Hail? Snow? Clouds? Pea Soup fog? A touch of sun? Of course this is the best time to go out climbing! Damien and parked at the bottom of snowbound Smithbrook Road near Stevens Pass Saturday morning. Huge, fluffy, Christmas flakes fell heavily from the sky as we began to AT ski up the road. Our goal was to ski Lichtenberg Mountain and Mount McCausland; and break in our new Helios 88 skis.

At the firsy switchback we cut left directly into the forest. We crossed a creek shortly thereafter using a questionable snow bridge (it had some old tracks on it) and then broke trail uphill in the general direction of Lichtenwasser Lake. Most of the route was general switchbacks though the forest, but we did boot-pack a particularly steep section of trail for about 10-15 minutes. Upon reach the frozen lake the beta describes to choices. The first option is to the  skier to go directly to the base of the Saddle between West Summit and True Lichtenberg and ascent straight up to the saddle. However, if this saddle is shrouded in cornices the best alternative is to climb up to the ridge a few feet to the right of the lake an ascend gradually to the summit block. A clear view of the saddle was blocked by the trees so we opted to follow the ridge. The ridge is pretty forested at first but begins to open as was elevation is gained. The snow stopped and clouds lifted from time to time affording us views of the summits around us and all the way down to Smithbrook Road. We were also eventually able to get a view of the saddle, which did, indeed, have a huge overhanging cornice on it. We were able to easily switch back up most of the ridge, however, the first half of it did have about 3 head-walls what required us to remove our skis and kick-step up.

As we neared the rocky summit block on the end of the ridge we were able to make out that this way up was unfeasible due to cornices. We decided to traverse to the right about 100 feet below the summit. We found that the ridge on the other side directly next to the peak did not have a cornice. We removed our skis and began to kick step up the slope. Unfortunately, as Damien above me neared the summit the slope angle increased and snow began to sluff off down the slope to a concerning degree. We decided that it was unsafe to continue. We continued our traverse coming to a small flat basin 200 feet below the summit and ridgeline. The ridge here was again guarded by a substantial cornice. There was a high rocky high point in the ridge that did not have a cornice. Maybe we could find a way around that area? Our minds were getting jumbled and it was getting on to late afternoon. We elected to make camp in some tree in a high place away from the cornice collapse run-out. The we set off in the evening to attempt Lichtenberg again. We climbed up the to cornice free rock face and poked around to see if we could get around the right of it but there was a cliff. There was a small area to the left of it that did not have a cornice and some tree provided stability even though the slope was steep. We tired this way and found the snow to be more stable at this aspect. Finally we gained the ridge! We from we simple walked along the ridge staying away from the corniced edge to the summit block. Of course where we arrived there was pea soup from and hail pelted us! But after several tries and some route finding we finally gained the summit!

About 2 more inches of snow fell overnight and we woke to flurries early the next morning along with thick fog. We carried studies several pictures of the the descents from Lichtenberg and our topos and discussed our observations. We needed to get to the saddle between Lichtenberg and McCausland. However, the direct line looked to be a cliff from the maps (we could not see the actual line). Descending in the Lake Valhalla direction is very steep and had some terrain trap cliffs that Damien recalled from the summer. Descending to the valley just below where were camping seemed like the best bet, but which line? The photo was unclear as to which way presented the fewest terrain traps and we were unfamiliar with the slope. In the end we settled on a wide gully that seemed to have the lowest slope angle int he picture and map. As it turned out we took the only way down that did not come to a narrow 50 degree chute or massive cliff headwall. Planning and discussion pays off. We put our skins back on in the valley and headed through the open forest to the saddle between Lichtenberg and McCausland. Gaining the saddle was pretty straightforward and were even have bits of sunshine. From there we headed straight up the broad mostly open ridge to the summit of McCausland. And as luck would have it the sun came out as we prepared to descend eliminating the white light. We skied down to the saddle and then back down into the valley. The snow was difficult to manage as we lost elevation and it became heavy and saturated. But ti was great for Damien to build a snowman! We reached Smithbrook Road near the Lake Valhalla summer TH and skied the road back down the the car. Two more summits!

