Saturday, March 27, 2010

Pelican Butte Ski Descent

Saturday Emily and I climbed Pelican Butte in Southern Oregon. It is a non-active Shield Volcano with nearly symmetrical shape besides the broad glacier cirque which makes up the popular Northeast Bowls. It is on my list of Cascade Volcanoes that I want to ski and
with access year-round from the West Side road around the northwest side of Klamath Lake March seemed like an ok time to give it a go. It had been snowing occasionally throughout the week and when I called the ranger station the day before a nice elderly lady told me that it was snowing pretty hard in the mountains and told me to be careful. This of course sent me into a near state of paranoia about whether or not to take the Prius over the mountain pass and whether the avalanche danger would be too high. I checked the avy forcast for Hood and it said
considerable danger after noon on saturday but I knew Hood was getting much more snow because the storm was to the north. After checking various webcams and deciding to take the longer route towards Medford than up to Klamath lake instead of going over Willamette Pass I decided we should still give it a try.
I left Watershed an hour early and came home to pack allowing us to leave at around 7pm. We stopped for a sub at Roseburg (I think that’s where it was) at a Quizno’s just before it closed at 9pm. After driving a long ways we finally started to go up in elevation at around 11:15pm. There was only one small part of the drive
about 5 miles long on the approach to Klamath lake that got a little icy with the temp outside dropping to below freezing but the roads were clear and we made it to the forest service road gate by quarter of midnight. We were both a little unnerved because there literally was no snow on the ground anywhere. We had seen the gate we needed to go through at the end of a dirt road about 400 yards ahead so decided to lay out our sleeping bags and get some sleep.
Sleeping in the Prius was amazingly roomy and waking up to a push of a button and 80 degrees air conditioning to get dressed in was unbelievable! We got geared up and after cooking up a breakfast on the jetboil of Mountain House and oatmeal for Emily we got a later start than I expected at around 7:45. To our surprise just beyond the gate the forest service road was completely covered in snow. We were able to follow the road for a mile or so before having to duck into the woods to find our way to and then up the Northeast
Ridge. Before leaving home I had created a gps track with google earth and google maps and then converted it to a .gpx file for my Garmin for us to follow so I had a good idea of where we needed to go. We kept our skins on the entire way and there was just enough snow in the woods at the bottom to keep us going with our skis on, although we had to gingerly step over a few logs and rocky areas. Once we gained about a thousand feet we
found crossed some snowmobile tracks which was nice to know there may be other people potentially skiing some sketchy bowls with the warm weather coming.
made our way through some thick forest at times until we broke out onto the Northeast Ridge and found the same snowmobile tracks. After both of us putting on some blister treatment we followed the tracks up the ridge all the way to just below the summit. It was great following the tracks because we would have been much slower going through the 8 inches of fresh snow ourselves. When we did have to leave the tracks to
approach the final summit ridge we certainly slowed down. We could see above the huge glacier cirque and the tower at the summit. We crossed several big clearings with amazing views to the south of
Klamath lake below and Mt. Shasta in the far hazy distance. Just below the final summit ridge we saw some snowmobilers go buy and again hopped onto their tracks to save some time.
We got to the base of the summit ridge and had to descend a little into a gulch then go up a steep slope to the final ridge to the summit. On the way down Emily took a tumble. It was funny until I realized we both were standing directly inside a clear avalanche gully and if anything went it would all be coming towards us so I ushered her on quickly. When we got to the summit ridge we scoped out the terrain and I decided there was far too much wind loading on the leeward facing bowls due to westerly winds to safely ski them with the limited avalanche training I’d had. We both had beacons and I gave Emily a crash course on the ridge on how to use them. I decided
we could ski a tiny bowl just above the Northeast Ridge. It was only a couple hundred yards to the bottom and there were trees anchoring it in the middle along with several clear “exits” incase anything started to slide.
We made our way to the summit and relaxed on top a little while taking photos. We got some great panorama’s of Klamath
Lake and McLoughlin just to the west of us. I had picked up a gorilla pod tripod for the camera and it came in
handy sticking it in the snow at top to snap pics of us. I then put on the helmet cam and we started our descent down the ridge. When I got to where I thought it was safe I gave Em the heads up and dropped into the open slope taking a few hard turns at the top to see if anything broke free. It was after noon and the snow was getting heavy so I wanted to make sure it was safe for Emily. After a few arcing turns it was apparent it was pretty safe so I gave her the go and she followed me down. From there we headed down into the cirque and through the trees below carving our way through fresh,
though a little heavy now, powder. We traversed along the northern side of the Northeast ridge and had to climb a small slope eventually to get back to the south side which we had come in on. Emily’s legs were pretty tired at this point and she was not happy about climbing but we quickly made it back to the ridge and headed down from there. On our way up we saw
an amazing ring around the sun caused by ice crystals in high sirrus clouds. Weather folklore says that it means bad weather is coming... glad we were leaving I guess. Descending through the thick forest at time was a little tough with speed on skis but we eventually made it
back down to the forest service roads. We decided to follow the snowmobile tracks a little at the bottom which turned out to be a bad choice because it took us across some flat areas. When we got back down to the road we came in on we switched our skis to touring mode without skins on and quickly made our way back down to the car. The whole trip was about 10.5 miles and took us about 8 and half hours. Emily was pretty beat so I drove us home taking us back the fast way over Willamette pass which was now clear of any snow seeing that the temp had gone up to nearly 60. It was a great trip and everything worked out perfectly. We were able to ski all the way down to the car without taking our skis off (won’t be able to do that much longer) and skinned all the way to the summit without hiking in perfect weather. The ring around the sun seemed to be right because on Sunday it poured all day in Corvallis!

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