I’m dragging out the backcountry skiing season this year: just one more!
The north face of the northwest rib (NFNWR) of Mt. Adams is a classic steep ski route. Rumor has it that it was first skied by Glen Plake in the late 90’s. The south side of Adams holds awesome skiing and is quite popular. However the north side is a little harder to get to, has steeper lines, and yields fewer crowds.
Adam, Russel, and I, psyched from our Rainier trip the previous weekend, decided to head out and ski the NFNWR. Brooks drove all the way up from California to join. The route was in prime condition two weeks ago I’d heard from numerous friends. Two weeks of strong sun could have made the snow too icy, or melted out the crevasses and bergschrund at the bottom. We hoped not.
I slept in late in Seattle, and we got a leisurely start from the trailhead. The approach hike was short and quick. The hordes of mosquitoes made for fast walking. We found a beautiful campsite near a glacial brook just below the route. The stream was typical silty glacier melt water, however just a few feet next to the main stream were little rivulets that were crystal clear. It is fascinating how glacial till is able to filter out particulates.
Being just below the north-facing route, we woke up nice and late, and got started out of camp about 7:00. We skinned and booted up the partially melted out lower glacier. I love how glaciers in the late summer and fall become awesome mazes of streams, ice canyons, and cool formations. We booted through a few beautiful melted out sections.
To get on the face we crossed several snowbridges over sizable crevasses. To our surprise, they were all filled in enough to keep the rope in the pack. Once on the face we found rough, rock-hard snow with lots of holes and runnels. The snow quality was slightly disappointing but we knew it would soften, and we also had some backcountry ski mountaineering descent alternatives. Yet another incredible summer snow climb ensued; perfect hard booting snow, with even a little optional water ice thrown in.
The climb went quickly, especially compared to Rainier the weekend before. Even with our late start, we ended up on top well before the snow would soften. We contemplated heading over to the true summit, but instead opted for a leisurely nap on the warm rocks. After a few hours of lounging, the snow had softened sufficiently, and we decided to head down. The snow was still quite icy, and the top of the route consisted of young penitentes (basically overgrown sun cups). Russel and Brooks decided to head down the Genie glacier, a little ways down the adjacent North Ridge.
Adam and I started out, with cautious (if a little ungraceful) turns through the penitentes. When the angle steepened, the snow smoothed out. The steepest part of the route was perfectly soft, and much smoother than up above. We skied it old school: lots of cautious jump turns. We jetted across the sun warmed snow bridges at the base, and onto the smooth glacier corn below. At camp I discovered another nap was in order as we waited for Russel and Brooks to complete their descent.
We hiked out, reached the car just before dark, and made it back to the little town of Randall in a few hours. I needed to get back to Seattle for work at 9, but knew I couldn’t drive. We slept in a Randall farm field, and then made an alpine start for the drive home.
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.