Ski Mountaineering

Skiing the Cascade Volcanoes
(Lassen, Shasta, McLoughlin, Scott, Bachelor, South Sister, Hood, St Helens, Adams)
June 14-22, 2003

Reiner Stenzel, Leslie Hofherr, Ted Lenzie, Reed Moore, and the Tres Hermanos.

When the snow in the Sierras disappears the skiing is not over yet. One just has to migrate north like the birds; there one finds wonderful snow on the Cascade volcanoes of Northern California, Oregon and Washington. This year we organized an "unofficial" SMS trip (lack of a second leader) had 15 interested participants and 10 actual ones. These were Ted Lenzie, Stan Houncilman, Barbara Berne, Wally Drake, Angel Ocana, Eric Watts, Leslie Hofherr, Reed Moore, Diann Fried and myself. We converged from various areas, San Diego, LA, SF and Sacramento, by either flying or driving. The first meeting place was on Mo, 6/16, 6am, at the base to Mt St Helens, but prior to that some of us had already some warm-up climbs on their way. Carpoolers Ted and Stan climbed Mt McLoughlin on their drive up. Eric, Angel and Wally flew in on Sat to ski Adams on Sunday. Leslie and I skied Lassen on Sun am before driving to St Helens Sun pm. Barbara had arrived first and reserved the required permits to climb Mt St Helens. Reed and Diann drove up late to join the party on Wed, 6/18. They would stay longer to do biking in Central Oregon. The group of 8 skied St Helens, Hood, South Sisters and Bachelor together, some of us skied Mt Scott at Crater Lake from different sides, and the three fliers did Shasta on the last Sat. The following report gives an account of our joint adventures and some contributions of the individual tours.

Sat, June 14 - Reiner and Leslie drove from LA via I-5 to Redding, SR 44 to the north entrance of Lassen Volcanic NP. Since the loop road was closed we drove to the road end to inspect the snow conditions in the Devastated Area. It looked promising, so we decided to do it early next morning. We drove back to Manzanita Lke campground, the only one open in the Park, but it had filled up. We camped outside the Park in the forest. Peaceful, except for an occasional coyote concert.

Ted and Stan drove to Mount McLoughlin's trailhead. After talking to some local climbers it was decided that the snow was too scarce for any substantial descents. So instead we hiked up the trail toward the summit. There must have been some serious windstorms in the area. The trail was in bad shape from a lot of recent tree falls. After a while the trail turned to snow and we started second-guessing the information we received form the local climbers the previous day. However, the trail soon returned to rock and scree. The trail on the mountain itself was in great shape up to about 1,000 feet below the summit where it disappeared often and turned to sandy scree. Here we tried to stay on the more solid rock of the ridgeline. Once on the summit ridge there was a short exposed snowfield to be crossed. The summit is a wide section of flat blocks. From there we could see Mount Scott, Bachelor, the South Sister to the north, both Shasta and Lassen to the south. The south snow slope was only a few hundred feet, however the north slope was much longer. It was so steep I would consider it a no fall zone. It also is completely on the other side of the mountain and would take most of the day to return to the trailhead. The descent was uneventful. Once back at the trailhead we started for Mount Saint Helens.

Sun, June 15 - We drove back to the parking lot at the Devastated Area where other skiers also prepared their climb of Mt Lassen. We left by 8 am, hiked 30min to the snow level, and ascended the northeast slopes of Lassen. It starts out mellow but steepens continually as one ascends. Ski crampons were vital since there were icy patches on the slope and wet snow avalanche gullies to traverse. Just below the summit ridge it was too steep to make uphill kick turns and one had to turn facing downhill. By 10:30am, half an hour over the agreed turn-around time, I decided to forego the last rock scramble to the summit (10,457') and started to ski down. Good snow except for some icy patches from earlier snowmelt. After regrouping with Leslie we skied to the last patch of snow near the tree line and hiked out. By noon we were packed and drove out of the Park to Redding. We turned north on I-5, admired beautiful Mt Shasta, entered Oregon and passed through Eugene, Salem, and Portland and across the Columbia River into Washington by about 7pm. In Woodland we took SR503 east for 23 mi to our meeting place, Jack's Store and Restaurant, where one obtains permits to climb Mt St Helens ($15/person). Barbara was the first and had reserved 9 permits. We were told that there are campgrounds at the Lewis River Reservoir but found them all closed. So we drove another 4 mi to Merrill Lake Cpgrd, which turned out to be walk-in only, no fun after darkness. The campground host was gone and his drive-in place free, an obvious choice. An hour later a second car pulled in, the camp host we thought. But it was Eric, Angel and Wally who were looking for a campsite after a long day on Mt Adams. We had lots of fun, a short night and were out of the place next morning by 5:30am.

