A Look Back on a Whirlwind Volcano Season

My muscles were still aching from a recent, 7-day long trip into the Olympics, but, as always, my eyes were glued to the weather forecast. Since the weather in Washington looked like a complete rainout, I looked further south. Oregon’s forecast was much more promising, but travel was not something I took lightly. The less glamorous side of giving up everything in your life for a life in the mountains is constant frugality, and it just so happened that I was dead broke. Jon Garrison contacted me, and I mentioned the forecast and my meager budget. He was down to help out and head down south, so off we went!

My goal at the beginning of the season was to ride down a lot of volcanoes. More specifically, I’d set my sights on 15 specific volcanoes and had been obsessively researching lines chronicled by experienced ski mountaineers that hadn’t yet gotten their fair share of interaction with a snowboard. A lot of the obsessive research centered around Amar Andlakar’s Ski Mountaineer website, famed both for its exhaustive precision and attention to detail. Amar is a physicist based in Seattle with extensive Cascade volcano experience. As you might expect, I was flattered when he began touring with me, and together we had tackled nine of the volcanoes I’d set my sights on. So, Jon and I were off to get lucky #10… a dormant volcano named broken top, merley a few miles from the Mt. Bachelor ski resort.


It was good the gear was wet, because the next day we got to navigate through swamp-like, mosquito-strewn territory on our approach. Remembering the stench of mildew mingling with mosquito bites really brings a smile to my face. But the bushwhack and bugbites were rewarded when we found ourselves out on the wide open slopes of Diamond Peak. Drool-worthy bowls were hard to choose from, but we selected one and rode back through the marsh to the car.


Mt. McLaughlin’s terrain was something I had really looked forward to for much of the season. After we climbed up the south ridge and looked down into a beautiful NE facing couloir, I found my instincts had been correct: we dropped 3000’+ of perfect fall line between 200’ walls before arriving at a summer trail circling the mountain and hiking endless miles through the sparse forest back to the car.


At about that time, Jon had to return to Seattle due to commitments in the city, but the weather was still looking amazing down in Oregon so I made a couple of calls to see who else might be down to take advantage of the clear skies and sun. Ari (Seattle) and Buell (Eugene) were looking to get out and were heading my way. Jon deposited me at Detroit Lake where I babied my blistered feet (splitboarding is usually the answer, and duct tape is always the answer) while Ari and Buell hurtled toward me at mach speed (somewhere around 60mph.)

It was time to tackle the Three Sisters Wilderness. After a predawn start we were at the massive of the North Sister, who turned out to be a dirty rotten floosy, with rotten rock everywhere. We carefully climbed her steep rotten face with crampons on foot and ice axes in hands, ‘til we reached a highpoint 20’ from the summit proper. Content with the highest skiable point, we made our way into the entrance of her early morning couloir, an aesthetic line on the east face, that was really just asking for it. After a seriously sketchy traverse on a 50 degree face above a massive cliff, we dropped into her gorgeous steep chute.


After saying goodbye to Buell, Ari and myself drove up to Mt. Hood where we camped at the Meadows parking lot in preparation for an attempt at the Wyeast Face. I had climbed Hood before, and one part of my goal for the season was that I would take a new route on previously climbed volcanoes, so Hogsback ridge was out of the question. Travel was quick while we skinned up the vacant ski runs until reaching the base of the wide open Wyeast Face. From here on, we climbed a rock-covered ridge nearly to the summit ridge where the smell of sulfur mixed with my pungent baselayers, and we could see the congo line of hikers attempting the summit proper via hogsback. The run down was amazing as we navigated through the snow all the way to Meadows base… not bad coverage for June.


That afternoon we drove back home to Seattle where the forecast had changed and the Emerald City was experiencing sunshine. I made a quick phone call to Amar who happened to be getting ready for a trip to summit Mt. Baker and merely minutes after making it home, I was off to Baker with him. By now, the pungent smell of mildew and dirty gear had officially replaced my usually sweet and musky odor, and I believe Amar was fully enjoying this fringe benefit as we climbed up the Squak Glacier on Baker’s south side. After the Roman headwall, where we bootpacked the rest of the way to the summit, it was all gravy. The ride back down was perfect corn on endless low angled slopes so nice that we considered getting seconds but after a quick discussion we decided against it… the next day, I was planning to leave on a trip that would turn out to push me harder than any other the whole entire season.


After waking from our trailhead campsite in the predawn hours to spandex-clad cross-country skiers energetically high fiving as we rubbed our sleepy eyes and silently sipped our coffee, we decided to get going. Jon and I skinned at a nice clip out to the Eastern ridge of the ’Top and discovered our intended run was variable with ice, corn, slush and flats. After an uneventful descent and ride down some cross country trails, we threw our gear, still sopping wet, hastily into the car in hawtt pursuit of the Diamond Peak Wilderness.


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