The Snow Bowl Hut rose from the summit shrouded in a dense fog as we ascended to Bruni’s Snow Bowl in the Mount Tahoma Trail Association (MTTA) Snow Park. Though we couldn’t see it, we could sense the expanse of an airy valley falling away into the mist. Laughter and voices drifted down the trail, putting us on notice that the hut was occupied. We gratefully made our final push to the top and, as new arrivals, the hut’s occupants hollered greetings and asked about our journey in the spirit of backcountry fellowship.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s go back to the start. I was introduced to MTTA based out of Ashford, WA through chaperoning Boy Scout snowshoe outings to Copper Creek Hut. From the top parking lot, the hike up to Copper Creek is 4.5 miles. It is uphill all the way but the ascent is gradual enough that I have seen boys of 11 or 12 make the journey with a full backpack.
The Copper Creek Hut boasts solar power lighting, propane heat, a propane oven and a water filtration system. The hut is a great example of what can be accomplished off-grid. The cookware stocked kitchen, seating area and dining tables are downstairs. Upstairs is the sleeping loft, which includes enough bunk beds and sleeping pads to accommodate 14.
I heard tales of other huts on the south side of the trail system including High Hut and Bruni’s Snow Bowl Hut. The climb to these is only three miles from the upper parking lot, yet the elevation gain is more challenging than Copper Creek. There is also a Yurt 2.5 miles beyond Snow Bowl.
All of the huts are open to the public from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. daily. If you’re interested in renting a hut overnight there is a fundraising Reservation Gala each fall at the Seattle REI and, if you aren’t picky about dates, reservations can still be made online.
Our First Journey to Snow Bowl
My friend Daniel proposed a snow shoe trip and I suggested cross country skis. In the spirit of “be prepared” we borrowed a set of skis and snow shoes, and rented a second set of skis from Whitaker Mountaineering in Ashford. We purchased a parking pass for the Snow Park at Ashford Valley Grocery but you can also purchase one online.
The road up to the Bruni’s Snow Bowl was clear. However, there are years when the snow level is low enough that chains are required and the upper parking lot is closed which means you must park at the lower parking lot adding another mile to the climb.
As Daniel pointed out, “It may seem counter intuitive to ski up the three miles to Snow Bowl near Mount Rainier and snowshoe back down but that’s exactly what we did.”
From the upper parking lot we strapped our snowshoes and boots to our packs and donned our skis. With limited cross-country ski experience, we were nervous about skiing up to Snow Bowl. While it was uphill most of the way, and in some places rather steep, we found skiing up easier than expected. At least it wasn’t any harder than snow-shoeing. Don’t get me wrong, the cardio workout was very challenging but personally I found it to be easier on my knees than snowshoeing or hiking. During the short downhill sections that we encountered on the way up we discovered going downhill on cross country skis is much harder than anticipated. Most of my ski experience is with downhill style skis and I found the downhill slide with cross country skis difficult to control. I grew increasing nervous about the trip down.
When we reached Bruni’s Snow Bowl Hut, we went in for lunch and a well-deserved rest. We fired up the oven, baked a batch of premade Macadamia and White Chocolate Chip Cookie dough and enjoyed a peaceful lunch by the fire. The cabin’s occupants came and went, and we chatted amicably in the way that happens amongst strangers that meet on the trail.
According to MTTA, “Bruni’s Snow Bowl Hut is named for Bruni (Brunhilda) Wislicenus, whose generous bequest to the Mountaineers Foundation made it possible for us to complete the fundraising needed to replace the original Snow Bowl Hut. Snow Bowl Hut was originally built in 1992 and burned down in 2008.” A plaque in her honor hangs in the hut.
The Hut at Snow Bowl boasts the same amenities as Copper Creek and also sleeps 14 people. I understand the view of Mount Rainier and surrounding mountains is incredible but unfortunately, we could only see fog. We did explore a unique area just beyond the hut called “A Special Place” which was conceived by Judy Scavone, a conservationist who is memorialized there. A Special Place is meant to be treated with care and respect, and is planted in the hopes that it will one day become a meadow. There is a fire ring, a gazebo meditation room and burned out logs surrounding the area which give it a Stonehenge feel. The entire area is draped with Tibetan prayer flags. Visitors are welcome to leave weather proof items that have a personal meaning in A Special Place.
We quickly lost track of time while at Snow Bowl. We started down on skis but quickly decided to change over to more manageable snow shoes. We had originally joked about sledding down but doubted the way would be steep enough, but in retrospect there were large portions of the trail that would have been great sledding. The descent took less than an hour and a half, half of which was done in the dark. This wasn’t a problem for the trail is wide and groomed.
For more information visit MTTA’s webpage and their comprehensive FAQ section. For up to date trail information follow them on Twitter.