Indian Peaks, Mt. Audubon southeast shoulder

February 17th, 2010
The Indian Peaks are the prominent mountains that can be seen from almost everywhere on the eastern plains of Colorado. Their serrated, snowcapped peaks and ridges stand in stark contrast to the dry desert foothills in front of them. Every day thousands of people are subjected to their view while hurrying along US-36 on their daily commute between Denver and Boulder. Millions more have seen them out of an airplane window while flying into, out of, or connecting at Denver International Aiport.

The Indian Peaks seen from Denver International Airport (photograph provided courtesy of Denver International Airport)

However, as beautiful as they are from a distance, 99% of those people are completly oblivious to the true feeling one will find when adventuring deep into the wilderness of these mountains. Ironically, although these mountains are within an hour drive of the most densely populated area of the entire Rocky Mountains, it is easy to find solitude here in the middle of winter.

I planned to meet my partner, Barrows, at the Brainerd Lakes trailhead early in the morning. This required the aforementioned drive along the Boulder Turnpike. As I drove, with warm coffee in hand, I enjoyed the sun rising in the bluebird sky, and lighting up my view of the Indian Peaks during my drive. With good tunes on the radio, I sat in silence for over an hour, enjoying the peacefulness of the morning.

Barrows and I got to the trailhead around 9:00 AM. I did not know what was in store. I knew the Brainerd Lakes trail involved a longer approach than I was used to along the usual ‘I-70 trailheads’, but I did not know how far we were going to go up the mountains. At least a foot of new snow had fallen, and the CAIC was reporting ‘considerable’ avalanche danger with ‘pockets of high’. This meant that the front range snowpack was very variable. It could be deadly in some areas, but perfectly safe in others. Because of this, we would have to use our keen observations and experience and make very smart decisions on this crucial day.

The initial approach was as expected–on a two mile snowcovered road. Although I was cursing out the local authorities for not plowing the road, Barrows was good at reminding me that if the road was plowed all the way to the lake, there would be ten times as many people out here. I was gracious for this, for if I wanted to be surrounded by crowds, I would have gone skiing with the rest of the masses at the ski areas on this President’s Day. Not my cup of tea.

The initial hike up the snowcovered road

After a short while, the mountains really started to come into view. Barrows pointed out many of the peaks that give this range its unique name–such as Apache, Arapahoe, and Pawnee. I wondered back hundreds of years, what the local Indian tribes must have felt while exploring these mountains.

At Brainerd Lake (still on the road!)

We were making progress along the road, and the weather was perfect. I was getting anxious to start making some vertical progress. Eventually, we made it to the ‘Summer Trailhead’. There were picnic benches, cabins, restrooms, and dumpsters all covered in a few feet of snow. This place would be bustling with activity in the middle of July, but here in February it was very serene. I got a good perspective on things when we skinned past the Indian Peaks Wilderness boundary. I have seen these signs all over the state on various trails in the National Forests–they all stand about five feet tall. Here, the snow all but covered the entire sign.

The standard ‘Wilderness’ sign found all over Colorado, they stand five feet tall on dry land

We skinned a short while through the forest and came back out in a large clearing out in front of Mitchell Lake. Here, I had my first full view of the challenge that lie ahead. Across the cirque was the south shoulder of Mt. Audobon.

I am skinning across Mitchell Lake(photo courtesy of Barrows Worm)

This relatively ‘short’ face was decorated with a half-dozen couloirs of varying size and steepness. One very long and narrow couloir branched up towards our right, but it looked like it needed more snow, as it had many rocks in the middle of it. We decided to head towards a lower-angle, wider couloir located on our left side of this face.

Barrows skinning up the basin above Mitchell Lake

Bonus pic of some really cool looking north-face features on the ridge leading towards Mt. Toll

As we made it up into the cirque, we performed a series of quick avalanche tests. Everything was feeling safe. I was feeling very strong, with intentions of conquering the couloir at this point. Once we made the apron, we packed the boards and began to boot up the couloir.

