Backcountry Yurt Trip, State Forest State Park
The most stressful part of winter wilderness travel can be getting to the trailhead. Remote mountain roads may be icy or unplowed. In addition, we have little experience driving in winter weather, since we don’t own a car, and only rent one to go on hikes like these.
On this trip we drove over Cameron Pass and made it within 100 feet of the trailhead, only to get stuck when we stopped to read a sign. Underneath the snow was a layer of solid ice on which the car’s wheels spun freely. Reversing did nothing, and getting out to push had little effect. Fortunately after a few minutes some friendly snowmobilers happened by and helped push the car free. Thanks Arlen, Justin, and Travis for your noble effort and your useful tips to avoid getting stuck in the future.
Relieved and with the car appropriately parked, we suited up and strapped on snowshoes for our journey to the North Fork Canadian Yurt. The trail began on a compacted snowmobile path, which made for easy walking.
Fresh snow gracefully covered the ground in white curves, giving the landscape a peaceful quality. Whenever we took a break, snow-damped silence blanketed everything. Only occasionally would a bird call or rustling wind interrupt the calm.
The trail led us across the frozen North Fork Canadian River. Soon after crossing, the larger snowmobile path diverged from the yurt path. The remainder of our route was a small dimple in the snow, marked periodically by blue yurt signs.
With 1.1 miles behind us, we rounded a bend and the yurt came into view. We were excited to check out our home for the night.
The yurt featured a ribbed circular ceiling with a skylight in the center, bunk beds (we brought warm sleeping bags to go on top of the large mattress), a wood stove, a propane cook stove, dishes, chairs, and lots of other handy items. It is maintained and stocked by Never Summer Nordic. Kudos to them for keeping it supplied in challenging conditions.
The yurt looks cozy in photographs, but when we arrived the temperature inside was the same as outside: 10 degrees F. We got to work immediately. Chris shoveled the stairs, deck, and a path to the outhouse. Anna removed cold ash from wood stove, then got a nice fire started.
We took a break from unpacking to check out the great view. Our timing was perfect as sunset turned the Never Summer Mountains a rosy orange.
The wood fireplace’s heat gradually warmed the yurt’s interior, but we kept our big puffy jackets and hats on for most of the night. The hot iron top of the wood stove also served as a good place to boil water and cook dinner. While our pesto pasta cooked, we filled a gigantic cook pot with clean snow to melt for tomorrow’s water.
After our meal, the best view of the whole trip awaited us outside. The sliver of a moon had set and the clouds had blown off, leaving countless stars, as numerous and bright as we’d ever seen them. The Milky Way’s soft band girdled the entire sky. We hopped between stargazing on the deck and sitting by the toasty fireplace inside.
Before sleep we added a couple large logs to the stove to stave off the cold. Even so we woke twice in the middle of the night to stoke the fire. Each time there were just a few embers left glowing. The fire’s heat was welcome as our sleeping bags were put to the test.
Dawn proved very cold indeed. Our water bottles in the yurt were solid blocks of ice. The thermometer outside neared its limit, reading -15 degrees Fahrenheit!
It was clearly time to warm up from the inside as well as out. That meant a long sit by the fire and hot oatmeal for breakfast. Having burned a fair amount of wood, we then headed outside to split wood for the yurt’s next guest. Swinging an axe, we discovered, is a great way to stay warm. To our amazement we even overheated a bit.
Though cold, it was sunny and gorgeous. We packed up and decided to explore the area before heading back. Breaking fresh trail across the meadow was fun but strenuous in the deep snow. Even with snowshoes we sometimes sank knee-deep into the powder.
During our wanderings we found lots of bunny and moose tracks. We kept our eyes out for the animals themselves, but they proved elusive. Snowdrifts covered the land in beautiful sinuous curves.
After a short, beautiful, tiring exploration, it was time to head back to the trailhead. Progress became much quicker when we rejoined the well-packed official trail.
We’d had a great time. The only thing that could have made it better would be spotting a moose to match all of the tracks we’d seen. Suddenly, when we were almost back to the car, we saw three moose in the field below! They were unmistakably huge yet surprisingly graceful and quick. Startled by our talking, one adult hopped a fence, then her calf followed. They zigzagged powerfully up the steep snowy terrain.
We managed to complete the trip home without getting stuck even once. Our first yurt trip was a chilly success!