Moolock Mountain Winter Ascent 03-21-2021

Ascending the deep snow of the steep summit slopes…

Epic winter ascent of Moolock Mountain, my 15th Home Court 100. Benson and I gained 5200 feet, 15.5 miles, in 11 hours C2C.

Normally a tame jaunt up an old logging road, today’s winter conditions presented a great snowshoe hike from 2500 – 4000 feet. After 4000 feet, the road becomes a trail, taking one through a winter wonderland of snow swept corridors, deep snow gated by towering trees, branches, and boughs heavy with a fresh dump of winter snow, which became increasing deep from a fresh dump this week, deepening the track to at least 24 inches.

Travel became increasingly slow from 4000 feet to the summit which measured just shy of 5000. It felt like we were traversing in quicksand (like I would know what that’s like). Per the mountain forecast, winds increased in the afternoon to 25+ mph blowing snow sidewise into our faces. It was snowing forcefully – not large flakes, but lots of small particles, sting any exposed body part. All of my gear froze up – straps, buckles, zippers – all became marginally functioning and made gear swap out cold and cumbersome. I went through 3 pairs of gloves. My hair even froze stiff! Visibility increasingly dropped to about 100 feet on the final push. The trail veered off to the left of the ridge, which put us under a 35-45 degree slope that looped ripe for a slide. We backtracked and made a direct line for the summit ridge. This proved challenging as the fresh snow was powdery and loose. Attempts to gain purchase with our snowshoes left us sloughing off 24″ of fresh snow with each step until we could find the hardpack and dig in the teeth and crampons of the snowshoes. Kick stepping proved futile in these conditions, and our axes only sank to the head. We finally obtained the ridge which provided a brief respite of the sloppy and slippery ascent and pushed upward. The right side of the ridge was heavily corniced and had a steep dropoff. We continued upwards which only got steeper and made for some interesting moves.

We finally obtained the summit, which appeared corniced from our approach, so we gingerly got close, but stayed below the expected ridge crest for safety, as any incident up here in these conditions would have been a bad situation with the weather.

We descended after a couple of minutes, opting not to eat as the weather was worsening and the trip back down the ridge would prove challenging. The wind was blowing so hard, that within 10 minutes of the summit, our tracks were completely covered. Fortunately, we reconnoitered the ridge with sufficient attention to know the path down, plus had a Suunt0, 3 Garmins, Gais, AllTrails, map, MC Global, blah blah blah – we could find the way down. We plunged stepped, glissaded and slid down the initial 500 feet, then donned our snowshoes for the remainder for the descent. Shortly thereafter I began to posthole up to my waist only to realize that I lost a snowshoe about 200 feet up – and up I went searching for it. Fortunately, I found it, otherwise, it was going to be a long 4000 feet and 7 miles down. We considered bagging South Bessamer, but darkness was settling in, we were cold, and a Popeyes Chicken Sandwich at exit 34 was awaiting – and we did not know when they closed, so that influenced our turn around time and motivated us to pick up the pace down.

For future reference, Popeyes is open until 9PM. All in all, a superb outing, testing our limits, capabilities, gear, and judgment. On the descent down the logging road portion, we post mortemed our trip up, thinking about the choice to push on. We felt the avy danger was reduced by taking the ridge, we were adequately skilled, prepared to spend an unplanned evening if necessary, had the means for a rescue worse case, but being Mountaineers prefer to be self-reliant, and overall felt physically and mentally well after the uphill push.

For my fellow PNW Peakbaggers, I know you all have the skills and knowledge to see if this trip in this condition is for you. In retrospect, I would choose a good weather day – little to no precip, minimal wind, and solid snow conditions would make for a better outing – we had no views which disappointing as we were looking forward to seeing Lake Moolock, Lake Nadeaum, and SMC Lake. Perhaps a future trip up South Bessemer is in order.–26

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