Trip Reports: Riding Volcanos In Washington - May 2010

In May my friend Scott and I did a road trip out to Washington to ski/snowboard some volcanos. We ended up scoring two phenomenal descents down Mount Saint Helens and Mount Adams.

Mount Saint Helens in a Cloud Sandwich

Mt. St. Helens was our first goal on our northwestern volcano tour. After a night of camping in the rain, we started the hike at 5am in the gloomy mist, with little expectations other than perhaps a sopping wet “exercise” day in the fog and rain. After an hour or so of hiking, however, our hopes rose dramatically as the clouds above us started to show signs of clearing.

Mt. Saint Helens, Washington, Mount Saint Helens, photo

Skinning up Mount Saint Helens

Sure enough, we popped out above the lower cloud deck and enjoyed a spectacular skin up within a cloud sandwich.

Mt. Saint Helens, Washington, Mount Saint Helens, photo

The 5600 vertical foot ascent was surprisingly easy going, and the summit ridge seemed to arrive quicker than I expected.

Mt. Saint Helens, Washington, Mount Saint Helens, photo

Panorama from the summit ridge, looking into the steaming crater of Mount Saint Helens which blew its top almost exactly 30 years prior.

Mt. Saint Helens, Washington, Mount Saint Helens, skiing, photo

Scott McCurdy skiing down Mount Saint Helens

Now the fun part! After relaxing on the summit in the calm weather for a while, we strapped on our skis/snowboard and dropped in, enjoying perfect snow conditions – about 2 inches or so fresh firm powder atop silky smooth spring corn snow.

Mt. Saint Helens, Washington, skiing, ski, photo

Skiing down Mount Saint Helens

The skiable terrain on Helens is vast to say the least. We had untracked lines down a huge face that probably 100 skiers couldn’t even track up. The face emptied into a huge gentle gully which snaked down the mountain in one or two big sweeping curves. ~5000 vertical feet of cruisy wide-open terrain, in perfectly smooth and soft spring snow conditions… my dreams of snowboarding aren’t even this good!

Completely stoked on our surprise score on St. Helens, we headed to our next (and bigger) volcano: Mt. Adams.

Endless Ride Down Mount Adams

After our great descent down Mt. St. Helens on Saturday, we drove over to neighboring volcano Mt. Adams, found a great spot to car camp, and slept in for 12 hours. The next day was mostly spent relaxing and fueling up on food next to the campfire, then at 4pm we set off with minimal camping gear in order to position ourselves better for the big 8,000 vertical foot ascent of Adams the next day.

Mt. Adams, Washington, moonlight, tent, Mount Adams, photo

Camp below Mount Adams

By setting up a basecamp near treeline, we were able to knock off about 5 miles and 2,000 vertical feet from the approach (which was longer than usual due to the unplowed snowpacked road). Here’s a shot of Mt. Adams in the moonlight, 6,000 feet higher than the tent.

Mt. Adams, Washington, Mount Adams, skiing, photo

Skinning up Mount Adams

Though the mountain looks very steep from afar, we were actually able to skin up most of the way up the Suksdorf Ridge on our skis. We started the hike at 5am under perfect bluebird skies, but by the time we got up towards the top, some high clouds started moving in, adding a bit of anxiety and urgency to our hike.

Mt. Adams, Washington, Mount Adams, photo

Almost to the summit of Mount Adams

The grueling 6,000 foot hike really started wearing us down towards the top. Due to icier snow up top, we switched to crampons for the final 1,000 feet and slogged up past a couple false summits until we were finally at the summit! The summit towered above all the clouds and we sat up there and enjoyed the panoramic vista, with Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood off in the distances, both looming above the clouds.

skiing, Mt. Adams, Washington, Mount Adams, photo

Scott McCurdy skis down Mt. Adams, a 12,276 ft. volcano in Washington - May.

The hard and bumpy ice-snow below the summit soon gave way to softer, smoother snow, and we were able to carve progressively bigger and smoother turns.

skiing, Mt. Adams, Washington, Mount Adams, photo

Skiing above the clouds on Mt. Adams, May. Skiier: Scott McCurdy.

We descended into the clouds for a stretch, which cut down on our visibility but actually provided some really fun and interesting ski conditions, as the snow was smooth and there was enough light to see our immediate surroundings. This was some of the best “braille” riding I’ve ever done, carving mellow cruisy turns down the enormous face, through a dreamlike fog.

Mt. Adams, Washington, Mount Adams, photo

Looking back up at the top half of our line

Mt. Adams, Washington, Mount Adams, skiing, photo

Skiing the lower flanks of Mount Adams

After 3,000 feet skiing out through the cloud down the main face of the Suksdorf ridge, we then left the normal route and dropped in to an amazing variation down the Crescent Glacier, which provided another 3,000 feet of perfectly smooth, soft spring corn down a series of huge mellow bowls.

Mt. Adams, Washington, Mount Adams, skiing, photo

Endless run down Mount Adams

And the line keeps going, and going, and going. By this point we were practically ecstatic, blown away by the seemingly endless descent and perfect snow. Wide open high speed carves were the ticket here.

Mt. Adams, Washington, Mount Adams, photo

Unfortunately, after our Mt. Adams descent, a big Pacific storm was rolling in, and the weather forecast looked horrible for the whole next week, so we decided to cancel our Mt. Shasta plans and hightail it back towards Colorado. Although we didn’t get to ski all our goals, the two mindblowing descents we’ve scored over the last few days have convinced me that a northwest volcano tour would be worthy annual spring tradition!

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