Quads of the gods

by Mardi Keltner
(with many thanks to Ken Parton)

It was only about 25 miles from the snow park near Santiam Pass along the Pacific Crest Trail and down to where we'd leave the truck near McKenzie Pass. If we allowed ourselves three days we thought we'd have plenty of time to play along the way. (Ha!)
We began skiing south in the bright sunlight with Mt. Washington ahead gleaming like a crystal. The first couple of miles across the old burn went quickly despite our heavy packs and the deep, fresh snow. After lunch we entered the Mt. Washington Wilderness and the open burn turned to a densely tree-covered hillside. The trail markers were hidden by the deep snow and we were soon pushing south without benefit of a trail to follow. Each tree was weighted down with hundreds of pounds of snow which, when disturbed, came avalanching down on us. (And it seemed like we disturbed every tree we passed.) After hours of struggle and laughter we came to a clearing and were surprised to find we had traveled nearly as far as we had planned.
The weather had changed and we made camp in the blowing snow, digging out foot holes and setting up the tents face to face. For dinner we feasted on an 'edible' slurry of dried stuff with boiling water poured over it. Maryanne calls this delight D.V. (dog vomit). Yumm. After dinner it felt wonderful to stretch out and fall asleep in our snug tents.
The following morning we battled our way over the southwest ridge of Mt. Washington through more fresh snow and dense trees. Maryanne encouraged us with comments about what "quads of the gods" we'd develop breaking trail with heavy packs for mile upon mile. The going was slow and we were glad we had allowed ourselves three days to make the trip. Actually, we wondered if three days would be enough and the talk jokingly turned towards which one of us we'd have to eat when the food was gone. Maryanne settled the point by insisting that since we hadn't brought the "Haunch Helper", cannibalism was out of the question. (Perhaps you had to be there...)
After cresting the ridge we had an equally rough time descending. The snow was deeper and softer on the lee side, and pocked with bottomless tree wells. First Ken and then Maryanne became stuck, tangled in the soft snow and tree limbs at the bottom. We whooped with joy when we made it down the ridge and out onto the open lava field to the south. It would be easy going from here (we thought), just a gradual climb up Belknap and then Little Belknap Craters to our high point, and then a long swoop down to McKenzie Pass and out the closed highway and back to the truck.
Now the snow was more consolidated and the skiing easier. Larry led, and soon found a huge crater in the snow-covered lava. It was awe inspiring, but a bit unnerving since it was invisible in the flat light until the tips of our skis were nearly hanging over the edge. We pushed on up the increasing grade and around many more of the odd craters as our quads became ever more 'godlike'. The sunset was beautiful and the evening mild, and as we set up camp we all looked forward to a fun downhill ski out in the morning.
It was cold and calm the next morning and the clouds had settled in around us. The snow was white, the sky was white, and visibility was nearly zero. We took a compass bearing and started out into the fog. It was distinctly unsettling. We moved slowly, staying in sight of eachother and thinking about the huge craters which we'd so gingerly navigated around the previous day. At one point I looked down and realized the snow was moving from the back of my skis toward the front. Without knowing it I'd come to a full stop and begun sliding backwards! Ken bravely took the lead, and it was only after he'd move a few yards ahead that the rest of us could even tell if the way was uphill or downhill. We paused at the top of what appeared to be a long open slope and debated whether or not to push off and gilde down. After a considerable discussion Ken 'went for it', and skied face first into an eight foot snow drift!
About noon, exhausted from the tension and disorientation, we glimpsed the treeline ahead and skied down off the lava and onto the road. Bullseye! Still, there was another seven miles to go along the snow covered road, and although it was all downhill it was a long seven miles. We spread out and plodded along, and were all very glad when we reached the truck.

Participants: Ken Parton, Maryanne Reiter, Larry King, Mardi Keltner

Photos by Larry King and Ken Parton