July 12, 2011

Mount Adams (skiing the volcanoes, continued)

After a successful climb and ski of Mount Hood on Friday, Darrin and I stocked up at the K2 house on a ton of leftovers, breakfast and lunch supplies, water, and hit the road for the Trout Lake USFS Ranger Station. Pulling into the lot around 9:30, we certainly weren’t the only ones thinking about the amazing amount of snow and the excellent weather forecast; at least 5 or 6 other cars pulled up while we went about filling out our own backcountry permits to climb the next day. After setting up a quick camp on the side of the access road, we set an early alarm to repack our bags and hit the trail early.

With down tress and snow still blocking the road down low, we put on tennis shoes and shouldered packs weighed down with skis and boots. Hitting the trail at 6:30am, we made quick progress of 2.5 miles up the road to the Cold Springs campground, where we transitioned into ski boots and starting skinning on (mostly) continuous snow. Through the trees, the flanks of Mount Adams began to appear high above us, and the scope of the day’s work became obvious.

Darrin breaking out of the trees, looking up at another 5,000' to go.

The second-tallest peak in Washington, Mount Adams is a slog. I knew that ahead of time, but it’s hard to think of much else when you’re hours into the approach and can still see so much looming overhead. It’s inspiring and disheartening, all at the same time. Still, the weather waas beautiful, and in spite of concerns about how we might navigate 12″ deep runnels and sun cups down low, we pressed on at a decent pace.

Looking back down the South Face of Adams, Mount Hood shining in the distance after the previous day's climb and ski.

On a big day like this, it’s important to keep fueling constantly, whether you feel hungry or not. Occasional breaks and snacks break up the climb and keep the energy stores from running too low. Having spent the previous three mornings ski testing and having climbed and skied Mount Hood the day before, energy conservation would be important. Darrin set a perfect pace heading up Adams, and we found some ideal places to relax for breaks, including a catnap on the Lunch Counter rocks for 10-15 minutes below the South Face.

Mount Saint Helens rising to the west, another volcano in the range.

Skinning eventually turned too steep as the snow softened, then began its transition to wet slush, and we switched to crampons for easier climbing. One step, two, three, four, counting out each one. My pace slowed as we hit 10,000′, and then 11,000′. The false summit slowly inched closer, until I finally crested the ridge to join Darrin for a break on the plateau. To the south, Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, and the Three Sisters glistened again in the sun, while Mount Saint Helens appeared over to the west. Across the plateau and up another 500′ sat the true summit of Mount Adams at 12,276′, but just shy of 3pm and standing atop our planned route of the Southwest Chutes, we decided to make the changeover to ski perfectly timed, incredible corn.

Darrin pointing down the SW Chutes, amazing skiing all the way to the exit in the upper left.

Our ascent route up the standard South Climb had been fairly heavily trafficked and showed questionable snow down low. Looking down the SW Chutes in comparison, we had found exactly what we came for. Three chutes, mid-30s in pitch, with perfectly smooth corn snow for 4,000′ of descent. Easily the best corn I’ve skied in Washington, it rivaled some of Tahoe’s sun-ripened best. Flowing for turn after turn, I chased Darrin down the chutes, both of us ignoring groaning leg muscles already tired from the previous couple days. With each turn, a wave of snow splashed alongside, lapping at my tails like whitewater sneaking up on a surfer.¬†Later that night on a four-hour drive back to Seattle, Darrin and I talked about what drives someone to do something like that. The math never seems to add up, to suffer on the up and the out for 11 hours for less than an hour’s descent. It’s an effort-reward ratio that seems way out of whack, but knowing the perfect sensation of carving down that mountainside high above the rest of the now-green Cascades, it just makes sense to me.

Looking back up 4000' of immaculate corn on the SW Chutes.

In the end, there was a little more adventure just to top off the fun, as Darrin and I made our way out an epic bushwhacking traverse to get back around the mountain to the trail and our sneakers for the hike out. At that point in the day, it was just about moving, skiing over dirt, moss, rocks, snow, logs. My skis are so covered in mud, pollen, pine sap, and other spring debris that it’ll take a couple hours to clean them up for the summer storage. But the extra effort and push just added to the sense of accomplished and strengthened the smile at the end of the day.¬†When we finally got back to the car, 11 hours and 58 minutes had elapsed since our morning departure, covering 7,400′ of climbing and almost 18 miles. An epic day in the Cascades, and another ski project with a check-mark next to it on the list. It was the perfect late season ski day, and with the exhaustion and elation at changing out into flip-flops, the perfect way to close out the 2010-2011 ski season. From here out, it’s officially summertime, and I’m okay with that.


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