Mon, June 17 - We were at 6am at Jack's and met Barbara, Ted and Stan. After signing the climbers register we caravaned via FR 83 and 81 to the trailhead at Climber's Bivouac (3800'). By about 8am we hiked up 2mi through forest to the snowline. A fairly steep snow ascent was done on foot following good steps kicked by the many climbers ahead. Then one continues to climb on mixed rock and snow up the well-marked Monitor Ridge route on the south side of the mountain. After reaching continuous snow I skinned up with ski crampons all the way to the summit (8365'). The view into the crater was spectacular: A huge hole was formed on the northeast side by the recent explosion in 1980. The rim was corniced, smoke was rising from fumaroles, and on a cloudless spring day we could clearly see the other large volcanoes, Mt Rainier to the north, Adams to the east and Hood to the south. We took pictures, had lunch, and climbed to the highest cornice along the crater rim, the "summit".

By noon we skied down from the summit on excellent spring snow. We picked the longest snowfields down the mountain, which required subsequent traverses over volcanic ridges back to the Monitor Ridge trail. A last steep descent brought us back to the forest trail and to the cars by about 3pm. It was a fine climb and great skiing (9mi rt., 4800'gain). In the afternoon we all drove to our next destination, Mt Hood. We took FR 90, 30, the Wind River Hwy into Carson, S-14 along the Columbia River to the toll bridge leading to Hood River. Ted et al was stocking up on the local "Full Sail" microbrew, Wally et al visited girl friends and were not seen till next morning, and we cruised south on S-35 to Government Camp, staying at the nearby Still Creek campground. Meanwhile, I drove with Leslie south on Hwy 26 through Oregon's Hood Valley where we bought the best cherries ever.

Tue, June 18 - We were up by 6am, drove to Timberline Lodge by 7am, filled out a free climbers permit and purchased $39 lift tickets for a quick ascent of the Palmer Glacier. It was another clear warm day. From the end of the lift we climbed/skied up the Palmer Glacier to the "Hogback" and left the skis where the steep ascent to the summit ridge starts. Near the end of the Hogback lies the infamous crevasse into which some climbers have fallen. One has to climb around it and above it on a 35-deg slope past the Crater Rock and through the steep Pearly Gate to the summit ridge. But with ice axe and crampons and good footsteps in excellent weather it was an easy ascent. The volcanic rocks were all covered with frosty snow. Sulfuric smell was in the air. Finally, on the 11,239' summit one had the rewarding feeling to be on a significant peak, Oregon's highest. The view reached to at least 7 other volcanoes, Rainier, Helens, Adams, Jefferson and Three Sisters.

We took pictures, had lunch on the wind-protected side of the rim, saw the many open crevasses of the glaciers on the NE side of the mountain, and eventually started our descent. A confident snow boarder skied the steep slopes above the bergschrund. We started our ski descent below that and had a wonderful run down the Palmer Glacier. We could catch several lift rides before they closed at 1:30pm. On the lower mountain the snow deteriorated in the afternoon since it was unusually warm (>80deg). Ted radioed from the bar in the historic Timberline Lodge to join him. There we had some cool drinks and planned our next meeting place. The destination was Three Sisters & Mt Bachelor and we would reconvene on the Sparks Lake Campground. In contrast, the Warm Springs Indian Reservation was on barren high desert land. At the Deschutes River we made a backcountry detour along Lake Simtustus before hitting US 97 in Madras. The latter brought us via Bend to the Cascade Lakes Highway (SR 46), which we followed to Sparks Lake between South Sister and Mt Bachelor. Although no signs were posted at the road there was a nice and free campground at the meadow near the lake. As we pulled in we met Reed and Diann, as agreed upon by earlier e-mails. They had driven up from southern CA for longer vacations and would ski with us for a while, and then go biking. Ted and Eric's carpools camped at Tumalo Cpgrd NW of Bend that provided hot showers. The heat of the day produced evening thunderstorms.

