Friday, June 4, 2010

Volcano Tour 2010 Wrap Up

Our week in the Pacific Northwest was an overwhelming success in spite of the weather forecast that looked like: rain, rain, mostly sunny, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain.

A few quick stats:
  • 5 Ski Days
  • 35,000 vertical
  • 4 volcanos summited and skied (Adams, Rainier, Hood, Shasta)
  • 1 Thwarted Attempt on Mt. Baker due to nauseating whiteout conditions above 8,000'
  • 3,553 miles driven (with detour through Yosemite)
  • Surprisingly, only 3 meals at McDonald's
  • Eaten - one doughnut shaped like male genitalia from Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland
  • 1 sprained ankle
  • 3 stinky dudes

As posted previously, we managed Mt. Adams while all the other peaks were shrouded in clouds, and scored Rainier under splitter blue skies. I left SLC on May 21st and drove up to Portland where I picked up Jason and viking Lars who flew in from Indy and Denver respectively. We grabbed some groceries and drove out to the Adams' trail head which was conveniently located 5 miles from the real trail head due to lingering snow which kept the approach road closed. Sleeping at the roadside, we donned ski boots and were hiking "Teton Style" at 5 AM. Stupid. Anyway, 8,000 vertical later...

Lars finding his way back to the cloud deck

Sunday was a rest day as we drove up to Paradise on Rainier to secure permits and inquire about the weather/route conditions. We had planned on skiing the Emmon's Glacier, but the standard Ingraham Direct was "In" and had a much more convenient approach that still topped 9,000'. That night we ate at a sherpa restaurant, stayed at the Whittaker Bunk House, and then woke up at 2:00 AM. We were skinning from the car at 3:30 under clear skies and the thousands of vertical began ticking away.

Gorgeous morning

Looking back through Cadaver Gap toward Camp Muir, with Mt. Adams looming beyond
After a couple hours we began passing parties that had camped higher on the mountain. They were roped up as teams of 2-5+, hiking as slow as ants, unenlightened to the thought of snow travel eased by skis.

A look at the Ingraham Glacier with the route weaving through well bridged crevasses

We stood on the summit by 10 AM and were psyched to begin a 9,000' descent back to the car. The snow was variable but pockets of powder were still found up high. It's rare that one gets to feel like an absolute hero, but as we flew past the roped parties, mouths agape, we caught phrases here and there like, "BAD ASS!" Yeah, even though around most parts, we're nothing special, it felt pretty good to have our day in the sun.

JD on the Ingraham...about 8,000 ft to go

Viking Lars

Near the bottom of the Muir Snowfield, I was surprised as I went of a ~8 ft bank of snow and was suddenly air born. I thought I could control the landing but was immediately air born again as the embankment rolled off again steeply for another 8-10 feet. I bailed and summersaulted down to a stop just above a small rock outcropping. Happily unhurt, I yelled at the others not to follow and exchanged a coy glance with some rangers who were working on a nearby facility.

Thinking all was well I brushed off and tried to ski and immediately wrecked again. I quickly found out that the peg on my boot that locks the buckle into ski mode had completely snapped off, confirming in my mind that D.N.As are as others have reported, a bit fragile.
Back at the car before noon we immediately turned our thoughts toward Mt. Baker and pointed the car north. We drove up to the standard trailhead for the Easton Glacier and camped in a dirt pullout, setting up just as the rain came to a stop. Baker is another relatively big day at 7,500' and we were feeling a little less than motivated as we sat on the tarp at 5:30 AM cooking breakfast, listening to music from the car, and laughing at Lars' puffy face, swollen from sleeping head down slope with out a pillow.
The clouds were low lying but glimpses of the sun were caught intermittently so we were off again. Baker sits among the North Cascades which are absolutely stunning and offer an apparent eternity of steep skiing.

Around 8,000 ft, we hit the clouds and everything turned into a dangerous whiteout. Unable to discern up from down and only having a vague sense of where they summit lay, we did the only reasonable thing...fashioned a big pit to wait it out.

Unfortunately, the storm intensified and as we were unprepared, lacking wands and a map, we turned tail cursing Mt. Baker and the Pacific NW rain.

Still having fun though

A bit bummed about having our streak ruined, we headed back south, contemplating some interesting lines in the Tatoosh Range which while on Rainier look like mole hills but are super rugged and worthy little peaks.

Lane Peak with multiple striking couloirs. (Photo stolen from

The rain, however, continued through the next day and the Tatoosh were not to be. So we went to Portland to stay with a friend and bouldered at a local gym where Jason rolled his ankle on the first problem of the day. $12 for a sprained ankle...good deal? Thinking flexy F1s would be more or less like an ankle brace, he sucked it up for the next day's objective, Mt. Hood.

On the drive up to Timberline Lodge, we were sure we'd get turned back again. Even the lifts were obscured by clouds and none of us had been on the mountain previously. Except this time we brought a couple secret weapons: a map, and about 300 wands (construction flags available at Home Depot, 100 for $7). We followed the lift line like braille and Jason gave us a 1 in 15 chance of making the summit. He'd be a terrible forecaster. After a snack, the clouds parted and the summit showed herself, completely coated in rime ice. We made a mad dash, dropping wands every 40-50 meters in case the ever threatening clouds moved back in.

A quick skin up the Hog's Back,

And a booter to the Pearly Gates,

led to some climbing through moderately steep rime ice and snow
and we found ourselves on the summit, again engulfed by clouds but thrilled at another summit and 5,400' of fun at our ski tips. On the way down, the clouds again parted and...

Blessed again.

We felt we'd stolen another peak from the weather gods, who must have had enough with our foolish/bold attempts because the next couple days the forecast (from the real forecasters, not Jason) was more rain...heavy rain. And, to complicate matters, the permits for Mt. St. Helens were sold out until the weekend. Ridiculous. Furthermore, the trail head for St. Helens starts at 2,700 ft or so, making the first few thousand ft of the climb on dirt and in the rain.

A meeting of the minds and a 100% guarantee (from Jason) that we'd have success prompted us to jump back in the car and drive 6 hrs south to Mt. Shasta. There was real appeal to this new plan because it would "guarantee" that we'd tag the 4 highest volcanoes giving the trip a nicer symmetry.

A 3:30 start put us in position to blow by all those on foot while still relatively low on the mountain. Again, we were the only ones on skis, and all the traditional "mountaineers" who had camped 3500 feet up, appeared utterly defeated as they stood knee deep in the new powder and watched us climb past. From that point on, we had the whole mountain to ourselves.

The morning was beautiful only in appearance. Savage winds scoured the mountain and nearly knocked us off our feet repeatedly. It was hardshells, zipped to the top, hoods on, type of weather.

Shasta Shadow

Skinning toward the Heart. Our descent wound through some chutes in the center of the photo

Above Heart and heading for Misery Hill, just below the summit plateau. Winds WHIPPING (Video to come)
I didn't even pull out my camera on the summit because the wind was intolerable. Once in the lower chutes to the "left of Heart," we found some protection and undisturbed prime volcano powder.


Jason's guarantee fulfilled


Volcano Tour...Over
Next up...Yosemite Valley

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