Words cannot come close to describing how amazing this overnight ski tour of Silver Star Mountain was, but i will do my best since blogs require words! We left home at about 1am (yes I know, yikes!) and arrived at Silver Star Creek along Highway 20 at about 6:30am. After a nap we got moving at about 7:30. The route begins on the south side of the highway on the left side of Silver Star Creek. We skinned up thick trees on snow that was so icy that I had to make up of the ski crampons for the very first time. We went a bit to high a one point following ski tracks that gained elevation, but we easily skis down an open slope and back into the trees. The key to to stay low and near Silver Star Creek. At 4444feet we closed the creek via a snow bridge and followed ski tracks up the right side for a bit. Then the waterway became snowed in enough for us to actually skin in the creek. Beware though as there are some deep holes in the snow with water running below! This route also included skinning up a steep area that I can only guess is a waterfall in the summer. Nothing was too dicey though.

Eventually the skin track left the creek to the left via a ramp and we were in the trees again. There were a few tracks in the trees, but we just picked one and continued to ski straight into the valley. We remained at 5000ft for what seemed like forever until the trees parted revealing the snow Silver Star Meadows and our first fully view of Silver Star and the Burgundy Spires… still very far away!

We skied to the head of the valley. A large headwall guards the upper basin, but there is an obviously gully area where the trees are sparse and the grade less steep. We climbed the gully which through being less steep then the surrounding wall was still rather steep! At about 6000ish feet we followed te ski track hard left and traverse along the headwall below Vasiliki Ridge until the trees opened and revealed the wide snowy basin below Silver Star.

We sent up camp near some bare larches and watched some skiers descend Silver Star Col in the distance. Lots of folks do this trip in a day. Heli-skiing is also popular in the area. We passed several heli-pads and saw a bunch of helicopters on our way up. But the whole experience is much more enjoyable as a two day in my opinion. The area is spell-binding and the round trip for that day ended up being 8 miles as it was.

But at that point the day wasn’t over yet. We rested a bit and set up camp before starting our once again at 2:30. We stayed the left the left side of the large buttress that split the snow slope leading up the Silver Star Col. There was pretty good skin track, but we were the only folks going up so late in the day. The last few people on the mountain were descending. The climb seemed to go quickly. We ran into an ice spotting on the second big “hump”. I recommending making large and gradual switchbacks here. The final push to the col as also exceptionally steep, but once again long switchbacks solve the issue.

From the top of the col we could see the mountains to the North stretching far into Canada. To the South laid the North Cascades with the perfect view of the liberty bell group. But we were not done yet. It was time to take off our skis and climb the final several hundred feet to the top. There was a boot pack already in. We followed it up and around the left side of the peak. The rock was mostly covered and the steps stable. However, the final climb went straight up a nearly vertical staircase of snow. This climb was steep, exposed and a sketch since the snow was powdery. We didn;t on the summit long except to snap some photos and videos, but the views were amazing. The was down this snow ladder was tedious and slow. One slip would have fatal consequences (this is a class 4-5).

Once we made it back down to the skis safely we prepared to descend. We were pleasantly surprised by the unusually deep powder we encountered on the upper col! The whole route down had deep powder and making for a fast, scenic and adventurous descent back to camp. Damien had some tight turns so perfect he looked like a pro skier! This run trumped Mt St Helens from last week!

Back at camp enjoyed our Mountain House meals under a dimming sky in the shadow of the Wine Spires before returing for the night. Sometime after midnight snow began to fall, and we woke up at 7 to a snowy wonderland. The mountains had all but vanished in heavy snow and thick mist. The work was white and all we could see where the nearby larches. It was beautiful. We opted to wait a bit to pack up and continue our descent. The weather was supposed to clear up later in the morning, and sure enough at 9:00 when we were packed and ready visibility had improved quite a bit.

