Photos courtesy of Eric Gardner
Living in the shadow of Mt. Hood has bitch-slapped me into reality.
It’s already claimed the lives of three backcountry skiers this year. High winds and heavy snowfall create instant white-out conditions that skew your sense of direction if you dare stray from the marked trail.
But it does have a hidden sweet side.
Presently, I’m doing my best to follow Phil’s mandate to “keep the bamboo on my right” as the last hints of daylight fade early from the January sky. My braid is an icicle frozen to the hood of my parka. My feet, strapped into a pair of snowshoes, shuffle slowly and steadily uphill. My eyes search blindly through an opaque sheet of white hoping to catch their first glimpse of Oregon’s most remote cabin.
I received a last-minute invite to spend the night at the Silcox Hut – a historic cabin buried into the side of Mt. Hood. The person responsible for organizing the trip secured the reservation nearly two years ago, confident he could round up 24 willing participants. I know only the five people presently hiking with me. A handful of others are skinning up. The sane majority opted to ride the snowcat and are enjoying a lovely cheese board around a warm fire right now.
Night is falling fast and we’re seemingly no closer to the hut than we were an hour ago. Moments after discussing the option of calling the cat to come rescue us, we spot a faint hint of light less than a football field ahead.
Our host Phil greets us at the door. He is thrilled we opted to put in the work to get here. It offers hope we won’t be like his previous night’s guests, who were more interested in binge-drinking wine than appreciating their unique surroundings.
The Silcox Hut is low-slung and sprawling. A rugged, yet cozy fortress made entirely of cedar and stone. There’s a large bunk room partially buried underground, four toilets and a hot shower. Up a short flight of stairs is a great room with an open kitchen on one end and an open fireplace on the other. In between is a long, wooden table lined on either side by a row of ice-coated windows.
Our group is a bunch of 30-something-year-old, minor-league adventurers. Everyone is heavy into mountaineering, skiing, trail running, etc. We even have a semi-famous #vanlifer among us. I pretend to not know the name of her dog when meeting her.
We’re dressed in base layers, flannel and slippers. Small, get-to-know-you conversations are taking place across the room. Bursts of laughter often overpower the classic rock playing overhead.
Phil serves us heaping plates of salad, bread, chicken, roasted veggies and two kinds of dessert. After the dishes are cleared, he entertains us with jokes and ghost stories until we’re falling asleep at the table like children exhausted from playing outside all day.
I curl up in a top bunk along the outer edge of the room. To my right is a rough stone wall; to my left is my friend Eric, snoring softly above Ashley and Laurel lying on their sides, whispering to each other.
I turn away from the ancient spiderwebs embedded in the rock and drift off to sleep beneath a heavy wool blanket. The wind will pick up overnight, making our hike back down the mountain somehow colder with zero visibility. But first, there will be waffles.