Hooray for snow! Or slush, I guess… Not really, but in any event, a mixture of slush and snow will have to do, if one has a hunger for winter adventures. And what better way to start off the winter season, if not hiking and snowshoeing a manageable distance to a nice large cabin that is within easy reach of a large city, can accommodate up to 20 people and has a rich history and a wood stove? Of course I am thinking of the Tilly Jane A-Frame cabin on the eastern slopes of Mt. Hood in Oregon!
The cabin’s history traces its roots from the 1930s, when it was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. In a public work relief effort, which was a part of FDR’s New Deal, people worked on all sorts of grandiose projects: roads, trails, public landscaping, forest management and development. This site is a shining example of clever and non-intrusive forest development – hidden among old growth trees, about 1000′ below the timberline are the cabin, an old (now condemned) cook shack, some educational signage and an amphitheater. Yes, a no-joke amphitheater, carved into a hillside, complete with wooden bleachers and a stage. I guess hoe-downs and hootenannies took place here back in the day, before bluegrass was ironically cool.
Our trek began at the Tilly Jane Trailhead, about 2 hours away from Portland via Government Camp or Hood River. Marina and James came along for this adventure, as it would be a shame not to share the cabin with friends and well-wishers over a hot stove and a warm beverage. The A-Frame is what dreams are made of, seriously.
The cabin is only 3 miles from the trail head, making it an easy trip. If desired, it can serve as a launching pad for hiking and backpacking in the summer, or snowshoeing or backcountry skiing in the winter. Sometimes, people stay there for 2-3 days, hauling in enough food and beverage to fuel their outdoor adventures. One does need to reserve a spot to stay online prior to arrival. At $15 per person per day, it is a steal, considering the fact that Oregon Nordic Club’s volunteers maintain and repair the cabin and adjacent grounds, stock firewood and make sure everything is operational.
We started to hike around 1 o’clock, aiming only to make it to the cabin and call it a night, sort of a break-in trip, in preparation for later, grander adventures. The weather was somewhat conducive to that: early December snow was being melted by falling rain. That sort of a thing sometimes happens in the Pacific Northwest. We traveled with and without our snowshoes on, depending on the snow depth and presence of ice (which was there, when the melting slush happened to be in a cold spot). As usual, traveling light was the way to go – we had ultralight backpacks, minimal gear and Karhu Flow Trail WP shoes, which, complete with waterproof gaiters kept our feet dry and warm.
The trail to the cabin straddles a ridge between Tilly Jane and Polallie Creeks, rising towards Mt. Hood from Highway 35 and Cooper Spur Ski area. It was definitely uphill, definitely strenuous. However, once you make it to the more exposed portion of the ridge, it’s a straight shot right to the cabin.
Inside, the cabin is awesome – a wood stove, lanterns, picnic tables and the upper sleeping loft must be seen in person. It simply would not do it justice to describe it in words. It is both comfortable and rustic, and can be enjoyed with a large group of people, or by one or two folks. I have been a part of both, having made my way up to Tilly Jane A-Frame a few times.
I am pretty certain that the near future will bring proper snowcamping, with a four season tent and having to sleep in a sleeping bag with an additional sleeping bag liner. However, for now, we are quite content with a spacious cabin, a short hike and being able to be back in town for dinner.
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