I went to my physical therapist last Friday. Strategically one day shy of the magic 6 weeks that bones typically take to heal. The intent was to make sure that I was actually healed and to get a final “okay” to go snowboarding. Well, to be fair both the doctor and the physical therapist both had given me the “okay” to snowboard, but with a strong caution to take it easy.
I didn’t really trust myself to take it easy, so against my strongest desire, I went for a 20-mile bike ride instead. Waiting until this week to strap into my snowboard for the first time in six weeks.
The visit with the physical therapist was somewhat superficial. By the time I set foot in her office I had already made plans to go snowboarding the following morning. She knew it too. She gave me a stern look of disapproval and left it at that. I promised to continue doing my exercises (something I had started to slack on) and the rest of our time was focused on getting rid of the bruise/numbness on my left hip with what equates to a 45 minutes butt massage.
You might think to yourself, “that sounds like a mighty fine way to start your Friday morning,” and I am here to confidently assert that it is, as a matter of fact, not a nice way to start your day. Ever. I am adding it to my list of things I probably wouldn’t experience had I not broken my back. It falls somewhere right behind ambulance ride, getting strapped to a backboard, and CT scan of practically my whole body.
I am getting somewhat distracted. This crazy weather we have been having in the PNW came at an inopportune time. For the first couple of weeks while I was out, it dumped. About two weeks ago the snow stopped. We were left with cold air and a high pressure ridge that kept the sun out and the cold air in place. For a couple days, this is great for riding. But soon a warm front moved in on top of the cold air, making the city cold and foggy, while the mountains – still sunny – warmed up, wreaking havoc on the snow.
So, come Saturday, I was determined to ride, but I wanted to find some soft snow (I am trying to take it easy after all). My crazy logic put touring in the backcountry higher on the list of safe activities than a day riding at a resort. I had two options. Find mellow north-facing slopes that are well shaded and hope that the warm air and sun hadn’t completely destroyed the fresh snow. Or, we could find some south-facing slopes and hope that they had turned to corn. Neither option sounded particularly thrilling, so we decided to gamble and stick to the North faces.
We headed down to the Tatoosh range, where I knew there was some fun mellow north-facing terrain. The approach was promising. While we did find some impressively large surface hoar, the snow was nice and soft in the shade. In fact, there was nearly 6 inches of snow on top of an unbreakable crust. It was enough snow to have a good day.
Unfortunately, the higher we climbed in elevation, the air warmed considerably, and the snowpack degraded. Eventually we found ourselves on rolling hills that were glistening in the sun. There were pockets of snow that had survived, but most saw the sun at one point or another and were now glistening sheets of ice.
A solo skier with ski crampons passed us, laughing as we struggled miserably to make progress up the hill. It was more difficult than it really needed to be. Eventually we all made it to the ridge.
We ended up relaxing for about an hour. The sun was shining, it was warm, and, what I would consider the reason what Tatoosh is so fun, Rainier is right in your face. Not to mention, Adams, St Helens, and Hood visible behind us. I think I may plan an overnight trip down there. The view is just incredible. Most of us had spent the week trapped in the fog, so the sun was a welcome sight. Sitting on the top of the ridge was a much missed and welcome feeling. The six weeks I was out blew by quickly, but I was ready to be back.
Eventually, we finished our beers and had our fill of vitamin D. I stood on the ridge with my board strapped on. I realized this was the longest stretch I had been away from my snowboard for at least a year. Six weeks to the day was not so bad.
Behind me was a south facing meadow with a handful of tracks in it. We’d seen a couple skiers drop in and the corn looked great. We made up our minds to stay north and hope we could follow the shade the whole way down. I held my breath and dropped in. I rolled onto my heel edged, praying that the snow was soft. My edge held well – better than I’d expected. I opened up a little and took off down the hill.
A friend described the Tatoosh range as a putt-putt golf course. I can’t think of a better analogy. Rolling hills with a couple of points that we had to stop and navigate around. Always a safe way down though. Mostly, it was carefree riding. We did find a couple zones worth coming back for. A hip with a long steep landing, a ridge with a cornice drop, and a narrow chute begging to be aired into. Not to mention the ridges in the distance, all easily accessible in a day and of course the three prominent couloirs on Lane peak. So much to do, I am sure glad this funky weather is nearly over.
Some people have sun lamps, I have the mountains.
Upon returning from Yosemite, I was having a hard time focusing at work. I made it almost two days before my mind started to wander to what my next adventure should be. The weather was fantastic and it had been a few weeks since I had last snowboarded. It was Wednesday afternoon when it hit me, Mt Adams. I had been talking about climbing Adams for a while, and now seemed as good an idea as any. I shot off a few texts to friends, and before long I’d found someone interested in a last minute trip up the second highest mountain in Washington.