We traverse left toward the gully we had climbed up aiming slightly down. Navigating through the trees wasn’t too difficult though route finding was definitely necessary. We eventually found own way to the gully and skied easily the rest of the way down through the sparse trees into the meadow.  Once we re-entered the trees on the other side of the meadow we put on our skins in preparation for the long, flat traverse. Here route finding got tricky. We followed some ski tracks that often disappeared heading in the general direction of North and slightly left until we reached the creek ramp. Here we removed our skins and skied down the narrow creek carefully avoiding the gaping holes. At 4400 feet we crossed onto the right side and descended through thick, steep forest to the road. This was my first tree skiing experience. Scary as I was certain I’d crash, but also lots of fun (especially since I didn’t crash).

Highly recommended ski tour into the beautiful wilderness that is the North Cascades! VIEW VIDEO

Moderate avalanche danger. Clear Saturdays skies. Moderate temperatures. Could it be that the forecast gods would actually supply a perfect summitting conditions. We held our breathe all week and when Friday arrived and things still looked near perfect we opted to go to Mt St. Helens. Damien and I had climbed this last year as a walk up since the snow was at 6500ft, but had always wanted to do it as an AT ski. This year the snow was right at the trailhead, plus it was our 1 Year Anniversary. Helens was the first peak we summited together as couple so it seemed fitting.

We arrived at the trailhead at about 7:00am. We were certainly not the only folks planning on taking advantage of the weather window. Throngs to snowshoers, skiers and booters were getting ready in the Marble Mountain Sno-Park to join the conga line up the mountain. We ran into Jeff at the trailhead among the many outdoor adventurers… all the mountain in Washington and its amazing how often we run into people we know. We also ran into Michelle further up the mountain.

The route begins on the Swift Ski Trail which is more packed down then any of the other adjoining trails. There are also signs for Worm Flows Climbing route to prevent confusion. The trail ascends through the trees until in breaks into the open at treeline and revealing the first views of Mt St Helens which was 100% mist/cloud free. Chcoclate Falls was frozen and easy to cross unlike last year when it was running. Once on the other side folks can spread out on the ridge leading to Worm Flow.

We stopped at 4200 ft and dropped down into a wide trench to set up camp. We had originally planned to camp on the summit since I couldn’t find information saying that camping was restricted there…until just before leaving the house that morning. Camping is prohibited above 4800ft. It all worked out well though as it were. We were able to climb faster and skiing down was much more fun without excess weight.

After setting up the tent and dropping some overnight gear we continued our journey up. There is an obvious rock ridge leading up the flow. We had taken this talusy route last year when it was snow free. Snowshowers were following it now, but most skiers don’t bother weaving around on the bouldery ridge. We followed the skin track up the steep slopes just left of the ridge along switchbacks. Here we noticed a group where one split boarder was boot-packing up the slope and post-holing right in the track ahead of us. Damien advised them that this was bad wilderness ethics, but the senior skier insisted this was necessary since the spitboarder was a beginner and needed confidence. Ugh. Why is a beginner on Helens? Some other folks joined in showing their displeasure though which ended the post-holing in the track. I don’t like folks with bad manners in the backcountry.

We continued up at a descent pace, but eventually the sun took it toll and we stopped for a break at 6700ft. A cloud of mist had settled over the summit, but I had hope that it would dissipate by the time we arrived and it did!We reached a cloud free summit at about 2:40pm. The winds were high and we wasted no time putting on our big yellow puffys! The crater was 100% clear unlike last year were there was lingering fog. The views all around were perfect as was the climb and since we had started later most people were on their way down and not on the crater rim. I could not have picked a better summit to spend our anniversary weekend. I cannot describe how happy we both were.

