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Sleeping in the Wilds in Winter 

The Source's outdoor writer packs in—and out—of a local backcountry cabin... but he's not gonna tell you which one.

Three of us carried heavy packs for miles, trudging through knee-deep snow, towing over 100 pounds of food and gear for the many days ahead in the Oregon backcountry.

Our wintry paradise was a cabin in the middle of somewhere, surrounded by bountiful groves of hemlock, completely blanketed in snow. There was no electricity, running water or cell phone service. For us, the solitude and escape from the outside world was needed and welcomed. Conversations abundant, social media forgotten and surviving absolutely necessary

The heart of the cabin was the wood stove, pumping heat into the rustic open space. We melted snow into water, roasted tortillas on the open flame and cooked everything from bacon and eggs to pasta marinara on the stovetop. We ate like kings and earned every bite by the amount of effort sustained each day. Our wet jackets, gloves and boots hung near the source of heat to dry after a long day of adventuring. Our tired bodies fell asleep into the cozy cocoon of our sleeping bags each night. Our daily alarm was the sun shining through the windows as the cold air touched our faces, a sharp reminder that the coals of our fire were about to extinguish. A family of grey jays sung each morning while devouring any scrap of food we had discarded the night before.

That's a glimpse into the experience at one of the over 60 federally owned cabins and fire lookouts for rent through the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon and Washington. The rental fees help with upkeep and maintenance costs, and most of these cabins are available during the spring, summer and fall. The few available in the winter require competent winter survival techniques, perseverance and the proper mode of travel. Backcountry skis, splitboards, snowshoes—and in some cases snowmobiles—are the preferred method of transportation to access these secluded oases. All food, gear and the resulting waste hauled in must be packed out and "leave no trace" ethics followed.

To discover a similar experience, Three Sisters Backcountry offers multiple options to accommodate different backcountry users.

For the self-guided Nordic skier wanting to avoid avalanche terrain, there's a three-day, two-night traverse covering over 22 miles in the Three Sisters Wilderness at an average elevation of 6,500 feet. There's no shortage of magnificent views of the Cascade Range while traveling through hidden meadows and snow covered hills. Food is stocked each week to make the days of touring easier. Good Life Brewing provides a supply of beer to both the Lone Wolf and Happy Valley Nordic Huts.

For the expert and more adrenaline-focused skier or snowboarder, there are two yurts conveniently located at the base of Tam McArthur Rim. The rim rises 1,500 feet above the tree-protected location, providing a lifetime of skiing in open bowls, treed glades and steep chutes. The Owl and Raven yurts hold six bunks each, and include a full kitchen and wood stove, and share a sauna in between. Commute the six miles via human power, or for a small fee, you can get shuttled in via snowmobile. Thirsty adults can even request a keg to be hauled in from one of the many local breweries. An avalanche beacon, probe and shovel are required and expert ski guides are available for hire to find all the secret powder stashes.

For backcountry enthusiasts wanting to learn about snow science and avalanche education, AIARE Level I and II Avalanche courses take place, too. The format allows students to be fully immersed in the field to study varying snow conditions and get more of a hands-on learning experience. What that means: more time to enjoy skiing and less time in a traditional classroom setting, staring at a computer screen!

Three Sisters Backcountry

U.S. Forest Service historic cabins and fire lookouts

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