December 17, 2022 – Sleds, Avalanches & Saw Work

Sunshine was in the forecast, and it was looking like it was going to be a great weekend at the Pass. Peak 2 was on the docket, with it opening for the first day of the season the day prior, and the stoke factor was high as I pulled into the parking lot for a day of patrolling. We had a good morning meeting, and headed out shortly thereafter to open the hill in the bright sunshine. I headed up to the top of EPA and snapped a few pic before opening High Lead.

Anna atop EPA
Jon and Anna ready to open the hill

Once back to the bottom, I called in the run report and hopped on EPA and headed back up and worked my way over to Peak 2. The snow was pretty nice, and I spun a couple of laps on the back with a few other patrollers while waiting for sled check-offs to start. One interesting note — while checking out conditions in the meadow I saw a large slide that had occurred recently, most likely a result of the nasty buried surface hoar that’s been quite persistent this season. More to come on that later…

Greg, David & James on Peak 2
Patrollers working on sled checks on Escalator

A bit later, we met at the top of Peak 2 with the intention of doing sled checks for the alpine patrollers on Escalator. Joe was up to help facilitate, and it felt nice to get the sleds out on some steep runs.

Getting ready for some sled running
Craig unloading a sled on Peak 2

We headed off down Boundary, and Anna led the way running the sled unloaded as we headed down. I setup to shoot a few shots with my 70-200 mm Canon mirrorless lens, and was happy with the results…

Anna running an unloaded 100 down Boundary
Anna cruising with a gaggle of patrollers behind her

At the top of Escalator, we stopped for moment to go over the basics of running a loaded sled, and to allow for a “patient” to hop in. Then, it was time to head over the edge…

Getting the sled ready at the top of Escalator
Talking it over

Anna was in the handles and Jon was on the tail, with Greg in the sled. Anna rocked it, and had no problem skiing the sled with Greg down the run. I snapped a few pictures as they headed down…

Anna running a loaded 100 down Escalator
John on the tail rope

Halfway down the run, it was time for a transition, with Anna taking the tail rope and Jon stepping into the handles. Jon did great in the handles as well, and they worked down to the flats below with no issues. I snapped a few more photos, including the shots below.

Pausing halfway down
Running the sled to the bottom of Peak 2

The next run up, it was my turn, and I partnered up with Dan for our sled checkoff. It was nice to get back in the handles and tail rope on a loaded sled, and it’s always fun to run a sled with Dan. After our check-off, we headed out to the Meadow — I wanted to show Dan the slide that I’d come across earlier that morning.

Amber & Dan surveying the avalanche carnage
Amber on the bed surface of the slide

We grabbed Amber, who was shadowing Dan for the day, and headed out. When we got there Dan was quite amazed, given he’d been skiing back there the day prior and it appeared the slide happened between the morning and when he had skied through there the day before around 3pm. We check it out from the top and the bottom, and the surface hoar layer was definitely the culprit. I snapped several pics of the skiers on the bed surface and toe for perspective.

Amber & Dan on the bed surface
At the toe

After all of that, it was time for lunch. We worked our way off Peak 2 and over to the front, and skied corn on Good Time on our way down to the Patrol Room. I guess if you can’t have powder in mid-December, corn is the next best thing.

Cruising on Good Time
Looking out over Odell Lake & Lakeview Peak

 After lunch, we headed out to do some saw work on some of the downed trees that had fallen during the intense windstorm a few days earlier. Dan had his electric saw, which works great for limbing trees in the snow, and our first stop was a smaller tree at the top of Good Time. With the tree of us (Amber, Dan and I), we made short work of the tree and limbs, clearing it off the run in about 20 minutes.

Cleaning up a fallen tree on Good Time
Working on a downed tree on Charlie

Next up, we headed over to Timburr to work on a tree that Fischer and Chad had worked on the day prior. The snow on the way down Charlie enroute to the base was quite nice, and it’s always fun to shoot photos of a patroller carrying a saw…

Dan skiing the saw down
Taking a break on Charlie

At base, we dropped Dan’s saw off at the Patrol Room, since the beta we had on the two trees down on High Lead and Timburr was that they’d been limbed up the day prior and just needed disposal. That turned out to be about half true however (at least for the tree on Timburr). We were able to easily get rid of all the cut limbs on the tree on High Lead, but needed the shovel and saw for the other half. Dan had to leave for bump, but we radioed Jon and he picked up Dan’s saw at base and headed down to meet Amber and I.

