Last year Damien and I attempted this 40.2 mile ski tour. However, we were met with the grueling task of breaking trail through over one foot of, thick powder and thus only made it 24 miles. Not to be deterred, we decided to try again this year with hopes for better conditions. And we got precisely that.

We started out on the morning of Christmas Eve under partly cloudy skies at Silver Creek Snopark and skied under the Mount Rainier White River Entrance sign. The road is closed in the winter, but open to recreation. The way was well traveled for the first 2.5 miles and ran across one other skier who turned back at mile 60.  Beyond that the tracks faded and we were left to break trail through pristine snow. However, unlike last year there was firm base so we only sunk in about 5ish inches as we broke trail. This was a huge improvement from the year before. In fact we reached the White River Range Station at about 11:30am. Last year we reached that point at 3:30pm and felt destroyed!

We continued on part the station under tall tree beside the White River Catching glimpses of Little Tacoma high above. At about 1:00pm we pasted Shaw Creek which had been our first camp last year. Further down the road  at ten miles for us we reached the next junction. We turned right on the Rd to Sunrise. We figured we’d ski to about where we turned around on our second day the previous year. We ended up setting up camp about .5 miles down the rd for last years turnaround since found a perfect spot. So in one day we traveled what had taken us two days last year. It truly showed what a difference conditions could make.

On Christmas Day we continued up the long switchbacks to Sunrise. We expected the trail breaking to get worse as we got higher, but for some reach it seemed easier. It was a clear day so we were granted majestic views of the Tatoosh, Little T and Mount Rainier the whole way. We decided to drop off our camping gear at Sunrise Point so we could watch the sunrise the next morning and also cut off some mile from what would have been at 20.1 mile day. Then we continued the final 3 miles to Sunrise Lodge. There was some drifting on the final switchback of the road, but it really didn’t slow us down. We reached Sunrise Lodge at sunset. It was amazing to have the area all to ourselves. No people milling about. Silence. It was a truly magical Christmas Evening in pristine solitude.

We skied back to Sunrise Point as darkness fell turning on our headlamps only were it became difficult to see the track. A bitter cold crept in and we hurried to ut on our puffys when we arrived back at Sunrise Point. We devised a plan to walk up and pack everything the next morning and then enjoy the sunrise before heading off. We also had some cell service and discovered that a storm would be moving in Monday evening, so we wanted to get an early start.

We had everything packed by 6:45 except our sleeping bag and pads. We scurried inside to watch the sunset. Heavy clouds hid most of the colors, but it was still wonderful to cuddle in the open air as ski grew light. And as we skied down Mount Rainier glowed a soft pink in the morning light.

We didn’t coast down to the junction as we expected, but we still had plenty of glide all the way back to the Ranger Station. From there it was about 1.5 miles uphill until the next junction were we were able to mostly coast for 3 miles. Then the final 2 miles we skied with good glide making it back to the car at 2:30. It was sunny were we drove out of the parking lot, but about 30 minutes later the ski dimmed and rain bounced off the windshield. We found out that there was a winter storm warning. Turned out we hit the weather window just right!

The weekend didn’t exactly go as planned. After bailing of ice climbing Hubba Hubba in Leavenworth we decided to head out to West Granite and  Granite Mountain. Avalanche danger was moderate so it was the perfect time to go for the summit on this peak. People die every year climbing Granite since the route is basically up a massive avalanche chute.

We began early and followed a well packed down trail to the Junction with Granite and Pratt Lake. We took the Pratt Lake Trail and turn off about another .2 miles down after crossing the second creek. The route for West Basically goes straight up. However, we found that the snow was too deep and fluffy even with snow shoes to make meaningful progress. We turned back and decided to just go fror Granite via the standard route. At the junction we took the turn for Granite and followed a well beat down trail for several switchbacks up the gully in and out of the trees. we had taken out snowshoes off, but opted to put them back on at about 3400ft since track wasn’t as solid.

The going was slow, especially for me. I felt very out of condition. The result of taking too much time off from climbing steep mountains and carry heavy packs during the fall due to life’s curve-balls. The trail traverse to the fall left gully and then back to the right gully. The snow was very stable, but still felt a bit slabby. I could definaely see how this area should be avoid in anything above moderate avy danger.

