We attained most of our goal this weekend which is a first since our Mazama trip back in early January. There was a great forecast for Saturday. Periods of snow and clouds with sunshine. Moderate avy danger. Sunday was less delightful with high wind and heavy snowfall. Avy danger would increase to considerable. However, most of the new snow would arrive in the afternoon (the considerable avy danger would hold off until then as well) so we decided that we needed to do a trip that would get us out of the danger zone by late morning and opted to once again try for Park Butte hoping that this time all of our ski bindings would stay intact.

We were able to drive all the way to the “no wheeled vehicles beyond this point” sign at about 2700 ft, 3 miles from the trailhead. However, snow was sparse and we had to boot-pack our skis for about 1/3 mile before hitting more consistent coverage. Even then  the snow vanished in areas and we had to carry our skis to the next patch. Most of the time there was a thin snow finger we could cross on. It was cloudy with a few spits of light rain that never lasted more than 3 minutes.

We made good time to Schreibers Meadows where the snow cover was uninterrupted, but probably a foot had melted since the previous week. There were very few snowmobilers on this route as well this time around. We followed the track to the edge of the meadow where the moraine began to rise up on our left. Our track from last weekend’s attempt to cross over the top of the moraine where the binding broke was still there. This time we did not try to take the shortcut. Instead we followed the track about another 1/2 mile up to where the moraine slope mellowed a bit (and then turned back to steep). We decided this was the best place to ascend. There were some cliffs above, but they were easy to get around. Everything on the slope was extremely stable and snowmobile tracks criss-crossed over the slope carving a variety of trails for us to ascend.

On top of the moraine we were greeted by some amazing views. The clouds were rising creating some glorious formations and Mt Baker was finally visible. We could also see Park Butte Lookout far, far off in the distance. Damien and I would have to descend fromthe crest of the moraine about 600ft into a basin, then cross it to begin climbing the butte. I fell once in a very awkward position nearly reaping my knee on the way down… I couldn’t undo my binding to get free but Damien came to my rescue… and also found my snow basket which began detached from my whippet.

We continued on as suddenly clouds rolled back in and the sky grew pure white. It all happened within about 20 seconds as it often does near a volcano. We started up the slopes of Park Butte. They were mostly very steep, but there were enough weaknesses to switchback our way up. Snow began to fall lightly and mist blew in as we reached the ridge saddle. From there we followed it easily to the Lookout.

We were the only ones when we reached the lookout at 3:15pm. We had left extra early that morning to make sure we got there first and our efforts were rewarded. Damien really wanted to stay in the shelter since he’d never sent the night in a fire lookout. We still had a tent though as the area is known to be crowded and it is highly recommended that a good backup shelter be carried. Damien and I both agreed that if someone was already there we would stay in the tent. The point of wilderness is solitude. To be honest I wasn’t crazy about staying in the lookout to begin with as it wasn’t roughing it. There was a bed frame with foam, counters, a large tabletop canister fuel stove and telescope. Too many things from society.

We were a bit perplexed as to what to do next. We had so much time on our hands since we didn’t need to set up the tent. After boiling water and setting up our sleeping bag we sat on the deck. The snow had stopped and the clouds were beginning to lift. We hoped Mt Baker would come out. As we waited three snowmobilers drove up to the lookout. They told us about another sledder that had drove his snowmobile into a crevasse earlier that day. We looked at the mountain which was almost clear and sure enough, high on the glacier there was a snowmobile track that disappeared into a hole. Yikes! The sledder survived with a broken arm.

The mountain finally fully cleared affording us some magnificent views. Probably the most scenic camp we’ve had since November. The snowmobliers headed back down and we stayed outside to watch the sunset hoping that no one else would show up. Besides, there was barely any room for anyone else in there with all our gear and it was first come first served anyway as it was. No one came though and when darkness fell we turned in for the night.

Damien got up to take one final leak at about 7:30pm and saw 4 headlights coming out way. Ugh, who shows up to the fire lookout known to be popular and usually occupied in the dark?!. We figured they had a backup tent just as we did, so we got up so we could point them in the direction of a flat spot further down from the shelter we saw when it was still light out. It’s rude to show up after dark and wake up anyone using in the shelter even if there was a ton of space in there. That’s why we made such an effort to arrive early. we figured they’d be respectful and have backcountry ethics.

