Last year Damien and I did this 27.5 mile xc ski trip in three days. The trails makes a circle around Goat Peak (clockwise). We started late on the first day and ended pretty early on the third day, so we thought it might be fun to do the same trip in 2 days. The first day would be all uphill the 2nd 80% down hill… and this time we would get an early start.

Just as last year the temps were frigid and ranged from about 0-10 degrees. We started at the Goat Creek Snopark at about 8am after grabbing a quick snack from the Mazama Store. The trail is not a dedicated xc trail, but a multi-winter use motorized trail. Thus, snowmobiles also use this route. We have always found these user to be very polite and simply step off to the side whenever were hear them coming up the trail. The only troublesome thing is the exhaust fumes of the sleds as they pass. The snow was in good condition though we didn’t get much glide since the trail was uphill. After 3 miles we turned left at the first junction marked for the Goat Peak OL. A few hours later we passed the overlook that was the site of our camp last year at around 1:30pm and admired views of The Gardiners and Silver Star before moving on. Shortly after the overlook the trail descends for about .7 so we had fun slide downhill before the next push up. The ski to mid-point of Goat Peak Lookout TH parking lot is increasingly steep and requires some herringbone technique and sliding backwards. We made it to the parking lot in the dark and made camp in the forest just off the Lookout Trail a few yards in.

The next frosty morning we did not snap on our skis. Instead we carried them down the next .5 mile section which begins just behind the parking lot bathroom. This section fo trail is too steep for xc skis to handle and resembles a toboggan. It is narrow as basically groomed out every winter as a connector to a lower road forming the loop around Goat Peak. Its narrow and I wouldn’t want to be in there at the same time as the sleds so we were happy to do it first thing. Once down the hill and on the next road we put on our skis and glides on flat ground for the next 3ish miles traversing the side of long ridge before dipping into a ravine and circling around to ski back around the other side of the valley. There are two major overlooks/wide areas. After the second one the trail pretty much angles down for the remainder of the tour with varying steepness. There are several junctions and the general idea is to turn right at each one. Due to the downward angle we completed the loop at 12:30pm even though it had been 14 miles. So this year it took us 1.5 days!

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!

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!

The past weekend was not our usual due to the Superbowl on Sunday. We ended up compromising as I naturally wanted to spend both days in the backcountry and Damien wanted to watch the game. Thus I spent Sunday at MT Baker Ski area while on Saturday we went out together on the Nason Ridge XC Loop.I’ve did this 15 mile XC ski trail two years ago and it was very much not groomed. This time the groomers had gone just an hour before we arrived so everything was fresh.

We started off at probably around 7:30am from the Kahler Glenn Sno-Park (Special groomed sticker required). The trail can be accessed by crossing the street and skiing along the track in the Kahler Glenn Golf Course. There are a few blue signs that direct the skier toward Nason Ridge, but the general idea is to keep going in the direct of the giant ridge in the back of the course. The track crosses a few streets. Just before the actual Nason Ridge Trail Begins there is a sign that indicates that there is a huge hill ahead which is hard to climb in skis. There is a little make that shows a recommended route to take along the plowed road to access the trail instead. We walked along the road as recommended to reach the Nason Ridge Trail.

The Lower Nason Ridge Trail gradually climbs along the lower side of the ridge with little elevation gain. In fact it is mostly flat. Conditions were very icy though since it was intermittently raining. Thus whenever there was an uphill section we tended to slide back a bit. Still the clouds were high so we were afforded views of the surrounding mountains. After about 3 miles there is a junction in the track starting the loop portion of the trail. We took the right junction.

From here the track gets much steeper. Some herring-boning, but mostly the angle was just enough to ski normally (still slipping a bit due to the rain). The trail climbs 1500 ft to the top of the Nason Ridge Plateau and then curves right. There are some wonderful views at 3000 ft. The high point is 3200ft but there are less views on that side of the ridge. There area  few maps sprinkled along the way as well. About halfway through the loop there is another intersection. Turning right will take you on a mini loop and then back on the main track. We bypassed this and continued left.