Wed, June 19 - We met at 7 am at the South Sister Trailhead located at Devils Lake 1 mi east of Sparks Lake. Filled out a self-issue wilderness permit, put $5 Northwest Forest passes into the cars, and took off by 8 am for the day. It was 4.5mi and 4600' gain to the summit and no lifts on this mountain. After a steady ascent on forest trails we hit continuous snow near the tree line. From there we skinned up ascending the south side of the mountain. There was some steep snow and a rocky ridge where we had to climb on foot. But with ski crampons it was possible to ski most of the way to the summit. Reed and Diann had started their climb at 6 am and were ready to descend when we summitted. The beautiful spring weather had changed and clouds were descending. When we arrived at the crater ridge we were in a whiteout. The summit was 15 min away on the north side of the crater. We followed the crater ridge and found the high point of Mount Charity (10,358'). It was windy and cold, but for a few moments the clouds broke and we had a fine view north to the Middle Sister (Mount Hope), North Sister (Mount Faith), distant Jefferson, east to Broken Top and south to Mt Bachelor, Diamond, Thielsen and distant Crater Lake. The ski descent was excellent. We found a continuous snow line down into the forest and enjoyed it to the last patch of snow. There we discovered that our skis were covered with a sticky coating of sap, probably from pollen covering the snow surface. Later it required scraping and washing with soap to clean the skis. We were back at the trailhead by 4 pm and not in a hurry since we stayed for another night at the same campground. Some went to town for dinner; others cooked at the campground. Later we took a hike around the meadow and lake to watch the wildlife.

Thur, June 20 - Woke up to typical Oregon weather: Low clouds, cool and wet. All the summits disappeared in the clouds. The original plan to ski Broken Top was discarded: No snow at the summit, and whatever snow was left was too steep to ski without visibility. So we settled for nearby Mt Bachelor. The lifts did not operate and the place was deserted. After hiking and skiing up for an hour we broke through the cloud layer, had blue sky and a wonderful view of white volcano summits poking through the clouds. We skied/climbed to the summit and fully enjoyed being up there. To the south we saw white peaks in the Crater Lake's area which would be our next destination. Even McLoughlin looked white on its north face. Most of us skied down the black diamond runs. The snow was excellent although one had to watch out for rocks. At the lower part of the mountain the snow was soft and the sticky coating under the skis again slowed us down.

We converged to the parking lot where Angel received us with 200 Watts of typical ski resort music. We provided some life to this ghost resort; even the security guard was kind and gave us a map. In the afternoon we drove separately south to Crater Lake where the plan was to meet at the only campground in the park. We took the scenic Crater Lakes Highway and stopped at one of the lakes, Lava Lke. It's a great place for fishing, hiking, biking with views on the volcanoes. After a short food shopping in Chemult we headed to the Park entrance where we met Reed, Diann and Barbara. Bad news: The campground was closed and there was no camping at Crater Lake. We left a message to Eric and Ted that we would be at the next nearest campground, Diamond Lake. It's a fine place between Mt Thielsen and Bailey with hot showers and fine campsites at the lake. Before dinner we took a short drive to Crater Lake. There was lots of snow at the rim but it was windy and cold. Back at camp we showered, cooked and ate but waited in vain for the rest of the group.

Fri, June 21 - As usual, we were up at 6 am, drove out by 7, stopped over for gas, and drove to the north rim of Crater Lake. The road was closed 2 mi before the trailhead to Mt Scott. So we walked the dry road, but could hear the sound of snowploughs in the distance. At the trailhead it started to snow. Since the northwest bowl was filled with steep hard snow we decided to ascend the east face where the sun might soften the snow. It was also steep and required ski crampons to skin up. Most climbed on foot and decided to forego the summit. But I pushed on and reached the summit hut after a class 3 rock and snow climb. To my great surprise a person was at the hut and upon closing in it was Wally! We had a great reunion on the summit. Eric, Wally and Angel had camped south of the Park and climbed the summit from the south side. We stayed for a while on the cold summit and then bid farewell. The next day they planned to do Shasta while we were driving to the Oregon Coast and south. The ski run down on Mt Scott's NE face was adventurous, requiring quite a few jump turns. Randonnee'r Barbara carved it in great style. We regrouped at the trailhead and hiked back to the cars. This was the official end of our volcano tour. From here everyone scattered in different directions: Reed and Diann went back to Central Oregon, Barbara to ski Mt Lassen, and we drove west to the Rogue River, Grants Pass and the Redwoods near the coast. We camped at Patrick Creek Cpgrd among big trees and wild rhododendron just over the border into California.