 

 

The intention for the weekend was to climb Devil’s Peak, traverse the ridge halfway and camp in the flat area and then continue on the ridge and tag Devil’s Thumb the next day. We found that Deer Creek Rd was open so we were able to drive the 1 mile to Coal Creek Road #4054. This road is closed to traffic and is horrifically overgrown. It must have been at least ten years since someone had last driven on it. There was no snow at 1900 feet so we carried our skis. Coal Creek Rd is littered with deadfall and low hanging branches that had an affinity for grabbing out our skis. It was pretty frustrating to say the least. After 2 mile we reached snow and we were able to skin a bit. However, this was short lived as we cut away from the road and begin to make our own way up through the forest cutting the switchback. We skied for a bit  but in got too steep and the trees too tightly woven that we ended up boot-packing our skis up the slope to the upper section of the road. We skinned this section over a bridge to the next switchback and once again cut into the forest. Once again we had to remove our skis for a front pointing steep section. But them we were more or less able to traverse upward through forest and open slopes. We noticed that the snow was very heavy and saturated. The skins seemed to also have a difficult time grabbed onto surface and we slide backwards and sideways down-slope constantly which was troublesome being that we were above to steep cliffy areas at points. We made a mental note of this. NWAC had called to moderate avalanches, but things seemed prime for the unpredictable loose wet slides.

Finally, we arrived in Devil’s Basin. Due to the loose/wet so conditions we decided to abandon the traverse idea and camp by the creek in the basin. We would do to separate ascents if the snow was safe. Looking up at the slopes around Devil’s Peak though it looked scary. Most visible trees in the areas were bent over and avalanche debris seemed everywhere… and it all seemed to be fresh loose/wet slides. Not exactly the type of things that give you the warm fuzzies.

No sooner than we had set up camp did the sky open up with rain. It was falling pretty heavily so we decided to wait it out a bit since it was still early in the afternoon. Luckily, it completely stopped after 45 minutes. We snapped into out skis and began to contour the slope following a weakness to the summit block. The snow was extremely saturated and heavy. Again we slide not only downhill, but sideways. Snow fell down-slope from our edges. Still we pressed on hoping for an improvement i suppose, but as we got higher it only got steeper and the snow only sketchier. At 4200 feet we examined all our observations and decided that continuing on was simply asking for trouble. Our experience descending back to camp proved our decision correct. It was like skiing through wet cement making it impossible to turn and mini avalanches consistently tumbled down slope as our skis slide sideways sometimes bringing with them substantial balls of snow. Luckily, it didn’t bring us with the slide. We were relieved to be back at camp and a bit unnerved so we move dour tent even further back from the in the basin hillside just to be doubly safe. And of course the rain started up again.

Damien dug a big hole down to the creek so we could access water. It was the first time this year we didn’t need to melt snow. Summer is coming I suppose. We discussed our plan for the next morning. If it got cold overnight and things froze up and got stable we would tray again on Sunday… but we knew our chances weren’t good. In fact it rained all night and will still raining on and off when we woke up. Loose/wet potential certainly had not gone down. It was was enough that we had some open slopes to ski down during our descent back to the car, but at least there were more trees and brush anchors.

The ski out was troublesome as once again we had to deal with concrete snow making it difficult if not dangerous to make tight turns around trees. I think we ended up carrying our skis more than actually skiing for fear of being unable to avoid the many forest traps and steep cliffs since our skis continued to slide down on their own accord. We made it own safety though, not with summits, but with new knowledge how to cope with with loose/wet conditions.

This ended up being a Plan C trip. Originally we were going to go for Garibaldi, but solar radiation boosted avy danger to considerable on the aspect we planned to climb. So we opted for Reid Headwall on Mt Hood. Avalanche danger was predicted to be moderate and we were excited to get in a technical alpine ice climb after avalanche danger pushed us off so many summit attempts this year. At least avalanche danger was moderate right up until we pulled into the Timberline Parking lot Friday night. We checked the forecast one last time and it had been updated to considerable an hour beforehand. We had our normal discussion and it was decided that Reid Headwall would be fine if we finished the route before any major radiation from the sun hit. However, the climb is more or less a maze through towers of rim ice and route-finding delay was not entirely impossible which could leave us exposed to falling ice once the sun warmed things up. Since we had already driven the 5 hours we settled on the South Spur/Hogsback route. This is the easiest route up Mount Hood and it attracts throngs of people, most of which are inexperienced and minimal climbing knowledge to the point of endangering themselves and others around them. It is normally a conga line of folks trying to get through the bottleneck of the crux of the pearly gates to the summit. However, it seemed like the only safe option and if we were stragicgic we could avoid the circus. Besides, although not the technical Ice climb we were hoping for, it was a climb nonetheless. Plus it meant a higher camp and we really needed to start acclimating for the season.