Barrows enjoying the February sunshine
At this point my motivation started going downhill. The snow was very deep and unconsolidated. I had instant flashbacks to my attempt on Mt. Rainier last spring, where two feet of fresh snow had ruined any chance of us post-holing our way to the summit. Back here on Mt. Audubon, I was already starting to lose my energy with each step that I struggled to make in the snow. There were times where we could find rocks to scramble upon, until the rocks ran out, and we were left with the sea of snow. Sadly, I had had enough. Thankfully, I looked up and my partner was removing his snowboard from his pack. It was time to go down.

I am scrambling up the rocks in lieu of the deeps now (photo courtesty of Barrows Worm)

I just couldn’t make the final 20 feet! (photo courtesty of Barrows Worm)

The afternoon sun was already creeping down the western sky. I strapped into my board and waited for my partner to drop in from above. We were both nervous. All signs during the day pointed to a stable snowpack, but we all know that initial anxiety before dropping in for the first time. “Do I still know how to do this?” My partner asked.

“Just like riding a bike” I yelled in support.

With a quick hop out into the center of the couloir, he was off, making furiously smooth turns in the snow. As I aimed and shot my camera, I saw powder flying everywhere. The apprehension eased for a moment as I watched him ride all the way down the the basin below. Then the anxiety resumed: it was my turn.

Barrows dropping in

Barrows down in the bottom of the couloir

I got up on my toes and looked down below me, took three deep breaths, and throttled it. No worries whatsoever! I felt the thrill of the ride hit me, and suddenly remembered why I always put myself through so much torture for these 30 seconds of descent.

I met my partner back down in the basin and we looked up at mountain. The couloir was now decorated with two parallel tracks, making s-curves all the way down the mountain.

Looking back up at our fresh tracks

It was getting late, so we made a few more turns down in the basin before switching back to our skins for the long slog back out to the trailhead. I stopped many times to look back up at the face. There was definitely a whole lot more to

Storm Clouds over Breckenridge

January 26th, 2010
IMG_4271, originally uploaded by Adam Reiner.

I just bought a Canon Rebel XT, my first step into the DSLR camera world. I’ve already started capturing some scenic photos. Here are some photos of some storm clouds over Breckenridge, taken from Keystone ski area.

See more here:

Rocky Mountain National Park motorcycle tour

September 13th, 2009

This weekend my parents came to visit from Illinois and we decided to stay up in Grand Lake for the Labor Day weekend.  I had only been there one time, over three years ago when ‘Briguy’ and I tried to drive over Trail Ridge Road in the middle of February.  We were stopped when the yellow pavement lines terminated at ten foot wall of snow at the west entrance to the National Park.  That was the farthest I’ve ever been on the west side, although I have explored most of the terrain on the east side of the National Park many times since.

To save my Dad a couple of hundred bucks on a rental car, I agreed to hand over the keys to my trusted 1997 Ford F-250 Powerstroke to him for the trip.  That truck and I have been through heaven and hell together four seasons a year, but all I could think about what gaining the freedom to ride my 1989 Kawasaki KLR-650 for 200 miles through the Rocky Mountains! (of course, the fact that I still owe said Dad a few bucks on the generous truck loan, had little to do with the decision.)

I geared up at near 4:20 in the afternoon and made a final pit stop before heading out on my own.  I topped off the KLR with 87 octane and looked around for an air compressor.  I circled the entire parking lot before finding one that said “out of order”.  Without a guage, I estimated that I had about 40 psi in the rear tire and 30 in the front.  I figured it a worthy experiment for my first mountain trip. 

