Words: Kenzie Morris
Photography: Riley Bathurst
Few things are more satisfying than spring skiing at your home hill. The days are getting longer and warmer, you check off your favorite backcountry lines, your friends converge on the park for hot laps, and wiggles spring up everywhere. But you know what? It all starts to feel...predictable. The days are fun, but one often feels like what’s next. You begin to miss that sense of limitless possibility, which is so essential to the skiing experience — that feeling that draws us back to the mountains.
In search of inspiration and new adventure, the Snowledge crew set off on an mission to explore the volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest. Instead of focusing summiting peaks, the goal for the trip was something different: ski unique lines, capture interesting light, and play with natural terrain features. More importantly, we wanted to make this trip about more than just the skiing. We wanted to experience the camping, hiking, and great local food that make the Pacific Northwest truly one-of-a-kind. After all, the best part of any adventure is the unexpected journey that unfolds along the way to each destination.
On the Road to the Pacific Northwest!
The weather is not looking promising. The forecast shows a consistent and uninspiring mix of thunderclouds and rain, and our crew is growing smaller as we get closer to our departure date. After months of planning, are we going to spend a week driving, camping, hiking, and skiing in the rain? I mean it is the Pacific Northwest, so that is a definite possibility.
Stocked with provisions and a positive attitude (or at least enough 10 Barrel Beer to stay properly hydrated for the week), we head towards Lassen National Park and decide to give it a go. Unexpectedly, the mix of rain, hail, and lightning that we’ve been navigating throughout the day begins to subside as we enter the park. As we pull out our camping chairs and enjoy cold beers, we can see the dark silhouette of Lassen Peak standing prominently in the south. The clouds continue to clear and stars are bright as we bundle up for the night, ready to see what tomorrow has in store.
It’s 5:15 am and the early morning air is crisp and clear. Lassen Peak stands to our south, a faint white monolith against a soft blue backdrop. We’re still getting into the flow of the trip, so breakfast and gearing up takes longer than expected. We spy a pronounced couloir on the looker’s left of the mountain and decided it offers the most manageable objective if the weather turns.
We head past the road closure gate in search of a path up the north side of the mountain. Thunderheads begin forming in the distance and we keep our eyes on the horizon, searching for any sudden changes nearby. The weather is looking good as we hit the snow line and throw on our skins, but the clouds continue to swirl in the distance as we climb towards the treeline. It is at this point where I began to fear that these clouds would turn into something much worse. I made a decision to turn back and return to the treeline as the group decided to push forward. The weather ended up holding out for them as they reached the snowfield 200 yards or so above where i turned around, but i am happy i made my decision.
As the rest of the group finished their lines the clouds moved in quickly and we hear the rumble of thunder in the distance. As everyone reached the parking lot the first few drops of rain begin to fall. As we leave the park, a thick fog blankets the valley and the rain begins to pour as we make our way north towards Crater Lake.
After a scenic drive, including a stop in Klamath Falls for some thai food we meet up with new members of the party and continue to head north. Tucked away just off of the Oregon highway is Jackson F. Kimball State Park Campground, our destination for the night. The area is spotted with tall pine trees and sits next to a crystal blue spring from the adjacent hillside, just a short walk from the campground. It’s quiet and serene, and the perfect place to plan out the upcoming day.
Late Afternoon Turns Down Watchman Peak at Crater Lake
Despite the initially ominous forecast, we awaken once again to a bright sunrise illuminating the tall pine trees. With plans for an afternoon mission, we take our time and enjoy a relaxed morning, complete with fresh coffee and pancakes.
We make our way up the highway and into Crater Lake National Park. Stopping by the ranger station, we learn that the road around the lake is open further than anticipated, knocking four miles of walking off of our trip. After gearing up, we head in past the road closure and towards Watchman Peak, above Crater Lake. Just over two miles in on the road and i realize i forgot my skins in the car. Luckily the approach to The Watchman Lookout Station is short, only a few hundred vertical feet so i was able to use a combination of the sticky snow and my sidestepping skills to make my way to the top. At least when i got there Wizard Island and the views are nothing short of stunning.