After spending a chilly night in the car parked in the Timberline parking lot (5800 ft) we began the long approach. Luckily, this was not as arduous for us since we had our skis and skinned up. The route begin as the ski resort and follows the right most cat track up open slopes. Don’t follow the groomers near the lifts unless you want to be stopped by ski a patrol. You’ll know you’re on the right path because the catt4rack is filled up bootprints and usually some semblance of a skin track. The first 1200ft of gain brings you parallel to the Silcox Hut. From here the slope gets a bit steeper until the cat track finally terminates at the top of the highest chair lift (8600 ft). From here there are normally multiples boot paths and a skin track to follow to the crater. The general idea is to stay to the right of Crater Rock and Left of Steel Cliffs aiming for the flat basin area. There is a flattish area at about 9200 feet where most folks camp even though the crater is flatter. However, the crater is a thermal area with fumroles and other aroma releasing formations. However, Damien and I passed this lower camp opting for the less crowded high camp since the smell of sulfur isn’t as issue for us. The final ascent to the crater is pretty steep and at times our skins didn’t catch completely. However, we were pretty overjoyed that with elevation came a breeze. Lower we had been baking in the blazing sun!

We set up camp well away from Devil’s Kitchen thermals in the crater at 10,100 feet. Mt Hood is known for high winds even when it isn’t in the forecast. Therefore, we dug a good sized hole to set up our tent along with a substantial windbreak. From there we had front row seats watching the conga line climb up the Hogsback to the Pearly Gates. We wanted no part of this steady line of people and the hazards of climbing in the throngs. Therefore, our plan was to climb in the dark and reach the summit exactly at sunrise. Hopefully, we would be the first to summit and avoid the bottleneck in the Pearly Gates.

We spent the rest of the day people watching. In the evening the clouds built and we couldn’t see the mountains below. The higher elevation was clear though and we had the rare experience of people the the only people on the upper flanks of the South Side. Not a soul on the Hogsback Route. It was quiet with only the sound of the wind and the pristine evening light. Solitude in a place where you can rarely be alone.

We were moving at 4:20am carrying our skis for the descent. A team of three were coming up from the bottom of the mountain as we walked to the nearby Hogsback, but they stopped to rest in the Crater so we climbed alone. The Hogsback is a spine of windblown snow creating a ridge of sorts from Crater Rock.  The well beat down path traverses the side of the tall spine until reaching the crest where there is a flattish area before the Hogsback rears up rather steeply to the Pearly Gates and towers of rime ice. I found myself front pointing parts of this section using both ice tools.

There was a small flat area stamped put at the base of the Pearly Gates, probably the result of people waiting in line. But in the darkness there was no waiting. The Pearly Gates is a short, steep and narrow chute big enough for climbers of only move in single file up ~60 degree slope. It is borders on either side by high rock towers covered in rim ice making them look like mystical castles. This is the area is possesses a rock and ice-fall hazard making it imperative to move quickly and preferably only in the early morning hours before things warm up. I front pointed and used both tool picks through the Pearly Gates.

After the chute it is basically a long gradual climb to horizon which never seems to get closer. It look to be just a few yards away, but really you need to ascend about another 250 feet. Eventually, we did indeed crest over the South Side and stand on the summit just in time to admire the fiery colors of sunrise. The wind was wicked and gusting at probably 30 mph, but we put on our down parkas and stayed plenty warm enjoying the perfect moment of solitude. We were the first to summit that day. We watch the sky go from bright pink to fluorescence orange as the sun finally peaked over the horizon and bathed the mountain snow soft corral glow. The perfect morning and we didn’t want to leave, but we had seen the headlamp coming up the mountain when we left camp we didn’t want to get stuck in the throngs. We passed the team of three as we descended to the Pearly Gates and front pointed down the chute. Only one climber was at the base of the gates politely waiting for us to descend. However, the Hogsback was getting crowded. We had timed things perfectly.

We down-climbed to the flat area of the Hogsback and from there skied back to camp. The Summit was looking pretty cloudy and once again we were pleased at our luck. We went back to sleep or tried to. The winds picked up and whistled around the tent waking us up. When we finally started to pack up the winds were worst in the Crater than they had been on the summit. Another bit of good fortune as I imagine summit winds were 40+ at that point.

We snapped back into our skis for the long run down. This is when I really appreciate being able to ski. The slog down the mountain on foot is excruciating, but on skis the descent of 4300ft from the crater is a highlight!

After staring at the massive pyramid of Wedge Mountain every time I turned onto Icicle Rd for 5 years I finally stood on the summit. Our west side plans foiled with bad weather, Damien and I headed over to the sunny east side to backcountry ski Wedge. The true summit of Wedge us under debate. The maps the summit is labeled as a 5860 foot high point on the ridge. However, there is also a 6885ft high point about 2 mile further down the ridge (South Wedge). Starting out we weren’t clear on which peak we would ultimately go for or if we would do both. It turns out we ended up climbing Wedge Mountain proper as seen ont he maps and from Leavenworth since that’s where the beta brought us.