Cleaning up a tree on Timburr
John bringing the saw down

With the saw in hand, I was able to get the rest of the limbs cut while Jon and Amber cleared the limbs. It was amazingly warm in the sun, and all of us were sweating by the time we were done, but it felt great to get the trees off the run before more snow came in to cover them up, creating potential nasty hazards. We managed to make it to the top of EPA just in time for sweep, and I hung out up top with Dan, who was running upper mountain closing, after the rest of the patrol headed down to sweep the runs. Sitting there as the sun began to set behind Diamond Peak reminded me of dusk patrol tours in the spring, and it felt really nice to enjoy the quiet after a busy day.

Dan at sweep
The sun setting over Diamond

Shortly before upper mountain sweep was completed, Amber and I headed down to ski RTS and help out iwth lower mountain sweep. RTS was really nice, and the turns were enjoyable as we headed down in the waning light.

Amber sweeping RTS

Lower mountain sweep went off without incident, and soon we were back in the patrol room for the evening meeting, which meant it was time to enjoy a cold beer after a hard day’s work. My offering for the day was a Public House Pale Ale from Oakshire Brewing, and it hit the spot. I should have either cranked the ISO or pulled out the tripod, but I was too tired to remember either, so the photo came out a bit blurry, but that’s the way it sometimes goes:)

Public House Pale Ale by Oakshire Brewing

The next half hour or so was filled with laughter and talk about the day, and it’s really one of my favorite parts of patrol (the camaraderie with great folks). All in all, the season’s off to a great start, both from the patrol perspective and with respect to the snowpack. I hope it keeps it up on both accounts!

December 3-4, Opening Weekend at the Pass

The snow was flying early this season, and the stoke factor was high, with the Pass making one of it’s earliest openings in recent memory. After opening on Friday, December 2nd, I was on duty for both Saturday and Sunday on the weekend. With all the new snow, I was hoping that maybe EPA would open, but it looked like it would be Twilight only for weekend. Even so, the area was looking good, with really nice coverage for early December.

The view from Patrol base on opening morning

I was on duty both days, and covering for Hutch with Patrol 1 on Saturday. After a good morning meeting, we headed out to open Twilight and catch our first lift rides of the season.

The crew at the base of Twilight
Jon, Brian and Kyron at the saddle tube

Even though the Pass was open the day before, we still found some really good snow on the runs and in the trees around Swoosh and Rough Cut. After a few runs, I headed down to the patrol room for a drink of water, and then headed out to meet up with Shannon and Greg to run some unloaded sleds to knock the rust off from a several month hiatus….

A calm moment at the patrol base
Shannon running an unloaded 100

It’s always fun running sleds, especially when they are unloaded. Shannon, Greg and I each took a turn in the handles, and had a friendly competition to see who could dig the downhill skag in the furthest and get the sled to turn up on edge the most…..I’m not sure who won but I almost tipped the sled over :).

Shannon pulling a 100 down Swoosh
Prepping the sled for the lift ride

The rest of the day went well, with only a couple of incidents, and soon it was time to sweep the hill and call it a day. Sweep went without a hitch, and then it was time to enjoy a cold beverage after the evening meeting. My offering of choice for the day was a great tasting PCT Porter from Crux Fermentation Project.

Brian chatting with Brett
A PCT porter by Crux

After enjoying some fun camaraderie with Patrol 1 after the evening meeting, Shaun and I headed down the hill to stay at Brian and Shannon’s for the night since the four of us were all back up and on-duty the following morning. Brian cooked up a great tasting piece of salmon and coupled it with a baked potato bar, and the meal hit the spot. We washed it down with a bottle of wine, and then it was time to hit the sack. The next morning dawned early, and after making the short drive to the Pass we were out making turns again. I finally got the chance to make a few runs with Shaun, and captured the below picture of him right after he went off a small roller on Swoosh.

Shaun on Swoosh

Up next, I made a few runs with Greg running sleds, and then I headed up to the top of Twilight to catch up with Brian, Shannon and Jen.

