Winter adventure hikes

Excitement for both the experienced and rookies at Northwest Adventure Center

By Gail Wood on January 15, 2016

If you're a fan of Bear Grylls' rugged outdoor survival TV show, and if you're looking for your own exciting outdoor adventure, then you'll want to talk with Robert Conrad.

For the seventh straight year, Conrad, the program manager for Northwest Adventure Center at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), will lead an overnight camping adventure at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park. He's calling it the Winter Survival campout. It can be your personal episode of Man vs. Wild.

"You can compare it to that," Conrad said with a chuckle. "We're just not eating gross stuff."

The overnight adventure begins Saturday, Feb. 6, leaving from the Northwest Adventure Center at Lewis-North at 8 a.m. The adventure costs $85, which covers group gear, transportation, park entrance, three meals and survival training. You'll be taught how to dig your own ice cave, which will be your hotel for the night.

"We talk about what you should have in your pack," Conrad said. "And what you should do if you get stuck."

Prior to the camp out, the 10 basics of survival will be taught in a mandatory pre-trip class. It will be held Wednesday, Feb. 3 from 5 to 6 p.m. at the Northwest Adventure Center. You must sign up before Tuesday, Feb. 2. The adventure has a maximum of eight campers and a minimum of three. The instructors are all trained and have taken a 10-day wilderness medical course.

"We've all spent time out in the wilderness, surviving and even offering medical attention," Conrad said.

Northwest Adventure Center puts on three winter survival camps each year, hosting one in February, March and April. The February and April camps are for beginners and the March camp is for the advanced snowshoe hiker. For the beginners outing, you're not more than a mile snowshoe hike away from the Paradise parking lot, and more importantly, the bathroom.   

"In that one we literally snowshoe back to the bathroom at night," Conrad said. "And the one in March we actually go about four miles into the woods. So there's no getting back to the van in that. You're there all night."

For the longer hike, Conrad usually takes the group to Reflections Lake, which is about four miles from Paradise Lodge.

You can register online at On the main page there's a NDWR online registration. Or you can call Northwest Adventure Center at 253.967.7744.

In the class, Conrad will go over camping survival. One of the 10 essentials is insulation.

"You want to have the right clothing," Conrad said. "We tell people to stay away from cotton in general. Polyester, synthetic fabric is really good."

Cotton, when it gets wet, is a negative insulator.

"And layers are definitely important," Conrad said. "Then planning is a big thing, too."

Planning, bringing the proper clothes, food and fuel, can be the difference between surviving and not surviving.

In addition to the Winter Survival adventures, Northwest Adventure Center also puts on an alpine camping outing, which is more in depth and includes how to self arrest with an ice ax, how to prussic out of a crevasse and summiting Rainier.