Skiing Powder in Mt Hood's Leuthold Couloir

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29 March 2003

Story and Photos By Jason Hummel

Leuthold Couloir Leuthold Couloir

Weather up north wasn't forecasted to be very good and terrible weather during our last few excursions (and many following) demanded that nice weather be a prerequisite. The plan was to leave Friday night, get to the parking lot, and to climb either Leuthold Couloir or the Sandy Headwall. The final decision on the route was left to weather and conditions to determine.

Sometime around 3:30 am, Sky and I started down the parking lot and I guess I was spending more time gawking at the stars than paying attention to my footing. Sky slipped first but he kept it in control. I wasn't so lucky. I saw the toes of my ski boots before I felt my head crash into the icy cement. Yea, I'm awake now!

snowcat The snowcat that impressed Jason

Sky was STOKED Sky was really enjoying himself.

Skiing above Illumination Saddle That's me making turns with Illumination Saddle and Ski Bowl in view.

Climbing the ski area was a curious affair. Snow cats lit up like space ships cruised up and down the powder-filled slopes. My thumb was feeling the itch more than once each time they passed. By the time we reached the top of the lift area the mountain was beginning to light up. The surrounding blue made hope surge. We can't fail now, I kept saying to myself. This always happens, the point where success must be guaranteed and nothing can stop you. At Illumination saddle the wind was ferocious. Sky wasn't sure he wanted to go further because of his still tender frostbitten fingers. I told him I wanted to take a look. At the ridge, I continued and Sky followed and the wind wasn't as much of a concern. The couloir was above and the Sandy Headwall was further around the mountain. We stuck with Leuthold because the snow was too deep to continue traversing. Anyhow, we concluded the couloir looked like the best place to be.

Rivers of debris pelted us and little bits of feathers floated down the entire time. I spent much of the climb trying to discover the frozen bird's hidden grave, but I never did see it. Higher, ice-shrouded cliffs surrounded us. "This is cool," I remember saying.

A few hours later we stood on top of the couloir. Deep snow throughout had worn us out. The summit ridge was to our right, the Sandy headwall was in front of us, and one heck of a view could be appreciated in every direction. We decided to leave our packs and carry our skis up the not-so-ski-friendly ridge. Jeff was waiting for us on the summit. He had gone up the standard route. I had him snap a pic of Sky and me before we hightailed our butts back to the couloir. Hovering fog had swirled up from below us and threatened to inundate us. We waited for an opening before heading down.

The snow in the couloir was far more stable than we expected. What's this? Powder, steeps, and sun. Heck yea!

At the bottom, I am sure we both wanted to be transported back to the top. We traversed to Illumination Saddle and climbed a few hundred feet up. We were presented with a different world. A group of people were lounging at the saddle, the temperature felt 20 degrees warmer, and hundreds of people speckled the lower slopes. Yikes!

We both pointed the skis to Timberline. I went far left, trying to find snow that wouldn't stick. Instead I found snow that stuck worse and headered hard. I came up with a bloody face. Wrecks on flats seemed to be taking their toll on me. A few weeks earlier I tore some cartilage in my ribs on the best powder day of the year and three days to enjoy it. Did I mention it was on the third run? At least this misery was a thousand feet from the bottom.

Timberline lodge beckoned. Up in the lounge we hung out and enjoyed the next few hours. On the drive home, I saw that it was 72 degrees in Portland. Nice weather indeed! A good trip at a great place.

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Hopefully we can survive our ambition.