Monday, January 30, 2017

Maiden Peak - Back Bowls


I gotta say, when I got word from my buddy Rich that they were planning to do Maiden Peak as a weekend trip I was a little bummed, since it had been on my list for a while and I had conflicting plans. With the aforementioned plans falling through a few days later, I texted him to see if they were still planning to go and if they had a spot for me, to which he quickly responded with a "Hell yeah!". Although Maiden Peak is one of the closest touring options from Eugene, for some reason it has always alluded me. I had been told that the back face (north through east aspect) held some pretty fun lines in the 500’ to 600’ vertical loss range – not huge but with the option for yo-yo laps it could provide a good amount of entertainment. Furthermore, I’d also heard a lot about the Maiden Peak ski shelter and how nice it is, especially when being used as a base camp for an overnighter.

Both Rich and Matthew wouldn’t be able to leave Eugene until 4pm and were planning to skin in to the shelter under headlamp. I figured that this would be a good opportunity for me to get in a couple of hours of skiing at Willamette Pass and then head over on the Maiden Saddle vs. from the Gold Lake Sno-Park, where they had planned to start from. Unfortunately I not only got a late start but I forgot my avalanche beacon at home, forcing me to backtrack about 20 miles (one-way) to grab it. By the time I reached Willamette Pass and was geared up it was almost 3pm, so I decided just to take the lift up once and head over to the shelter immediately – since I’d not been to the shelter before I wanted to make sure I got there while it was still light in case I had trouble finding it.

From the top of the lift I followed Boundary Pass until it started dropping down to the west, where I peeled off and out of bounds to stay high on the ridge. After transitioning over to skins I started the slog, breaking trail as I followed the Maiden Saddle north toward the shelter. I was surprised that mine were the only tracks, which both made me hopeful the hut wouldn’t be overcrowded, but at the same time a little bummed that I didn’t have a nice skin track laid down for me – oh well, I guess you can’t always have your cake and eat it too… Another thing that surprised me was the amount of fresh snow, which was going to be great for skiing but made skinning a bit more taxing. Even though the approach from the resort was only a couple of miles it took almost an hour and a half, and by the time I reached the general area of the shelter it was starting to get dark. I followed the GPS/map to where the shelter was indicated but it wasn’t there and I started to get a little concerned – I hadn’t really packed for camping in the snow and would have needed to dig a cave. It ended up taking me about 20 minutes of skinning around before I finally located it, and a huge sense of relief came over me. As I approached the door I was greeted by a couple folks who informed me that it was going to be a bit packed, especially with Rich and Matthew showing up later.

The Maiden Peak Shelter

Upon opening the door to the shelter I was introduced to 8 or 10 more people who were all very welcoming. It felt good to take off my ski gear and put on some more comfy attire, consisting of down pants, jacket and booties. Next, I looked for a spot to throw down my sleeping bag, with the most appealing one left being up in the loft and tucked into the corner next to the emergency exit. Feeling like I was finally settled in I went down to the lower level to eat some dinner and hang out with my fellow adventurers. By the time Rich and Matthew showed up it was around 9:30pm, and after a bit of conversation I bid them a good night and crawled into my bag for what would be a very intermittent night of sleep.

A view inside the shelter

The next morning I awoke to stirring and whispering down below. It was around 7am and with an 8am departure time I rushed to cook my breakfast and ready my gear for the assault on Maiden Peak. Strapping into my boards the chill of the air tried to convince me to throw on some more layers, but I knew that it was better to start off cold since I’d just end up stripping them off within a half mile or so. Since we were breaking trail up to the peak it took us a little bit to actually find the route, which was indicated by blue diamonds that were affixed to the trees.

Starting the approach the following morning

Rich, breaking trail.

After a mile or so we reached the intersection with the Maiden Peak Trail, which started off at a mellow grade but began to steepen the further we skinned. With all of the fresh snow I was glad that we had three of us to share the trail breaking duties as I would have been completely blown had I needed to do it solo. We progressed at a very reasonable pace and took in the amazing setting of open forest with trees coated in a thick layer of snow. It was hard to reflect on all the times I had climbed the same route on my mountain bike, as that form of travel made it feel much steeper (ride report here). As we closed in on the summit the trees became more sparse, and we entered a zone of wind-affected terrain. Rime coated almost every surface of the trees and rocks, and that along with the sculpted snow surface created imagery that was straight out of a Dr. Seuss picture book. Although the wind picked up a bit, it never became obnoxious and the final push to the summit was fairly easy-going. Once on top of the treeless summit we were treated to a spectacular 360◦ panoramic view of the surrounding area, with nearby Diamond Peak being the dominant landmark.

