Winter Corn on McLoughlin

Mt McLoughlin (9495ft) via East Ridge, 4500ft Easy Snow, 12 Feb 2020

Life in Bend, at least for me, falls into a comfortable rhythm in which a cycle of schoolwork, hanging out with friends, celebrating 21st birthdays at the bars on Sunday nights, conducting research interviews (more on that later) and climbing at Smith makes one easily forget the day of the week as time flies and the days blur into each other.

Going out and climbing mountains is my way of slowing down time, of providing some much needed time and space for reflection and introspection, for challenge and adventure; a way of adding value and satisfaction to the daily routine. (I think) I’m learning to embrace the balance; that time in the mountains adds value to daily life, and daily life adds value to time in the mountains.

And so I cherish these opportunities to disconnect, even for a day, while reconnecting with myself and, in this case, my close friend Will, who joined me on this midweek trip down to Mt. McLoughlin in southern Oregon.

Thielsen’s rime-covered summit pinnacle that sent me running. More on that later (maybe)

After a somewhat scary failed solo attempt on Mt Thielsen a few days earlier that had seen me get halfway up the summit pinnacle, within 30 feet of the summit, cleaning friable rime ice to find secure footing as the unconsolidated snow below whipped up, stung my skin and blinded my eyes, I was looking forward to a much more tame, “ski-mo” type objective. As a plus, the springlike snow conditions and temperatures gave us a good feeling about the day ahead.

Will and I headed south on Tuesday night, stopping in Chemult where Will bought his first legal beer, which we’d enjoy responsibly back at the trailhead the following afternoon. We huddled up in his car for the night, reminiscing about last summer’s adventures and grateful for the lack of cell reception.

The alarm sounded at 5am the next morning, and we lazily listened to Tyler Childers on the stereo while summoning the energy to step back into the surprisingly nippy night. We skinned through a seemingly endless forest, having had to start much lower due to the summer trailhead being closed, finally breaking out of the trees only around 1200ft from the summit.

Breaking out of the woods and into the sunshine

Lacking ski crampons, we had to swap skins for crampons and hike up the final ridge, which allowed for plenty of time to take in the impressive northern aspects of the mountain.

Coming up the ridge. Photo: Will Kramer!

We made good time considering our relatively casual pace, and stood on top 5 hours after setting out. The views were expansive, from Shasta down south all the way up to the Three Sisters above Bend.

Will on top, contemplating the impressive lines on McLoughlin’s northern bowls

The ski descent that followed was by far my best yet of the year. Having dealt with tough conditions throughout the winter, from variable, breakable crust to bottomless powder, the corn that awaited underfoot was a blessing, and we hooted and hollered down 3000ft of perfect, wide open bowls back down into the forest.

We threw the skins back on down in the woods, enjoyed a leisurely and warm zig-zag through dense vegetation back to the car, cracked our beers, and were back in Bend before dark.

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