The trail descends rather steeply at times making for some nice gliding. There are switchbacks so care must be taken making sharp turns while traveling at high speeds downhill. The warmth of the day had softened the snow by then though and ski conditions were awesome. We ended up back at the car at about 3:30. Not bad for a 15 mile day!

This was a transition day as we needed to drive to Bozeman and begin the second part of our winter adventure vacation. We wanted to be off the trail at 2pm so we could pack up camp and head back north at a decent hour. We decided to ski the Chittenden Rd Loop again figuring if we began early enough we’d get back in time and still get in 10.6 miles.

We started in the dark by headlamp. It was once again a cloudy day, but this time the winds were not fierce. We moved quickly along the track which barely had any new snow. This time we didn’t pause at Calcite Springs or Tower Falls. We just kept moving opting to once again go clockwise around the loop.

We did not see any wildlife, nor did we take time to stop for breaks. The trip ended up being an endurance test. How far and fast could we really go on xc skis? It turned out that the answer was 10.6 miles in 4 hours!We returned to camp and packed up our home. It’s always sad leaving especially when I knew were would not be at a hotel and not outside… but at least our vacation wasn’t over yet! Plus, Jan 20 marked the ten month Anniversary of Damien and I… something  to celebrate along with the fact that the next few days would be filled with climbing waterfall ice!

I’d never completed the entire Blacktail Plateau as an out and back. I have down the entire trail in in two sections. Last year I attempted an out and back with Adam only to have to race back when we saw a massive heard of bison coming our way a long the trail. We hoped to complete the 16 miles uninterrupted this time and we nearly did.

Clouds hung low in the ski as we began to ski just as light began to bath of snowy landscape… though the sun never did appear in the sky that morning. We began the trail at the east entrance which climbed to the high point known as “The Cut” in 2 miles and 900ft gain. Ski tracks were visible on the trek, though they were lightly covered by about 1.5 inches of fresh snow. The beginning of the trail is relatively wooded so we expected no bison issues during this part… but of course nature had other plans. Two bison were grazing right beside the trail in the woods. Com contemplated making an arc around them, but the snow as too deep and there were too many fallen trees to navigate off trail. We stood and awaited talking loudly. The bison stared at us and then continued their grazing… it took 15 minutes but eventually they did move far enough from the trail to pass safely. With a sigh of relief we continued on. The view from the cut wasn’t very vast since clouds hung low on the mountains and soft snowflakes fell from the sky. We didn’t mind though. It felt like the wilderness.

From here the track enters what I like to call “The funnel”. There is a steep slope on the right and a steep drop-off to the left. It is not a place you want to come across bison. Luckily we passed through this area without incident. From here the trail enters the high plains of the Plateau. It didn’t take long for a bison to appear on the trail. Out in the open now it was easy to navigate around him in a big circle. We passed by some distant elk as the trail traveled up and over slopes of the grasslands  with a net loss in elevation. For a moment I saw a distant creature too small to me an elk or bison. It moved like a canine, but was too big to be a coyote. I can only assume it was a wold because it disappeared swiftly on the other side of the ridge.  We came across another pair of bison grassing on the trail. We had to cut track over a steep slope to get around these two, but we manged it without too many problems. Now and then the ski tracks would vanish; windswept. But we did manage to stay on the trail  though it was tricky at times. Several bison herds grazed at a safe distance and the sun began to shine around 1:00pm. Near the “shortcut” junction we found fresh bison tracks on the trail, but the herd was no longer in sight.  We did see a nearby younger bison bolted unexpectedly into the forest even though we were rather far away. I don’t know if we startled him or he was running from something unseen by us.

