Wednesday, March 19, 2014
It’s pretty hard to claim a first these days, and although they can’t be absolutely sure, Brad Gordon and Bob Riviello are confident they beat everyone else to the cookie jar on Mount Adams.
After years of exploring the area and its wind and snow conditions, and several failed attempts, the two Gorge residents logged a successful snowkite session last week on the southern flanks of the mountain — a first, as far as they are aware, in what has proven to be an elusive pastime of harnessing the power of the wind to propel oneself up and down the sides of the Northwest’s jagged volcanic peaks.
“I’ve been trying to snowkite Adams for years,” said Gordon, who travels extensively for the increasingly popular winter sport. “Conditions and access are very difficult on Adams. Like all the volcanic peaks around here, the katabatic (downslope) winds make snowkiting pretty elusive. The conditions really have to line up perfectly, and in the case of Adams it requires the combination of two sports.”
To reach the kitable area at about 7,200 feet elevation, the two had to snowmobile in about 14 miles from the nearest SnoPark, paying special attention to wilderness and tribal boundaries along the way. Conditions lined up perfectly last week, with warm temperatures and a decent west wind. The snowfield the two had scouted, at about 7,200 feet elevation, was softened by the sun and had a decent crosswind that day, so they pumped up, launched their kites — the same kind used for water-based versions of the sport — and explored the snowfield using the power of the wind.
“Snowmobiles open a lot of doors in terms of accessing the backcountry,” Gordon said. “It’s a tradeoff; on the one hand you want to participate in a clean sport that uses the wind, but on the other hand you need a gasoline-powered machine as an access tool to get to some of those places.”
Gordon said the two kited for a couple of hours before packing up and making the long journey back to Snow King SnoPark outside of Trout Lake. Although not “epic” in terms of terrain or conditions, Gordon said the adventure was one he’ll remember for other reasons.
“For snowkiting, you want wind compressing into the slope instead of blowing across it; so gliding was difficult,” he said. “That’s what everybody wants to do with snowkiting; use the wind to pull you up, and then glide back down in the air.
“Adams has been on my list for a long time. There are tons of untapped snowkiting adventures around here, and many are areas where nobody has ever done it before. That sense of adventure and exploration makes the trip well worth the time and energy, even on those days when you don’t succeed.”
Gordon said his next snowkite adventure during the fleeting spring season when snow and wind conditions are just right, will likely be the Plains of Abraham area on Mount Saint Helens, which, he says, is potentially a world-class snowkiting locale when conditions align.