Thursday, December 18, 2014

Winter, we meet again ... (and Garfield's west face is AWESOME)

After a very busy November that had me traveling virtually every free moment (and therefore not skiing), last Saturday I finally made it up to the hills for some turns. Early season weather in southern Oregon has been wetter this year than it was last year, but due to warm temps the result is much the same: What little snowpack we have is confined to Oregon's highest terrain. (Damn you, El Nino!) So off to Crater Lake I went.

The best thing about solo days in the backcountry is that you get to make all the decisions. Consequently, I had no plans other than a general plan to park at the Steel Visitor's Center and head towards Garfield and Applegate Peaks. At 10 AM I skinned east on Rim Drive for about a mile before turning north in the usual spot. As I reached the meadows above Rim Drive, I had a choice: Garfield to the left or Applegate to the right. Applegate appeared to have better coverage, so I decided to start there.

The Garfield/Applegate meadows

An hour later, I was standing on Applegate Peak's familiar summit on the the edge of Crater Lake's caldera. To the north, the ground dropped precipitously 2,000 feet to the lake. To the south, Applegate's gentle bowl beckoned. I milled about for half an hour, taking in the incredible view and munching on the remnants of my breakfast burrito.  Then I geared up, and ten minutes later dropped into the bowl. After a few turns, I noticed another skier to my right, making his way up my skin track. It was the first person I had seen all day. I veered right, coasting across the meadows toward Garfield Peak, a mile or so to the west. 

Soon I was standing atop Garfield Peak, again admiring the view of the lake. I snapped a few pictures, and again took in the view. After twenty minutes relaxing on Garfield's summit, the other skier appeared over the ridge. After sharing some small talk, I realized we had met a couple years ago on the summit of California's Lassen Peak. Small world that we southern Oregon skiers live in. 

We talked about various skiing routes in Crater Lake National Park, and I lamented that for a variety of reasons (from low snow to avalanche danger), I had never skied Garfield's west face. "Actually, I was going to ski that today," he said. "You're welcome to join me." 

"Wait... It's skiable?" I said. 

"It should be," he said. The Pacific Northwest's maritime snowpack may draw snickers from inland skiers accustomed to lighter, drier snow, but the beauty of our "Cascade Concrete" is that it doesn't take much to cover up the rocks. We measured about thirty inches, and the bottom two-thirds of it was rock solid. A few minutes later, we were dropping in, traversing right around a cliff band before traversing back left into a wide open snowfield of deliciously inviting powder. 

After a few hundred vertical feet, we veered left around another cliff band. As we neared the bottom  of the face, snow was noticeably heavier, but -- as I explained to my new friend -- I grew up skiing in the mid-Atlantic region. I have very low standards for snow. 

We finally reached the road and followed it on skis back to the visitor's center. I was exhausted, but satisfied from a full day on skis. I thanked the other skier for inviting me along, we said goodbye, and took my time packing my car. Then I drove up to Rim Village and snapped a few photos of our descent before heading back to town. 

Applegate Peak

North view across Crater Lake from Applegate Peak

South view from Applegate Peak

Garfield Peak across the meadows west of Applegate Peak

The eroded spire of Mount Thielson to the north

The edge of the caldera feels like the end of the earth, from below

Mount Scott, to the east

Wizard Island

Applegate Peak from Garfield Peak

South view from Garfield Peak

About to drop in

A spectacular view from Garfield's west face

Pristine Powder

Not bad for December

Looking back at our turns from Rim Village

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