Skiing the Hog Loppet with the Deuter Speedlite 30
For 4 years I have wanted to ski the Hog Loppet -- a 30km wilderness ski trek along the crest of the Wenatchee Mountains of Central Washington from Mission Ridge to Blewett Pass. I have a long list of reasons (excuses) why this hasn't happened--first year too busy, second year new baby, third year I signed up and rode the bus to the start only to have the event cancelled due to high winds--but this year everything was aligning perfectly.
The Hog Loppet is more a social event than a race or a true wilderness experience. Over 500 skiers participate in an average year, and much of the course is on Forest Service roads and is groomed before the event. I skied with two college friends, Greg and Geordie, and Geordie's dad, Henry. Greg and I met Geordie and Henry at the buses that leave from Wenatchee to shuttle skiers to the Mission Ridge Ski Area.
When we arrived at the base lodge at Mission Ridge, we prepared for the ski lift ride to the top, and the high winds at the summit, by donning extra layers and goggles. It felt odd to be getting on a ski lift with lightweight cross-country skis, but there were hundreds of others waiting to do the same and I couldn't help but think some of them may have never ridden a lift before. I clutched my Deuter Speedlite 30 as we were blasted by 40+ mph gusts of wind on the lift ride up and then deposited onto the windswept summit of Mission Ridge. The Speedlite 30 was the perfect pack since it is lightweight but spacious enough to carry all of my essentials, including extra layers that were only needed early in the day and at aid station rest breaks.
The early morning sun was creeping over the ridge and the skies were blue and clear. I was ecstatic to be there. We quickly prepared to start skiing and dropped down one of the ski runs. Partway down the run, skiers are directed off-trail, where they negotiate un-groomed backcountry terrain--through trees, down several slopes, and a fast single-track traverse--before gaining a Forest Service road and the beginning of the groomed tracks. Patrollers from Mission Ridge stand by to direct skiers through the un-groomed section and have front-row seats to the comedy show of hundreds of cross-country skiers of all abilities weaving, wobbling and cratering into the soft powdery snow. Fortunately, for me, years of survival-skiing skills, gained from flailing around in the backcountry in variable conditions, resulted in a rather enjoyable time through this section. In fact, this was one of my favorite parts of the course.
Not long after gaining the groomed tracks, we began the longest climb of the day. Greg and I were nearly at the top of the hill, and were traveling through one of the areas that was burned during a huge wildfire this past fall, when we smelled smoke. Just as I was thinking it was odd to still smell smoke from the fire, we turned a corner and were welcomed by the sight of aid station #1 with snacks, beverages and a smoky campfire. At this point we were only about 1/3 of the way through the course but had already completed the most difficult terrain.
The rest of the course was well-groomed and generally follows the ridge top with gentle ups and downs. Despite the terrain being easier, the low point of the day for me occurred just before the second aid station. I could feel myself beginning to lose momentum and I knew that I was only about halfway through the course. Within minutes of this realization I saw Haney Meadows and knew the aid station was close. After some soup, fruit, cookies and rehydration I was ready to go again. It turns out I was just running out of fuel. I felt great for the rest of the ski after this.
Since the course weaves its way along the ridge top, there are many opportunities for views- first over Wenatchee and the Columbia River valley and later towards Kittitas Valley, the Cascade Crest and the Enchantments. Throughout the day we also passed through areas where the nearly 60,000-acre Wenatchee Complex fire had burned last fall. The burned trees provided a striking and beautiful contrast against the fresh, white snow. The weather was sunny and pleasant and the miles passed by quickly while enjoying the scenery, weather and conversation with friends and other skiers. The last 4 miles are predominantly downhill, which was the perfect way to enjoy the last leg of the adventure.
The Speedlite 30 has become my favorite all-around, do-everything pack and it was perfect for this trip- lightweight with one large compartment to stuff my puffy jacket, water and a few extra clothes. The lid pocket and mesh pockets on the hipbelt and outside of the pack were perfect for storing small essentials (lip balm, ski wax, snacks, sunscreen, etc.) for quick access. A ski-specific pack would have been overkill for this trip since I wasn't carrying skis, probe, or a shovel and would have been heavier than necessary for carrying my relatively light load. I can see why skiers return year after year to ski the Hog Loppet and am already looking forward to doing it again next year.
–Jesse Cunningham (Family Ambassador).