Starting the climb

Taking a quick breather on the way up

The grade to the top was fairly modest but we did have to throw in a couple of turns here and there

Blue skies making an appearance

Rich doing some route finding as we neared the top

A heavy coating of snow

Seuss style

Attacking the summit pitch

Diamond Peak from the summit -- lots of fun lines on that one (here and here)!


After a quick snack and putting on a warmer layer we hiked around a bit to determine which aspect looked the best. Once we had agreement on the most easterly face we dug a pit to evaluate the snow stability. After three compression tests we determined that it was good to go and hiked back to the summit to prepare for the descent.

Taking a quick break before the descent

Matthew and Rich check the snow stability

I dropped in first since I wanted to grab some shots from part way down. Although the slope didn’t hold the soft/dry snow that we had during the skin up, it held a good enough edge to throw in some nice turns. Once I had dropped down a few hundred feet I traversed over to the side and set up with my camera. Matthew came down next, laying down a nice track as he descended the face just to the south of me. Once he had stopped I gave Rich the all clear, who also painted some great lines down an untouched portion of the face. Once both had made it to the bottom, I packed up my camera and dropped in for the second half of the run, which provided much softer turns.

Matthew dropping in for his line

Cuttin' it up!

Rich drops in for his

Rich enjoying the view and some turns

About halfway down the run

The author kicks up some white smoke
(photo by Rich Dana)

Coming in hot!
(photo by Rich Dana)

Looking back at our lines on the skin out

It was now around 2pm, which was our agreed upon turnaround time. Being at the bottom of the run about 600’ from the summit, we had a decision to make – boot back up to the summit or traverse around the south side of the mountain until we reconnected with our skin track. The latter seemed like the obvious choice as it would mitigate the climbing, so we slapped on our skins and proceeded to make our way around to the other side of the mountain. Rich was on fire and broke trail the entire way, with little delay. We did traverse across an open face that looked like it would provide some fun ~300’ lines but since we were on a schedule we had to pass it by. This area also gave some nice views of Diamond Peak and I caught myself daydreaming of the lines that we would surely be laying down there during the late spring / early summer months.

Rich breaks trail once again

More great views of Diamond

Before too long we reached our skin track, which was a relief since it would be much easier going and we wouldn’t have to do anymore route finding. The 2 mile skin down to the shelter was fairly uneventful but did allow me to practice my downhill skinning on dual planks, which definitely isn’t my strong suit and seems to be the bane of all splitboarders. By the time we got back to the hut I was starting to feel pretty pooped and I knew that the 6 miles skin out from there was going to be the nail in the coffin. Before departing on the final push out, we relaxed and ate a snack and filled up our water bottles with what water remained in the pot sitting next to the wood stove. As we left the shelter I got in one final photo and snapped my camera into its case, ready for the long haul out.

Over the six miles we dropped a little over a thousand feet, with a majority of the descent in the first half. Although no particular pitch was very steep I had to slow myself down in a few spots to stay in control. The well bedded down path acted as a slot car track and really locked you into a pre-set trajectory. The final two miles of the skin out was actually on the Gold Lake Road, which was nice since it was getting pretty dark and allowed us to continue without pulling out our headlamps. It was in this section that I reached down for my water bottle and noticed that my camera had fallen out of its case…. F#%K!!! With it being both too dark and having no energy left, I just couldn’t work up the motivation needed to go back and look for it, especially with 12+ inches of new snow and not knowing where in the 6-mile stretch I would have dropped it – I figured it would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Feeling pretty deflated I skinned the remaining ½ mile to the road where I met up with the other two and lamented about my camera. Of course they both offered to go back and look for it after we had eaten some dinner, but I knew the best thing would probably be to look for it after a good night of sleep and while it was light out. With that we loaded up in our cars, drove into Oakridge and reminisced on the good parts of our tour, which as a whole was pretty damn amazing!

As a quick follow-up to the camera story, I ended up skinning all the way back into the shelter a few days later only to come up empty handed. However, a good Samaritan had posted to the info board at the Gold Lake Sno-Park that they had found the camera. To top it all off, they flatly refused to accept any type of reward and said they were just happy to get it back to me. I must say, my faith in humanity was slightly restored on that day, and they certainly banked some good karma!

The back face of Maiden Peak certainly contains some pretty sweet terrain. However, it’s a lot of work for 600’ shots. Had I to do it all over again I’d plan on two nights at the shelter and the day in-between used for kicking out 3 or 4 laps, which would make for a much better payoff. At the very least I’d get a much earlier start leaving the shelter, since we were really turned back by fear of losing daylight. The Maiden Peak Shelter itself is pretty sweet, complete with a woodstove and firewood, sleeping loft, table and chairs, as well as a few things like a book and playing cards. It can also sleep up to about 20 people, but be aware that on the weekends it can fill up quickly. Plus, with that many people it’s pretty hard to get a good night’s rest. My one piece of advice would be to bring some earplugs.

