ski-touring vanlife style
Phil, Nick, and I skied down the lower slopes of Mt Thielsen, racing out the skin-track we’d cut earlier in the day. Through the trees, past the outhouse buried under six feet of snow, and up to the edge of the sno-park.
We made our way to the van and stripped off ski gear, chatting about the day. The sun weakened and cold came but we hesitated, none of us eager to retreat inside the van just yet. Nick came around the back of the van smiling and holding a garbage can lid.
“I’ve been hanging onto this for years for just such an occasion” he said, tossing the lid on the ground
It had been 24 hours since we’d seen another soul.
It was our second night camped on the edge of Diamond Lake, near Crater Lake in remote Southern Oregon.
When you’re feeling pulled in 1,000 directions by projects, commitments and busyness at work, it can be hard to set aside several days for a trip with your friends. It came down to the last minute, but the three of us managed to carve out three days for a trip.
I’d been wanting to return to Diamond Lake since skiing Mt Thielsen for the first time last year. It doesn’t get talked about much. Maybe it’s the five-hour drive from Portland, or the fact that there aren’t any ski resorts nearby. For those willing to make the trek, however, solitude abounds in the wide open spaces surrounding Mounts Thielsen and Bailey. If you can BYO accomodations there are several sno-parks to camp in, and there’s even a restaurant at Diamond Lake Resort if you’ve a hankering for food from the fryer.
On a pastel Friday evening in Portland we loaded up the van and hit the highway headed south. By the time we crossed over Mt Hood and descended into Central Oregon the springlike evening was long gone. Our pace slowed to a crawl as ice crept over the road. By the time we got to the sno-park it was after midnight.
We’d left cell service in the middle of the night, so to check the weather we went for a ski.
There’s a cat-ski operation on Mt. Bailey and ample snowmobile routes, but we opted for the eco-friendly (and much cheaper) human powered variant. This meant long days of skinning without much skiing but we didn’t mind. We spent our days enjoying the views and cataloging the terrain for a return visit.
Phil skinning up Mt Thielsen with Diamond Lake and the east face of Mt Bailey in the background
Nick and Phil climbing the upper slopes of Mt Thielsen
Me skiing the West Face of Mt Thielsen
Nick and Phil enjoy Thielsen’s NW bowl
With enough food, water, and fuel to last three days we didn’t have to go into town to resupply. I built the van (Debbie, formerly of Dallas, TX) with an efficient diesel heater tapped into the fuel tank which makes for comfortable winter camping. I also installed lights and a big fridge powered by a battery bank and a couple of solar panels on the roof. With clear weather and a strong March sun, all systems can run indefinitely. The van has space for three people along with their gear and food - provided no one needs much personal space.
Outside of sleeping and some evening and morning hangout time we weren’t spending much time in the van anyway.
wandering the southern slopes of Mt Bailey
Mt Thielsen from the South ridge of Mt Bailey
Nick and I crossing above Avalanche Bowl on Mt Bailey
After a couple of days exploring under clear blue sky we decided to move on towards home with a stop at Santiam Pass. On our way back through Bend temps dropped as the clouds rolled in. We plunged back into winter with freezing fog and ice-rutted roads.
Tucked in for the night at Santiam Pass
Phil climbing the shoulder of Three Finger Jack with the Three Sisters and Mt Washington in the background.
What struck me most about the weekend was how much I enjoyed the simple pleasure of it. It didn’t matter so much what we skied or where we went. I loved that the three of us set aside days to spend together. With little to distract us, we had space to share some experiences and enjoy the simplicity of the wilderness.
It’s time around a fire or squeezed into a campervan where we learn the truest things about each other. Where we build memories we’ll laugh about long after we’ve forgotten what projects we were working on, or what show was playing in Portland that weekend.
By the time we returned to Santiam Pass, spring vibes had returned. We lounged in the sun for a long while before piling back in the van and making tracks for home.