Damien has attempted to climb Bald Mountain in winter/Early spring conditions several times. I was with him on his most recent attempt about 2.5 years ago when we had to bail due to scary avalanche conditions on the ridge. This weekend called for stable and moderate conditions in the Cascades. Hoping for a better outcome, Damien and I decided to once again try to Bald Mountain & Helena Peak.

We were able to drive about 2 miles up Deer Park Road before encountering impassable snow. We parked only about .4 miles from the first washout so this was a descent amount of headway. From the car Damien and I continued walking up the road, easily crossing the 4 washouts. After about one mile the snow was fluffy enough to warrant us strapping on our snowshoes. Both of us were surprised at how deep the powder was at 2000 feet. Not very long ago our biggest difficultly was lack of solid snow coverage!

At the end of the road near the TH for Kelcema Lake, Damien and I turned left into the forest and began to break trail up the slope to the NE Ridge. Several yards in we removed our overnight gear from our packs and stashed it in some trees so we could go light and fast. Fast was relative in the terrain. We wove around fallen trees and other terrain obstacles picking our way through the snow covered forest. Luckily, the snow depth increased swiftly and soon we didn’t have to worry about forest debris. We did, however, find that the snow was thick, fluffy and deep with a base that was not very close to the surface. As a result Damien sunk far with every step even with snowshoes.

We reached the open slopes where we had turned around on our last attempt. This time the Damien and I found the snow to be well bonded and we pressed on. However, “breaking trail” seems an inaccurate description. Damien was now tunneling through the snow at this point! We continued pushing our way through the sea of white to the ridge crest. Damien and I began to question how much longer we could continue cutting a trench through the powder or if we had enough daylight to make it to the summit. We continued on until about 3:00pm. The summit was still .84 miles and 700 feet away. There was no way we would make it there before dark; if we could make it at all. Moving had become an incredibly tedious and slow process.

After a brief discussion, we decided that we should abandon our original plan to attempt Helena the following day. Helena is a higher summit and involves a ridge climb about twice as long at Bald. The mountain would almost certainly have the same conditions as Bald and it it didn’t seem worth the attempt. It also didn’t make sense to camp at the base of Bald and then walk the 2.5 miles out the next day when we had a great weather window. It made more sense to choose a new, day-trip objective.

Damien and I descended Bald Mountain reaching the road just before sunset. With a full moon, darkness fell slowly even with the heavy cloud cover and snowflakes falling from the sky. Our legs ached from the attempt, but we looked forward to trying to climb in another part of the Cascades the following day. Sometimes you need to be willing to change plans.

2 Comments

  1. Quite the adventure! Surprised to hear about down trees being obstacles this time of the year especially with the amount of snow coverage. Th narrow ramps below the summit would most likely have posed a major concern had you both decided to continue.

    • wildlifenaturalist@gmail.com

      I think it will be a good early spring trip. We knew about the ramps and were prepared with technical climbing gear. 🙂

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