After finding the road and campground closed Ted and Stan went to Shasta. We decided to ski in the main bowl of Avalanche Gulch. We climbed Casaval Ridge and took in the views until the clouds dissipated and the snow softened. We descended making our usual turns in perfect corn. The skiing was excellent and as the lines of climbers were ascending we would shoot by them and as they yelled at us with enthusiasm. The mountain was getting very crowded. I counted one line of people of up to fifteen and many more with less. We were able to ski all the way to the parking lot at Bunny Flat. From there we made a fast break to Sacramento and home.

Sat, June 22 - The plan was to spend the day making our way south but stopping to admire the redwood forest, ocean, and anything else interesting. It was a tough start in the morning eased by a real cappuccino at Patrick's Lodge and a stop to view the pitcher plants. Just before reaching the coast we stopped at a redwood forest, walked the trails, and took pictures. We continued to the coast and followed US 101 South. It passed through small towns, pieces of the redwood forest, crossed rivers, and went along the coast. We stopped to walk the beach, and take pictures of the ocean, wild rhododendrons, and other wildflowers. We ate lunch overlooking the Eel River and tried to find a swimming hole in the river without any luck. By late afternoon we were in Santa Rosa just north of the Bay area. We headed East on Hwy 12 and found Sugar Loaf Ridge Campground and observatory. We saw deer forging in the tall grass, listened to the frogs in the creek and after dark visited the observatory. It was summer solstice and the observatory was open for viewing Jupiter, various stars, and nebulas. Several enthusiasts brought their own telescopes that they set up for public viewing.

Sun, June 23 - We drove through the wine country early in the morning to Interstate 5 and headed home. In a small grove of eucalyptus trees near Tulare Lake we stopped for a picnic lunch. We ate and observed the birds that were nesting in the trees. In the late afternoon we arrived home.

Reed's report on his and Diann's adventures - Diann and I made it back home, alive and well (7-10-03). Diann has a sister who owns a cabin (actually a very nice house) near Mt. Bachelor. We went there for several days. We cycled part of the Cascades Lakes Highway, but it was just too cold and rainy. Then we decided to go up to try Mt. Adams, something I have wanted to do for a long time. We first went to see Diann's sister in Portland. We again waited a couple of days for better weather. Finally the weather improved and we set out for Mt. Adams. The forest service road was now completely open to Cold Springs campground on the south side of Mt. Adams. We also had to pay for climbing permits ($15 apiece). I insisted on an early start and set the alarm for 3am. We were on the trail just before 4am. The well-worn trail was easy to follow in the pre-dawn darkness. We hit continuous snow just as dawn was breaking. The South Shoulder Route is very straightforward. You reach a flat bench at 9,000ft and then go up an ever-steepening slope to the 11,700ft false summit. There you get the very disappointing view of the true summit, still 600ft higher and a half mile away. We made the true summit by 10am. There is a building at the top, with a few of the wooden beams sticking out of the snow there. Hard to believe they used to mine sulfur at the summit and used mules to carry it down. The weather, though clear, was fairly cold and windy. The snow was frozen hard. I decided to take a nap. The 4am start now seemed a silly idea. Two other parties met us at the top. We waited to noon and gave up on waiting for the snow would soften. We took a bumpy ride back to the false summit. There I took a cautious first turn down the steep main south slope. The snow here was now soft and ski-able. We were out of the wind and now could enjoy some perfect corn snow for about 3,000 ft. We stopped part way down, took off the skis, and took a break. I then decided to go down a steep section I had seen earlier that looked like fun in perfect snow conditions. Somehow I managed to not put one ski on right, I tried to take one turn, the ski came off, and I slid a couple of hundred feet. Fortunately, there was a good run-out and I did not hit any rocks on the way. Diann wondered what I was doing down there with just one ski on. Mt. Adams has to be one of my favorite ski-peaks. Almost 7,000 ft. of vertical, and snow almost all of the way. Diann and I took our time getting back to So. Cal. We went through the Redwoods of Northern Ca. and did some riding through the Avenue of the Giants. What a beautiful place. Then off to San Francisco to see (not participate) the Gay Pride Parade. We had our bikes but I just didn't want to ride with the Mikes on Bikes. See you next season, Reed.

Addendum by the Tres Hermanos (Angel, Eric and Wally) - Three of the SMSers decided to fly to Portland Oregon to join Reiner's Cascade Volcanoes Tour. We were Angel Ocana, Wally Drake and Eric Watts. The plan was to reduce the driving and have a couple more days of fun in the Cascades.

