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Ski the Southwest Chutes of Mt Adams

GPS Data: Map, Track, Waypoints

Click here for GPS eXchange format file.

Waypoints:

  • Trailhead
  • Parking
  • False summit
  • Uptrack crosses "round the mountain" trail
  • Ski down crosses "round the mountain" trail

GPS Stats and other info:

  • Mileage: 13 miles
  • Total elevation gain: 6400
  • Time 10 hours
  • "Round the mountain" trail mileage: 1.3
  • Total ski elevation: about 5000 feet
  • Drive time from Seattle 5.5 hours

Logistics:

  • Make sure FS road 9040 is open
    approx to Cold Creek campground
  • Make sure FS road 23 is open if
    you wish to drive through Randal
  • Check the weather report
  • Get permits at the Trout Lake
    ranger station, $15 per person

Trip Report

7/1/06: My first time skiing the Southwest Chutes on Mt Adams

Word is just out that the forest service road to Cold Creek on Mt Adams is free of snow all the way to the trailhead. I and Jim, Yanna, Al, Dina, Tammy, Heather and Erich decide to join a couple hundred of our favorite backcountry friends and climb it. Our goal is to ski the south west chutes. It'll be the first time for a few of us, me included.

Getting there is half the fun

I meet up with Jim and Yanna in Bellevue at 3:30pm and we head out of town on Friday evening of the July 4th weekend - traffic sucks, forcing us to get creative. Avoiding I-5 at ALL COSTS our plan is to take back highways and roads to Randle and then FS-23 from there to Trout Lake near Mt Adams. We've been fighting traffic for an hour when the rest of our group (5) is finally leaving town in two more cars. They're planning on driving I-5 to Portland, then east. It'll be interesting to compare arrival times. After another half an hour I call Dina certain they're sitting in a parking lot but no... traffic isn't bad and they're cruising... maybe we made the wrong decision.

In the wilds south of Tacoma we lose cell phone contact with the world...

Mt Adams seen from FS road 23 (looking east). The Southwest Chutes are on the right.

The town of Randle is southeast of Tacoma. From there, FS road #23 winds its way to Trout Lake, just south of Mt Adams. It is definitely shorter than the I-5 route, it winds, it's slower, and it's sometimes gravel but it's also an incredibly beautiful drive through the forest plus it offers some absolutely awesome views of Mt Adams from the west.


At 9PM we arrive at the ranger station at Trout Lake to get our permits for the mountain. $15 a piece. Remember to bring your checkbook or cash. I call the I-5 group and they've been having an adventure - north of Tacoma, the clutch in Heather's Subaru stops working properly. They decide to move those three people (and gear) into Al + Dina's van and continue. Now they're about 80 miles north of Portland... hmmmm. A quick calculation puts their arrival at midnight best case. We pick up their permits to make it easier for them.

Being there is the other half...

It's after 10 when we finally arrive at the Cold Creek camping area which is a zoo of parked cars and packing climbers. We backtrack a bit and pick a spot to park Jim and Yanna's van. I search out a flat spot in the forest as far as possible from the chaos to pitch my bivy tent. It's 11 PM when my head hits the pillow. My alarm is set for 5:30.

I don't sleep very well - I'm excited about the ski. I awake several times during the night but once again at dawn, totally startled to the sound of BIG thumping... like critter... maybe BIG critter ? I fumble for my glasses but quickly recognize quick human footsteps. I relax except for the fact that they sound kind of... urgent... and they're heading right for me. Suddenly they stop - I guess they saw me - and then they head off into the forest at a different angle. I'm irked that despite camping so far from the frackus it has managed to find me anyway.

Jane! stop this crazy thing!

Again around 4 AM I'm awaked. "Jane!" loud and urgent a young woman's voice sounds like it's right outside my tent! Her footsteps head right for me, then stop - oh! NOW she sees me - and then she heads off in a different direction. for the next 20? minutes she wanders the camping area waking absolutely everyone yelling... just... "JANE!" I drift off and reawake hearing her only in the distance, thank god. Again I drift off just to reawaken once more to her cries, again right outside my tent. This time her friend answers. I'm privy to snippets of their heartfelt reunion as they finally walk away. GAAAAAAAKKKKKK! Later I hear that her friend had walked into the woods to answer the call of nature and never came back. I feel so much better knowing the situation was life threatening... right.

