Sunday, May 6, 2012

Scary Ski Descent of Mt. Thielsen

This weekend Emily and I drove up on Saturday night to the Crater Lake area of Oregon where we spent the night on the shore of the still frozen Diamond Lake underneath Mt. Bailey. On the drive up we stopped briefly at Lemolo Lake so I could get some shots of pointy Mt. Thielsen in the distance over the lake with the “super moon” that was out that night. Apparently, the moon was in its closest orbit to earth in over 1,000 years but neither Emily or I could really tell that much of a difference.

Once we got parked and set up our bags in the back of the car I took the camera down to the shore of the lake to set it up for my first night timelapse experiment using the intervelometer built into the camera. This function allows the camera to take a photo at a specified interval for as long at the memory card has room for.  Combining these photos together creates a movie (kind of like a cartoon flip book) of the night sky with the stars rotating overhead with the surroundings stationary. I love these videos and since our camera has that function I thought I would give it a try before heading to bed with Emily who spent the night coughing from either bad allergies or a chest cold.
In the morning we woke to two people walking by who had noticed the camera setup. Thankfully, they saw us and left it alone. When I went to retrieve it I was horrified to see the entire $2000+ system cached with morning frost! Thankfully, the camera is built solidly and after some defrosting in the car it was fine. Unfortunately, the battery only lasted for about 250 shots which is about a 10-12 second movie of the night sky. This was fine as the moon was blowing up the brightness near the end of the battery as it entered the camera frame.
After some consideration Emily decided she wanted to give the climb up Thielsen a try despite her physical weakness from the coughing and we started our trip up from the parking lot just after 9am. It took us quite a bit of time to get up to the ridge of Thielsen because Emily was struggling for energy. We did have a pleasant break in the woods for 15 minutes as we were visited by a group of Grey Jays (Northwest Camp Robbers) who were curious about Emily. I told Emily to stick out her hand, accurately guessing that they were bold enough to land on it looking for scraps. Emily was surprised to have it land right on her hand and then start nibbling at her fingertips which at first scared her that it would hurt. Eventually, I coaxed her into moving into the light shining through the trees and I was able to get some great shots of her and her new friend. After some time the birds figured out they weren’t going to get any more food after a couple bits of granola and took off deeper into the woods.

When we reached a good spot on the ridge Emily decided she would wait for me. A skier passed us and told us that he had just descended this sketchy looking chute down the northwestern face of Thielsen that I had been looking at as a possibility on Google Earth. He said it was super icy but would be much better once I got up there. So, I ended up following his tracks up the ridge quickly while Emily waited on the ridge below with my iphone to video me coming down. It didn’t take me long to reach the top of the chute where the guy had cut a small platform into the hard snow to put on his skis and gear. I did the same and got a couple shots of the area and looking down the chute before thankfully putting it inside my pack instead of on my chest as usual. I also got the helmet cam set up on my head and turned it on.

Small rocks and ice were beginning to rain down on the area from the cliffs above from the hot early afternoon sun so I knew for safety I should probably bail on any thoughts of visiting the summit spire and quickly get myself down the chute before conditions got really bad. On hind sight I probably should have waited patiently 10-15 minutes to regain the strength in my legs because when I dropped into the chute and took my first 3 jump turns I realized my legs were rubber from the fast climb up the ridge… That’s when I flipped. I took a weak jump turn, caught a rock or ice on my ski edge and flipped right through the air head over heels back to my butt. I slid a couple feet but thankfully was able to regain control and arrest my slide with both skis still attached.

After a few moments I collected myself and started down again. I exited the chute and found myself on a fin of snow leading out to a small rock outcrop. This is where any sign of the previous skiers tracks disappeared. I had two choices. Go skiers right down the face over a crown of an old avalanche that had ripped right down to the rocks or go skiers left down a narrower and steeper face. Right looked less steep but I didn’t want to destroy my ski bases on bare rock after the crown so I headed left instead and found myself half sliding, half falling down one of the steepest slopes I’d ever been on. It was super icy and there was so much ice and snow falling with me (my slough) from my jump turns that I couldn’t even see the surface of the snow I was on. It was definitely a no-fall-zone as I could have tomahawked into the side rocks or a small rock boulder at the base of the face I was on. With skis bouncing rapidly on the ice and very jittery with rubbery legs I was praying the whole way down my tiny dynafit touring bindings held onto my boots.Thankfully, I had thought to lock the front toe pieces (usually a bad idea for downhill as it limits ejection) which kept them tightly on my feet.

At the base of the huge northwestern face the snow immediately got softer and I arced a couple big turns down the bowl and up onto the ridge to meet Emily… with legs still shaking from the descent. That’s when I realized that my helmet cam had completely failed from the very start and the film Emily had gotten of me showed me as simply a tiny spec heading down the face. Another climber had gotten video of me from the ridge so hopefully I’ll be able to get it emailed to me. I was super happy to be down in one piece and so was Emily. I definitely got my adrenaline rush of the season on that descent.

From there it was an easy ski descent back through the woods to the trailhead which I missed by a quarter of a mile unfortunately because I was having too much fun skiing to keep checking my gps track. We pulled a couple beers out of the snow and relaxed for a bit in the warm sun before piling all the gear into the car again and heading home via the much faster 97 route through Oakridge back to I-5 at Eugene. Another great day skiing. We missed Chris who was rafting the John Day but will probably end up heading to Mt. Shasta with him next weekend.

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