Mt. Bailey: 90% Fun, 10% Head Trauma
Mountain: Mt. Bailey 8,368'
Line skied: Avalanche Bowl, 1,300'
Total terrain: 4,680', 16.6 mi. (Some of this was a snowmobile tow)
April 15, 2023
|Mt. Bailey as seen from Mt. Thielsen
Mt. Bailey flies under the radar, even in surrounding central Oregon. According to several sources, one of the only things recommending it is that there are great views of Mt. Thielsen from the top. Indeed, I first became aware of Mt. Bailey when skiing Mt. Thielsen's SW bowl a few weeks back. Zach, Camden and I all independently came to the same conclusion: "What the hell is that mountain? I need to ski it!" If you can look at the graceful, wide-open bowls ringing Bailey and not be struck by an intense desire to lay some ski tracks on it, I'm sorry, but there is something seriously wrong with you.
A few weeks later, during a short break in between the storms that keep pounding us here in the Cascades, Zach and I decided to give Bailey a shot, primarily because it is the volcano on our to-do list with the shortest approach, and we are lazy. Not that this was a completely roadside tour, the shortest route to the top looked to be at least 4.5 mi one-way.
The forecast called for a high around 41°F and light clouds. We were at a bit of a loss as far as what time to get going, but due to the presence of a melt-freeze crust we timed it to be skiing the mountain on the later side. Leaving Three Lakes Sno-Park we were feeling optimistic it would be a great day. Our plan was to skin in along the road for an easy first few miles and then make our way up one of the southerly ridges to the top.
A short while down the trail, we ran into Grace and Phil, two skiers from Bend who were on snowmobiles. I half jokingly asked if they had room for two more people, and they said yes! Phil deployed the tow rope and we eagerly held on by our poles. This was my first time getting a snowmobile tow. It was certainly spicy not having control over my speed on the icy, chopped up track, but it beat the hell out of skinning.
|Check out that side-by-side on treads!
We looped around to the NW side of the mountain, where a motorized trail allows you to ride all the way to the summit. I'm not nearly enough of a ski touring purist to say no to that. Phil did some impressive riding as the trail steepened, but his sled still struggled with all the dead weight it was pulling. Eventually it became clear that the sled was badly overheating, so Zach and I let go and said "see you at the top" to them. We still had about 1,800' and 1.5 mi to the summit.
As promised, at the top we got great views of Diamond Lake and our old friend Mt. Thielsen. The wind was blowing like crazy, surprising on an otherwise lovely day, so we took our selfie quickly and dropped below the ridge to dig a snow pit.
|Zach always ends up doing the manual labor.
We felt confident that the snowpack was solid, knowing that the avalanche forecast in the Mt. Shasta forecast area to the south was all green and the central Oregon forecast area to the north was yellow due to isolated stubborn wind slabs. Still, it never hurts to poke around in the strata of snow and see what you might find. While all the layers we saw looked rock-solid and well bonded, it was clear we aren't at a bomb-proof spring snowpack yet.
It was an easy decision to proceed, so we continued down to the edge of the Avalanche Bowl. At this point, we had settled on this option over the NE face. While the terrain in both looked quite enticing, the Avalanche Bowl would leave us with a much easier exit to the trailhead at the end of the day. Peeking over the lip, it was obvious that there were no bad lines on this thing. Wherever you looked, you could carve big turns on moderately steep slopes in between buttresses of exposed lava rock. Add some soft creamy snow to that....you get the idea.
|Oh yeah baby! Photo: Zach Smith
For those not already keeping track at home, it was my turn to lead the way down. Zach followed in style as I waited for him in the runnout of what was clearly a monstrous slide path. My assessment was that if you were worried about the potential for a big slide, there would be nowhere in the bowl that was safe to stop and regroup. Given that we were only worried about wet loose slides and maybe a small wind slab, I felt safe stopping there.
Our path back to the top took us up the southerly part of the bowl, which ended up being a steep, sweaty affair. This is probably unavoidable unless you want contour for a ways before intersecting the ridge. At this point, the snow was getting quite soft and we were nervous to be exposed for so long on the avalanche-prone face. The frozen debris of yesterday's wet slides strewn below the rock faces and cornices did nothing to boost our confidence. We decided that this next run would probably be our last.
Once we gained the ridge that stretches south from the summit, the going was easy. From across the bowl, we spied Grace and Phil examining our snow pit from earlier.
|Photo credit: Zach Smith
Zach, to his credit, was kind enough to ask if I was ok before laughing at me. After I picked up the shreds of my dignity, we continued skiing downward, traversing south as much as possible until we hit the road that angles from SE to NW past Hemlock butte. This trail had enough ups and downs that we had to throw our skins back on. When we made it back to the main groomed trail, Phil and Grace weren't there to give us a ride back; how inconsiderate of them. It ended up not being a problem, however, because the icy chop had been groomed into beautiful packed corduroy while we were away and we were able to skate the remaining miles.
|Living in Bend, it is easy to forget that burgers shouldn't cost $18.