Mountain Home Rd is plowed for 3.5 miles to the country road line. From there the road is snow and pretty much impassible without a 4×4 that you don’t mind getting scratched up even in summer. Branches reach out in many places and would cause detriment to any paint job. We started skinning here. It is key to follow maps and directions to the saddle very carefully as the roads on the lower hilly slopes of Wedge are a maze and the terrain is rather complex.  There were a few bare patches where we carried our skis early on, but strangely the road was still full of lots of snow even though sometimes the land right beside it was pretty much melted out. Mountain Home Rd becomes FS 7300 though there are no signs. We passed some kind of mini train track thing near a sign that said “Steinback.”  A bit random. There are a few turns but don’t take any under reaching the massive junction with labeled FS 400. On lower FS 400 there are several creeks running under the snow so use caution to avoid hollow areas. This is where most of the climbing occurs as the road switchbacks upward. It’s long but there are excellent distracting views along the way. There are a few turns as well. Stay left at the first junction and right on the second. The road finally reached a wide saddle at about 4500 feet (about ten miles)

From the saddle we turned right and continued to follow FS road 400 which even on snow seemed barely like a road. The path follows under Wedge’s summit and beneath the ridge. There were two areas of avy debris to cross. After about 3/4 of the mile we decided to switchbback straight up the slope to gain the ridge. From below it didn’t look bad, but experience proved different. After about 1/4 of the way up the slope got steeper and the snow ws too frozen to cut switchbacks. Damien decided to bootpack up a cleaned avy gully. I attempted to continued try and skin straight up. I did well for a bit but then conceded to bootpacking up the avy gully. Which involved a far amount of front pointing. We did but our skis back on about 3/4 of the way up, but where forced to take them off again and flounder about in inconsistent snow. It was either too hard or too soft to skin. We were aiming for a small notch on top of the ridge that looked wide enough for camp and was protected by some trees. The finally several yards took an excruciatingly long time… we post-holed through knee and waist deep thick and heavy snow. Finally we made it! The tree ended up not offering much protection from the blustery wind, but we had our winter tent so it worked out great. The camp had excellent views and was .35 miles from the summit.

 

In the morning we found clear skies and solid snow. It seemed like the best idea would be to walk the ridge, but we carried our skis just in case. We traversed the  ridge-line enjoying 360 views of Leavenworth, Icicle Divide, The Enchantments, Cashmere, Snow Creek Wall and the eastern hills. The going was pretty easy until we got to the final slope to the summit block. We found we had to front point deep into the 65 degree slope and walk a bit on the knife edge. It was doable, but sketch with a whippet and ski boots. We dropped out packs and skis in a flat area by what we thought was the summit block and front pointed up a 15 foot snow finger to the summit…. well kind of.  When we reached the top we realized the block a few yards away was taller. This was bit disheartening since the snow finger has been no picnic to climb unprotected. Nevertheless,  we down climbed and headed over to the left most block. After some exploration we found a class 2/3 route up the left side. It was bare rock so we climbed with gloves off With gloves off, but still in ski boots. There we descent ledges and enough hand holds to feel safe even in bulky boots. The down-climbing was less comfortable though. It was  our first experience scrambling on rock with ski boots!

We hung out just beneath the summit block and enjoyed the perfect view for maybe and hour. We weren’t in a rush. We had decided after looking over to the higher South Wedge that we would not attempt it. Traversing the ridge looked sketch and there was a huge rough looking gap between the two summits. From observation they appear to be 2 separate peaks for sure. And we were also afraid that the return trip would lead to a post-holing odyssey as the snow softened (there was no way we could ski that terrain).  Back at camp we relaxed a bit and waited until about 11:30 to ski down giving the snow a chance to corn up. We skied back down to the road making some pretty excellent turns! Best we’ve had all spring thus far for sure! We cut a few switch backs on the road by skiing straight down the slope, but found that after about 3700 feet it was best ti just stay on the road since the straight way down had lots of  melted out terrain traps. Even with the long sweeping switchbacks the going was pretty fast. on FS 7300 we did have to free our heels since the road is flatter for ascends in a few places.

Great weekend and our first summit as a married couple! Next time we will tag South Wedge!

It seems like Mother Nature wanted to be tricky this weekend with the forecast. We ended up with much more blue sky on Saturday than we bargained for. With another heavy snowfall on Friday night leaving avy danger considerable on Saturday we found ourselves trudging up Eightmile Road for the third weekend in a row. This time our destination was Colchuck Lake. The ski went pretty fast this time around. The snow has consolidated quite a bit with all the rain. In fact is was raining moderately when we started out. There is a solid main track in the road, but snowshoers seemed to be plodding along all over the place even on the skin track which makes things a bit less pleasant for skiers like us. Luckily, the three snowshoers directly ahead of us (also on their way to Colchuck Lake) stayed in the main snowshoe track and  there was enough un-trodden snow to make our own skin track off to the side.

