Mount Gilbert, Elevation 8,201ft
Northeast Face, 55+ degrees
Ben, Troy, Charlie
The Northeast Face of Mount Gilbert seen from the West Ridge of Tieton Peak. Our ski descent is in red.
This is one of the earliest trips that I can recall. I'll always remember it because I'm pretty sure that we made a first descent. My friends and I had been eyeballing the Northeast Face of Gilbert for some time. The face fills with snow during a typical winter and remains skiable in the early spring. Of course we didn't know this at the time. All we knew was that a steep white face did exist and that meant that it could be skied. Perhaps?
We left Yakima sometime in the morning, most likely on a weekend, planning to ski from the top of Gilbert the following day. Two-day trips are difficult, especially with long approaches, as was the case with Gilbert. The trailhead at Conrad Meadows (more like Conrad Cowpatch as this area is often used for grazing) is about an hour's drive west of Yakima. The trail is flat for the first three or four miles. The last three miles involves an elevation gain of approximately 3000ft. The transition from dirt to snow takes place somewhere in-between. We made it to camp that afternoon and set up our tent near treeline. We decided to cut down on weight and only bring one tent. We are all over 6' tall so things were a bit cramped. We were hoping that it wouldn't rain so that our gear could stay outside.
McCall Basin. Our camp was in the mound of trees at the high center of this photo. The climbing route is in green and the ski descent in red. The other portion of the ski descent can be seen in the previous photo. Note the ominous looking clouds.
It started pouring shortly before dark. We squeezed inside our tent, gear and all, and began the not so typical high school hangout. One thing I have learned during my ventures is that mountains, money and women make for great conversation. We dozed off around 11pm as the rain continued. Troy began to question his decision to go on this trip.
Clearing at camp while the summit awaits.
We awoke to a beautiful sunrise the following morning. Our hopes had come true. We had a quick breakfast and began our ascent. Carrying the skis on our packs was the method of choice. The snow was well consolidated and there were several steep sections that would have been troublesome for skins.
Easy going in the basin.
We made a brief stop after an hour or so to shed some clothes. We couldn't help but notice the steep lines across the basin. They would definitely be worth checking out on the way down.
Steep lines that we couldn't resist on the way down, even though they were out of the way.
Another hour of hiking led us to the ridge and an astonishing discovery -- everything around us was engulfed in clouds. We could see the tops of Mount Adams and Mount Rainier but the clouds hid everything below 8,000ft. This layering effect is a common occurrence throughout the Cascades. There was an added blessing -- the rain shadow of the Cascade Crest that had eluded us the night before was in full swing. We were beginning to realize how lucky we were to have come from the east.
The ridge (Cascades Crest) looking southwest towards Mount Adams. We were fortunate to have come from the east.
We continued to climb, having crossed over the crest. Wind and sun batter the rocky Southwest Face so there are no permanent snowfields there. Hiking in ski boots is difficult on rock. Fortunately, the previous night's storm left us with a foot of new snow to make steps and we were on top within 30 minutes.
New snow near the top.
Charlie on top with the rope. Troy checking out the Northeast Face.
As expected, the views were incredible. We took a few photos, signed the register, tossed a few rocks off the Northeast Face (a vertical cliff in most spots) and traversed a bit to see if we could ski it. The face looked very nice. Several inches of soft heavy snow that would allow for a good edge. I decided to use a rope for some reason or another. Troy tied me off to a rock and let out slack as I made my way down the steep face. I made a few turns before untying from the rope and traversed underneath a rock where I could take photos of Charlie. Troy was kind (or scared) enough to descend the way we had come up and meet us on the other side. Charlie began his descent, quite amazingly, by linking turns as if he were at a resort. He did have the advantage of being on alpine skis, however nothing could make it any less steep. We estimated the slope to be 55 to 60 degrees.
Charlie making it look easy on the Northeast Face. Here it's 55 degrees. This was the easy part.
We skied another 500 vertical feet of 45 to 50 degree slope before traversing south to meet Troy back on the ridge. We were both very pleased with the descent thus far and there was much more skiing to come. Troy made it down safely and we continued south to the top of the steep lines that we had seen earlier. We saw a few mountain goat tracks so we figured it was safe. We skied another 2000 vertical feet of 40 to 45 degree on perfect corn snow. A quick tuck down the basin led us to our camp. We were very happy campers at this point.
Happy campers. Charlie, Troy and I at camp.
The day was far from over. We had 7 or 8 miles of mostly walking to get back to the car. However, this was of little concern after having skied a knarly line of the top of Mount Gilbert.