Photos by Krystin Norman, Peter Brigham and Louie Dawson
On the weekend of June 15th, Krystin, Peter, Louie and I set out for the north side of Mt. Adams. Our main objective was to ski the north face of the Northwest Ridge (NFNWR) on Saturday and potentially ski something else on the north side on Sunday.
Finding good conditions to ski the north side of Cascade volcanoes is tricky. Ambient temps need to be warm enough to soften the snow with little direct sun. Also, the transition to solid corn happens later in the season for north side routes. The best conditions often happen late in the spring, but by then the route could be melted out (especially on lower elevation sections).
According to mountain-forecast.com the weather looked a bit bipolar. Portland and Hood River both sat at 85F sunny, with the freezing level hovering just over the summit (13k). The wind prediction for the summit was low (5-10mph), and so was the temp (29-32F). On NOAA, the freezing level was at 9k, but NOAA seems not to be as accurate at predicting weather during the spring. Louie and I weren’t convinced that it would be warm enough for the north side to soften. We decided to go for it anyways.
We drove to Killen Creek Trailhead Friday morning, arriving at 10pm. We took the route from Packwood, following a long, mostly dirt road all the way to the trailhead. The road is in excellent shape. We woke up early and were hiking by 5:30am on Saturday, arriving at High Camp (7k) at 8am. We stashed our camping gear and headed for the North Ridge.
Oh, the choss pile that is the North Ridge…I, wholeheartedly, am not a fan. Yes, you do have to carry your skis and boots on your back for 70% of it. Yes, you should absolutely bring trail runners. Yes, there is some mild “V0-esque” rock climbing involved mid-route, as well as exposed snow travel. Definitely type-two fun. At 11k the angle of the slope eases off, which allowed us to start skinning, hands down the first highlight of the day. The NFNWR is visible the whole time during the ascent and looks “less steep” from some angles.
We reached the top of the Pinnacle, Adam’s second, slightly lower “summit”, around 2:30pm. A party of two headed down right as we were gaining the ridge of the Pinnacle. We waited just below the summit, hiding from the wind for the party to finish skiing. We gave them about 30 minutes, which seemed to be the right amount of time.
The top of the NFNWR is really not as steep as I pictured and the first rollover was not as intimidating as I expected it to be. The top was a little firm, but conditions just got better and better as we continued down. It was perfect to be able to test comfort level on the firmed snow and feel it getting better with each turn. The slope steepened a bit as it continued down, which served as a fine transition for what was to come.
Once we were at the second rollover, that’s where I knew the real fun would start. The middle part of the run is the steepest and is followed by a skier’s left hand traverse around a rock band. The steepness and exposure continues past the traverse as well, feeling sustained. Louie measured the slope a few times and saw a pitch of at most 55 degrees. Luckily this is where we found the best snow and linking turns was not a problem. Traversing through the choke didn’t feel too gnarly; it is a left hand traverse with plenty of room to make slower turns or sideslip. Watch out for the rocks over to the left.
This year, the exit to the Adams Glacier was straightforward and didn’t require any shenanigans. The exit was midway through the slope, skier’s right. We skied through it fast since we felt exposed under all the seracs. Once on the flat snowfield below, looking at the line behind us felt surreal. This is the most committing line I’ve ever skied and I must admit I was psyched with how good it felt. With my recent ski of Mt Baker’s Park Headwall two weeks prior, I was feeling really fortunate to have such stellar conditions for both of these WA classics. Overall, our group did awesome, with everyone linking turns, skiing strong and confident. The right conditions make steep skiing so much more enjoyable and safe!
We skied back down to High Camp and attempted to make dinner while being swarmed by thousands of mosquitoes. We quickly retreated to the biggest net we could find (our tent) and settled in for the night.
The next morning, we were all feeling beat but it was hard to say no to perfect corn skiing conditions. I contemplated how amazing a late Seattle brunch would be. We climbed out of our tents at 6am and decided it would be worth checking out the Lava Glacier Headwall, another fun line on the north side. The chossy climb a second day in a row was not an easy quest. I dreaded the “V0” climb section of the route. Thankfully it was over quick enough, ending with us standing on top of our ski line at 12:30 pm.
The day ended up being a little colder, with some lingering clouds and a bit more wind. The top of the Lava Glacier looked the steepest and started skier’s right of the our uptrack at 11.5k. The conditions were a bit icy at the top, but the snow softened after a few turns. We followed the ridge all the way down to the only couloir was that fully linked to the bottom of the run, on the Lava Glacier. The crevasse at the base was starting to open up and the snow inside the little couloir was melting out, so this route won’t last much longer.
We celebrated the descents with a quick Rainier beer while trying to hide from mosquitoes, packed up our camp and headed back to the car.
As far as gear goes, we carried a rope and wore harnesses on the descents. We brought radios for both descents but found they were more useful on the Lava Glacier, specifically for the lower part of the route since we skied it one at a time. The full line was only fully visible from below.
We were so lucky to find the conditions so perfect! We noted that it seemed warmer up at High Camp compared to the trailhead, possibly an inversion. Everything aligned just right for us: our team, our timing, the weather. The only negative aspect that came out of this trip is that Monday morning I counted 45 mosquito bites on my left leg. Hydrocortisone cream was my best friend for a few days. Can’t win them all I guess!