Ski Descent of Mount Adams via the Southwest Chutes
June 12, 2016
Skiing the Southwest Chutes of Mount Adams has been on my to-do list for a long time. The main line drops almost 4,000 vertical feet at a consistent 35 degree pitch. Fortunately, it has been on Andy’s list as well so we were both motivated to make it happen. Between spring weddings, travel, etc. it was somewhat difficult to get a date on the calendar that would work for both of us. To make matters worse it’s not like good weather is guaranteed in the Northwest: It’s actually far from it. A couple weeks out from our planned date, Saturday June 11th, we began following the forecast religiously. The prior weekend temps pushed into the 90s in the Seattle area and great corn-skiing conditions up high on the volcanoes were reported. We both had weddings to go to that weekend. Returning on Monday that week, the forecast for our planned date did not look good. Cold temps, possible new snow, and high winds were all in the forecast: not something you want to deal with when you are trying to ski at 12,000 feet. Would skiing Adams really get pushed back another year?
Fortunately as we got closer and closer to the weekend a weather window started to appear on Sunday. Although we had hoped to do it on Saturday so we would have plenty of time to make the 5-hour drive back to Seattle before work on Monday, we weren’t complaining. We decided the 10 hours in the car was worth it even just for a shot. We ended up with a crew of five: Me, Andy, Ryan, Justin, and Jenny and rolled out of Seattle at a leisurely time of 10:30 am on Saturday morning. Since we were in no rush, we stopped in at Pfriem Brewery in Hood River, OR for some delicious food and drinks, then had too much fun on an awesome playground at the Hood River waterfront. We stopped in at the Trout Lake Ranger Station to pick up our permits and headed up the always bumpy road to the Cold Springs Campground for the night. The weather was looking excellent at this point with unexpectedly clear skies. Climbers coming off the mountain that evening reported new snow that morning all the way down to the trail head that made for slow-going. Fortunately, we weren’t there to climb, we were there to ski and a little new snow up high wouldn’t hurt.
After a nice campfire and an evening beer, we settled into bed around 9:30 pm. It was a chilly night which is always a good precursor to good corn skiing. We hit the trail at 5:15 am. We figured it would take us 7 hours to the top which would get us skiing down between 1 and 3. We anticipated this would be ideal timing for the Southwest Chutes and we were pretty spot on.
We hiked for about a mile and a half in with skis on our packs and ski boots on our feet. We then transitioned to skis, skins, and ski crampons. It took us a little under 4 total hours to climb the 4000 vertical feet to the Lunch Counter, the place where most climbers camp when they are splitting the climb into two days. The snow was beginning to soften in the sun by the time we made it to the Lunch Counter.
After a quick lunch at the appropriately name location, we skinned a little bit further to the bottom of the 2000′ pitch up to Piker’s Peak, the false summit. At this point we decided it was safer and more efficient to don boot crampons and throw our boards on our packs. There was a fairly well-defined boot path and the slope did not feel steep enough to warrant our ice axes, so we just used our ski poles for balance. This part of the climb really took it out of me and in hindsight I think skinning this pitch may have been more efficient. Our group of five began to split up at this point with Andy and Ryan out in front, me somewhere in the middle, and Jenny and Justin taking up the back.
It took until approximately noon to make it to the top of this pitch and Andy and Ryan were waiting for me there. The skiing did not look great from the summit and they were tired of carrying their skis, so they decided to stash their skis and continue to the summit on foot. Since the Southwest Chutes begin from the false summit, I contemplated whether or not I wanted to slog up to the summit and back and ultimately decided I would wait for them there and let my legs recover. After all, I had been to the summit before and the Southwest Chutes were what I was there for.
Jenny and Justin arrived a bit after I had started making myself at home in my bivy sack. Jenny still felt good, but Justin: not so much. Jenny decided to stash her skis as well and try to catch up with Andy and Ryan and Justin decided to wait with me. The three of them all tagged the summit and made it back a little after 2 and we began our descent around 2:30.
We couldn’t have timed our run down the Southwest Chutes better than we did and it was everything that I hoped and dreamed off. We started off with some fresh wind-buffed powder turns which slowly gave way to thousands of feet of perfect corn snow! Justin, Jenny, and I descended a chute skier’s left and Andy and Ryan went skier’s right giving us all plenty of room to open it up and make some excellent turns. The snow felt stable the entire way down and it wasn’t until near the bottom that it started to get a little sticky. The snow got really stick on our traverse route out and our fun eventually came to an end when we had to remove our skis for a short carry.
Next came the tough part. We had just descended one of the best ski runs of our lives and became apparent to us that there was still a little bit more uphill skinning required to get back to the cars. We donned skins and made our way up to a point where it was mainly downhill back to the trail out. We made it back to the trail head at 5:15 pm to cap off our 12 hour day.
We quickly packed up our camp from the previous night before beginning the five hour drive back to Seattle. The trip was well worth the long drive and lack of sleep and it is definitely on my to-do list now as an annual trip!