We we were even more thrilled with the descent! There are two routes down the mountain (that I saw). One is to stay skiers left of the worm flow and follow open slopes down. The other is to more or less follow the climbing route down, but stay slightly right to avoid foot traffic and makes turns on more open slopes. We stayed right to ensure that we got back to our tent. The first 1000ft down was pretty steep, but after that the slopes mellowed out and we made excellent turns on spring corn snow! Conditions could not have been any better and they were consistent! Not an icy of slushy patch to be found! We were able to ski all the way back to the tent door!

It rained on and off a all evening, but nothing major. An almost full moon lit up the night and before down we looked up at the mountain to see headlamp of some folks hoping to beat the bad weather. It was picture perfect and it was March 20… our official anniversary. Morning revealed thick grey clouds coming in from the south as we packed up camp. We hoped most folks would avoid climbing Helens due to the the bad weather pushing in. Skiing down the treed lower trail with a bunch of folks marching up would have been tedious. As luck would have it we had an awesome run through the lower slopes of treeline on snow as excellent as the day before. We ran into a lone climber that SAR would have labeled a “future subject”. He had on blue jeans and a cotton, short sleeved shirt. From his tiny non-technical backpack dangled mountaineering boots fitted with crampons (the spikes were not protected in any way and the boots were swinging freely). He wore low, mesh hiking boots on his feet. Damien gave him a warning about climbing in such attire especially with the incoming rain. The man said that he climbed mountains dressed like that all the time… plus he had a blow up sled in his pack to descend. The pack was so tiny with a sled I expect that layers food, water and other safety gear did not also fit. Just wow.

The rolling trail in the trees was much more fun that we expected. It was like being on a groomed fun with lots of fun twists and turns. We only stopped for one team heading up the mountain and skier right up the the door of my car! I noted though that some portions of the trail had some very thin snow cover which was very different than just 24 hours prior. I expect that these areas are now dirt patches.

The whole mountain was amazing. The very best AT ski we have both done! We finished off the weekend by going to Ape Caves. You have to walk the road .75 miles to the TH since the road is closed in the winter so we had the cave mostly to ourselves… its a great place to hike in the rain (though there are some leaks). Once again it was the most fun we’ve ever had on talus and a great end to a perfect weekend.

I love you Damien. Happy 1 Year Anniversary! VIEW VIDEO

 

Another snow, rainy and high avalanche weekend. we didn’t want to revisit Smithbrook or the Enchantments for what seemed like the billionth time this winter. We’d been playing around with doing winter ascents of Helena and Bald Mountain along the Mountain Loop Hwy. Both are scrambles, but Damien concluded on previous attempts that Bald required a rope. he never tried Helena. With avalanche danger at considerable and more snow predicted we knew our chances we’re good. But there still was a chance since the routes were on ridges, plus it would be fun to explore a new area even will summiting.

We left the car at 7:30am parking less than a quarter mile up Deer Creek Rd at 1700ft. Damien was afraid of getting stuck in the snow since the freezing level was supposed to drop during the day. As it turned out Deer Creek Road doesn’t seem to be maintained anymore. There was huge piles of debris and sections of the road that were completed washed our by the creeks. At about 2200 feet we hit the snowline and put on our snowshoes. It was cloudy throughout with some light-medium snowfall every now and then.

After some discussion we opted to camp at Kelcema Lake. The trail begins at the end of Deer Creek Road and foes 1/2 mile to the lake in the shadow of Bald Mountain. Camping here would require up to take an unknown route up Helena instead of following the mining trail and also a 1 mile detour the following day to climb Bald. However, this still appeared to be the best option so we could easily leave our stuff at camp and carry lighter loads up the mountains.

We set out to climb Helena after setting up our tent on the shore of the lake. It was snowing again as we departed into the forest cutting our path through the trees going straight up the ridge. There was some minor bush-whacking involved, but this decreased as the snow got deeper higher up. In fact is was pretty easy to weave around the trees. We stayed to the left as we ascended. At one point the grade of the climb got steep enough to warrant removing our snowshoes and putting on our crampons. It was much easier to kick steps  this way especially above 4,000ft when the ridge narrowed and the trees gave way to some open slopes. On the left we found huge cornices, but the right side was safe and wind swept. The snow was comping down hard at this point and winds were picking up.

