Journey with me to Tilly Jane A-Frame Cabin on Mt. Hood near Portland, Oregon. Holy crazy moly what a wild weekend. Neither Kieran or I have been backpacking or snowshoeing, but when we were invited to combine the two activities, up a mountain to a cabin with no electricity, heat, or running water, we thought, “Screw it, let’s go!”
Snowshoeing to Tilly Jane was probably the biggest physical challenge of my life. We had to snowshoe 2.7 miles, with 30lbs of gear strapped to our backs, up to a narrow mountain trail with an elevation gain of 1,900 feet, in a snowstorm.
Knowing this weekend getaway would be intense, Kieran and I started preparing a month in advance. Our first order of business was working out to build up the muscles in our legs. Snowshoeing is tough work and snowshoeing up a mountain, with 30lbs on your back, is REALLY tough work. Kieran and I exercised on an elliptical (with tough resistance) and by doing lunges, 3 times a week before our trip. The lunges REALLY helped prepare us for our journey, but a word to the wise, since the elevation gain was so high, our calfs were KILLING us. If you’re snowshoeing high elevation gains, work out your calfs before your trip, you’ll thank me!
The next order of business was compiling a list of gear we needed to bring. I’m a planning FREAK, so making lists of the equipment we needed to bring was right up my alley. I consulted Phoebe and Eric, the friends who invited us to Tilly Jane, to find out what Kieran and I needed to bring. I broke down my list as follows:
Big ticket items to either rent, borrow, or buy:
Trekking Poles (depending on your athleticism, you may not need these, I’m happy I had them)
Lightweight sleeping bags (that can withstand temperatures in the low 20’s, this is a MUST)
Lightweight sleeping pad
Waterproof Winter snow/hiking boots
Winter layers (base layers, thermals, wool socks, windbreaker, wool sweater, gloves, ect)
Lightweight portable cooking stove/eating utensils
Headlamp to see at night
First aid kit (with moleskin)
Food for 3 days
Water (we ended up getting camelbacks bladders to carry in our packs)
Wireless charger for our phones
Odds and ends like basic toiletries (face wash, toothpaste, hand sanitizer, baby wipes)
Now, I’m not going to bore you with every little thing Kieran and I packed, but the lists above signified the most important in my mind. Yes, I realize booze topped the cabin necessities list. If you’re going to hike over 3 hours in the snow, trust me, you don’t want to forget the whiskey. Since we’re new to the Pacific Northwest, neither Kieran or I own backpacks, snowshoes, or sleeping bags warm enough for temps in the lower 20’s, so we had to secure those items before the trip.
Items like snowshoes and trekking poles can be rented at a minimal cost if you’re not interested in purchasing your own. Depending on the time of year, backpacks can be rented as well. Kieran and I have normal sleeping bags for regular camping, but they’re heavy and not designed for cold weather. Tilly Jane doesn’t have heat, except for a wood burning stove, so it’s essential to purchase or borrow a sleeping bag made to keep you warm in freezing temperatures.
I thoroughly enjoyed the process of geeking out making lists and planning for the trip, it seemed surreal when our weekend cabin getaway finally arrived.
5 couples went to Tilly Jane this past weekend. We had Phoebe and Eric, Forest and Margret, Charlie and Rachel, Nathan and Angela, Kieran and myself. I must say, these people were the absolute BEST to snowshoe with. No drama, no cattiness, no issues. This group of people was hilarious and an absolute joy to spend time with.
We carpooled to Mt. Hood Friday morning. We gathered together at the base of the trailhead and started our ascent to Tilly Jane A-Frame. Immediately it became evident I bought the wrong type of gloves. My fingers instantly ached from the cold. I figured my body temperature would rise while exerting energy up the trail, which in turn would warm up my fingers, which did happen until they got cold again.
We steadily hiked our way up through a winter wonderland. The trail switchbacked between snow-covered evergreen trees that peacefully loomed over our heads. Snow started to fall, so even though Kieran and I were huffing and puffing, hiking up the trail, we were blissful to be submerged in a beautiful landscape!
Even though our scenery was magnificent, I’m not exaggerating when I say the hike was no joke, it was tough. Almost immediately Kieran and I felt fatigued. Shortly after we started hiking, even though my boots were broken in, my heels erupted in blisters. I wasn’t in a lot of pain, but with over 3 hours of the hike left, I needed to take action. I took off my pack, took out my first aid kit, and found the moleskin. After applying moleskin to both heels, I put on an extra pair of socks. The extra pair of socks helped by alleviating friction in my boots. Instead of rubbing my heels raw, the two pairs of socks rubbed against each other instead. It worked, I felt discomfort in my heels, but it was manageable.
