Once again, our original plan was foiled, but this time due to a move novel occurrence. We planned to AT ski to Park Butte,  a fire lookout overlooking Mt. Baker. The trail to Park Butte cannot be accessed in the winter due to snow and where the wheeled vehicle access on the five mile long FS 13 ends and the snowmobile track begins changes every year. As it turned out we only drove one mile up FS 13 that morning and parked on the side of the road before reaching the snowmobile track. It was snowing hard with about 4 inches of new snow already on the road. We wanted to make sure we would be able to drive back out the next day.  As luck would have it though, after about 3/4 mile or perhaps less of boot packing the road, the snow was thick enough to ski.

The official snowmobile track  begin at about mile 2 on FS 13. Quite a few sleds whizzed passed us as we skinned up the gradually ascending road. It didn’t bother us much though as all were courteous. The snow continued to come come down in thick flakes. Every now and then it would stop for about ten minutes and a sliver of sunshine would break the clouds, but then the flakes would fall again. It was actually rather beautiful.

After three miles there is a junction in the road. Here we turn left onto the well parked orange snow mobile track into Schriebers Meadows. Around the time we reached the meadows blue skies began to appear as well as some epic looking cloud formations over the distance mountains. It was turning into a bluebird day! The last weekend bluebird day had occurred almost two months ago so I was very excited. The snow was very stable too. Another plus!

The snowmobile track crosses a creek (there is a bridge) and ascends sometimes steeply in a small valley between two moraines ridges. Park Butte was just on the other side of the ridge. It looked as though the snow mobile track headed up toward the Easton Glacier of Mt Baker where the moraines were less steep. From there we could go around it and double back on the other side to get to Park Butte. For some reason or another we thought we saw an easier line on the steep moraine and decided to take a shortcut. Never take shortcuts.

Off the snowmobile track breaking trail was thigh deep… with the exception of when Damien fell into a hole what was very nearly up to his chest. His skis were trapped under the weight of the heavy powder. He released his feet and moved out of the way so I could get in the hole and dig the skis out. It was a small person’s job.

With the skis out we continued up the slope which was much steeper than we thought. The snow was also thigh deep still even with flotation. About halfway up I switched from following to breaking. I wasn’t all that crazy about going up the slope. The closer I got to the top of the ridge the  steeper it got. I wanted to bail, but I didn’t think I could ski down the slope safety. I’d have to remove my skis which was impossible from where I was. So I settled for making more and more switchbacks. When I popped up on the ridge I had to follow it away to get to a safe flatter spot in the trees. Damien began to follow. It didn’t look like we would be able to get down the other side to Park Butte. Too many trees, drifts and possible cliffs. However, we could still go down and camp near Easton Glacier or go around to Park Butte. Either way we’d have great views of the volcano.  I was even  afforded an excellent view of Mt Baker from the top of the ridge as it was… Meanwhile Damien had begun skiing along the ridge toward me… and this SNAP!

A chunk of snow had gotten lodged under his binding and we his heel stepped down the binding plastic snapped in half. Six miles from the trailhead we examined out options. Going to Park Butte was out of the question. It appeared as though Damien could lock down the binding in ski mode though it wasn’t very secure. There was no way to do a true repair so that the heel could raise. Frustrated the only option seemed to be to boot pack in down the slope. From the bottom Damien could try to secure the binding in ski mode and ski out one heel locked or he would have to walk on the snowmobile track which was hopefully packed down enough.

Going down the slope with the skis on our back was horrible. I was battled my way down snow that was chest or shoulder deep. It made me feel almost claustrophobic and the frustration was getting overwhelming for me. Finally a nice, clear day with lower avy risk and we once again end up not being able to follow through on our plan. Plus, once again we are relatively close to the car.

Once at the bottom of the slope and back on the track it was 3:15pm. We decided to make camp and deal with getting out in the morning. After setting up camp in the valley Damien worked on his binding. He was able to tie to together with a guideline from the tent. he put some medical tape around the ski too and a ski strap as well. It still wasn’t very tight though. Better than nothing.

The temperature dropped as the blue ski dimmed and a nearly full moon rose over the horizon. I went in and out of loving the evening and being so sad that I was in the valley so far from Baker. I kept thinking about how much more beautiful this all would have been from the fire tower or up near Easton Glacier. I had a hard time putting things into perspective. Damien is much better at that than me.

The night was rather astoundingly bright. So bright that the snow filled valley not not cloaked by darkness in the least bit. Every detail of the landscape was 100% clear. It looked like a black and white movie in the moonlight. I haven’t seen a night like that in a long time.

Morning dawned clear and blue. Damien had come up with the idea of twisting a pen into the guideline to tighten the binding together. It worked (the medical tape did not)! We boot packed down the steepest park of the track as not to end up in the creek, before putting our skis on. Mt Baker was visible from the meadows as we descended down the snowmobile track. Damien was able to successfully ski all the way back to the car without any further binding issues. Of course the guideline was a temporary fix. The skis are now having new binding mounted.


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