We arrived in Portland Saturday evening and headed east on I-84 to Hood River where we took SR141 to the town of Trout Lake. There, we self-issued climbing permits at the ranger station (and spent the night at the nice county campground (equipped with hot showers). Our rest was brief from 1 to 5 AM, but we were eager to climb our first volcano. The trailhead for the crevasse-free south ridge (Suksdorf Ridge) of Mt. Adams is Coldwater? The road to the trailhead is well marked and is forest service road #8040. Unfortunately, fallen trees blocked the road a mile or so before the actual trailhead. So, at around 7AM we began to hike under clear skies at ~5300 feet. At 11AM we reached the Lunch Counter, a plateau on the ridge at ~9000 feet, where we enjoyed fine views of Mt. St. Helens to the west and Mt. Hood to the south. From the Lunch Counter, the pitch steepens and a huge wide snowfield climbs steadily at 25-30 degrees to Piker's Peak at 11,657 feet. We reach Piker's Peak in a strong cold wind at 1:30PM. The top of the snowfield had begun to refreeze and reports from the Adams summit told of icy conditions, so we decided to enjoy the ski down from here. Alternatively, one could continue along the south ridge from Pikers Peak down a couple hundred feet and back up a skiable pitch to the Adams summit at 12,276 feet.

We barely noticed the thin refrozen crust of our first turns descending from Piker's Peak, and we were soon treated to smooth corn snow on the unrelenting 2500 foot pitch to the lunch counter. From here, we dropped into a series of bowls and roughly followed our ascent path detouring for beckoning ski lines as we made our way back to treeline. In the woods, we skied continuous snow and ended up below the proper trailhead just a couple hundred yards from the road. A short walk returned us to our car where we celebrated a great first day.

After a shower at the county campground and dinner at Trout Lake's only café, we headed for Mount St. Helens. We avoided the standard circumferential 4+ hour freeway drive by taking SR38 north from Trout Lake to SR90 west. These roads are well marked, nicely paved, very scenic, and cut our driving time in half.

Following the climb of Mt. Scott, we (Tres Hermanos) headed south to Shasta for one more climb. We drove south on SR97 and reached Weed, CA in the early evening. Our excitement grew seeing Shasta nearly cloud free and full of snow, glowing in the evening light. The mountain ski/weather report ((530) 926-5555) by the Fifth Season in the city of Mount Shasta, forecast an ideal climbing/skiing day for us. We ate dinner at a forgettable restaurant, The Piedmont, and headed up the Everett Memorial Highway to the Bunny Flat trailhead at ~6700feet. We found ample flat space to pitch tents, and slept until our alarms at 4:30 AM. After self-issuing permits at the kiosk (summit permit is $15), we began hiking in gray light at 5:30 AM. As we headed up through lower Avalanche Canyon, we could already see many small climbing dots making their way up the mountain from the basecamp at Lake Helen. We walked easily without crampons in the well-established frozen boot tracks, and reached 10,044 foot high Lake Helen at 8:30 AM. Here we took a short break to snack and enjoy the cloudless views in the morning light. Beyond Lake Helen, the pitch steepens and we put on crampons to climb the frozen snowfield leading up to the Red Banks. At the Red Banks, Wally talked with a ranger and had to show him climbing permits. On the ranger's prediction that the higher mountain would stay frozen, we left our skis and continued the climb. A very cold wind greeted us as we headed up Misery Hill and indeed had the entire top of the mountain well frozen. We summitted (14,162 feet) under clear blue skies at 1:30 PM, snacked, took photos and headed back down. Returning to the Red Banks, we put on skis and cautiously descended the firm snowfield. We decided to search for softer snow and traversed skiers right to the Casaval Ridge. Here we found what we had sought; smooth, soft corn. We enjoyed great skiing down to Lake Helen where quite a large audience watched the three SMSers and two other skiers. Farther below, the warm temperatures had made for a thicker corn chowder. Although this took a bit more work, we continued to make countless enjoyable turns all the way through the lower canyon and back to the road at Bunny Flat. At the car, we all looked back with big grins at a cloudless Mt. Shasta and nodded our approval. The mountain had provided a 7300 foot climb and roughly 5000 feet of spring skiing.

Shasta completed our Cascade Volcano Tour - 7 Peaks in 7 days. We had been treated to near perfect weather with sunny, spring skiing every day! On our drive back to Portland, we relived many of the great times we had over the past week and noted the week had delivered over 30,000 feet of climbing pleasure.

Next year, we would go back to ski the Washington Volcanoes.

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