Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Southern Cascades Volcanoes - 06.25-28.12

Some stars aligned to allow Sammy and me the opportunity to drive south and get on some mountains we had never been on before. (Or in my case, never seen in person before.)

Sammy's new found love of back country skiing gave him the desire to ski a few mountains down south. Our original plan was to ski Shasta and then ski Lassen, but the NPS was supposed to close Lassen to the public for trail maintenance and we opted for a different second objective. We found that in the form of Mount McLoughlin. It would be a little less traveled, and actually on the way home.

We left Seattle on Monday after 3pm, so we made a sleep stop in Southern Oregon around midnight. We found a nice spot outside of Ashland, which was Emigrant Lake. We set up the tent in the dark and went to sleep without setting an alarm. We woke up lazily the next morning, had breakfast and headed south.

We drove to Mount Shasta (the town) and picked up our permits at the ranger station. Then we got a few supplies in town before setting off around the south side of the mountain to get to the Brewer Creek Trail Head.

Mount Shasta - Hotlum Wintun Ridge - 06.26-27.12

We arrived at the trail head around Noon. Gear needed to be sorted, so we set up a few camp chairs and slowly went about our business, eating our "lunch" while we worked. We chatted a bit with another skier from Nevada as we filled our packs and readied for our climb. Eventually we were ready and headed up the trail. There was no snow in sight and "Nevada Joe" said it would be 1000' before we got on snow. The trail was dry and the forest was thin, with no undergrowth. Numerous trees were sprouting at our feet. We hiked up the dusty trail and started crossing patches of snow before we lost the trail altogether. We had gone too far south and wandered a bit before deciding on a particular snow finger to our north and made our way toward it. I jumped on the snow as low as possible and swapped my approach shoes for ski boots and skis. Sammy went up further and made his transition at a bush, while I left my shoes under a boulder. Now the fun was starting!

We skinned up slowly and picked our way up to camp. We were hoping to go to 10000' for camp, but either the altitude or my water/food intake slowed me down. I had a headache and was not operating at full capacity. Unlike others before us, we opted to head climbers' right up a steeper section before finding a site on a rock outcrop. There were numerous bivy sites constructed and we opted for the nearest to us and the snow we were on. My altimeter read 9700'. Sammy flattened the site out while I prepped dinner. After dinner, we melted snow for water and set up the tent and lounged around before going to bed. "Nevada Joe" skied by getting some evening turns which looked pretty good.

We settled down to sleep and set an "emergency alarm" for 5am. The night was cold, but we were comfortable in the tent and slept past our alarm until the late hour of 6am. We ate breakfast and opted to boot up the firm snow leaving the tent around 7am. The snow was good for booting, and at times I was thinking I wanted crampons, but tried not to put them on until we got through a flat section at 11000'. The altitude was no longer bothering me. We rested about once per hour initially and had about three rests before we came to reside at the rock outcrop that separates the Hotlum Snow Field from the Wintun Snow Field. I was a bit ahead of Sam at this point and spent time chatting with a skier from Tahoe while waiting for him to reach my location, somewhere around 12500'.

Once Sam reached me, we had lunch and prepared for the final bit to the summit. We discussed that the next section would have us enter the final "chute" to the summit. After lunch we crossed the rocks and had another discussion.  Sam was unsure of the steeper snow slopes above and debated stashing his skis to better improve his chances of a summit. He was also concerned about how he would feel on the the steeper snow. Sam left his skis and we started up the slope. After a short period of time he was not feeling great about the steep snow and told me he was going to turn back, but that I should keep going. (In our previous discussions I was not to go to the summit if Sam turned around.) He reasoned that I was heading up with two skiers from Tahoe as well as I was close behind two skiers from Reno and that I would not be completely solo. So I continued upward. From this point on, the snow conditions and steepness of slope combined to make difficult going. There were some footprints in the initial section, but after rounding a gendarme, the wind was blowing pretty strong and footprints sometimes got blown away and a harder snow surface was left.

I wandered upward looking at my intended ski route. It did not look too difficult, but the guys before me went around to the top of the Wintun Glacier to ascend. I did not want to make my own steps, so followed theirs around the corner where the snow became icy, and steps did not exist. I wandered lonely up the windy, icy Wintun Glacier watching rime ice fall off the summit blocks. Was it from the wind or the sun, I didn't find out.

