Sunday, March 2, 2014

Maiden Peak Backcountry Ski Trip

This weekend Emily and I wanted to get out of dodge so we joined Colleen and others for a backcountry ski tour around the backside of Willamette Pass Ski Area.  Because we were passing Corvallis on the way through we also used the opportunity to stop for dinner with Holm, Paris, Jason and Jen and then stayed over with Jen and Jason.  It was a long tour so we left Leo for a little vacation with Aunt Anna Li before heading south.  To read more and see more photos click the title to read on….

Emily and I both left work a little early on Friday so we could drop Leo off at Anna Li’s and make it to Corvallis by 8:30 to get dinner.  We felt a little bad leaving him because it would be the same situation as when we left him for nearly a month… we hoped he wouldn’t remember.  But Anna Li loves dogs more than anyone we’ve ever met so we knew it would be a vacation for him.  Traffic was actually light so we made it to Pastini’s in Corvallis right on time and found our four friends waiting for us. 

It was a great dinner and really nice to catch up with everyone as we hadn’t seen Jason and Jen since December and we hadn’t seen Paris since November.  Chris seems extra busy with work and Jen finally got her dream job with a city tree management group in Eugene.  Jason also seemed to be settling into work life at the Corvallis Quantum office.  After dinner Em and I stopped by Winco to grab some food for our trip (disappointing Mountain House selection) and then headed to Jason and Jen’s for the night in my old room.

All of us woke up at 6am as Jason and Jen had a tree planting in Eugene and Emily and wanted to get an early start from Willamette Pass so we could attempt a summit of Maiden Peak in the afternoon.  We said our goodbyes and grabbed the usual grub at the BK Lounge on the way out of town.  It was a rainy drive up to the pass but just before we got to the Gold Lake 

Snow Park parking lot it turned to snow and there was about 3” of very wet fresh snow on the ground.  We chatted it up with a local who worked at Willamette Pass for a bit and he told us about the awl at the shelter for splitting wood if we needed it.  Kalin and his girlfriend Marissa also pulled up next to us as they had been sleeping in the lot the whole night.  They told us not to wait for them as we were already to go when they pulled up.

We left the trailhead around 9:30am and headed down Gold Lake Road which was closed and had just enough snow on it for us to skin in.  It was actually a lot of downhill on the road towards the lake before we came to the trailhead sign several miles later.  It had been snowing since we left the lot and there were several new inches on the ground but as we climbed up towards the pass and gained 800 feet it got deeper, yet still wet and heavy.  The trail was ok but there was built on the side of a ridge so there was a lot of side hill climbing which was sore on our feet.  

We reached the shelter around 1pm and were the only ones there.  We rested for about 20 minutes, taped up our feet and ate some food as we needed energy for our 1800 foot climb of Maiden Peak just 2 miles away.  We dropped our heavy overnight stuff in the shelter and made sure to put our food in a big plastic tub we found there so that the red squirrel we spooked when we walked in wouldn’t get it… The silly creature freaked out and nearly jumped over Emily’s shoulder when we entered the cabin!   We hoped that by the time we got back to the shelter there would be a warm wood stove and friends there waiting.

The trail up Maiden Peak was straightforward and having a gps track on both my phone and Garmin made finding it pretty easy as well.  Unfortunately, the snow had gotten deeper and my legs had gotten weaker.  While breaking trail my powder boards were constantly getting a thick layer of heavy wet snow on them.  This amounted to extra pounds of weight on each ski each time I lifted my leg to move forward.  We were moving sluggishly and about 800 feet from the top, still in the woods, we made the call to turn around.  Yes, we probably could have made it if we pushed on but our legs would have been jelly for the ski down and the snow was pretty crappy anyway as it was so wet and heavy.  

On our ski back down the trail we met a group of 3 very strong looking people following our tracks up the mountain.  If we had waited 15 more minutes where we had stopped they probably would have passed us and with them in the lead breaking trail we would have made the summit much easier.  Instead we had bourbon and a warm shelter on our minds so we continued on.  My gloves were soaked and my hands were a bit cold so I didn’t feel too bad turning around.  We could always come back to Oakridge for some summer biking and take Leo on this hike in the summer to the top.  