About 1 mile from the trailhead we ran into another bison too close to the trail to pass. We had a decision to make. He would be in the area for some time it seemed and we’d have to deal with him on the way back. There wasn’t much interesting left on the trail as it follows near the road the final mile. We were discussing whether or not to call it at the 7 mile mark when the bison began meandering toward us. We opted to just turn around at that point and climb back up to the plateau. The sunshine did not last long. On the upper plateau we found ourselves immersed in the Yellowstone Winter.  Wind whipped around us creating deep drifts and covering our previous tracks from just 20 minutes earlier. Thick snowflakes fell from the darkened ski. It wasn’t completely like skiing in a ping pong ball, but it was close.

Luckily we did not run into any more bison on our return trip. However, I finally saw something I’d wanted to see for years! A coyote not far from the trail leaped high into the air and plunged face down into the snow. He camp up with a mouse!  I didn’t make the entire trail once again, but I came very close this time! We returned to camp in time for the sky to clear and reveal a beautiful sunset over Bunsen Peak. The night was still and starry. Was it the calm before the next storm?

We had originally planned to do the Blacktail Plateau on our second day, but after my alarm failed and then starting out at the Petrified Tree Trail-head by mistake we decided to do the shorter (10.6 mile) Tower/Chittenden Road Loop XC ski. We parked at Tower Junction and skied onto the closed Rd to Tower Fall. This is the first time I did not see any Bison hanging out near Rainy Lake. The trail ascends gradually passing by Calicate Springs Lookout which displays a lovely view on the Yellowstone River, Black Canyon and hot springs steaming on the cliffs. From here the track passes under a massive rock wall. The ski track is on both sides of the road, stay on the left side to avoid rockfall. At 2.5 miles the road reaches Tower Fall. The waterfall was mostly frozen (some water still rain behind the ice. Damien and I contemplated how one could access the bottom of the falls to climb in before continuing on to the Chittenden Road section of the loop.

You can go either way around the loop. Beta suggests going up through the campground counter clockwise to avoid a steep downhill descent… but we wanted to do a fun fast descent so we went clockwise continuing on the Rd to Canyon. The day remained cloudy as we traveled the road. The trail was not freshly groomed, but the ski tracks were still visible as were tracks of 3 foxes using the road as a corridor. We followed the little paw prints in the snow slowly uphill. There was one section of track were the snow got very sticky on the skis and wax didn’t help. The problem went away though after .25  miles. About 2.75 miles from Tower Fall I spotted a large figure lounging under a tree beside the trail. A large male bison. We were a safe distance, but still backed away. He saw us and stood, glaring at us for disturbing his mid-afternoon rest. I think he was hoping we were just leave, but then a few other skiers showed up. He reluctantly crossed the road and moved on to graze a safe distance away.

We continued on taking the next right through an open gate where there is a little box labeled Carcass Log. The trail was indeed steep downhill, but not so much that you could loose control on the skis. We descended 2.6 miles in 30 minutes! It was a fun ride down!

We once again reached Tower Fall and headed back to Tower Junction which no further wildlife meetings.


We drove through the famous Roosevelt Arch at about  8am on Saturday morning after driving through the night from Seattle to Yellowstone. We were immediately greeted by an onslaught of wildlife. Bison herds on the rd, hordes of elk on the plains and big horn cheep high on the cliffs  before we even reached Mammoth Hot Springs. We were eager to start skiing, but first we needed to set up our home for the next five days.

As expected the Mammoth Campground was hardly as crowded as it is in the summer. Only a few hardy souls dared to camp in the Yellowstone winter… though the weather was anything but harsh. It looked liked 25-35 degrees with light snow over the next few days. We’d opted to bring our 3 season tent for the extra ventilation. Our single wall winter tent would collect way to much condensation without steady winds. Our setup worked well over the next few days. A blow up mattress, then closed celled sleeping pads, then sheets, 2-person sleeping bag, down blanket and Mideast blanket. We might have been a little too warm some nights!