A right hand turn around the summit and I was on the plateau just below the summit and could now see west for the first time. There were a few parties hanging around and the snow went back to a fresh consistency from earlier in the week. I trudged up to the summit, happily surprised that my altimeter was reading about 600' too low.

I briefly ducked behind a rock to be out of the wind, but I felt I was in the way, so headed back down to the chute I intended to ski. There I chatted with the two guys from Reno and decided to watch them ski before making a decision. The top section was fresh skiable snow, and after about two turns, their skis started scratching on the wind crust. I made my decision to walk down. I started down with my skis on my pack, quick and easy on the skiable snow. Then I slowed going down the firm snow. I watched the two skiers slip and fall in a steeper section below me. I got a little shaken and opted to head back up the 50-100' and go back down the lower angle Wintun Glacier. The Tahoe team turned around, and now I was the only one on the upper east side of the mountain. I lost a crampon on the upper Wintun while running on the lower angle glacier. I stopped and quickly put it back on and continued downward.

Heading down the mountain is almost always physically easier, especially when altitude is a consideration. However, descending the now icier slopes on the way back down was a bit more technically demanding than when I ascended. I picked my way down and found all types of snow. At one point I down climbed face in for a few feet when I hit a section of sugar snow over crust where I was not getting any purchase. I continued face out after that and eventually saw Sam lounging at some rocks patiently awaiting my return.

Once I reached him, I continued across the rock band to my intended transition location to sit, chat, and have a bite to eat. Sammy met up with me and said he didn't like the look of the snow. Neither did I, sastrugi made up at least a few hundred feet of our initial descent. Sammy hiked lower to bypass some of it. I was done walking and braved it from my transition point. We started down. The skiing was difficult, but not survival skiing. Definitely not "no fall" skiing as I fell and slid for a way before arresting without injury. The upper part was rough though, and I did mostly long traverses with some linked turns before things softened up enough for me to link turns back to camp.

We lounged a bit at camp but then packed up for the ski out. The ski back to our shoes and down to the last bit of snow finger went well and fairly quickly. I made a few hesitant turns leaving camp on a steeper section but then skied out to my shoes while Sam retrieved his. We skied the snow to its end with our shoes in hand and then hiked a little cross country before hitting the trail and hastily following it back to the car.

We packed up and changed into driving clothes to head to Mount McLoughlin. Unfortunately, by the time we got out it was hard to find an open dinner location. We reached Fourmile Lake around 10pm and Sam and I opted to get to bed rather than fire up the stove to have a post climb dinner. I did not have high hopes for a summit the following day. I really didn't have high hopes of waking up before 10am, or wanting to do anything but go into town for some greasy breakfast. The campground was full of mosquitoes and we attempted to get to bed before being eaten.

Mount McLoughlin - Northeast Bowls - 06.28.12

We awoke around 7am and I was definitely feeling the affects of having put in 7000' of climbing in the previous two days and going to bed without dinner the night previous. I made up for it by having a whopping 900 calorie Mountain House dinner for breakfast. The mosquitoes were worse in the morning so we did some wacky dancing around trying not to get bit while we packed for the day. I was feeling better after breakfast and we made an out of the way trip to the the Lake of the Woods resort to ensure enough gasoline in the car to make it to civilization if we got out late. We also filled up all our water bladders for the day and for the ride home before heading to the trail head. We were not successful in procuring a map, but realized at the trail head that was not necessary as there was a large topo posted in the parking lot, and another about 200m up trail. Sam took a picture so we'd have it for reference on the way.

By this time of course, it was a late start. Sam wasn't worried, but I was a bit due to the fact that the later it got the worse the snow would most likely get. We hiked up dry trail and marveled at the forest being somewhat different from back in Washington, but not as dry and sparse as the forest in the Mount Shasta Wilderness. We were bothered by mosquitoes a bit and eventually we must have gained enough altitude, or the breeze kept them away and we were left to ourselves. There were plenty of carpenter ants on the trail, and at one point we saw a large toad in a tree stump, presumably feasting on said ants. (This was the wildlife highlight of our trip.)

We started hitting snow patches somewhere around 6000' and I noticed there were some footprints that looked fresh. When we stopped for a break about an hour in we had caught a party of four heading up the mountain. We passed them as they took their break and then got into more patchy snow until we veered north to gain the ridge around 7200'. Coverage to the north looked a little bare and we were concerned. But, this also looked like a good option to regain the trail if we needed to. We continued upward, now mostly on rock in second class terrain following the ridge to around 8500' where we took our final break before the summit.

The view from our rest at 8500' was much more encouraging. We saw tracks in the recent fresher snow on the north side. We scoped which lines we wished to ski and snacked on our lunches before continuing to the summit. After our break we ended up losing the trail frequently and doing some third class moves to continue upward. The south side also looked skiable in case we bailed on the north side. Although the return to trail from the south appeared much worse. Right before reaching the summit area, we got a view of the drop in to our lines. It looked steep and somewhat unforgiving. We progressed the final 100' or so to the summit area where a snow arete waited for us to get to the true summit. A short walk across and some viewing of the northwest bowls and we went back to where we dropped our packs and talked about the descent while the party of four arrived. Sam and I scouted a possible drop in from almost the summit, but I didn't like it and opted to hike a bit lower to avoid some turns that didn't make the descent any more aesthetic.

While I hiked down a bit to transition, Sam jumped the gun and got his first few turns. Then he waited for me and skied past me to a rollover. Since it was warm and late in the day we wanted to leap frog and keep our eyes on each other as we knew we should be sending down a few wet slides. Sam wanted a line skier's far left under a prominent gendarme. I was looking for a more fall line route which went down a wide chute between rock outcroppings. Sam said the rollover wasn't bad and skied the long traverse to the top of his line. I took a few turns to get a feel for it and then skied the rollover, making sure not to turn back into any slough I may have kicked off. 

While the snow had gone past corn, it was very predictable and enjoyable to ski. I moved down my line and then let Sam take some turns which set off a fairly large amount of snow. He yelled for me to wait and I watched the snow slowly chug to the bottom of the run. I then expected my slope to do the same and cautiously took turns through another rollover before deciding it wasn't going to slide and letting go of the rein. At this moment it was magical. Pretty good snow and wonderful turns down a nice fall line run. I stopped to rest my legs at some point and to let Sam get some turns in to near the leveling out point. Then I leap frogged him to a terminal moraine like mound on the other side of the flats and waited for him. He made nice figure eights out of our turns and joined me on the mound so we would have a bit of a gravity start to finish where we were going. 

Our final destination on snow was something we were calling the snow pond. From the summit area it was a round "pool" of snow at the end of a snow finger that extended east. Probably the result of numerous winter avalanches running down the course. We navigated our way through a tight constriction or two before finally reaching the snow pond and starting our transition back to booting. 

We marveled about our run and looked back on it before opting for a E/SE course through the woods to get back on a trail. This decision was made by our estimate that we were closer to the summit trail, but would have easier terrain to get to the PCT. We headed off watching our bearing and traveling on some more open terrain with boulders. The way became more wooded at some point and started to resemble the open forest we had hiked in on. Then we met up with the PCT and had a smooth hike back to the car. Except that the mosquitoes returned. Sam and I agreed that we would not linger in the parking lot so that we could avoid further mosquito harm. 

We quickly loaded the car and made our way to The Creamery in Klamath Falls where I reloaded with the Oregon Logger "burger". Then it was another 600 miles or so back to Seattle. 

Overall this trip was fantastic. Great to get on a few mountains I have not even seen before. We hit a nice weather window, although not ideal conditions for skiing. I think this could have been mitigated a bit on Shasta with an earlier start, but things worked out OK. An earlier start may have made the skiing slightly better on McLoughlin too, but that run is currently in my top favorite runs, so hard to complain about the snow condition. And of course, it was fun to hang out with Sam, a fellow father and enjoy some well needed time in the mountains, and enjoyable conversation on the long drives to and fro. 

I experimented with a helmet cam for this trip and did not take any still pictures. Photographic evidence will be forthcoming. Unfortunately I ran out of memory half way down the McLoughlin run, which is a serious bummer. But the footage I have is pretty good.