We arrived back at the shelter around 4:30pm and found all of our friends there.  It was good to see Ian, Colleen, Kalin, Marissa, Deverton, Cody, Nicole, and Rachel.  Rhiannon, Shawn, David, Sesha and Chris were new faces for us.  There were also two other smaller groups there for the night, so yes it was packed.  Emily had been smart enough to leave her stuff in the loft upstairs which saved us a two spots for our sleeping bags that night.  

Emily and I had carried in a large set of “Cards Against Humanity” and Ian had brought bluetooth speakers so the evening was spent listening to my chill party playlist and playing the biggest game of CAH I’ve seen with 15+ people sitting in a circle laughing hysterically.  We passed around bourbon and Emily and I enjoyed two boxes of red wine we had carried up.  After we found we were repeating cards the game ended and we all prepared our dinners.  Emily had a pad thai box and I had a rice a roni chicken packet with a can of white chicken.  It was the worst meal I’ve ever eaten in the woods.  Thankfully, Cody and Nicole had brought fresh beef from their farm and shared a few slices with me to wash the taste of my own dinner out of my mouth!  

As it got dark the solar powered lights were turned on but they were on a timer.  There was another skier in the cabin who had brought a guitar up and was quietly strumming the strings but when the lights went out the first time he started to jam really fast… until Deverton turned the lights back on and he stopped…  We sat around chatting, and sharing stories as friends should in a warm backcountry ski hut until the lights went out again.  This time we all shouted to leave them off and the guy with the guitar proved to have some real skills.  He could play nearly anything we asked of him and play it well.  Deverton did his mouth-flute thing to accompany as best he could.  It was surreal to be completely in the dark, 6 miles in the woods in a warm cabin listening to some great guitar with friends all around.  One of those moments in life you really cherish as they don’t come often.  

When our guitarist called it a night we all did as well and headed up to the loft for bed.  What ensued was the worst night of sleep I’d ever had.  Emily was laying one person away from the loudest snorer we had ever experienced.  He had no rhythm and I think he may have actually had sleep apnia as it was loud and terrible.  I gave Emily my headphones and she listened to rainstorm sounds all night (even though it was dumping snow outside) which allowed her to drown out the guy next to her.  I had nothing to listen to accept the strained snoring of them man and my sleeping pad kept deflating, leaving me lying on the hard wood floor.  I didn’t get any sleep the whole night until the group with the snorer got up early and left.  Emily told me later they gave their friend shit for snoring so loudly.  What they should have done was told him to turn on his side as there were 20 others in the room suffering through his noise.  

Emily got up and left me with the headphones which helped me sleep a couple more hours while everyone else cooked breakfast and began packing for the trip out.  When I woke I was completely alone up on the loft level and Emily brought me a Mountainhouse bag of granola and blueberries.  I quickly packed up to catch up with the others and we had the hut pretty cleaned up by around 10:45 when we all started our ski out via Rosary Lakes.  

With fresh legs Cody led the way through the several inches of new snow that had fallen during the night.  We climbed a couple hundred feet up to the saddle with only a few snowshoe issues along the way.  When we got to the steep descent from the saddle down to the lakes half of us with skis on decided to shred some very wet pow.  We snapped a few pics and dropped into the steep slope that turned out to be incredibly wet and sticky snow… It was snowing when we dropped in but when we reached lake level it had turned to pouring rain that didn’t stop for the rest of the way out.  

It was cool to pass by the frozen lakes and underneath the towering Pulpit Rock but unfortunately the weather sucked and it rained the whole time.  At the far end of Rosary Lakes I dared to take my skins off again and try to make it all the way down to the ski resort.  There were definitely some flat sections and I got a good shoulder workout pushing myself along but I was able to make it down sliding along on the very thin cover of snow on the trail.  When we got back to the resort Cody caught up with us and gave me a ride down to the Gold Lake Snow Park to grab the car and head back up to Willamette to grab Emily.  Everyone else gradually showed up and packed into the vehicles to get out of the rain.  There was a school bus nearby that we all thought was empty with kids at the resort but when Nicole started stripping down she suddenly saw little faces in the windows staring at her with mouths open!  After a scream she jumped into Cody’s truck and shut the door.  Ha!

Despite the rainy weather below it stayed cold enough for snow at the shelter.  I was a little disappointed we didn’t make the summit of Maiden Peak but we had a great time and will definitely be back in both summer with Leo and Winter for more skiing.  Thanks to Colleen for organizing!

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