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As a New England skier, I know that winter can be all too short. But this year I made turns into July in Mt Washington's Tuckerman Ravine. In August a family trip found me on Mt. Rainier, so of course I climbed and skied the classic Muir Snowfield. Having skied every month since November, I knew I had find a way to get on snow in September.
On September 28 I headed out to the Cascades to try to log my eleventh and twelfth consecutive months on snow. Unfortunately, my partner bailed out at the last minute, but with forecasts for stable weather and better-than usual snowpack for this time of year, I decided to make the trip solo. I arrived in Portland just as a high pressure ridge was settling in, and made my way toward Mt. Adams:
My objectives on Adams were the south side snowfields (right of and below the false summit, on the right side of the photo), and the southwest chutes (left of the false summit).
I camped at Cold Springs (~5,600'), and in the morning set out on the standard South Climb route. After two hours of hiking, I switched over to skis and proceeded to skin up the low-angle snowfield above the Crescent Glacier:
I skinned to about 10,000 feet, by which point my lack of acclimatization (and a couple nights of little sleep earlier in the week) became obvious, as my pace worsened and my legs got heavy. I slowly booted up the remainder of the snowfield, reaching the 11,500' false summit a bit after noon. The true summit was only 800' above, but the wind and snow both looked hard, and I was running short on energy. After a lunch break and a chat with two other climbers, it was time to ski.
On the ascent, I'd followed a fairly direct line, and had had to remove my skis to cross one short section of exposed rock. The view from the false summit revealed a more promising line that appeared to offer continuous snow cover down to the Crescent Glacier:
The first turns from the false summit were excellent. Light snowfall from the previous week had filled in and smoothed over most of the larger sun cups and covered up the old, dirty snow above 10,000' or so. It was nicely corned up and made for some buttery smooth fall-line turns on the 30-degree pitch below the false summit.
Lower down, even the older snow surface skied reasonably well, between pockets of blown-in newer snow. Here's the view looking back up from around 9,000':
The line I spotted from above did indeed connect, and I was able to make turns all the way onto the rapidly-melting Crescent Glacier, for a total continuous descent of 3,600'. Not bad for September:
I hiked the couple miles back to camp, enjoyed a warm meal, and, with September turns in hand, resolved to get a good nights sleep and spend the morning recovering.
Keeping the first part of the resolution was no problem, but by 10 a.m. I was itching to get out of camp. I was also feeling strong, and a little bit disappointed that I hadn't gone for the summit. A plan quickly formed, and by noon I was headed back up the mountain, this time with my sleeping bag, bivy sack, and stove.
I hiked up the lower part of the mountain and camped the "lunch counter" at 9,000', where I was treated to a spectacular sunset over Mt. St. Helens:
At 8 a.m. (October 1!) I hoofed it for the summit. With the firmer morning snow, I opted to climb in trails shoes and crampons instead of ski boots. That, and a couple days at altitude, made for a significantly easier ascent.
With continued clear skies, warm temperatures, and little wind, the snowpack had deteriorated significantly in the two days since I'd first climbed and skied:
I climbed steadily and summitted a little before 11:00. The snow was still fairly hard, so I spent about an hour at the summit with several groups of climbers, including Cooper the wonder dog:
By noon the snow on the summit cone had started to soften up, and it was time to ski. I descended in variable snow conditions back toward the false summit, traversing west and dropping into the westernmost of the South Chutes, where some of the blown-in new surface remained intact:
Below 10,000' the snow got progressively worse, with numerous obstacles to deal with: suncups, runnels, and rocks:
4,200' below the summit, the run, now on volcanic-ash Slurpee, reached its end:
Mission accomplished, twelve months on snow. I hefted the ski gear on my back and basked in the sunshine. I picked my way through the moraines, down the mountain and back toward camp with just one thought in my head: it's good to ski.