Jenn, Brian and Shannon at the top of Twilight
Brian and Shannon

As the day wore on, I made a few more runs and captured a few more photos in between incidents and while managing the hill. A couple of shots that piqued my interest was the afternoon light on the upper mountain, as well as new snow gun at the bottom of Twilight…

The upper mountain illuminated in the afternoon light
One of the Pass’s new snow guns

The afternoon wore on mostly without incident, and everyone made their way to the top of Twilight for the evening sweep. Since only Twilight was open, we were able to start sweep a few minutes after 4:00, as opposed to having to sweep the upper mountain first.

The Pass truck at base
Sunday closing crew

Sweep didn’t take long, and a with the mountain cleared it was time for our evening meeting. Being a Sunday, I brought beer up for patrol, and it was nice to sit back, relax and enjoy some socializing with the crew again. My beer of choice for the second patrol day of the season was a good tasting Lager from Ninkasi Brewing Company.

A cold Lager from Ninkasi

After enjoying the beer and company, it was time to check the incident reports and close up the patrol room, and put a wrap on the opening weekend at the Pass. Brian, Shannon, Shaun and I piled into Brian’s truck and headed back to Oakridge, fully happy with a successful opening weekend at the Pass. Here’s a parting shot of Shannon from Saturday pulling an unloaded 100…

Parting shot of Shannon pulling a 100

 

December 2, 2022 – Tombstone Pass

Fresh snow had been falling, and the weather forecast was looking favorable, so I made plans to head to Tombstone Pass with Joe to get out for some early in the month touring with Joe. I hit the road early, and made my way to the snowpark where I found Joe, who’d put in a few hours touring the day before and was camping overnight. Temps were in the upper 20’s as we geared up, and soon we were heading down the highway making our way towards the skin track…

My Outback in the snowpark
Joe skiing down the road

A few minutes later, we crossed the highway and donned skins to start the climb. About 4-6 inches of snow had fallen overnight, and the Cone Peak trail sign had a perfect cone of fresh snow on it, which was begging for a picture…

Cone Peak trail sign
Joe pulling the skins from the pack

We started up the skin track, and made our way through the lower meadow and up through the thicker trees. Every time I tour at Tombstone, I’m reminded of how much I enjoy the landscape and terrain in the area. We worked our way up to the bench, and then started up Cone…

Skinning through the meadow
Heading up Cone

As we continued up, the wind, which was pretty much non-existent lower down, started to pick up. We worked our way to the summit, and transitioned from skins to boards and took a few shots from the top.

Looking off to South and Echo Peaks
Summit view from Cone

We contemplated dropping in off the top, but the thin snowpack and underlying rocks had us thinking otherwise. I cut a couple of cornices with no results, and we elected to ski off the southeast side and work our way over to the north face from lower down.

Summit shot
Joe skiing the southeast side

We worked our way over the ridge to our typical drop in site, and had to negotiate quite a few rocks to work our way in. The snow was loaded up along the ridge that was to our left, but we headed right towards the middle of the bowl and worked our way down. The turns were really nice, and I snapped several pictures of Joe as he dropped in and again from halfway down…

Joe dropping in to the north side
Skiing the lower half of the bowl

At the bottom, we were pretty stoked on the snow, and quickly transitioned to skins to head back up. As usual, the first time up is a bit of a grunt, but we made our way back to our drop-in point and it was nice to have a track in. For the second lap, we decided to ski a similar line right next to our existing tracks. I dropped in first and set up to snap a few more pics of Joe…

Joe on lap number 2

On this lap, we were in for a bit of a surprise. In the back of my mind I was still keeping an eye on the loaded ridge on skiers left, but we ended up skiing a bit to close to it, and when Joe made his second or third turn, it released and headed down towards me. Fortunately, the slab was mostly to my right and Joe’s left, and only a small amount of snow headed down towards me. I held my position in front of the tree and watched it pass, and then took a few pictures.

Looking up after the slide
Looking down at the debris

Joe skied down to me and we discussed the events, and we both agreed we skied a bit to close to the localized wind loading along the ridge. Fortunately, the rest of the bowl wasn’t loaded in the same manner, so we made the decision to head on down and make another assessment once back on top.

