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Tagged ‘winter‘

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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Gothic, CO

An update from the road:

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Taylor and I are holed up in Gothic, CO, a scant 4-mile ski from the town of Crested Butte. This is the summer home of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, but in winter, its many cabins are boarded up save for two, which house the winter caretakers.

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The Walk Back – A Winter Attempt on Dragontail

I love the feeling of being completely thrashed.  Not at the bar, not after a party, but after dragging my arms and legs around the mountains for hours or days on end.  The feeling comes after the action, after the main show.  It comes during the big slog, on the way back to the car, or while melting water in a storm.  It is the feeling that I and my body know how to keep going, in spite of everything, even having savored everything.

On Tuesday of last week, Colin called me to ask if I wanted to go climbing.  When I asked where, he blindsided me with the suggestion that we take advantage of the forecast weather over the weekend to go to Dragontail Peak in the North Cascades.  There’s a route there called the Gerber/Sink which has seen more traffic in recent years.  How could a 1000 meters of moderate mixed climbing not?

Dragontail Peak in Winter

Colin approaches Dragontail Peak across Colchuck Lake. Parts of each of the Triple Couloirs are visible cutting the center of the peak, and the Gerber Sink follows runnels connecting prominent snow bands to the right of center, finishing in the 3rd couloir.

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