Tagged ‘backcountry‘

Breaking the Curse: Mt Mcloughlin Ski Descent

Mt McLoughlin is an often forgotten volcano of the Cascades chain. Hidden in southern Oregon along the highway between the modest towns of Medford and Klamath Falls, it was a feature of Taylor’s childhood. Legend has it that her mother, Cecilia, hiked Mt McLoughlin with Taylor in her womb. We all know what that does to a child.

“We all know what that does to a child.”

Taylor has hiked Mt McLoughlin four or five times in summer, but never in Winter. As an isolated cone of a mountain, it just begs to be skied, so we’ve already tried twice. But we were cursed. It was not to be.

Climbing along the upper crater rim.

Read on →

Haute Route Part 1: Chamonix to Verbier

Taylor and I in Chamonix, enjoying a final cup of good coffee before hitting the road to Zermatt.

Our plan to ski the haute route was hatched casually. It’s easy to imagine success from half a world away, especially on a route deemed the classic of classic ski tours. In typical style, Taylor and I bought plane tickets and booked a few Airbnbs the better part of nine months in advance of when we would be in Chamonix. Our dates were picked based on the guidebook, aiming for deep snowpack but sunny spring weather. What else could we need?

Just. about. everything. It turns out that there is little to no beta about the haute route on the internet aside from guide’s descriptions of the route (Day 3: We’ll tackle massive glaciers as we cross the spectacular high terrain of the alps!) or mismatched trip reports. There’s no accurate or reliable information about what equipment is reasonable for an experience party. There’s not even a day-by-day mileage or vertical tally. Finally, there are certainly no fewer than six major variations on the route. Read on →

Mt Adams Southwest Chutes Speed Lap

Earlier this season, Taylor and I walked a really long way to try to ski Mt Adams’ southwest chutes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite spring, so we didn’t get to ski the route. April passed, and so did May, and now in early June the conditions are fully ripe for cascades corn harvesting, so I made a quick solo trip to try to nab the route before it melts away.

Mt Adams looking mighty fine.

Mt Adams looking mighty fine.

Read on →

30th Birthday Mt Hood Circumnavigation

I’m still wading through all of the photos and video from our Alaska trip. It’s making my computer crash just to think about it. In the meantime, and more importantly, my fiancé and chief adventure partner Taylor turned 30 this week. To celebrate, she wanted to take on an epic day. With good weather stretching onwards, we settled on the Mt Hood ski circumnavigation.

Thirty. Dirty Thirty.

Thirty. Dirty Thirty.

I’ve been around Hood this way ages ago. Peter took a crack at it but with my nonspecific beta, he got sidetracked. For detailed beta on the loop, I have a post for you here.

Skinning up timberline

Skinning up timberline

We were later in the season for this loop than the last time that I did it. That meant more open crevasses and more ropework to make the loop happen safely. Where Ethan and I had been forced to walk with crampons, Taylor and I skinned. Where Ethan and I had skied unroped, Taylor and I skied roped and belayed across bridged crevasses.

Reid Glacier

Reid Glacier

The loop is still a favorite of mine, as there’s so much of Mt Hood that so few people get to see.

Taylor on the Reid

Taylor on the Reid

Headed down the first real glacier of the day, Taylor and I found that what had been a ‘couloir’ for Ethan and I was now spanned by a deep crevasse. Out came the rope, crampons, and classic sit-on-planted-skis hip belay.

Crevasse hijinx

Crevasse hijinx

Taylor sent the first crux with no sweat, and we cruised down into the sun, where we started sweating.

Past the first crux.

Past the first crux.


Yokum ridge

Booting the broad Yokum Ridge towards the Sandy Glacier.

Sandy glacier

Sandy glacier crossing, Taylor dwarfed.

The warm temps did mean that we had little hard snow to mess around with, so travel through the middle of the loop was pleasant and smooth.

Cathedral ridge

Cathedral ridge

Cathedral ridge

Exiting Cathedral Ridge to gain the Ladd/Coe glaciers.



Seracs on the Ladd Glacier

The Ladd and Coe glaciers gave us some food for thought, with lots of refrigerator-sized ice blocks littering the crossing, dropped unceremoniously from the seracs above.

Pulpit rock

Below Pulpit rock, considering more serac trash.

