It didn’t take long to switch back to Switchback Hill.
Last weekend’s snowfall proved a bonus for cross country skiers looking to extend the season at lower elevations. Along with adding to Crater Lake National Park’s bulging snowpack and the nearby Cascades, the snowy outburst replenished higher elevations of the OC&E Woods Line State Trail, including at Switchback Hill.
After skiing a portion the southbound route a week earlier, four of us aimed the opposite direction, a trail that eventually drops off Switchback Hill toward Sprague River. Most of the way we created fresh tracks, skiing about 3-1/2 miles through forests sometimes sprinkled with yellow-bellied ponderosa pines, various firs and groves of aspens before doubling back.
Making the grade
From the Switchback Trailhead, the trail aims north before abruptly turning south, then angling north-northeast toward the community of Sprague River. It’s a gentle ski made easier because the former grade, designed for steam engines that towed 50 or more carloads of logs, climbs and descends no more than 2.9 percent.
The first mile follows the former track through a densely forested section, although early on, overlooks peer through openings across the Sprague River Valley, including a distant view of the distinguishable Notch in the Gearhart Mountain Wilderness Area.
Further along the trail, which is bisected by power lines, our sunny day, blue sky sightings included snow-peaked Mount Scott in Crater Lake National Park and, more dramatically, needle-topped Mount Thielsen, known as the Lightning Rod of the Cascades. Although we laid fresh tracks, other tracks left by rabbits, squirrels and deer periodically dotted the trail. Another section paralleled a creek mostly hidden in snow and ice while the occasional rumbling of cars and trucks served notice of nearby, but unseen, Bliss Road.
We discussed but dismissed the idea of parking a vehicle at the Switchbacks Trailhead, and another at Sprague River Valley Trailhead. And briefly considered having one or two of us push on to the Sprague River Trailhead while the others reversed course back to the Switchbacks and then retrieved Sprague River bound skiers. Uncertain of snow at the lower elevations and wanting to stay together, we opted for the out-and-back.
The ski back in fast tracks was smoothly and speedily kick and glide, even with the mostly uphill terrain. It was probably even better for two late arriving friends, who were preparing to leave from the Switchbacks Trailhead when we returned.
The trail ahead
How long the snow will last is uncertain, but it’s currently plentiful at and near the Switchbacks.
And when it melts the Switchbacks Trailhead will again be a jump-off spot for the fascinating, spring flower-filled lands of the Devil’s Garden. It will also be a potential launching site for mountain bikers following the OC&E to and past the community of Sprague River. From the Sprague River Trailhead its 13.1 miles to Beatty, a bike ride made beautiful by its proximity to the Sprague River.
At Beatty are two choices. The Woods Line heads 33 miles north, sometimes following Five Mile Creek to one of its major lures, the 400-foot long, 50-foot high Merritt Creek Trestle, before eventually ending at the Sycan Marsh. From Beatty, the OC&E continues east 11.2 miles toward its ending point, the Bly Trailhead, a section that features some of the overall trail’s most alluring scenery as it continues along the Sprague River.
In another few weeks, it’ll be time to make the switch from skis back to bikes.