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A Volcano a Day (Almost): Ski Touring the Cascades

clairewsmiley 3 weeks ago

A story by Polartec ambassador Alli Miles, who lives in Bend, Oregon, and she skis whenever she can.

“I won’t do it,” I said.

It was evening on March 12, 2015. Aaron and I were sitting across from each other at Jackson’s Corner in Bend, with beers, pizza, and salad spread on the table between us. I was making a list.

Aaron and I had met each other less than two months earlier at an avalanche level 1 course. We were in the midst of the worst snow year of our lives, but the lack of snow meant that we could access terrain on skis that normally required a snowmobile. We’d spent the past few weeks skiing classic glacier lines in our Central Oregon backyard, and at some point, we began discussing the idea of skiing all of the major Cascade volcanoes, and not only that, but skiing as many as we could consecutively on a week-long road trip. Thus, the Volcano Tour was born.

We made a plan to start at the southern end of the Cascades, at Mt. Lassen and Mt. Shasta, then work our way north through Oregon and into Washington. We’d ski one volcano each day (with the exception of Mt. Shasta, which we would climb and ski over two days) and then drive to the next one and camp at the trailhead. Including weekends, we were able to stretch our trip to nine days. We added a rest day in the middle, during which we’d bypass our local mountains and drive from Mt. Thielsen in southern Oregon to Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens in Washington. In total, we’d ski seven volcanoes in nine days.

On the summit of Mt Hood

Now, a month out from our trip, we were making a gear and food list. Aaron had suggested adding instant coffee to the list, and I responded with a flat refusal: absolutely not. No way. “I won’t do it.” We were just getting to know each other then, but somehow this memory still makes us laugh.

It was a sunny and mild April Friday when I drove my 1999 Honda Accord to Aaron’s house to pick him up. We were both wearing our Volcano Tour best and Aaron had cut his hair into a mohawk for the occasion. After loading the car full-to-bursting, we stopped to fill some growlers with beer and then got on highway heading south. A storm had come through in recent days, and we learned that the access road to Mt. Lassen was closed, so we set our sights on Mt. Shasta.

All the necessary gear

Over the next nine days, we climbed and skied seven volcanoes: Mt. Shasta (from about 10,400’, due to high winds), Mt. McLoughlin (which we frantically departed mid-dinner in a sudden white out), Mt. Bailey (where we enjoyed a rare powder day after said white out), Mt. Thielsen, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Rainier (from about 9,600’, as a replacement for Mt. Lassen).

The road trip came to an end on Sunday, April 20, 2015, over burgers and IPAs at Mt. Hood Brewing Company in Government Camp, Oregon. The Volcano Tour, however, is still going strong. In the past three years, we’ve gone back to Mt. Lassen to climb and ski in our Volcano Tour finest.

Alli in her Volcano Tour finest.

We’ve skied from the summit of Mt. Shasta, ascending about 7,500’ in a day via an aesthetic northside route. Locally, we’ve skied Mt. Hood, Diamond Peak, and the Three Sisters (North, Middle, and South) in one day – covering about 18 miles and more than 9,000’ of vert. We’ve made our way north to ski Mt. Baker and Glacier Peak in Washington. And, of course, we’ve skied some non-volcanoes as well.

The best thing about the Volcano Tour is that it will continue to deliver as long as we pursue it. Every single ski tour has been a unique adventure, and we’ve only skied one descent route on many of the volcanoes. The amazing thing about volcanoes is that many of them have descents on all aspects, providing countless ways to experience each mountain. And that’s only the Cascade volcanoes.

As Aaron and I love to remind each other, there’s a whole world of volcanoes out there to explore.


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