We finally reached the top of the hump on the ridge at 4950ft at about 4:00pm. At this point we had a decision to make. Continuing on would mean dropping 300 feet to the saddle and then continuing back up the ridge to the summit block and summit at 5400ft. The route we needed to continue on was similar to the forest terrain we’d already encountered. with some more open areas. We would definitely end up heading back in the dark… or possibly not even get to the summit block by dark. Once at the summit block we’d have to climb a gully which would probably be too dangerous in the heightening avalanche concern. Still both of us really wanted to continue. We were having so much fun. The weather conditions were giving the climb a true alpine feel and getting back in the dark didn’t seem like totally horrible idea.  However, avalanche concerns and deteriorating weather conditions won out and we began to head back down. We switched from pole to our ice axe at this point as well.

We thought that after the open slope areas we’d easily be able to follow our tracks down through the woods. However, the tracks were gone. Lost to the heavy snow and wind despite the tree cover. As it turned out, the way back to the lake was not the way the stone rolls. Using our GPS Map we tried to get back to the line we used to get up. First we were way left… then we were way right and almost in some obscure basin… then way left again. It definitely made things interesting. In the end we had our headlights on and stumbled through thick brush midway on the trail to Kelcema Lake.

So much snow had fallen during the day that we found the walls to our tent almost totally sunken in. Luckily it was a hardly Eldorado single wall so there wasn’t a total cave in. We busiest ourselves in the dark getting our sleeping pads and bed set up. Damien made water from the snow… he made a little too much water because we ran out of fuel when the dinner water was luke warm. We were still able to rehydrate everything just fine though. The best part of the night was when Damien out down opsack food bag for 15 seconds and when he turned back there was fat mouse moving around inside it. Luckily it hadn’t gotten a chance to eat yet and Damien dumped him out onto the snow where he fled away surprised!

It snowed all night, but in the morning it was cloudy and precipitation free. We were actually able to see the summit of Bald Mountain 4800ft across the lake. We packed up our climbing gear and headed back to Deer Creek Road where we crossed the bridge before turning off into the uncharted forest. The Bald Mountain Ridge was similar to Helena at first, but after 300 ft more open, steep areas revealed themselves. We were able to successfully find ways around these areas through nearby trees. As we gained elevation we were afforded some distant views of surrounding mountains ans also the wind picked up quite a bit too! However, the ridge also grew more and more narrow and at 3900 ft we reached a open slope that seemed in prime condition to avalanche.  We ventured a bit into a rock band to take a closer look. The slope was about 35 degrees. We had seen shooting cracks lower in the trees. the final step on took toward as I arrived at the rock band made a clear “whump” sound. There was a fluffy new layer of snow on stop of a hard older layer. When I played with the new snow with my poles it formed mini slabs.  If it avalanches one would be swept off a cliff and into the forest. Not good. With no away around this slope we turned back.

We had no problems getting back to camp this time as our tracks were still there! The clouds were still high with no precip and the winds calm when we laid in the tent for break before packing up for twenty minutes. Day light savings was killing us. The winds began lashing at the tent about 15 minutes later and when we finally did rise and peer outside we were greeted by thick snow and blizzard-like conditions! A good reminder of how things change quickly in the mountains. It also made a feel pretty good that we hadn’t been able to climb Bald. This was about the time we were have summited!

It was pretty exciting packing up camp in the snow and wind! Conditions stayed that way as we headed back down the trail. We soon found that we were carrying a ton of snow with our down the mountain and it piled into our packs! But then suddenly the clouds shifted and revealed blue skies and sunshine! Confused we took off a few layers… but then we had to rearrange everything again and once again the clouds grew dark. It was pouring rain by the time we got back to the car! A little bit of every weather!