After a while, we entered into the “burn zone”. A forest fire destroyed the area in 2008 leaving behind an enormous amount of bare trees, as far as the eye could see. The sight was hauntingly beautiful, but the bare trees offered no resistance to the blustering winds. The further up we hiked, the more fierce the winds and snow became. We reached the mountain ridge, a wide open segment of the trail, and at this juncture I was scared. You exert so much energy snowshoeing that you start sweating profusely. The more you sweat, the more layers you peel off. By the time we reached the ridge, I was down to a long-sleeved shirt and a thin windbreaker. As long as you continue hiking, you felt warm, but our group stopped from time to time to catch their breath or let the other members of our party catch up. During one of those stops, the icy winds and snow picked up, cutting through my thin layers like a knife. My body cooled down, I caught a chill and started to shiver. I was really nervous at this point because remember how I told you about the gloves I was wearing? They were a horrible choice for this hike and weren’t keeping my hands warm. In fact, my hands were so cold it felt like they were starting to burn so I feared my fingers were getting frostbite! I told the group I had to keep moving to keep warm, which they understood. However, even though my body warmed up, my fingers continued to burn. I started to panic. Luckily, both Kieran (in front of me) and Natan (behind me) noticed I was in distress. Graciously, Natan gave me his gloves, stuffed with hand warmers, which made an immediate difference. My hands didn’t bother me for the rest of the hike. PHEW!
After crossing the ridge we came to the traverse a harrowing section of the trial. The traverse can be a bitch to cross because it’s so narrow, hikers often have to sidestep their way across. Luckily, the traverse had enough snowfall recently to help widen the trail, so our group didn’t have to sidestep, we were able to walk normally.
After crossing the traverse, we had 2 steep hills left to climb before reaching Tilly Jane. Thankfully, the forest fire of 2008 didn’t consume the cabin but came awfully close. You know you’re only minutes away from the cabin when the see full trees again, so after crossing the traverse, with only 2 more steep hills to climb, we knew we were getting close!
The trail between the two hills was relatively flat. Some of our group was ahead of us, some were behind, Kieran, Charlie, and I were in the middle of the pack. At this point, the 3 us adapted what I affectionately refer to as the “snowshoe shuffle”. After 3 hours of snowshoeing up a mountain, we were tired and still had a 1/2 hour to go. To keep moving, but conserve energy, I would take about 10 steps, rest for a few seconds, take 10 steps, rest, 10 steps, rest, ect. The 3 of us trudged along at that pace for a good while.
We started to climb the first steep hill and I felt utterly spent.
I couldn’t help but scream out, “FUCK YOU HILL!!”
Kieran quickly yelled back, “DON’T TAUNT THE MOUNTAIN HONEY!!!”
After laughing hysterically at Kieran’s remark, because if you don’t respect the mountain, it CAN Kill you, we scaled the first hill, then the second, and then…
There she was, Tilly Jane A-Frame Cabin, in all her glory.
After 3 1/2 hours of strenuous exercise, I wanted to run to the cabin, and jump around victoriously like Rocky Balboa. The sense of pride and accomplishment you feel when reaching Tilly Jane is overwhelming, at least for me it was. Like I stated before, the hike was the most challenging experience I’ve had to date. Kieran and I were in somewhat disbelief that we made it!
Once inside we noticed the cabin was cold, we forgot the cabin didn’t have any heat, and half expected to walk into a sauna. Whoops, no, the cabin was freezing. The only heat source in the cabin was a wood burning stove, that our friends were in the process of lighting. My body and hair were soaked with sweat and my clothes were soaked from the snow storm. I started to shiver and felt panic again, I thought how in world do I prevent myself from coming down with pneumonia if my hair is soaked in a freezing ass cabin??
No time for modesty, I ripped off my wet clothes and replaced them with my dry thermals. I piled on 4 additional layers of warm clothing, my winter jacket, stuffed hand/feet warms into my gloves and socks, put on my slippers, and sat next to the fire, then preceded to eat my weight in beef jerky. The fire worked it’s warming magic, so my fears subsided as my body stopped shivering and began to get warm.
The following morning, we made coffee and breakfast and warmed ourselves by a newly lit fire. The weather took a turn for the worse as the snow storm raged on, outside the cabin. After breakfast a few members of our party explored around the cabin, playing catch with a football, and attempted sledding, but Kieran and I opted to stay inside. Our friend’s emerged from the icy outdoors, one by one, soaking wet from the snowstorm that turned to sleet.
Around noon more adventurers, whom our party didn’t know, started coming through the cabin door. Tilly Jane comfortably holds 20 overnight guests so we reserved 10 spots with our group on both Friday and Saturday night. Friday night no one else reserved the cabin so we had it to ourselves, but on Saturday we greeted the 10 new weary snowshoers as they trickled in throughout the afternoon. Even though 20 guests can stay overnight, Tilly Jane is open to any travelers, passing through, throughout the day.
After lunch, people from our group decided to snowshoe further up the mountain to explore. The weather was still crappy so Kieran and I decided to stay by the fire and relax. Throughout the day we greeted travelers as they stopped by Tilly Jane to take a break from the weather and their hike. We swapped snowshoeing/Tilly Jane stories with our new comrades as they ate lunch and dried themselves by the roaring fire. A few travelers passing by even had pets! Dog after dog followed their owners into the cabin to escape the blustering elements. I got a good dose of fuzz therapy that day 😀
To entertain ourselves throughout the day we talked to the hikers who stopped to eat lunch and get warm, listened to music and played Euchre. Kieran is the most entertaining person to partner with while playing Euchre. He’ll often call the trump suit then immediately say, “I’ve just made a terrible mistake!” Or throw down a crappy, non-trump card and yell, “SAVE ME!” How on Earth we win games is beyond me, hahahahha.