The old watch tower provides an ideal skiing base, with 360 degree views of the Cascade Mountain Range, a detailed history of the lake, and skiable zones dropping off in several directions. After a few laps and arduous sidestepping back up to the top again we finish off the day ripping soft, golden turns off the back side as the sun slips behind the hills to the west. The trek back to the car park is illuminated with a red and orange glow that slowly fades to blue and purple and, finally, black as the moon rises over the Cascades.
We make the tired push north towards Bend after a great day making a stop for the night at Prairie Campground. The lots are spacious and tall pine trees dot the campground, which sits just above an open meadow with a meandering stream. The perfect spot for a welcome nights sleep.
With a start that comes earlier than everyone would like, we pack up camp and head thirty minutes north to Bend for coffee, breakfast, and planning at Backporch Roasters. Fully caffeinated, we head up the road towards Tumalo Mountain.
I meet up with Erin, my good friend from college, and her dog Shea.We head up to the top of Tumalo Mountain, nestled just accros from Mt. Bachelor, to meet up with the rest of the Snowledge crew . A wide bowl opens to the northeast and several short lines snake through the volcanic rock further down the ridge. It was a short but fun lap that created more friendships and laughs than turns, but it is all worth it. The ski down is an adventure as we duck and weave through the trees, trying our best to find connected strips of snow that will lead us to the parking lot below. The whole time I feel as if I am going very slow, it is only then that I notice the glue from my skins is really sticky.
After another full day, we head back to Bend to grab dinner and discuss plans for the next day. Taking advantage of the numerous food trucks at The Lot, we deliberate over tasty food including street tacos, gyros, and specialty burgers. We’ve pushed hard the last few days and have three more missions to come. With full bellies and clearer heads, half the crew decide to head for the Devil’s Lake Trailhead to head up South Sister in the morning. I on the other hand head for a shower and grab a ski iron to start the long task of cleaning the glue and dirt off my skis.
Having never skied Mt. Bachelor, I decided to take a day off hiking mountains and enjoy some chairlift rides. My friend Erin was kind enough to show us around and we ended up hiking the peak and riding a few park laps. Spring skiing at Bachelor is a local tradition and the people of Bend really know how to have fun. The same day we decided to ski there was a race called the Pole Pedal, Paddle (PPP), which includes ski racing, cross-country skiing, biking, running, and paddleboarding. Teams of people dressed up in ridiculous costumes and it was fun to watch the young and old participate in this multisport event.
After a few park laps and circling the mountain’s open terrain we headed for Smith Rock State Park to catch the sunset. We arrived a few hours before the rest of the Snowledge Crew so we went for a hike up the river gorge and caught the sunset over the steep walls. Climbers were everywhere and it proved to be a mecca for the vertical world, which was humbling to watch.
After packing up camp, the crew gathers and we make our way down to the winding river at the base of Smith Rock for a second round. A quick mission into the state park turns into a 3.5 mile hike around the valley and up and over Misery Ridge. The views are hard to top, but was this little walk too ambitious knowing we were going to hike Mt. Hood that afternoon? Probably so. Back on the road, we make our way north. With another afternoon start planned, we cruise up the scenic road to Timberline Lodge and Ski Resort.
Gearing up in the parking lot, we set off on a skin up the resort, past the Mile and Palmer charlifts, and towards Illumination Rock. Mt. Hood towers above us and forested green hills stretch below towards Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters. As we reach Illumination Saddle we’re met with the loud crash of rockfall, as the later afternoon sun melts snow and ice. A cautious reminder that this volcano is more than just active, it’s alive. We find a ridge just above the iconic rock and ski a few short lines with an amazing backdrop. As the sun begins to set, we enjoy Cucumber Sour’s before skiing 3,600’ down the glacier, steeped in a brilliant golden glow.
We head into Government Camp for world-famous (or at least Mt. Hood-famous) Huckleberry milkshakes and fries, then set up camp at Trillium Lake Campground. A classic site with an amazing view of Mt. Hood, the campground is nestled in deep old growth forest and sits right on the edge of a scenic mountain lake.
As our journey comes to an end we’re grateful for the stellar weather, amazing views, and new friendships. We explored six volcanoes in six days and are fortunate to have experienced one incredible, unexpected journey along the way. As we head down the mountain and into the sunset, we’re already dreaming of our next adventure to the Pacific Northwest.
Download the Snowledge App to learn more about the Pacific North Quest journey, including athlete profiles, more incredible photos, touring stats, maps, and weather from each mission.
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