Thursday, January 16, 2020

Redtop Mountain (OR) - East Face Glades

With two (plus) feet of snow forecasted to drop on the Oregon Cascades, it was going to be game on! Of course, with all of that snow comes serious avalanche concerns, which meant we’d need to find a relatively safe zone with mellower terrain. As a group of us discussed options we felt that sticking below treeline would be wise and we ended up settling on Redtop Mountain, located in the Willamette Pass area. I’d been wanting to ski Redtop for a while, so I was pretty stoked to finally check it out. All I knew about the area was that it supposedly had good tree skiing, and even a wide-open face if conditions permitted.

Three of us left from Eugene and two from Bend, and we decided to meet up at the Crescent Lake Sno-Park at 8:30am, which would give us enough daylight to skin in the ~3.5 miles, do a couple laps on Redtop and then ski back out. As Jace, Adam and I pulled into the sno-park, it was snowing pretty hard and there was lots of snow already blanketing the parking area. A little later Irena and Andrew showed up, and after finalizing our gear preparations we did a quick beacon check and headed off in the direction of Redtop.

Starting it off

It became immediately apparent that breaking trail was going to be a chore and that we’d need to switch off on lead to preserve our energy levels. For the first ¾ mile we didn’t follow an established trail but instead headed straight in a northwest direction. Eventually, we ran into the Pretty Lake Trail and decided to follow that all the way to the lake and the base of Redtop. Although the trail was covered in snow, the path was pretty apparent, which helped quite a bit for navigation. The higher we climbed the deeper the snow got, and breaking trail was quite exhausting. I was pretty impressed with how well our group worked together to share in the effort and we made pretty good progress despite the extra effort that was required.

Deep, right off the bat.

Breakin' trail

After 2hrs and climbing ~1,000’, we reached Pretty Lake. From here we traversed around its southern flank and started up the least steep corridor toward the summit of Redtop. Looking around at the wide-open glades and deep snow raised the stoke level and helped supply us with some additional energy to make it to the top. Although the slope was relatively mellow (20 to 25 degrees) it was really tough breaking through two feet of fresh snow. We were also keeping an eye out for avalanche warning signs. Based on our observations, the storm snow was fairly unconsolidated and our biggest risks would probably be wind slabs higher up on the ridge and sluffs lower down. Before long we reached the north ridge, which had a wide-open ramp up to the summit. Luckily, there was a line of trees to our right (west), which helped block the wind, which was pretty savage. We ended stopping just down from the summit to stay protected from the wind. As we transitioned over to descent mode we struggled to stay on top of the snow and we found ourselves up to our knees in white goodness.

Getting steeper

Tough going on the up

A little windy on the ridge

Closing in on the summit

Transition time

Since we wanted to play it safe we decided to head back down the same way we’d come up. I headed down first so I could grab some photos (and fresh tracks!). The snow was deep and the slope was pretty gentle, so it was difficult to get enough speed to keep the tips up. I basically ended up straight-lining it down the first pitch. Soon after, the others came down, encountering the same challenge that I had. Even so, everyone was grinning ear to ear and we were looking forward to dropping into the next pitch, which was a little steeper.

Andrew get his first freshies of the day

Jace battles a bit of wind and low vis

On the second pitch, we leap-frogged down the east side of Redtop, popping in and out of thickets of trees and open glades. As we closed in on the flats at the bottom of the run I was just starting to feel dialed in with the deep snow conditions. Luckily, we had ended somewhat near our skintrack, which we could now use to climb back up to the top for another lap.

Andrew finds some nicely spaced trees

The second trip up the skintrack was certainly much easier and faster than when we were breaking trail, and before long we were once again at our top-out point. Since we were planning to take a run down a lesser peak, which was located just down the ridge to the north, we didn’t skin all the way to the top of Redtop. Once we were transitioned, we dropped into the line in a similar order that we had followed on the first lap. The short ski down to the saddle between Redtop and the lesser peak started off pretty fun but soon turned into a short section of thick trees that took some effort to navigate without falling into a tree well. We ended up meeting back up on the other side of the trees, where we found ourselves in a small depression, which required us to put skins on for the short ascent up to the high point of our planned line. Once at the top, we evaluated conditions and slope angle and decided our best bet was to ski the open glades directly down the east aspect.

Adam, kickin' up dust.

Andrew practices his monoski skills (with two skis).

Iryna, finishing up the meadow pitch.

After we had all gotten back into ski mode, we dropped in one by one and found a really fun series of pitches. Basically, we were treated to perfectly spaced trees intermixed with small open areas that provided good stopping points to regroup as we made our way down. At this point, we were all feeling pretty dialed and skiing well, and a few in the group even got to visit the white room. All too soon we found ourselves at the bottom of the run, torn between doing another lap or heading back to the sno-park. Unfortunately, minimal available daylight would drive our decision and we made the wise choice to head back out before darkness set in.

