We didn’t summit. For a lotta reasons.
1) It took us forever to get there, because of switching back & forth from crampons to skins to crampons. We arrived 1.5 hours behind schedule.
2) Conditions were so deteriorated we would have to climb left of the Pearly Gates, a 60-degree slope covered in sheer ice.
3) We had Nixie, who probably couldn’t make the 60-degree slope covered in sheer ice. If there was no ice, maybe she could have made it.
4) By the time we climbed down, the entire slope would be mushy and rock fall predominant.
5) The upper ridge to get to the summit was narrow with steep drop-offs on each side. And we had Nixie.
6) I’m a slow hiker.
7) My backpack with the skis added was mysteriously heavier than I remembered.
8) The 30-mile an hour winds made it hella cold.
9) We were pooped.
10) We had Nixie who was cold & pooped also.
Corn Skiing to the Max!
My climbing partner Toby McCandless was a champion! Not only could he climb the pants off most people, but has such a fun & easy-going personality. We had a total blast climbing together. Anyhow, he found a wind shelter on the knob just below where I’m hiking above. We napped & hung out til mid-day when the snow softened up.
Then we launched on an epic “corn” ski run to the base of the Timberline ski area. Holy cow, it was awesome beyond belief! This might sound super bizarre to skiers everywhere, but it was incredible for me to ski off-piste on snow that wasn’t powder up to my elbows. Not that I’m complaining about the epic late-season snow in the San Juan’s, mind you. But for a new-to-backcountry telemark skier who’s mainly skied in resorts her whole life, it was really nice to have unencumbered snow where I could drop my knee and tele-turn with the best of them. After one season, I’m still getting the hang of tele-turns in powder. It’s an entirely different turn. I’m a beginner at tele-skiing in powder, for sure. But, not a beginner skier, by any means!
Despite not summiting, I still left a memorial for Mickey at the side of the peak, just below the Summit Rock.
Somehow, it felt fitting. It seemed like Mickey was honored anyway, because we skied like hot dogs all the way to the bottom. He always had wanted to ski Mt. Hood, and although we didn’t ski from the top, we came pretty darn close. Mickey would have wanted us to play it safe, and not risk injury. He told me once that when he had a family, he backed off from his crazy lust for the “sickest lines”. He had little kiddos at home who depended on him.
I don’t have little kiddos at home, but I have a lot of people who think I’m rad, and who would be saddened if I left this Earth too soon. So, I back off from the sickest lines, too. That, and I’m way more chicken than my brother.
We learned a lot on that trip, Toby and I. We learned to not get suckered into skinning on early morning ice unless you have ski crampons. We learned transitions need to be just as efficient as hiking. We learned dogs can’t go up 60-degree sheer ice slopes, no matter how agile they are (sorry, Nixie.). We learned taking naps makes the ski down so much better. We learned to honor our strengths, our weaknesses, and our bodies.
We learned hugs, not dangerous summits.
For myself, I forgot a bunch of stuff I bought years ago after summiting Rainier: puffy parka with hood, down mittens, balaclava, etc. I forgot all that stuff because in Colorado backcountry skiing, you don’t need it. Since there are mountains all around, the winds break up, and are not as harsh. The temps never get that cold.
On Mt. Hood, the 30mph winds brought the wind chill to 18-degrees. I never skied in such frigidity this last season in Colorado. So, forgetting all that gear reminded me that I must think ahead to the conditions of the locale, and not make assumptions every peak is the same. It’s been a harsh, but important lesson. And, one I’ll never forget.
On to Mt. Adams (bonus one for myself), and Mt. Baker!