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This was a trip that had been in the works for quite some time. Due to the accessibility issues this year, we had put it off because FS 80 was only snow free the first mile or so just until recently. Back in March of 2010 Chronic Racing, Scott and myself had made an attempt and started near the horse camp, this was something we were not willing to try again. Last year Chronic had boarded part of the chutes in a whiteout and wanted to get back. With the forecasted high pressure, low freezing levels early in the week, the road (supposedly) being open to the Wiki Creek shelter, AND it being Chronic's birthday we knew it was time to pull the trigger.
I left Seattle @ 6 Am on Friday to meet Chronic and Imitation Funk in Portland around 9. The drive to PDX with views of the volcanoes and the Olympics is always refreshing. I made it to PDX shortly after 9 AM and we left shortly there after. We made a quick pit stop for and gas in Hood River. We made good time to Trout Lake where we stopped at the ranger station and were pleasantly surprised to see that there was only one other group of climbers signed in! We managed to drive to 4000' on FS 8040, about a mile past the Wiki Creek Shelter, parked the rig, and was skinning the road before 1. It seems it will be a few weeks yet before the road will be driveable to Morrison Creek CG. The switch back area before Morrison Creek is still holding quite a bit of snow and there still is around 3' at the Morrison CG.
Morrison Creek was our jump off spot. We followed along the East side of the drainage. Eventually the trees started to become sparse and the terrain steepened. We were catching views of our descent the next day and the stoke was growing helping us push through the steepening slopes.
Funk keeping us on track
Soon we were out and had our first up close look of the SW chutes and Mount Saint Helens.
We picked out a ridge line that would take towards the standard route and traversed NW. to it. At the base (6500') we took a break and loaded up on food and water for our climb up to the Upper Lunch Counter.
At 7300' we came to across a set of cat tracks. You could still see the to front claws in the snow prints, so they must have been somewhat fresh. One of these days I hope to see a cougar bounding across the open snow slopes chasing down a ptarmigan or hare. This held my attention looking through the sparse trees in hopes of seeing a cat perched in one, but, no dice.
The views were ever increasing though. To the South:
...to the North:
The rough entrance to the SW Chutes is the low depression seen here between the Summit (left) and Pikers Peak (right).
This is one of my favorite things about climbing in southern Washington, the wide open views, the Columbia River Gorge and the volcanoes.
Climbing up via the Morrison drainage was a great change of pace from the standard S route. It offers a much better perspective of the mountain IMO. Being able to look at our intended descent for much of our climb just increased our motivation and stoke.
As we neared the lunch counter the sun was lowering rapidly and was providing some excellent light. We arrived at camp just after 8. We made water, food and started to dig out a rock shelter. The insides of the shelters were layered in ice making excavating alot of work. Chronic took lead and killed it though.
Merf happy to be at camp
Hood in the setting sun
Soaking it in
Mt. Adam's shadow in the alpenglow
Playing with the light
Before heading to bed we talked about our attack on the summit and when we thought the snow would be good. With the freezing level @ 9k' and moving up to 11k' on Saturday we figured to have plenty of time the next day. We planned to leave for the summit around 6:30 thinking it would take us 4 hours to top out and we still would have time to chill and transition. Funk hit the sack while Chronic and I made more water, ate more food and watched the stars. It has been quite some time since I've seen a sky like that. One of my favorite things about being in the alpine is watching the stars turning on. There were little pockets of city glow all throughout the surrounding valleys while Portland's was strong. It would have made for some stellar star trail shots with hues of royal blue and gold in the sky. We called it a night and was sleeping by 1 AM.
When you don't bring a sleeping bag you got to put the gloves on the feet.
Chronic warming in the sunrise
Chronic and Funk heading for Pikers Peak
Funk toppin' out on Pikers
Scopin' the line from Pikers Peak
The line.... hope it softens up!
The climb from the Lunch Counter to Pikers went by relatively fast. We had great climbing conditions. Some refrozen snow on top of a good layer of firm ice/snow. The sun was hot and there was surprisingly little wind. Rare. We were making good time and the snow didn't seem to softening much so we decided to take a break at the saddle and reloaded on water and food for the final 800' vert to the summit.
Chronic leading the final push.
Looking back at Piker's
The upper mountain was loaded with frozen death chunks and strugi.
Chronic digging the summit block.
The Stuart range and Glacier area were in clear view. The Olympics were visible as well as the North Cascades, Mt Jefferson, The Sisters and further down the line towards Shasta. There was no wind on the summit, we couldn't hardly believe it. A beach chair and a beergarita would have been great up there but it was time to shred the chutes! We dropped in from the summit and headed S/SE towards the chutes. Upon some investigating we found the proper chute to drop in. It was a bit blind but looked to go. The upper wall was firm but edgeable and from the mid-wall down was 2-3" of carvable corn. This was it, time to tear up the 3000'+ 40 degree wall!
dropping the lip under the summit block
on the upper mountain
Chronic charging it
Funk (upper) droppin' in
Chronic picking his line
taken from the bottom, Chronic (left) Merf (right)
Looking back up
Chronic cruising the flats
Funk making his soul turns
one last look
We ended up traversing as far East as we could and dropped into the trees and headed into the Morrison Drainage. There was alot of this
20' to the bottom
The trees tightened and the snow got shity. It was time to to skin the rest of the way to Morrison CG. IT was a slog for sure, but eventually we hit the FS 8040 and skinned to the hi spot. Transitioned our boards and rode the last few miles back to the rig where icy-cold beverages were consumed!
Joined: Tue Oct 18, 2011 11:57 am Posts: 134 Location: Above the clouds
Thanks for the write up! I think we'll have to call the descent a "variation". We dropped in on the west side of the saddle, and I believe that the SW chutes proper begin on the east side closer to Piker's peak. In consolation, I think we got a spicier ride. A blind chute entrance and a wall closer to 50 deg. I didn't pull out a clino, but from the topo and past experience. I'd say it was close.
Props to Merf! He started snowboarding in January, and this was his 3rd "real" tour. That wall had pucker factor, and he rocked it!
Joined: Thu Oct 07, 2010 9:11 pm Posts: 77 Location: Venice, CA
Merf! Nice work catching the vibe of the trip. And major props for nailing that line. It was big and steep! It took concentration to hold heal side turns. I thought that was the best non AK line I skied this year. After reflection I need to take away the classification. That was simply the line of the year.
Joined: Sat Jun 16, 2007 11:18 pm Posts: 941 Location: reiter hills
Nice one boys!
One luv!! U been cyber stalked...
Seen your report.on nwhikers, realised you where with that crew that climbed Merchant recently. Actually thought about joining... or at least coming over and looking for stashed mt dew.(ben and I 'found' one stashed by summithounds group last summer)
Love the wild sky though. Kind of dissapointed I didn't ride anything up there this winter. My friend Leyland and I rode from the top of gunnshy last winter. Great decent when it's good.
I know you guys didn't have good vis, but did it look possible to ride off the north side of merchant(conditions dependant)? It looked more possible then I thought way back in november, but I was looking up from the head of trout creek.