We made quick passage under the seracs, which have a nasty tendency of collapsing without any warning. Though the scientists seem to think that collapse has little correlation to daytime temperature, it’s hard not to think that it’s more likely when the sun is hot. The sun was hot.

Debris on the Coe

Taylor jog-stumbles through debris on the Coe glacier.

The exit from the Coe glacier involved a quick scramble up what the local guide outfit refers to as Dick Pumpington ridge. I’ll leave you to consider the name.

Dick pumpington.

Dick pumpington.

We skied roped across and down the Eliot glacier amongst some big cracks and sagging bridges. This is one of many places where Ethan and I had it easy, and where Taylor and I had to pull out all the safety stops.

Our tracks on the Eliot.

Our tracks on the Eliot.

Exit from the glacier was considerably easier than on my last loop, and we made good time gaining altitude towards Cooper’s spur to begin our last descent.

Up Cooper's spur.

Up Cooper’s spur.

After kicking off wet slides all the way across the Newton and Clark glaciers, we made it to White river and a view of the car.

Exiting white river.

Exiting white river.

At a generally casual pace, we wrapped up the trip in 8 hours and 40 minutes, with 13.4 miles and 6700′ of elevation gain.

Parking lot.

Parking lot love.

Much love to this one!


Three Fingered Jack Backcountry Skiing

This past weekend, a bit sad that we weren’t driving out to Colorado for the Grand Traverse, Taylor and I went looking for some new terrain in the Mt Jefferson wilderness. Neither of us had ever been to the Three Fingered Jack backcountry off of Santiam Pass (near Hoodoo ski area), and the forecast looked favorable for skiing on Friday and Saturday.

three fingered jack backcountry

Approaching Three Fingered Jack through the burn area.

On the North side of Santiam Pass is Three Fingered Jack, and to the South (and slightly more distant) is Mt Washington. While Mt Washington is a picturesque peak reminiscent of the Paramount Pictures logo, Three Fingered Jack is a much more rubbly remnant of a volcano, forming a sawtoothed projection aligned from North to South. Read on →

Free Range Skimo Race: 2nd Place

There aren’t that many skimo races in the Pacific Northwest, in part because the sport is only beginning to take root and in part because local ski resorts (I’m looking at you Mt Bachelor) have not been welcoming of race series. Consequently, if you want to race, you get to drive. Still, after three straight weeks of full-time studying and a cabin fever mental breakdown, driving five hours from Portland for an hour of racing didn’t sound so bad to me.

Last night’s race was hosted by Free Range Equipment at the rootsy Hoodoo Ski Area as part of the Hoodoo Backcountry Fest. I’m not sure what’s backcountry about the backcountry fest, but there were tele slalom comps, fatbike races, and parking lot parties raging when I arrived. Between the beer and the bluegrass it seems like a pretty good time.


The race was the brainchild of Tosch Roy, friend and founder of Free Range Equipment. He and his indefatigable mother set a course of glowsticks through a closed area of Hoodoo under the afternoon’s rain and remained cheerful as contestants arrived. The rain, thankfully, switched to snow.

Tosch, usually a strong racer, was out with a cold, but still stoked. His new packs (the Big Medicine and Raven) are slick, capable, and minimalist. More on those later.

Tosch, usually a strong racer, was out with a cold, but still stoked. His new packs (the Big Medicine and Raven) are slick, capable, and minimalist. More on those later.

The course was a single 650-vertical-foot drag race along a flat groomer and then up a pair of steep headwalls. Following the transition came a road, a tuck and throttle dark and shadowy groomer, and a well-lit but super-icy-chunky steep face to the lap flag. The race division made four laps for 2700′ in just under four miles. One tricky race rule was the lack of a mandatory transition zone at the base, with skating permitted to the end of the flat groomer (if skating is your thing). Read on →

DIY: Resizing Fixed-Length Ski Poles

I have a quick tech tip for you today. Fixed-length poles are becoming more popular for backcountry skiing because they’re stiffer and generally lighter than adjustable poles. They are, however, not adjustable. If you get too big a size, you’ll find yourself walking around with your hands up like a mummy, feeling like an idiot with cold hands.