We did not have to make our on trail or do any navigation one we left the road and entered the forest on the Stuart Lake Trail. There was a good track well beaten into the snow. It was a bit icy though from the rain of course. We ran into some folks with sleds coming down from Colchuck. The area is no longer deserted I supposed a spring was only days away. The bridge of Mountaineer Creek is definitely better crossed on foot and not on skis. There are a few holes where people punched through the snow, but crossing was decently secure.

The Bridge right after turning onto the Colchuck Lake Trail was more intimidating. Large holes in the snow n the bridge and it looked like it would need to be dug out. Luckily there were two snow bridges over the creek. we took the thicker one on the right. Once on the other side in the talus field the rain van ished and the sky turned blue. However, with the clear skies came high winds. We didn’t notice in during the initial climb through the forest up to the lake, but as we gained elevation and came to the open areas wind swirled the snow around us. It was actually pretty awesome!

We set up camp on the edge of Colchuck Lake in the early evening with great views of Dragontail, Aasgard Pass and Colchuck Peak. The Lake was windswept so we could see the turquoise blue ice and cyclones of snow as the wind swept over the plateau. The freezing level dropped and light snow fell making for a pretty perfect alpine evening in the Enchantments.

The morning dawned clear and cold as predicted. Very cold! The jounrey down ended up being a treacherous one. The snow was like stryofoam, perfect for crampon and horrible for skis. Damien managed to ski the entire way back down to the creek on the icy snow. I did a combination of walking and survival skiing. From the bridge we decided to mostly walk to the second bridge which proved to the the smart choice in the very frozen and narrow section of trail. We put the skies back on for the final 1.5 miles after the bridge, but it was rough going and our knees rattled the whole way back to the road. Luckily it was a quick ride back to the car from there, but our knees were still rattling on the ruts in the road from all the tracks. Still another fun weekend in the mountains… though we are really itching to climb!

Another weekend with high avalanche danger, only this time the danger was high even below the treeline! I don’t think I’ve very seen that before. We knew we have to be very cautious and decided on Lake Stuart since we recalled the trail being very gradual and off any major avalanche path. We started up Eightmile Rd. Unlike last week when there was a good trail stamped out there was only a fairly new and uneven footpath in (not snowshoe) as we ended up breaking msot of the track on your own through very heavy and saturated snow. It was clear there had been rain over the week. At one point a snowmobile passed up. Further up at about 2 miles down the road they left their sled and began to skin as well which gave us a nice break. They stopped at the Eightmile Lake TH though and we once again broke trail the rest of the way to the TH.

No one had been on the Lake Stuart Trail for a long time. No tracks. We didn’t run into many issues though and we were ablwe to stay on the trail. The biggest problems was our ski tips getting jammed under heavy, wet piles of snow and then having to dislodge them. The large bridge crossing over Mountaineer Creek was pretty sketch. It snow was piled high about the railing, probably 2-3 feet and it was well cornices. I highly suggesting removing skis for the crossing. Luckily no one went for a swim. From there the trail steepens but we were able to stay mostly on track though huge piles of snow on the trail and downed trees made for some interesting route finding. We finally arrived at the junction with Colhuck Lake Trail and the trail evened out a bit. Shortly after the junction (stay right) there is an open area (a swamp in the summer) where the trail disappears. The key here as we learned last year  is to go in the clearing for several yards and then head right into the trees to find the trail.

By now the snow was beginning to turn into cold rain and we were pretty tired from plowing our way through heavy snow. But it was pretty cool to be the only people that had ventured this far! We finally broke out of the trees and into Stuart Meadows. On a clear day there are great views of Stuart, Argonaut, Sherpa and Colhuck. Of course at that moment they were hidden in the clouds. Ahead we could see the high Plateau where Lake Stuart was nestled. the slopes looked a bit steeper than we recalled. We also observed a long avalanche slope topped with cornices that drained right into the middle of the meadow and onto the trail. We decided that our destination would be the meadows, about .75 miles short of the lake.

Damien strung up the tarp in some trees on the edge of the meadow and used two skis lashed together to drain the fabric. Ot kept up from having to stay inside the tent all evening which was great. The rain/sleet continued to fall from the sky most of the night and it was accompanied by extremely loud gusts of wind that kept waking me up.