 

We began this weekend’s excursions with two options: Sherpa Glacier or Lake Stuart. The object was to scout out the route to Sherpa Glacier for future climbs. Whether we ended up at the base of the glacier or at Lake Stuart to camp would depend completely on trail conditions. Rain was expected even in the desert over the weekend so we figured this was a good chance to go exploring.

Eightmile Road was still snow covered and there was a descent snowshoe track all the way up. The predicted rain never too shape. In fact it was rather warm and sunny instead! Two sets of backcountry skiers and a snowshoer passed us, but we did not encounter the hoards of day hikers we came across a few weeks earlier. As fpr us, we had opted for snowshoes after a great debate between that and skis. We we’re sure of the snow-cover and conditions off trail if we headed to Sherpa Glacier.

The Stuart Lake Trail was well packed down to the junction with the Colchuck Lake Trail. Here is where things got interesting. The Colchuck trail was packed down as far as we could tell, but there was not a single track heading to Lake Stuart. We forged on breaking our own track and route finding our way through the forest. Staying on the trail wasn’t that easy, but going in the right direction was pretty straight forward.

We came to an open area near several creek and a march soon after leaving the junction. From here there was a full view of Mt Stuart and Sherpa. We decided to forgo using the beta we had (which wasn’t much) and head off trail directly toward the glacier instead of turning off further down as our information recommended. We were, after all, exploring. Damien got very excited about crossing all the creek every time he saw a long. I mentioned that the beta had said to stay on the right side of the creeks, but he didn’t hear me over the rushing water. We battled our way through the trees and snow drifts, up and down hills and endless forest. Damien did eventually reexamine the map and discover were were on the wrong side of the creek. We opted to navigate back to the trail and get to the meadow as the beta suggested.

We re-discovered the trail after a bit of tracking and ascending a few slopes. From here we were able to stay on the trail to the open meadow which, despite the incoming thick clouds, offered a great vantage point to study the route to the base glacier. It appeared we’d have to fight our way through forest and traverse around a large secondary peak… it was 4:00pm at this point and it would take well over 2 hours to reach the glacier while breaking trail in snow. In summer with the road open and melted climbers trail to follow things would have been different. But we had gained what we hoped, some beta, and decided to continue on to Lake Stuart for the night. We could see the plateau not too far off and had about 800ft of gain to go.

The clouds continued to build as we half stayed on the trail and half route found our way to the lake which we reached exactly on sunset. The moment we took our packs off at camp the clouds finally opened and a light rain began to fall. We set up quickly and finished getting everything in as the rain grew heavy. Warm and dry inside we got into our big puffies a reveled over how tired we were. It had been a 10 hour day with 9.5 miles. Long hours and high mileage winter trips are rare and we were excited to have had a taste of suffering again… or I was anyway. I live for a good sufferfest.

The heavy rain turned to a wet snow overnight. I actually woke up to find the tent walls were severely sagging in due to the weight. We pounded on the walls to knock off the snow and continued to do that every few hours. Some string wind gusts hit us as well, but nothing we were too concerned about.

In the morning a wet snow/rain was still falling, but it was lighter than it had been overnight. Heavy mist clung to the mountains that shadow the frozen Lake Stuart. However, as soon as we packed up and shouldered our packs the rain stopped! In fact, on our way back the clouds began to thin and reveal some sunshine along with some excellent views of the surrounding Enchantment Peaks. We did not take our detour through the forest and over creeks on the way back. Instead we broken trail to where we had broken off the day before. By the time we arrived back that the the skies were once again blue. So much for the full day of rain that was predicted. However, I think the rain in the canyon was much worse than the rain we experienced by the lake. There was a massive new rock slide on the road. Plus, the snow-cover on the road that was continuous all the way to the Trailhead the day before, now had several large melted out sections. Spring is on the way for sure… but I intend to enjoy the snow as long as possible!