Before Elizabeth was born, I went to visit my sister in Portland, Oregon a couple of times. I went alone, and she and I enjoyed lovely day hikes in the beautiful North West. After she was born, Sarah and I decided that when she turned 5 I’d take a trip out just the two of us to spend time with her aunt and discover the beauty of western mountain hiking.
Elizabeth started hiking when she was 3. We have a great local trail near our house that has a lovely view of Taughannock Falls. We made her a shirt that said, “I hiked the rim trail!” for her first successful hike around the 3 mile loop. Summers were always filled with family hikes but the summer we had our trip to Oregon planned, we stepped things up and trained. We got her real hiking boots and broke those things in by hiking all the time. Our big preparation trip for the trip out west was to the Catskill mountains early in the summer. We left her little brother Xander home with his grandparents and summited a mountain. It was muggy and poured rain on us but she did it! After a full summer of hiking around home, followed by the Catskill trip, we knew she’d be ready for our plan. She and I were going to climb Old Snowy mountain in Washington with my sister Sarah and her boyfriend, Adam.
We arrived in Oregon late at after a rough flight. Our first flight had been cancelled due to thunderstorms after waiting hours and hours in the Rochester airport. We ultimately drove home. Scott had dropped us off for our flight at 2 in the afternoon, and by 10 p.m. when the flight was finally fully cancelled, we took a cab back to Victor, NY and enjoyed a very late dinner at TGI Fridays! Scott picked us up an hour later for our drive home to Trumansburg. We re-booked our flight, traveling out of Ithaca the next day. Thankfully this next flight was uneventful, but we arrived late at night again and our trip was shortened.
Old Snowy Mountain
After arriving at midnight Portland time, we grabbed some sleep and spent the next day getting ready for our overnight summit to Old Snowy. The weather in the mountains at night can dip below freezing, so we had plenty of cold weather gear as well as our zip off pants, food, and of course, Elizabeth’s stuffed monkey in her pack to come with us on our journey.
Old Snowy mountain is a couple hour drive from Portland. We headed up early to be able to get an early start on our hike. We’d be camping for one, possibly two nights in the mountains as part of this trip. Our plan was to hike to camp the first day, enjoy the evening and then get up the next morning to summit. Sarah was pretty certain we’d need to return to camp the 2nd night after summiting, but did say there was a chance we’d make it back in one day. She had never hiked with a 5 year old, so she wasn’t 100% sure what to expect. I had spent my summer hiking with Elizabeth and even I wasn’t sure how she’d handle the western mountain experience.
One of the reasons Sarah picked Old Snowy was because it had a snowfield we would have to cross. This would qualify Elizabeth to be a Mazama member, should she desire. This is a group that my sister is part of in Portland. They do a lot of hiking, climbing and more.
Heading out on the hike
We got all of our gear split between 3 packs, and to be honest, Sarah and Adam really carried most of it. I thought I was in great shape, but compared with them I really had little experience hiking with a heavy pack!! The beginning of the hike reminded me of the forest in the movie E.T. Elizabeth and I both had our zip off hiking pants and you can see in this picture below that Elizabeth had a pack. She was carrying her clothes, and of course her stuffed monkey!
We were in this forest environment for most of the day that day. It was chilly compared with what the weather had been just a week prior. The prior weekend, Sarah had camped here and didn’t even need her fly on her tent. Tonight’s forecast was scheduled to hit 32. We were all a little nervous about mountain camping in such chilly temperatures. This would be my first time doing this. There were two big worries; taking my contacts out without proper facilities and digging a hole to go to the bathroom in the morning.
Sarah convinced me that hole digging would be fine and urged me to just sleep in my contacts. Of course I didn’t listen about the contacts; instead hauling up my mini mirror and a big bottle of saline solution as well as extra contacts just in case.
