Hidden on the shady side of Mt. Thielsen, one of southern Oregon’s oldest crumbling volcanoes, is an s-shaped couloir. I first noticed it while searching imagery of the Cascades for spring inspiration. There was a strip of white that banked back and forth for 1,500 feet through the gut of the Summit Spire, a steep pitch surrounded by towering red pinnacles that commanded attention. It was late April, but the north facing aspect of the line led us to believe there was cold powder awaiting, sheltered from the sun.
La Niña had delivered a plentiful snowpack and systems were still rolling through alongside regular sunny breaks. It was a perfect setup for stable powder in the high country. So, when high pressure rolled in, I called Destry Serna and Colton Jacobs to make the hour drive south of my home in Bend, to the Mt Thielsen Wilderness.
We began skinning through big timber on a skiff of fresh snow over a solid refreeze surface. This made the first few miles fly by until we reached deeper snow and had to start setting trail. We would be the only folks on the mountain.
Upon reaching the first prominent ridge with views of alpine terrain, I realized something was missing from my backpack. “Destry, Colty—you see my tent back there?” I said. No luck. I had an idea where it might be, but it was already warming up and the couloir was beckoning. Knowing I still had tent poles and an emergency blanket in my pack, I figured I could make a decent structure for a couple nights in the backcountry. We kept moving.
Destry started hopping on the edge of a few small cornices over a small slope to get a feel for the snow pack. Each cornice failed with no signs of propagation. It gave us confidence to move out onto an open slope. We skinned for an hour to the final ridge. Then, a first view of the line: fresh and protected from the strong spring sun. We dropped our camping gear on a small knoll and set switchbacks up the wide-open moraine below the couloir. Destry’s cowboy-mode kicked in and he was gone, reaching the edge of the moraine first. As Colton and I crept up onto the moraine, Destry was excitedly shoveling out and smoothing a lip. But Colton and I were all too eager to climb up the walled-in beauty above us.
Another assessment showed a right-side-up snowpack and strong bonding. Colton and I threw our boards on our backs and popped on the crampons for good measure. “Destry, we going to climb this bad boy?” I yelled across the apron. He turned and hollered back, “I’m taking flight, boys.”
Destry was invested into the jump. Colton and I started trudging up the icy debris on the apron of the couloir. The line had already shed itself the day before, leaving a solid debris pile on the right side of the apron. The harder bed surface made for smooth travel, although I would occasionally punch through to cold, waist-deep powder. As we rounded the first corner, upper pitches of the couloir came into view, revealing banked walls and ancient, volcanic rock. The north-facing microclimate held much deeper and preserved powder—halfway up I was swimming up the line, breaking trail through chest-deep drifts.
After six hours of travel, we topped out directly underneath the summit horn and excavated a platform to switch over. The snow rode flawlessly. Colton dropped first, stopping halfway to shoot photos, while I rode top-to-bottom. We decided to call it Lathrop Coulior after the small extant glacier that lives below the line.
Destry was eagerly waiting to catch air on his manicured lip but the light had faded and the landing was now in the shade. He decided to leave the landing fresh for the next day. We all party-boarded down the wide open face linking turns and sharing laughs. Back at camp I rigged up a small shelter with my tent poles and my emergency blanket. It was enough to keep a drizzle or a flurry out and luckily the weather looked to be calm for the next day. After fueling up on food and lounging around in the afternoon sun I was stoked to go catch some more turns.
A west facing ridge rose right up behind our camp and was the perfect option for a sunset cruise. With a little bit of coaxing, all three of us were shortly skinning up the softer sun baked snow. Golden sun rays beamed and shined off water droplets pattering down through the Hemlock canopy. As we gained elevation and rose above the trees we look across the basin to the Lathrop Coulior. But it didn’t sit alone, from this new perspective we noticed two smaller lines to the left that we could not see before. The biting wind ripped over the top of the ridge but the setting sun gave us warmth as hues of soft tangerine and pink lay down over the land. Each new ridge, peak or line is what draws me to this place, the expanse that we see beyond there is what keeps us going. From there I could see endless journeys into the mountains.
As dusk set in we arched down the fast, refreezing snow, bumping off of wind lips and carving back and forth down a gully back to camp. We made a fire and warmed our bellies with real food (screw that freeze-dried crap). We were happy as could be in that moment, with our feet wet, our legs sore, but our hearts whole.