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Wy’East Face Ski Descent

The Wy'East face at sunrise with descent route marked.

The Wy’East face at sunrise with descent route marked.

My dream of a Wy’East Face ski descent has been parked in the closet for a while. The first time that I saw the Wy’East Face was as a freshman at Reed College, in 2006. Riding the Vista chair at Mt Hood Meadows ski resort, the face spread across the upper reaches of Mt Hood, a huge white expanse which from afar looked steep and serious. In 2007, from the same chair, I saw someone skiing the face. Later that year, I also saw an enormous avalanche crown in the same spot, and in the following years, the face ripped each spring, at times depositing debris near the bottom of the Heather Canyon chairlift several miles down-canyon.

Approaching up some particularly dirty spring snow.

Approaching up some particularly dirty spring snow. (Photo: Taylor)

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Glacier Peak In-a-day Attempt

Saturday was a flash flood that followed a week and a half of severe adventure drought. After spending all of last weekend in the library, Ethan asked me if I wanted to attempt to climb and ski Glacier Peak in a day with him and Richard Kresser the following weekend. Will Thomas, a friend of Richard’s, had attempted the route solo a week before only to turn around 2000′ below the summit. Will suggested an earlier start than his would likely put us at the top. I said yes, mostly out of blind ambition. Although I knew it was going to be a long day, at the time I didn’t consider the specifics of the suffering.

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Suffering can be beautiful.

Ethan thought a midnight start “had a nice ring to it”, so we forewent sleep and found ourselves at the North Fork Sauk Trailhead when the clock struck 12. Twenty minutes later we were jogging down the trail by headlamp with packs and skis on our back. When Richard took off down the trail, I thought he was having a laugh, employing a short-lived tactic to wake the body up, but nope, he kept jogging. Ethan shuffled in behind Richard and I kept up as best I could. A glance left or right illuminated five-hundred-year-old cedars and firs towering over us in the darkness. I thought of my friends partying in Portland and was struck by the absurdity of running through an old growth forest at night with skis on my back. Read on →

Spring Is Here, So We Ski It

Figure 1: The illusion of winter.

Figure 1: The illusion of winter.

I’m now resigned to the fact that true winter may never actually arrive in the Pacific Northwest. Though global warming appears to have nothing to do with this unfortunate situation, it sure looks like the sunshine and warm temperatures are here to stay for months to come. It’s not what we had hoped or expected from this season, but frankly, there’s nothing to be done about it.

Fun is where you make it, right? Well, recently, fun has been at and above treeline on warm days. With the exception of one storm about a week ago that left ten inches of 20% density snow, it’s spring skiing out there. Though we tried our best to make it look like winter (figure 1), it’s now Spring.

Sure, as the temperatures warm up, that means more days on the mountain bike, and more miles on the trail running shoes, but I think that the devoted will agree with me that now begins the longest spring-skiing season of them all.

In celebration of the new spring weather, Peter Innes and I decided to pull out all the heavy metal things and go climbing on Mt Hood. Photos follow. We climbed via the Pearly Gates variation of the dog route, with a short but still engaging bulge of 80-degree ice guarding the summit. The ski down was stiff, but we found additional amusements climbing (us) and skiing (me) crater rock, and then by skiing out the White River Glacier from the top with feeling.

The "Hogsback" feature on Mt Hood, which leads to the "Pearly Gates".

The “Hogsback” feature on Mt Hood, which leads to the “Pearly Gates”.

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Winter Woes and Skiing the Wy’east Face

Peter, frosted but not frosty.

Peter, frosted but not frosty.

Editor’s Note: I’m excited to introduce you to Mountain Lessons’ newest contributor, Peter Innes. Peter and I met mountaineering in Wyoming, and after he relocated to Portland, he’s become a frequent partner on my adventures. Pete’s a collegiate cross-country runner for Lewis and Clark college, and precocious ski-mountaineering upstart. You may recognize him from photos here and on instagram (@alpenflow). Now, here’s Peter:


 

For the past month my news feeds have been rife with the woes and complaints of skiers bemoaning the disappearance of winter in the Pacific Northwest. January has become “Juneuary,” humorously summing up the recent weather and conditions of the Cascade Range. In many places the snow pack looks worse that it did last July, especially on Mt Hood. Large islands of rock restrict eager schralpers, gullies are sporting muddy guts, and from afar one cannot help but grimace at the brown shading of the snow on Mt Hood’s lower flanks. Time to ditch the skis, lube the chain of your mountain bike, and beg for a refund on your season pass, I suppose.

No! Surrendering in a mopey cloud of “throwback Thursday” instagrams of skiing powder earlier in the season surely won’t bring about the graces of Ullr, and nor will booking tickets to Japan. The way I see it the only way to improve the situation is by embracing what we have and getting creative. After all, Juneuary has its upsides, even for a skier. Avalanche danger on Mt. Hood is low as a result of over two weeks without snowfall (correct me if I’m wrong, it’s been so long I’ve lost track), and several days of melt-freeze cycles have smoothed out the icy chicken heads that previously riddled Hood’s upper slopes. If that isn’t a recipe for some good-old-fashioned Cascade ski mountaineering, I don’t know what is.

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Ethan approaches the Wy’east face amidst the morning alpenglow. The route centers in the obvious face.

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Prepping for Jet-Setting

As this post goes up I’m packing gear, skis, and gumption to jump on a plane to Utah tomorrow morning. The agenda for the week includes some skiing in the Wasatch, a lot of car time, some Crested Butte corn, and finally, the ‘ol GoreTex Grand Traverse.

It’s funny to look out at this week while taking antibiotics and Sudafed for sinus infection, but I have a good feeling about how things will pan out. In the mean time, I know it’s been a slow news week, so here are some photos from recent outings.

About a month ago, I had the opportunity to guide a day for the Air Force 304th Rescue Squadron. The Air Force says that “These battlefield Airmen are the most highly trained and versatile personnel recovery specialists in the world”. Essentially, they’re parajumping combat paramedics trained to navigate any terrain they come across. They came to us at Mountain Savvy to spend a day out evaluating and traveling through avalanche terrain. Conditions were less than ideal:

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The 304th, laughing their way through the rain.

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