A Trip Planning Snafu in Eastern Oregon

Despite my recent post on tips for hitting your hike quota despite the winter weather, this past weekend offered up some unexpected weather obstacles and has slightly persuaded me to take the hiking and backpacking trips down a notch to focus on activities better suited for the season. But hey! That doesn’t mean you have to jump on this bandwagon – more power to ya.

After suggesting we spend the weekend with a long overdue backpacking venture, Colin gave me the reigns and said I could take full control over the planning – if you knew Colin, you would know this is sort of a big deal, because he always does the planning and he’s very good at it. It put some pressure on me, because I knew if anything went wrong – like getting lost, going to a closed campsite, or bad weather (ding ding!) – I would be to blame. I don’t like pressure.

Picking a hike is probably the hardest part of the whole process… There’s just too many options around these parts! I stumbled upon a trip report on the Painted Hills – a colorful desert landscape within the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and noted as one of Oregon’s “seven wonders.” It was dated the previous weekend and raved about the area, commenting on the lack of crowds this time of year and the desert area being an escape from rainy Portland. Of course, I reacted like anyone else would – Let’s do it!!

I researched the weather, directions, times, hikes, campsites, everything, and twice. I planned an awesome day… We would leave Portland at 6 AM and would arrive at the North Twin Pillars Trailhead just in time to do a portion of the Mill Creek Wilderness Loop before sunset. We would camp at this one specific spot, right in line with the Twin Pillars. The following morning, we would make the brief hike out, and head to the Painted Hills where we would accomplish a few of the easy one to two milers within the park. Then we would make the long haul (3-4 hours) back home. I even had a back up plan if something came up, like a trail or campsite closure.

We packed our things and when we left right on schedule at 6 AM on Saturday morning, I already felt the confidence of a successfully planned trip. Driving on 26 East around Mt. Hood, we encountered a lot of snow – which was expected. We were on a mountain in late November, after all. I didn’t even consider that there would be snow near our destination, but as we got closer and closer, I noticed the snow wasn’t going away. In fact, there was more snow as we neared North Twin Pillars trailhead.

At a gas station, I asked Colin, “Do you want to go home?” I had suspicions we should, but I didn’t want to make the call. I thought, Clearly I can’t even plan a single trip so how would I know what to do?! Colin replied no, with a level of uncertainty… So I just kept driving, figuring he would definitely tell me if he really thought we should take a rain – er, snow? – check.

It got to the point where we were roughly 30 minutes of backroads away from the trailhead when we finally made the decision to bail. We were unprepared for this weather – thanks Weather.com *glare* – and now in horrible moods, so it just didn’t seem worth it to be miserable on my weekend off. Plus, there was no guarantee that the Painted Hills, and their breathtaking hues, weren’t covered in the white stuff as well, which would defeat the entire purpose of going there.

Needless to say, I felt pretty crappy about the trip fail… Quite the contrast from how happy I felt while planning the night before, as all the details seemed to fall perfectly in place. In addition to six hours of pointless driving, the journey gave me a wealth of tough lessons – and not only about hike organization.

And on the bright side… I have a killer trip planned for the spring.

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Hike Takeaways:

– No matter how carefully you plan or research, things may not go as intended. There’s a reason why we are always told to prepare for the unexpected.

– Mistakes happen, whether on the trail or on the way to the trail, and it’s ok. Don’t let other people make you feel bad for a harmless learning experience! And alternatively, don’t make other people feel bad. The best remedy for a trip fail is to laugh it off and find an alternative… It will make a good story in the future, “Hey remember that time we tried to go to the Painted Hills and everything was covered in snow and so we made snow angels on the side of the road then went to a random dive bar for Hot Toddies?” Bad weather can’t ruin your fun, unless you let it.

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One response to “A Trip Planning Snafu in Eastern Oregon

  1. Pingback: Hiking Munra Point // Columbia River Gorge, Oregon | Clean Spirit·

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