WritingsThoughts, ideas, comments, diatribes, and rambles. A subjective take.
Mt Hood Pearly Gates and Complete White River Ski Descent
With a wedding two weeks away and a honeymoon trip to the alps just over a month away, Taylor and I were quick to jump on a good-looking weekend forecast to escape to Mt Hood for some skiing, climbing, and skills practice.
It’s hard to persuade me to go snow camping, as I am embarrassingly attached to sleeping within walls during the cold months, but since we’d recently scored some fun new gear, interest and excitement won out. A big impetus was the Black Diamond First Light tent that our family and friends gave us as a wedding gift; this single-wall bivy wonder-tent packs down to the size of a nalgene, which makes the pain of a heavy carry much nicer. We’d also acquired a Petzl Rad-Line static rope rescue kit to use as our glacier system in the alps, and we needed to practice our crevasse rescue tactics (more on this soon). Finally, after five and a half years of abuse, I finally sold my Dynafit TLT5P boots and joined the hordes wearing Scarpa F1s, and I was eager to give them a try.
We left the Timberline parking area after a casual start on Saturday morning and made a slow climb up to Illumination Saddle at 9200′ and set up camp. As we climbed we passed a huge group of skiers and snowshoers with the same destination and we worried that we were accidentally crashing a full-moon dance party at I-Rock. Luckily and adorably, it was a wedding party for a couple who were wed at the saddle with amazing shining sun and valley clouds that afternoon. We skied away from the saddle headed towards the summit crater as they started their ceremony.
The weather was better than forecast, with no wind and barely-freezing temperatures. We passed a couple of groups on the way to the crater, and at the top of the Hog’s Back encountered a pair of German/Austrian/other climbers (sorry guys, I’m bad with accent guessing) who were bailing on account of avalanche hazard. While that’s always a respectable decision, our judgment differed and our route was protected, so we continued climbing through the rime ice crux called the Pearly Gates. It was Taylor’s first time bashing rime ice, so she took a quick belay through the steep bits and before long we enjoyed a solo summit in the sun. It is a rare thing to log the only summit on Mt Hood on a sunny Saturday, and we soaked it up.
The descent came easily and we hugged the edge of the rime ice towers on the way down out of deference to the Europeans’ ideas of snow safety, but we found no issues. Typically poor rime-ice skiing finally gave way to a bit of wind-buffed cream cheese back to the tent. We rolled into camp just as the sun was setting behind Illumination Rock, and quickly tucked into the tent for sleeping bags and dinner.
The plan for the following day had been to take a look at Leuthold’s Couloir, a route which I’ve now climbed at least 3 times and which has never been in condition to ski. Recent weather had been promising for a ski descent, but unfortunately a delay in the delivery of my new ski boots precluded remounting my light skis in time, so I was way overpowered and overburdened with my Armada pow skis. Tired from climbing the mountain once, we decided to forgo a second time in favor of practicing rescue skills and making a big ski descent that didn’t require much climbing.
After a relaxed breakfast watching the slowly ascending hordes of climbers headed for the summit (where were they yesterday?), we enjoyed the sun for a few hours while practicing snow anchors, hauling systems, and passing knots. After a solid refresher, we packed up and again toted the heavy packs headed to the top of the White River Glacier. White River is possibly the longest continuous ski descent off of Mt Hood. I’d have to measure the Sandy Glacier to be sure, but either way it’s close. It sports a steep headwall that spills into a short glaciated valley that terminates in an even longer and wider braided valley. A ski out to the road offers about 6000′ of descent over 5.5 miles without any need to skin or climb.
The headwall was icy, so Taylor skipped it, sliding in from the side. I wanted to tick the full monty, so I carefully skied the 50-degree rime with an ice-axe tucked under my shoulder strap and crampons close at hand. The ice gave way to sastrugi which in turn gave way to halfway reasonable snow that spilled downvalley in a quad-burning marathon of hundreds of turns. The final mile of the ski follows along the white river itself, with just enough incline to keep the dream alive and the skis moving forwards past the swarm of snowshoeing weekenders near the parking lot. A quick wager on about hitch-hiking latency was quickly abandoned as we caught a ride in under a minute of trying, headed back to Government Camp and tasty tasty beer.
Totals for the weekend came to just under 14 miles, with 6400′ of climbing and about 8000′ of skiing with heavy packs (on 115 mm underfoot no less). I’ve got that Monday Mountain Fatigue and it feels good. More content to come soon (and a fun surprise!).
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