“Our footprints always follow us on days when its been snowing. They always show us where we’ve been, but never where we are going.” ~ Winnie the Pooh
wta.org ~ yurtsnowshoe
Just before the tranquil town of Ashford, WA, near a small Baptist Church and down a mild dirt road you’ll find a snow-park that opens up into a series of winter wonderland pathways called the Mount Tahoma Trails System. At the tippy top reaches of this white washed arrangement of forest roads sits a few huts and one lonesome yurt that can be rented out for overnight stays, making slumber parties out in the frosty winter air a little more enjoyable. Once the byways have collected two feet of snow they are groomed and guarded by a fleet of volunteers on skis making the bobbing and weaving through the piney hills surrounding Mt Rainier a pretty splendid adventure. But, as it goes, these majestic mountain view escapes are not easy to come by. The most dedicated and die-hard adventurers mark their calendars for a Grand Gala in November where the heavenly hideaways are purchased in a lottery of sorts, making any weekend dates pretty much unattainable for simple folks like us. Instead, of heading to the city and trying our luck at the game of chance, we waited for things to die down a bit and then hopped online at
www.skimtta.org and scoured the calendars for what was left over. And as fate would have it, we got lucky.
The winter months were pretty picked over for the huts, even for a weeknight stay. But, I found one night open in the Yurt when the younger kids would still be on Christmas Break from school. So, I snagged all six spots and counted down the days.
( All of the huts and the yurt are rented for $15 per person per night, but if you don’t take all of the spots you could be camping out with strangers. I imagine this could be an adventure in its own right, but not one my kids would be thrilled about:) To each his own.)
Required Permits –
All Huts and the Yurt are open to the public 7a.m.-7p.m. but a
reservations is required to stay overnight.
We arrived at the snow-park early, the Thursday after New Years to just an inch or two of snow and a yet to be groomed trail system.
So, we strapped our snowshoes onto our packs and started off.
The road starts heading up right away and so the snow cover improved with each step we took. Before we turned off onto the Lower Yurt Trail, Hads and I had our snowshoes on and both of the kids were still smiling.
You can get to the Yurt via the Lower Yurt Trail, or you can hike up towards Bruni’s Snow Bowl and veer off from there. But, we had read that the lower trail was ‘enchanting’ and we were in the mood to be wooed:)
The forest roads provide a wide and often smooth berth so cross country skiers can glide on up to the tippy top reaches of these hills pretty smoothly. But, snowshoers are asked to stroll up single file off to the side, in an effort to sustain a condusive path for the gliding guild. Trekking through the woods is always a little more fun with a companion by your side. But the Lower Yurt Trail made our single file crossing much more interesting.
And the pretty pines kept us company.
After a while the trail opens back up onto another forest road and because we had continued to climb, the snow got nice and thick. But, the smiles were getting harder and harder to come by.
Around our fourth mile Hads had slowed to a mere crawl, merely inching her way up the last hill.
Per usual, Chase drifted somewhere in between trying to keep up with his dad and waiting around for me and Hadley. We’d find him lying prostrate in the snow all by his lonesome and then he’d suddenly bounce up and slightly maniacally snowshoe flop his way up the hill before us, leaving us in a white-washed wake of either determination or frustrated fury.
Then, just when I was sure the kids couldn’t take anymore powdery climbing we turned off towards our little abode.
It was definitely a sweet sight for sore thighs.
We got to the Yurt around noon as four sweet gals were just packing up from the night before. Chase and Hads refused to check it out while ‘other’ people were still inside – no matter how sweet I swore they were. So, Mikey and I chatted with the former guests a bit before bidding them farewell and ushering these two anti-stranger goofs inside – where they promptly pulled out a Worst Case Scenario board game and guzzled down two steaming bowls of ramen noodles.