The tracks from our tour. Please note that I didn't start my GPS until we had reached the Maiden Peak Trail on the second day:

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Crater Lake - Vidae Ridge (east face)

With multiple storms lining up and hammering the West Coast, Crater Lake had accumulated a sizeable base of snow, at around 10’ deep. Even though it’s a 3-hour drive from Eugene, the fresh snow the area had gotten during the week and the forecast calling for bluebird conditions was too much to pass up. It was pretty easy to convince Rich and Ethan that we should take advantage of the opportunity, and plans were set to head to the park on Saturday. The zone I typically hit during the winter months is the Garfield/Applegate Peak area, which has the easiest access and some of the best descents. This time I wanted to check out a line that dropped down the east side of the Vidae Ridge, and although I hadn’t heard of anyone doing it, it looked really good on the topo maps and Google Earth. With a plan in mind I quickly sketched out a route on CalTopo and got agreement from the other two.

Leaving Eugene at around 6am, we didn’t get to Crater Lake until about 9:30am due to the icy road conditions and a few pit stops. The snow banks that lined the road were pretty impressive for this early in the season – combined with the clear blue sky it certainly added to the excitement of our forthcoming tour. By the time we were all geared up and had started skinning it was a little after 10am, a bit later than I had hoped for, especially since we’d be checking out a new line.

Plenty of snow!

As we skinned from Park HQ along East Rim Drive, we were making good progress, which was certainly aided by the skin track laid down by previous adventurers. After an hour and about 2 miles in, we broke away from the road and started heading north toward Applegate Peak, where we’d find our first objective. One of my favorite things about this area is how easy the approach is, which travels though large interconnected meadows at a fairly modest incline. We soon entered the lower bowl of Applegate which we would skin up a bit before starting the short/steep climb up to the Vidae Ridge and the drop-in point of the line we had yet to lay eyes on.

Starting off the approach up East Rim Drive

Taking a quick breather with Applegate in the background
(photo by Rich Dana)

The final push up to the Vidae Ridge

From my digital research I was pretty sure that it would be a worthwhile descent, but it wasn’t until we crested over the ridge and it came into view that my hopes were validated – a clean line that dropped about 900’ with a slope angle in the mid to high 30s. With all of the new snow we felt it was appropriate to dig a quick pit for a couple of compression tests. After isolating and testing a couple of columns we determined that the slope had good stability and hiked up another 100’ or so to the top of the line.

With Rich down below taking photos, Ethan and I made our final preparations before dropping in. Once I was ready I gave the signal and started down. The snow was a bit firm for the first couple of turns but it soon softened up nicely and became much easier to dig in my edges. I pulled over to the side of the run about halfway down and waited for the others to appear. Ethan came into view rather quickly and staged above me to wait for Rich. After about 10 minutes small bits of snow debris dropped down the slope and soon after that came Rich, cutting some nice turns as he cruised passed me and headed down to the bottom of the run. I quickly packed up my camera and went down to join Rich, enjoying some swoopy edge transitions along the way. Ethan came down and joined us soon thereafter and we all agreed that it was a sweet line that was definitely worth repeating on future trips to Crater Lake.

The author drops in for the first run of day
(photo by Rich Dana)

The author lays some brush strokes down the east face of the Vidae Ridge
(photo by Rich Dana)

Ethan straightlines it off the top
(photo by Rich Dana)

Rich, about halfway down the run.

Rich gets into some softer turns

Making the last few turns before the end of the run

The author finishing up
(photo by Rich Dana)

We now needed to find our way back to the area between Garfield and Applegate. Based on my research I believed our best bet was to head up through a relatively low angle pass that was just to the south of us. Of course topo maps and aerial imagery don’t always give you the full picture, and I hoped I wasn’t leading us into a mini epic. Ethan was feeling strong and laid down the skin track. It ended up working out perfectly, and I was pretty happy that we were able to make it up and over with little effort. On the other side we found ourselves back in familiar territory with our previously laid skin tracks just down the ridge from us.

The plan was to end the tour with a descent off the west face of Garfield, which I’d done a few times before and is a fantastic way to end a tour in this zone. Both Rich and Ethan were still feeling fresh and wanted to bust out a quick line down Applegate’s inner (southwest) bowl. I was still trying to kick a nasty cold so opted out and instead would wait down below and take some photos. I actually ended up waiting for quite a while and assumed that something must have gone wrong. Eventually they both dropped down the bowl and headed toward my position. Apparently Rich’s binding had iced up and they had to do some rigging with a ski strap to make them skiable.