Sarah gave us the choice to camp in one 4 person tent, or two two man tents. We chose the latter thinking it would be nice to give them some privacy. I had never slept in a two man tent before and I’m very claustrophobic! In hindsight the 4 man would have been a better choice. We set up camp when it was still light outside, and then Elizabeth and I played what felt like hours of Uno! I was so freaked out that the tent was so little that I didn’t sleep very much that night. I spent my time trying not to touch the sides of the tent and not having to leave too often to go to the bathroom. However, the stress about contacts was much ado about nothing, turning out to be rather easy. Since that trip though, I’ve learned to follow Sarah’s advice, leaving them in overnight.
Heading to the Summit
We awoke to very cold temperatures the next morning. We quickly ate our breakfast and made sure we had all our warm gear on. Sarah and Adam got a harness on Elizabeth in preparation for the snow field and for the scramble to the summit. Sarah had bought a junior harness just for this trip. Of course we hoped we’d use it again on future trips out to see them.
We started along, and it wasn’t long before we hit the snowfield. With the cold night temperatures the snowfield was rock hard. Sarah took the lead, taking time to kick in solid foot holds as we walked. This was the first time a strong parental fear kicked in while hiking with my kids. Ever since this hike, I’ve had trouble separating whether I’m actually afraid of heights and drop offs or whether I am just worried for my children. I think it is the latter as this scared feeling creeps in even when we are crossing a railroad bridge on a hike near home when they are with me. Alone on the same bridge I just walk across with no stress.
For whatever reason on that day, the drop off over the snow field scared me to death. I remember saying to my mom, “one wrong step and ‘poof’ you fall to your death.” I’ve been back since and I laugh about that. Yes you’d fall a ways down but you would certainly not be dead or likely even injured. Despite my irrational fears, Elizabeth did just fine with her aunt leading the way.
Soon we reached the scramble to the top. There were just a couple of spots that we decided to attach the harness to Elizabeth. It was a fun scramble perfectly suited to a 5 year old.
We always knew we would make it, but it was still AMAZING to sit atop of the summit of Old Snowy. This was a trip that we planned for all summer, encouraging Elizabeth every step of the way. I was really happy we did this together and so grateful to Sarah and Adam for being willing to guide us up and teach us so many things.
The way back was joyous! The day had warmed up enough that we didn’t need to wear our hats and gloves once we got past the meadow and the snow field was so much softer that Sarah didn’t need to make tracks for us. We were all so pleased with ourselves that time just flew by and we found ourselves back at the campsite early in the day.
I know that Sarah and Adam would have been happy to spend one more night in the mountains, taking a short day hike around Old Snowy Mountain and enjoying the Goat Rocks, then heading back to Portland the next day. I however had a different agenda. Pack up and head out!! Having not slept well, I wasn’t looking forward to another cold tent night. I behaved a bit like a baby about the entire mountain camping thing, and wish I could go back in time and be a better sport.
I got my way and we packed up our camp area and headed out. The walk seemed never ending and Elizabeth was tired. She was a great sport though, and soon enough we were at the road ready to head back to Portland.
The Drive to Portland
When we hit the parking lot, Sarah was so excited to share that she’d brought Gatorade to share for the ride home from Old Snowy Mountain. I was not a bit excited because the colors were yellow and orange. I only like blue and red. Really? I was such a brat that I didn’t even drink any. In fact, at this point in my life I adored Diet Coke on road trips (and only on road trips). Instead of enjoying the Gatorade, I silently, or maybe not so silently, whined that we wouldn’t enter civilization with a gas station for more than an hour and a half.
Sarah opened her Gatorade and we headed down the hill. We couldn’t have been more than 5 minutes down the winding road when Elizabeth got carsick and threw up. We stopped the car and managed things really well but it was not the best way to start a 2+ hour return trip.
I think that somewhere along the way we stopped for a Diet Coke and all was right in my world. Elizabeth jabbered on awhile about the hike and then fell asleep.
We spent many more days out in Portland, but this picture below is of her return to the airport, greeted by my dad!