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:

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Diamond Peak (OR) - SE & NW Bowls

It goes without saying that Diamond Peak is one of the favorite touring spots for anyone living within a few hours drive. Although winter access is extremely limited, it’s one of the first to open for the spring volcano season – my favorite time of year. The main draw to this mountain is its relatively short approach and plethora of terrain, with beautiful wide open bowls on almost every aspect. It’s not particularly tall, at 8,743’, and only gives up ~1,000’ lines, but it has a pretty large footprint and doing multiple laps in a day is commonplace. Surprisingly, for all the tours I’ve done on Diamond Peak, I’ve only skied the SW bowl and SE bowl. Although both are fantastic, I’ve really been wanting to explore some more of Diamond Peak’s available terrain. Of course, this is not for lack of effort. I tried to ski the NW bowl a few years back, but we got shut down by a freak mid-June snowstorm, while we were on the mountain.

This specific tour was presented to me via text from my buddy Ethan. Initially, the idea was to target the SE bowl specifically, starting from Summit Lake and approaching via the PCT. After a few texts, I was able to convince him that we should approach from the west, and ski the NW bowl for the final run of the day. Along with Ethan and me, Jace and Kimber were also in, making it a team of four.

Leaving Eugene on Sunday at around 4:30am, we reached the trailhead two hours later. I had originally suggested we go in from Corrigan Lake, but Jace recommended going in from Blue Lake. Since he had experience with both approaches, we agreed. As with Mount Bailey, which I’d done a tour on the previous day, the mosquitoes were pretty bad and surrounded the car once we came to a stop in the small parking area. We quickly jumped out of the car and readied our gear, so we could start heading down the trail as soon as possible.

Jace and Kimber, ready to start the tour.

Unlike the approach on Mount Bailey, we were able to follow a trail for the first mile and a half. This made travel fairly quick and we were able to outpace the mosquitoes, for the most part. After passing Blue Lake and turning left at an intersection, we left the comforts of the trail and started bushwhacking up toward the NW ridge, which we’d planned to ascend up to the summit. As we continued to climb the patches of snow began to merge and eventually covered the ground surface entirely. Once we crossed the tree line the skeeters subsided, like they had on Bailey.

Taking it off trail
(photo by Jace Akerlund)

First views of the mountain

Taking a quick break above the mosquitoes

Since we’d planned to hike up the rocky ridge and it wasn’t far off, we decided it wasn’t worth putting on skins and continued hiking in our comfy footwear. As the slopes along the NW face came into view, we saw a couple of other skiers setting a bootpack toward the summit. We did think about following them but eventually decided to stick with our original plan of hiking up the ridge. Once we reached the foot of the ridge our route became substantially steeper. It also became quite technical, which made me question our decision of not following the bootpack set by the other crew. To ascend the ridge we followed a crude trail that alternated on either side of the ridge but never ventured much below its crest. The loose talus/scree was probably the sketchiest part, with suspect hand and foot holds the whole way up -- rolling a large boulder over your foot or your touring partner was a real concern. I was pretty happy when we topped out and were deposited onto the saddle between the false and true summit.

Entering the timberline

The other crew booting up the lower face

Our chosen path

Starting up the ridge
(photo by Jace Akerlund)

A bit chossy

Nearing the top of the lower ridge

The author, glad to be off the rocky ridge.
(photo by Jace Akerlund)

Closing in on the saddle between the false and true summit

From this point we decided to put on our ski boots and follow the bootpack up the remaining 500’ to the summit. Sure enough, this method proved much easier than hiking the ridge and before long we were traversing the rim of the NW bowl, before scrambling up the final rocky bit to the top of Diamond Peak. At the summit we found beautiful weather, with mild temps and virtually no wind. We hung out for a bit, drinking a summit beer, taking in the view and lounging in the sun.

Jace makes his way along the saddle

The final pitch

Ethan follows the pre-established bootpack

Jace, just down from the summit.

The author pauses for the camera, near the top.
(photo by Jace Akerlund)

The final few steps to the summit

Nap time

From the summit our plan was to drop down the SE bowl and then boot back up. From there we could reevaluate on whether or not to get in another lap on that aspect or start heading back with a descent of the NW bowl. As we were preparing to drop in for our first line of the day, we saw the two skiers, that we’d been following, hiking back up the SE bowl – apparently they’d had the same route planned as us but had gotten a little earlier start. Since I had skied the day before I felt pretty good and dropped in first. Although the slope had been getting sun all morning and was a little soft, it still offered up really fun turns and I was pretty giddy as I zig-zagged my way down the face. After dropping a few hundred feet, I pulled over and waited for the others.

Ethan, anxiously waiting his turn.

The author drops in from the summit
(photo by Jace Akerlund)

Scoping the line
(photo by Jace Akerlund)

The author
(photo by Jace Akerlund)

Ethan dropped down next, slashing up the upper slope and following a similar line to me. Instead of pulling over, he continued down the bowl, riding the steep right wall and descending all the way to the bottom of the run. Next, Kimber dropped in. Since the other crew had already made their way up to the top, she was able to drop down the center of the bowl. After taking her first few turns, she settled into a groove, laying down a nice line all the way to the bottom. Finally, Jace took his turn, flying down the slope in typical Jace style.

Ethan drops in

Laying down some turns on the upper slope

Ethan banks off the rock horn

Finishing center

A long way down

Kimber enters the scene

Corn surfin'

Entering the lower stretch

Jace enters with speed

Getting into the groove

Rippin' it up, mid-slope.