Iryna drops into some steeper trees

Andrew, always playing around.


Adam, chest-deep.

Andrew enters the white room


Jace, all smiles.

Dropping into the next section of trees

More open sightlines

Andrew, kicking up some white smoke.

The ski out was a bit of a chore at first, with the skintrack being fairly flat and even having some small uphill stretches. Thankfully, it eventually transitioned into a general downhill trajectory, where we were able to lock into the track like a slot car. I actually quite enjoyed the ski out on the skintrack, which is about as close as I’ll get to piloting a bobsled – it was especially exciting on the steeper sections with tight turns. Of course, the ski out was quite a bit faster than the skin in, and we reached the car in under an hour.

Back at the car, we celebrated another successful tour – we didn’t have any major issues, the snow was perfect, and everyone skied well! To end the day on a proper note, we headed to Manley’s Tavern in the town of Crescent Lake for some beers and broasted chicken! What is broasted chicken you ask? Well, that’s just something you’ll have to discover for yourself…


Redtop ended up being just what the doctor ordered, for a deep powder day. It certainly isn’t as striking or offers up the bigger lines like many of the Cascade volcanos do, but it does offer a solid selection of tree runs that cover all aspects, ranging from 500 to 1,000 vertical feet. It also has a wide-open face that I would love to ski at some point, unfortunately, avi conditions were just a little iffy to drop in on it during this trip. But hey, that just gives me another reason to head back for another go!

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Lassen Peak (CA) - NE Bowl

With the 4th of July weekend coming up and looking for one last ski tour of the season, I set my sights south toward the southern Cascades, with Mount Shasta and Lassen Peak being the best options due to snow coverage. Since I’d already skied Shasta’s Hotlum/Bolam route a few weeks prior, I was pushing for Lassen Peak. Surprisingly, I wasn’t able to gin up much interest and was only able to convince my buddy Jonathan, who in turn, convinced his cousin Ossian to join in on the adventure.

Since the 4th fell on a Thursday, the plan was to take off Friday as well and do the trip as a long weekend, so we could combine it with a day climbing at Castle Crags. The morning of the 4th, Jonathan and I met up at his house (in Eugene) and then started the ~6hr drive to Mount Lassen National Park. Since Ossian was coming from Reno, we planned to meet him at the north entrance, near Manzanita Lake. The drive was pretty uneventful and we reached the park around 5pm, with Ossian showing up soon after.

As for the tour, we planned to ski the NE bowl, which can be done a few different ways. One option that was pretty appealing was doing it as a partial shuttle, which would reduce the climbing by half, or 2,000’. Before committing to this plan we wanted to confirm that shuttling was even an option, since the section of road required to do so is closed until they have a chance to plow it for the season. With that, we left Ossian’s car at the entrance and loaded up in mine to do some recon. Driving the main road through the park it became very clear that we weren’t the only ones who had decided to visit. We drove past lots of people who were lining the side of the road and taking selfies in front of snow banks, small lakes, random trees and anything else they considered “nature” compared to their typical urban existence. After confirming that the road was open all the way through the park, we headed back out to find a place to camp for the night. Luckily, we found a nice little spot on the outskirts of the park.

The next morning we got a relatively relaxed start, sipping coffee and taking our time packing up. This time we brought both cars, which meant we had to stop and pay for another entrance fee. Since it was still fairly early (~8:30am), there were far fewer people out, which made the drive a little quicker. Since we’d be finishing the tour at Emigrant Pass, we stopped there first to drop off a car and get changed into our ski gear. From the Emigrant Pass parking lot, we had a good view of Lassen’s NE bowl. The snow appeared to be a little thin and sun cupped, but still looked like it would be worth getting some turns down, especially for this late in the season. Once everyone was ready, we piled into my car and drove to the high point on the south side of the mountain, at an elevation of ~8,500’.

Lassen's NE bowl, from Emigrant Pass

As we’d seen in the lower parking lot, there was another group gearing up for a ski tour, which somewhat validated our crazy idea of skiing this late in the season. Apparently they were planning to ski the SE face, which also appeared to have enough snow to get in a decent amount of vertical. With our skis and boots strapped to our packs, we started the hike up to the summit, following the established route. The beginning of the approach followed a narrow boot path up the heavily sun cupped slopes on the lower mountain. Eventually the snow gave way to a wide hiking trail, with occasional signage that provided geologic facts and other tidbits about the surrounding area. The trail was so manicured that it felt like cheating, especially considering that we had already done half the climbing in the car… As we were ascending we saw a few other skiers coming down, who appeared to be enjoying their run. This gave us some hope that conditions might just work out and may be even better on the north side. As we closed in on the top, the trail did get a little looser and somewhat hidden amongst the talus. Just below the summit pitch was a long flat area, with more informational signage and a couple of other groups that were hanging out and enjoying the view.

