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    spruce cabin

    2:15 PM – Tuesday January 22, 2013
    Plane boarded. Lift off. Bloody Mary in hand. Trip specific Ipod mix of Townes Van Zandt and Radiohead joins the jet engine hum in my ears as my mind drifts to the trip I’ve been waiting on for months. As a family man from Houston, I just don’t get to snowboard as much as I’d like. As a working stiff with a sea level office, I just don’t get to stretch my legs on mountain snow as much years passed. Yet my gracious wife has granted me this week to pursue breathless solitude in a mountain trek to a rustic cabin, miles from civilization. “Have fun,” she said in a dialect that would loosely translate as ‘better you than me.’

    We signed up with Wallowa Alpine Huts as Beta Testers for the Schneider Cabin, a historic miners cabin in the Southern Wallowas. It was a 6-mile snowmobile drag into Cornucopia and a 3-mile, 3,000 ft climb/skin to the cabin.
    There were six people in our group, four split boarders and two skiers.
    This was my first extended trip to Eastern Oregon. Was blown away by the beautiful mountains. Our guides were first class and we had 18″ of fresh pow.
    Hope you enjoy…

    The Video Edit:




    Baker City, OR. The Grand Geiser Hotel. Playing Spades, drinking beer, hot toddies, taking whiskey shots. Losers pay the tab. My team pays the tab and we head into the night in search of our sleeping quarters.
    We drive about an hour east, towards The Carson House, six miles north of Halfway, OR, on the Cornucopia Hwy.
    We pass several angry dogs in the cold night. A small dog, carrying a bloody femur weighing at least 30 lbs., gave us an annoyed look as we crept by. Two of our three cars were running out of gas.
    We spotted the Wallowa Alpine Huts sign on the side of the dark road and turned in.
    Our two guides, Victor and Sunshine Daydream, greeted us and showed us to the bunkhouse. They told us to make ourselves at home. They would be over at 7:30 the next morning to cook breakfast and go over the plan.
    We unloaded our cars. Some of us prepared for the morning rendezvous, others drank the good whiskey and played Spades.

    One by one we drifted off to sleep.
    The morning came soon enough.
    We woke up and made coffee. The guides brought over hot, sausage biscuit sandwiches (at least two per man), fresh fruit, and a breakdown of the trip.
    We would get our gear and head a two miles north up the Hwy. Snowmobiles would then tow us about six miles into a clearing in the forest where we would apply our skins and push into the mountains. The skin up would take about three and a half hours.

    We lined up behind the quiet, four-stroke snowmobiles, four people behind one and three behind the other. We held onto water-ski style handles, staggered down the 30 foot ski rope.

    There was about an inch of fresh snow on the ground. Catching an edge on the drag in wouldn’t be much of an issue. Until Mandon lost his mojo and careened towards me. I saw him coming and let go of the rope in time to steer the tip of my board away from his face. We tumbled and signaled to the snowmobile driver, much like a water skier down would, that were ok. Thumbs up. We rode the rest of the way without a hitch.
    We transitioned into skin mode, did a beacon check and pointed our skis towards the uphill woods.
    I felt clumsy and out of shape right off the bat. We zigzagged up the mountain, following the switchbacks set by our guides.
    Coming from Houston, I didn’t know a lot about splitboarding, or skiing for that matter. My technique and lung capacity missing.
    I began to sweat out every molecule of whiskey, traffic, stress, coffee, water, beer, food, lack of sleep, everything, poured out of my skin.
    “This is going to be a tough week.” I thought.
    “Tougher than I’d imagined.”
    In my slow, steady rhythm, I buried my head and took one step at a time.
    I was still pretty far back as the group gained the first ridge. I skinned past the kickturn, and as instructed, swung my right ski perpendicular to the mountain, into the up-track. I set my right heel and rotated my left ski, back, and then forward, placing it in line with the right ski.
    My left foot never made it. I slid backwards down the mountain.
    “Stand tall!” the guide said. I fell onto the tips of my skis and flopped onto my side. Using my poles, I pulled myself up and skinned back to the turn.
    I skinned past it, planted my right foot, swung my left foot around. Again, I didn’t make it. I tumbled backwards down the icy hill. Sunshine Daydream skied down and cut a shelf into the snow for me to stand on. I skinned 15 feet up to the shelf, planted both skis and made the turn.
    “Yes. Thank you, sir!” I said.
    “That was a pretty spicy turn.” Sunshine said.
    Afterwards, I heard others had trouble on this same turn. Made me feel a little bit better.
    The hill pointed upwards again, across an open powder face. Avalanche terrain. We spread out about the size of a school bus and crossed the face. You probably wouldn’t die but it could knock you off your feet and drag you into the trees.
    The climb towards the next ridge was tough.
    The guides said that we were about halfway to the cabin.
    “There was no turning back now.” I thought.
    Methodically, I placed one ski in front of the other. I willed myself up the hill.
    About an hour later, we crested the third ridge.
    “It should be pretty mellow to camp.” Mandon said.
    About 30 minutes later, about four hours after we started, I saw a pillow of smoke rising in the distance.
    “Smoke?” I wondered.
    I crested the hill and there was the cabin.
    I skied down.
    “Made it!”