But when we woke up we were surprised to unzip the tent to calm bluebird skies and a full panorama of mountain views. We enjoyed a pretty leisurely start to the morning, reluctant to pack up and head out. It waking up to views like this that make trudging through cold rain worth it! We were able to follow our track back out. The challenge was getting down the switchbacks from the junction to the bridge. The deep track through the heavy snow made turns nearly impossible and the ski trips kept getting hung up in the thick, wet snow. It made for some impressive face-plants on my part!

Eventually we found our way back over some new downed trees back to Eightmile Rd. We didn’t remove our skins until after the uphill section ended near Eightmile Lake TH. From there is a pretty much a fast glide all the way back down to the bottom at Icicle Rd. A nice change from plowing through thick snow!

 

 

 

This past weekend was a great example that avalanche predictions are just that: predictions. Saturday and Sunday were forecatsed moderate so we decided to try for Eightmile Mountain, a peak that has very little beta and seems to be rarely attempted especially in summer when it is an arduous bushwhack. It was supposedly a nice AT ski though. The Eightmile Road was crusty, but once we got on the trail conditions were good. It was even sunny which was not it the forecast making for a lovely bluebird day. However, we ran into two skiers coming from the lower slopes of Cashmere. They were pretty shook up as they’d been knocking down 8 foot slabs. We made a mental note. There were a few old, mostly concealed snowshoe tracks for the first 1/2 mile, but those petered away and we were left to our own navigational skills. Route finding was pretty straight forward and I think were were able to remain on the trail up until Little Eightmile Lake. We noted some shooting cracks though as we skied along.  Things got a bit challenging navigating through some boulders with hidden holes and ascending the final slope to the lake which was rather bushwacky through dense trees. We should have ascended on the far left of the slope where the trees were more open. Either way we manged to make it to the lake as clouds closed in a snow began to fall. We set up camp about halfway around the frozen lake so we’d be closer to the start of the route in the morning. At this point we were questioning if the avalanche danger was truly moderate.

It was still snowing the next morning. Throughout the night Damien, counted the rumble of 6 avalanches and a 7th one went off soon after we woke up. Clearly things were not moderate and we made the call not to make an attempt the summit. We still took a tour around to the other side of the lake to get eyes on Eightmile Mountain. We observed massive wind loading on the slopes of all the mountains in the area which made us confident that choosing to not climb had been a good decision. We packed up and left mid-morning under clearing skies following the faint tracks nearly covered from the heavy snow. Everything was pristine with the fresh 5 inches of powder. Tranquil and truly a winter wonderland. We did find that the new snow was very sticky when we removed our skins to ski down the abandoned road back to Eightmile Rd.  It was pretty much a tripping hazard. Back on the main road though we were able the snow powder covered up yesterdays crusty surface so we had a descent ride back down to the car. We heard of several avalanches incidents that had occurred over the weekend when we got home/  Sometimes observations are the best ways to mitigate disaster.

We were pretty happy to finally get out again this weekend. Illness and some crappy weather had kept us from our adventures the past few weeks. This was supposed to be an AT ski to Park Butte. However, we discovered that unlike last year, the snow began about  one mile from Baker Lake Rd at The Mt Baker NRA Sno-Park at 1400 feet. Basically this added about 5 miles to the trip which, of course, led to things going behind schedule. Skinning up the FS Rd 12 & 13 went pretty quickly (8 miles) and we arrived at Schreibers Meadows TH at about noon. Everything was pretty well groomed from the snowmobiles and the snow itself was in good condition allowing for nice skinning. Weather wise, it was cloudy with some intermittent snow and cold rain. Lots of motorized recreationalists were out and about, but all were polite.
From here the snowmonile track continued into the meadows and the grade steepened quit a bit. It looked as the though Sulpher Creek had flooded recently. It looked like the snow around the creek hand be carved out into a deep canyon. Luckily, the snow bridge was still in and allowed for safe crossing. In fact I think it was better than last years bridge since it was wider. We continued to follow the snow mobile track along the moraine and smaller creek until in turn right and headed to the rolling slopes of lower Mt Baker at 4,500ish feet. At this point we left the trail and continued to follow the creek along the moraine looking for a place to cross. We floated well on the snow.  However, snow began to fall harder at this point and it was sticky crud that stuck in huge blocks to our skins. We tried glop stopper, but it didn’t make a difference. Instead we intermittently banged on our skis with our poles. It was during one of these banging sessions that I managed to snap one of my poles clean in half. Marvelous! At this pointed we examined the situation…. and options for fixing my pole. It looked like there would finally be a place for us to cross the creek several yards away. However, with increasingly less visibility due to the heavy snow and slow going due to the sticky conditions we decided that trying to scale the moraine and ski to Park Butte would prove pretty fruitless. We knew from our Pinnacle Peak attempt a few weeks ago that sticky snow building on skins is like skiing wearing cinder blocks and decreases speed to a snail pace crawl. Damien was also in a lot amount of pain. At that point the reason was unknown, but we would find out the next day that he had shingles.  With all these factors taken into account we decided to call it a day at 3:45 and set up camp near some trees.
 