84 degrees in Denver with clouds rolling in

I got out of Capitol Hill as usual without a hitch, cruising out at top speed on U.S. Route 6 towards Golden.  I decided to continue on US-6 up into the mountains because it had worked well on my last motorcycle ride and was much more relaxing than Interstate-70 would have been regardless of the situation.  My Clear Creek detour proved once again to be a good decision, and I made my first stop at the infamous “Kermitts”, a saloon with a large “Tuaca” sign and a collection of the Harley-Davidson types parked out front.  I’ve seen this bar with my own eyes over 200 times by my estimates.  I snapped a few photos anyways., but had no need or desire to go inside.  Maybe next time.  Instead I put on the rest of my makeshift ‘cold weather gear’ I had brought to experiment with on this trip.  I had a light fleece on under my textile motorcycling jacket, which gave me excellent mobility and warmth.  I also put on some ‘waterproof’ (I use that term sparingly) EMS pants over my poly hiking pants. I kept on the leather ‘MLB-branded’ batting gloves although I still had some winter touring gloves in the tailbag.  Speaking of tailbag, that is also a makeshift idea using the legendary DaKine Heli-Pro backpack.  The bomber hip belt and cargo straps on the back secured the bag to my stock rear rack of the KLR.  I had found a motorcycling use to add to the multiple uses of my favorite pack throughout the snowboarding, climbing, mountain biking, city-trekking, and hunting seasons.

My KLR parked in front of Kermitt’s

When I got going again I was forced to pick up the interstate for a few miles.  Just as I ramped on I was stopped in gridlock Labor Day vacationer traffic not unlike the hellish ‘Bormon’ through Northwest Indiana on such an important American recreational holiday.  Strangely, I wasn’t the least bit annoyed by the traffic while riding the KLR instead of driving a ‘cage’.  After about ten minutes it opened up again and I exited onto US-40 to head up Berthoud Pass. 

The temperature started to drop quickly while heading up the pass.  I pulled over and changed into a super-warm pair of Tourmaster gloves I had bought in the bargain bin at Moto-Gear Outlet.  Now my hands were nice and toasty, and I continued up the pass.  I enjoyed making the hairpin turns around each switchback, climbing higher and higher up the pass.  I had read mixed reviews about riding a carburetted motorcycle up to high altitudes, but I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.  I parked at the top of the pass and took a few photos.  Without snow everywhere, I could see where the dirt road went up to the science station at the top of the mountain.  However, the road had a gate in front of it and a sign that said “No Motor Vehicles”.  That was a bummer, for I really wanted to rally up to the top on a short detour of my trip.

Looks like a perfectly good road to me!

Self photo on Berthoud Pass

I departed down the west side of Berthoud Pass, through Winter Park and Granby.  The air started to warm up again, and with the mountain pass behind me, I settled back and enjoyed the cruise. 

“Sweet Mary Jane!”

I may have gotten a little too comfortable out on that straight stretch of highway, and caught my eyes wandering away from the road and to the beautiful mountain scenery around me.  At one time, I brought my eyes back to the road just in time to see a large white van coming right at me in my lane!  He was apparently making a pass, and at the time I made eye contact with him he was already moving back into the other lane, but it was short enough to scare the crap out of me!  For the rest of the ride I told myself “eyes on the road!”

The views from lake Granby were just amazing.  It was a little over an hour before sunset, and there were dozens of sailboats out on the calm lake.  The sun cast a warm glow over the entire scene.  I just had to pull over and take a few more photos before finally reaching my destination in Grand Lake.

Sunset on Lake Granby

On day two, we occupied ourselves by riding the mountain bikes and hanging out around town.  When I had a little free time to escape, I took the KLR out on my own to find some highly addictive dirt to play in.  By looking at my map of Rocky Mountain National Park, I identified a forest service road called “Kewanachee Road” that climbed up into the foothills on the southern end of the Never Summer Range.  When I got to the trailhead, it was packed with trailers.  A few guys were loading dirtbikes onto their trailers to ride back home in there cages.  I smiled to myself and was so glad I had a dual-sport motorcycle so I would never have to do that!