    We picked our sleeping spots. Mandon took one of the three bunks in the rafters. I took one across from him. I unrolled my sleeping bag, blew up the sleeping pad, and made my bed for the next four days.

    After a little bit, we ran a beacon rescue drill on a face above camp.
    Then, the guys set off to find a line to ride before dark. I stayed in the cabin and drank beer.
    The guys showed up about an hour later, having ridden one tree run.
    Little Smokies appetizers never tasted so good. Victor and Sunshine cooked up an amazing jambalaya dinner and served shortcake with berries for desert. We drank beer from a keg of Terminal Gravity IPA (bought in by snowmobile), passed around the whiskey, and talked about the days ahead.

    Day Two: 6:50 A.M.
    Sunshine and Victor pushed the cabin door open (they’d slept in a tent outside of the cabin!). They put a pot of snow on the propane stove to melt for coffee.
    Outside it was snowing. A refresh!
    We ate pancakes, sausage links, and fresh fruit. We drank two cups of coffee each. We topped off our water bottles and met in front of the cabin for a beacon check. My legs were stiff from the climb in the day before. I hoped I’d be able to skin the day’s objective.
    Zipping into our coats, we turned toward the terrain behind camp. It was really snowing now. The temperature was 33 degrees. The snow melted on our jackets and caps. We pushed up a gentle slope. It was good to be moving again.

    Victor cut a sharp kick turn into a steep incline. A couple of the guys slipped and fought their way around the turn.
    “Here we go again.” I thought.
    Mandon stepped into the turn and slid out of the track.
    When falling backwards down a hill your tendency is not to stand on your heels but to lean forward and brace your fall. But the velvet-like tendencies of skins demand that you dig in your heels and brace your weight, allowing ascension of the mountain. The steeper the climb, the taller you stand.
    Mandon stepped into the up track and motored forward.
    I skinned towards the chewed up turn.
    “Skin past the turn, heels beyond the up track. Swing downhill ski into track, plant, and stand tall.”
    I slid backwards 10 feet.
    I skinned back to the turn, and slid again. My third try left me about 20 feet below the turn.
    “Spicytown!” I said under my breath.
    “I’m going to follow the skin track back to the cabin.” I told the guide.
    “Man, you got this.” He said.
    “You guys have fun. Don’t worry about me.” I said.
    “We can do some mellower stuff later if you want.” He said.
    “Tear it up!” I said.
    My tail tucked between my legs, I hastened a retreat.
    “Might need a day of rest.” I told myself.
    I planted my skis in the snowbank in front of the cabin, walked down the steps, opened the door, grabbed my coffee/beer mug and poured myself a cup of IPA.
    I took some pictures of the cabin and wrote a little bit.

    I imagined this was my cabin. The fire felt great in the cold, quiet mountain air. My wounded pride began to heal.
    With my transceiver still on, I strapped on my skis and pushed into the yard to work on my kick turns.
    The hill behind the cabin grew steeper. I swung my left ski 45 degrees to the left. I shifted my weight onto the ski. I planted my ski pole on the outside edge, raised my right toes up as far as my ankle would allow and swung the ski into the new uptrack. No problem.
    I walked about 20 yards and turned again, moving forward and up the mountain. The new snow helped traction.
    About a half mile from the cabin, I placed my poles in my pack and carefully folded my skins into my jacket. I transitioned into snowboard mode and for the first time on this trip, floated through a foot of new snow down to the cabin.
    Snow was pounding the mountains. The stairs to the cabin were now soft round pillows. Time for cabin chores. Another log on the fire, two logs. I warmed up some coffee on the stove, set my cup on the woodpile started shoveling the steps.
    Coming from Texas, I have little experience shoveling snow. Cow manure? Sure. But never snow.
    I threw the snow up the stairs. The walls were piled 7 feet high with snow, too high to throw over. Squaring the edges, keeping the stair as flat as possible. Repeat. Took about 10 minutes to clear a path. Next, gather snow to melt for water.
    Packed full of snow pails on top of the wood stove took about 45 minutes to melt five gallons. (Five gallons of snow made about 1.5 gallons of water.)
    I took a chair outside and sat next to the keg beneath the porch and watched the stairs fill with snow. Another cup of coffee. Another beer. The snow kept falling, light and fluffy. Our snow pit was filling in nicely. The temps had dropped since the early morning and it was probably 28 degrees an hour before sun set.
    The new snow was perfect. Refresh! It was what we all had prayed for.
    I wondered how the guys were doing but kept working, I wanted to have the place stocked with H20 by the time they got back.
    The stairs needed to be shoveled again. The stove needed more wood. This is what I did all afternoon. And I loved it.