Lots of snow fell overnight (maybe 5 inches) and we woke up to it still falling the next morning. Damien splinted my pole using our spoons and athletic tape. If you recall last year his binding broke on the way to Park Butte. Way does gear always break on this trail?! What took us 7 hours to ski up (14 miles) took all of 2 hours to descend. The snow was in good condition all the way to the bottom and provided a fun ride. We lucked out in that only had to ski through freezing rain for about 15 minutes too!

The weekend turned out differently than we originally planned due to some really wretched backcountry ski conditions. We originally intended to ski to the Plummer-Pinnacle Saddle (Mount Rainier National Park) Saturday and climb Pinnacle, Deman and Plummer before descending to set up camp near the base of Lane. The avalanche forecast was moderate throughout with a caution for loose wet on all aspects. Not surprising since it was going to be  a balmy 45 degrees! After secreting our overnight permit we started out at the Narvada Falls parking lot which was buzzing with visitors! We skinned up the slope to the closed Stevens Canyon Road and followed it along with the throngs of snowshoers to Reflection Lake. Here we turned off the road and away from the crowds and following a skin track into the forest toward the Tatoosh Range. The trail split with the skin track continuing left to the Pinnacle/Castle Saddle and a snowshoe tracking went right heading (we guessed) to the Pinnacle Plummer Saddle. We turned right. Unfortunately the snowshoe trail was made incorrectly with each footstep being on on top of the other instead of the other which meant we were basically cutting our own trail on skis over when felt like debris.  We followed the ascending track toward the saddle out into open slopes below Pinnacle. Here ran into snow so sticky and heavy that it felt like we were skiing with cinder blocks strapped to our feet! The air was humid which I’m sure contributed to this. We fought on dragging ourselves through the cement-like snow. After traversing over a few bums we saw the drainage below the saddle was below us. This was the route were were really supposed to be on. It looked ike we could still get to the saddle from our high position, but we were on a slab and the “loose wet” warning made us reevaluate. Plus, Damien I I have 10in thick blocks of snow sticking to our skins. We decided to drop 200 feet to the drainage (bootpack) and hope the skin track was better. It was only slightly better. We finally arrived on the Pinnacle-Plummer Saddle at about 2:30 feeling destroyed. We knew at that point that we had to pick a summit to devote our efforts to and get ourselves in a position to climb it the next day. We both really wanted Lane Peak. Thus we opted to descend back down and traverse below the Tatoosh range until we got near the base of Lane. Skiing down was equally as bad a skinning up. It was like skiing through wet sludge; the snow was thick and saturated. We also had to battle through some dense trees in this mess which made things more arduous. We ended up doing to bootpacking along with the “survival” skiing. Once at the bottom we traverse through open forest to the first meadow we came across and gratefully set up camp 1/2 mile from the base of Lane.

We headed toward Lane before sunrise the next morning. We discovered as we crossed our camp meadow that were was a good snowshoe trail heading right toward Lane that we hadn’t noticed the evening before. We followed it through the forest and opening meadows. There are a few good places to cross the Tatoosh Creek. It didn’t take long for us to arrive at the base of Lane. We skinned up long switchbacks on the lower snow slopes to a stand of trees just below where the peak gets rocky. Here we put on our harnesses, crampons and dropped off our skis.  We had a rope and protection, but we decided to start out using on two petzel sumtacs each. We had the rope and pro ready if we needed it. From here we followed more switchbacks to the right to the obvious couloir: The Zipper. The Zipper is indeed steep (about 45 degrees or steeper). However, it was just snow with no ice. There was already a boot pack up although the steps were huge! Sometimes I was stepping as high as my hips! This was either due to a very tall team or the soft snow constancy. Luckily it was colder so it wasn’t as cement-like. We climbed the couloir without too much trouble and unroped. However, at the  notch and top of the courloir we and opted to rope up for the steep, exposed climb to the summit ridge on the right. The route climbed up an open and exposed slope to the ridge. I used 2 pickets as protection. There are some mixed moves over exposed rocks, but it was mostly steep snow. I belayed Damien from the ridge with an ice axe anchor. Damien then belayed me along a very airy, fun, knife edge ridge to the summit. It was thrilling and I was once again reminded of how strange it is they i will stand up straight when crossing a snow ice edge, but crawl on a rock knife- edge. Note that unlike other snow knife edges in the cascades where you walk beside the edge, in this one the route goes right over the top.  I used one picket for pro and a white tricam and picket as an anchor. The summit offered spectacular 360 views of the Tatoosh Range and Mount Rainier.

