Cone Peak snow skills practice

March 16, 2014.

Today’s hike was for training purposes. Part of the prep to climb Mt. St. Helens was learning to use snowshoes, crampons and ice axes. So I took a small portion of my team up Cone Peak to practice these skills.

We started our hike from Tombstone Pass without a lick of snow on the ground. Within the first mile or so we began crossing snow patches and then consistent snow. In some places we had to do some creative routefinding to stay on the trail. This trail is not well marked for off-season travel.

Once we made our way out of the forest and into the first big meadow, we hurried to put on our sunglasses: it was bright up here! Soon, our objective was in sight. Unfortunately most of the upper cone had melted out. But we had enough snow to play with to practice snow travel techniques.

I found a flat spot where the team could switch from snowshoes to crampons and we geared up to finish the last bit of steep climbing. It was much steeper than anything we’d find on Mt. St. Helens, but it was pretty short and it was a great introduction to snow climbing. I did a brief demo on how to hold the ice ax and how to self-arrest.

The team moved up methodically, kicking steps into the soft snow. Our path switchbacked up the snowfield, avoiding the bare rock outcrops as we went. It was pretty cloudy but we could still see the Three Sisters and lots of other wooded bumps all around us.

Once we gained the summit ridge, we walked on mostly dirt and rocks to the summit. There, it was time for lunch and a treat: chocolate-dipped strawberries!

On the way back, we practiced downclimbing, glissading and self-arrest. This was easier for some than others, and it took a lot of guts for one of my climbers to make it down the snow. She was nearly paralyzed by fear. But with the support of our team she made it through and was grateful to be on mellower terrain. When we reached the flat spot we changed gear once again and followed our tracks out.

The rest of the hike was a breeze. It was a nice day to be out exploring, learning new skills, and finding our edges!

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