It was a sunny, warm afternoon in the middle of the Three Sisters Wilderness, about two-thirds of the way through a 22-mile, three day and two night, hut-to-hut trip. Seven women dressed in animal onesies celebrated the sun’s emergence and worked out the kinks from sixteen miles of cross-country skiing with a bit of yoga.
The seven ladies were a group of Ruffwear employees. There was supposed to be an eighth, but one of the kangaroos got taken out by the flu the day before departure. The rest of us began the trip on a Friday in late March. Snow fell steadily throughout the 8-mile approach, blanketing the forest in a quiet hush.
The terrain rolled, gradually upward and then gently down. Snow conditions were variable, particularly in the final mile to the hut, where the trail traverses a hill and, in our case, patches of chunky ice. Add the bulk and weight of loaded backpacks and, well, there were a few spills. The Happy Valley Nordic Hut was a welcome sight.
Arrival to the hut is a flurry of activity. Get the fire going. Remove and hang wet gear. Spread snacks across the table. Change into dry, comfortable clothes. The hut is well stocked with food, beer, and firewood, but there’s always something to do, whether it’s chopping kindling, adding logs to the fire, collecting snow to melt for water, or straining the water to remove moss and other forest debris.
But there’s down time, too. Time for games, naps, and hanging out.
As with many outdoor endeavors, the conversation and activity eventually become about food. What to eat, when to eat, what to make, how much to make. Three Sisters Backcountry makes it easy: the Happy Valley hut contains ingredients for spaghetti and the Lone Wolf hut (on the second night) contains ingredients for tacos or burritos. We can tailor it however we want by packing in our own ingredients, such as fresh vegetables. Our group brought things like spinach, peppers, avocados. And, of course, snacks. Lots of snacks.
On day two, we woke early and made breakfast, packed up, cleaned the hut, and restocked the pile of firewood. Then we hit the trail in mild weather and sunshine, enjoying an easy first mile or two on a freshly groomed snowmobile road with views of nearby peaks.
By lunchtime, the weather moved back in and it continued snowing until we reached the next Lone Wolf hut, but like the day before, the snowfall was pleasant.
We covered another eight miles to the second hut, with enough uphill to make us feel like we were working for it and enough downhill for some high speed excitement (and maybe a relatively harmless wipeout or two).
The weather broke just as we were settling in at the Lone Wolf hut, and we were treated with views of Tam McArthur Rim and the Three Sisters mountains. We paused in our post-ski guacamole feasting and dragged our chairs, the chips and guac, and our beers outside to bask in the afternoon sun. The warm rays loosened up our muscles and we commenced our yoga practice, side by side in our animal onesies, stretching our backs, hips, and shoulders.
Then we had a dance party.
And then, we built a kicker.
Fueled by 90s hits and a sip of tequila courage, each of us went off that kicker. Again and again. It was too much fun! It was just big enough to get a little air but not feel too scary.
As the sun sank behind the mountains, we returned to the hut and whipped up what felt like an extravagant taco dinner, and then turned in for the night.
Before we went to bed, we set an alarm to wake us in time for the alpenglow on the mountains. In the morning, we rose in the first gray light, made coffee, and once again dragged our chairs out onto the snow to watch the sunrise.
On the third day, the sun stayed with us -- all day. It was almost too hot at times, but none of us could complain about tank top weather in March. It was a beautiful, gradual downhill ski out for six miles, and as the snow softened, it became more forgiving (though we still had some wipeouts). We had constant views of the Cascade mountains all around us.
We arrived to our cars at Three Creeks Sno Park early in the afternoon and got lunch together in Sisters before parting ways until we all arrived back to work on Monday morning.
As we clinked our drinks together over a late lunch and toasted to a great weekend, we began planning next year’s ski camping trip.