I know you guys have been missing me at The Backcountry all summer, so here's what I've been up to.
I love Tahoe and the Sierra, but it had been a while since I had seen my folks and if I was going up to the Oregon anyway, why not make a roadtrip out of it and climb some mountains? So this summer I quit my job, shoved everything I had into my van and headed north. I left Truckee June 1st in a snowstorm, got back four months later to find it snowing again. What happened to that California sun? Oh well, at least we had good weather on the trip.
Since it was still early season and with all the snow we got last winter, the first objective was skiing. On the way up to Portland I hit Lassen, sorry no pics, but a pretty cool ski, 4000 foot powder run in June. Then once I fulfullied my filial obligations, I headed up to Hood. I had never actually climbed Hood despite growing up so close, mostly because my mother knew some friends who had died on it back in the 80's and so was deathly afraid of me setting foot on it. Solution: I didn't tell her where I was going until I got down.
Beta picture of Cooper Spur since I didn't have a topo.
The standard route starts at Timberline Lodge and goes up the south side, but what's the fun in that? Too crowded and not enough of a wilderness feeling. Since I was going solo I didn't want to get on any glaciers, so I decided on Cooper Spur, essentially the east ridge. Now Hood is ~11k tall and the trailhead is only at ~3k and I wasn't feeling quite up to an eight thousand foot day. Luckily there's a beautiful cabin a few thousand feet up at the timberline. So I hiked in one evening, got to bed early, woke up early, and was at 8k when the sun came up.
Hiking up to the cabin.
The ridge at dawn.
Looking back down from near where I ditched my skis.
Not too much past this point the ridge steepens, maybe 45-50 degrees, not unskiable, but definitely unskinnable. Unfortunately the wind was gusting super hard and I didn't want to put a sail on my back either (saw a guy get blown off a mountain doing that last spring, slide into a rock, had to get evaced, wasn't pretty), so I decided to ditch the skis. A little bit more steep bootpacking got me up to the summit and the obligatory dorky self portrait.
Looking back down I was just as glad I didn't bring my skis up honestly. I'm too stubborn to down climb with them, but all the wind was keeping the snow pretty icy and it was steep enough to be scary with all the rocks and cliffs below. So I just downclimbed to my skis then got some nice turns in lower down. All in all, about 8k of climbing for 4k of sking, not the best ratio, but good to get the summit in.
Next up was Rainier. I figured this one was serious enough to be worth bringing a partner on, no way to avoid the glaciers on it. I don't see the point in walking up a mountain just to walk back down it, why not skin up, ski down? Faster on the uphill and way more fun on the downhill. So after a little digging, I found a guy on cascadeclimbers I could talk into skiing at least the bottom part of the mountain, above Camp Muir at 10k it gets dicier, wasn't sure if it would be skiable or not. So the plan was to skin up to Muir one afternoon, then get up early the next day, summit probably on foot, then ski back down. When we got to Paradise, the trailhead, it was pissing rain and foggy, but the rangers swore that it was sunny and nice above 7k, so after buying a $45 permit we were off. It was clear pretty quickly though that my partner didn't have a lot of backcountry ski experience, was having a lot of trouble skinning up the occasionally steep and slick skin track. It didn't help that he was in mountaineering boots on Silverettas with skins that didn't quite fit. So it took us a little while and by the time we did get above the clouds it was clear we weren't going to make it to Muir that night, or at least not nearly early enough to be getting up early in the morning to summit. We found a nice patch of flat ground and set up camp. As we were making dinner, I saw a figure coming down from Muir alone. We had seen several parties who had hiked up to the camp for the day, many tourists in jeans and t-shirts, who weren't really outfitted for anything serious. And at this point there was no way this guy was going to make it back to Paradise that night, especially with it being foggy and shitty down lower. So when he got down to us, we talked him into spending the night with us, three men in a two man tent kept us all nice and toasty even though we didn't have a sleeping bag for him.
Breaking out of the fog.
Camp in the morning.
Beautiful skiing on the way down.
The nice thing about deciding to not summit was that it meant we could sleep in the next morning, no point in taking off before the snow softened up a bit. My partner was feeling beat from his tribulations the day before, but I was feeling good, so I went up the extra thousand feet to Muir before we headed down just for a little more vert. The skiing out was beautiful, great corn in the sun, at least until we hit the cloud layer again, then it was glop in the fog, but hey, nothing's perfect. No summit either, so I'll be going back sometime.
One of my main plans for the summer was to spend a month working out at Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center/former mining village/hippy commune way out in the middle of the Washington Cascades. You take a boat forty miles up a lake, then a bus ten miles up a side canyon to get there, so you know it's remote. No phones, no tv, no connection to the outside world. A great spot to relax. Plus it's literally surrounded by mountains on all sides, so there's lots of climbing and hiking to be done.
View of the village with the massive mine tailings behind and Copper Mountain above. Guess what they were mining.
There's not a lot of true steep climbing around, but I spent some time developing this little cliff near town. Surprisingly overhung.
Bonaza Peak above Holden Lake only about five miles from town.
I can't really begin to describe the village itself, it's such a unique place, great community, but we'll just focus on the climbing here. Now the peaks nearby are only about nine thousand feet tall, but the valley is at three thousand, so they're all a plenty long ways up. I had done most of the peaks around on previous visits, but one that had eluded me was Dumbbell mountain, an imposing peak just upvalley. The first problem was that the standard route, while not difficult, starts on the opposite side of the mountain, something like a twenty mile hike away. I had scouted a route up the north ridge but couldn't tell whether it would go or not, I guess there's only one way to find out. To even get on the ridge required facing problem number two, the creek. The peak's on the other side of the valley than the trail, so you've got a hundred foot wide, waistdeep ford first thing in the morning. Then just fight your way up a couple of thousand feet of steep bushwhacking and you're at the start of the rock.
Hiking up to Dumbbell, about to get wet.
The good stuff.
The summit ridge, luckily I found a way to avoid traversing it. Glacier Peak in the background. The wildest volcano, it's 11k tall with a 20 mile hike just to the base.
The ridge I climbed came up on the backside near the middle of this shot. Note the ledge running down diagonally left, very handy.
Looking from the first summit over towards the second. There is some debate as to which is actually taller so the only solution is to tag both.
The second very handy ledge that got me around the left side of the peak in the previous picture. Without these ledges, the route would be more or less impossible so it was pretty cool to just stumble across them.
I didn't feel like reversing my ascent route, so I went down the standard way and looped all the way around. I had to get back though since the next day I was leaving. Rather than going all the way out to civilization immediately though, I took the boat only partway and went backpacking for a week. There was so much snow this year that the entire crest was still snowcovered even in late July, but I found a beautiful hike along the ridge just east of Lake Chelan, high meadow rambling for miles and miles with amazing views across the lake to the main Cascades.
There is an actual trail down there, but it's more fun just to wander along the ridge itself.
I spent my last night at the site of a former fire lookout on Boulder Butte, in the foreground on the left here.
The view from my camp at sunset.
And at dawn.
From Boulder Butte it was a knee punding five thousand foot descent back down to the lake and the town of Stehekin but at least you know there's a burger and ice cream waiting for you. Next I was back off to civilization only long enough to grab my car and the rest of my gear then back out to more mountains.