Jeanelle and I woke at the Mt Baker Ski Area White Salmon parking lot at 6am.  Jeanelle and I were reluctant to emerge from our cozy sleeping bags. But, after some difficultly, we clamored out of our warm cocoons and scrapped the sheets of ice from inside the car windows.  We drove our cars to Heather Meadows Lodge three miles up the road. The lodge is closed weekdays, but several cars were in the parking lot near Austin Pass Road and several folks were getting ready to backcountry ski probably to Artist Point. Jeanelle and I layered up as it was reported to be 4 degrees Fahrenheit at the base that morning.  Feeling a bit warmer we slid into our mountaineering boots and shouldered our packs.

Pan Dome Falls is easy to find. After walking down the groomed Austin Pass Road for several yards the falls are clearly visible to the left. We turned off the road and cut across the slope going up and down some steep but short rolling hills until making the final push up the slope to the ice. A platform had been dug out by previous parties some 4 or so meters for the base. We dropped our gear here and slipped into our harnesses. A nice stairway was also dug out leading to the falls. There is a large moat at the base with some snow pileup on the inside that at first glance looks stable. With my ice ax I poked at the snow and cautiously stepped into the left of the moat on stop of the snow. I dug my ax into the outside of the bank and stamped around a bit. Nothing shifted. Satisfied and I moved to the right and did the same… the snow pack gave way about 3 centimeters. I quickly moved back to the left.

The ice appeared to be of decent quality. It was clearly fused to the rock wall and was probably a foot or so thick. There was white, sun bleached ice over the top, but several swings with my tool revealed good ice beneath. Tied in I began to climb… but not far. About three feet off the ground it became obvious to be that the white sun bleached ice was pretty thick and it took about 6 plus swing to remove it before getting a good stick. Snow also filled sections of the ice making it hard to tell if the “thunk” of the ax was ice or thick snow. It sounded the same I discovered. There were some thin and hollow glass-like formations about two feet above my head as well; revealed as I brushed the snow away. Jeanelle and I reexamined our position and opted that, although the ice might be good for someone with more experience, it would not be safe for us to proceed with the climb. So I down climbed and we spent the next half hour practicing out swing and cleaning the first 1.5 meters of the climb of sun bleached ice.

Jeanelle and I spent the next hour reviewing glacier travel techniques on the rope and practicing ice ax arrest from every position. By then we were freezing and headed back to the White Salmon Lodge for one of their delicious giant brownies before driving back home.

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