The Wonderful Terrible Traverse

ski-fall1The Terrible Traverse on Bennett Pass is aptly named. People have gotten stuck on it, lost in blizzard conditions, a few have even been steamrolled by avalanches into cold, wet piles of body parts at the bottom. But for every caveat of mortal doom, someone’s posted a compelling photograph of beautiful scenery. That, as always, is enough for me. I scoped it out on a hot, dusty August weekend, then returned for a snowshoe tour in a December storm.

Mark and I gleefully entered a parking lot of zero vehicles and falling snow–an early start and heavy accumulation predictions always do wonders to keep a popular trail quiet. Before we marched into the forest, we sent a couple curious snowmobile trailers packing down to Frog Lake when they nosed around our turf. (Hint: the magic words “This trail’s only a few miles long” will make snowmobilers disappear before your very eyes!) The first mile lived up to the weather reports. Our cheeks froze in the wind, snow swirled under our hat brims and drenched our eyebrows, and visibility was reduced to a hundred steps. Then, it just all went away. The dark clouds lifted, the sky lightened, and we walked into a Swiss snow globe.

Bennett Pass (NFD 3550) has plenty of snow sculpting opportunities for Mother Nature along its cut bank. Where there is art, there are art enthusiasts, like Mark in his National Geographic Photographer’s Stance.

My personal favorites are the snow rollers. They come in many forms but the traditional Cinnabun Roller is a classic.

Plus, there are Snow Witches. Hunkered over with the weight of powder, young Douglas Firs assume the shapes of all sorts of spooky fairy tale creatures. 

Mark called this one a Snow Turkey but I think it’s more of a Snow Skeksis.Two miles of shoeing yields an impressive view with a good look at Mt. Hood. Well, usually there is a good look at Mt. Hood. 

You might wanna come back in August.



[Insert pause for dark chocolate hot cocoa whipped up by Chez Mark on snow benches we made.]

The sky did a tantalizing strip tease, revealing bits of blue here and there, now and then, but it never cleared. We could spot Barlow Pass in the distance, freshly flocked.

Spread out before the traverse was a gauntlet of powdery blowing drifts. They were taller than us in several spots and the wind made that even more interesting. At last: The Terrible Traverse! Can you say “Sixty Degree Angle of Death?” Well, actually, it was hardly wind loaded at all above us and the trail was decent. We ventured across rather fearlessly. 

In the summer, it’s a treacherous one-lane-only road with a few sphincter-clenching moments when your tires kiss air.

Mark pauses to gaze up at a big reason the slope releases its load so readily: ice.

Thick chandeliers of icicles coated the cliffs above and turned them into a chilly Teflon.

After surveying this gallery, we turned around and gaped at a winter wonderland. Below and to the left, the Teacup cross country ski trails weave unseen through thick forest where the East Fork of Hood River flows. A theater curtain of clouds is draped from Elk Mountain on the left to Gunsight Butte and Lookout Mountain on the right, obscuring the valley beyond.

The Terrible Traverse isn’t just one nail biter of a cliff, it’s about a quarter mile of them. Once you’re in, you’re committed–there’s only a single track to travel and no where to go but down if anything happens. The sun beckoned around one corner and then another with promises of warmth on the far side. (Note: the sun is a big, fat tease.)

Mark passes snow rollers on the left, a drop off to remember on the right. Elk Mountain looms in the background.

En route to my favorite spot, the Gates of Lodore, were whitened Noble Fir. 



For some reason, they always make me crave Swedish Waffles with powdered sugar. It’s a mystery.

Ah, the Gates of Lodore! Okay, not the real Gates of Lodore, that’s in Utah, but it reminds me of them. I think they call this rock formation Gunsight Notch but it’s not as sexy.

The drift looks impressive but I hear it can nearly fill the notch in heavy snow years. The summer shot tells the whole story.

Still, Mark is impressed.

il_570xN.1028567869_9gwoPassed the notch, you leave behind the dizzying drop offs and dip back into the relatively protective embrace of heavy conifer forest. If you go another six miles, you’ll enjoy quiet Bonney Meadows, a little-known delight of a campground in the middle of nowhere with numerous trails leading to and from. If you have four wheel drive.

On the way down, we passed several dozen snowshoers and skiers coming up. And that, boys and girls, is what you call perfect timing.

December 16, 2010