    Everyone showed up very wet and very tired. It looked like they’d been swimming in their ski clothes.
    “How was it?” I asked.
    “Long walk back.”
    For the most part everyone was kind of quiet.
    “There was some grumbling on the hike out.” Brett said.
    “The Bataan Death March.” Someone else said.
    “But we made it!” Said another.
    I didn’t mention my wonderful day at camp.
    They hung their wet clothes on one of the 332 nails throughout the cabin. The walls were solid with coats, gloves, skins, hats, socks, pants, and thermal underwear. If there wasn’t a place to hang your goggles, you grabbed a hammer and a nail out of the five-gallon bucket of nails, and drove in a goggle hanger.
    The guides prepared dinner. These guys broke trail all day only to return to the cabin and cook amazing, three course meals. Every night! (Thanks, dudes. Nice work!)
    The rest of us sat quietly, passing the bottle of whiskey and enjoying the fire before dinner. The routine of cabin life. We settled into our sleeping bags. Lots of new snow on the ground. Now we just needed a little sunshine.

    Day three: 6:50 A.M.
    Coffee, breakfast, beacon check. It snowed all night. There was about 18” of new snow.
    “The Clag” (clouds), had the top of the mountains socked in. We skinned south towards some “mellow” terrain. As our skin track grew longer, the sun glanced out from behind the clouds, eventually burning the haze away. The upper ridge surrounding the valley showed itself in all of its magnificent glory.

    Like moths to a flame, we pointed steered towards the bigger stuff.
    We worked our way up the face; the spicy kick turns mellowed by fresh snow. Spirits were high as we ducked our heads and dug into the climb. I would stop every switchback or so to catch my breath (I was wheezing like and old smoker) but executed every one of my kick turns. The ridge above us was about 1500 feet away. It took 45 minutes to crest.

    “Yeah, Dud!” A few of the guys hollered as I made my way slowly to them. They knew I was suffering, but were ready to offer encouragement, never talking down, always positive. I’d execute a tricky turn and hear a,
    “Nice, Dud.” from anyone really. Even heard it from a guide once or twice.

    Pic by WAH

    Pic by WAH

    Pic by WAH

    On top of the ridge, Victor and Sunshine dug snow pits to assess the quality on north and south aspects. Things looked pretty good! We transitioned into ride mode and prepared to drop in.
    The lead guide rode through the deep snow to the rendezvous point in the trees below. Looked awesome! They let me drop first.
    “You came all the way from Texas.” Virgil said.
    I dropped into the deep powder. The camera shots I wanted to take would have to wait. 1600’ of unblemished cold smoke, face shot after face shot of light dry snow.
    “Sick!!” Was all I said.
    At the bottom of the hill, after hoots and high-fives, we transitioned into climbing mode and headed up for another run.
    Back on top, Sunshine pointed skiers right and dropped in.

    One by one, we followed. About half way down he reined us in.
    “I don’t feel good about what’s below us.” He said.
    We could see the top of what looked to be a gnarly gully.
    “Let’s put our skins back on, and head back up.”
    Once on top, the backside of the ridge showed us the Norway Camp terrain, Red Mountain and a bunch of other epic mountains and faces.
    The early evening sun shone on an unnamed peak about a half-mile west of where we stood on the ridge. It’s tall, southern face calling us. We pushed towards our first big obstacle.
    The summit was close. One by one we made it to top. We beamed like children. Sunny dropped in first, skiing long arching turns, spraying powder into the air. On the inside, we were all screaming for our turn to ride down this magnificent, and until this moment, untouched face. One by one, we whooped and hollered our way down the slope.
    Earn your turns. The 1,750 foot run was bliss. We gathered in the trees at the bottom of the run. The setting sun shown across our deep turns.
    We started the long skin home.
    A full moon cast long shadows across the white snow.
    We collapsed into camp. The glow from our day filled the cabin.
    We ate perfectly cooked pork chop fillets, followed by Victor’s Grandma’s Camp Cheesecake, with fresh strawberries. We passed the Jagermeister, finished the keg, killed the box of wine Joe brought, finished the whiskey and drank Tony’s underappreciated (but damn fine) bottle of scotch.
    Music got kind of crazy that night. Michael Jackson and a few other 80’s bands made their way into the rotation. Tony danced and told us all to go “f#@k ourselves” if we didn’t like it. Great day!
    The booze was almost gone. We drifted off to sleep.

