Stories from the FRNT : Pacific North Quest Spring Volcano Mission

Posted: 06.18.2018
Posted: 06.18.2018
Home / Blog / Stories from the FRNT : Pacific North Quest Spring Volcano Mission

Few things are more satisfying than spring skiing at your home hill. The days are getting longer and warmer, you check off your favorite backcountry lines, your friends converge on the park for hot laps, and wiggles spring up everywhere. But you know what? It all starts to feel...predictable. The days are fun, but one often feels like the next. You begin to miss that sense of limitless possibility, which is so essential to the skiing experience — that feeling that draws us back to the mountains.

In search of inspiration and new adventure, the Snowledge crew set off on an mission to explore the volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest. Instead of focusing summiting peaks, the goal for the trip was something different: ski unique lines, capture interesting light, and play with natural terrain features. More importantly, we wanted to make this trip about more than just the skiing. We wanted to experience the camping, hiking, and great local food that make the Pacific Northwest truly one-of-a-kind. After all, the best part of any adventure is the unexpected journey that unfolds along the way to each destination. 

The Journey Begins

The weather is not looking promising. The forecast shows a consistent and uninspiring mix of thunderclouds and rain, and our crew is growing smaller as we get closer to our departure date. After months of planning, are we going to spend a week driving, camping, hiking, and skiing in the rain? I mean it is the Pacific Northwest, so that is a definite possibility.

Stocked with provisions and a positive attitude (or at least enough 10 Barrel Beer to stay properly hydrated for the week), we head towards Lassen National Park and decide to give it a go. Unexpectedly, the mix of rain, hail, and lightning that we’ve been navigating throughout the day begins to subside as we enter the park. As we pull out our camping chairs and enjoy cold beers, we can see the dark silhouette of Lassen Peak standing prominently in the south. The clouds continue to clear and stars are bright as we bundle up for the night, ready to see what tomorrow has in store.

Day 1 - Lassen Peak (2,602 Vertical ft.)

It’s 5:15 am and the early morning air is crisp and clear. Lassen Peak stands to our south, a faint white monolith against a soft blue backdrop. We’re still getting into the flow of the trip, so breakfast and gearing up takes longer than expected. We spy a pronounced couloir on the looker’s left of the mountain and decided it offers the most manageable objective if the weather turns.

We head past the Closed Road gate in search of a path up the north side of the mountain. Thunderheads begin forming in the distance and we keep our eyes on the horizon, searching for any sudden changes nearby. The weather is looking good as we hit the snow line and throw on our skins, but the clouds continue to swirl in the distance as we climb towards the treeline. As we move past the last few stands of trees, we plan our approach and head up into the belly of the chute. After a short rock scramble to reach the top of our objective, we are rewarded with amazing views of the national park.

The snow is smooth and fast on the way down. As we finish our line, clouds are moving in and we hear the rumble of thunder in the distance. Moving quickly down to the snow line, we weave through the short pine forest as quick as we can to avoid the incoming storm. We reach the parking lot as the first few drops of rain begin to fall. As we leave the park, a thick fog blankets the valley and the rain begins to pour as we make our way north towards Crater Lake.

After a scenic drive, including a stop in Klamath Falls to meet up with new members of the party, we head north towards our next objective. Tucked away just off of the highway is Jackson F. Kimball State Park Campground, our destination for the night. The area is spotted with tall pine trees and sits next to a crystal blue river that comes out of the hillside, just a short walk from the campground. It’s quiet and serene, and the perfect place to plan out the upcoming day.

Day 2 - Crater Lake (1,252 Vertical ft.)

Despite the initially ominous forecast, we awaken once again to a bright sunrise illuminating the tall pine trees. With plans for an afternoon mission, we take our time and enjoy a relaxed morning, complete with fresh coffee and pancakes.

We make our way up the highway and into Crater Lake National Park. Stopping by the ranger station, we learn that the road around the lake is open further than anticipated, knocking four miles of walking off of our trip. After gearing up, we head in past the Closed Road gate and towards Watchman Peak, above Crater Lake. Just over two miles in on the road, we hit snow and put on skins for the remainder of the walk. The approach to The Watchman Lookout Station is short, only a few hundred vertical feet, but the views of the crater and Wizard Island are nothing short of stunning.

The old watch tower provides an ideal skiing base, with 360 degree views of the Cascade Mountain Range, a detailed history of the lake, and skiable zones dropping off in several directions. Our first lines are off of the back of Watchman Peak, down towards the road. As the afternoon light fades, we climb down from the front side of the tower and make the surreal descent towards the lake. As we approach the rollover into the rim, it feels as if we could keep going, pond skimming all the way to Wizard Island. Finally, we finish off the day ripping soft, golden turns off the back side as the sun slips behind the hills to the west. The trek back to the car park is illuminated with a red and orange glow that slowly fades to blue and purple and, finally, black as the moon rises over the Cascades.

After quickly putting down a late dinner, we make the push north towards Bend, stopping at Prairie Campground along the way. The lots are spacious and tall pine trees dot the campground, which sits just above an open meadow with a meandering stream. The perfect spot for a welcome nights sleep.

Day 3 - Tumalo Mountain (2,092 Vertical ft.)

With a start that comes earlier than everyone would like, we pack up camp and head thirty minutes north to Bend for coffee, breakfast, and planning at Backporch Roasters. Fully caffeinated, we head up the road towards Tumalo Mountain.