From the summit I belayed Damien back out the way we had come for several yards and then he downclimbed about 5-6 meters to the belay tree on the right (from the summit). It had two new rap slings on it. He belayed me to the tree once anchored and we rappeled down a short gully with a 50 meter rope. The 50 meter rope was enough to get us past the worst of the gully and the rocks. We still had to downclimb another 25 or so meters on steep snow before we were able to plunge step.  There was a lot of plunge stepping! The descent going around skiers left of Lane Peak down open slopes and some trees back to the front of the mountain and the small stand of trees where we stashed our skis. Meanwhile, the once clear day had clouded over and a brisk wind accompanied us on our descent to our skis. We skinned back to came under a continually greying sky. As we set out back to The Stevens Canyon Road from Camo following a Skin and snowshoe track it began to snow. Once again we made it out of the alpine just as the bad weather hit!

 

Glacier Crest was supposed to be an easier day after completing Video Peak on Sunday. Instead we got a little more than we bargained for! Avalanche Danger was marked as considerable mostly due to a storm that was supposed to come in later in the evening. Therefore, we decided to be a pre-dawn start from the Asulkan TH. There is a great ski track that travels up the Asulkan Valley. After about 1km the forest opens to a big open space and trail junction. Stay right (left goes to Wheeler Hut). The trail continues back into the forest. There are lots of signs marking the turnoffs to different trails. The Turnoff (left) for Glacier Crest Trail  is right after crossing the stone bridge. The skin track begins to ascend from here using many switchbacks and thus endless tight kick turns.  After gain probably about 900ish meters the trees begin to open up on a broad flatter ridge. The hump of Glacier Crest can be seen and the track traverses toward it. Thsi also make the end of the major switchbacks which in celebratory! Views also begin to present themselves on the ridge.

Finally the treeline is reached and the ascent of the final ridge with requires a few switchbacks again. Then a traverse to the summit. There was one steep sections which required us to bootpack our skis, but everything else was doable. Looking down will make you dizzy. Lots of exposure on the ridge, but it is not a knife edge. The summit is broad and big enough to removes skins and set up for a descent. There are few options. We watch some folks ski directly off the summit into the moranie bowl. This option is probably a double black diamond and had lots of rocks to navigate. Another option was to ski through the trees directly back into the Valley. Yet another was to continue several meters along the ridge and drop into the bowl where the angle was ever to slightly less intimidating than the summit direct descent, but featured no rocks. Finally there was an option to backtrack along the ridge and ski off a lower angle slope into the bowl.

We first decided that our best option was to ski down the lower angle slope into the bowl. Two others skiers were also weighing their options. One had dug out a small pit which he let us examine before making a final decision. There seems to be a large slab on top of insecure facets. That didn’t see good on the rolling terrain into the bowl. They decided to descend via the trees which we had no beta for. We opted to backtrack to the summit again and then a bit further on to descend into the bowl. Meanwhile as we were making our decision the weather situation was declining. Temps dropped, some snow flurries fell and the sky filled with clouds. We wanted to get off the the summit!  Instead of skiing the extremely steep initial part of descent we felt it better to boot pack our skis until the angle eased a bit. Damien stamped out a flat spot on the side of the slope and we clipped into our skis for the descent.

Like the previous day on Video Peak the powder was stellar. and we were luckily that flat  light didn’t seem to be an issue this time. The snow stopped, but the cold temps and cloudy skys remained and we made some bouncy turns down the main summit slope and into the rolling bowl. In fact we became joyous turning through the pristine slopes of the upper moraine of the Illecillewaet Glacier. This descent was going to  be a breeze!… just kidding!

About 1/4 of the way down back to the valley the once soft rolling slopes turned into a moraine minefield. We were faced with navigating through a maze of ice walls, cliffs, protruding rocks, trees, boulders… any kind of terrain trap you could think of basically. This wasn’t going to be a chill as we imagined. I can’t give detailed advice on the best way to descend other than do not go fast or approach the top of the hill expecting that there is a slope down. Often there were cliffs. Usually as ever road bock there was some kind of an exit. However, we did have to drop down a few cliffs about 2 meters high. There’s a first time for everything. The experience was very intense and the moraines seemed to go on forever. But to be honest I relished the challenge even though it was stressful.

Finally we reached the lower creek and we were able to breathe a little easier. We followed an up-track at that point which got wider the more we descended. Here the skiing went back to be fun and not quit as stressful. This track linked up with the main trail with the valley which we followed back to the parking lot.

So, more than what we expected, but no regrets! I like living on the edge!