Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mt. Thielsen Ski Descent

On Sunday Emily and I climbed Mt. Thielsen near Crater Lake.
We drove up on Saturday night with the Prius and camped overnight in the Thielsen trailhead off 138 under nearly a full moon and a sky filled with stars. Once again sleeping in the Prius was a dream and waking up to the heater for changing into our gear was the best. As usual it took Emily a little bit to wake up but I took that time to cook us breakfast and start getting our gear ready. I was shocked that for a beautiful day without any clouds we were the only car in the parking lot.

We started our ascent at about 8am in the morning and except for about a 10 foot section of trail were able to keep our skins on right from parking lot. The trail was very well marked and as usual I had a gps track that I had downloaded from the
net to follow in case we got off track. I had Emily lead the
entire way up the mountain. It was good practice for her to follow the trail through the snow looking for markings that would indicate where the trail went. The blue markers on trees were helpful but when we couldn’t see them or they were spaced too far apart I taught her too look for other indicators like dirty snow, harder snow from previous tracks, depressions in the snow, broken branches, chain-sawed trees, open clearings, etc, all indicators of the trail. She did a fantastic job
only losing the trail once or twice in hard spots.

When we hit the
West Ridge we were afforded a wonderful view of the “lightning rod of the cascades” as guidebooks call the mountain. We were looking at the Northwest Bowl which is definitely skiable but our goal was the Southwest Bowl which is skiable from all the way up to just below the 80 foot summit
pinnacle. We kept our skins on most of the way up the ridge past many cornices of overhanging snow. Finally we got to a point where it became too steep and the
snow hadn’t softened up quite enough for our skins to sink in far enough for good purchase. Thankfully though, this made for fantastic boot-packing up the ridge and then up the face of the Southwest Bowl. We timed the weather and snow conditions perfectly as the snow was just soft enough for our crampons and boots to dig into sufficiently but not too deep where it was overly exhausting to pull our feet out of the snow. LIterally, perfect snow for climbing.
Once again Emily led the entire way up
the very steep face kicking steps the entire way and taking our time. She could have used an ice ax but wanted the arm workout so stuck to using her poles. I carried both pair of skis to save her some weight.

Near the top we were passed by two guys and their dog who ran across the steep slope to my dismay to bark a hello to us. They beat us to the top but we were just behind them for 2nd tracks. Near the summit pinnacle the snow got a little deeper as it was now about 1pm in the afternoon. Em
and I took a quick break to eat some lunch and then we headed round a corner of snow with sneakers in hand to attempt the 80 foot summit pinnacle that was covered in ice and snow. Emily got about 10 feet up and felt really nervous so she climbed down and waited for me as I soloed the spire myself. I chose not to bring gloves for better grip and hand holds on the solid rock. Going up was easy and the summit
was breathtaking... literally, it was so steep with so much exposure that it takes your breath
away. I wasn’t totally sure what was solid rock or snow so instead of peering over I stuck my camera over for some video of the 1,000+ foot drop to the bowl below to the northeast. I was getting slightly cold so decided it was time to down-climb which was FAR SCARIER THAN CLIMBING UP. Halfway down I lost which way I had come up and peering down at Emily 40 feet below me asked her to point it out. I calmed down, took my time and
carefully worked my way down at one point lowering myself over an edge with just my arms and fingers clamped into a crack. One slip and it would have been really bad. Thankfully I made it down safely but it wasn’t the smartest choice I’ve made in the mountains I will admit. The difficulty of coming down had not crossed my mind, but will forever in my future climbs for sure.

Once down we packed up our bags, put our skis on and my helmet cam and had a friggin’ amazing ski descent of the huge bowl. The snow was perfect. We didn’t hit any bouncy, icy spots. It was like skiing through butter on the way down. I followed Emily down and she got some video of me peeling around a
big fin of rock into a side couloir then back onto the face. We followed the tracks of the other two fellows back to the ridge and then using my GPS followed our ascent track back to the trail and then to the car. Unfortunately, the other two guys didn’t have a gps and I saw their track veering to the west knowing that they wouldn’t end up at the parking lot. In fact, we all made it back to the car at the same time except they had to walk a quarter mile back down the road to the parking lot.

It was a fantastic day in beautiful weather and because both of our forgot to bring sunscreen we ended up pretty badly burned. It was possibly the best 3 minute ski descent I’ve had in the backcountry yet. It’s hard to explain to people that a 7 hour climb is worth those three minutes but it sure was this time. We had great views north all the way to Mt. Hood and South all the way to Shasta and from the top you could even see the water inside Crater Lake. It was one of the best views I’ve had in Oregon! Emily and I enjoyed a couple bottles of Guiness I stuck in the snow to cool off before driving home in just under three hours to find a BBQ of all our friends going on at our place that we happily joined. What a wonderful end to a great weekend and I’m glad I can now check Thielsen off my list of Cascade peaks with a ski descent to boot! Our Ski Descent from the top down the Southwest Bowl can be seen in the video below. It’s first person point of view so imagine being there yourself... amazing.

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