In Search of Snow and Craft Beer
Spoiler: we found a lot of one and not much of the other.
We took the weekend and days before Christmas to head north towards Oregon in search of some snow. We had planned the same trip last year but ended up canceling when highway 5 was closed the day we planned on leaving due to a big storm. This year has the opposite problem – barely any snow to play in! Still, we decided it was worth heading north and threw in some hiking gear just in case there wasn’t enough white stuff. Also, we were heading to a region known for some amazing craft beer so there was always that to fall back on! This is a (long) post of the general trip report; details of the hikes will be posted later.
On Friday night we headed north up Highway 5 and stopped in Dunsmuir for the night. Dunsmuir is a small town just south of Mt Shasta, and we’ve always been a fan of the Cornerstone Bakery. Their pecan cinnamon rolls are pretty much the most amazing thing ever and it’s a common stop on our trips up north. They often run out early so by staying in town we guaranteed we could be there for the fresh warm rolls when they opened their doors on Saturday morning.
After picking up a three day supply of cinnamon rolls on Saturday morning we popped over to Lava Beds National Monument for the day. I’ve always wanted to visit this park in the snow but this was not the year. The park was nearly deserted and we spent the day exploring the developed and wild caves near the visitor center. During the entire loop we only ran into a pair of other visitors.
We decided to pack light and not camp on this trip so we grabbed a room in Klamath Falls on Saturday night and hit the road Sunday morning for Bend. Arriving just in time for lunch we decided to get busy exploring the myriad breweries of the city. Our lunch stop was 10 Barrel where we shared a nice sampler with a lot of variety. The food was good too!
After loading up on calories it was time to burn it off. We headed out towards Mt Bachelor and found a sno-park with enough coverage to cross-country ski on. It was icy but workable. Being my first time on skis this season I was a bit worried about my skills on ice, but we made due. I kept the falls to a minimum, though I do have a big bruise on my leg from where I took a high-speed tumble when heading down an icy hill on my stiff sticks.
After our feeble attempt to ski on ice we drove back into town to check into our hotel, the McMenamins Old St Francis School. A converted old Catholic School, this place has been turned into an adult Disney World. It’s got a brewpub, a movie theater, a soaking pool, and more. Our room had this absolutely nuts bathroom (which was very welcome after the bruise-inducing afternoon on cross country skis). The Altar Boy theme of our room was both creepy and hilarious, featuring quotes from former students on the walls. One nice touch was dropping off a bag of freshly ground coffee each morning for the room’s coffee pot. It was much better than the typical hotel room coffee!
Another great thing about this place is its central location in the craft beer mecca that is downtown Bend. No fewer than 5 excellent breweries were in a quite walkable radius from our room, so we set off on foot to explore a few of them. Our first stop was Crux Fermentation Project, home to a large selection of beers in a wide variety of styles. The accompanying menu is not your typical bar food, but still satisfies the gut in the same way. I splurged with their version of chili mac, while David had a charcuterie board with a crazy good bacon jam. I know, I’m not a food blog but it was so good we went back for lunch the next day (but I’m getting ahead of myself). We sampled most of the beers on their menu and not one was a disappointment. Solid IPAs to belgians. My favorite was the Freakcake, an Oud Bruin aged in bourbon barrels with brett and dried fruits.
We enjoyed Crux so much we ended up missing the open tasting room hours at the small Boneyard brewing down the street, so we decided to walk over to Bend Brewing for the last round of the night. If I had one goal for our brewery visits in Bend, it was to have a Bend Brewing Co Ching Ching on tap. Gold medal winner of the American Sour category at GABF, I had only tried it in small one ounce samples. I wanted to enjoy a full glass. And the best part? It is a berlinerweiss which has a nice low ABV. That meant I was able to enjoy two! Carbonated, puckery pomegranate hibiscus goodness in a glass. It’s really pretty, too.
It was back to the hotel after Bend Brewing so that we could get some sleep before heading to Smith Rock on Monday morning. We decided that one attempt to ski on ice was enough, so we would hike the following day. Smith Rock is a widely popular climbing area, but we didn’t bring our climbing gear on this trip. By this time of year it’s usually too cold and snowy to climb, but many people were out enjoying the unseasonably dry and warm weather. We hiked a loop around the rock formations and watched climbers and slackliners enjoying the day. I’ll post more details and photos of the hike later.
On our way back into Bend, we decided to revisit Crux and Bend Brewing Co to pick up some bottles while we had the truck. We had enjoyed Crux so much the previous night that we had a late lunch there before heading over to Bend Brewing to buy bottles of the Ching Ching. Back at the hotel by late afternoon, once again we set out on foot to explore the breweries we missed the day before.
We stopped briefly at Boneyard which has a very small tasting room that sells merchandise and does growler fills. We had enjoyed their stuff at GABF and it was nice to have some small tastes of a few other beers in their lineup. It wasn’t a sit down and linger place so we moved on pretty quickly, walking over to the Deschutes Production Facility to see if there was any room left on the last tour of the day. It was full, but I did get to sample a couple of things I hadn’t had yet, including this year’s Abyss. I wasn’t terribly impressed – it felt kind of like that generic large scale winery tasting room in the movie Sideways.
We ended the night back at our hotel where they were showing the 49ers game in the movie theater (which is free for hotel guests). Where you could also order their beers and pub grub. It was kind of awesome.
Once again, it was early bedtime since we were heading to Crater Lake on Tuesday morning. Hoping that there was enough snow there to ski, we decided the bluebird day was too much to resist and took the 80 mile detour to the lake. The road in was incredibly icy and slick, but there was enough snow along the roadside that I was excited to get to the end and slap on the skis. Skiing the rim of Crater Lake has been on my todo list for ages!
When we arrived the lake was gorgeous. Blue skies, no typical clouds obstructing the view, and….not so fresh snow. In fact, the snow was far icier than it had been near Mt Bachelor. Icy to the point of needing ice skates. Just walking on the surface was a difficult task – solid ice everywhere. There was no feasible way to ski on the surface, and unfortunately we had only brought skis and no crampons or traction devices. Our mobility was extremely limited, but fortunately we had this view as a consolation prize.
Continuing south, we ended the day in Mt Shasta where the conditions look more like August than December. Instead of our planned Christmas morning of skiing the slopes of the gorgeous peak, we hiked the nearby Black Butte for an impressive view of it. Normally this hike would be under several feet of snow with an inaccessible trailhead, but not this year! The view of Mt Shasta was the best I’ve seen, and you can see how dry it is this year.
I really like our newfound tradition of taking a Christmas morning hike. Everything is so quiet and calm, even the nearby freeway barely contributed to the ambient noise.
Despite the lack of snow we still had a fun few days on the road. I’ll get my snow fix next month in Utah, so I can’t complain too much! Why will I be in Utah next month? That’s another post entirely…