The Wallowas are quickly becoming a very special place for me. Standing 9 miles deep into the mountains, you get a sense of natural isolation. The remote trailhead we left behind in style, 10 people on 5 machines with four trailers full of gear, is no longer a thought once planted at the cozy mountain home of Yurtstar Galactica. The isolation found in the Wallowas is one of the most amazing aspects the range has to offer. Tucked away in the Northeastern corner of Oregon, there is no major city near by. On a beautiful mid-winter weekend, we saw no other skiers and heard only the occasional snowmobile in the distance from one lone group of riders. This was the setting for the Pine Martin Express Reunion Tour. MLK Weekend 2017 was the second time our group assembled from Bend, Portland, Salt Lake, and Bozeman, to explore together and live the yurt lifestyle for a few days.
For our second attempt at riding the southern Wallowas, we were gifted with an insane weather window. Still air, cool temps, stable fresh snow and sun for four days straight. You can’t ask for weather like that in the Northwest and to actually have experienced it left me pinching myself.
What’s more important than the forecast? It’s the people you are stuck in the yurt with when the weather goes to shit. I might have crafted the guest list but it still feels surreal to have gathered such a talented, kind, fun group of riders to this adventure. If a group like this ever assembles again, I want to be there for it.
Here are four short memories that sum up the group camaraderie and strength form my experience:
1) On the first day, Mikey, Bina and Sam skipped out on the easy (and rewarding!) turns near the yurt to set a skin track across the valley, towards the big objective for the trip. Their efforts were pivotal in placing us below the big lines we wanted to ride the following day. At 10:30am, our group was gathered in the far valley making approach decisions for who wanted to ride what.
2) On the second morning, Ben made toasted, fully loaded, smoked salmon bagels to help power us through a huge day’s tour. Each meal followed in this fashion, made by a small team working to feed the larger group superbly.
3) When the going got tough on a big approach up Red Mountain, I was ready to turn back. Having a teammate push ahead and put us on the summit was a sight for sore eyes. I’m grateful to Reid for having bigger legs and eyes than I do. There’s a reason why he’s a Derby splitboard champ.
4) On the third day of riding, we were all gathered at the yurt late in the afternoon. Having finished riding nice lines, we were snacking and drinking, relaxing on chairs and snowmobile seats for golden hour. Bina motivated a group for a sunset tour to close out the day. When else do you take sunset tours other than on a yurt trip? Not being the person to motivate a final push like that was pretty awesome. It didn’t take much convincing to for me to join in for one more.
The southern Wallowas have terrain for all abilities and any type of weather. We were fortunate enough to have good weather and big ambitions. The goal of the trip was to get across the river valley dividing the yurt from the bigger lines. On the second day, we punched out across the valley and split into two groups. Bina, Sam and Mikey made a huge push up the Horn chute, which involved some steep touring followed by a big boot-pack. They successfully rode the chute and then rallied for a second lap up to ride The Hulk.
The larger group moved up and out towards Red Mountain and Norway, which are two of the longest runs in the area but less challenging technically. We made better than expected turns down Red and then boot-packed up the back side of Norway. These two peaks stack up near one another with Norway’s big bowl leading down into a river valley below the yurt, making for a great pair to tag in one day. The round trip was probably 8miles of touring and over 3k vert. 8:30am to 4:30pm kinda day.
The Big lines made for a great feeling of accomplishment but it was the steep feature packed riding near the yurt that was my favorite. We rode Spines and Lines two different days. These steep north facing chutes right outside the yurt door collect snow, caking up on rocks, trees and chute walls making them incredibly surfy.
A great group of people put themselves in an isolated mountain range to be left alone in search of steep ski turns, with great snow and sunny skies. This happened and it made for a snowboard trip I will never forget.