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Volcano Voyage

Pro Skier Lucas Wachs Shares His Story of Stepping into Mountaineering

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ith their history, aridness and tough terrain, it can be daunting to try to summit any mountain other than South Sister—particularly when they're covered in unforgiving snow. But Bendite Lucas Wachs, a professional skier with a background in park and powder backcountry skiing, wasn't going to stop at just one. Here's his tale of setting out to conquer 10 peaks in the Pacific Northwest. (Here's a slideshow of all the photos from the voyage).

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 feel the most alive when I hike for hours, sweating out all the water in my body, feeling the sun blazing down on my skin. It doesn't sound like the most energizing activity, but if you can find solace in the suffering it brings you, you can also find unexpected peace and energy. Spring skiing cultivates ripe corn snow, ready for the smooth indentations of your skis. Gliding down these mountains of crumbly rock and soft snow with some of the area's best skiers and exploring peaks we'd never set foot on was something I've always thought about—and finally achieved this past spring. We took time planning; aiming for that immaculate snow. In the end, it was worth the 3 am wake up calls, the smashed, soggy PB&Js and the pruned, blistered feet.

Skiing in the spring or summer is much different than winter. For one, the missions require a lot of time prepping, planning and researching. It's easy to build high expectations for your trip— which can be good and bad—but all the group messages and weather forecasting pays off when you actually summit that nostalgic volcano peak. The risk of avalanches is lower due to the somewhat regular freeze and thaw cycles that help stabilize the layers in the snowpack. That doesn't mean avalanches are non-existent; wet slides and point releases (when the top few inches of snow below the rock starts to slide on its own, due to high heat and steepness of the slope) are very real and happen regularly late in the day.

Lucas Wachs - SUBMITTED BY LUCAS WACHS
  • Submitted by Lucas Wachs
  • Lucas Wachs
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n addition, the weather is more predictable and the temps are a lot warmer—and I mean A LOT warmer. You might even want to hike in shorts at times to keep the sweat down. Even with all of that, the timing is key, because rock and icefall is also a serious factor. You want to avoid the path of rock and ice fall, but sometimes it's unavoidable and all you can do is mitigate the risk by being on top of your line or mountain early.

Warm temps also mean sweating, and with that sweating comes dehydration, and dehydration means less energy on these long missions—which is why you want to hydrate properly with electrolytes and bring a lot of food, more than you realize. My go-to snacks are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the occasional Nutella mixed in, as well as beef jerky, trail mix and of course, classic energy bars.

You never know how long the mission will take, so taking all the necessary steps before climbing is key. You must trust the weather, your gear, your group and maybe most importantly, your instincts. The culmination of factors brings a level of complexity you don't get in any other sport or time of year.

10 peaks, in no particular order

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ur hit list for the volcanoes was very scattered and not done in any particular order, due to work schedules, timing, snowpack and our physical strength at the time. We climbed 10 volcanoes in total, starting at the end of May and ending at the beginning of July, including Mount Shasta, Mount McLoughlin, Mount Thielsen, The Three Sisters traverse, Broken Top, Mount Jefferson, Mount Hood and Mount Adams. We stuck close to home, although there are many more amazing volcanoes to climb.

Lucas Wachs in his element - SUBMITTED BY LUCAS WACHS
  • Submitted by Lucas Wachs
  • Lucas Wachs in his element

Among the adventures, one mission stood out.

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ount Shasta was the tallest mountain any of our crew had been on. We were well aware of how long the hike would be to the top. It was the third-to-last volcano we climbed, so we had built up endurance and stamina for climbing. It was a daunting sight, parking at the bunny flat, looking up at that tall mountain, summit not even in sight due to a false summit visual: Misery Hill.

We woke up at 3:30 am, made some coffee and ate a quick bite. It was our goal to be skiing by 11. By first light we were at about the tree line, steadily making our way up Avalanche Gulch toward Horse Lake. Mount Shasta's shadow cast all the way to the horizon, slowly shrinking as we gained elevation. The sight was beautifully distracting. Cameras were out the whole time, for the Volcano Voyage video that went along with the project. We made it to Misery Hill around 9 am.

That's where we gained the eastern view and got the first direct rays of sun on our bodies—also a great place to eat a breakfast PB&J. After snack time, we made it up to the top by 10 am. We had the summit to ourselves and enjoyed a good half-hour at 14,180 feet. The blue of the sky deepens and the view is so expansive. We could almost see the whole Oregon Cascade Range on that clear day—a euphoric moment reflecting on the mountains we climbed, as well as the changing and expansive wilderness of the west coast. It's a sight that will stick with me clearly forever.

After our fill of the summit we clicked into our skis and made our way down, choosing to ski the Trinity Chutes—a more technical descent than our route up. We lucked out on timing and got perfect corn snow for about 4,000 feet before it got sticky. It was an unreal feeling, gliding down for thousands of feet that you gained with your own two feet. It just kept going, each turn with purpose and meaning. "Earning your turns" is a real thing!

The revelations of backcountry skiing

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ho do you bring along on a voyage like this? None other than your friends, near and far, who help bring you to the top of the mountain and are OK with a bit of "ripe feet" at the end of the day (it's OK, their feet smell, too). It's a distilling experience that seems to sift out the outer noise of life, bringing you to the present moment of decision making... just you, your friends and the mountain. More primal instincts kick in and you tune in.

SUBMITTED BY LUCAS WACHS
  • Submitted by Lucas Wachs

Many connections are made while climbing a volcano. The connection that seems to leave me feeling enriched and vitalized is the connection with mind and body. You're making sure that every step counts, and in doing so you're strengthening the power of being mindful, noticing your surroundings and yourself. I had a revelation while climbing these mountains, realizing it is where I go to find peace, find happiness and create myself. Yes, you very well might encounter some spiritual feelings up there.

This voyage is one made by many each spring to reach the top of these eroding, crumply mountain tops. The time you spend on these mountains gives you a chance to tap into the beauty of the world, along with yourself and your partners—but the exact feelings you'll have are for you to go and find out for yourself. I hope this voyage can inspire you to sculpt one of your own.


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