awaiting dawn on tumalo mountain
Words & Photos by Joe Riedl
I lay there quietly for what must have been two hours. Every part of me ached from the frigid snow that seeped through the two layers of tarp underneath our tent. While my friends Jack and Grant slept soundly just inches away, I was waiting for the light to crest over the horizon and breach the pitch blackness. I hoped it would be worth it.
Visions of bright pink skies and fresh snow had danced through my mind for months. There were no more excuses when a foot of snow fell early in the season, so I set off for Tumalo Mountain with a few intrepid friends.
We left our homes in Bend just a few hours before sunset. I knew Jack well but had only recently met Grant—though anyone thrilled by the thought of spending an uncomfortable night atop a cold, windy mountain was sure to make a great addition.
As a few cars rolled by us on their way out of the Dutchman Flat Sno-Park, Jack realized that not only had he forgotten his sleeping pad, but more importantly, his tent. With the knowledge that all the best adventures start with something going wrong, I reassured the two of them that they could squeeze into my 2-person tent. Besides, we would need as much warmth as we could get. With this comforting thought, we continued on with mildly panicked enthusiasm.
The trail meandered for three relaxed miles, but the deep snow slowed our pace. Every so often, Mt. Bachelor revealed itself through the trees, flaunting just a taste of the view we were chasing. An hour into the hike, the cold began to seep through my battered loaner gloves, and the bite of frigid air felt increasingly more lethal.
We summited just after sundown and scrambled to dig out a spot under a tree for our tent, which is the quickest route to warmth. My frozen-fingered attempt to construct our shelter prompted Jack and Grant to take over. I watched as they squeezed our small tent under the drooping, frost-covered tree. It was dark, my hands were useless and aching, and I was getting exhausted. My mind wandered back to a warm, cozy bed back in Bend.
I hopped into the tent and wrapped myself in everything I could find while the others stayed outside and made a fire. After a few minutes, I joined them for a little hand toasting and photography, which is what had inspired the trip. In what felt like the theme of the night, a piece of my tripod snapped off while taking long exposure photos of the stars, but by that point I was too cold to be upset. I burrowed into the tent and drifted off to sleep.
A few hours of surprisingly deep slumber later, a burst of wind slammed into the tent and woke me. I wondered how long I had before sunrise and tried to picture the trees swaying in the loud, roaring wind.
Finally, a sliver of light seeped through the thin walls of our tent. I reached over my companions, unzipped the tent, and poked my head outside. A thick strip of bright orange lined the eastern horizon. I shook the guys awake—this was exactly the sunrise we were looking for. We slowly made our way out into the howling, icy wind.
The colors of the sunrise glittering off the snow far exceeded our expectations. I turned toward Mt. Bachelor. It sat calmly to the south, still dark. I rushed uphill about a hundred feet from our camp to catch a glimpse of the Sisters and Broken Top. A beautiful, soft blue swathed the base of the mountains, fading into an ocean of pink at the peaks. I have never seen a sky so lit with color.
We spent the morning walking around the summit, conversation was sparse as we admired the glowing 360 degree view. Jack and Grant concluded our venture by skiing down the mountain while I walked behind—reflecting.
Every time I find myself camping in the cold on winter nights, I suffer the same discomforts: stinging cheeks, exhaustion, frozen appendages—and the only one I have to blame is myself. But the physical hardship melts away in the face of the beauty I experience. I will remember dawn on Tumalo Mountain not because of my cold fingers, but because of the vibrant sky and and who I shared those moments with.