After I passed the parking lot, the road got pretty technical.  I was met with a long, steep hill immediately.  As I started up, I saw a train of “family-types” on ATVs coming directly at me!  I realized they had no concept of yielding to uphill traffic, I stopped my ascent halfway up the trail.  As soon as I did I groaned to myself about making such a bad decision.  It was going to be a pain in the ass to get started again.  When the “cotton-and-denim army” finally passed me I was all alone again and hit the gas.  I couldn’t handle the angle I was trying to get on, and the rear wheel started spinning wildly.  The next thing I know, I’m perpendicular to the road and going down!  I try to stick my left leg down but it was too steep.  I gave up my effort and the KLR slammed down on the ground.

Breathing heavily, I scrambled to pick it up before more ATV traffic came upon me and suffer any more embarrassment.  Not only is a KLR heavy to pick up on flat ground, the challenge was magnified by me being so far downhill and trying to push the bike up from below.  Grunting, I finally got it up and found that the end of the clutch lever was busted off, and the gear shifter was bent.  “Stupid!” I yelled to myself.  But instead of feeling pity for myself, I decided not to give up on the hill climb.  I got back on the bike and coasted back down to the flat area at the bottom.  This time, I aimed the tire directly up the hill and cranked on the throttle.  ATVers be damned, I wasn’t stopping!  Luckily, I made it up without incident and breathed a sigh of relief.

The remainder of the road was a lot of fun.  It wasn’t too steep, and offered plenty of winding curves as it climbed up through the desert forest.  It was a perfect evening for a ride, and I had some excellent views back to the east.  About halfway up, I stopped to look at my map and realized it had fallen out of my vest pocket.  Although I thought I could keep going, I figured the smart thing was to turn around and head back to meet up with my family.  Luckily, I found the map down on the trail on my way down.

Traveling on Kewanachee Road

Self photo from high up on the road, looking out towards the east

On day three, we loaded up the convoy (one car, one truck, and me on the motorcycle) and headed on our way through Rocky Mountain National Park.  It was a cool morning, and as I rode through the lower valley on the west side of the park, the temperature was dropping.  I changed into the warmer gloves, but as I started climbing up above the valley floor, the temps rose again.  I took in the sweeping views of the Never Summer range while winding up trail ridge road, and we all stopped at the Alpine Visitor Center at the top of the road for a short hike and some photos.

Wapiti….yum yum

Epic mountain views!

Afterwards, I mounted up again and continued over the pass.  The views from the top of Trail Ridge Road were epic!  I could see the distinctive flat-top of Long’s Peak to the southeast.  The craggy face of the continental divide dominated the view on my right side.  The upper part of the road was very crowded with tourists pulling over and getting out.  I rode very carefully and finally started to descend to the east side of the Park.  I also passed dozens of motorcyclists.  Most of them were on cruisers.  Not many people waved, but neither did I because I was focused on controlling my descent.  However as I came around a lower curve I saw a dual-sport rider coming up.  He gave me a big “thumbs up” as he passed me!

Self photo on top of Trail Ridge Road with Long’s Peak in the background

After making it through the Park we did an awesome hike up from the Glacier Gorge trailhead to “The Loch”, where I was able to show my dad one of my favorite snowboard descents, Taylor Glacier.  Then we went into Estes Park for dinner and finally got on US-36 and took that all the way back to Denver.

This was the first “long-distance” ride I’ve done on the KLR.  I learned a few things, but all in all I didn’t have any problems and had a lot of fun.  I may be in the market for a more comfortable seat, but other than that, the KLR is a great touring bike!

Splitboarding Mount St. Helens, 5/18/2009

May 27th, 2009

My 10 day long tour of the Pacific Northwest took me midway up the slopes of Mt. Rainier, trekking the urban streets of Seattle, touring the wilderness of the Olympic Peninsula and the Hoh Rain Forest, body surfing on the sandy beaches of the Oregon Coast, and the greatest “slackcountry” turns I’ve ever had making yo-yo laps on Mt. Hood until the sun went down.

On the final day of my trip, we awoke at dawn at 2700′ in the Marble Mountain Snopark, 5665 feet below the summit of Mount St. Helens. To be honest I wasn’t looking forward to the huge climb ahead, for I was all but done with my vacation and a bit homesick. But I figured “hey, I’ll just start up and see how far I get.”

