Fire Lookout Nordic Ski Trip, January 2008

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Trip Report By Nick Norge

Greg and I arrived to Catlin at the same time on Thursday morning. As we exchanged manly nods of approval and threw our packs into the back of the bus, Ian, Zanny, Paul, and Rocky pulled up and we were ready to go. We rolled out of the theater parking lot at 8 a.m. The dirty ice that skirted around the parking lot gave us only a small preview of the slippery trails we would ski later that day.

On the way up to the fire lookout, we made the customary stop at Government Camp, where Rocky hid in the snack shop. “Stop!” Ian yelled as the bus started, thinking we were going to leave him. Moments later, Rocky emerged with a couple cans of energy drink, bags of hard candy, and a smile stretched across his face.

At around 10:00 we reached the trail head where we would start our climb up to the lookout. Only with the help of Lily and Drew “John” Derrick’s GPS did we decide which direction to go. Skiing started like a horse race would, with Peter, Paul, and Greg (no, not the 1960s folk band), taking to the front as we started off down the gently sloping trail. After a half-hour of skiing, we were struck with a disheartening sight: The lookout, perched atop a towering slope, distantly peered down at us.

I guess skiing the trails got boring, because soon before I knew it, we slipped off the groomed path into the woods, maneuvering our long skis between tree wells and little icy hills. For most of the way up to camp we hiked through thick woods, balancing and pulling with our poles as we drove our skis through the snow. Walking probably would have been faster, and some “pragmatists” finished the journey by foot.

The lookout stood by itself on a small clearing, making for a 360 degree view that in one part extended all the way out to Mt. Jefferson. After settling in, we skied around the lookout for a couple of hours, falling mostly as we flew on our skis off little jumps and raced between bushes and small trees.

After uncountable wipe-outs, we finally returned to the lookout. It got dark pretty quickly and after dinner we undertook what was possibly the most metaphorically unified game of Caca ever. No, seriously, ever. While Zanny was quick to crack jokes at the other players’ intensity, she soon learned her lesson. Glancing down from his high stool in line with the stove, El Presidente Peter chuckled at Zanny, la caca, crouched in the dark corner between the bed and the wall, far away from the fire.

We woke up the next day only to continue our experiments of physical strength. Rocky took the first medal when he suffered through the prime-rib of all pancakes, a 12 ounce beauty that took up his whole plate. After applauding him and cleaning up, we cruised back down to the bus, taking another “short cut” off the main road. Ian suffered through a couple nasty falls, having to twist and contort his body only to fall down again. Paul silently stole the show, probably showing the best form of any of us.

By the time we returned to the bus, we were all thirsty. Snow water does not taste great when melted in a frying pain full of SPAM grease, and toward the end of our stay the survivalist was definitely beginning to show in some of us: “Nicholas!” Greg shouted as he shook my quarter-full water bottle. “You’ve been holding out on us!” His eyes widened as he took a swig from my now empty bottle.

Peter suggested we stop for water on our way back, but only under one condition: We weren’t allowed to buy drinks from the snack shop. This trip may have helped us learn to navigate skis between trees and holes, but it still couldn’t keep us from getting lost in a convenience store. Darn.

Imagine sleeping in a fire lookout forty feet in the air on top of the highest paek for miles around. To the north Mt. Hood takes up three windows of the 360 degree view of the surrounding wilderness. Mount Jefferson is close enough to touch. Surrounding your hill top pearch are endless slopes of untracked powder and forest. Hard to imagine, yes. But its true - thats where nine Catlin students and leaders spent their semester break. All would have been perfect had we only known how to ski! But that didnt stop us. No. It didnt.

Mount Jefferson