Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mt. McLoughlin

This weekend Emily and I
drove south to Mt. McLoughlin. We left Saturday evening and camped out overnight at the trailhead. It rained pretty hard overnight and we were glad to be in the tent. Thankfully when we woke up the skies had cleared a bit and I could tell the clouds would burn off under the sun. We started up the trail which was at first
dry ground and then turned into snow as we gained elevation. The snow was kind of dirty and there were many tree wells so we continued on in our mountaineering boots without putting on our skins hoping that further up we would be able to skin a little bit. Nope... we ended up literally walking up the entire mountain via the steep East Summit Ridge. We followed the marked trail up the mountain as far as we could follow it before losing it in feet of old snow from the winter. Footsteps helped us find our way back to it on several occasions.
The summit ridge was beautiful and looking into the East Bowl we discovered many old volcanic rock outcroppings that I was eyeing for ski lines. The sun was high in the ski and it was pretty hot so we felt more than comfortable hiking in shorts and t-shirts. Climbing the ridge was rough at times as we had to traverse rock fields where the snow had melted
in our non-flexible AT boots. We reached the summit at around 11:30, about 4 hours after we started. It was just over 4 miles to the top and we had climbed about 4,000 feet of elevation gain
making it the first significant climb for Emily. The last pitch up the very steep summit cone was pretty tiring for both of us. As we climbed it we watched in amazement as massive thunderclouds started to build around us so we knew we needed to summit and descend quickly. As we were putting on our ski gear and deciding where to go it began to drizzle a little and we could hear thunder in the distance. Emily wanted to cruise down the big open snowfield of the summit cone while I wanted to descend into the much more
technical East Face around the cliff bands and rock outcroppings. I pointed down the ridge to where I wanted to meet Emily and filmed her taking a few turns down the slope. Then I grabbed the camera in one hand and got a POV film of me cruising down through the steep East Face setting of several small slush slides in my wake. I traversed hard to the right midway down the face and found myself climbing up an incredibly steep face of snow back to the ridge using my hands as ice axes jamming them into the soft snow for purchase making sure I was balanced with each step, or I would be sliding down the steep face into rock outcrops without an axe to self arrest.

As I pulled myself back to the crest of the ridge I collapsed for a few moments in exhaustion before calling out for Emily and again hiking back up the ridge to meet her. When I did she told me she had passed a couple and that the woman’s hair was sticking straight up due to all the electricity in the air. She said that they had chuckled and continued to climb which I thought was absurd with the crumbling weather conditions. We then heard a loud boom of thunder, practically jumped into our bindings again and headed down through several very fun snow fields towards the safety of the treeline.

From there it was simply a long trudge through the woods again back to the truck with mosquitoes following us the entire way. Emily got bit a few times and so did I. She said it was her favorite ski descent thus far and I out of the ones she had been on I agreed that it was. From the summit we could see a million different lines falling off the steep mountain, especially to the Northeast which I’ll have to come back with Chris and Aaron and try seeing that it would be a much farther approach hike/ski.

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