Saturday, March 1, 2014

Broken Top: 5th attempt, getting greedy

Having not gotten out much since my sublime experience on Mt. Jefferson, I was stoked to have a free weekend with a good weather forecast. I decided that it was about time I sent Broken Top via the High Noon Couloir and began convincing myself it was a good idea. I tried hard to ignore the fact that I was tired from a combination of lots of work and lots of training over the past week. I also tried hard to imagine that the conditions were good, despite over 20 inches of snow in the past three days and reports of wind loading and avalanche hazard. My one concession to the unknown conditions was to bring a range of climbing gear that weighted my pack and did my fatigued body no favors.

Approaching Broken Top (don't worry, these are not my tracks, I know how to use skins).
I slept in Saturday morning, hoping that I would recover from the week in a single night. I lubricated a scratchy throat with copious tea, ate an insufficient brunch, and packed my gear. I drove up to the Dutchman Flats snow park around 1 PM and started the now familiar skin out to the wilderness boundary. Given the forecast and the weekend I should not have been surprised by the large number of snow mobiles. I generally don't have a problem with the sled-necks, provided they keep their distance and be respectful, but when they decide to gun it within feet of someone on skis they can take their two-stroke motor and shove it up where the sun doesn't shine. I could go on about the inverse correlation between the size of your motorized toys and the size of your manhood... but I digress.

Looking south to Mt. Thielsen.
I dumped my pack on level ground by the last tree and skied into the crater. I didn't think to clip out of my skis and check snow conditions in boots. I also didn't stop to consider how much of the rock bands were buried beneath snow when compared to November. Instead I skied only far enough to see that there was probably sufficient rime and ice on the rock sections to scratch my way up. I skied down to camp, ignoring the ugly turns on the breakable crust. I could tell it was already below freezing and I just told myself that the snow would be nice and solid when I woke up.

Ball Butte on the left and Tumalo in the distance from my camp site.

Alpenglow on Ball Butte.

Alpenglow beneatht the clouds.
Once back at my pack I set up my tent and started melting snow for dinner. The cold air and wind made it slow going and I eventually had my "minute" rice and dehydrated lentils as a tepid soup. I went to bed and soon realized that it was going to be a lot colder than the initial forecast. I shivered most of the night, hugging my cold water bladder and wriggling around trying to keep my feet warm. I finally gave up and started melting water for breakfast at 3 AM. After eating cold water and instant oatmeal mixed together, I battened down the tent against the wind and shouldered my too heavy pack.

I skied up the crater until the angle steepened too much, then stepped on the snow, broke through the crust, and sunk up to my waist. Luckily a nearby fan of rime debris provided firm footing and I carried my skis cramponless up the 45 degree neve to the base of a rock buttress beneath the Eleven O'clock Couloir. There I dug a platform and put on my pons and harness. I stashed my skis and started up the firm debris trail again, but before I could reach the rock the snow returned to breakable crust on waist deep fluff. I tried traversing but it only got worse so I down climbed to slightly lower angle snow and tried traversing right to the next rock buttress, hoping to find something solid enough to safely reach the rock and ice above. I had no luck and the wallowing was so prohibitive that I actually lost elevation traversing. Halfway across the snow field I looked up and considered how ridiculous the whole thing was. I didn't think an avalanche was likely but I'd seen one in this exact same place before and I knew from floundering in the stuff that if it did slide it would be so big no one would find my body until August. More importantly, it was impossibly frustrating and my boots were half filled with snow, making it no fun. Deciding it wasn't worth it, I fought my way back to my skis and descended to more level snow.

The moon was obviously out of alignment, as I didn't have any luck, but it sure looked pretty over Bachelor in the predawn.

Sunrise happens fast... but not fast enough when you can't feel your toes.
I skinned over to the west side of the crater and then back to the east side, looking for something accessible, trying to find some justification for coming out there. Tired, cold and hungry, I ate a granola bar and waited for first light before skiing back to my tent. I packed and skied vigorously for a couple miles until my feet warmed up. I thought the worst was over once the sun rose and I was warm enough to skin in my t-shirt, but within a mile of the car a cloud rolled in and a mini-inversion on Dutchman Flats left me shivering and coughing. I reached the car around 9:45 to find my extra water and food frozen solid. I drove into town and gorged on deli food from Devore's before going home to spend the afternoon as a sleep-deprived zombie. Overall, I was annoyed that I wasted a weekend doing something so worthless, but you have to try to succeed and in the end it's all training anyway.

Sunrise behind Ball Butte.
Ditto... I expected a chorus of angels but the heavens were silent.