Remember all those lessons I thought I learned on Mt. Hood? Well…
The Skin of Death
In the hopes of avoiding a boulder scramble up a steep slope with my heavy ski-laden pack, I got suckered into skinning up a steep slope when the snow was too icy…again. The traverse section was so dicey, after slipping several times I hobbled over to an exposed section of rock to switch back to boots & crampons. Little did I know that 1.5 hours was eaten away by this huge early-morning mistake.
Huffing and Puffing
Because I blew all my energy out on that horrible skin, the rest of the hike to the base of the False Summit headwall was agonizing. It was like root canals in all my teeth. Like colonoscopies. Like…you get the picture.
It seemed like I couldn’t get my mojo going, not matter how I tried. I had to stop every 15-20 feet to rest my legs & catch my breath. Little old ladies with canes were passing me by like jet fighters. It was embarrassing.
Slog of Suffering
After eating brunch at the base of the headwall, I began the slog up to the false summit. I didn’t put my skis on, because I was determined to not waste more time in the transition, and the slope was steep! It’s become apparent to me from these last two trips that I’m really not good at skinning up steep slopes. Check that: I’m great at skinning up steep slopes in fresh Colorado powder, but not any other conditions. Certainly not ice.
A couple parties managed to skin the entire way, and bless them for it. I got blown away by a couple who had legs like the terminator, but who were very encouraging. Even though the snow was soft and mushy by now, I stayed with the boot/crampon setup. It was simply too steep to transition.
I found a decent shelter on the false summit to rest & nap. Nixie struggled to find a good resting place, even though there was plenty of foam pad to be had, poor thing. But, with less wind, the temps were much better for her.
Out of all the parties who passed me going down, only 1 stopped to check on me to make sure I was ok and not dead. While I am grateful that I was able to snooze uninterrupted, it was a little disturbing that I could have been dead and nobody would have known or cared. It’s good backcountry protocol to check on folks to make sure they are alright. Even if you offend their ego, who cares? At least you know you did the right thing, and didn’t leave someone with an internal injury or illness to die in the wilderness. Just sayin’…
Although it was early afternoon, I awoke from my nap with a new plan: dump all extra items at the False Summit rocks, and skin up to the summit. It would reduce the weight on my back by a lot.
So, that’s what I did. I thought I was going along pretty quickly, following some pretty steep skin tracks. I finally made it to the summit at 3pm: 12 hours from the time I started. Oof.
But, I did it! I wanted to give up so many times, especially after being so wrecked and dejected by my early skin decision. I knew the trail was much mellower than Mt. Hood, and that I could do it on my own with Nixie. So, I couldn’t give up. Although ridiculously behind schedule, I pushed on anyway. I’d come so far, how could I stop? I didn’t want the same mistakes and issues to bring on The Mt. Hood effect. In a way, I guess it was pyschological. I simply had to summit.
At the top, I tried to get Nixie close to me to take a photo, but she was scared of the Summit Dude… She finally made peace with it after I skinned off & transitioned to regular ski mode.
It’s all downhill…
Truth be told – I was so pooped from the entire ordeal that I simply couldn’t be bothered to get the action cam hooked up to my helmet. I just wanted to get my ski on, and collapse back at camp. So, you’ll simply have to take my word for it that I skied this peak. Bring it on, challengers!
The slope from the summit had a lot of icey stuff on the top, and mini-peaks/valleys in the snow surface. There was one section of slope that others had skied that provided about 8 turns of really nice corn skiing.
By this time, I knew it was late in the afternoon, and I simply had to hustle to get down. Also, I was a little nervous because if I took a fall and broke something, there would be nobody around to help; I’d have to self-rescue. I was literally the last person on the mountain.
I quickly skinned up a gully to what I thought was the False Summit, but was duped! It was the “fake” False Summit! But, a quick skin to the real False Summit, and I gathered my things.
I took the run down the False Summit headwall because I was wiped out, and wanted to be sure I got back to the trail to the campground. However, when I saw this view on the drive out…
…I quickly kicked myself for not taking the ballsier Southwest Chutes route. In fact, I saw skiers on that route at noon as I was driving away. Ah, the life of a perfectionist!
Again, I played it safe being alone. I left my gear at the False Summit, so I had to retrieve it. The headwall route, however, on skiers right, was spectacular! It was a never-ending run of heavenly corn! Even Nixie enjoyed following me down. She was a trooper, and slip-slided down a steeper wall than she ever had before. It was almost like Doggie Glissading. For next season, I’m going to teach her how to ski and/or sled.
The base of the headwall had mashed potato snow that was lumpy & bumpy like the roof of a dog’s mouth. It was terrible. But, remember that Skin of Death? That headwall to the trail was actually really good! Although mashed potato-y, it was steep and smooth. I nailed the traverse out, also. It pays to have resort experience in crappy snow conditions. Those memories are in my muscles now, and resulted in my skiing from the summit with no falls, despite being pooped beyond comprehension.
The Path of Pain
Once at the trail, I thought my troubles were over. I naively believed it would be smooth sailing from here on out.
The trail going up was manageable, even in the dark at 4am. Going down, however, with my legs quickly turning into mashed potatoes just like the snow, was harder than I thought.
Simply put, I was spent. My pack seemed to weigh 1,000 lbs., I was wobbly, my feet hurt all over, my shoulders ached. I was like a camel with the second-to-last straw. All told, it took me 1.5 hours to get back to camp. And, this was with hustling on the easy parts. Despite wanting to take the “sickest line” down the Southwest Chutes, in looking back at that photo, I knew it would add on easily 2 hours of hiking. I didn’t have that much navigation in me.
The entire trip took 16 hours in total. Wah! My feet and ankles were so sore I thought I’d sprained them both on the rocks of the hiking trail. No, they were simply overworked to death. When I woke up the next morning, it was like I had been drugged. Just about every muscle ached.
After packing away all my gear & getting the stove out, I realized I had forgotten to eat my summit celebratory chocolate curtesy of my Mt. Hood partner, Toby McCandless. So, this one’s for Toby!
Mt. Adams was not scheduled for this trip. It was not on “Mickey’s List”. It was my personal quest to nail this ski mountaineering thing. Although far from perfect, I pushed on and got her done.
I learned a lot in the process, too: NEVER EVER skin up icy glaciers EVER AGAIN. When you think you have extra time for a poop or a rest, you don’t; keep moving along. Nothing is as bad as carrying a yellow canoe on your back (for Krystina Maixner). It’s good to look around you & enjoy the view when resting, but too many rests make you late. Start early. Play it safe when outdoors alone. Hug your pooch. Feel satisfied with your accomplishments!
Although I’d like to come back & crush the Southwest Chutes on Mt. Adams, I know that if I never do, I will be satisfied with my performance this week. This is a pretty big accomplishment from someone who barely skied 5 backcountry trips until December of 2014. I’ve come a long way.
Mt. Baker with Toby is this weekend! It’s undecided whether we’ll ski or just hike it. I need to find a hot springs asap to rejuvenate my aching body. No matter what, I’ll dig deep, and get it done. Mt. Adams taught me that.