Matt enjoying some early December pow
Turns in the lower bowl

At the bottom, we donned skins once more and headed back up the skin track. We made it to the top in relatively short order, and assessed the bowl again from the top. The wind was still blowing in the same pattern, but the loading was occurring below us and to skier’s left, so we elected to traverse into the bowl and out further to skier’s right, past our first set of tracks and to where there wasn’t any loading or wind affected snow. It turned out to be a good choice, and provide us with some of the best turns of the day…

Getting pitted on the north side of Cone
Enjoying a toeside powder turn

For this run, Joe had the camera, and snapped several shots of me enjoying the powder. The quality of the snow was really choice, and we thoroughly enjoyed the skiing down to the bottom of the bowl, where it was time for a well deserved break.

More powder turns
Joe enjoying a quick break with a view

It was nice to sit back for a few minutes and enjoy some food and the view. Hanging on the north side of Cone always reminds me of my first visit there so many years ago with Todd, and it’s definitely one of my favorite places in the Oregon cascades.

Joe on the skin track up
Looking out over Highway 20 country

A bit later, we hit the skin track once more and headed up again. We decided the snow was too good and that we wanted to do a fourth lap, so we left our beers and a few other items down below and worked our way back to the top.

Working up Cone with the range in the background
Nearing our drop-in point

Once back to our drop-in point, we put one more line down the bowl, this time again traversing out to skier’s right just beyond our existing tracks. No pictures on this lap, but it was damn fine and we enjoyed each and every turn to the bottom, where our beers were waiting. We decide to split Joe’s beer there, and then enjoy mine over on the ski out on the front side. Joe’s offering was a tasty Pilsner from 10 Barrell Brewing, and it was super cold and definitely hit the spot! After finishing his beer, we donned skins and made one final trek out from the northside, this time heading all the way back to the top of Cone.

A tasty Pilsner from 10 Barrel
Working up to the top of Cone

Back at the top of Cone, we de-skinned and spent a few minutes on top, enjoying the views and trying to stay warm. One thing about Cone, it may not be a big mountain but it always has the “feel” of a big mountain. And the views from the top never disappoint…

Looking off the north side of Cone
The view north to Jeff

After sending a text to my wife to let her know we were heading down, we shoved off, in search of the best snow on the sunny southeast side. I dropped in first, then setup to snap some picture of Joe as he came down. The snow quality wasn’t as nice as the north side, but it was still pretty good, and we enjoyed the  turns.

Turns down the southeast face
Skiing in front of South and Echo Peaks

We skied down as far as we could until it was time to traverse, and then headed south to link back up with our skin track and make our way back down to the bench below. The turns down to the bench were fun, and we stopped there to enjoy my beer and a last break before heading to the car. My offering was an excellent tasting Black Widow Porter from McMenamin’s, and it hit the spot.

Working down Cone’s southeast slope
Black Widow Porter

As we were sitting there enjoying our break and the beer, I snapped a few pictures of the surrounding area, including a pretty winter scene of the sun bursting over the trees with Iron Mountain in the background. Moments later, we stepped back into our bindings, and made turns down through the trees and into the Farm below. We spooned Joe’s tracks the previous day, and worked our way on down towards the trailhead….

Sunburst and Iron Mtn
Our turns in the farm

Making turns right down to the highway is always a treat, and from there it was a short hike back to the cars at the snow park.

Heading back to the cars

Both of us were looking forward to cooking some brats, but after several failed attempts to get Joe’s stove working due to a leaking hose, it was apparent it was not to be, so we had to settle for just being happy with the hefty serving of fresh powder we’d already enjoyed. All in all, it was a great day in the mountain, with a few lessons learned as always. Here’s a parting shot from the day…

Parting shot of Matt

November 19, 2022 – Patrol Room Cleanup

After enjoying a great week in Hawaii, I returned to Oregon and the colder weather. Soon, the weekend rolled around and it was time to head up to the Pass for the Patrol Room Cleanup. I met Dan at his house early and we made our way to the Pass in time for an 8am start. A few inches of snow greeted us as we rolled in to the parking lot, and it was refreshing to see the snow guns working for the first time in several years.

