Saturday, March 24, 2012

Skiing Cone Peak Again with Emily

Our first weekend back to Corvallis after Hawaii we of course wanted to get back on our skis.  After debating the conditions at Hood and Willamette Valley we conceded to head to Santiam Pass again with Holm as Emily hadn’t skied Cone Peak yet and this would allow us to sleep in a little bit after a long week or settling back to work life.  
After parking at tombstone pass we were headed down the road at 9:30am.  The pass had received a ton of snow over the week but the last couples days had been warm and dry so we were able to take the Prius without a problem.  Unfortunately, this also meant that the fresh powder had been heating up and getting heavy which posed an avalanche danger problem and also produced a “mashed potatoes” skiing experience for us.  
We were obviously the first people to enter the trail as there were no other tracks along the side of the road.  This meant that we would have to break trail the entire way up to the top through a couple feet of thick, wet snow. I took the lead as we ascended over a few open fields of snow, making sure to skirt the field so that we and others would have fresh “powder” to ski through on the way down.  Having 122mm waist skis compared to Chris and Emily’s ~95mm waists they were enjoying the highway I was stomping up through the snow.  When we got into the crustier, harder snow of the woods I let Chris lead the way as he could stomp down the crust either with his skis of less surface area.  
We quickly made it up to the open meadow below the summit where we took about 20-30 minutes to dig an avalanche pit to test the snow conditions.  I had done this before with CMRU but it had been a long time and Chris had just taken a certified Avalanche Course last year so he took the lead digging and showing us how to do the proper testing.  I had seen it all before but had forgotten some, so it was a great refresher for me and a good learning experience for Emily.  The hole Chris dug was deep and so was the layer of snow the area received that week but it took a lot of pounding to make anything break and when it did it was uneven and and random in the new snowpack.  This meant that the snow had adhered well to the layers below and we would be pretty safe our descent it seemed.  
I encouraged Emily to break trail for a ways to gain the experience of leading the way through thick snow.  She made her way across an easier flat area until we reached the base of the summit cone where I again took over and pounded a highway up to the summit.  At the top we had tremendous views north to Hood and South all the way to Diamond Peak just as Chris and I had the week before our Hawaii vacation.  I didn’t bother to bring the DSLR on this hike as we had just been there in similar weather.  The big difference between the two backcountry descents of Cone Peak were the enormous cornices hanging over the northeast face.  They were easily 6-8 feet bigger than 4 weeks ago and we dared not venture to their edge for fear for breaking them off and setting off a deep wet slide below with us in it!  Chris tried in vain to cut one off with an avy probe and a saw to no avail. 
We began to take off our skins and switch over from AT mode to Alpine mode for our descent when Chris suddenly lunged forward and then seemingly waved at the horizon.  Having no idea what happened he told me his ski had just rocketed down the mountain before he could put the brakes down on it for alpine mode.... uh oh... This was not good and the ski was brand new this season....  Once I was ready to ski down I took a few turns down the face following the track of the ski and came to a small hole in a wind lip with no other tracks beyond... After a second or two of poking around I miraculously found his ski, just 150 feet below the summit.  Lucky is an understatement as it was the last wind lip it could have gotten stuck in before the trees below would swallow it forever.  I was super happy to find it but even happier to get to witness Holm trying to ski down to me in super deep sticky snow with just one ski, falling hilariously several times.
When we got down to the flat meadow we happily returned for another quick run from the summit as we quickly made our way back up the skin track I had initially laid down.  We got some great video and photos of each other ripping down the open face.  Once we got into the woods it was a different affair with Emily having a lot of trouble making it through the heavy snow.  I think it’s great that she is so cautious as it means I don’t ever have to worry too much but in the case of skiing heavy snow a skier needs to push it a little and go faster as it will allow them to turn easier, a skill that is counter-intuitive yet works wonders in the backcountry.  

On the way down Chris as well had a few issues in the deep snow which made for some funny photos.  When we got back down to the lower meadows I heard Chris talking to some people and after skiing up to them was surprised to see Logan who introduced me to his new fiance Kate.  I also told him that I was recently engaged in Hawaii and it was great to catch up with Logan who didn’t even realize I was still in the area!  It took Emily a bit to make it down to us as she had gotten stuck in a deep hole.  I didn’t want to keep Logan too long as storm clouds seemed to be moving in and it was late in the afternoon already for them to make it to the top so we bid them happy skiing and continued down.  Later I would get a note from Logan that the skies cleared up and they really appreciated the skin tracks we had laid down for them to the summit.  Another great day skiing Cone Peak in Santiam Pass.

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