September 23, 2017 – Mt Washington, Northwest Bowl

A rare September snow storm blanketed the Central Oregon cascades with a couple feet of early season snow, and I was eager to get out for a tour and not miss out.  Thursday and Friday were the prime days, and being stuck at work was killing me, but Saturday would have to do.  I talked it over with Dan, who had skied at Bachelor on Wednesday and Thursday, and we decided to head to Mt. Washington to check out the conditions.  I met him at his house early on Saturday morning, and a couple hours later we were looking at our objective from Big Lake…

Mt Washington from Big Lake

After scouting the mountain from the lake, it looked like there was more than enough snow to make turns in the bowls, so we headed to the trailhead, shouldered packs and headed out.  The weather was chilly, and the hike down the PCT to the climbers trail went quickly.  Every once in awhile, the trail afforded a view of the mountain, and it appeared like the upper mountain was still shrouded in rime.

On the trail

By the time we reached the climbers trail, there was already a few inches of snow on the ground.  It didn’t take too long before we decided to switch to skins, which we had almost decided to leave at the car earlier in the morning.  The skinning proved to be difficult in the early season conditions, but was better than booting, especially as we worked our way higher and the snow depth increased to around 12 inches.

Approaching through the trees

Our approach route was less than ideal, having to work around quite a bit of deadfall and thick trees, but eventually we gained the ridge and got our first good views of the mountain…

Skinning out towards the bowls

There was more snow than we expected, both in the bowls and on the approach ridge.  The going was slow, and we had to take skis off a couple of times to work around the early season obstacles.  Finally, we reached a notch in the ridge that proved to be a suitable point to get into the Northwest Bowl.

Dan approaching via the ridge

Skinning into the NW bowl

Once into the bowl, we made good time skinning up to a high point around 7000 feet.  I was hoping to go all the way to the ridge and the usual drop in point for spring turns, but there just wasn’t quite enough snow for that.  Just below our high point, Dan grabbed the camera so I could climb up a bit further while he set up to snap a few photos.  A few minutes later, I was enjoying some of the finest September snow of my life….

September turns on Washington

Dan skiing below the pinnacle

The snow wasn’t perfect powder, but pretty damn fine, especially for September.  The turns were consistent, soft, and reminded me of that powder snow that falls in late April or early May.  A bit on the heavy side, but still nice.  We worked our way down the bowl, and I took a few shots of Dan looking out over the peaks to the west…

Skiing the northwest bowl

Halfway down the bowl, we made the call to continue down as low as the snow would let us, and then skin back up for a second lap.  The snow down low was superb, and Dan captured the below shots of me heading down…

September turns

Matt riding the lower bowl

At the bottom, we were all smiles as we looked back up and admired our tracks.  It only took a minute to transition back to skins, and we headed back up the bowl for one more run.

Our tracks in the bowl

For our second lap, we headed over to climbers left, which would set us up for a shorter traverse back to our exit route.  At our high point, we decided it was time to drink the beers we’d been lugging around all day, as well as get a bite to eat and sit back and relax for a few minutes.  The views didn’t disappoint….

A cold Crux Pilz

Once our beers were gone, we dropped in for our second lap in the bowl.  The snow was good, and we ripped turns down to our skin track below.  Looking out to the northwest, I captured a few shots of Dan skiing with Hoodoo, TFJ and Mt Jefferson in the background…

Big Lake and a few volcanoes

Once at the bottom, we put the skins back on the boards and headed back towards the ridge and our exit route.  The snow depth at the bottom of the bowl was pretty thin, but made for some cool photos as we toured through the boulder fields….

Touring through the boulder fields

The “ski” out proved to be fun, but challenging.  We were able to link turns down off the ridge through the trees on the thin snowpack by following our uptrack, which we lost several times.  Ultimately, we made our way down to the PCT, and we both agreed we wouldn’t forget that exit anytime soon.

PCT Junction

Hiking down the trail in the cool fall air reminded me of good times hunting in Idaho with my old man, and soon we were back at the car, enjoying a cold beer, fresh chips and salsa, and a view of the mountain basking in the evening sunshine…

Apres ski at the car

As we loaded the car and prepared to head for home, I couldn’t help but feel fortunate for having been able to experience powder in September on one of my favorite volcanoes in Oregon!

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