My home is a few hours north of the volcanoes of the American PNW, and yet I'd never climbed any of them apart from Mt Baker a few years ago. Every spring, the allure of thousands of feet of corn snow takes hold in my head, and yet it has never happened for various reasons. Finally, in late june, the weather and free time coincided to allow a quick 3 day solo trip.
The main objective was to ride the SW chutes on Mt Adams while the other 2 days were undetermined. Watching the weather intently, even as I drove through Washington, my plan took shape with Mt Hood up first, then Adams, then ideally Mt St Helens.
After the Seattle, Tacoma and Portland traffic battle I finally arrived into Government Camp late at night. A few hours later, rain drops on the truck and howling winds greeted me when the alarm sounded. The forecast was claiming it would improve so I headed out thinking to make it around Hell's Kitchen before really being forced to decide on the weather. I quickly passed all the summer camps (so many trips!) and climbed beyond the ski area boundary. Near dawn the sky opened up and the world awoke with the shadow of the mountain on the low lying clouds.
At the Hog's Back I finally stopped for a snack and to take in the steam emanating from the fumaroles and the steeper climb ahead. I opted to go up near Old Chute as this was my intended route down, but looking back I should have gone through the Pearly Gates as the climbing would have been a bit more interesting. Being in the remnants of the mountain's crater the wind had mostly stopped, however upon reaching the summit it returned at full force. Up on the summit I waited over an hour in hopes that the snow would soften up. I would have waited longer but the overhanging snow mushrooms on the upper cliffs were baking in the sun and they would quickly become unstable.
The hardest part of the day was getting over to my drop in point. The 30m or so of narrow ridge walking was quite interesting with the howling wind and snowboard on my back. With big exposure on either side, falling was not an option and the wind definitely was trying to blow me off the mountain. Thankfully my crampons and ice axes are sharp and I made it to my drop in point but it was sort of terrifying every time a big gust blew.
The ride down old chute was bulletproof and pretty much sucked. It became much better through Hell's Kitchen but my ideal of afternoon corn had been overthrown by the overhead hazard. The lower mountain slush was a welcome relief from icy sun cups up high.
After a food stop in Hood River, I was on the way to the Mt Adams ranger station for a permit. Thankfully they were still open as I'd forgotten to check their closing time. The rangers mentioned they had given out hundreds and hundreds of permits that weekend and "good luck with the parking". And they weren't kidding. The parking (and mountain) were packed with people taking advantage of the glorious weather.
Having never been on Adams, I left camp kind of early as to not miss the corn cycle. The south ridge of Mt Adams is pretty much a walk up. With softish snow you could skin to the top no problem. Crampons and ski poles make short work of any hard sections. With my goal on the mountain being the SW chutes I was happy just cruising up, enjoying the weather and watching people glissade thousands of feet.
Once on the summit, I pulled my stove out and made some food while waiting for the corn to appear. Two hours on the summit and the first thousand feet were ready to go. A quick ride down brought me to the top of the SW Chutes. The line is a nearly perfectly planar 37 degrees for 3500 or so, but they have a little more westerly aspect to them and the corn wasn't quite right yet. Back to waiting.
Getting a big line in full corn is tricky. Too early and it's ice, too late and it's sticky and potentially prone to sliding. I waited another hour before dropping in. A few minutes of non-stop riding and I was at the bottom. The top had just softened, the middle was perfect corn and the bottom was just starting to get sticky (which is the typical best scenario on big runs in the springtime). Stoked that my patience paid off. Now I just had to figure out how to get back to the truck. Some downhill hiking brought me to the round the mountain trail and I was back at camp in short order.
Back in town, my hopes of getting a Mt St Helens permit were dashed. I had one day left, no permit and the forecast had changed. South? North? Home? After a bit of thought I decided to wander around Mt Rainier. Being last minute, I couldn't get a solo permit (to my knowledge) but the weather forecast would obliterate any summit chance anyways. Howling winds were back on the menu.
Once again I woke up to the sounds of rain drops on the truck and thick cloud on the mountain. With only being allowed to go as high as Camp Muir, the morning was pretty relaxed and a late start ensued.
The trail to Camp Muir is highly beaten in and straight forward (even in a whiteout). The hardest part in a whiteout is probably the lower section as there's rolling terrain and ravines to walk through. Once up on the Muir snowfield it's a straight shot upwards. Regardless of the ease, navigating in a whiteout on your first time up a mountain is entertaining. When the world around you is nothing but white, it's easy to let your thoughts wander while staring at your ski tips, some time passes and huh? Lost your bearing. For as wet and windy as the day was, I thoroughly enjoyed the climb through the whiteness as it made an the climb a little more challenging. Seeing the mountain would have been nice though!
As I climbed the 5000' up to Camp Muir, my thoughts wondered where the cloud tops where at. Just as the camp came into view the upper mountain revealed itself for a split second as an opening in the clouds raced by. With no time constraints on my day I hung out at Camp Muir for a while to catch the few glimpses offered of the upper mountain. Eventually the wind got the better of me and it was time to re-enter the all-encompassing white and rain to descent back to Paradise.
Needing to only leave early the next morning, I booked a backcountry campsite, went for a little hike and parked myself in the rainforest for a night to enjoy another night out in the mountains and reflect on a fun trip up some cool mountains.