Now would be a good time to talk about the water situation in the cabin. You only need to bring enough drinking water to last the hike up the mountain. I think Kieran and I packed 3 liters of water each in our camelbacks. Once you get to the cabin, you melt snow! Tilly Jane comes equipped with 2 large pots that we continuously took turns filling with snow. The pots sit on top of the wood-burning stove in order to melt the snow into water. Once the snow was melted, we boiled it, filtered it, and drank it!
Some folks even brought handheld water filters, so we could melt the snow and instantly have filtered water! My sister promptly asked me if the water tastes like “Ice Mountain”. Hahahahahahaha! Yes it did Michelle, yes it did 😀
When people ask me about the bathroom situation at Tilly Jane……I like to respond by saying don’t ask. Tilly Jane, from what I understand, is volunteer run. And since the cabin is in a remote area, hard to get to, the Port-o-Potty hasn’t been emptied in a LONG time. Moving on…
Saturday night after the members of our group got back from their excursion, we ate dinner, drank more booze, played cards, listened to music, ect.
I would like to mention I “tried” to make a hiking recipe for this trip but blew it. I blew it hard, readers! I made this Mac and Cheese concoction that tasted like ass (don’t ask me how I fucked up Mac and Cheese, I don’t know either, but I fucked it up, bad). Kieran and I took one bite of our dinner and made a face. Our food choices were limited, as we could only carry so much food to the cabin, so we had no choice but to choke it down. You’ll be thankful I didn’t share the recipe on the blog you guys, trust me on this, bleh!
Our new cabin mates, the 10 new hikers who shared the cabin with us on Saturday night, we’re bad ass. These people brought an impressive spread of food and drinks. A couple of them brought homemade beer and wine!!! There were 2 large picnic benches in the cabin. Our group monopolized one, while their group monopolized the other. Their table looked like a damn wine tasting!!! They had the homemade beer and wine, along with different cheeses and cutlets of meat! Our table had a bunch of leftover freeze-dried food packets!
I don’t remember any of their names (I’ll blame the whiskey for that) but I certainly remember what they ate, and I look forward to mimicking their food/drink ideas for next time!!
We really lucked out with the people we shared the cabin with, but something tells me, anyone who braves the 3 1/2 hour hike in the snow HAS to be cool.
We woke up on Sunday morning to GORGEOUS weather. The winter storm passed leaving behind fluffy clouds and crystal blue skies. Excited by the good weather, and having a couple hours to kill, our group layered up to play in the snow. A few feet from the cabin was a rustic amphitheater that was completely covered in snow, except for a few wooden seats. The snow-covered amphitheater was PERFECT for sledding. We had a fun morning goofing off, sledding, tossing footballs, and being silly in the snow.
Around noon we quickly packed up our gear and made our descent back down the mountain to go home. Our group decided to take another trail back down. This particular trail leads us along another ridge with spectacular views of the mountain. I mean, I can’t even describe the scenery adequately with words. Saying gorgeous doesn’t do it justice, awe-inspiring may be a better fit.
Going downhill in snowshoes is easier than going uphill, however, it’s not without its challenges. I never fell hiking uphill to Tilly Jane, but I fell down 5 to 6 times snowshoeing down the mountain. I’m sure the weight of my pack helped drive the momentum for my fall. Every now and then my snowshoe would sink beneath the snow and my knee would buckle. I wouldn’t feel pain, but the momentum of traveling downhill, with the weight of my pack, coupled with tripping over my snowshoes, helped propel me forward, and face plant into the snow. The words “FUCK THIS SHIT” escaped my lips more than I can care to admit.
But seriously, even though I kept falling over, I was blissful. I was with a tremendous group of people snowshoeing down the side of a mountain, on a picture-perfect afternoon. Oregon doesn’t get much better than that!
Towards the end of the trail, we were met with fallen trees and other obstacles. We have to belly crawl under branches, roll over tree stumps, and jump over streams, blocking our path. This portion of the trail was out of the burn zone, so even though the terrain was more difficult to navigate, we were once again surrounded by a picturesque winter wonderland.
At this point, our entire crew seemed giddy. We embarked on a fun and crazy weekend together and made it back in one piece. Kieran and I emerged from the forest with a new found love and respect for Mt. Hood. Spending a weekend at Tilly Jane is hard work, and honestly some moments throughout the trip I wished I was already home. But overall, after everything was said and done, both Kieran and I reflect on our weekend with pride.
Tilly Jane A-Frame was a phenomenal experience, and both Kieran and I are excited to go back!
Note… The majority of our gear was purchased at REI. Even though I provided links to REI’s site, I was NOT paid to do so. We are REI members and enjoy shopping at their store. I wanted to share links to the equipment we used, in case readers need some idea of what to get.