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Wise volcano climbers and skiers of this website and the PNW: Wondering if anyone can share their wisdom of forecasting good volcano ski conditions (winter/ pre-corn). I pretty much assume anything above treeline is wind blasted, golfball sized rime chunks, boilerplate ice, or sastrugi (usually a combo) during the winter. This sour grapes attitude has left me really surprised when friends report skiing (Mt. Hood in most cases) powder from the summit, or even on the Palmer during the winter (okay, maybe more like March-April, and given that it doesn't seem to happen that often!). I am not really talking about corn cycle, although any wisdom is appreciated. Mostly how to determine whether the skiing will be ice chunder or decent above timberline. It seems that most big storms are windy and rowdy, and just scour anything above timberline, with the exception of localized lee pockets of softer snow. Does it just take less windy storms? Better aspect/terrain choices? It also seems that given a few clear midwinter days, anything sunny gets icy or a nasty sun crust- yet I am surprised by the winter corn harvests I read about from such periods. Obviously my cynical mindset is holding me back from the goods, so can anyone walk me through their conditions forecasting process? Is it a matter of just hoping for the best or are you all semi pro meteorologists? Thanks and happy (ice) skiing! Max
Hi all-- I am planning a winter ascent up Mt. Hood with a group of friends and need some advice! We all have some experience with travel on glaciated terrain, ice field whiteout navigation, crevasse rescue, and rope travel etc. in Alaska. We want to practice our mountaineering skills. Also if you have any favorite Mt. Hood backcountry ski spots, I would love to hear about those as well! What route recommendations do you have? How much of the route can I skin up? What is the best month to practice these skills on Mt. Hood? What are other considerations you think are important? Thanks!
David_Parker posted a topic in Alpine LakesClimb: Mt. Stuart: (winter ascent)-Complete North Ridge Date of Climb: 12/24/2004 Trip Report: Mt. Stuart: Attempted Winter ascent of the complete North Ridge. Wayne called me 2 weeks before Christmas and said we had a good weather window coming up the few days before Christmas. So on Tuesday, December 21, the official start of winter, we made the drive over to Leavenworth and bivied in the parking lot at the Ranger’s station. We arose early and organized our gear under the lights in the McDonalds parking lot and then headed up Icicle Creek. We crossed our fingers that the gate at Eight Mile Creek would be open. It was, but within ¾ of a mile the difficulties began. As the road became steeper it became apparent my 4-runner was not going to make it up the pure ice road. We came to a stop, tires spinning and it was all we could do to keep from sliding backwards. Wayne got out to help push against the side of the car to keep it from sliding over the edge and down into the abyss and immediately fell down. We nursed the 4-runner down to a dry patch on the side of a switchback and then proceeded to give it another shot by trying to keep two tires in the slightly softer crunchy snow on the inside shoulder. We didn’t make it past the original high point and had to nurse the car back down to the dry spot, Wayne donned crampons for better traction the second time. The only way we were going to get up this road was to put crampons on the tires, so back to Leavenworth we went. $175 and an hour later we were back at the road and this time we had no problems with 4 new chains on the tires. It was probably close to 11:00 by the time we finally started the hike on the Stuart Lake trail and up Mountaineers Creek. We carried snowshoes, but ditched them on the knoll right after crossing the creek on a log. We were following a fairly fresh set of boot tracks on top of an older set of snowshoe tracks for a while, but when they headed off in the “wrong” direction, we abandoned them. We made camp behind a large boulder just past the small bench and proceeded to decorate a small tree with our cams, picket and ropes. We wanted to have some sense of a Christmas spirit in this desolate, moonlike landscape. Laying in the tent that night, it almost seemed like day. The almost full moon was so bright I could have read a book outside. I have a difficult time falling asleep before 11:00 so while Wayne snored, the demons danced in my mind. Looming above us in plain view was the complete north ridge and so far nobody had been successful in making a winter ascent of the lower portion. The upper section had been done in winter. We hoped to connect the entire route. But who was I to think I was up to this task. I felt significantly small and unqualified. I had never even been on the lower ridge in summer and it was 1986 when I did the upper. It was also 1986 the last time I jumarred and Wayne said I would be doing quite a bit. We waited until daylight to make breakfast and gear up for the day. We hiked up onto the moraine below the Ice Cliff glacier and followed its sweeping curve around to the base of the North Ridge. Sheltered from the wind behind a large boulder, we donned harnesses and racked up and Wayne started up some 4th class rock which proved more difficult then it looked. Not wanting to place gear yet, we searched further left for a better access and found a steep snow gully which brought us to the base of the first pitch. Our plan was to fix two rope lengths and return to camp for the