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| | |-+  May 28, 2005, Vulcans Eye, Mt. Lassen
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Author Topic: May 28, 2005, Vulcans Eye, Mt. Lassen  (Read 2756 times)

Posts: 2450

May 28, 2005, Vulcans Eye, Mt. Lassen
« on: 05/30/05, 10:57 AM »

We met our friends at the southwest entrance of Lassen on the evening of May 27th.  The old ski chalet is being torn down and a new visitors center will built on the site.  In the past, we would park the camper in the lot at the chalet for free.  Now the park service allows you to park or camp on the snow for $10 a night. Unfortunately there are no services or water.  So we traveled down the road and parked on some free national forest land.  The weather forecast was for a system to approach the mountains during the day. The Sierra Club folks had to wait until 9:30am for some late Bay Area arrivals, so Jill and I decided to get an early start for our ski from the summit of Mt. Lassen.  We woke to the sounds of light drizzle on the camper. This is our third trip to ski Lassen and we have had rain storms abort the previous trips.  We decided to drive to the trailhead and wait for a miracle.  The south entrance road is open to the Bumpass Hell parking area which is at about 8100 feet.  The summit of Mt. Lassen is 10,457 feet so the approach from the south is an easy climb in the right conditions.  There were other vehicles in the parking area and the overcast skies promoted the patented gear fumble and stall technique.  Finally about 9, there seemed to be a break in the approaching clouds and patches of blue sky appeared.  The activity in the parking area accelerated and although the winds seemed to be gaining in velocity the clearing sky caused a mass exodus.  

We carried our skis around the gate about 100 yards and began skinning across Helen Lake. Two young guys seemed to want to break trail and we lagged sufficiently behind to allow them the opportunity to help out a couple of retirees.   I was impressed with their skillful route selection as we skinned along the south side of the climbers trail; and just as we were running out of snow they crossed a two foot section of rock to the north side of the climbers trail.  From this point we had continuous snow to the summit.   As we were ascending the sky cleared and the sun appeared and the winds increased. The climbers trail provides an excellent view of the southeast bowl which was the planned descent route of our Sierra friends.  The far side of the bowl had a wet slab avalanche within the past 24 hours and the remaining bowl had a similar aspect and pitch which seemed to indicate the remaining bowl could release at anytime.  We decided another descent route would be appropriate.  The final 200 vertical was the most memorable mountain ascent I have ever experienced.  It began with the unusual feeling of the wind pushing us UP the mountain.  At first I thought it was enjoyable but it quickly became a fight for controlling my movement and staying stable.  The wind was blowing at a velocity that I have never experienced in the mountains.  My one piece ski outfit had a few zippers open for ventilation and the wind filled the gaps and unzipped the entire length creating a sail. There were no gusts, just sustained high winds. At 205 pounds with a 25 pound pack, I am rather stable but I literally had to struggle to stay upright as the wind pushed me across the summit ridge.  I finally fought my way to a large boulder and tucked behind it.  I looked for Jill and she had been blow over.  The zippers on her ski outfit were open and filled with air and she was unable to close them.  I dumped my gear behind the boulder and struggled to her, zipped up her outfit and tried to create a windbreak for her as we inched our way towards the safety of the boulder.

Once behind the boulder, we both exclaimed HOLY SHIT that was unbelievable.  Then we waited for the wind to subside. After a half hour it seemed to remain the same.  We decided to carry our gear over the ridge to the west side to get out of the wind.   The wind seemed to subdue a bit so we pulled the skins and wrapped around towards the southwest face.  We traversed across the west gully which was a frozen 1000 foot slide for life face. We finally reached the small finger of snow on the southwest gully above Vulcans Eye.  This is a stunning descent line but the winds were as strong as on the summit ridge.  We were trapped on the snow finger.  There was a beautiful double fall line pitch at the top but we could not take a chance of turning and falling due to the velocity of the wind. We could not even make a kick turn because of our concern about the wind catching the raised ski.  We had to slowly side slip the finger for about 100 vertical feet until the gully widened enough for us to turn.  Once onto a widened slope we encountered breakable crust with strong winds for another 200 vertical.  I watched as the wind knocked Jill over 5 times as she initiated turns.  Finally, the snow softened and we were able to link creamy deep corn turns for a 1000 vertical run down the face. The remaining descent to Helen Lake was unconsolidated mush that triggered a couple of small sloughs.  When we finally reached the road, we felt like we had been beat up in a wind tunnel.  We finally skied Lassen and descended an aesthetic line BUT the wind and snow conditions make it one of the most memorable descents of our life.

Later at camp we learned that our friends did start to ski the south east bowl and triggered a large avalanche. Luckily, no one was caught and the experience became a topic of numerous discussions over the next few days.  I think tomorrow we will try a more modest ski tour.    Zap & Jill

« Last Edit: 06/07/05, 08:42 AM by Zap » Logged
Jeff Huber

Posts: 771

Re: May 28, 2005, Vulcans Eye, Mt. Lassen
« Reply #1 on: 05/30/05, 12:55 PM »

The final 200 vertical was the most memorable mountain ascent I have ever experienced.

Wow. Nice story Zap, I was gripped just reading it!


Posts: 8

Re: May 28, 2005, Vulcans Eye, Mt. Lassen
« Reply #2 on: 05/31/05, 04:25 AM »


My wife and I were there on Saturday, too.  After seeing your picture on previous threads, I know I saw you and your camper but I just didn't realize it then.  

You must have descended before us.  We opted for the west face after seeing the conditions on the SE face.  It felt like the west face of Shasta, only a third as long.  Smiley

Sunday we returned to a frozen snow pack and much more stable conditions.  We did three laps on Eagle Peak.  Lots more people out but the summit was engulfed in clouds for much of the day.  

Posts: 2450

Re: May 28, 2005, Vulcans Eye, Mt. Lassen
« Reply #3 on: 05/31/05, 10:21 AM »

Jeff, I was "gripped" also. Smiley

Powderjunkie, We skied SKi Heil a couple of times and also Bumpass Hell on Sunday.  You're right the conditions were enjoyable on the lower peaks.  Heading for Shasta.

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