Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tumalo Mountain 1-25-11

I had one more full day up in the Cascades, so to not waste another possible hiking opportunity, I headed out this morning in search of something to summit. My original plan was to hike the Tam McArthur Rim area South of Sisters, but the road was gated and covered with snow 4 miles from the trailhead. I'd made a back up plan that I'd informed by email and text that I was going to drive around to the Cascade Lakes Highway and check out Tumalo Mountain. I am so glad I ended up on that hike, it was absolutely amazing! Tumalo Mountain is just North of Mt. Bachelor, the trailhead starts at the Dutchman Flat Sno-Park. Its published elevation is 7779' and by trail its about 3.6 miles roundtrip. Just at the Sno-Park there's still close to 4'-6' of snow and the trail is pretty much lost. I chatted for a few in the parking area with a guy who had just came down to see what the snow was like. He'd been snowshoeing, didn't ask if he'd been to the top, but he said it was soft in spots up higher. On his suggestion, I started out on snowshoes and carried my trekking poles on my pack. After a half mile of trudging up 30-40 degree slopes on crusted snow, I decided to ditch the snowshoes and bust out the poles. After rearranging my pack, I started making good time toward the summit. I was on a well used rut in the snow, and even the pole tips would only sink in a few inches before hitting solid snow and ice.

About a mile up is where it started getting interesting. The snow was staying solid, but the terrain steepened drastically. From here it was 40-60+ degree slopes, a few spots almost vertical kick stepping. The view was starting to open up, the South and Middle Sisters and Broken Top to my West, Bachelor to the South coming up from the tree line. From here on I had to really push myself, not just physically but mentally. I could see the summit, about a quarter mile and 500 vertical to go, but it was grueling. Once in the open, the wind really started cutting through as well, so took the chance to duck behind some trees and grab the coat and gloves from my pack. I kept on the clearest path I could, by this point there were trails running every which way, snow boarders, alpine skiers who had skinned up to the top. Finally after following a narrow almost vertical chute, I could see a sign of some sort ahead. I knew I was close, so with a burst of energy I took off another 30 yards to the sign post, and then could see the last little summit knoll to my left about another 50 yards up. By this point I was ecstatic, that was probably the most difficult climb I'd done, so I mustered up all my extra oomph and with a huge grin on my face, made it to the summit!

Right there I dropped my pack and checked my GPS, it said 7794', which means 15' of snow was beneath my feet! It was an amazingly emotional moment, the view was incredible all the way around, and I had accomplished a mountain summit in winter. To think I was a smoker only 6 months ago still gets me, and a year ago the thought of summiting a mountain like this probably wouldn't have even crossed my mind. Add to that the fact that I was staring face to face with my next major goal, South Sister, and I let out a healthy "WooHoo!!!" from the summit. After snapping a few pictures and grabbing one of my do-rags from my pack to make a face mask from the wind, it was time to make my way back down. From here it was hard to keep on the same trail I'd come up, the snow was starting to soften and there were so many crossing tracks, I just headed straight down. I'd marked a GPS point for the Sno-Park, and with Bachelor right in front of me, it was an easy straight shot to the bottom. By now with the soft snow, I was having to plunge step with my heels to keep my balance, so it was murder on the shins and calves coming down. Right around 3:00, I came out of the tree line at the opposite end of the Sno-Park, so stayed within 100 yards of where I started. Covered 2.4 miles and 1441' in less than 3 hours. Exhausted, but still with a grin on my face, I started bsing with a couple younger guys who were just heading up, one skinning and one shoeing with his snowboard on his pack. The guy that was skinning had just quit smoking a few years ago, so we had some common ground to talk about. They shared a few of their favorite hikes with me and headed off. I said have fun, and the one guy said "Now you're addicted to oxygen. Pretty cool, huh?"

Yep, pretty cool.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Black Butte 1-24-11

First big hike of the new year, and even though I didn't make it to the top, it was a great day of hiking. For anyone who may not know where Black Butte is at, it is off of Highway 20 between Santiam Pass and Sisters. Take Forest Service road 11 for about 4 miles, then turn left on the 1110 road for just under 5 miles. This will take you around the North side and up to the trail head back around to the SouthEast. The trail is about 2 miles long with around 1500' off elevation gain. The summit is at 6436' with a historic fire look out as well as the still used lookout tower and crew cabin. Due to snow on the road, I was only able to make it a few miles up the 1110 road, so started from there. Even though I didn't make the summit, due to deep snow and looming weather, it was a good day of learning as well as accomplishing a few goals I'd set for myself.

The first goal I'd set was to test my current layering plan, which I'm fairly happy with, pending a few minor adjustments. Started with silk long underwear, which will be switched with polypro later, fleece pants, and a pair of Sierra Designs light rain pants. They are a thin rip-stop nylon that is lined with a membrane and fully taped seams. They come with a small stuff sack, and pack down to something that could fit in a pocket. Bought some wool/acrylic blend socks to round out the lower half. I'm still waiting on buying boots, so the good old XtraTuffs were used today due to sloppy roads and snow. Good boots, but you feel every rock and your feet sweat like crazy. After the tax return comes in, new boots are on the list. For the upper half, I scored some REI OXT Tech long sleeve shirts on closeout, color was discontinued. Good base layer for moisture control. Threw a 1/4 zip fleece on over that, with my Marmot jacket in the pack. Hiked up to the trail head and threw the jacket on, then coming back down chucked the fleece in the pack at the trail head since I'd be moving faster heading back. Layers worked great, other than a few minor corrections I need to make.

The big lesson learned today....... if you're going to be hiking in potential snow conditions, leave early. I knew that, I'd read it in several of my books and trip descriptions, but I got a late start today. That decision may or may not have completely thwarted my making it to the summit, but it made me decide when to turn back. There was plenty of wind and weather making its way around, and within a mile from the top with clouds looming, I started punching through the knee deep snow. Once you get out of the tree line, there is still around 2+' of snow on the trail. There are also still many large rocks in the trail that create pockets to fall into. I decided to turn back at around 5700', which left about a mile to go. It was already going on 3pm, and to fight knee deep snow for another mile would put me well into dark before I was headed back. I'll save the summit for another day. If I had started earlier and the snow stayed firm, who knows. I'm still happy with the day. All together I covered 7.4 miles and around 2400' vertical. That's some good hiking right there, and the view wasn't bad either.