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Revisiting Maxwell Butte

Updated: May 5

March 9, 2024—With some recent snowfall in Santiam Pass, I decided to drive to Maxwell Butte near Santiam Junction to get in some snowshoeing. Last year, I brought a couple of friends with me to snowshoe Maxwell Butte. They had never been there before. We stopped at the north warming shelter for lunch and to warm up, but I had forgotten to snap some photos of the shelter before we left. Today was my chance to finally get those photos.

There was a light snow falling when I arrived at the Maxwell Butte Sno-Park. I put on my gear and headed out on trail number 8 that starts next to the restrooms in the parking lot.

Snow conditions were soft and great for snowshoeing. The trails were well groomed, and I made good time as I started my climb up the butte to the north warming shelter.

On ascent up the hill, I met a party of four snowshoers also making the climb. You meet the nicest people while out snowshoeing. We started up a conversation about previous snowshoeing trips at Maxwell Butte. They told me a week earlier the area had received lots of new snow. The trails had yet to be groomed, requiring them to snowshoe through deep powder. I was glad I had waited a week. Conditions sounded similar to those I encountered back in early January when I snowshoed at Big Springs.

Snowshoeing in powder is fun, but it more tiring than snowshoeing on groomed trails. It cuts down the distance you can snowshoe because it requires more effort to hike, is exhausting, and takes much longer to go the same distance. You’re trying to move forward, but because your shoes sink in the powder, you wind up lifting and shoveling snow forward. It tires your legs, especially your thighs. For those reasons, they didn’t make it far last week, to which I could relate following my experience at Big Springs.

I said my good-byes, told them I’d see them at the warming shelter, and continued my climb.

A group of six hikers descending the hill passed me on the way up. They stopped to say hi and told me they had spent the night sleeping in the warming shelter.

Farther up the trail, I passed a father with his son in tow on a sled descending from the warming shelter. There are some steep sections of trail number 12. Asked if he had also towed his son up the hill, he told me only part of the way. He made his son walk during the steep sections of the trail. Before departing, he mentioned that I had the whole warming shelter to myself. That meant there would be no fire going in the shelter to warm up next to. Oh well, maybe it would still be warm from last night’s campers.

I reached the shelter, and indeed had it all to myself. It was a little cool inside the shelter—a fire would have been nice—but not uncomfortable. I stayed for a half hour, eating lunch, before putting my snowshoes back on to start the journey back down the hill. Just as I was leaving, I encountered the four people I had bumped into earlier on the trail. I was wondering if they had taken a different route since it took them so long to reach the top. They told me that they took the same route, they just took their time making the climb.

By the time I departed the warming shelter, the wind had picked up and was now blowing strong from the south. It also started to snow, lightly at first, as I worked my way down the butte.

I had planned to descend by taking a different trail I had yet to explore. However, it hadn’t been groomed—there was just a set of cross-country ski tracks. I decided to start my descent on the same trail I had climbed up using, but I deviated from the trail halfway down the hill.

On my way down the hill, I encountered nine more snowshoers making their way to the warming shelter. It was about to get very crowded in that hut. I was glad I got there before it got crowded. There isn’t a lot of seating in the shelter, just one picnic table and five platforms where people can roll out sleeping bags and sleep. I guess those platforms would have to do double duty and serve as benches since no one was camping in the shelter overnight.

The number of snowshoers and cross-country skiers I encountered served as a testament of how popular Maxwell Butte is. Previous encounters with snowshoers on Saturdays who have stayed overnight in the shelter lead me to believe that it’s less crowded staying overnight on a Saturday than on a Friday. No one I encountered on the trails today was planning to stay overnight.

By the time I reached trail number 13, the snow was coming down heavily, though not a white-out. It was a beautiful sight.

Trail number 13 connects to trail numbers 14, then 15, and finally 8, which takes snowshoers back to the parking lot. I’m not sure why trail number 8 felt longer going back to the parking lot than it did when I first started out on my trip.

Once back at the parking lot, it was time to head back home, thus ending a beautiful day snowshoeing at Maxwell Butte. This may be the last snowshoe trip I get in this season, so it ended on a high note.

Throughout the day at Maxwell Butte, every snowshoer I encountered was very friendly and eager to talk about his or her snowshoeing adventures, which bares repeating that you meet the nicest people snowshoeing. We’re like one big brother- and sisterhood.



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