However, they told us they only had bivys and wet sleeping bags. And after they banged on the door we let them in since they swore up and down they were going to no disturb us and go to bed immediately. Damien felt kind of sorry for them. As soon as the 3 snowshoes and 1 skier came in the whole lookout filled with the stench of cigarette smoke. We moved our stuff as best we could hoping nothing woudl get lost in the rubble. We found out as they set up that they had camped the night before at the hot springs without a proper tent and thus all their sleeping bags got soaked. But they still thought it was a good idea to drive to another trail and go out again with drenched gear that would not keep them warm. They had come up the summer route, but could not go down due to the steepness. It was amazing they made it up with their low quality snowshoes I observed. They did not know how to get down at all. They did not know the forecast for the next day or the avalanche predictions. Oh, and they had only two beacons which was ok because the other two folks had radios. Apparently when you’re buried under an avalanche you can call in on your radio for help. I couldn’t believe my ears! They were loud and obnoxious and the whole ordeal got too much for me after about ten minutes. I wanted to put up the tent even in the heavy wind and snow that had picked up, but Damien said they would go to bed quick. I just couldn’t be in there with the noise as they set up. It wasn’t the wilderness anymore and the cigarette smell was choking me. I sat outside feeling miserable about the situation, but happy to be able to breathe in the fresh snowy air for about twenty minutes. I thought they’d be in bed by then, but when I came back they were cooking dinner… and Damien was helping them boil water and pouring it into their mountain houses.. and retrieving snow for them to boil. I found out later that Damien was hoping to speed up the process of them getting to bed. But they didn’t go to bed! The whole situation made me sick to my stomach. Not only were these unprepared, rude folks intruding on our wilderness experience, but now they had Damien doing their camp chores. I went back outside and every time I came back to check on things they were all still up.

One and a half hours later the racket was still going on and I was pretty set on just spending the night sitting outside in my big puffys since I wasn’t going to get any sleep inside anyway. At least outside I could cling to some wilderness and be in the elements where I feel free. Damien came outside and after a discussion we decided to try to put up the tent. This ended poorly as the best nearby place that would not involve us putting out skis back on and  descending significantly in the dark was near the edge of a cliff. Exhausted we gave up on the endeavor. Back inside the others were still buzzing about. It was well after 9pm. I went back outside, though Damien eventually coaxed me indoors… to a chorus of snoring!

I cannot relate how defeated, frustrated, angry, enraged, upset and despondent I felt at this point. The wilderness is my freedom. My break for all the crap I have to deal with during the week. Some folks unwind by using the TV, talking with friends… various methods. My method is going to the mountains to find peace. To suffer in the mountains and be rewarded by the beauty it bestows. In the mountains things have a way of somehow being right. And  if the mountain decides I cannot reach my goal that day I am frustrated, but certainly not angry or forlorn. I know the mountains have their own agenda and I respect the decisions the mountain makes so to speak. I can live with the decisions of nature and accept my own personal limits of fitness and head-space. What I have zero tolerance for is society (ie: people, institutions, w/e) inserting themselves into the wilderness and taking away from its remoteness… taking away the freedom that I need after being trapped all week in society. Especially when said society acts obnoxious and is ill-prepared for the mountains.

I did somehow manage to eventually fall asleep after what felt like forever. I was just drained and exhausted at an amazing level. We woke up early as planned and began the process of packing up. We made no effort to be quiet. They others woke up when their alarm went off and chit chatted with Damien. He tried to explain the route out to them. At first light we left the Lookout still feeling bitter about the night events. Luckily the winds were high and snow swirled around us in the gusts as we began to descend. The snow was mostly old stuff getting picked up off the ground and visibility was descent in the distance.  But the flat light still made it feel like we were skiing in a ping-pong ball. I was forced to focus on the mountains… this, for me, is always lucky.

We made it safely back into the basin where the winds calmed and traversed along the left side back to the moraine. Snow began to fall thickly in big, chunky flakes around us. We knew we had arrived just in time to make the crossing back to the other side before avy danger got worst.  A cornice had developed in the wind at the top of the moraine, but the more gentle part we needed to cross was cornice-free. We switch-backed up. Snow engulfed us at the top where high winds blasted the flakes against our faces causing our skin to sting. This is where I find happiness… true alpine conditions!

We traversed a bit along the knife-edge top of the moraine looking for the place we came up. We found the area where it looked less steep… but still steep nonetheless. With the flat light and no depth perception we decided to boot-pack down to the flat area halfway down the moraine. Damien went first, but after several yards he decided he was going to try and ski it as the snow was too deep. I opted to continue the boot-packing though and made my way gradually down traversing the slope toward the trees on the right. I didn’t find the snow too deep. However, Damien is bigger than me and his skis are very heavy to boot… I’m sure he sank much more than me.

In the flat area I put my skis back on (skins now removed) and we skied the rest of the way back down to the main track. The flat light gave us a few unanticipated jolts as we skied over a few dips and rolls in the land making things more interesting on the easy terrain.

The wind let up as we skiied through the meadow, but still thick snow fell around us. As we lost elevation the snow turned to rain as to be expected. The little snow bridges we had used on the road to cross from snow patch to snow patch were gone now, so we did a fair amount of getting in and out of our skis. The road block to wheeled vehicles was moved up higher; maybe 2950 ft. Spring is on the way.


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