night. Wayne actually aid climbs quite fast, and after some difficulty with a squeeze slot where he had to take off his pack, he tied off the rope. I jugged and off Wayne went for pitch 2. This section is steep and surmounts a small overhang. I worked out the bugs of jumarring, and joined Wayne at a stance by a small tree. Above loomed a long thin crack, not vertical, but steep. The going was slower here because there was ice in the crack. Wayne informed me he actually used his breath to melt some ice for a few placements. He watched cams shift on ice. When a loop of rope hanging down caught on something, I had to untie my end and drop it down in an attempt to free it. It barely gave Wayne enough rope to reach the top where he made an anchor of one pin, one ice screw and 2 cams. He then rapped and cleaned while I pulled out our second rope and readied it for the rap to the ground. It was extremely windy, but we got down with out any issues and descended back to camp. We chose an easier route than going back down the moraine by following a snow gully and skirting the lower boulder field on the far side. This set us up for an easier ascent in the morning. It was about 4:00 by the time we got back. Fixing 3 pitches had taken o lot longer than we thought. The moon and demons were in full effect that night. I knew tomorrow would be a big day and we had no idea what conditions would be like on the ridge. I questioned myself why I did this. I knew once on the ridge, retreat would be difficult until we reached the notch where the regular route joined. Thank god for sleeping pills. We awoke at 2:30 and were off by 3:45. We carried no bivy gear. We geared up at the large boulder. It was my first time jumarring by headlamp, but by the time we were up the second rope, it was just beginning to dawn. Above we could see the summit shrouded in clouds, and it was extremely windy. Weather was moving in. We debated going down, but talked ourselves out of it. The ridge looked incredibly steep and exposed. The demons came back and I pushed them away as Wayne headed up the next pitch in the early morning light. He was aiding again, but informed me it was only a short section and I should just aid myself and not mess with the ascenders. Once I began climbing again, things calmed down for me. My focus was only at each small task or move at hand and my concentration kept the elements at bay. For the first time since leaving Seattle, I actually felt settled. It was just me and the mountain and my focus on climbing. Nothing else penetrated to mess with my head. I don’t remember each pitch, just different sections. As we moved up, dry rock became more iced with verglass. We each had one regular ice tool and a small Grivel third tool. I carried etriers and the jumars bundled on my gear loops on my left side. Wayne lead all the pitches for speed. The ice runnel pitch should have been my lead, but Wayne was cold and wanted to move again. It was a fabulous pitch of thin ice that snaked up through the rocks. “Super Alpine” I called it and I secretly imagined myself climbing in Chamonix. An easier snow slope brought us up into an alcove with only one way out, a traverse across polished slab. Wayne tensioned and then climbed with his tools in verglass and boots on slab, then up over a small roof. Above the terrain became more blocky with much more ice filling the voids and the climbing became true mixed. We donned crampons and climbed with both tools. Many moves consisted of moving across a bulge of rock onto thin ice. Unconsolidated snow filled the cracks and crevasses and needed clearing. At one point we abandoned the true ridge and climbed on the face to the right for 4 or 5 pitches before we could regain it. Finally, I lead a short section of rotten snow that required much clearing to regain the ridge. It was steep and there was about an inch crust and underneath, loose granular snow. The crust would break in large slabs and slide down, and the 18 inches of snow underneath was not bonded to the rock and wouldn’t accept any weight. I was afraid of the whole thing sliding. I excavated to rock for the last few moves and flopped onto the ridge. It was 4:00. One more tricky traverse brought us to the notch and there was no question as to which way to go. We were out of time and the entire upper ridge, although bathed in moonlight, would be another full day. We rigged a rap and headed down. The gully was much steeper and longer than I remembered and we ended up making 4 rappels combined with steep down climbing. The Stuart Glacier was awash in moonlight. We packed the ropes and gear and began our long walk back to camp. I don’t think I’ll have a more memorable Christmas Eve. This high alpine environment was almost surreal in the bright moonlight. I was warm and content with what we had done. We hadn’t made the summit, but had climbed the often attempted lower section. We never stopped the whole time and we got to the tent by 8:15. Wayne immediately crawled in, while I made hot drinks. We were too tired to eat, but I lingered outside for another hour enjoying the view. The demons were gone and I was content. Later, I would have the uncanny feeling that it was someone else who did the climb. The next day, Christmas, we hiked out in deteriorating weather. The drive over Stevens Pass was in a full snowstorm. At least for a while, we had a white Christmas. Gear Notes: full rack, one ice screw, ascenders, 2 ropes Approach Notes: Chains required for Eight Mile road if still open. We did not need snowshoes for Mountaineer Creek approach, but maybe neccessary now.