregon (10 mile loop)

It continues to feels like spring in the middle of winter with warm temperatures and rain in the mountains. On Sunday, Katie and I decided to brave the wet conditions and head to Barlow Pass SnoPark for a full day of snowshoeing. I wanted to try the Barlow Butte Trail #670 and Katie eagerly agreed. If only she knew what she was getting herself into! I failed to mention the trail listed a difficulty rating of "Expert/Strenuous". The plan was to hike to Barlow Butte, then follow the trail along Barlow Ridge before finally dropping down to Klingers Camp and heading back on the Barlow Road (3530). The entire loop is about 10 miles.

We started snowshoeing just after 8:30 AM in light drizzle with the temperature in the upper 30's. I was hoping for new snow, but it just wasn't meant to be. The trail was fairly firm and well-defined with snowshoe and nordic ski tracks, but we opted to leave our snowshoes on for added traction and to avoid postholing. Parts of the trail were bare due to tree coverage and snow melt runoff.

Barlow Butte Trail - Partially Melted Snow     Katie Crossing Snow Bridge

The fun began as we left the Mineral Jane trail turning right and heading southeast towards Barlow Butte. After only a few steps, the trail completely disappeared. But have no fear, my iPhone GPS was ready to help lead the way. We started up the steep slope heading in the general direction we needed to be going. I checked my GPS every now and again to be sure we were close to where the trail should be. We ended up taking our snowshoes off because we continued to hit patches of bare ground and fallen trees. It was easier going in just our winter boots. According to my map, the trail has a series of switchbacks before passing Barlow butte on the South side. Since the trail was nowhere to be found, we decided to climb straight up towards the butte. It was so steep we had to cut foot steps into the snow to work our way up. Although a slow process, it worked well and we finally managed to climb to the top of the butte, hitting it from the North side.

Looking up Towards Barlow Butte     Just Below Barlow Butte

Once on the top, I peered around Barlow Butte hoping to catch a view of Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, or Three Sisters. Unfortunately all I saw was fog. At least the rain had stopped. I can only imagine how amazing the view would be on a nice day. I suppose I have incentive to come back again.

We continued our adventure hiking along Barlow Ridge, which was very narrow and steep at times. Katie was unsure of the situation, but I assured her everything was perfectly safe and we charged on. The elevation along Barlow Ridge is over 5,000 feet, so the snow was mostly solid and somewhat icy when under the tree canopy. We found hiking in our boots the best method of travel for the time being.

View from Barlow Butte in the Rain and Fog     Snow Covered Trail Along Barlow Ridge

I periodically checked my GPS to be sure we were approximately where we should be. I didn't want to keep it out the whole time because I needed both my hands to work my trekking poles and keep my balance. We hit some pretty technical conditions and did a lot of side-hilling on slopes greater than 45°. The going was definitely not as fast as I had hoped, so I did not take as many photos as I would have liked. I instead concentrated on navigating us down as quickly as possible to make it back before nightfall. We took one small detour off course, traveling along a perpendicular ridge that headed toward White River. It would have been nice to have had a compass, but unfortunately I left it in my other jacket. In the interest of safety, I decided to follow my GPS more closely the rest of the trip. I held it in one hand and both my trekking poles in the other. We navigated back on course and continued along the ridge staying almost spot-on the trail according to the GPS. There were no trail markers or signs of previous winter hikers anywhere.

Before our final descent off Barlow Ridge, we stopped for a short lunch break on a log. Katie had prepared sandwiches before we left and they really hit the spot. Unfortunately this boost of energy didn't quite prepare us for the steep trip off the ridge. As we started descending down the Southeast slope of Barlow Ridge, the snow almost completely disappeared. It would have been much easier to navigate down the slope with snow, allowing us to plunge step or turn around and kick step our way down. The wet ground and steep slope made slipping and falling a frequent occurrence. We did our best alternating between sidestepping and plunge stepping our way straight down the wet, bare slope. At one point we actually found the trail and trail markers for about 100 yards, but it quickly disappeared after the next patch of snow around a small outcropping of rock . We did not find it again until just before reaching Barlow Road. I can't imagine the trail being easy to find, even in summer. We were both very happy when we made it to Barlow Road.

Katie Eating a Quick Lunch     Katie and Jason  Happy to be Headed Back on Barlow Road

Barlow Road was mostly bare we first hiked East and then Northwest. After the first mile, we frequently encountered small patches of snow. It still wasn't enough to put our snowshoes back on, so we trudged through. We passed Grindstone Campground, Palmateer Meadows, and finally Devil's Half Acre Meadow. About half way (2.4 miles) down the road, we hit continuous snow and put our snowshoes on to keep from postholing. We trudged along uphill as briskly as possible, making good time.

Devil's Half Acre     Barlow Road Sign Near SnoPark

It was a relief to finally see the Barlow Road sign near the SnoPark. We both had such a feeling of accomplishment that we had made it the entire 10 mile loop together without any major incidents. In all, it took us just under 8 hours. We arrived back at the truck just before 4:30 PM. What a great workout. Next time Katie gets to pick the trail, as she has had enough steep ascents and descents for awhile. I caution anyone else attempting this loop to allow plenty of time and be sure to carry a GPS and compass. This is definitely not a trip for those out of shape, uncomfortable off-trail, or afraid of heights.

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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.