I wanted a lazy overnight trip because I had barely unpacked or organized anything after moving into my new house on Wednesday. Luckily Brad was willing to wait an extra morning to have company, so I got to spend Friday night and Saturday morning making my house look habitable and we took off around noon on Saturday after I even managed to knock out a St. Helens blog post. How’s that for a productive morning?!
- Distance: ~11 miles (13 because we went up and down twice)
- Elevation: 5,000ft gain, 8,321ft highest point
- Weather: 40’s and rainy, 60’s and sunny
- Commute from Seattle: don’t look 4:41 with no traffic
- Did I Trip: Nope!! Slipped on skins a bit in slush but no faceplants thank you very much
We got started from the trailhead around 5:30pm, taking advantage of the long summer day to get up to camp. We were planning on camping on the ridge, but the approach took longer than we thought. Or we left later than we thought. Or (my excuse) the drive was way longer than I thought. And when we got to the trailhead, the road was blocked off with caution tape. Shit. We looked at each other and said fuck it and ducked underneath it. Falling trees be damned. We hoped they were just talking about the trees near the parking lot and campground.
We started booting it up the trail, skis strapped to packs. The trail was low grade, pleasant, winding through green forest with intermittent sunshine and drizzle. Wildflowers were out! You could smell the pine needles in the air. We started to panic. Where the hell was the snow? We thought it was a 3 mile approach to the lake and it had been almost two hours. Shit. A) we’re still not at the lake and B) Where. Is. The. Snow. What if there is no snow?! The guy before us in the trail register said his destination was “snow!” but he never confirmed whether he found it or not! Oh god.
Luckily we ran into patchy snow and consistent snow soon after (~5,500ft). We continued to boot it because I’m too lazy (stubborn?) to transition and the snow was perfectly consolidated for booting. You finally break into sparse trees, but wait! There’s another like 600ft to the lake, and you have to make it a rising traverse from left to right or you’ll cliff out. It went on forever. Probably because the sun was setting, the approach was a solid mile longer than we thought, we were carrying skis because of my stubbornness, and you know when your’e so close yet so far? It was like that.
My first alarm went off at 3:30, but the peak was still socked in by clouds and it was drizzling yet again so I turned it off and went back to sleep. The second alarm was at 4:30, and I dozed for 15 minutes before asking Brad if he wanted to give it a shot anyway. We started up just after 5, and holy crap it was the right choice. The clouds lifted and cleared as we got higher, and by the time we summitted it was blue skies and views! It’s a very straightforward snow walk up to the top from the lake. I stopped skinning halfway up because I was getting weirdly anxious skinning on crust and felt better in boots. Brad amazed me with his skinning confidence on the ice until I realized he had been wearing freaking ski crampons the whole time. Dammit Brad.
We walked the “ridge” to the summit and savored the views for probably an hour. Scanned all the names in the summit register to see who we recognized, snapped pictures in every direction, mocked my friends with pictures because I had Alpine Verizon cell service, took some naps… gotta kill time until the crust turns to corn. We finally got impatient and I decided I’d just boot it down if it was still crusty. Ugh. So not stoked. So Brad switched to skis as I booted down the ridge.
The ski back to camp was phenomenal. Hero corn (with a few patches of crust here and there) which makes you feel like an amazing skiier. And straight down the line of fall, at least for the most part. We were back at camp within minutes. We packed a little bit, had some snacks, and realized it wasn’t even 10am. Do you… what if we… we should go up again. Maybe just to the rocks below the ridge. It would be a waste to get back to the trailhead at like 11am. And so I skinned all the way up this time, breaking trail through slush (Brad’s crust crampon trail was too steep). I had second-summit-fever and wanted to ski off the top this time. I waited for Brad for a bit but didn’t see him, though I did meet the only other person in the area who was headed for the Northeast couloir of Abernathy, a dope ski that I’ll shred in my dreams but never in real life. He had been hoping to ski down that side and then hit up Gardner and North Gardener, never did hear if he was successful. They’re melting out fast.
I finally just switched to downhill mode and took off to find Brad. I made my first turn and immediately set off a small slab avalanche that went right out from under my feet along with a shit ton of sloughing, which ran for a few hundred feet down a gully that was not part of the standard route, thank god. The slab was barely 8′ across so I ski cut the rest of the slope to send whatever else was left on its way and headed back down the way I came up. Spring skiing! After mildly shitting myself I skiied the lowest angle terrain back to Brad, who was just above the only other section I was concerned about. I told him what had happened and that we were doing this one in shifts. I skiied down to a tree patch that was out of the way if he set anything off. No more slab, but plenty of large sloughing rollerballs to ski through. I waved him down and we skiied the next section separately until we were on mellow terrain, where we cruised back to camp once again.
This time we decided to officially head down, since it probably wasn’t going to get much better up there. 2,000ft of turns isn’t too shabby for one morning.
I’m stumped (ha) by the tree on the left. I stopped dead in my tracks because it’s like a weeping willow, except it’s a conifer. It has pine needles. Those aren’t broken dropping branches, they just grow like that. I don’t know anything about the flora out here and I’m super curious what this is because I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it. Between this and the wildflowers and the dappled sunlight and the soon-to-be-stifling heat, it felt like July. It was hard to believe that we had just been making turns on several feet of consistent snow and that it was only mid May. Shoulder season is the best.