Despite the unbeatable weather, when we pulled into Timberline Sunday morning the stoke level was at an unusual low. We were both feeling the effects of a short night, and pulling our packs out of the car brought the unfortunate realization that we only had one pair of crampons between the two of us. This was especially disappointing as we had tried unsuccessfully to summit this mountain multiple times, and were now determined to finally get to the top. So, as Beyoncé would do, we made our lemons into lemonade. We hoped that the warm weather and softening snow would make crampons more of a bonus than a necessity. We thought at least we could start moving up, and see how far we could get.
The first 2700’ up the south side route run just climbers right of the Palmer chair, which this time of year is shuttling paying skiers most of the way up the mountain. Skinning this stretch can be a bit of a slog, but we found a good rhythm and enjoyed watching racers bash gates as they cruised down the slope. We made respectable time to the top of Palmer, and stopped for lunch about 3000’ above the car. At this point the grade started to steepen, but the snow was soft in the 80+ degree weather and this made for smooth progress.
At a little over 9000’ we found ourselves on the wrong side of narrow stretch of rocks running the fall line. We took off our skis and scrambled left back to the snow, where we had a mostly clear view of the path to the summit. Crater Rock lay another 1000’ above us, and from there you could follow the boot pack straight up through the Pearly Gates or left towards Old Chute. Steel Cliffs loomed tall and sheer to the right. Directly ahead of us Devil’s Kitchen was a jagged cliff band covered in snow and rime, jetting up into up into the cloudless sky. As the temperature rose, we heard frequent ice and rock fall tumbling from these cliffs.
From there we could see that the grade would soon prohibit skinning. We strapped our skis to our packs, and I put on Sam’s crampons. The thinking was that Sam would get more purchase on the footholds in his ski boots than I would in my snowboard boots, and therefore that I should have the spikes. We started gaining ground quickly, and as hoped he was plenty comfortable without extra traction. By the time we gained Crater Rock we had multiple incentives to keep moving. The steam from the fumaroles was so thick with sulfur it was uncomfortable to breathe, and the warming temperatures meant increasing rock and ice fall from the upper cliffs. We angled left towards Old Chute due to its more modest grade, and put all our energy into punching through that channel as quickly as possible.
At the top of Old Chute we came up the south side of a knife-edge. Peering over this ridge I saw that the north face of the mountain fell away below me, and Rainier, Adams, and St. Helens appeared in the distance. We carefully followed the ridge right to the summit. Although it was relatively warm from the constant sun, the wind was whipping on the summit and we were happy to add a few layers. Once we were more bundled we could better take in the view – in addition to the Washington volcanoes we had stunning views of Jefferson, the Sisters, and the Columbia River Gorge.
For the descent we walked back along the ridge line to the top of Old Chute, and strapped in there. The very top of the chute was steep and slick, and I was glad to have my ice axe in hand. About 200’ below the ridge it opened up into cirque with soft corn and smooth turns. It had been four months since I had ridden due to a broken foot, and I was thrilled to be back on the board. The descent was quick, and the snow made for fun riding down to the top of Palmer. At that point the lift had closed, and we had the runs to ourselves. The snow was stickier that far down, but skied out enough that we weren’t lurching out of our boots. At the bottom we followed the last thin track of dirty snow all the way to the parking lot. It’s always great to finally bag a summit that has skunked you a few times, and the lemonade that day was especially sweet.