Saturday, January 19, 2008

A small adventure

With a series of winter storms passed, sunny days have pervaded over central Oregon. Although temperatures aren't much more than low 40's, yesterday was a day to get out of the house and overcome that creeping sensation of cabin fever. My friend, Brent McGregor, invited me to go out on his snowmobile in the late afternoon to photograph the sunset from Big Lake located on the crest of the Cascades. The lake is frozen solid and provides access and views impossible in other seasons unless you're sitting in a boat. The adventure was on. Some background on Brent and his snowmobile: Brent is an fantastic woodworker (juniper is his specialty), seasoned mountaineer, and exquisite landscape photographer. On a recent trip to Canada he was offered a 30-year-old snowmobile for $200. He gladly bought it thinking he could use it to get to places in the winter, normally inaccessible or, at best, extremely time consuming to photograph the wondrous Cascades. I know nothing about snowmobiles and I was intrigued by going out to Big Lake. I'd never get there in winter on my own. The lake is about 2+ miles from a parking area near the summit of Santiam Pass, one of the major routes over the Cascades. We packed a sled behind the snowmobile with our photo gear and headed off. It was immediately apparent that snowmobile technology has evolved tremendously as newer and faster machines with much wider ski base passed us with ease on the groomed trail to the lake. Our ride was meandering and at one point where the track was slightly angled we made a slow-motion rollover, losing nothing but a small bit of pride. Once out onto the lake we got what we came for. Magnificent views of Mt. Washington and Three-Fingered Jack. The unexpected bonus was a layer of mist on the lake from an inversion layer that acted as a diffusion filter. The alpenglow light on Three-Fingered Jack was mesmerizing. We repacked the sled and headed back across the lake and then the rest of the adventure began. A footnote: my definition of adventure is a "well-planned trip gone bad." Brent and I have each experienced that more than once. As soon as the snowmobile made it to the edge of the lake, the engine sputtered, smoked and quit. No amount of coaxing or minor repairs could get the engine running. Our good fortune, however, was the appearance of two other men on their machines from the youth bible camp on the other side of the lake who were out for a twilight run. They offered their mechanical knowledge to no avail and watched the final indignity when Brent pulled the starter rope and it snapped off in his hand. There is an unwritten pact among snowmobilers, so we're told, that you help out anyone in need. And they did. Brent took the nylon cord used to lash the gear to the sled and made a tow rope. One of our rescuers towed Brent and the sled and I rode on the second machine back to the cars in the darkness. On the way back to Sisters we could laugh about the experience. You can do that when everything turns out o.k. The situation could have been far more unpleasant. Although we had snowshoes, the trek out on foot would have been tortuous for me on my feeble knees. We are grateful to the two guys who saved our butts.

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