Writings

Thoughts, ideas, comments, diatribes, and rambles. A subjective take.

Newton Clark Headwall Ski Descent

The Spring corn cycle is in full swing now. After a warmup weekend with Tom last week, it was time to take full advantage of prolonged high pressure.  To start out the weekend, Taylor and I went back down to Rogue River, OR, where I planned to meet my friend and mentor Rodney Sofich to ski Mt McLoughlin.

Rod from da’ streets.

Rodney and I got an early start, but with hot hot heat and windless skies, we found the NE Bowl that I most wanted to ski was already too soft.

Final pitch up McLoughlin.

He wore white like he doesn’t even care about instagram.

Never mind that though, because the SE face was still in great condition. Rodney was psyched to tag the summit of Mt McLoughlin, which leaves him with just two cascade volcanoes to summit before he’s tagged the entire lot.

Rod tags the summit. Two to go.

I was grateful to get out for a ski with Rod, as he’s been a busy guy lately, and we hadn’t hardly seen him since he officiated our wedding. It’s also fun to get out an lead the day to break trail for a mentor.


On Monday, Tom and I reconvened at Mt Hood to go after a line that I’ve wanted to ski ever since my first circumnavigation of Mt Hood, the Newton Clark headwall.

Tom cruising up underneath Vista at sunrise.

Historically, the Newton Clark headwall was one of the first “extreme” ski descents conducted in the United States. French extreme skier Sylvain Saudan traveled to the US specifically to ski the line and he was only narrowly usurped by Bill Briggs skiing on the Grand Teton.

Me, and a tall gangly guy in spandex.

Saudan was shuttled to the summit by helicopter and promptly got himself cliffed out over the Black Spider cliffs to looker’s right of the headwall. He was forced to climb back out and work his away around. He finally skied the line and was celebrated by the media for his troubles.

Up the dirt snow to the Wy’East

Knowing the story, I first saw the headwall up close while circumnavigating Mt Hood and then again while on the Wy’East face, and I thought that it looked far more manageable than skiing the grand. It’s also a natural progression from the Wy’east face… a solid 5-10 degrees steeper, narrower, and spiced up with exposure over cliffs.

Wy’east face at left, divided from the Newton Clark by the vertical rock band on it’s right border.

I felt a little flat in as we skied up underneath the Cascade lift, my legs not quite recovered from skiing on Saturday. Once on Vista ridge and cruising towards the Wy’East face I started to get a second wind and led Tom up towards the face.

Tom approaches the Wy’East under a cloudless sky.

The booter up the Wy’East had been largely wiped out by a wet slide, but we found the remnant of a poor and desperate soul who had set a postholing track over the debris the day prior, and we made quick work of the face, topping out faster than we had the week before.

Booting the Wy’East

The summit ridge made for a fun and quick climb to the top of the face. As I suspected from photos, there’s a tempting opportunity to drop in early that melts out earlier than everything else and could fool some folks. If you want to ski the face proper, continue up the ridge until you are past the large rock tower and about to have to climb steeper terrain to the summit.

Careful steps on the summit ridge.

 

The final pitch to the summit lies ahead, but we’re dropping in from here.

We clicked in as soon as we arrived and didn’t wait to drop into the face. I worked my way onto the pitch and felt around a bit. The angle got my attention, but the top centimeters had softened into nice corn that held jump turns nicely.

GoPro grab from Tom’s camera as I taste the conditions.

 

Tom shows off the proper pitch of the Newton Clark

The pitch wasn’t long, but it was good. We held a hard traverse to the right at the end of the face to avoid the crevasses of the Newton glacier and skied an extra thousand feet of corn down into superbowl before making use of the quickly melting snow in Heather Canyon to ski back to the base and to our car.

Spraying corn with race skis.

Total gain for the day at 5559′, 3:14:53 car to car with a moving time of 2:25:30. We wrapped up our breakfast session at 7:50 and were on the road back to Portland by 8:15 am, the day’s objective already in the bag.

What next? (Your ideas are welcome)


Leave Reply