Early morning at the Pass
Running snow gun at the Pass

As usual, Dan and I set to work first thing by checking the avalanche beacons and installing them with batteries. Once that task was complete, we worked through the evacuation gear and ropes to check for damage and make sure everything was in working order. Usually everything is in good shape, but this year a mouse had chewed through the EPA evac tote and into one of the ropes rendering it damaged and unusable. Good thing we check the gear at the start of every season…..

Checking the evac ropes

Once the evac gear was fully checked and put away, we moved to the sled garage and took all the sleds out to do a once over and cleaned out the garage as well. After we had all the sleds lined up, I snapped the below picture of Dan for perspective….

Dan with the sleds outside the garage

Around 11:30 am, a representative from Life Flight joined us and we did a half hour training session in preparation for a helicopter visit a short time later. After discussing logistics of calling for a helicopter, landing procedures, etc. we headed out to Sleepy a few minutes before the team arrived.

Coming in for the landing
Aerial shot of the Life Flight helicopter

The refresher on helicopter protocols was timely, given our incident last year where I had to call for one due to a patient with a serious injuries. It’s always fun watching the pilot land the helicopter in the area, and he did it perfectly as we all stood by and watched…

Touching down on Sleepy
Brian and the crew shortly after landing

The next several minutes were kind of a blur, and we discussed numerous things associated with landing, loading a patient, etc. We also checked out the helicopter, including the loading area at the back of the bird.

Checking out the chopper
Kyron listening about how to load a patient

The crew, which consists of a pilot and two medical personnel gave us detailed instructions about how to load a patient at the back of the helicopter and how to make sure to avoid the rotors while doing so.

Listening to an overview from the crew

After that, we got to climb up and check out the view firsthand, which was pretty cool. After climbing in the bird and looking around, I do think being able to pilot one of these things would be pretty darn cool.

Jodie up in the cab
My turn in the bird

After checking things out, we brought out a backboard to do a couple of practice scenarios and load a patient into the helicopter. Brian volunteered to be the patient, and several patrollers worked swiftly to get him strapped up and ready to go.

Discussing how to load a patient
The crew backboarding Brian

Once he was securely strapped to the board, he was lifted up and carried around to the rear of the helicopter in preparation of loading through the small entry port. Everyone crouched as they approached the helicopter to avoid the rotors…

Loading Brian in the chopper

They got him loaded securely in the back of the helicopter and I was able to get a few pictures of him snug up in the bird from both the front and the rear of where was….

Brian snug as a bug inside the helicopter
Another view of Brian inside the helicopter

A few minutes later, we got Brian out of the helicopter and then it was time to do it again for a second run. This time Sarah was the patient and a different group of patrollers loaded her up, going through the same motions as before. I caught one picture of that scenario, as well as the below picture of Laurie with the pilot in front of the helicopter….

Laurie and the pilot
Running through a second scenario for loading a patient

Eventually, we wrapped up the training and got ready to take care of the remaining tasks at the patrol room. Prior to bidding the Life Flight crew farewell, we took a group shot of everyone (below)….

The cleanup crew and the Life Flight crew

The crew took off and headed back to Cottage Grove, and we headed back to the patrol room. After another half hour or so of work, Dan, Kyron and I finished up what we were doing and donned skis, skins and packs and headed out, hoping to find enough snow to eek out a few turns. Given the hour, we only had enough time to find something to ski on Twilight, and chose to skin up Swoosh which, generally speaking, is the smoothest run worth skiing on the lower mountain.

Kyron and Dan skinning up Swoosh

The snow started out crusty, but soon turned soft in the shade. We were unsure how it would ski, being only 8-10 inches deep, and soon we arrived at the top of Twilight. As usual, the first order of business was to put the beer on ice, and my offering on this afternoon was an excellent tasting Nut Brown from Alesmith Brewing Company.

Alesmith Nut Brown Ale
Kyron at the top of Twilight

A few minutes later, my beer was cold, and it hit the spot as we sat up top and enjoyed the afternoon and the sunshine. We took our time drinking our beer and removing our skins, but soon it was time to strap into the bindings and see how the snow would ski…

At the top of Twilight
Kyron heading down

None of us were expecting the conditions to provide much, but after our first couple of turns we were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the snow. It was soft and surfy, and immediately I wished we had a bit more daylight left so we could make another lap.

Dan cruising down Swoosh
Kyron getting some air off the roller

We worked our way down the run, enjoying the soft snow as we skied. I setup a couple of times to shoot shots of the skiers as they came down, and Kyron even managed to get a little air off one of the rollers on the run.

Kyron enjoying early season conditions on Swoosh
Dan skiing in the sun

Somehow we managed to make our way to the bottom without hitting a rock or going down, and the three of us were all smiles as we rolled up back to the patrol room.

Skiing lower Swoosh

The rest of the crew was just wrapping up with a few tasks in the aid room as we arrived, and everyone hit the road, happy to have another Patrol Room Cleanup in the books. Dan and I stopped off at Gold Lake to cook up some brats as well as enjoy another cold beverage, and it felt nice to sit back and enjoy a good meal after the long day…

A Total Domination by Ninkasi
Enjoying brats and a beer at Gold Lake

Over the years, I’ve come to enjoy the Patrol Room Cleanup day more and more. No matter the year and conditions, it’s always a fun day, be it making turns if there’s snow or cutting trees on the runs if there isn’t. This year in particular was quite enjoyable, both because of the helicopter tour and because of the quality turns afterwards. At any rate, another Cleanup was in the books, and now it’s time for the season to begin as soon as the snow flies!

November 2, 2022 – Willamette Pass Dusk Patrol

With a trip to Hawaii starting on the 4th of November, I wanted to take advantage of the early weather window to get out and get a few turns in. I knew the timing would be difficult since I had to work, but I found a way to leave the office around noon and head to the Pass to see what was up. I wasn’t overly optimistic about the conditions, with the webcams showing about 6-8inches of snow, but figured it was worth giving it a go.

The Outback at the Gold Lake Snowpark
At the Pass

I made good time heading up Highway 58, and was greeted by a 4-5 inches of fresh snow at the Gold Lake snowpark, where I geared up before heading up to the Pass. The snow where I normally park was pretty gloppy from the snowplow, but after shoveling out a spot I was able to park without issue. A few moments later I headed out.

Looking up at George and the Race Shack

The lower mountain had about 6 inches of snow covering the grass, rocks and dirt, but it felt good to be on the skintrack at the Pass. I headed up KP, and followed a single skin track up. Just before Eagle’s, the skin track stopped and whoever made it had turned around to ski back down. I headed on up, and worked my way up Eagle’s and up towards upper KP and the tree farm.

A fall scene at the Pass
Looking out over the Tree Farm

Once at the top, I stopped off at the bump shack for a quick rest, and to enjoy a break before the turns back down. It was nice to get out of the weather for a little bit, and I took a few moments to eat a snack before locking up and heading to the top of EPA for the ride down.

The view from the Bump Shack
Enjoying a break at the Bump Shack

At the top of EPA, I popped open my beer, a tasty Operation Vacation from Hop Valley Brewing, and setup the tripod to snap a few shots. The beer hit the spot, and once it was finished I stepped into my bindings and shoved off.

At the top of EPA
Operation Vacation from Hop Valley

The snow coverage was pretty marginal, but I was able to make turns down KP without smashing any rocks. At the top of Eagle’s I contemplated heading on down KP, but decided the hell with it and turned right. The riding on Eagle’s was a bit sketch, but I made it down without falling or injury, and even managed a couple of fun turns…

Looking back up at my tracks on Upper KP
Tracks on Eagle’s

The rest of my run down KP was fun, hopping in and out of my skin track and making turns in the fresh, albeit minimal, snow. I only hit a couple of rocks, and soon I was back down at the patrol room looking back up at the mountain, which was looking a bit better than when I arrived.

Back at the base
The Pass truck parked at the patrol room

I made the short hike to the car, and loaded up and headed down to Gold Lake. Although I wasn’t cooking brats on this evening, it was a nice spot to change out of my boots and enjoy a snack. After snapping a quick pic, I hit the road, happy to have my November turns in the books and looking forward to a sun filled vacation in Hawaii with the family.

The lodge from the parking lot
Enjoying a snack at the snowpark