Trip Report: Maiden Voyage of the Van

(For current Hwy 410/Ranger Creek campground/Snoquera Falls trail conditions, scroll down to the “Conditions” section.)

Awhile back I bought tickets to hear Alex Honnold speak at Town Hall. Alex is a big proponent of the van life, so it only seemed fitting to take our camper van on its maiden voyage the same night we heard Alex talk. Rowan will definitely be joining us for future family camping trips, but for this first test run we decided to leave her at Grandma’s house. Thanks Mom, for watching Rowan!

For those that are interested: We bought a 2011 GMC Savana with AWD. It came with all-terrain tires (useful) and a bull bar on the front (not-so-useful). It also has a boatload of miles. 231,947 to be exact. We’re assuming most of those must be highway miles because how else can you possibly put that many miles on a vehicle in 4 years?!

I’d like to think it used to be a paddy wagon or something equally exciting, but in reality it was probably used to transport railroad or mining personnel back and forth across the country. When we got the van, it had two rows of bench seats plus some cargo space in the back. We “converted it” by removing one bench seat and putting a queen bed in the back with storage underneath. Rowan will sleep on the front bench seat.

Someday I’ll write another post with before/after pics and more details of the van conversion (OK, Tom will probably write that post, since he’s the one doing the conversion). For now, here are a couple quick pics:


Still missing some finishing touches, like drawers.

Road/Campground/Trail Conditions:

We’d seen some pretty nasty pictures of Hwy 410 covered in trees after the most recent windstorm, but as of today (Nov 20, 2015) Hwy 410 was cleared of all trees and debris at least up to the Ranger Creek campground. Chinook and Cayuse Passes, however, are definitely closed for the winter.

The Ranger Creek airstrip is closed for the season but the camping area is open. The surrounding gravel roads had a few potholes but were generally navigable for any vehicle. We shared the very large campground with a few other groups. Everyone was quiet and low-key.

We slept great in the van, and woke up to chilly temps (mid-20s?), frosted windows, and snow on the surrounding peaks. I forced myself out of the warm and cozy bed by reminding myself that it might be 60 degrees colder and snowing at White Mountains in March. Suck it up, buttercup.

After making a quick breakfast of coffee and oatmeal, we headed for the Snoquera Falls loop.

The first and last mile of the loop are in reasonable condition. There are a few blowdowns and branches, but it’s pretty much smooth sailing. The middle section of the loop had several significant blowdowns, one trail wash-out, and some icy/frosty boulder talus slopes that slowed us down a bit.

Downed trees along the trail. Passable, just a little annoying, especially with a leashed dog to add to the jumble.

The creek crossing just below the falls was running high and icy, but we made it just fine. Conditions change; use your best judgement.

I was kinda excited out about the crossing because I thought it was somewhat similar to ice overflow I might encounter on the WM100 course. A great chance to test some gear! I wrapped my feet in plastic bags to keep them dry for the short crossing, as I’d read about online. Then I put on microspikes not only to provide traction, but to hold the bags in place.


Within two steps, the creek had topped my plastic bags and filled them with ice water. The microspikes did a great job of providing traction… and trapping the ice water against my feet. Next time, I’m bringing taller plastic bags and a velcro strap of some kind to keep each bag in place. Both Tom and I ended up just sloshing through the slushy creek.


Maggie and I start the crossing
Tom dances across

Despite the blowdowns and ice, the entire loop was definitely passable with a little patience. However, if you’re looking for an easier trail or  runnable terrain, in current conditions this probably isn’t a good bet.

Snoquera Falls (photo by Tom)

6 Replies to “Trip Report: Maiden Voyage of the Van”

  1. Was seriously thinking about taking the family there tomorrow. If I can only do one side of the loop, what is the best approach to the falls?

    1. Hmm, tough call. There were more blowdowns on the south side, but the north side had more ice. I’m thinking you should take the north side of the loop and just keep an eye out for icy rocks and roots.

    1. Thanks. The reason I put the bags over my shoes (rather than between socks and shoes) is because I’m looking for a short-term solution that will keep everything, including my shoes, as dry as possible. Also needs to be fast to get on/off, since I’ll be on the clock.
      Obviously still figuring it out!

      1. I just looked up the WM 100, and… I’m content to be a distant spectator. 😉 I’ve never dealt with that much cold for that long, but I’d probably go bags-inside-shoes anyways, with a change or two of shoes/socks. It looks like it’s snow almost the whole way, so your shoes will probably get wet during the day no matter what you do. And over the course of 100 miles, a few minutes messing with plastic bags really won’t matter.

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