Tumalo is a short punch up through an open forest, across from Mt. Bachelor, with a summit that reveals stunning views of Broken Top and the Three Sisters. A wide bowl opens to the northeast and several short lines snake through the volcanic rock further down the ridge. We don’t find any obvious places to build natural terrain features, so we ski several interesting lines through the lava rock. From the top of Tumalo, we begin scoping lines for tomorrow’s objective, the South Sister. The ski down is an adventure as we duck and weave through the trees, trying our best to find connected strips of snow that will lead us to the parking lot below.

After another full day, we head back to Bend to grab dinner and discuss plans for the next day. Taking advantage of the numerous food trucks at The Lot, we deliberate over tasty food including street tacos, gyros, and specialty burgers. We’ve pushed hard the last few days and have three more missions to come. With full bellies and clearer heads, half the crew decide to head for the Devil’s Lake Trailhead, the starting point for the South Sister, and the other half opts for a day harvesting corn and spring park laps at Mt. Bachelor.

Day 4 - South Sister (4,876 Vertical ft.)

The South Sister crew wakes up just after dawn at the base of the trailhead. Unable to find an obvious trail, we start off through the woods. Unsure if we’re on the right path, we know we’re at least heading in the right direction through the cool, damp forest. We reach a drainage and begin to see ski tracks in the patches of snow. We throw our skins on and continue upwards. Breaking out of the woods, we get our first view of the mountain since we left camp. We’re still a ways off, but the weather is good and spirits are high. We make our way across a long, flat plateau, work above treeline, and past Moraine Lake. The final push to the summit is straightforward and we are rewarded with spectacular views of Middle and North Sister.

Reveling in the accomplishment, we share snacks, lunch, and some Apocalypse IPA’s, and plan our route down. The snow has softened and the pitch is long, steep, and consistent. We take turns ripping the soft, silky corn, and the hoots and hollers tell a story of pure joy. The snow turns sticky at the bottom and we find a couple of windlips to hit. Making our way back through the forest, snow becomes more scarce, as we skip from patch to patch sending it over dirty and pine needles in between. We eventually find the hikers trail and make our way back to the trailhead. Feeling weary and accomplished, we enjoy some well-earned Goggle Tan’s — a tasty Indian Red Ale.

We make the drive in to Bend and devour burritos from Parilla Grill, then we’re off to Smith Rock Campground for the night. Smith Rock State Park is one of Oregon’s most picturesque natural attractions. It has an amazing campsite that sits on a canyon rim, across from the park. The best part though? Hot showers — which are beyond glorious after four days of camping, climbing, skiing, and driving. Cleaned up and relaxed, we are treated to a gorgeous sunset and a pleasantly warm evening. We stay up late into the night telling stories as the moon sits just above Smith Rock, illuminating the river below.

Day 5 - Mt Hood : Illumination Rock (3,623 Vertical ft.)

After packing up camp, the crew gathers and we make our way down to the winding river at the base of Smith Rock. A quick mission into the state park turns into a 3.5 mile hike around the valley and up and over Misery Ridge. The views are hard to top, but was this little walk too ambitious for our fifth day in a row? Probably so. Back on the road, we make our way two hours north to Mt. Hood. With another afternoon start planned, we cruise up the scenic road to Timberline Lodge and Ski Resort.

Gearing up in the parking lot, we set off on an easy skin up the resort, past the Mile and Palmer charlifts, and towards Illumination Rock. Mt. Hood towers above us and forested green hills stretch below towards Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters. As we reach Illumination Saddle we’re met with the loud crash of rockfall, as the later afternoon sun melts snow and ice. A cautious reminder that this volcano is more than just active, it’s alive. We find a ridge just above the iconic rock and ski a few short lines with an amazing backdrop. As the sun begins to set, we enjoy Cucumber Sour’s before skiing 3,600’ down the glacier, steeped in a brilliant golden glow.

We head into Government Camp for world-famous (or at least Mt. Hood-famous) Huckleberry milkshakes and fries, then set up camp at Trillium Lake Campground. A classic site with an amazing view of Mt. Hood, the campground is nestled in deep old growth forest and sits right on the edge of a scenic mountain lake.

Day 6 - Mt Hood: Big Zigzag Canyon (3,759 Vertical ft.)

The morning is casual as we explore Trillium Lake before heading back up to Timberline. We’ve skied a bunch of fun lines, but haven’t achieved one of our main objectives — building out a natural feature. Today, we opt to ride the lifts up to the top of Timberline and head west from the Palmer Glacier, over to the top of Big Zigzag canyon. We find a perfect cornice to build a jump and spend a couple hours shaping and cutting it in. We take a few test runs to smooth out the in-run get and our speed dialed. The snow is sticky at first, but the more laps we take the better it gets, and we session the the kicker late into the afternoon. Exhausted and satisfied, we pack up and head down to the lodge.

As our journey comes to an end we’re grateful for the stellar weather, amazing views, and new friendships. We explored six volcanoes in six days and are fortunate to have experienced one incredible, unexpected journey along the way. As we head down the mountain and into the sunset, we’re already dreaming of our next adventure to the Pacific Northwest.

Download the Snowledge App to learn more about the Pacific North Quest journey, including athlete profiles, more incredible photos, touring stats, maps, and weather from each mission.

Skier : Eric Lee O'Brien | All Photos :  Riley Bathurst

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