The skies dusted us with snow all the way to the Yurt and those frosty flakes continued to drift down all around us once we FINALLY:) arrived. But, the forecast called for rain by dark. So, we didn’t waste too much time inside. Instead, we layered up once again and headed out to savor the pristine powdery wonderland that now surrounded us.
Just before we headed right on our path to the Yurt we had passed a cluster of hills we deemed ‘The Hamptons’, per this little wooden signage.
And we made grand use of its rolling scapes.
It wasn’t all smoothe sailing, but a crash and burn is sometimes just as much fun:)
And, somehow, no matter how many times these two climbed back up the Hampton Hills – their smiles and spirit never waned.
The clouds sat heavy upon us, diluting any views. But, you could vaguely make out Bruni’s Snow Bowl across the way.
I had burnt my face to pieces with some melted butter the night before we headed out this way, so this is the only photograpic evidence of my presence here. But, messed up face and all – I was loving every minute of it.
But, it was hard to match the captivating wonder that Mike stood transfixed in:)
His enthusiasm matched the kid’s, grin for grin.
On our way back to the Yurt Chase threw himself into a little project.
Making snow murals along the way.
While Hadley impressed us all with her facial impressions,
with Chase and his bloody nose adding a bit of flare.
After all those shenanigans we still had a little daylight left.
So, we did what one should always do in a winter wonderland such as this and built ourselves some snowmen:)
Hadley lingered the longest.
And then just as the forecasted rain began to drip from the darkening skies, we headed inside.
Chase and Mike were already cozied up and relaxing.
And it didn’t take Hadley long to make herself at home.
There was some finagling to project Mario onto a big screen that Mikey had packed in.
But, eventually we found ourselves table side with another board game and the kind of laughter that only comes from good old fashioned organic fun.
Chase still found a way to play his own games:)
But, no one really cared. We were all in one cozy little space, doing the things we loved together.
Chase and his games, Hads and her pen…
Mikey in his element and me, capturing it all with a full heart.
We had expected to hike out in the rain the next day. But, to our delight, we woke up to partly cloudy skies.
For fear of running into anymore strangers:) we packed up long before the noon hour and readied ourselves for a presumably easy slip sledding jaunt back to our car.
The rain had thinned out the snow quite a bit. And in hopes of catching some nice downhill slopes we decided to hike out via the Snow Bowl Route.
I had read that there was no elevation gain between the Snow Bowl and The Yurt so we thought we had an easy two miles ahead of us. But, instead, we dipped down for a mile and then unexpectantly climbed for another mile and half. As the kids grumbled their way up I couldn’t help but think of how fortunate they were to be following in their dad’s footsteps. Without them even knowing it, he was making the way a little easier for them. He does this in the wild and in life. Challenging them to do hard things, to reach for grand heights and new places, to bare witness to all the marvels that lay out there ~ just waiting for us to uncover them. All the while – pressing on ahead of us, giving us foot holds to follow.
But by the time we got to our junction the kids were cursing this path we had lead them down – or up rather:)
I got Hadley to fake a smile for me. But, when we turned the corner and she saw one last ascent…
She pretty much stood aghast as Chase reluctantly and begrudgingly tromped on.
And then! At long last, we made it to the highest of highs and all the steps laid out before us were headed down.
So, the kids jumped on their sleds and road it out.
There were spots where the rain had washed out the snow leaving the road rough and rocky and some flat spots that took a little work, but those magical smiles, that I thought we had lost back at the Yurt exodus, were back…
In full force:)
And then, as in life, all at once – they were no longer following along behind us. Instead – they were making their own paths, fading off into the distance ahead of us.
Upper Snow Park to the Yurt, via the Lower Yurt Trail ~ 6 miles, through the woods with a decent amount of up and little mild meandering along the way.
The Yurt back to the Snow Park via the turn-off UP towards Bruni’s Snow Bowl ~ 5 miles, 1 mile down hill, a seemingly endless 1.5 miles up hill and then 2.5 miles of slip sledding all the way down:)
Total Miles – 11 miles