Monday, December 30, 2013

Ashes, Stars and an Unbreakable Crust

Sunrise and Broken Top
Mother Nature has been anything but generous to the skiers of the Pacific Northwest so far this year. Bouts of snow have been sandwiched in between long periods of warm and wet or bone dry days.  The downhill crowd is getting a little stir crazy, myself included.  This past weekend, despite a recent stretch of arid conditions, I convinced myself that the sunny forecast in central Oregon would yield spring-like corn snow in the Sisters backcountry.  Unwilling to face the prospect of another day of laps on the Palmer snowfield, I struck out on my own hoping to find the goods, eternally optimistic.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Christmas Comes Early - 2013 Ice in the Gorge

Tim Holscher on Ainsworth Left
Santa delivered an early present this year - a cold Arctic air mass and record low temperatures.  The temps started dropping last Sunday night, and over the course of the last week they stayed consistently below freezing with overnight lows in the Gorge dropping down to 10-15 deg. F.  It's been a few years since we've had a good, solid freeze in the area, and people were stoked to go check out the ice conditions!

Rumors started to trickle in during Thursday and Friday, and it didn't sound overly promising.  Despite the cold temps, most routes in the Gorge either hadn't come in at all or were super thin.  Many of the lines depend on seeps and spray, which is kicked up by the strong east winds that prevail when a powerful low pressure system moves onshore.  But we've had a relatively dry fall and for some reason this system didn't bring those traditional mean winds.  Still, it's not too often that we get temps that are this cold, so out we went in search of the elusive Columbia River Gorge ice climbing.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Eearly Season Epicness on Mt. Hood

November corn at Illumination Saddle
One of the best parts of living in the Cascades is that feeling of familiarity that grows between you and your local mountain.  Experiencing an alpine landscape as it transitions through the seasons, from year to year, minute to minute, you start to see notice all the little details and you grow to appreciate the unique privilege of living in such a beautiful place.  Wind patterns, snowpack, temperatures, precipitation - these all change throughout the year and give a place its own unique character, a shifting, breathing, living landscape.

This past weekend, Mt. Hood put on an incredible show for the folks who were lucky enough to experience truly rare early season conditions.  A powerful storm blew through the weekend before, leaving 1-2 feet of snow above 6000 ft, but since that time the weather had been stable and the snowpack had consolidated.  The forecast called for clear skies, moderate temps, and dead calm winds.  On top of that, Timberline Ski Area had just opened for the winter season and was scheduled to run the Palmer lift both days.  Equation = fun!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Fall sun at Beacon Rock

Kristin topping out pitch 2 of Young Warriors
Our bomber fall weather pattern continues!  Kristin and I enjoyed Beacon Rock on Saturday in perfect conditions in the Columbia River Gorge - crispy clean air, calm winds, and a warm sun. 

After an early October system dumped lots of snow in the mountains, I was tempted to break out the planks, but resisted the urge and have enjoyed some amazing climbing conditions.  It looks like we'll have at least one more week of cool, sunny weather.  Get out and enjoy our fall bounty!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

SW Face of Stein's Pillar --> Free Lunch, Picnic Lunch Wall

The SW Face of Stein's Pillar
This past weekend finally marked the arrival of Indian summer in the Pacific Northwest, with moderate temps, clear skies and calm winds.  After several weeks of rain and recent mountain snows, a lot people were focused on the upcoming ski season, waxing their boards and scanning the web for the long-term forecast.  But I was still holding out hope of squeezing in some more rock climbing.

The seasonal window for climbing longer routes is closing quickly, and I had my eyes on the SW Face of Stein’s Pillar near the Mill Creek Wilderness in the Ochoco National Forest.  I pinged Guy to see if he was available and he responded with a “hell yes” and “oh by the way we should climb Picnic Lunch Wall on Sunday.” 

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Barad-Dur, Wolf Rock, Oregon
IV, 5.11

Tucked away in the Willamette National Forest outside of Eugene, Oregon, the largest monolith in Oregon towers over the landscape of the western Cascades.  Inspired by previous tales of loose rock, runout route finding and monster roofs, Jaime and I drove south last Friday evening to check out Barad-Dur, rumored to be one of the best long routes in the state.  Enough with the cragging! 

A few days after the climb, I can safely say that the route lived up to its fabled reputation.  The two crux pitches climb out a monster roof system way high up on the wall.  And then there's another 3-400 feet of climbing on 4th and 5th class to a narrow ridge of choss to the summit.  Exciting!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Hells Canyon 2013

Doug enjoying sunny limestone in Hells Canyon
Three years ago, I made a pilgrimage to Hells Canyon over Memorial Day weekend.  Armed with just enough beta to find this remote valley, we explored numerous unknown sport climbs of unknown grades, met a few committed regulars and even picked up some tidbits of information that I filed away for future trips.

I promised myself a return trip but fast forward three years later and I still hadn't managed to make the time.  When the weather gods recently washed out a planned trip into the mountains for Memorial Day weekend, Hells Canyon immediately came to mind as Plan B.  The forecast looked a bit marginal but drier than pretty much everywhere else north of the Sierras.  By 10 pm Friday night, we rolled into Allison Creek campground and unloaded our kit down by the river.  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Week in the Creek

Evening light on the Disappointment Cliffs
With only a week to burn, Kristin and I recently made a dash for southeast Utah and the splitter cracks of Indian Creek.  Our most recent and only prior trip was in the fall of 2010, and we had been dreaming and scheming of our return even since.  Having sworn off of recreational air travel for the year, 2013 was the perfect time to make it happen.  The opportunity to plug into an incredible landscape is one of the great attractions of climbing, and Indian Creek did not disappoint.

