The postcard arrived from Portland: My TLT5 boots missed me. Although the shoes enjoyed chatting with the his-and-hers TLT5 boots at my friends’ house where I had left all my gear at the beginning of July, the other boots still often enjoyed visiting large snow-covered volcanoes, whereas during those trips my TLT5s had to sit in the dark and talk with Lawnmower.
I had originally planned to return to the Pacific Northwest later on, this past July of 2011, but on the very same day and almost at the very same time I was supposed to be driving to the airport, I was instead at the same hometown hospital where I had been born, once again with my mother, but this time fulfilling the Jewish ritual of pulling the sheet over my father‘s body.
The very same day and almost at the very same time I would have been skinning up, I was instead eulogizing my father, who had taught me to ski nearly four decades ago, and taken me on so many ski trips over the intervening years.
So I arrived at my friends’ house over a month later than planned. All my ski gear was still there, as well as — unexpectedly enough — almost all of their deep snowpack too.
First up, on the atypical ski date of August 20, was the atypical ski destination of Mt Jefferson. Our tour to the Jefferson Park Glacier featured a nice mix of just about everything: interesting off-trail below-treeline navigation, some route-finding decision-making amidst the volcanic moraines, roped skinning on the glacier between crevasses, careful skiing down the glacier and then a remnant snowfield, a slow lateral move through some steep kitty litter and boulders to access a nice skiable gully at treeline, then a very short downhike through pleasant open woods to reach the trail. Plus we skied for over 60% of our vertical ascent.
So what am I omitting?
Oh, that 10-mile roundtrip on established hiking trails to access all of the above!
At least for much of that hiking we were “treated” to wonderful views. “Taunted” might be a better word, given that those views reinforced how far we still had to go.
Finally, after all that hiking, scrambling, and skinning, we reached the flat bench I was aiming towards (which turned out not to be flat, oh well!), deskinned (carefully!), stowed my travel rope, and were ready to ski. But not quite yet. I wanted to pay tribute to my father on this trip. Since he was well-known at the local ski area for reading newspapers on the chairlift, I decided to adapt that habit to the ski mountaineering context.
We had some vaguely formed plan about skiing the SW Chutes of Mt Adams the next day, but after a nearly 10-hour tour and a long drive back to Portland, reality set in. So we just went to Hood’s Palmer Snowfield as the lift service was winding down for the early afternoon. I skinned a ways up above the lifts for my article tribute, then skied down to within ~100′ vertical of the lodge (yes, on August 21!), then went up another lap to the top of the Palmer. With all the race courses pulled down and everyone else eventually cleared out, we had an entire nicely groomed skinning area all to ourselves (with the snow above the groomers okay too, but not worth a second lap up high).
The next morning I met up with Greg L. at Rainier’s Paradise, and we started skinning a little over ~300′ vertical from the parking lot (yes, on August 22). We began with the usual mists, which then parted for a beautiful day.
After a couple laps from below Anvil Rock (the site of the newspaper reading once again) on the western ramp of the Paradise Glacier, we traversed over to the entrance of the Nisqually Chute. I had recent beta, and we’d caught a quick glance from below Panorama Point during our ascent, but still, traversing into the entrance was a bit nervous until I had a full view.
After skiing onto the runout, a quick skin rejoined the main the hiking route.
I then splurged on a room at the historic Paradise Inn, since after driving, hiking, skinning, and skiing about on three different volcanoes on three different days, I craved the luxury of not moving the car at all. Plus just the view for my room’s window was worth it!
The next morning I unimaginatively skinned up to Camp Muir (and once again read the newspaper article).
Despite its status as such a routine destination, Camp Muir has always been very special to me: Twelve years ago I had sat in a rental car in a rainy Paradise parking lot. I had flown out to Seattle the previous morning for a business trip during the upcoming week, and my gear was a mix of borrowed, newly acquired, and marginally adequate. My only real strength in the backcountry was that I was well aware of my numerous weaknesses.
With the vis near zero, and the route unfamiliar, I was starting to resign myself to very short laps above the visitor center when I noticed two people unloading ski gear from the adjacent vehicle. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, if I ask in a polite friendly manner, these two skiers might be nice enough to let a clueless guy from Massachusetts tag along with them on whatever trip they were planning . . . and that ended up being my first ever real backcountry ski tour — thanks again Ron and Jeanette!
The “fun” cups for the first ~300′ vertical were soft enough to allow for decent transportation on skis, but after that a brief yet intense evening rainstorm had smoothed out the skier’s right quite nicely. Then down the Nisqually Chute again followed by a short skin to rejoin the hikers, who took pictures and literally cheered me on, as if skiing on snow were somehow less natural than awkwardly attempting to walk on it as they were doing.
A short while into the ~300′ vertical downhike (on a paved path!), I was asked if I had found any snow to ski, the questioner apparently oblivious to all the glaciers and snowfields in clear view of the parking lot she had just departed, as well as to the snow literally around the corner from her.
Yet despite all the snow that remains there, I look forward to a break in September before we have our usual get-it-while-you-can October New England snowstorm. Although on my final ski descent, my phone did have reception briefly enough to retrieve an email from a client about logistics for work this coming September in . . . Seattle!
(WildSnow guest blogger Jonathan Shefftz lives with his wife and daughter in Western Massachusetts, where he is a member of the Northfield Mountain and Thunderbolt / Mt Greylock ski patrols. Formerly an NCAA alpine race coach, he has broken free from his prior dependence on mechanized ascension to become far more enamored of self-propelled forms of skiing. He is an AIARE-qualified instructor, NSP avalanche instructor, and contributor to the American Avalanche Association’s The Avalanche Review. When he is not searching out elusive freshies in Southern New England, he works as a financial economics consultant.)