Jace, closing in on the bottom.

Kickin' up corn

Now that everyone else was at the bottom, I quickly put my camera away and pointed my skis downhill. The slope stayed nice and consistent the whole way down, serving up a delicious bowl of cream corn. By the time I pulled up to the others, my legs were on fire and I took a couple minutes to recover before transitioning back over for the hike back up.

The author, midway down the run.
(photo by Jace Akerlund)

Nearing the finish line
(photo by Jace Akerlund)

The author stoked on the first run of the day!
(photo by Jace Akerlund)

Although we hadn’t intended to have the other group set a bootpack for us, we certainly took advantage of it. Hiking up the bowl was a slow and steady affair, which took us about 45 minutes total – not bad for 1,200’ of climbing. Once we were back at the top, we had another beer and hiked down the short rocky bit to the access point of the NW bowl.

Making the transition

Heading back up

Nearing the summit, once again.

The author takes the final few steps to the summit
(photo by Jace Akerlund)

Most of the entrance to the NW bowl was pretty steep, but there were shallower pitch roll-ins on either flank. Probably the nicest looking line was off the left wall, which was pretty steep and I thought would be a great backdrop for a few photos. I was pretty happy when both Ethan and Jace agreed to be my photography subjects, while I setup from the opposite side of the bowl. Ethan led the charge with Jace hot on his heels. After peering down the line for a few seconds, Ethan dropped in with a sweet line, while sharing his delight verbally. Jace dropped in soon after, with a similar line and an equal amount of stoke. Next up was Kimber and me. I headed down first, making a series of tight turns down the steep upper face, before traversing west and joining the other two. Kimber followed soon after and pulled up with a big smile on her face.

The crew scouts their lines down the NW bowl

Ethan drops into the NW bowl, while Jace looks on.

Building up speed high on the bowl

Jace gives chase

Kimber drops into the NW bowl

The next half of the run started off with a mellower slope, but soon steepened up a bit for another short pitch. Jace, Kimber and I followed the main fall line, while Ethan traversed high up on the left wall and dropped down between some rock outcroppings, which looked like a pretty sweet alternative!

Kimber finds some more fun turns, mid-bowl.

Kimber being treated to some delicious corn


Riding the left wall

Jace pulls into the staging area between pitches

Ethan finds a more interesting line option

(photo by Jace Akerlund)

Rock slalom
(photo by Jace Akerlund)

Ethan digs in
(photo by Jace Akerlund)

The author on the final pitch of this section
(photo by Jace Akerlund)

To put us on a more direct line back to the car, we A-framed our skis and booted up a couple hundred feet to a saddle on the left side of the bowl. As we’d done for the previous ascents, we were able to use the other crew's steps. From the saddle we had an option to hike up the ridge to the summit of the lesser peak. Jace and Ethan decided to top out to bag the steep narrow bit up high, while Kimber and I opted for a lower drop-in, at the top of the main snowfield. It took them another 10 minutes or so to top out, and soon after that they were transitioned over and had dropped in. From our vantage point and their body language, it definitely looked to be the spiciest terrain of the day. After grinding down the upper ridge they turned their skis down the face, shooting down it like a couple of missiles. Once they had pulled over, Kimber and I dropped in – although not quite as exciting as their line it was still super good and the snow was near perfect corn consistency.

Transitioning once again

Ascending the small ridge between slopes

Jace drops down the steep and narrow upper bit

Exiting the ridge

Jace finds his groove

Ethan rides the dragons back

Arcing turns on the left wall

Lots of turns to go

The author
(photo by Jace Akerlund)


From our current position, we still had a little bit of skiing below us. Crossing over a small ridge to the west, we dropped down the adjacent face for a couple hundred feet, before it reached the tree line and started flattening out. It was now time to evaluate our options and determine the best route back to the car. We knew we needed to cross a ridge before we could drop the fall line and hoped that we’d be able to do so without taking off our skis. For how much I used to hate this part of touring, I’ve now grown to enjoy the challenge of route finding through undulating terrain and tight trees. I was pretty happy when we found a way that didn’t require too much uphill side-stepping, and before long we were able to concentrate on descending. We were able to ski down to about 6,600’, before the snow got too patchy and we were forced to start the hike out. Hiking downhill was certainly faster than going up, but was still pretty laborious. Once we reached the trail we were able to move a lot quicker and before long we had reached Blue Lake. From Blue Lake we hiked another ¾ of a mile to the car, where we loaded up our gear and, you guessed it, celebrated over another beer.

Ethan drops in for another set of turns while Kimber looks on

Surfy turns down low

Bringing it home


More corn harvesting down low

The author takes his final turns down the face

Finishing up

Heading home

The fun part

The author, stoked and tired from another fine day on the mountain.
(photo by Jace Akerlund)

Once again, Diamond Peak did not disappoint! I had forgotten how good the SE bowl was and the NW bowl exceeded expectations! I feel like the route we took was fairly optimal, from a skiing perspective. As for the approach, I think that starting from Blue Lake was a good call but I’m not sure that ascending the rocky portion of the NW ridge was a wise choice. In hindsight, I think we would have been better off following the bootpack, from tree line to the summit -- of course, this is condition dependent. All that said, I’d definitely do this route again and will probably add it to my list of standard tours.

The tracks from our tour: