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:

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