There were already a lot of people ahead of us. We only caught a glimpse of a few skiers, some on skins and others with snowshoes on their feet and skis strapped to their pack for the long ascent.

The trail wound through the forest for a few miles on a long, flat approach on pine-needle covered brown snow very similar to most Colorado 14er approaches. Finally, we emerged from the trees and had our first view of the monolithic south slope of the volcano. It looked huge (just as Rainier and Hood had before), but most of the slope was low angled, which meant we could maintain an efficient pace with climbing skins.

First view of the whole mountain.

It was already getting very warm in the morning sun. Forecasts were predicting over 80 degrees at our elevation. As I climbed I could see Mount Adams dominating my view to the east. While on Mt. Rainier the week before, I looked to the south at these two mountains, and although they still looked very big, they were very far apart. Now, Mt. Adams appeared to be right next to St. Helens. The immense size of these volcanoes plays weird games on your perception.

Mt. Adams

As we kept climbing, I wondered when we would decide to turn around. Funny, however, that the farther up I got, the stronger I felt. At every stop, we set a new goal, whether to get to a rock outcropping, cornice, or ridge. Before we knew it, the summit was in sight, and felt attainable. There was a group of telemark skiers already on their way down, but I could see at least three other groups still heading for the summit.

Heading for the summit. It was so relieving to be able to skin up the whole thing!

At this point, some dark clouds began moving in. I have heard many things about Cascade weather, that when it comes in, it comes in STRONG. I was a little nervous about the oncoming clouds, but we hurried our pace and set out for the summit.

On the way up, I saw a lot of hikers “glissading” down. Some of them were on plastic garbage bags. Still others had on nothing but jeans and tennis shoes. I couldn’t believe they were up here, soaking wet with clouds rolling in, but I am no one to judge.

Are these people for real?

By the time I could have seen the summit block, it was a total white out. I could barely make out the figures of the group of climbers on the summit, and finally met my partner and celebrated our accomplishment. For not really being “in the mood” at the trailhead, I had made it to the top of the mountain roughly 5 hours later!

Conditions on the summit

On the summit, one man asked us “Did you guys climb this because it is the 29th anniversary of the eruption?”

We both looked at each other in surprise. We had no idea of the historical significance of this day, but thought it was really cool, almost ironic, that we had climbed to the summit on this day. I tried to peer over into the crater rim, but could barely see anything but some very steep spines that disappeared into the white abyss.

The team on the summit with the inside of the crater barely visible behind us

We tried to wait for some sort of sun break to make our descent, but finally realized we would not have the luxury, so we made some careful turns down the upper face of the mountain.

Dropping into a total white out

Once we got out of the clouds, however, it was sunny spring conditions again, and we were rewarded with 5000′ of excellent corn snow on the descent!

Brian making great corn turns

The author slaying the volcano

Life is not better than this!


Brian hucking the cornice

This trip has been a series of milestones after another. But the final day was the best of all, as I had finally snowboarded off of the summit of a Cascade volcano. I can’t wait to come back!

Splitboarding Mt. Rainier attempt, via Nisqually Glacier

May 12th, 2009


I landed at Seattle-Tacoma airport on Friday, fully loaded with gear and ready to head straight for Mt. Rainier. I took a bus from the airport down to Tacoma, where my partner would pick me up. Much to my surprise (and aggravation), when I asked the bus driver to open up the under-floor cargo space for my gear, she said “No, you have to bring it all on.” So there I was pushing my snowboard bag down the crowded aisle while bumping people with my backpack and duffel bags. Finally I found a bunch of seats at the back of the bus where other travelers had piled up their luggage, golf clubs, etc. We all thought this was the stupidest thing we’ve ever heard of. The driver never gave a reason for not opening the cargo bays.

