Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Newton Clark Headwall - WyEast Face - Mt. Hood Ski Descent

At 4am on Tuesday I headed up to Mount Hood to meet my buddy Mike D. for our 2nd attempt at skiing the Newton Clark Headwall on Mount Hood, listed as one of the 50 classic ski descents of North America.  Last year we had been turned around by high winds but this year the weather looked perfect and having lost nearly 30 pounds since January I was ready to give it a go.  Read  on…

Mike had decided to sleep at the gate of the HRM lot at Mount Hood Meadows but I had decided on getting a good night’s sleep then heading out early instead.  We had been watching Erin Nelson’s dog Jasper for the night so I actually didn’t get the sleep I had planned on but regardless I preferred my own bed over the bed of my truck before the climb.  The drive around Hood at sunrise was amazingly beautiful and I felt inspired to get up this early more often if only for the photography I could accomplish!  

We had geared up and were on the trail by about 6:30am heading up the skiers trail towards Heather Canyon.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky or a gust of wind.  It was going to be a hot one for sure….  We reached the base of the canyon in just over an hour and headed up the big bowl of snow under the rising hot sun.  The snow was softening quickly so it was a race against time to get up the steep face of Newton Clark before it got too soft and had the potential to slide.

Halfway up the bowl we had the option of cutting climbers right out of it to above the Meadows ski trails but instead we chose to cut a line straight up the center of the bowl.  This was easier for me with my nylon Black Diamond skins I swear by for spring mountaineering but Mike was having a bit of a struggle with his older skins on the soft steep snow.  By the time I had topped out on the ridge line above Heather Canyon it was clear that Mike was going to call it a day and wait for me at the top of the bowl as I continued up with some fellow backcountry skiers I had met.  It was also clear that we could have taken a much faster way up from the upper Meadows lot as I watched several skiers easily skinning up the cat track laid out from the lift to the top of the ridge…. 

I was headed up the final steep 45 degree pitch of the Newton Clark Headwall by noon and I made it to the top of the face with the others just before 1pm.  The guys I was climbing with were in their mid 40’s and clearly did this kind of thing often as they only stopped to rest momentarily before clicking in and heading down the face.  I was impressed.  

My direct climbing partner, David, was kind enough to stick around with me for a bit at the top while we both rested our legs for the descent.  He also served as a great person to film in front of me with my action camera on the way down!  It was hot!  No wind at all and I had been climbing at 10,500 feet on hood in just a t-shirt!  It was unreal!  I snapped some photos and did some cinematography before clicking into my skis, and getting ready for the descent.

The ski descent down the face was amazing.  David climbs there often and he said it was possibly one of the best descents he has had there.  The snow was perfect and we timed it wonderfully with only a few small slushy slides being kicked up by us on the way down.  From HRM lot to the top of the face was a 6,000 foot ascent - actually more elevation gain than summiting the mountain from the standard southern summit route.  We had ended up about 700 feet below the summit with an icy, high exposure, ridge between us and the summit we chose not to attempt.  I had summited multiple times before was there for the ski descent, not a summit pic.  

David had to peel off to the west to head back down to the upper parking lot while I continued downslope to meet Mike for our longer descent down to the HRM lot.  Thankfully I had thrown a quick wax on my skis in the morning which made the slushy flats more bearable but by the time we reached the lot my legs were jello from the climb and ski descent and the beers I had in the cooler in the truck were amazing!  It was a great day of skiing and I’m super stoked that I was able to check that face off my bucket list of ski descents!

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