Saturday, July 8, 2017

Crater Lake (OR) - Hillman & The Watchman (Summer)

The last time I snowboarded The Watchman at Crater Lake (trip report here), the four mile approach from the main lodge felt like a little too much work for such short skiable shots (~400 vertical feet). We also didn’t budget enough time to ride Hillman, its sister peak, and I came away from that tour thinking that it would be awesome to head back there in late spring/early summer, when they first open the north entrance and before the snow on the northern aspects melted out. This would mean no approach and being able to BBQ at the car between laps – not a bad way to finish off the ski season! Fast forward to early summer 2017, when a plan came together to celebrate Jill's birthday, using this plan as the platform.

Taking work off on Thursday, I met the crew (Jill, Iryna & Jace) at the edge of Eugene at 6am. From there we headed up Hwys 58 and 97 to the north entrance of Crater Lake. When we finally reached the rim and found a nice little parking spot below Hillman Peak, it was around 8:45am, where we were treated to mild temperatures and bright blue skies! Surprisingly, even with the warm morning temps and not dropping below freezing the night before, the snow was still really firm, so we took our time getting geared up for the first lap.

Looking up at Hillman, from the car.

Once everyone was ready, we started to boot up the face of Hillman Peak. Along with the snow being pretty firm, the surface was covered in sun cups – luckily they were pretty small and mainly on the low pitched runout. Iryna led the charge and set a nice boot pack all the way up to the summit ridge. None of us were keen on how firm the snow remained, especially since the slope angle up top was in the high 30s to low 40s. Therefore, we decided to hang out up top and let it soften a bit, taking in the amazing view of the lake while we waited.

Starting the climb

Closing in on the summit ridge

Taking in the view from the summit ridge

Yes, it really is that blue!

A view of The Watchman, or the second objective of the day.
Union Peak and Mount McLoughlin can also be seen in the distance.

Looking north, with views of Diamond Peak, the Three Sisters and Mount Thielsen visible in this photo.
Just out of the frame, to the left, was Mount Bailey.


After a half-hour or so, we decided we’d given the snow enough time and prepared to drop in for our initial turns of the day. I asked to go first so that I could setup for some photos. As I traversed across the top of the face, the combination of the small sun cups and still firm conditions had me questioning my decision to probe. My first right hand turn went about as well as I expected and I ended up falling onto my side, just managing to stay planted on the slope. Unfortunately I wasn't so lucky on my next turn; unable to self arrest, I slid (on my back) all the way to the bottom and about 250 vertical feet below my starting position. I quickly gave the others the signal that I was alright, and other than some snow rash the only thing I suffered was a hit to my pride. From my unintended location, I quickly snapped off a few pics of the others coming down.

The crew drops in for the first turns of the day

Jill cruises past

Jace, about halfway down.

Coming in hot!

For the next lap up Hillman, I decided to stop about halfway up, so I could warm up with some turns on the lesser angle pitch. It was also a good spot to setup for some more photos of the others. After they had summited and while they were coming back down, I fired off a couple more shots and then dropped in with much better turns and somewhat in control.

Heading up for a second lap

Jace, turnin' & burnin'

A few sun cups are slowing him down!

Iryna drops in for her second lap

Carrying good speed on the way down

Hard to beat the view on the way down

Jill, cuttin' it up on the upper pitch.

Bringing it home on the final pitch

Before moving on to The Watchman, we wanted to get in at least one more lap, and I certainly wanted some redemption from the summit. By this point the snow was starting to soften up nicely and the boot pack had become well established. Before dropping in, we all scrambled to the summit peak, enjoying the view and sharing a beer. Once we were done chillaxing at the summit we made our way back down to our ski gear and prepared for the final descent on Hillman. Everyone’s lines went really well, including mine, and I was stoked to be on my skis at the bottom instead of my back.

Making our way to the summit of Hillman

Almost there

More relaxing...

...and good turns (Jill)!



The other three went up for one more lap while I relaxed at the car. Here they are coming down the north face of Hillman.

It was now time to BBQ, and we did it right - with spicy links, grilled veggies, ice cream sandwiches, and more beer (of course)! In fact, it was really hard to re-motivate to put my ski boots back on for another lap or two. After about a half hour of quaffing, noshing and soaking up the sun, we finally started to mobilize. Since there was road construction going on and it was only about a half mile away, we decided to hike down the road, rather than drive. Along the way we were questioned by some of the construction workers, who thought we were crazy for attempting to ski the steep slope that lay in front of us. My concern was not necessarily the slope angle, which was in the high 30s to low 40s, but rather that it abruptly dropped off onto the road. This somewhat made it a no fall zone, especially if traffic happened to be coming through…

BBQ time!

Making our way to The Watchman

Making some final adjustments before booting up the face

Taking the most direct route up to the summit, Iryna led the charge once again, kicking steps into the steep slope and without slowing down. I offered to switch off but she wouldn’t take me up on the offer and before long we had reached the lookout tower that sat atop The Watchman. Once again we hung out and took in the view before time constraints forced us from our relaxed state.

Iryna, leading the charge.

Summiting The Watchman

Looking back toward Hillman

Another great view of the lake

Relaxing at the lookout on top of The Watchman

Working hard

Again, I tried dropping in first. But I soon found myself pinned against the right cliff band, since I couldn’t get myself to commit to a left-hand turn on the steep/firm upper pitch -- I was still a bit gun shy from my episode earlier in the day. I actually ended up popping out of my skis and turning around on a small perch against the cliff wall. From there I was able to take some shots of the others coming down, before putting my skis back on and finally finding my groove for the remainder of the run.

Iryna drops into the north face of The Watchman

Jill, partway down.

Jace drops in for his turns

Diggin' in

Getting in a few last turns before the road

Now at the bottom, we started hiking back up the road towards our car. Along the way we were treated to cheers from some of the construction workers as well as some of the folks who were in their cars waiting to be let through – apparently we’d put on quite a show. Back at the car we quickly packed up and rolled out, stoked that we were able to get in some summer turns with little effort and in such a beautiful place!

That's a wrap

Looking back at The Watchman on the way back to the car

Our lines down The Watchman

The end to a great ski session!

Although Hillman and The Watchman do not offer up long descents, it’s really hard to beat the access, especially here in Oregon where long approaches are the norm. One of the huge benefits to this is that you can BBQ in between yo-yo laps! Furthermore, the views are pretty unbeatable and just hanging out on one of the summits and relaxing is pretty special in its own right. I would love to see this become a yearly tradition and I’m sure we’ll have more of the crew on board the next time.

My tracks:

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