Sunday, May 3, 2009

Mt. Hoffman Ski Descent

Today was going to be Emily’s first big backcountry ski trip with me. Unlike the
3-4 mile roundtrip Tumalo, this would be about 15 miles round trip and about 1700 feet of elevation gain over very flat ground... and with no reward as the summit is wooded. Although it is on my list of Cascade Volcanoes to climb it also served another purpose as it would be the base that Emily references all future ski ascents on, and I wanted to set that initial base very low so future climbs would be even more worth it for her.
We got an early start about 7am and were able to drive further up the road past the snowmobile park than I had expected. When we came to a wall of snow I didn’t dare try to drive my truck over I figured we had about 5-6 miles of flat road to traverse before actually heading up the volcano which is simply the high point of the very broad Medicine Lake Volcano (A broad volcano complex with a mass greater than that of Mt. Rainier and yet only about 8,000 feet high compared to Rainier’s 14,000). The problem with traversing 5-6 miles is that the snow was spotty and we often found ourselves
clicking into our skis to immediately click out of them after 500m patches of snow on the road. Eventually we gained enough elevation that the road remained covered but it was pretty annoying for the first 2-3 miles. When we finally got to where I wanted to head off into the woods towards Mt. Hoffman we were both a little tired already. We stopped and ate some snacks before heading through the woods. It took us a long time to get to the summit. We had to ascent several very steep sections but the other sections were incredible flat the uphill didn’t have much of a slope to it. Immediately I knew that the descent was going to suck but I didn’t want to say anything and I didn’t want to discourage Emily, so I told her it would be fun and lied about how much further it was.
As we climbed the snow became deeper and deeper as it had snowed about 6 inches several days before and even a little the previous night.
From the top we had very few views. We could only see glimpses of Glass Mountain to the east and Medicine lake below to the south with a massive lava flow reaching towards it from the west. We didn’t stay long at the summit as we had told Kevin and Alexa we would be back at the campsite around 4pm and we would have to really hussle to make that time. The ski descent was pretty much what I had anticipated... slow and flat, through very thick wet fresh powder (not really powder). For most of the descent, except for those two quick steep sections we found ourselves pushing with our poles to move forward. When we made it out of the woods and back to the forest road covered in snow we decided to switch our gear to
touring mode but without the skins on. This actually worked very well as it allowed us some forward gliding movement on the flats.

By the time we were about a mile from the truck both of us were exhausted. We had given up putting on our skis for the short snow sections choosing the sludge through them in our boots instead. For the last half mile I offered to carry both our skis on our way out to the truck. We reached the truck at quarter to five and I raced back to camp so Kevin and Alexa wouldn’t be too worried.

We quickly packed up camp and set off for home with the two girls promptly passing out in the back seat. I made the mistake of trusting my gps to find a gas station ahead only to find it closed. Not wanting to risk going further and running out of gas on a Sunday night in the middle of Eastern Oregon we had to backtrack 15 minutes to Klamath Falls where we were lucky enough to find one gas station still open. Kevin helped me stay away for the rest of the drive home.

It was a great weekend and I think Kevin and Alexa really had a great time coming along with us!

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