Saturday, June 4, 2016

SW Chutes of Adams

On Saturday I joined Matt Borish for an amazing ski descent of the SW chutes of Mount Adams.  It turned out to be one of my favorite ski descents of all time in the Northwest and surprisingly I wasn’t too out of shape for the climb thanks to my new skins on my skis and perfect weather to climb in.  Read on for photos!

Matt picked me up on Friday evening for our late drive to the trailhead.  We caught up on all the gossip of Quantum Spatial and I could tell he really wanted to leave.  He hadn’t done so well on an interview with Apple because he wasn’t well versed in Python.  This prompted him to study python in depth and in just a few months he became pretty skilled at it.  Just like CrossFit, if Borish commits to something he commits!  

We got to the trailhead after dark and somehow found a spot amongst all the cars.  There was no snow at the trailhead so it was easy to find a place to lay out my sleeping bag under the stars for the night without a tent.  I wasn’t worried about morning dew on it as I would just leave it in the car anyway.  We each had a beer then hit the sac around 10pm hoping to get at least a few hours of sleep.

We were up at 3:30am and after eating and packing up were on the trail by 4:15am.  It took us about 30 minutes of walking on dirt until we came to enough snow to click into our skins.  It seemed we had timed the trip perfectly.  No snow at the trailhead but just enough to get us close to it on the descent.  I had wanted to do this trip a month before but it would have added another two days to the trip as the trailhead was still buried at that time.

As we rose out of the trees onto the broad shoulder of Adams we could see Mount Saint Helens in the distance.  This reminded me of the story I read at the Johnston Ridge Observatory about the family that had been climbing Adams when Helens erupted and had to run down the mountain as debris from the explosion started to rain down on Adams.   Quite impressive the debris made it so far in the sky!  

Matt and I were certainly not alone on the hike as we passed, and got passed by, many other hikers and skiers heading up the mountain.  Sam Whalen who I had met on Pea Gravel Ridge on Mount Hood flew by us like we were standing still with his minimalist SkiMo gear.  I only saw him once more on my way up to the true summit as he was coming down.  

I found a pair of sunglasses in the snow so I picked up the pace to try to pass as many as I could to try to find the person who dropped them.  Not having sunglasses on a sunny day ski mountaineering was a guaranteed ticket for snow blindness which could be very dangerous on a 12,000 ft volcano.  Luckily, I was able to catch up to the woman who dropped them and she was very grateful for my efforts.

When we reached the lunch counter at 7:30am we stopped for some photos and snacks before continuing up the broad south face.  There were already a line of people streaming up the mountain but it was so big they just looked like little dots against the white snow.  Matt and I had been keeping a pretty good pace and we knew we’d have plenty of time in the day for our desired SW chutes descent.  The only question was timing it with the sun to make sure they had warmed up to a nice corn that wasn’t too deep to have some fun in.  

I set off up the face and to my surprise moved at a very fast pace pulling ahead of Matt.  Matt has been doing CrossFit for months and even competes so I totally attribute this to my new skins and him being on a split board which aren’t as functional for climbing as a skis are.  I made pretty much a straight beeline up the face without switchbacking too much which saved a ton of time.  When I reached the top of Misery Hill at 10am I looked back and guessed that Matt had about another hour or so to crest the top of the false summit.  

This left me just enough time to run over and tag the true summit which was another 600 feet of elevation and about a half mile away.  I was tired but the last time I had summited was 2007 so I made the effort to get to the top for some better photos.  I reached the summit at just about 11am so I knew Matt was probably at the top of Misery Hill.  I wasted no time taking some photos and asking a fellow skier to grab one of me on the summit before I strapped the GoPro to my head and headed down from the top to catch Matt before he made too much progress towards the top.  He had summited before as well so I guessed he wouldn’t care about the summit.

I caught Matt just at the base of the summit climb and we chatted about our options.  He agreed that he didn’t care about the summit so we backtracked a short ways back to the top of the SW Chutes.  We took a bit of a break here to catch our breath and let our muscles unload for a bit before dropping into the steep 45 degree slope.  It was just about noon and the sun had warmed up the snow perfectly for a safe and fun descent.  

I urged Matt to ski down ahead of me to get him on film for perspective.  Yes, we took a few breaks down the incredibly long SW chutes but it was one of the best descents of my life!  The snow was absolutely perfect and we had a great time carving huge turns across the chutes and even switching chutes at the end to explore a different one.  At one point I started a pretty wide slushy slide down the face that I happily surfed across a few times as it made it’s way down to the bottom.  It certainly wasn’t as big as the slide we had set off on our trip to Jefferson a few years back that swept Dan down the mountain into me!  

At the base of the chutes I used the advice from several online blogs to start circumnavigating the mountain back towards our ascent route rather than descending further down the amazing snow.  This was tough for Matt on his board but I assured him it was better than skiing down to the round the mountain trail and having several miles of dry dirt to stomp along.  It took us about half an hour of traversing across the mountain to make it back to where we could see our ascent route.  

Unfortunately, there was a descent slope with exposed rocks below us we had to navigate before getting back to our tracks.  This was easier for me on skis but Matt struggled with his board and ended up clicking out of his bindings to walk a short ways rather than risk a slide into sharp volcanic rock.  Good choice..  Once back on our tracks it was a fun ski down to the where the snow ended then a quick 30 minute walk down to the parking lot.  The trip was 12.6 miles total with just over 10,000 ft of ascent - huge for a car to car backcountry ski day!  Glad to know I still got it to accomplish something like that.  

After having a couple beers we piled in and Matt insisted on driving us back to Portland although I offered.  We were both beat and I made sure to stay away to make sure we both got back safely.   We were back to Portland around 5pm with plenty of time for me to relax in the hot tub!  Great trip!

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