Monday, April 1, 2013

St. Helens Easter Day Corn Harvest

The "new" lava dome and the Mt. Margaret Backcountry from the crater rim
Last weekend saw unseasonably warm weather with a ridge of high pressure locked in over the region. Fresh off an incredible week of powder skiing, I figured it was time to go harvest some spring corn.  After climbing at Ozone in perfect weather on Saturday, I drove up to Marble Mount trailhead with some friends and crashed out in the parking lot.  Up at 3:30 and on the trail by 4:15 or so, we topped out around 9 am to clear skies, calm winds and the promise of a buttery corn cycle on the descent.  Enjoy the pics.

Fairy Meadow Brain Dump

Bohle dropping the pow
On those cold, early mornings, standing above a face of untouched fluff, a chemical reaction inside my head starts to etch a permanent image of that moment in my memory.  I can recall those times when everything falls perfectly into place and I drop into bottomless, blower pow (or even coastal cement), as if it happened just last week.  Like a rolodex, I can flip back through 35 years of history, pulling out cards on individual runs, complete with notations on snow conditions, mental state, and partners.  The human brain works in mysterious ways . . . especially on powder days.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Sunday on the Zig Zag

With just one day to play this past weekend, I kept it local and headed up to Mt. Hood to check out the conditions with JB and Ryan.  We'd received a bit of fresh snow and the temps were pretty moderate, so we decided to check out conditions higher on the mountain.  Persistent W/NW winds had scoured the Palmer, but lee slopes held some nice, windbuffed powder in between sections of an icy death crust, which sat on top of 2-4 inches of unconsolidated sugar.

Just as we arrived at Illumination Saddle, a couple of skiers dropped in off the east side, and I captured some nice images of the ever photogenic Illumination Rock.  After some lunch and a quick beer, we repeated their line and enjoyed some nice turns down the Zig Zag until we traversed back in towards the top of the Magic Mile.  The best snow was tucked away in the little gullies and depressions, where we could carve super fast turns on a smooth surface.  Good times and well worth the drive from Portland.      

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Winter Sun at Smith Rock

I spent last week in the chilly confines of Barrow, Alaska, and when I left on Thursday evening the temps had dipped down to -35 degrees F.  Brrr.  When I deplaned in Anchorage, it was a balmy 10 degrees F.  Several hours later on Friday morning, I walked out into the early morning gray of Portland to find tropical temperatures hovering around 50 degrees F.  The 85 degree swing wreaked havoc on my system, and I promptly fell asleep.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Junuary Inversion

Marcel Gesmundo eyeing thousands of feet of corn on Mt. St. Helens
With sunny weather in Central Oregon and a persistent inversion in the mountains, I couldn't decide whether to climb or ski this past weekend.  Luckily, with a three day break, I could do both!  The Pacific Northwest delivered again with two days of sunny climbing at Smith Rock and a stellar day of skiing corn on Mt. St. Helens.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

More Mt. Hood!

The South Side of Mt. Hood from Tom Dick and Harry - January 13, 2013
This January has produced beautiful conditions on Mt. Hood, with lots of sun, fresh snow, and cold temperatures, although it looks like a warming trend is going to settle in this week.  We just got back from a quick tour up to Tom Dick and Harry, and we saw exactly zero (0) other skiers all day, despite excellent conditions consisting of light powder over a hard packed surface.

The shot above provides a great overview of an excellent spring tour from Timberline Lodge, up to Illumination Saddle and then down to Paradise Park en route to the trailhead past the west side of Mississippi Head.  The trailhead sits at 2800 feet - a spring run from the summit would net you 8000+ ft.  Go check it out!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Red Rocks Into a Year-Long Grounding

The Split Boulder
For Kristin and I, 2013 will be the "year of the car."  For a variety of reasons, we've decided that we aren't going to board a plane for personal enjoyment (i.e. climbing) for the entire calendar year.  Many of our friends have already asked, "Why the hell would you do that?"  Well, the primary reason is because our travel habits have gotten out of control - run amok - taken over.  We've found ourselves in an endless cycle of planning, travel, incurring bills, paying bills and then the mental process of anticipation, the highs and lows of climbing, and the psychological roller coaster of re-emergence into the working world.  This lifestyle is what we crave, but I began to feel like it had become a burden to maintain that endless momentum of packing and unpacking, moving from one trip into the next all while trying to be a responsible co-worker and husband.  Air travel isn't the only contributing factor, but it plays a pretty big role especially in terms of the financial stress.   

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sun, Snow and a Big 'Ole Volcano - January in Oregon

Crater Rock and the bootpack towards the Old Chute
The first week of January brought relatively calm weather and sunny skies over the Oregon Cascades.  Easing back into the day-to-day after the holiday season, I played hookey on my birthday this past Thursday and then squeezed in one more day in the Mt. Hood backcountry on Sunday.  After the recent storm cycles, the mountain is holding a lot of snow, which is mostly stable and well bonded.  The skiing conditions have been a little tough, but the calm, sunny skies and the wilderness solitude have been sublime.

I'm always amazed that I don't see more people in the Mt. Hood backcountry during the winter.  The south side climb is mobbed on any given spring day, but the climbing/skiing conditions and the atmosphere oare often far better from January through March.  The weather can be a role of the dice, but you have to be on the mountain to see how it unfolds.  Often the wind will be howling on the drive up to Timberline Lodge, only to let up for 2-3 hours right after sunrise.  Or, like today, a cold, dense fog will sink into the valleys while the mountain itself basks in warm, winter sunlight.  Anything is possible on Mt. Hood if you show up.