After a few hours of traffic, I was dropped off at a mall south of Tacoma and waited for my partner to arrive. The weather was gorgeous. Blue skies, sunny, green trees, no wind. It was not at all what I was told to expect of the Pacific Northwest. Finally my friend arrived and he said that this weather was “the exception”. As we drove out of the city and through rural pastures, the scenery reminded me more of the western coast of Michigan than anything I’ve seen in the mountain west. Suddenly, the clouds to the east broke open, and my friend said “there she is!” Mt. Rainier was peeking out of the clouds, and I had my first physical view of the summit.

The mountain peeking out from the clouds

All the way to the Park, all I could see was endless miles of trees. Huge masses of light and dark greens, all neatly grown in a row. My friend called these “new growth” forests. The forests were so much more lush than anything I’ve seen in Colorado. Driving into the park, it was still miles of trees with no view of the peak. Finally we rounded another bend, and I had a real quick view of it, before it disappeared. The image dominated my frame of view. It was like we were right next to the summit, but in reality we were over 10,000 feet below it.

It was nearly dark when we arrived at ‘Paradise’, the main winter visitor area and trailhead. Being such a popular mountaineering site, there was a bit of paperwork and registering, with payment, that we accomplished in a small A-frame structure at the trailhead. Then we settled in an camped in the van. The air was getting very chilly. I thought about how we had traveled essentially from sea level to 5,400 feet in less than 100 miles by van…the only other time I’ve made that elevation change was from Chicago to Denver, across over 1,000 miles. Strange.

The next morning, we woke, ate a hearty breakfast, and geared up for the initial climb to high camp. Our intended route to the summit was the ‘Fuhrer Finger’ route. According to the guidebook we had, there were two ways to get there, both via the Nisqually Glacier. The standard route was to cross the glacier down low, and climb up to the left of the glacier via a snowfield called ‘The Fan’. However, the guidebook mentioned an ‘early season variation’ directly up the Nisqually Glacier. Apparently the route is not good late in the summer because of crevasse navigation, but the snowcover was very deep this time of year, so we went for the direct route up the Glacier.

Starting our adventure from Paradise

As we skinned up from Paradise, we met another splitboarder, and a group of four mountaineers, all heading up the ridge toward Camp Muir. The splitboarder seemed obligated to give us a report “two feet of snow up high in the past few days; a lot of sun yesterday; watch yer-selves!” and with that he was on his way. We were the only group splitting off from the main route and dropping off from the high point above paradise down to the Nisqually Glacier. Once we dropped over that edge, we were alone in the wilderness.

About to drop down off of the Paradise trails onto the glacier. The summit looks so close!

We roped up at the base of the glacier and headed onward on skins. The skies were clear, and it was getting very hot. The average angle of the climb was about 20 to 25 degrees, and as we moved along at a good pace, we were both sweating profusely. Still, I felt really good about my conditioning and our pace, and possibly even making the summit the following day. First things were first, and we had to make it to a high camp. We encountered about a half dozen crevasses along the way, all of them had very good snow bridges which allowed us to cross without incident. It was the first time I had ever been on glaciated terrain, and staring into the mouth of the first crevasse (which we nicknamed ‘Jaws’) was very intimidating.

The first of many crevasses. Snow bridges were excellent this time of year.

Breaking for lunch, just below the final push to the Nisqually Ice Fall.

By mid-afternoon, we had made it to the part where the Nisqually Glacier transitions into the Nisqually Ice Fall. From there, we would leave Nisqually and move left onto the Wilson Glacier towards the base of the Fuhrer finger. After about 3,000 feet of climbing (a typical Colorado summit!) we were still some 6,000 feet below the summit of Rainier. I suggested we continue climbing for at least another 1,000, to lessen the next day’s efforts. However, the terrain above us was much steeper than we had been on, and dominated by a rocky headwall that was shedding volcanic projectiles down the slope from the hot sun. The guidebook mentioned a camp across the Wilson Glacier at a high ridge labeled as ‘point 9,200′ which would have made the best camp. However, that would mean crossing the Wilson once to get to camp, and again the next morning to get to the couloir. Instead, we made camp on a high plateau at the base of the Nisqually Ice Fall, safely out of the way from falling rocks, and also out of the fall line of a potential avalanche or tumbling serac. (or so we thought, but for the rest of our time there, we couldn’t help but have a general uneasyness ever time we heard movement from above!)

