Sometimes it’s best to not think too much.
With this winter’s fickle weather, rapidly changing conditions and fluctuating temperatures, the time to get out and enjoy the snow is whenever opportunity knocks.
That’s why when Niel Barrett suggested heading up to the mountains for a next-day cross-country ski, six of us quickly enlisted. A snowstorm had blanketed higher-elevation areas in the Lake of the Woods-Sky Lakes Wilderness Area last week, and rain was predicted for the weekend.
But the forecast was that day favorable, with temperatures expected below freezing with more snow possible.
Should we go for it? Yet bet.
We started from the Fourmile Lake Road turnoff on Highway 140. The snow at the Sno-Park area wasn’t deep, but it had been plowed. Steps from our cars, we clicked into our skis. The trail, actually Forest Service Road 3661, to Fourmile Lake is routinely groomed for snowmobiles and cross-country skiers, which makes the going easier. Snowmobiler traffic is typically light in the morning and on weekdays, and we encountered no machines during our outing.
The first few miles we mostly skied side-by-side, the better for talking and yakking, with the leaders setting tracks. Two miles in we veered off Fourmile Road toward the Summit Shelter. Faint but evident ski tracks showed someone had gone before us, something all of us appreciated, because set tracks, even if semi-covered with fresh snow, makes the skiing easier and faster.
Only Niel entered the Summit Shelter cabin, which is stocked with wood for skiers wanting to get warm and cozy. Some years it’s a steep drop from snow walls into the shelter’s entrance, but because of this winter’s light snowfall it was an easy step to get inside. Niel disappeared, then poked his head out, announcing, “It’s nice in here.”
Nice, but no one joined Niel. Instead, we backtracked a half-mile to a junction with signs pointing routes back to the Four Mile Road and the Summit Sno-Park, and to the Canal, Big Mac, Petunia and McLoughlin trails.
Geoff LeGault led the way, skiing north along the McLoughlin Trail. It was a great choice. The trail parallels Fourmile Road but is prettier and closed to snowmobiles. The trail gently undulates, climbing and dipping downhill along a meandering, serene and scenic route made beautiful because it passes through snowy forests. Our group strung out, each of us enjoying the journey and the lightly falling snow.
Eventually the McLoughlin Trail met the Lower Canal Trail, which shortly intersected with Fourmile Lake Road. At other times we’ve skied to Fourmile Lake or followed one of the several choices, but not this day.
Now came the reward — 3 miles of downhill from the junction back to the Highway 140 Sno-Park.
Sometimes, especially when the snow is icy hard, the return trip can be intimidating — and even out-of-control frightening. Cross-country skis, even those with metal edges, don’t turn easily on Cascade Concrete.
But that wasn’t a problem. We mostly kicked and glided, often double-poling to gather speed, with Geoff, Niel and Brenda Stormer zooming ahead and out of sight.
We were all smiling as we loaded up for the return drive home. And even more pleased that we’d made the right choice when — yes, the weather forecasters were correct — the next day unseasonably warm temperatures and heavy rains turned much of the area into a soggy quagmire.
Lesson learned. When the time is right, get out and go.
Reach freelance writer Lee Juillerat at email@example.com or 541-880-4139.