Portland's proximity to the Cascade Mountains has long been a draw for everyone who loves snow, from the U.S. ski team to weekend climbers and backcountry snowshoers. Unfortunately, most climate models show many of the Cascade glaciers disappearing within the next 40 years. The glorious mountain chain that stretches from California to Canada may soon be as clean and bare as a bowling ball. That's why Portlander Matt Bedrin has decided to climb up and ski down all 40 volcanoes in the Cascade chain within the year. With this project, which he chronicles on his blog Skiing Cascadia (skiingcascadia.com), the 34-year-old skier and backcountry guide hopes to draw attention to the disappearing glaciers the best way he knows how: by enjoying them.
WW: How long have you been climbing, and what are some big climbs you've done?
Matt Bedrin: I've been skiing since I was 2, and climbing for about 10 years. Mount Shasta was the first one I did. It's not super technical. I use a climbing skin on the bottom of my skis. The principle of a climbing skin is adapted from seal skins, when they hop out of the water and onto an iceberg. If you pet them one way, they're smooth, but if you pet them backward, the hair stands up. The rugs allow my skis to slide in only one direction, and at the top, you take them off and slide down the hill. If there's snow, you use skis until the terrain gets too nasty, and then you use boots and crampons.
Which mountain is next on your list?
Mount Hood stands a chance. But it's in contention—it'll probably be either Mount Bachelor or Pelican Butte. I'm probably heading to southern Oregon or Northern California. My truck's at [Portland's] Green Drop Garage right now, being converted to waste vegetable oil. I'm driving around a lot, but I'm trying to be conscious of my impact with fuel consumption.
What kind of snacks do you like to take?
Trail mix, bars, little individually wrapped cheeses, some sandwiches, a Klean Kanteen with Emergen-C. When we climbed St. Helens, we left the house at 2 in the morning and didn't get back until 8 that night, so that's breakfast, lunch and dinner. In the early morning, you get kind of nauseous. Your body thinks, "We should be sleeping! Why are we on this mountain?" But if you have a variety of food, you can always find something that'll keep you going.
How are you financing this project?
Through sponsors, though I've put in a lot of money. I teach backcountry ski classes and work as a mountain guide. Most of the money I've gotten went to purchasing a camper and a truck. Different sponsors are getting on board and we're hosting a fundraiser [Pints for Peaks, details below], so that should help a lot with that.
How does it feel knowing that the glaciers you're skiing could be gone in a few years?
You know, I've even seen some changes on Hood in the last 10 years I've been playing on it. It's so hard to pull all the pieces out of the global climate change model. And maybe the glaciers melting isn't something that we're going to be able to change—we're not Mr. Burns, we can't make a shield from the sun. Sweet Simpsons reference, huh? As for me, I'd like to talk to people who know a lot more than I do about what is man-made and what's natural. The jury's still out. Man does have an impact, and anything that I can do to change how we think about what we drive, and recycling, will help. We can make a choice.
Speaking of choices, what's one thing ordinary people can do to help save the mountains?
The best way to motivate people is to be in love with the place that needs help, whether you're excited about skiing, or taking pretty pictures, or just sitting in your office looking at Mount Hood. I want to protect the snow because it's personal. I mean, I use it 100 days a year.
What's the worst thing that's ever happened to you on a mountain?
Having to rescue a little girl that a snowbank collapsed on. Her father and grandfather didn't know where she was. Everything was just white. I was sitting in my car eating lunch. I told the father to go get help and got the shovel out of my car and gave it to her grandfather. We moved left to right until we found the little girl and her brother. He was just screaming and screaming, and she wasn't breathing. I told the grandfather to check her mouth to see if he could see any snow, and if there wasn't any, to give her a rescue breath. After one or two breaths, she started breathing again. That was definitely the scariest life-or-death moment and it happened in the Timberline parking lot.
Pints for Peaks, a Skiing Cascadia fundraiser, takes place at Green Drop Garage, 1417 SE 9th Ave., 236-7767. 7 pm Saturday, Feb. 20. $5 suggested donation. 21+. Info at skiingcascadia.com.