Solo Winter Hammock Camping at Lake Ollalie
What is it about hiking and camping in the snow we enjoy so much? The pristine beauty of the snowy forest? The crispness of the air? The intense quiet? Or is it a blend of everything we love about nature, experienced in a different and challenging environment? In any case, for those of us that love a moderate hike through a snowy forest and campsites a-plenty, Ollalie Lake on the western slopes of the Cascade mountains in Washington is a great choice.
I camped there recently, (you can find the video on my YouTube channel, Amputee Outdoors) and found myself running through ideas of how I could make a career hiking professionally so I could do it more often.
The hike starts at the Pratt Lake trailhead and along the way you have the opportunity to go for Granite mountain, Talapus Lake, Ollalie Lake or Pratt Lake. There is a danger of avalanches on the trail to Granite mountain, so I suggest forgoing that hike until later in spring.
The roughly 4-mile trail to Ollalie Lake was clear and well-traveled, making it easy to follow. The elevation gain is moderate, you’ll gain about 2,500 feet to an elevation of 3,880 feet, and although you are below the usual 4,000-foot limitation on campfires, no campfires are allowed near the lake.
I put my crampons on at the trailhead as the trail started with a slippery mix of slush, snow, and ice. The trail didn’t require snowshoes, but after about two miles, if you step off the trail, you’ll need snowshoes to keep from post-holing.
As an amputee, hiking is a challenge, even with my Ossur Cheetah Xplore which is made for high-activity level K4s like myself. Hiking in the snow, and carrying close to 40 lbs gear in my backpack, requires a lot of effort. A lot of calories are burned, and body heat increases accordingly. I found myself taking a layer off about the first mile and had to stop often to catch my breath and give my biological leg a rest.
Even with that challenge, I arrived at Ollalie Lake a little before lunch with plenty of energy to set up my rainfly. Once that was done it was time to get out the Esbit camping stove my son got for me. It’s a great little stove, lightweight, fuel is really cheap, measurements are on the inside of the pot instead of the outside, pour spout and silicon-covered handles. I’m not being reimbursed for singing its praises, it’s just a really good camp stove. In the video I posted, there’s a little trick I use to light it without having to put the lighter to the fuel.
Lunch was a simple recipe of chicken flavoured ramen noodles and chick chunks out of a foil bag. Four-star camping meal. 😊 Once I’d warmed myself up with some hot soup it was time to set up the hammock.
For this hammock camping adventure, I deviated from the usual straps I use and instead opted for 6-foot straps with 15 feet of Dyneema line attached to each strap. Dyneema cordage is amazingly strong and light, so it makes a good option for hammock whoopie slings. I was concerned that a whoopie sling would freeze up in the night so instead, I rigged up my hammock using a trucker's hitch to pull the hammock taut. It worked well and by using slippery knots I was able to undo everything the next day very quickly.
The sun descended to the edges of the mountains and with it the temperature. In the fading light, I boiled up some water and added that to a package of Mountain House Beef Stew. To keep the food warm and keep my fingers from burning on the hot bag, I put the Mountain House bag inside a Reflectix pouch I made just for this purpose. I’m sure others who have camped in the winter will agree with me when I confidently state that hot meals while camping in the snow somehow taste better and are more satisfying. You feel the warmth more, and the flavours and smells are stronger.
Like I usually do when camping, I hit the sack early. For winter hammock camping my setup is designed to provide insulation and flexibility.
The hammock is surrounded by my Flying Tent underquilt, between the underquilt and the hammock I have a Reflectix pad. In the hammock, I have my Geertop four-season sleeping bag and inside that a sleeping bag liner. For my foot, an extra merino wool sock and then my snow jacket draped over the
end of the sleeping bag. For extra warmth, I filled a Nalgene bottle, (this is the only situation where I bother with those heavy bottles) with hot water and put it between my legs. This warms the blood flowing up the large veins in my thighs going back to my heart and helping warm my whole body.
Occasionally in the night a clump of snow would fall off a tree and hit the rainfly hard enough to wake me, but being cozy and swaddled in my hammock as I was, I quickly drifted off back to sleep.
I slept later than I expected. Normally I’m up at first light when I camp but in this case, I didn’t wake up until about 8 am. Being nice and warm, I just lay in my hammock until I felt hungry and only then decided to get up. In the night another few inches of snow had fallen, smoothing out all the sharp edges of the footprints I’d made the day before.
Breakfast consisted of hot porridge and even hotter coffee. Again, made all the more satisfying and tasty sitting in a hammock next to an alpine lake in a forest. I could have sat around for a few more hours just enjoying the snow falling and the view of the frozen and snow-covered lake surrounded by mountains. Knowing how my wife worries about my solo camping, I made the difficult decision to break camp and start the journey down the mountain to the trailhead.
In the summer months, I plan to do this hike again and camp aside Ollalie Lake so I can enjoy its beauty from another perspective. Happy hiking and camping, see you out there!