After setting up camp we headed up to Mammoth Hot Springs which is also park Headquarters. After a quick look around the visitor center and lower terraces we drove a little further up the road to the Upper Terrace Loop. This is a short and sweet xc ski loop around the upper terraces. It was Damien’s first experience on a groomed xc ski track as well. The trail was in good condition. Some sections were void of snow, but some green rugs were placed over the bare payment as bridges. The track passes both active and inactive springs bring heat to an otherwise frigid environment. I suggest doing this 1/25 mile trail counterclockwise. This way is gradually uphill ending with a fun slightly steep downhill.

After the Terrace Loop we decided to head over to Lamar Valley for the rest of the day. We pulled near the Buffalo Ranch where several folks were looking through scopes. It turned out they had spotted the Molly wolf pack lounging in the snow in the distance… all 15 pack members. They let us take a look at the toughest pack in the park; tiny black dots in the snow.

From there we moved on to the Lamar River Trail and did a quick ski in that area before moving on to the Slough Creek Trail which is 2.25 miles. This trail is not groomed but was packed down well by snowshoers. The ski was uneventful as far as wildlife and thick snow fell around us as evening set in. It was time to return to camp for mountain house dinners.

When we arrived at Mazama at 9am on New Year’s Day 2016 it was about -10 degrees… so cold I had that memorable experience of my nose hairs freezing solid as I breathed. We planned to skin the famous Rendezvous XC Ski Trail system with 2 camps. The trails are known for their hut system, but we like suffering too much to stay in huts. We went to Goat’s Beard to pick up some long underwear for Damien….the cold temps suddenly sparked a desire to perhaps not just wear thin soft shell pants and to pick up our Methow Valley ski passes. While talking to the store owners about our plans they suggested that for a more fun and rugged wilderness experience we might consider a different trip. There was a 32 mile loop groomed for snow mobiles around Goat Peak. XC skiers seldom went there and sled traffic wasn’t heavy. Plus we wouldn’t have to pay for $60pp to ski. A more wilderness experience at the cost of just our sno-park pass which we already had sounded awesome we we changed our plans and headed for the Goat Creek Sno-Park.

The parking had lots of folks getting their sled ready… it was kind of humors showing up in a tiny car with little skis in this parking lot of trailers and snowmobile. The trail was well signed at junctions on the ascent. Basically we followed all the signs that said “Goat Peak LO” which were all turns to the right. The day heated up as we ascended partly because of the sunshine and partly because of the inversion. But it was never exactly warm… just less cold. Views of the North Cascades opened up as we steadily climbed the pleasurable even grade up the slope. We could recognize the Wine Spires and Silver Star among the many peaks. Snowmobiles did pass us, but it certainly wasn’t constant and we heard them with plenty of time to move to the side to let them pass.

We arrive at the famous viewpoint pullout at about 3:15pm as the day began to dim. Some snowmobilers told us that this was the best view of the loop. Damien wanted to camp here and enjoy the sunset even though we had daylight left. So we dug out a platform hidden from the road on the overlook with sprawling views of the Methow Valley and peaks of the North Cascades. The air temperature plummets immediately after the sun dipped below the mountains we were were very happy to be covered to big puffy down from head to toe. As hues of pick and orange painted the ski we boiled water in our stove which we hung from a tripod of ski poles. We’d be having trouble with fuel efficient even with the MSR Reactor stove in the cold, so Damien attempted to keep the canister warm with his mitten. It worked!

We slept with the tent door mostly open, but when we woke in the morning the inside walls were still adorned with thick crystals from the lack of wind. We finally emerged from our sleeping bags at about 7:30 and began the process of breaking down camp in single digit temps. But when the sun finally hit it suddenly felt very warm and we stripped off our down hastily! We continued on. From here the track descended for 4400ft for about a mile loosing maybe 600-800ft of elevation. Then the trail began to once again climb up to the Goat Peak Lookout Trailhead/saddle. It was pretty steep here. Not enough to Herringbone, but enough so that every now and them we slide back and had to weight the skis well some the fish-scales would catch.