    Last Day:

    Pic by TB

    To get back to the cars we would hike all of our stuff out, regain the ridge behind camp, and ski fall line down to the road.
    But first! There was more riding to do!
    The beautiful terrain directly behind camp hadn’t been ridden. We built a kicker 100 yards from the cabin. The idea being that you ride down the face then hit the jump.
    I had a little bit of battery charge left on the camera and wanted to film them riding the new zone.
    I worked on the kicker while the guys skinned up the side of the ridge. Victor dropped first, carving sweet S-turns down a mellow spine. He stopped short of hitting the jump, making sure everyone was down first.
    One by one, hollers, the loudest of the trip, filled the valley. Huge powder turns. Mandon rode his line and pinned it for the jump.
    “Shit. He’s hauling ass!” I thought to myself.
    He came roaring past me.
    He crashed with a thud and a smile. I cheered! Virgil slammed next. Sunny checked his speed a bit but was the only one to ride out of his jump. Brett tried a 360. He made it 210 degrees around before crashing into the landing zone. Tony charged! Flying head high off the jump and rolling awkwardly onto his back, before landing in a cloud of smoke. Holy shit! We all cheered!
    By all accounts, the backyard runs were “epic”. The guides named the new terrain “El Primero”.

    Time to go home.
    We took a group picture in front of the cabin, grabbed our gear, and single file, made our way out of the beautiful valley.

    There were a few spicy kick turns at the crux of the climb but we gained the ridge. I believe it was the backside of Cornucopia Peak, an unbelievably long and aesthetic bowl.
    Victor dug a pit and gave us the green light. One by one, we dropped into the biggest, cleanest, line of the trip. About half way down, I realized this was the best run of my life. The day before was all-time, but I was more in control and aware on this one. Another perfect, 1500-foot powder run. We met at the bottom of the face and high-fived each other.

    According to the guides, we would follow this drainage down to the road and skate ski back to the cars as the snowmobiles would not be available to shuttle us the last six miles home.
    Victor pulled out his map and conferred with Sunshine.
    We stayed high and left of the drainage, working our way down the mountain. The basin walls began to grow around us. We found ourselves in the bottom of two converging drainages. Brush and a creek lined the bottom of the valley.
    “What does it look like down there?” Victor asked.
    “Gnar!” Sunny replied.
    More conferring. We needed to leave this ravine and its 50-foot tall walls. With two tight kick turns, Sunny put in an almost vertical skin track out. We powered up the steep face and into the protection of the waiting trees. Everyone stood safely along the exit trail.
    We transitioned to ride mode and followed the guides to the road that had led us into these beautiful mountains. Victor instructed us to stay in skate ski mode, it would be the fastest way to travel to the car. I had never skate skied before. Never skied before. The road was chewed up ice. The guides and skiers hauled ass out of sight. Virgil and I slipped around on the ice.
    “Fuck this. I’m skinning out.” Virgil said.
    He put his skins on and was soon gliding past me.
    I put my skins on and followed him. A mile or so in, Victor was waiting for us. He said that we needed to skate ski or we’d be here forever. Especially on the downhill sections. I said something about,
    “trying to make it, just trying to survive the final push.” He shrugged his shoulders and skied off.
    I skinned another mile. The terrain was almost exclusively downhill now so I took my skins off and put my snowboard together. I put on my helmet, grabbed my poles, and skate-boarded out of there. The metal edges of the board scratched and bit against the choppy ice road. I made my way down the hill. About 2 miles in, I saw Virgil, still in skin mode. I rode past him and asked if he was ok. He said he was. I continued to pinball down the trail.
    About 20 minutes I made it to the cars. Everyone cheered. They were all standing next to the vehicles in warm dry clothes.

    Looking back at Cornucopia Peak. (Where we’d started our day.)

