STEENS MOUNTAIN SCAMPERS WITH STRATTON AND SADIE
Words and Photos from Sadie Ford
In a remote mountain range in Oregon known as the Steens, special conditions were present. There was more snow than the area had seen in last 50 years - or so I was informed by a local one-eyed handlebar-mustache-wielding all-American rancher, who would spit into his chaw bottle in between sentences. These conditions presented a particularly special opportunity to get peak to desert floor runs.
The east side of the Steens are abrupt and dramatic, rising 4,500 ft. in about four miles, quickly creating the sensation that you are among the clouds rather than under them. My partner, Stratton Matteson and I were so excited to be exploring a new zone.
Looking at prospective lines on the east side of the range.
Paul, the one-eyed rancher and archangel of Alvord, the keeper of the codes to the pearly gates that would permit entry to our heavenly alpine lines, was easily won over with a little grit and charm. He softened his serrated edges once I spoke of being a fisherwoman and making my own fire starters. Abandoning his “this ain’t Portland sweetheart” disposition he gave the codes that would allow entry through the private land to get the base of the canyons we would ascend. The rocky sagebrush landscape gave a feeling of open immensity being much more than my cascade home.
The first day was spent investigating our new snowpack, pit digging and sticking to lower zones was the plan as there was fresh snow with low visibility. Mini laps Weaving aspens and old growth juniper, we were safe and elated.
The next day we knew was bound to be a winner. Low wind, sunny, confidence high - we sought the peak top continuous runs. 5am rolled around and we were hiking across the sagebrush flats as the full moon began to set. The sunrise soon lit up our prospective lines bright pink.
We rode the drainages between ridges as shown above.
Telling Stratton about the absolute hog of a juniper I just saw.
Hours later we were standing on top of the ridge line peering down our run. Continuous lines dropping thousands of feet walled by mountain mahogany, gave the feeling of being in a safari.
Two massive laps later the snow began to soften so we resorted to playing mini shred in some unique features down low. I shot through a hole I found barely big enough for me while Stratton hopped and slashed some wind lip.
The “cooter shooter” mini feature I crouched to shoot through.
We returned to camp with plenty of light to relax a bit, soak our joints in the creek and sing some John Prine before moving camp 15 miles to the south to attempt some high steeper lines.
Well-earned creek hang.
We moved camp and found ourselves resting right at the snow line. A particularly satisfying notion for anyone, to be able to be on board to and from camp with no additional walking. The next day began with the same program- walking before first light. This approach was not a gravy train like the last few. Bush walking and steep traverse route finding slowed us. Though we were rewarded with a reprieve of an entrance in a stadium with enticing lines on three sides of us. We first attempted a south aspect line, that weaved hoodoos and dikes to create an extraterrestrial feeling.
Though we halted our climb on account of too many signs. An audible whumpf, roller balls, and talon warming. We descended to attempt a different aspect. We spied a couloir about 2.5k above us that, granted was safe, would be a dream.
We found ourselves at the entrance in cold stable conditions. It was a go. Boot packing to the top we were rewarded with sweeping views to the Alvord desert floor and powdered descents in our future. This was a top run of the season for me. Excellent conditions, company, terrain, and wildlife created the full immersion into experience that I crave.
Top right couloir was our line.
Final ascent in the upper reaches at 9.5k.
The long ride out.
We celebrated in camp with fire and music having nailed the weather window. Four days of fantastic riding in a new zone left us feeling light and free.
I woke up the next morning to the sound and smell of rain. I began my trek home with a quiet and peaceful mind.
Sadie Ford is a resident of Corvallis, OR and rider for Cardiff Snowcraft and Hyperlite Mountain Gear. Avid big mountain splitboarder, Sadie is also a fighterfighter, EMT, river guide, and mother of two chickens (Haboob and Hellfire). Follow along her adventures at @sader_tooth.