More fun

At 5:30 I rise to find Al + Dina's Van parked next to Jim's. There story is a sad one: Shortly after we spoke on the phone yesterday at 9pm they had a tire develop a "bubble". Changing the tire took a while... They stopped for dinner... and eventually,
around 2AM they arrive at Cold Creek, threading their way through the multitudes of parked cars. They realize they'll have to turn around in order to find a camping spot and in the process... they get stuck broadside between the road banks on either side! They try to dig their way out using ice axes and shovels to no avail. This is your cue to laugh or cry... Finally in a scene reminiscent of Austin Powers making a U-turn in a golf cart in a cramped hallway, Al proves his driving prowess and inch by inch, back and forth, he manages to free them from their trap.

Al is certain this string of events is proof that the mountain doesn't want to be climbed but Dina says bad things come in threes and they are done.

Oh yah, the skiing

 

 

Dina, Yanna

Tammy, Erich

Tammy, Jim, Al, Dina, Heather, (Erich)

We're at the trailhead at 7 AM. It's a glorious day, no clouds, warm... the trail is pretty much bare of snow till about 6100 feet. our party of 8 is (I think) the last one on the mountain... though we pass several parties that don't summit and gain on others that do. Some of our party skin most of the way and I think they make better time than those of us who carry. The views of Hood and Saint Helens are great. I bring up the rear, the last of the last and arrive at the false summit at 1:20. I was interested in continuing to the summit since I'd never been there, Heather too but it's clear that conditions for the chutes look good and sitting around for another hour in the warm won't make them any better. After a rest we elect to head down at about 2 PM.

This is my first time doing the chutes - I leave the false summit carving tele turns in perfect corn snow. Once across the roll that guards the entrance I stop... stunned. The left chute, before me, drops straight as an arrow, 300 feet wide for 3000 feet at an even 30 degrees for over a mile of skiing before losing some angle and curving off to the left for another 2000 feet of vertical
over another mile and a half. I'm looking at a vertical mile of skiing! It looks awesome and at least a little bit intimidating. I have the distinct feeling that if I fell I'd slide all the way to the bottom - probably wrong... probably.

The most prominent peaks as seen from the top of the chutes

The skiing is incredible. Great corn snow all the way except for a slower, slushy section near the bottom. I turn, turn, turn, stop, breathe, repeat, repeat, repeat... and feel like I've only made a dent! This run goes on forever!

At the bottom of the chutes-proper we regroup - everyone is excited. It is unbelievable! Nothing left now but the cruise skiing. We bear generally left removing skies a couple times to cross short rock bands. at 6300 feet we pick up the "round the mountain trail".

 

Heather, Jim, Al

Mt St Helens

We pause again to exclaim what an incredible day this has been before beginning the hike back. There are tracks here that
continue down but this trail is "the way we know". We're back in the land of thick air, it's pretty hot and carrying skies isn't much fun. In fact it's a damn pain. The trail is more snow covered than not and isn't very easy to follow although the trick is to simply stay at about 6300 feet. After more than an hour the GPS tells us we're near our uptrack so we abandon the trail and ski down. Once the snow runs out we carry again, reaching the trailhead at about 4:50 PM (about 10 hours round trip).

Cold beers end a great ski.

I do not recommend hiking out on the "round the mountain" trail. I thought that part was pretty aweful maybe just because it was so warm. Some guys at turns-all-year say they exited the chutes by staying at 7300 and traversing back to their uptrack. Another alternative might be to continue across the "round the mountain" trail and angle down and left to Morrison Creek campground which is on the same road going in to cold creek. Morrison Creek campground is 2.6 miles earlier than Cold Creek and about 800 feet lower on the mountain so this strategy could have snow coverage problems and transportation complications...

Related Links:

Gifford Pinchot National Forest site http://www.fs.fed.us/gpnf/recreation/

Gifford Pinchot National Forest road conditions http://www.fs.fed.us/gpnf/recreation/current-conditions/roads.shtml

Weather (zone forecasts for SW Washington) http://www.atmos.washington.edu/data/zone_report.KPQR.html


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Last modified: 01/17/11