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Big Vertical in the Ring of Fire

climbing-pnw-volcanoEn route to the summit of Mount Rainier with Mount Adams in the background. Photo by Eric FrankOn May 15, professional ski mountaineer Chris Davenport notched the 13th summit in his Ring of Fire expedition around the Pacific Northwest. In 18 days, he plans to climb and ski 16 volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest. (Follow his progress here and on Twitter.) You don’t need sponsors and decades of experience to follow in some of Davenport’s footsteps. Here’s an introductory guide to summiting a few of the region’s most iconic volcanoes.


Mount Saint Helens. Located in the southern part of Washington, Mount Saint Helens is an easy one-day push for a fit skier or climber. The 1980 eruption blew more than 1,000 feet off the peak, and the highest corner of the crater rim now stands at 8,363 feet. The climb is strenuous, but non-technical. You can ski quite a bit of it right through June. Bring your camera to document the steam vents inside the crater.


Mount Adams. The second-highest mountain in Washington (12,280 feet) sees much less traffic than big brother Mount Rainier, which makes it a perfect backcountry destination for spring corn skiers or climbers prepared to tackle 7,000 feet of vertical. The South Spur route is a physically challenging snow climb that can be done in one long day with crampons and ice axes. The route isn’t glaciated, so no ropes are required, but GPS, map, and compass skills are a must if the weather closes in.


Mount Baker. The North Cascades are often called the American Alps for their dramatic vertical relief and rugged terrain. See why on a climb of Baker, arguably the most scenic of these iconic summits. While climbing Mount Baker (10,778 feet), you can camp on the glacier. Then wake up early, snap pictures of the Pacific Ocean from the summit, and cruise through a mellow 3,000-foot ski descent.


Mount Hood. Mount Hood (11,239 feet) sits 50 miles east of Portland and is one of the most frequently climbed glaciated peaks in North America. The South Side route begins at 5,800 feet and is the most popular means of reaching the summit, but other aspects of the mountain offer climbs that vary from glacier walks to steep alpine climbing. Skiing the South Side is common, but watch out for the big bergschrund during the spring melt if you decide go down on boards.


Mount Rainier. At 14,411 feet, Rainier demands sound mountaineering skills. Unless you have significant experience with glacier travel, exposure, and navigation, hire a guide. The most common route is the Disappointment Cleaver, a three-day trip that offers a little bit of everything: panoramic snow fields, crevassed glaciers, fourth-class rock scrambling, challenging route finding, and weather that can change from T-shirt sunshine to fog to a raging squall in minutes. It’s all worth it, though. On a clear day, you can look down at the tips of every other one of the Cascade volcanoes from the summit.  —Charlotte Austin


Check if a permit is required before you go. For more information, visit mountainguides.com.

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