When we were in Salt Lake City a few weeks ago, we stopped by to say hi. The store is amazing. If you like skiing lots of vert on light, capable gear, you’ve got to check the place out. When we asked Jason if he would shorten Taylor’s carbon ski poles, he suggested a simple home fix: boil the handles off, cut, reglue. Perfect! all of the lightweight european kit that you can't buy anywhere else. all of the lightweight european kit that you can’t buy anywhere else.

So, if your poles are too long, or you can find a great deal on longer poles and want to cut them down, I’ve got you covered, step by step. All you need is a big pot of boiling water, a hacksaw, and some glue. Buyer beware: some poles have a tapered shaft, and if cut too short you’ll have a hard time filling the extra space to glue the handle back on. Read on →

Guaranteed Gear: 8 Holiday Ideas That Don’t Suck

We’re passionate about sharing our stories and motivating you to get outside. It makes everything that we do here worthwhile when we run into one of you in the flesh and you tell us that our articles got you excited to plan trips of your own. It’s amazing, humbling, and drives us to work harder.

Still, we’re not rich, and running this site costs hundreds of dollars. To make up for it, we work in some advertising and we get a small cut when you use our links to buy gear. This week I’m doing something a little different and offering some gift ideas for your most beloved gearhead. Unlike what you find on, ahem, other sites, I make you a promise: these things DO NOT SUCK. These are pure wins that I or someone close to me have beaten to death out of love. They’re guaranteed to please.

So enjoy! Help support Mountain Lessons by clicking our links and shopping for some gear. We’ll be here next year either way, because we love you. But it helps.

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Arc’teryx Cerium LT Down Jacket: A seriously warm jacket made with high quality down that packs small enough for daily carry while out skiing. It uses synthetic insulation in the hood and cuffs to keep you warm when it’s wet outside. It’s spendy because it’s just better than the competition. Read on →

10 Real Mistakes For New Ski Tourers

Every year, I find myself following fewer blogs. There are great ones out there, to be sure, but I used to be a glutton for outdoors media. As the years pass, I have less time to read articles and have little patience for low-quality content. One by one I’ve been unsubscribing. That time is better spent actually doing things outside.

Don't read about it. Go do it.

Don’t read about it. Go do it.

A tough cull for me this Fall was the WildSnow blog. It used to be definitive about many things backcountry skiing, and remains definitive only about new Dynafit products and Austrian pastries. The signal to noise ratio is too low. I love it, but it needed to go.

Still, like checking your ex-girlfriend’s activity on Facebook, though you know you shouldn’t, I occasionally look at what they’ve been publishing over there. Usually I’m satisfied with my decision to walk away.

Wildsnow recently published the “10 Essential Mistakes for the Backcountry Ski Touring Beginner“. Besides having a nonsensical title that’s been SEO’d to death with keywords, the article is doing no one any favors. Neither funny to experienced folks, nor informative for beginners, I though we could do better over here. Not that anyone cares…but here we go.

These are mistakes:

Buying gear before you know what you like.

So you’ve decided that you want to become a backcountry skier! That’s awesome. Now put on the brakes. Don’t just walk into your local REI and buy those pow skis you’ve been dreaming about. Before dropping a lot of cash (and it’s going to be a lot), try out some loaner gear. Go touring 2-3 times on other people’s equipment or rentals and see what you do and don’t like. What you ski in the resort is likely bigger and stiffer than what you’re going to want to tow around on your foot all day. You’ll save yourself a lot of time and energy by buying something you like the first time. Read on →

Mt Rainier: Paradise and Van Trump Park

It’s been a busy couple of weeks around Mountain Lessons HQ (ie, my Subaru). With the lax winter precipitation, there hasn’t been a lot to do around Portland besides pretending that it’s Spring. Except, unlike spring, the temperatures are still sufficiently wint’ry to prevent a predicatble corn cycle. This is life

With a long weekend jiggered together, Taylor and I decided to run up to Mt Rainier last weekend. It has been, I’m ashamed to admit, almost a decade since I was last there. What an enormous mountain, what amazing terrain, and what startling proximity to Portland (2.5hrs!?). We didn’t read the forecast and as a consequence, we were pleasantly surprised to discover almost a foot of stable, fresh snow under splitter blue skies.


We started up the main cattle drive to Camp Muir… with every skier in Seattle in tow.


Running into winds up high (blowing clouds visible at left) we decided to scoop the primo run right next to the skin track. Taylor makes tracks in the cloud shadow.

Read on →