Finn, Tristan and I set off Friday afternoon, getting in to camp late at night. The campground was overflowing, mostly because the road in was still covered in snow and most people didn’t want to try dealing with getting through it. Finn wasn’t deterred by a little snow, so instead of trying to wedge our car into makeshift parking spots down the road, we found ourselves digging out his car so that we could get it into an open spot while narrowly avoiding sliding into a tree. The good news was our campsite was right at the trailhead.
We woke up early and got started bright and early (well, 6:45 seems early to me). We hiked through off-and-on snow for nearly half an hour before the trail turned to solid snow and we could switch to skins. From there, it was a long, slow slog up to the summit. Adams, like the other volcanoes in Washington, is just an endless snowfield of nearly a constant pitch. It makes for a thrilling climb as the scenery stays amazingly constant the entire way to the top, or at least to the false summit.
We knew there was a chance of adverse weather and had already encountered brief showers near the beginning of our climb. Joking around, Tristan informed us, “you know what to do if you start to feel tingle-y right?” We looked at him curiously, “what do you mean?” Tristan continued, “Well, when your are about to get struck by lightning, you will build up with static electricity. Your supposed to kick off your skis, throw your poles, and make yourself as small as possible on the ground.”
I looked at him laughing, “Well that sucks for me, I can’t kick my skis off nearly as fast as you.” While the thought of lightning was a possibility, we clearly weren’t too concerned about it. Besides, as the forecast we briefly glanced at had said, after the first drizzle, the clouds were starting to part.
The false summit stays looming above nearly the entire hike. We made good time to Lunch Counter, where we stopped and each enjoyed a section of Finn’s giant Safeway sandwich. (Who carries a pound of sandwich up a mountain anyways?) It was a nice supplement to Tristan and my Euro-style lunch of bread, salami, and cheese.
Unsurprisingly, the false summit was still a long ways off. After lunch, we continued our slog to the summit. We were greeted with some welcome weather. Slowly but surely, we were making progress. The closer we got to the false summit, the harder the climb got. It had already been a long day, and as we were hitting the 10,000’ mark the elevation was starting to become noticeable.
Unfortunately, by the time I dragged myself to the top of the false summit, I caught a fleeting glance of the true summit off in the distance before the clouds rolled in and visibility was reduced to no more than 20’. We took advantage of the weather to take a break and discuss our plan. I was pretty well exhausted and the weather was not cooperating. We had reached the Southwest Chutes, and I was the only one in our group who had never summited. Thankfully, Finn pushed that it was worth it, and we had already come so far. The cloud pushed through and we had a nice break. There was the summit, looking much larger and further away than I was really hoping.
Despite the disheartening size of the final push to the summit, we set off. Not long after we began climbing an ominously dark cloud appeared around the corner. We started hearing the feint roll of thunder coming from the cloud. I couldn’t help but think back to what Tristan had told us earlier. At least now I knew what to try to do in case of impending lightning strike. We stopped to figure out the best course of action. We were about level with the cloud, and it looked like it was heading straight over the false summit.
We really didn’t want to spend any more time around the storm cloud than we had to. We decided the best course of action was to just keep pushing on, getting above the cloud as far away as quick as possible. It was much closer to lightning than I ever really desired. Thankfully, the cloud passed and we were able to enjoy the summit for a few minutes. I was surprised from the top how small Rainier looked in the distance. From any other viewpoint, Rainier looks like a monolith rising above all other peaks in the area. From Adams, Rainier seemed dwarfed in size and no larger than the peak we were currently standing on.
As we got ready for the descent, another ominous cloud rolled in. We decided to hurry. After a brief hike back to the false summit, we were at the top of the Southwest Cutes. 3000’ of continuous, steep corn skiing. I looked over at Finn and Tristan and let them know I would see them at the bottom. I was exhausted, but adrenaline helped fuel me into making turns from top to bottom. The snow was still smooth and the sun had warmed it up nicely. I can say without a doubt that those were the best turns I have ever made in July.
Once we all made it down the chutes, we navigated our way down the bottom of the snowfield, getting in a few more good turns as we went. Eventually we hit the trail back, and began the long traverse back to camp. Finally, we made it back at around 6pm. With a car full of beer, fried chicken, pasta, and various other snacks, we opted to enjoy the evening, spend the night and wake up early Sunday to drive home.
All-in-all, not a bad day. Over 7000’ climbed, over 3000’ snowboarded down, and some interesting weather.