One great perk of my job is a 6 week sabbatical after 5 years of service. Six straight weeks seems like a lot of time to fill with events but I have managed to stay very busy especially since a last minute trip to CA was delayed the start of my vacation. After a week of working long hours with a few runs squeezed in, I still was back in time to pack up my ski mountaineering gear for a 9 day ski trip to the Pacific Northwest. Lucky timing had a high pressure system with warm temperatures and clear skies sitting over the region for almost the entire trip. It has taken me some time to get reports written for this adventure because as soon as it ended, I was unpacking and repacking for a trip across the pond.
A late night arrival into Portland on Friday night had Dima and I looking for something that we could ski on Saturday without a mandatory alpine start. With very warm temperatures and lots of solar gain likely, the NWAC issued a special bulletin warning of possible full depth avalanches as well more seasonal wet slab and point release slides. Jeff would also be joining us for the day and we decided to ski the more mellow terrain of the Eliot Glacier and Snowdome on the northern shoulder of Mt. Hood.
A 10 AM departure from the Tilly Jane trail head had us walking on dry trail from 3800 ft until just below the hut. Fires from last fall had widened the trail and allowed for almost unobstructed views of the surrounding terrain, yielding glimpses of the north face of Hood and our objective as well as Mt. St Helens, Adams, and Rainier to the north.
Skinning up the moraine and then a short down climb had us on the glacier proper for roped travel across the Eliot. The obvious route to Snowdome is low angle and well away from serac fall. Clear skies and warm temps were offset by a cool breeze flowing from the summit keeping the snow firm above 9000 feet. Variable skiing from our high point at 9700 ft transitioned to soft snow that had almost a feathery texture.
The pitch steepened and made for excellent skiing before traversing the flat bench a safe distance below the seracs. Once across the Eliot, we were able to avoid the climb up the moraine by taking a high traverse on snow, ski a mellow snowfield and join up with the Tilly Jane Trail.
This was a longer tour at 12.5 miles round trip with 6300 ft of elevation gain. A single ascent of this magnitude is unparallelled in New England and was a great introduction to skiing in the PNW. A big thanks to Jeff for being our ‘guide’ for the day.