Archived Climbing Report - May 09, 2004
These reports were summaries based on reports from climbers and skiers, weather and avalanche reports, and prior experiences. Observations are sparse and conditions vary widely throughout the Cascades as well as with elevation and aspect on any particular mountain. The intent of these reports is to give a starting point for what to expect - but your safety and that of your partners relies on your own observations and decisions!
These reports are archives and are saved for reference only - they do not apply at this time!!!
Sunday May 9, 2004
The few reports from the past several days, including the weekend, were quite mixed. The weather has been very unsettled, as predicted, but was not nearly as wet as expected in all areas. The east side in particular continued to have spring-like conditions with winds and clouds but fairly infrequent precipitation.
In the Sisters area on Thursday night and Friday a variety of conditions were observed on an ascent of the East Face of Middle Sister. In the afternoon and into early evening the snow was quite warm with a high water content up to at least 7000'. It did refreeze overnight. There were some signs that it had been softening up considerably through the week, including some old tracks which had penetrated beyond ankle deep in the SE ridge of Middle. Climbing conditions on the East Face were solid on the lower half but on the higher sections there is a thin layer on the surface which is very weak and unreliable for cramponing. Below this is a firm crust layer which can be kicked into with some effort. This firm layer can be entirely penetrated with a 55cm axe shaft and seems to have no support below. As long as refreezing is adequate this should hold up, but if this firm layer becomes too soft there could be some avalanche danger. Expect this late in the day if it occurs at all. At this time there were no observations of recent avalanches of any kind that we are aware of.
On the descent on Friday the surface softened nicely on the Hayden Glacier below 8000' by mid-morning. There was also significant rockfall beginning well before this on the East and Southeast aspects of Middle Sister and Prouty Point. With a cold wind up higher the surface remained icy until much later. There are ski tracks on the SE and N Ridges of Middle Sister and the steep SE slopes on the flank of the SE ridge of North Sister across from Prouty Point.
Reports from Mt Hood (south side only) on Friday and Saturday included very low visibility and blowing snow. Even one party with a great deal of local knowledge found themselves over by ZigZag canyon on a ski descent. Several other parties were headed off-route during this period also. While the climbing and skiing can still be ok in these unsettled conditions, depending on the luck of your timing, be prepared to navigate by compass or GPS and remember that on skis it is especially easy to get some distance off-route before realizing it.
While Mt Hood had low visibility, except for Sunday, the east side of the Sisters had a strong cold wind aloft which either brought clouds into the region at times or formed them orographically over the high volcanoes. At the same time there were periods of strong spring sun which warmed the surface. On Friday evening this combination of cold air aloft and warming on the surface led to convection and strong thunderstorms.
With such varied conditions throughout the range and few detailed reports it is difficult to anticipate how conditions vary right now. There has been a lot of variation in overnight cloud cover, precipitation (amount, type and snow level), and solar warming. Some effects such as convection showers are inherently isolated and highly variable. Expect that the amount of refreezing has been quite variable - checking the firmness of the surface layer and whether or not an axe will penetrate it into soft wet snow is a good idea.
It's worth noting that we are reaching a point where routes with Bergshrunds are becoming more difficult. It has been reported for some time that on the North Face couloirs on Mt Hood the bergshrund would be the crux (and at this point the routes may or may not even be in condition at all). The bergshrund to get onto the East Face of Middle Sister is open wide but can still be passed on the far right with ease, as well as some exposure to rockfall. The bergshrund above the Hogsback on Mt Hood is apparently bridged but very thinly so and most parties are skirting it on one side or the other. (The climbers left is more traditional, the climbers right may be more direct this year but does have more rockfall exposure most years.)
Approaches - Below 5500-6000' are spotty, count on walking up to a level somewhere in that range based on information from the Sisters and Diamond Peak areas. The Tilly Jane trail up the north side of Mt Hood is apparently mostly dirt and a hike now. There is no definitive word on opening Cascade Lakes highway except that they are working on it from the south, as always. The current word is that it should be open by Memorial Day weekend, as usual.
Outlook - While Sunday turned out to be nice in many areas, including Mt Hood and the Willamette Valley, the low pressure system which has been hanging offshore and causing our varied and unsettled weather is ready to move inland. It is forecast to track to the south and off into the Great Basin on Sunday night and Monday. This will bring more precipitation to the south part of the range but showers are also forecast throughout the Oregon Cascades through Monday. Snow accumulations of an inch or two are forecast, as they were during the past week. The typical result is a generally thin layer of new snow which consolidates in the spring sun quickly, but at higher elevations the amount of accumulation will vary widely with the effects of wind. Even a small amount of snow with moderate winds will often cover pre-existing tracks.
As this low moves off into Nevada there are several effects predicted, all of which will bring a continued chance of showers through Tuesday or Wednesday. Mid-week sometime a ridge of high pressure should build and give us very nice conditions for the later half of the week and hopefully into next weekend. Temperatures should be a bit slow to rise this time, and combined with the May sunshine we should have excellent skiing conditions. The duration of this high pressure ridge is uncertain at this point with a lot of disagreement in the model predictions.