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:

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