WritingsThoughts, ideas, comments, diatribes, and rambles. A subjective take.
Mt Adams Skiing, the Long Way
I’ve been really frustrated with skiing in the Pacific Northwest this year. A big part of my frustration comes from living in Portland, which is not somewhere that you live if skiing is a priority for you. The weather has been the source of the rest of my frustration: week after week we’ve had storms with significant moisture roll through, but temperatures hovered just a few degrees too high. Sure, I’ve gotten a few good days this season, but largely I’ve put in a lot of work to ski some pretty bad snow.
A couple weeks back, I was seriously considering shelving recreational winter skiing in the PNW. Next year, I’d focus on skimo, and I wouldn’t think about going out until corn season, which is the only good thing going around here. Thankfully, before I could make a rash and bitter decision, the weather turned sunny and it started looking like the corn might have arrived.
Based on a report of what sounded like a pretty miserable car-to-car mission on Mt Adams, Taylor and I planned a two-day trip up there to try to ski the Southwest Chutes. Both Taylor and I have skied the South side of Mt Adams a couple of times, including car-to-car efforts both (TR from Peter here), so there was no need to suffer excessively and try to get that done in a day. Instead, the SW Chutes offers a 4000′ fall-line alternative in the 35-degree neighborhood: very appealing.
At this time of year, snow covers the forest roads which lead to the summer trailheads. In the interest of getting in some miles before heading to Alaska next week, we decided that we didn’t mind the winter-style approach, and started our approach from the Pine Side Sno-Park, about eight miles distant from the summer start.
We skinned on an intermittently snowy road for just shy of four miles before heading uphill into the woods, hand-railing along the West side of the very obvious A.G. Aiken lava bed. Our day led us 8.5 miles up through some thin-snow-and-forest-detritus skinning shenanigans before emerging in a burn area, a recent theme. More and more skinning up through the burn took us past the summer trailhead and up to near timberline, where we could see our route for the next day but were still afforded a sheltered camp. (Route map here).
As a side note, this area is clearly frequented by snowmobilers. The upper limit of snowmobile use is obviously demarcated and even more obviously ignored, with tracks extending far past the Mt Adams Wilderness boundary and also onto Yakima Nation tribal lands. I recalled to Taylor that when I first visited Mt Adams in high school (~2003), we found spark plugs littered on the Mazama glacier at 8500′. Clearly, the Forest Service is not adequately enforcing winter uses, a fact which is frustrating in light of their draconian summer permit enforcement. (Rant concluded).
Camp was beautiful, and the night was nearly still. We were well-prepared for a comfortable night sleeping in the snow… until I managed to stab my lightweight Thermarest with the whippet that was acting as a tent pole. Thankfully, I was also sporting a foam pad, but my night was chillier for it. I dislike snow camping.
A not-too-early morning had us out of camp on day 2 around 7:30 am, with a forecast high of 45 F at 9800 feet, and winds 8-10 mph from the West. Firm skinning led us up the Crescent ‘glacier’ past the tracks of a wayward elk and up to the Lunch Counter, a flat-ish spot favored by two-day summer climbers. The sun rose into a clear sky, with thin wisps of high cirrostratus clouds creeping in from the West. We transitioned to crampons and started up a rimed ridge leading to the false summit.
As we climbed, the sun slowly crept around to the South, but the clouds thickened and the wind built to around 30 mph. Our drop-dead time for heading back to the car was 2:30 pm, and with little thaw building around the noon hour, conditions weren’t looking good.
As Taylor finished the climb to the South summit, I dropped my pack and climbed down into the SW chutes. Beautiful styrofoam snow was glazed by a thin but firm melt crust, likely from the day before. With wind and clouds keeping things cool, the chutes were bulletproof. Taylor and I conferred back on Piker’s peak and decided to back off. She was tired and waited at the top of the South snowfield while I ran up to tag the summit. I was rewarded for my efforts with 50 mph winds on the summit and skiing down concrete rime blobs.
Unsoftened, the South snowfield was likewise an exercise in edge-dulling before we finally reached good corn snow around 8600′. Despite poor conditions up high, we were back in camp an hour after leaving the summit, and we quickly packed to make our exit. Well-practiced in lazy egress this season, we used clever contouring to our advantage and milked the 2500′ to treeline for 4.5 miles of skinless progress before making a protracted skin out the forest road to our car, wrapping up a total of 18 miles for day two.
It felt good to get out and carry some weight around the woods for once. I can’t say that I’m eager to repeat the process soon, but a bit of man-work will keep the legs strong and the back straight while I enjoy other lighter pursuits. Next week it’ll be hut to hut in Alaska (we’ll probably end up going heavy with elk sausage and whiskey) but hopefully the sun will bake the Cascadian snowpack into one big corn farm, ready for harvest on our return.