Ready to roll out from the upper lot

The start of the approach followed a narrow boot path

The sun-cupped lower slope

More nice terrain in the distance, assuming there was more snow.

The highway to the summit

Jonathan and Ossian set a health pace up the mountain, which was pretty easy to do on this trail.

More signage

And plenty of switchbacks

The talus on the upper slope

The flat-topped ridge below the summit pitch

A good view of Shasta, to the north.

The final push to the summit was the most technical part, but even then it was pretty easy compared to what we have to deal with for most volcano tours. At the top we found some equipment powered by solar panels, which I’m guessing was for seismic monitoring. We also found weather that was pretty optimal, with mild temps and very little wind. We ended up spending about a half hour hanging out and chatting with the other groups that had come up for the view. Before transitioning over for the descent we threw down a quick snack and discussed our plan of attack. Conveniently, the snow reached almost all the way to the top of the mountain, allowing us to drop in about 25’ down from the true summit, although it looked like it would be a pretty steep drop-in.

A cool volcanic rock on the summit pitch

Ossian and Jonathan take in the view from the summit

Looking onto the east flank of the NE bowl -- the slope we planned to ski.

Jon hiked down the short techie bit to the top of the snowfield and readied his skis. Once he was locked in he dropped in for a couple of turns and then pulled over to wait for us. I went next, and found that the slope was just as steep as it had looked. In fact, I wasn’t confident enough to throw in a jump turn and instead side-slipped down to Jon’s position. Looking back up at the slope was pretty impressive, and I’m guessing that the angle was in the mid-50s. As I made my way down to the lower slope on skier’s right, Jon waited for Ossian, who dropped in soon after.

Jon prepares to drop in

Ossian, partway down the steep summit slope

Once we had recollected at the ridge above the slope we’d planned to ski, I headed down for some real turns and to grab some shots of the others coming down. Soon after both followed suit, throwing down some nice lines on the relatively smooth face, which held some nice corn snow. As we made our way down the face we hugged the east side of the bowl, which kept us out of the runnels and main debris fields that had collected in the center of it. The lower we dropped the more textured the snow became, and although it eventually turned into full-on sun cups, the snow was pretty soft, which made skiing fairly manageable.

Jonathan, kickin' up some spray as he drops onto the slope of the east flank



Ossian heads toward the center of the bowl

Jon drops in for another pitch

Railing turns on the soft snow

Ossian gives chase

Jon harvests some more corn lower down

Still a bit to go before the slope flattens out

Ossian, searching for the best snow on the way down

Big views

Jonathan, surfin' the cups

Luckily the snow was nice and soft


Flattening out

About 2,000’ down from the summit the slope began to flatten out and we entered a gully, which still held a decent amount of snow. It was actually kind of fun to ski down it and was certainly better than hiking. Eventually the snow tapered down and a small creek underneath began to emerge, creating unstable snow bridges. It was here that we made the transition back to hiking shoes (or sandals in Jon’s case).

Jon drops onto the flats

Pretty textured down low

More cups

Dropping into the luge course

High on turn one

Ossian, partway down the drainage

Dropping into the unknown

One last straightaway

The end of the line

Looking back up at Lassen Peak from the end of our ski

The hike out took us through the “Devastated Area”, the aftermath of the 1915 eruption. Due to the nutrient-deprived soil, the vegetation was spars, making travel pretty straightforward. For the next mile and a half we followed a straight line toward Emigrant Pass, checking my GPS from time to time to make sure we didn’t venture to far off track. Toward the end, the trees did close in a bit, which required some additional route finding, but nothing compared to what we usually deal with in Oregon, at least on the west side of the Cascades. Once back at the lower parking lot, Ossian and I drove back up to retrieve my car while Jonathan hung out with our gear.

Pretty easy route-finding on the way out

Pretty easy route-finding on the way out

Typical terrain on the way out

Easy going

Once we got back from getting the car we packed up all of our gear and headed to Manzanita Lake for a quick dip and to fill up our water bottles. Next, we left the park and started heading west, toward Castle Crags, where we’d planned to climb the next day.

Mount Lassen, from Manzanita Lake.

Mount Lassen National Park is a pretty cool place that is definitely worth a visit, whether or not you plan to ski. I feel like we were there at a bit of an awkward time - still too much snow to access many of the park's landmarks, but not enough to afford great skiing. Don’t get me wrong, the snow still provided a super fun descent, but the sun cups and runnels definitely took a bit away from what would have been a really sick line -- 3,000’ descent with a steep headwall and even some optional chutes up high. Of course, the partial shuttle, which is only an option later in the season, was pretty damn nice. All that said, I would love to get back there during peak corn season. During the winter or early Spring would also be pretty sweet, but would require a longer approach and snow camping.

The tracks from our tour: