Above Washington’s fertile farmlands
May 15, 2009
Editor’s note: Andy Linger is an avid mountaineer who lives in Avon. He completed the Appalachian Trail in 1997 and the Continental Divide Trail in 2008. He’s now off on the Pacific Crest Trail on his way into Canada. This is the final article in a three-part series about his trip to the Pacific Northwest.
I listened to the faint crunch of footsteps slowly growing louder from behind ” like the approach of a train from many miles away ” as two climbers approached the summit.
They gave me a brief blank stare when they peered over the wall and saw my camp. We took some photos of each other, shared congratulations, and I watched them as they began their almost 8,000-foot descent into the abyss.
I met several others as they completed their summit climb that started in the wee hours. I packed up my gear, knocked down my snow walls, donned my skis and kicked and glided my way down to the top of the crater rim. I peered over what looked like a near-vertical wall as I locked my heel down. I slowly side-stepped my way down the rough, steep West Gate, with my ice ax ready at a moments notice.
Below the Gate, the terrain seemed to get steeper. The snow at 9 a.m. was as smooth and firm as steel.
If it wasn’t for Beaver Creek’s World Cup course I volunteer on every year, with its steep slopes groomed, shoveled, watered and side-slipped to a frighteningly icy mirror-like shine, I can’t even imagine what would be going through my mind right now.
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I approached the bootpack trail and decided I had enough excitement on the cold, hard, shaded slopes. I down-climbed the 100 feet or so to the Hogback and peered over the edge. The snow was steep, but the early morning sun had warmed the surface ” it made for a delightful descent to Devil’s Kitchen.
I had a grin on my face that stretched from ear to ear. Despite being early morning, the descent to Timberline Lodge quickly turned into a slushy quagmire as I approached the ski lifts. I reached the lodge, grabbed my shoes and quickly devised a plan for my next adventure.
A couple locals mentioned a route from the base area to the town of Government Camp. The bottom portion of the mountain is closed for the season and they weren’t sure what the snow was like, or if there was even snow all the way to the bottom. I got a rough idea of the route on a trail map, and asked a lift operator for advice.
With a general idea of the way down, I decided to go for it. The snow was still plentiful, despite being at an elevation of less than 4,000 feet in late June. As I neared the town, I found myself at another smaller ski area and skied to the side of the road. There were a couple people readying their skis with skins for a few turns in the wet snow.
After a 7,745-foot descent on my skis, I put my shoes back on and hiked the half-mile or so to the bar Jeff was working at. I received a few congratulations from the locals, and immediately started to plan the next day’s ramblings. Will it be Mt. Adams, St. Helens or maybe just enjoy the day windsurfing?
I still have four days, the snow conditions are amazing and I have other peaks staring me in the face. I’m going to see what I can do.
I spent the following day planning a climb of Mt. Adams, which rises to lofty heights above the fertile farmlands of Washington state. I arrived in the evening and climbed until dusk as I reached timberline. I trudged on the next morning chatting with several others from around the country as the sun reached higher into the sky.
It was another amazing climb, with crystal blue skies, and a warm sun beating down on me from ninety million miles away. I met a couple climbers from Denver near Lunch Counter and we gazed at the endless horizon and started the long ski down. We celebrated our success at one of the many microbrews in Hood River, and parted our ways the next day.-
I tried some windsurfing the next two days, mountain biked some incredible trails with a local and eventually returned to Portland. My “date” gave me a ride back to the airport ” the plan B I ended up with was spectacular.
I felt like I was back on the Continental Divide Trail again ” the people I met, landscapes I got to see and the terrain I was able to travel through.
As I write this last paragraph almost a year later, I plan on returning to the area. This time I will start in Southern California, and slowly walk my way to the Columbia. Life is what you make of it ” that line is always ringing in the back of my mind.
Amount spent on $4.50 a gallon gas: zilch.
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