Dropping down the inner bowl of Applegate

Even though I had a chance to rest while the other two were bagging Applegate, the last ascent up to the summit of Garfield wore me down a bit. I was pretty happy when I finally made it to the top, where I found Rich and Ethan taking in the view of the lake and surrounding area – it’s quite a spectacular vista! With the sun dropping closer to the horizon, we didn’t have much time to relax and take it in, and we quickly began the change over for the final descent.

The approach to the Garfield summit

Since I was most familiar with the line, I dropped in first, heading west straight off the summit. The first pitch is quite steep through some well-spaced trees, with the main obstacle being the cliffed-out areas. Before long we reached the upper bowl, which provided some really good turns and an opportunity to fire off some final shots of the others coming down. Once we had regathered, I led us through the small/steep chute between the rock outcropping that formed the bottom of the bowl. Once thru the chute we were out of the major avalanche terrain and party skied the remainder of the run down to the road, finishing up what was to be another fantastic tour at Crater Lake! If you want to see more of a write-up and photos on this final descent, please see my trip report from a previous outing, found here.

Ethan cuts it up on the Garfield's west bowl

The tracks from our tour:

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Mount Hood, OR - Wy'east Face / Superbowl

Christmas weekend was looking really good for getting in a couple of tours, with Sunday and Monday looking the best based on conditions. My buddy Rich sent out an email trying to pull together a crew for a mission on the Wy’east face of Mount Hood on Sunday. I knew that this was a fairly big tour and since I had committed to riding with my other buddy Arthur (who was coming in from SLC) on Monday, I was a bit apprehensive. I did leave the door open slightly, which Rich kicked in, knowing that I have a hard time passing up this type of adventure. After getting me onboard, we agreed to leave Eugene at around 5:30am, hoping to make it to the main lot at Mount Hood Meadows and skinning by 9am.

The night before I didn’t get much sleep, and I wasn’t nearly ready to get up when my alarm sounded off at 4:30am. After I was finally able to peel myself from the warm confines of my bed, I threw together a quick breakfast and loaded all my gear into the car, which I had pre-packed the night before. We both ended up pulling into the meeting spot at about the same time and soon we were heading north on I-5. The drive was fairly uneventful, but once we started up the spur road toward Mount Hood Meadows the massive volcanic peak came into view and the formidability of our mission started to set in.

Before starting our ascent we ventured into the lodge to see if we needed to check-in and where we were allowed to skin up. Unfortunately the help desk was anything but, and we came away more confused than when we walked in. Luckily I had done a bit of research/planning beforehand and was pretty sure that we wanted to hug the southwest boundary of the resort. After strapping on my board halves at the car we headed up from the lot and toward the westernmost run. As we glided past the lift station the attendant quickly accosted us and made sure we'd planned to stay outside the fence line. Just down and to the west of the run and in the woods we found a set of skin tracks, which we assumed would probably lead us toward our destination. Since gearing up in the parking lot, the base of the mountain had become consumed by a band of low clouds, completely obstructing our view of the peak. We skinned past the snowboard park and a few more runs before reaching the top of the Vista Express lift. It was here where we broke out of the cloud layer, which created quite a spectacular setting – Mount Hood in front of us (in all of its glory) and a blanket of clouds behind us, with only the tallest of the Cascade peaks poking through.

Huggin' the boundary

Pretty easy skinning along side the bottom half of the resort

Pea soup 

Breaking through the cloud layer. Rich takes in the view with Mount Jefferson in the background

Target acquired

Now above the Vista Express, we climbed up the west face of the ridge, which was completely wind-scoured and quite icy. Our ski crampons did help out a bit but it was still tough going. We soon determined that it would be best to ascend to the top of the ridge and try climbing on the leeward side, assuming that there would be much better snow. On the other side we found only a narrow swatch of land between the top of the ridge and the in-bound ski run, Texas Trail, which we weren’t allowed to be on. Unfortunately the path wasn’t far enough down from the ridge to be wind protected, and we found conditions that were only marginally better. After struggling up another one or two hundred vertical feet, we gave in and started hiking with boot crampons. As we closed in on the top of the lift served area, we were approached by ski patrol who reiterated that we were not to venture onto the established runs.

