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The Wallowa Mountains in the NE corner of Oregon are a rare breed in the state, known mostly for its volcanos of the Cascade range.  The Wallowas are largely made up of granite and basalt, spanning approximately 40 miles for NW to SE.  Several rivers and creeks drain out of the range, offering significant terrain options. 

Chargers @ Norway // 2015 from Ben McKinley on Vimeo.

Wallowa Alpine Huts (WAH) operates several camps in this range.  The most challenging terrain is said to exist in the Norway Camp with operations out of the famous Yurtstar Galictica.  This double decker yurt is perched on the edge of the basin with incredible views of mountains to the West, on the other side of Norway Creek.  

I had skied with the WAH crew once prior out of the McCully Basin in 2011.  Super fun, but a completely different experience.  More mellow morraines and less access to the upper ridges due to instability in the snowpack.  I got invited to join the Chargers, a loose posse of dads from the Portland area, in 2014.  I only knew a couple of the guys prior to the trip.  They pride themselves on long days riding hard terrain followed by strong aprés performances each night.  Unfortunately, four broken ribs, a punctured lung and crumby snowpack got in the way of that '14 trip.  
Fast forward another year, amidst the most depressing snowfall in recent history, and we were set to make another go at it.  It was with much anticipation and pent up need for good skiing that we migrated east in early March 2015 for 4 days of yurtlife with out guides Victor, Sunshine and Mace.  These seasoned and capable guides have been showing guests of all skill levels a good time in these mountains for 6+ years, each.  I'm always impressed with their expertise on the mountain and in the kitchen.  Yurtlife doesn't offer the most glamorous of accomadations, but they work magic with the meals.  All are strong riders and eager to share with you the stouter lines once you've proven yourself and when conditions permit.  We lucked out with both and got into some really fun terrain on the trip.

On day one, we got the sled tow for the first 6 miles before skinning the final 3 mi and 2,000' to camp.  After settling in, we took a few laps directly down from the yurt to warm up the legs and get a sense for the conditions.  Bootpacking, right out of the gate.  It was on.  On previous trips, the Chargers had never left this zone, choking on bottomless powder amongst the trees.  While we didn't get that snow, we got access to much more terrain during this trip.

Day 2 started with a long tour over several drainages to access a high alpine line called Thriller.  It required some exposed bootpacking toward the end, and provided some amazing views of the range to the north.  

This was easily the best skiing I had experienced all season.  This north facing slope, Thriller, was untracked since the last system rolled through and was protected from the sun.  We took turns leaving our mark on this terrain before continuing further down toward Fly Creek before it got choked out with trees.  

Prime boot top powder top to bottom.  So tasty.  We skied corn the rest of the day as we hopped from one ridge to the next.  Constantly scoping all the possibilities from the uptrack.

We woke Saturday with sore legs and big plans to explore Norway Basin.  We spent a couple hours crossing Norway Creek and making our way up to the ridge top before strapping our skis on for the first turns of the day.  This required more bootpacking up steep terrain.  We found more boot top powder on North facing terrain.  The group split up amongst several chutes along the ridge.  Lots of high fives at the bottom.  After a quick lunch break, but made our way West over several ridges and rode prime corn along the way, before skinning back to the yurt as the sunset.  

So worked and so satisfied.  This day deserved a celebration.  Last night in the yurt came with more amazing cuisine served up by our tireless guides and plenty of good Terminal Gravity IPA to wash it all down.  

Most Sundays for the WAH guides include some mellow skiing in the morning with a post lunch departure for the guests.  Victor had other plans for the Chargers.  We enjoyed a 3 hr tour and bootpack across the basin to Red Mountain, the prominent peak across the basin from the Yurt.  We’d been eyeing our entire stay.  Seemed like a long way away, and it was.  That said, there were no complaints as we ripped turns for over 3,000’ on the way down.  

I can’t imagine growing tired of the Wallowas.  There are several other camps operated by Wallowa Alpine Huts in the range, including McCully, Schneider Cabins, Big Sheep and Wing Ridge.  The Yurtmeister, Connelly Brown (CB) has been running the operation for years and has a variety of options from DIY to full guide support.  I recommend full support, but to each their own.  Sign up early as the slots fill up in the late summer and early fall.  Its no longer a well kept secret and for good reason.  

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