Tuesday, May 31, 2011

PCT Snow Shoeing / Maiden Peak Scouting

Things are starting to come together for a Three Sisters summit attempt, but now its looking more like Middle instead of South. The Pole Creek Trail is open for making an East approach, right now even the highway past Mt. Bachelor still has 4-6'+ of snow, no estimate of when the highway will open. I believe I've finally gotten my gear straight, with the recent addition of crampons, ice axe, and hardshell jacket. Scored on the last REI sale, and while I was at the Eugene store on Sunday, one of the employees there who also worked at Willamette Pass suggested the Maiden Peak area. The main access to the trail system is via the ski resort itself, but being shut down for the season, the other options were the Gold Lake Road, or the Pacific Crest where it crosses highway 58. I woke up at 4am this morning and headed out to do some scouting and either hiking or snow shoeing.

Weather forecast for the passes was rain, so I wasn't too worried about the car having any problems, but was sure I'd run into snow higher up. Right before the pass summit, I saw the Gold Lake Road, so I went to turn in and of course the road was gated and covered in snow. I headed a bit further down the road and spent about 10 minutes trying to figure out where the PCT crossed, which was right next to the ODOT sand piles. I had to climb up about a 6' snow bank and stroll into the treeline to see the trailhead signs and outhouse that were all close to buried in the snow! Back at the car I knew it was going to be snow shoe time as the snow was pretty soft and easy to punch through any crust that was left. After gearing up I walked back to the trailhead sign, threw the snow shoes on and headed out to find the trail. Took a few minutes to find some old tracks to lead me to the trail, but from there it was easy to follow the blue diamond tree markers and old tracks.

So far I'd only snow shoed a mile or so here or there, so today I really wanted to push it to simulate a long, snowy approach to one of the many mountains I'd like to summit. I wasn't going to get to Maiden Peak this way, would have been about a 8 mile approach from this route. If I had overnight gear, it would make a good multi-day since there is an Alpine Warming Hut near Maiden Peak which allows overnight stays (coming in from the Gold Lake trailhead). I did about 4 miles roundtrip, which was a good workout for today, all above 5000'. I discovered a few issues with the snow shoes, such as snow balling in the built in crampons and ice build up on the foot pads. This lead to some foot tenderness after about 3 miles. Next time I'll plan on cleaning the snow build up off at a regular interval. That should keep the feet happy. All in all, I was super stoked with my gear, stayed plenty warm enough, actually had to take a layer off after about a mile to keep from sweating too much. Pack felt great, even with the addition of ice axe and crampons. I think I've got the gear pretty well dialed in, now if I could just get some shorter approaches to these mountains, I'd be set.

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