    About 30 minutes later, the sun low behind the mountains, we saw a dark figure making his way down the road. It was Virgil. We all cheered.


    Hell yea, good writeup. And good video edit too. Awesome trip.


    That video catches all the stoke! Well done.

    spruce cabin

    Thanks, dudes!

    @UTAH wrote:

    That video catches all the stoke! Well done.

    Yeah, the video came together pretty easy. Unlike the written part, which was like pulling teeth I say! :banghead: 😉
    MIght just stick to video documentation!

    Glad you liked it! :clap:


    Sick! I get so stoked when I see anything from Eastern Oregon, especially the Wallowas! Thanks for sharing.


    Awesome trip report! Looks like you hit the Wallowas at a great time…nice documentation of the trip! :thatrocks:


    This may be one of my favorite TRs ever, I love the total honesty. Your description of skinning complete with the internal dialogue gave me flashbacks to my first few tours. Falling, and falling some more.
    So happy to see a fellow Houstonian splitboarder! (I grew up in the Pasadena/Clear Lake area, have lived everywhere from Katy to the southwest side to Montrose to the 4th Ward, went to UH. We moved to the mountains 4 years ago never having slid on snow. The first time I ever saw a splitboard was last spring when I went to the Silverton splitfest. Of course, I can’t get enough, been riding about 40 days a season, half of those with my wife and kids…

    Thanks again.

    167 furberg
    163/26 Venture Helix


    Awesome! The Wallowa’s are amazingly beautiful! Nice work on the video and photo edits and way to score on the maiden voyage to the cabin. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Wallowa’s in the summer and fall, but have yet to visit in winter. Hoping to change that soon and hopefully put a trip together for next year!

    spruce cabin

    Thanks, bro. 😀 Sure didn’t think I’d meet another Houstonite around here!
    What part of NM are you in?
    My family (wife and two boys) spend our limited mountain time in and around Wolf Creek and Durango.
    Would love to meet up some time!


    Well put together TR! :thumpsup:

    Over 27, 9000’+ peaks, rising out of the high desert, the Wallowas. :drool:


    Eagle Cap Wilderness is the real deal. Great TR :guinness:


    @spruce cabin wrote:

    Thanks, bro. 😀 Sure didn’t think I’d meet another Houstonite around here!
    What part of NM are you in?
    My family (wife and two boys) spend our limited mountain time in and around Wolf Creek and Durango.
    Would love to meet up some time!

    I’m in Los Alamos, I do most of my riding at Wolf Creek when not at my local hill or the other NM spots. I also have two boys, 7 and 5, who both love to ski. Drop me a line next time you’re up this way, let’s ride!

    167 furberg
    163/26 Venture Helix


    Great writeup, I would love to check out Eastern Oregon terrain sometime.

    I feel like I’ve been doing it wrong all these years,

    We drank beer from a keg of Terminal Gravity IPA (bought in by snowmobile), passed around the whiskey, and talked about the days ahead.

    spruce cabin

    @snownskate wrote:

    Great writeup, I would love to check out Eastern Oregon terrain sometime.

    Thank ye! You should definitely check out the Wallowas! As chronicracing mentioned,

    Over 27, 9000’+ peaks, rising out of the high desert, the Wallowas.

    @snownskate wrote:

    I feel like I’ve been doing it wrong all these years,

    We drank beer from a keg of Terminal Gravity IPA (bought in by snowmobile), passed around the whiskey, and talked about the days ahead.

    Having a keg of locally brewed beer was the cherry on top for sure!


    Nice! :disco:

    We were the party that went after y’all. Didn’t get freshies like y’all, but we found some decent snow. Mostly down lower as the wind had scoured the snow on the upper areas.

    Posted on Ttips, as we were mostly tele. I’m sure more Wallowas stoke could be appreciated no matter what form of snow travel, egh?

    And yes… the keg delivery was amazing :guinness: !


    spruce cabin

    @telek wrote:

    Nice! :disco:

    We were the party that went after y’all. Didn’t get freshies like y’all, but we found some decent snow. Mostly down lower as the wind had scoured the snow on the upper areas.

    Posted on Ttips, as we were mostly tele. I’m sure more Wallowas stoke could be appreciated no matter what form of snow travel, egh?

    And yes… the keg delivery was amazing :guinness: !


    Sweet vid! Thanks for sharing. Looks like you got some nice turns.
    (I really need to get me one of them new fangled GoPro cameras!)
    Wasn’t the cabin kick ass?

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