Here, we were supposed to go left around the big rock ‘cleaver’, and onto the snowcovered Wilson Glacier.

It was early when we made camp, and I still had a really good feeling about making it at least above the Fuhrer Finger, if not the summit, the summit the next day. If we had moved 3,000 feet today, we could do another 3,000 the next day, and at least tackle the finger. We spent about an hour relaxing at our camp and checking out the jaw-dropping views of the Tatoosh Range. In our panoramic view, we could see the other Cascade volcanoes, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and far off in the distance, Mt. Hood. I was amazed at how these volcanoes just dominate the skyline above all the other surrounding mountains.

The author posing in front of Mt. Adams (covered by clouds)

Cool looking seracs

Brian chilling out at camp.

Camp robbers in the alpine zone? We must be in a National Park.

We turned in early, even before sunset, for the plan was to sleep during the warmest part of the night, and wake up at midnight and make our push for the top. We agreed that 10:00 am would be our turnaround point, summit or not. When we woke, it was close to 2:00 am, and I got out of the tent to check out the snow conditions.

Up until now, I had some good feelings about the trip. However, I had my first doubts when I walked around camp and found a very thin layer of crust, with unconsolidated snow underneath. This condition was very similar to my aborted attempt on James Peak a few weeks ago. It would appear that the “two feet of new snow” that the splitboarder talked of the previous day hadn’t had enough sun to consolidate.

Now we had serious doubts, but since it was still way before dawn, we could either sit around in our tent for the next 8 hours, or at least make an attempt at climbing. We geared up with crampons and started up the slope. The 30-something degree slope would have been a breeze if we were able to toe-point on solid ice. However, we were breaking right through the crust and sinking almost to our knees with every step, moving just inches at a time, and burning a ton of energy. I kept hoping for better conditions as we got higher, but just like the James Peak experience, it only got worse. With heavier snows up high and less daytime warmth, we were pretty much discouraged from going any farther. We both knew our limits, and the energy drain that the conditions would do to our bodies, and decided to abort. It was way too early to ski, so we carefully downclimbed back to camp.

Post-hole hell

Sunrise over the Ice Fall. This place reminds me of Superman’s “Fortress of Solitude”. Haha.

Now all we could do was sit an wait for the sun to come out and heat up the lower part of the mountain and provide us with some good corn snow to descend. The weather was clear, so we just waited and waited, enjoying the view. We saw a lot of rockfall across the opposing slope on the Wilson Glacier, but no signs of snow instability.

Mt. Adams

Mt. Hood

Mt. Saint Helens

Finally, when we thought we’d given the snow enough time to corn up, we made our descent. At first we tried skiing roped up to cross the crevasses. However, this proved to be too cumbersome, so we unroped and carefully made our way past all the crevasses by following the previous day’s tracks. Once we made it past the scary part of the glacier, we happened to find the best corn snow, which we rode down for another 3,000 feet, far below our starting point and arrived at the bridge where the National Park road crosses the creek. From there, we climbed up and hitched a ride back to the visitor’s center.

Brian skiing down

Whoah! Watch the hole!

The author descending


Back to civilization

In retrospect, I first always view a trip as a success just for making it back without incident. On this trip, I was also completely satisfied with our accomplishments. We had performed a ‘DIY’ mission, on skies, up a very challenging mountaineer’s mountain. The snow conditions may have deterred us from going further, but I think the greater challenge is just the sheer size of the climb. 9000 feet is 9000 feet, and it was pretty much exactly how I expected it to be. I feel that all the conditioning I’ve done up in the Rockies really helped. I felt very strong during the trip. However, If I have future hopes on making it all the way to the summit, I think I’d like to go up via a standard route, in summer, mountaineer-style. Once I’ve made it to the top that way, then I can think about doing it with a splitboard.

Final view from the road