The trail became less and less stomped down by snowshoes tracks as I expect folks bailed. At about 4500 feet the track we were following simply ended. Damien broke trail through deep snow for another 300 feet. At that point it was about 3pm and we knew that summiting before dark probably wasn’t going to happen. Instead of descending the way we had come we plunged steeped straight down just off the left of the center of the gully in case an debris fell. This worked very wekk and we rejoined the trail on the last switchback in the galley that entered into the forest. From there it was an easy walk (via headlamp) back to the car.

 

Avy conditions were considerable on all aspects this weekend. We spent Saturday skiing inbound at Baker, but with our AT set ups to get our muscles flexed for the backcountry ski season. Then in the evening we broke out our XC skis and headed down Razorhone Rd from the Salmon Ridge Snopark. Snow was falling pretty heavy and there was a good base of snow already on the track. I don’t  think it has been groomed at all this year. We set up camp for the night in a clearing not too far in. In the morning we continued on the road breaking trail through deep, fresh powder for about 2 miles until some others skiers passed us and broke trail up until the road washout at 3.5 miles. There is a pretty deep water filled trench. Probably passable with some finesse, but the road ended in another .25 mile so I wasn’t worth the risk of going for an icy swim for us!

Lots more people were on the trail on our way back and the snopark parking lot was pretty full. I guess folks wait for the early risers to break the trail!

We meant to go to Lake Josephine. A simple trip since Damien was getting over a cold and I was suffering from the same nasty cold that he passed on to me. Turned out to be a bit of an epic. It started out innocently enough. We began at Stevens Pass and skinned up the runs before the ski lifts opened. Ski patrol told us that the back side was closed, but we could still get to Josephine by going up to the pass on the ski run and then go right to the other side of the boundary and down through the trees. basically we had to ski just beyond the ski area boundary which is roughly what we had planned on anyway. We skinned over the top of the pass and left the ski area as instructed. The tree area was full of huge drifts, but once we descended past that into the more open area of the Mill Valley we enjoyed fun powder to the PCT. Woth skins back on we floated pretty well on the new powder that was steadily building. However, we paused as the trail skirted a steep slope that had some bits of avy debris on it.  The snow hadn’t completely avalanched yet and was still loading. With 1.5 feet expected overnight, crossing below the slope in the morning sounded kind of dicey. We doubled back and decided to make it a short day and camp about 200 yards from the ski boundary protected in the trees. We did not camp directly under any tree though. We heard huge thuds and saw massive craters in tree bombs that had already fallen.

We pounded the walls of the tent throughout the night to knock down the accumulating snow. Standard practice. But at 4:30am when we banged on the walls no snow moved. Perplexed we peaked out the vestibule…and saw a wall of snow. We were buried. Luckily, it was soft powder so it was easy for us to tunnel out. It turned out that the only part of our tent that wasn’t covered in snow was the tippy top. Our ski poles were buried as well (easily found)! About 4 feet had fallen! We got out the shovels and started to dig the tent free.
We figured no more than a foot would fall before daylight so we settled back into the tent listening to what we thought was the sound of the groomer. We figured that in snow this deep we might be forced to take the “closed” ski runs back to the main resort area.  When we woke up again at 7:30 there was one more foot of snow as predicted.
 As we began to prepare for the ski out we began to heard bangs. These were not tree bombs. It was dynamite. The resort was blasting in the Mill Valley area… and some of the blasts seemed right over out heads. We could hear voices every now and then to. We dismantled the tent as quickly as we could which was really not very quick dealing with deep powder, wind and heavy snow. We wanted to get to a safe area and maybe talk to ski patrol. Damien cut a trail away from the slope to an area with a slight rise. We saw some debris come down nearby after some sonic booms that once again seemed to be echoing right above us. We hunkered down here in a small hole with the tent fly over our heads. We figured on venturing out once the blasts got further away. Luckily, the dynamite moved off just as we were beginning to get really cold.
Damien cut through deep powder and manged to find the cat-track. With the dynamite we did not feel safe going out of the boundary for fear of being blown up. We stayed on the track up to the Pass. Then we had a pleasant ski back down to the lodge with all the whooping inbound skiers and riders.
 
Adventure filled weekend!