It is an important and popular fact, as the poet said, that different strokes work for different folks. Especially when it comes to leisure activities, an open mind must be kept. As all well-informed citizens of the internet soon come to find out, there is already a subforum for that, no matter how depravedly obscure you thought your interests were (you know who you are).
I say this not to beg your indulgence of The Cat’s Meow Snowcat Jamboree, which, as the image above indicates, is objectively awesome. Rather, I open with an appeal to tolerance out of the acute awareness that my own role in this story may be somewhat disturbing to some. Please adjust your judgement levels accordingly before reading on.
Despite being my father’s son, not to mention a professional automotive writer of a generation expected to be performatively interested cool machinery as a way of building ones personal brand, it is slightly painful to admit that I was not at Mt Hood’s Timberline lodge early on a Saturday morning to document a gathering of achingly cool old snowcats. Instead my partner Andrea and I were at Timberline for our version of church: hiking up Mt Hood’s Palmer Snowfield and riding down, her on a splitboard and myself on an alpine touring ski setup. Several hours of hiking uphill with skis on your feet for a single run is, in the mind of most skiers, a sign of some kind of bizarre mental illness. But after a week at a desk, under the grey clouds of the Oregon lowlands, hiking above the clouds and into the yawning mouth of a snow-draped volcano in order to fly down through untouched snow becomes satisfying on almost every level. Like church is supposed to be, I guess.
But on this day, the chapel of Mt Hood was noticeably louder than usual. Giddy at the sight of several inches of uncharacteristically light, fluffy powder, we paid little attention to the staccato hammering of low-revving engines and headed up towards the cloud-shrouded mountain. After a short distance we joined a cat track, and suddenly the noise became much louder. Occasionally these trails are used to ferry supplies from the main lodge to the Silcox Hut, at the top of the “Magic Mile” lift, but it was clear that there was much more traffic than usual. Suddenly two vintage snow cats converged from both ends of the trail, and passed each other as we stood ankle-deep in the powder and watched. Luckily Andrea had brought her phone, allowing us to grab a few hasty photos, generally shot with enough screen glare to necessitate a “spray and pray” approach.
As we began to realize that there were going to be more than just a few snow cats on the normally-quiet trail we had chosen, we took off into the powder to get away. The noise of the growing number of vintage cats shattered the usual peace of the place, and for a moment I was thankful that Timberline’s modern snow cats were relatively quiet. As we climbed away upwind of the busy trail, the clouds began to clear and the mountain began to show itself. It was going to be a glorious day.
Breaking trail added to the effort, and the sparse cover forced us back towards the trail as we approached the Silcox Hut. The cat trail had widened at this point, and just as the sun was banishing the last of the clouds, two of the nicest vintage cats we saw came chugging up the trail. My earlier fear and confusion suddenly melted away as I realized that this was as perfect a day for these vintage snow cat lovers as it was for us. I could relate to chugging slowly uphill, keeping the revs low and savoring an experience that few others enjoy.
After all, it was turning out to be a glorious day. And old snow cats turned out to be the perfect Portlandia twist on an already-idyllic alpine scene: a vintage lumbersexual fantasy come to life.
As we reached the Silcox Hut, it became clear that a full-on jamboree was in progress.
Though dominated by Oregon’s own Tucker Sno Cats, a wide variety of models were represented.
Observation on the trail up indicated the advantages of Tucker’s four-track approach, as they seemed to slip far less than the two-tracked alternatives. And as an Oregon company, it’s not surprising that they are so well-represented at this jamboree. I was not, however, able to verify whether the “Trans Antarctic Expedition” Tucker was one of the four actually used in Sir Vivian Fuch’s 1958 first overland crossing of Antarctica (and featured in this mind-blowing image), but then how likely is it to have been a replica? Wikipedia says three are in museums, including one in Southern California. Was this the one that’s not in a museum?
As the conditions became downright idyllic, it was clear that even more old snow cats were chugging up from the old Timberline lodge towards the Silcox hut. The traffic was building.
There were cool old snow cats in every direction.
It was almost like stepping back in time.
The whole situation was deeply awesome.
But we were headed higher on the mountain, so we reluctantly headed off even as more awesome old cats arrived. Hearts filled with the power of these enduring things we trudged onward, towards the last frozen-over pillars of the Palmer chairlift.
And then we came down, floating through bright sunshine on creamy spring powder. As we went into the old lodge for a beer and a snack, the rumble of more geriatric engines echoed off its massive stone entrance as still more aged snow cats growled to life and headed up the mountain. It had been a perfect day, for us and for the snow cats, and I was glad to have shared the mountain with them.