Rich climbs up the ridge just above the Vista Express

Rich contends with some icy conditions on the windward (west) side of the ridge 

Rich on the leeward side of the ridge. The conditions on this side weren't much better, so we switched over to boot crampons

Once past the top of the Cascade Express lift, we could pretty much climb wherever we wanted, although that did little to help our progress since the snow conditions didn’t really improve. After a short approach up a small face slope, we reached the top of the main ridge that led up toward the Wy’east face, which provided a good view of our route. For most of the ridge it was flat and easy-going, with the surface a mix of wind loading and small icy patches. Eventually the flat-topped ridge gave way to a series of small jagged pitches, which weren’t too difficult to navigate but definitely slowed our progress a bit. The ridge had also become steeper, and with the thinning air I found myself stopping every few steps to take in an extra breath.

More ice at the top of the lift served terrain

Taking a quick break above Mount Hood Meadows

Marching on

So close, but yet, so far

Rich heads up the easiest section of the approach, where the top of the ridge was surprisingly flat.

Looking down at my GPS, which read ~2:30pm, I knew we would only have at the most an hour before we were forced to start our descent, to ensure we got back to the car before dark. Based on my calculation of 1,000 vertical feet per hour, I knew we wouldn’t be able to make it all the way to the top of the Wy’east face and would probably be dropping in from about 10,000’ instead. Peering into the Superbowl, which sat just below the Wy'east face, it was hard to tell what the conditions were going to be like, but they didn’t look ideal. Sure enough we reached our time limit right around the 10K mark, and since there weren't any flat spots we had to kick in a platform to transition to descent mode. Both the Wy'east face and the Superbowl had fallen into the shadows and the temperature started to dip as a consequence. Once we transitioned over, we gave each other the ready signal and traversed to the east and in-line with the center of the bowl.

Getting steeper

Lots of wind affect snow on the lower part of the Wy'east face

Rich gaining as much elevation as possible before our turnaround time

As we reached the drop-in zone it quickly became apparent that this was not going to be an easy descent – with a slope angle around 40 degrees and 2” wind crust on top of ice, a fall was a real concern and could send you a couple thousand feet down the bowl in a matter of seconds. I was really glad that I had brought my new board which has Magne-Traction, since I needed all the bite I could get. Transitioning between my heel and toe side edges on the steep/icy slope was stressful. My leg muscles were also pretty blown from the ascent and my quads were on the verge of completely cramping up. I soon succumbed to working my way down on my heel-side edge only, sitting down on occasion to rest my burning legs. Even though Rich was also struggling, he was able to make it down much more gracefully and at a much faster pace.

Rich enters the Superbowl
Racing daylight

Digging in for some icy turns

Nearing the bottom of the Superbowl

At about 8,500’ we started traversing away from the bowl and toward the top lift station that was located in the resort’s boundary. This was definitely a no fall zone, since a small cliff band lay just below us. Furthermore, we didn’t want to drop into Heather Canyon since it would send us away from the main parking lot, where our car was parked. Being on a snowboard it was harder for me to maintain elevation along the way, and I soon reached a point where I couldn’t go any further without ascending up to the ridge. Switching over to boot crampons on an icy slope was more sketchy than the slope we had just come down, and it took my full concentration to do so. Luckily I had my whippet which I dug into the snow and used as an anchor while making the transition. By the time I was making forward progress again the sun had all but dipped below the horizon and at this point it was a race to get back in bounds and onto the safety of the groomed runs. With all of the time that had gone by, Rich had become worried and hiked back to make sure I was alright. Now back together we made the final push back into the resort, which luckily was uneventful.

Starting the icy traverse back to Meadows

Back at the Cascade Express lift station we strapped into our skis/board and headed down the groomers under the glow of our headlamps. We were glad to see that the bottom half of the resort was lit up for night skiing and had a mini celebration when we reached the illuminated runs. It was quite a juxtaposition between where we had just come from and the green groomers adorned with families celebrating what was left of Christmas Day. When we finally made it back to the car it was 5:45pm, about an hour after the official sunset, and I must say, I was pretty happy that it wasn’t much later.

It has been said that this is the best skiable route on Mount Hood, and although we didn’t make it to the very top of the Wy’east face, we were very close and could easily see the remaining ~600 vertical feet. I could certainly see how this could be the case, but certainly not with the conditions we had. I would love to do it again, but would probably wait until the spring corn cycle, which would provide longer days and much softer conditions. That said and due to the steepness of the headwall, it is prone to sliding even during the spring, triggered by solar radiation. If I ever do decided to do it again in the winter it would have to be under rare optimal conditions – at least 6” of powder with low winds and low avalanche danger. I’d also camp in the parking lot the night before and skin up the runs before the resort opened, just to make sure I have enough daylight for the full mission.

The tracks from our tour: