Our hike began in the Dallas with looming bad weather on the horizon. The winter had thus far been so mild it didn't really bother me. The Columbia River Gorge is notorious for bizarre weather patterns and academic people flock to local universities from around the world to study it. Apparently a bunch of geological stuff all comes together in one place to effect the weather and that doesn't happen very often. Growing up here, it all seems normal. It's just The Gorge.
So we left from the Dallas, in the rainshadow of the Cascades. It was cold, but it is always cold there in January. The air was still dry then, as the day wore on it you began to smell the snow coming.
About 20 minutes in, The Barracuda announced "You're right, Mom, this is a lot of fun!" The Barracuda's experience road walking is quite slim since we normally keep to trails. Road walking has a significantly different feel, but he was quite thrilled with the Ponderosa pines, the cascades of frozen icicles along the road sides, the views of the Columbia we looked out upon.
The snow was not expected till somewhere around 5:30 that night and by 7 pm an extreme weather advisory was to come in effect. We had no way of knowing that as we walked, the weather was coming closer and the advisory being bumped up hour by hour.
When we handed the thermos back over and began to walk toward the underpass, the woman became increasingly concerned and actually got out of her car to stop us. Apparently she thought I was going to try and cross the existing highway (an Interstate, with semi's) with my 6 year old while carrying heavy packs. Someone had tried to cross the highway on foot about a month before and it hadn't ended well. She insisted we let her drive us across. The Barracuda was tired, so we agreed. It wasn't until then that I heard the weather advisories on the radio. Snow was projected to hit any minute. It was only around 1:15. The day was hardly over for us.
The nice lady then proceeded to drive us over two miles further down the road to a campsite that she felt was better. It was well intentioned, but our quick jaunt of less than 1 mile across a highway had now become about 3.5 miles tacked onto tomorrow just to get us back on track.
There was no time to think about it, however, because as we were unloading our packs from her car the snow began to fall. It was about 1:30pm and we had to get a tent up fast. We followed the signs to the designated camping area, only to then see that it was closed for the season. If we wanted to legally camp we would have to hike the 3.5 miles back along the railroad tracks. There was just no way. The tent was pitched, The Barracuda went off to play, and I hiked back up to the rest area to fill the water bladder with scalding hot water from the rest rooms.
On the way back down to the campsite I was stopped by the Park Rangers. Matt Dewey was a nice young man, who we would see regularly over the next few days. Jules later became convinced he was in love with me, but Jules regularly becomes convinced of that with many people. Matt informed me the park was closed and we couldn't camp. He also wanted to know what I was doing camping with my son, in the Gorge, in the middle of January.
I explained we were homeschoolers, studying Lewis and Clark, this was close to the time of year they went through (they did it in November), we were heading to Troutdale on foot, a nice woman dropped us off here by mistake, we needed to get out of the weather. His look of "should I call the authorities on this person" quickly shifted to "WHAT?!" About that time another, larger Ranger began walking up the road with a concerned Barracuda.
Now is a good time to admit that I don't trust people, any people. For a long time after living with even Jules I had secret money set aside in case we needed to leave. There is no logical reason why I shouldn't trust any people, I just don't. Thankfully, Jules doesn't trust people either so he understands and it works.
At the sight of the Ranger with my son, my hand quickly went to my Spyderco and my face went dead. I took two steps back from the truck Matt was in, called The Barracuda over behind me and just stared at the two of them. Matt noticed my change and began back-pedalling fast. He called his supervisor to see if we would be allowed to camp that night and the other Ranger talked to us. He asked The Barracuda how old he was, commented on our gear, and asked how the trip was going. Our information was taken down and then made sure we had someone who could come get us if everything went wrong. They were both leery to leave, but we were granted until 9 am the next morning, and told they were going to come check on us to be sure we were out.
We ate at about 3:30, crawled into our sleeping bags and read Call of the Wild till around 5, and hugged the still warm dromedary. We were asleep by 6, but it didn't last long. Every 2 hours I awoke to knock the snow off the tent and keep it from collapsing. At the 9:30 I woke up to a whimpering Barracuda. His face was freezing, he couldn't sleep, and was having trouble staying warm. He crawled into my sleeping bag for us to share the rest of the night and the snow checks were bumped up to every hour and fifteen minutes. The freezing rain began around 3 am so I could sleep longer.
And so went our first night. I later found out the temperatures dropped somewhere between 8 and 11 degrees. With the crazy windchill it was definitely much, much lower. The campsite we were supposed to camp in (the one that was open) is an exposed site on right on the Columbia River. I don't know if our tent would have withstood the winds or if we would have been able to handle the cold had we not been taken to the wrong place.