January, 2017: The first day trip of the season for the 1 World Outing Club‘s Thursday group was Deer Creek on Forest Service land east of Verlot, WA. We had a 45-minute delay south of Snohomish due to a radiator leak. Our bus limped to a Starbucks coffee shop to wait for a rescue bus.
I found a table in the QFC grocery next door that had thoughtfully been provisioned with a Seattle Times. The new bus appeared as promised. We moved our things over to it; Lance and the drivers moved our skis. Lance extended our schedule to make up the lost time.
Soon we were driving up the winding two-lane Mountain Loop Highway past little farms, snowy woods and glimpses of the sprawling, partly frozen channels of the South Fork Stillaguamish River. East of Silverton, the plowed road ended beyond the Deer Creek turnoff at a mound of snow. I chose to ski further up the road, along with about eight other skiers. I was hoping to explore some back roads I’d noted on my map about three miles further along.
My zipper-pull thermometer read 24 F. The sun peered into the valley from its craggy southern rim, so l knew it wasn’t going to get any warmer. But I soon took off my jacket and changed from my heavy to my light fleece. The snow was well chewed by snowmobiles; it had a stiff, creaky consistency like crumbled styrofoam. My ski poles made a shuddering, squeaking noise with each stride. Crystals on the surface sparkled when they caught the sun.
A clutch of snowmobiles came howling up behind us, veering back and forth and belching a gassy stench. Get stuck, I mentally commanded them. They whined past me. Then four of them stopped ahead of me, and the one that went on came back to join them. When I reached them, the riders had gathered around one of the machines and were looking at it. I have godlike powers!
Past the Big Four Campground turnoff, I found my side road (NF 4062). Two ladies stood at its foot, looking at their maps. (Most cross country skiers are women.). We proceeded up the road, on much better snow; only one or two snowmobiles had marred it. Our way was a narrow aisle lined with fir trees robed in snow. We circumvented a few fallen branches and came to a turnoff. This seemed to be Route 4 (NF 4060) on our maps. It climbed steeply, and bore only the tracks of a lone snowshoer. The ladies thought it looked too forbidding; but I told them I’d give it a try.
The fresh snow was an inch or two deep on top of hard older snow. I had to clamber up with my ski tips spread out and inner edges down–the “herring-bone,” so called for the pattern this mode of travel makes in the snow. Around the corner, the way leveled out. I had a pleasant ski for half a mile, accompanied only by the ghostly snowshoer. The road ended in a little clearing with rabbit-prints all around.
I snacked on a nut bar and slices of raw peeled broccoli stem, and had a nice glide back down to the highway; the two ladies were out of sight.
Skiing back on the highway went a lot better than the trip up. The snowmobiles had softened up the snow, and the grade was slightly downhill. Skiing downhill is a light, sylphlike dance; uphill can be a slog. I took off my fleece; now I was down to my shirt and long underwear.
I passed a party of wallkers. I hate to ski over footprints in snow, but this time I figured they might as well enjoy themselves; the snow was all beaten up anyway. One of their dogs stalked me from behind, as dogs will do. I showed it the points of my poles, and it quit the game.
I explored more turnoffs on my way back. On one, I met a lady who was walking and carrying her skis; her friend was slowly skiing beside her. I asked if she was okay. “I’m tired, and I don’t want to get hurt,” she told me. “I have osteoporosis.”
“You’re a spirited lady. I’m happy to see you out here,” I told her.
Back on the bus, we ate our lunches; Lance provided chocolate cookies and hot drinks. I heard that it was 20 F. I don’t remember much about the return trip! When I woke up we were out of the mountains.