Mount Persis Snowshoe

Mt Persis on Sunday April 6th was a lot of fun, and a decent pre-summer workout! Alex Johnson, Evan Severson, and Erik Chelstad joined me. The summer-stats on it are 2 miles from trailhead to summit, gaining 2650’ of elevation. Given that it’s still very much winter conditions out there, with the trailhead at 2800’ on an unmaintained logging road, I went with the expectation that we would have to park the car well before the trailhead & snowshoe to it, possibly doubling our distance for the day. That could have made for a very long snowshoeing day, so I had us start early, picking people up at 5am.

Here’s a map I found on the Internet:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/nabuckley/5651454219/in/set-72157626563994646

Here are my pictures from our day: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/cccjitk9g892qoc/6OHV2ak2Jf

Erik’s pictures: https://www.flickr.com/gp/10298824@N08/8Cw1P6/

Finding Forest Road 62 from Hwy 2 is easy enough. Once on Forest Road 62, there are multiple unmarked side roads for logging, many of which aren’t shown on maps. My hiking GPS proved useful for differentiating between roads we did or did not care about. Ignore the first left, then take every left after that. The giant valley has many clear-cuts and shooting ranges I hadn’t been aware of before. The road is rough, we were thankful to have to ground clearance that my Subaru Forester provides, anything lower to the ground would have bottomed out. We found ourselves in between two cloud layers: heavy fog below us, and ceiling of the same gray above us, but where we were we could see across the valley to other slopes.

We arrived at the trailhead at 7:30am, and we were able to drive all the way to the summer-trailhead with no snow on the road at all. There’s no sign, just a wider section of road about a tenth of a mile before it dead-ends, and an unmaked dirt trail on the uphill bank going into the woods. We were hiking up this by 7:45am. It’s steep & narrow, pretty much a class 2 scramble right off the bat, but very well defined and easy to follow. Although it was not raining, brushing against wet branches made us look like we had been through a downpour only 5 minutes into the hike. I had worn my rain shell & pants from the get-go, but opted not to put on gaiters before reaching snow, which was a mistake. The wet foliage soaked my socks, which in turn soaked the inside of my otherwise-waterproof boots.

We exited dense trees, finding ourselves ascending in a recovering clear cut. We were in a heavy fog, making for a very moody landscape. Around 9am the snow-cover became continuous, and we had to gingerly cross a partially covered talus field, unsure if each step onto snow would be supported by a rock below, or plunge into an ankle-torquing gap. Soon after that, we put on our snowshoes. We could not have continued without them, our postholes were becoming waist deep. Around 10am we left the old clearcut by pushing through a brief wall of trees to find easily-travelled forest on the uphill side. Every now and then on this hike, we got a view some big craggy cliff of rock or another dropping off from the side of where we were heading. With the fog, we often couldn’t tell how far down they might drop, or if the edge was corniced, so we always kept a few trees between us and the edge.

One ridgeline gently melds into another, and the route bends a little more southeast. Along this ridge, there are some breaks in the trees that would definitely make for an avalanche path. We choose our routes carefully, often sticking to a medium band of trees right on the ridge, where there were cliffs to our left and potentially slide-prone slopes to our right. The tree branches were laden with beautiful rime ice. I’m afraid I took almost no pictures at this point though, since it was just too many steps to get my hands out of my wet gloves, get my camera out of it’s zip loc bag, etc.

As we got close to the summit, we began seeing larger & larger meadows without trees. Knowing there were tarns somewhere in the area, and not wanting to trust them to be well-frozen on this 40° day, we again hugged the edge of the trees. The problem came 200 vertical feet shy of the summit, a few minutes before noon. The line of trees we had chosen ended, and leaving it meant stepping out into the whitest whiteout I’ve ever been in in my life. We could see each other just fine, but the snowpack and the fog were so identically the same nondescript hazy color that I could not tell whether the snow ahead of me was angled uphill or down until I stepped on it and could feel it. We stopped and discussed for a bit, and decided it was best to turn around at this point.

We retraced our steps, pausing for 30 minutes for a lunch break once we found the shelter of more trees.  The snow had softened significantly since we had gone up, and we found many more of our foot steps sliding out from under us, but there was always a nearby tree branch to grab for support.  We were back down to the car by 3:15pm. It was a fun trip, a satisfying workout, provided a little route-finding practice, as well as practice for making good decisions about risk levels. I’m really glad we got out and tackled it, and I feel really successful about our almost-summit!

Gear notes: We had each packed snowshoes, beacon/probe/shovel, and an ice axe. The snowshoes proved essential. The avy gear I would not have wanted to be without even though we stayed out of danger by carefully choosing where on the terrain we travelled. The ice axe made a nice walking stick, but was not strictly necessary and a trekking pole could have worked just as well. You can stay within trees almost the entire way, so if you did slide you’d probably catch yourself on one of them rather than try to self arrest. Full rain gear was also essential. Sunglasses were important outside the trees at the top, even though it was foggy. Somehow you could still feel the sunshine, and things were a little too white to be comfortable on the eyes.

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