Kohm Yah-mah-nee is the high point of the remarkably active Lassen dome volcano, which has peaks that are over a half million years old as well as peaks, like Lassen itself that are barely 30,000 years old. Getting to the summit of Kohm Yah-mah-nee is about +4600’ of gain up to the peak at 10,450’, over a brief 4.5 miles.
Step one to getting to Lassen was the six hour drive from Oregon down, and along the way I was treated to a big surprise… gas is unbelievably expensive right now! Obviously a consequence of the war happening in Ukraine, but it’s easy to forget that California already has the highest gas prices in the country on top of any international conflicts.
Once I got past the sticker shock I made the rest of the trip to the north entrance to Lassen uneventfully. The next surprise was that the bathroom was open and HEATED! Wow. This is the life of luxury I expect from California.
I woke up around 8am again but didn’t get out of bed until the sun hit the car and raised the temperature above freezing. This was a pretty warm morning so I tohught it would be a nice opportunity to share a bit about my organization and gear on the trip, so here’s a tour of my house for the next month:
And then I thought I would take a few minutes to show you a bit of the gear and setup that I take to go on these ski trips. Since I was totally by myself today, nobody was waiting for me to get moving.
I also forgot the extensive first aid kit that Allison put together! We were actually involved in a moderately serious rescue at our annual New Year’s trip this year. A skier had gotten impaled on a broken branch and although as a group (there were seven of us who came upon the injured skier, who was not part of our group) we were pretty competent, Allison realized that it would be good to have a real discussion about what should go into our first aid kits and what we should have with us in the backcountry. So now we bring a proper set of stuff, we always carry our avalanche gear, we carry extra layers, and in big groups even a sleeping bag.
Before heading out, I did a little bit of exploring around the ranger station which was totally empty and quiet and a little eerie! It’s Friday, where are all the kids going sledding?
Before anybody showed up I started moving and got my first brief glance of the peak in the distance through the trees on the walk down the road to the trailhead.
I spent a lot more time talking to my camera today than I have in the past, probably because I was by myself all day long! Anyway, maybe it makes for a nice format?
Eventually around 7000’ and close to the end of the established trail I caught site of my first real clear view of the peak in the distance. Looking… a little rocky? I’m not sure what these California mountains are like in a big snow year, but it’s pretty obvious that this year is a low snow year. I debated a lot on this climb about whether to stay on the north face (which would be icier, and faster climbing) or to go around to the southwest face where I was guessing there would be better skiing, but only if there was actually a continuous tongue of snow going all the way down without a rock band in the middle breaking it up.
I got a nice view on the way up of Uytaahkoo (Shasta) in the distance, also looking suspiciously snow free.
The ascent turned into a massive struggle when I started going up the shoulder and getting out of the woods. All of a sudden the snow was just the perfect temperature to stick horribly to the bottom of my skins. I think that usually in groups this is less of an issue, since it happens to the person in front but then the skin track is compacted and it happens less for the next person in line. By myself though I was stopping every five steps to knock snow off my skis, otherwise I was pulling an extra ten pounds with me on each foot. Basically, I started getting exhausted.
Around this time I got worried that my face was burning because my sweat was pushing the sunscreen off, which if you watch any of these videos is obviously not a concern I need to have in the future.
I switched to crampons at about 8500’ or so when the snow started getting icy. These aren’t very steep slopes that I was on, which is why I don’t take out my ice axe to be able to self arrest, I just needed the extra security on my feet so that I wouldn’t slide a little with each steep.
On the way up I ran into a lot of wind-blown snow, in big drifts as well as in sastrugi which are eroded wind drifts. Really cool when they aren’t frozen solid. If they melt and then refreeze then they can be a real hassle on the ski down and a potential danger if you get caught on one with a ski.
Around this time I got an opportunity to peek around the corner onto the southwest face and see what the snow situation looked like. Fortunately, it looked really really awesome. As long as the whole face wasn’t melted out slush there was a good chance this would be a terrific ski run!
After another hour or so of climbing, including some horrific scree-sliding up a rocky section, I popped out on the summit crater!
The summit was an absolute classic California mountain summit. No wind, warm, blazing sunshine, and clear views in every direction for hundreds of miles. I actually ran into a group of about ten skiers and snowboarders who had come up from the south side, getting up around 5am to ski up the closed road and then up to the summit. They were surprised to see somebody wander in from the north, apparently my choice of route is the much rarer option. Partly, this might just be because it’s hard to get to the north entrance from the bay area.
I stayed on the summit eating and drinking the last of my food and water, expecting one long ski back out to the car. I also explored a bit and found the weather station (or possibly seismic activity station?).
After that I started down. After two turns it was immediately clear that this was going to be an absolutely fantastic ski run. Skiers on volcanoes are always searching for the perfect “corn” snow, which I think I mentioned before. But basically the freeze-thaw cycle makes for a thin layer of soft but resistant snow which is just super fun to ski on. You can go fast and still feel really in control. Hands down this was the best ski run I’ve ever had on corn snow. Two back-to-back “best” ski runs in one week! Not bad.
Unfortunately, when I got a bit lower down something really weird happened: my skis started sticking to the wet snow really badly. So badly that I had to push myself on the downhills! I suspect this could be a wax issue, either there’s no wax left on my skis or possibly the wax I have on right now is for cold weather and not the warm conditions that I was experiencing that day. Either way, the ski out took much much longer than it should have, and by the end I was toast. Instead of spending the night in the cold at the trailhead I drove out to get a proper dinner, catching the sunset with Le Cheval from a viewpoint.
On to the next adventure, in Death Valley… which will not be a volcano. I promise it will be the only non-volcano!