We arrived at the Trailhead which had a bathroom and wide area for parking in the summer. The route to the Goat Peak is too steep for xc skis, but to the left was a snowmobile off trail route along the connecting ridge. We turned off the main track to explore the ridge a bit. We had to herringbone up the entire way but it did afford us with some nice views. We opted to walk down though as our attempts to ski down the 200 descent was resulted in constant falling.

Behidn the bathroom in the parking lot is the “beaver Slide” which is groomed only in the winter to connect the upper road to the lower road 600 ft below. This is extremely steep and definitely not meant for xc skiiers. We walked down this slope too. It’s not very long a walk though and we were back on the lower road gliding along in about 15 or so minutes. For about and hour we headed away from Goat Peak following a drainage. This was the hardest part of the trail mentally as the going is pretty flat and seemingly endless. However, once on the other side the ski was once again enjoyable. We did some up and down to two large overlook areas. We decided to ski on even though it was 3:30pm and a enjoy and evening ski. Mileage was fast since it was downhill from here and somewhat steep in some parts. We stopped at 4:30pm about .25 miles from the next junction and camped behind a fallen tree for protection from snowmobilers.

It was bitter cold as we set up camp that night. Before going to bed i read the air temperature as 5 degrees and declining. Our toes froze that night even with all our down puffiness and I’m sure it dipped into the negatives. But we do like suffering!

In the morning it took some real willpower to crawl out of the sleeping bag. Damien made some extra water for the descent when i unfroze my ski boots… somehow they still froze inside the sleeping bag! We left camp at about 9:00 with more clothes on than usually. The sun was not shinning and clouds hung low in the sky. It looked like it was snowing in the North Cascades. My toes took about and hour to finally get warm! The final 7.25 miles went very quick since it was mostly downhill and we reached the trailhead at 11:10am. Fast!

Let the adventures of 2016 begin!

A three day weekend resulting from Christmas being on a Friday this year=3 day xc backpack! High avalanche danger again in the forecast due to heavy and constant snow accumulation over the past week, but the weekend showed promise of some sun on the west side. Thus, our destination was Sunrise Point via the closed road from the White River Entrance of Mt Rainier National park. The point is 17 miles away from the entrance and the plan was to xc ski for two days to Sunrise Point and then all the way down on day 3. We expected that snowmobiles had broken track at least to the Sunrise Turnoff at the the White River Campground Junction.

As per every winter excursion things didn’t exactly pan out as expected, but this didn’t change the fun of our adventure! The snowmobile tracks ended about .25 miles into our journey and we were left to cut track through 3 feet of untouched powder on our own. This slowed us down rather significantly and tested our endurance. We used elk tracks when available, but mostly we just cut through the powder own taking turns in the lead every 30-45 minutes. We did well considering. A big hurdle proved to be climbing over some large trees that had fallen completely across the rd. These trees required some finesse to scamper over with our long skis. I didn’t want to take my skis off at all costs for fear of sinking waist deep into the soft powder… Damien decided to take his skis off when crossing a particularly branchy large tree and that is exactly what happened to him! Another hazard was that the trees were so heavy with snow many were leaning very precariously over the trail looking like they might topple at any moment.

We made it past the Ranger Station and continued to push on in hopes of reaching the White River Campground Junction. Darkness fell and we turned out our new Petzl NAO headlamps (Christmas gift from Damien to us). We reached Shaw Creek and looked at a map to see how far were were from the Junction. At least two miles which translated to about 3 more hours of skiing (we were beginning to slow down)… we’d get there at 8:00. We looked around at the trees and decided to set up camp on the road out the the fall-line of some leaning trees. It was a beautiful camp. The snow twinkled in the moonlight and the air grew bitter cold as we sat outside eating our Christmas meals. A beautiful night to end an endurance test of a day.

We broke camp at about 8:30am the next morning. No new snow had fallen overnight, but there was a nice layer of hoarfrost. We reached the White River Bridge and Junction with the road to Sunrise a little before noon as predicted. We stopped about .25 into the rd to filter water from a running drainage as we were getting concerned about our low fuel. The cold night had sapped more of it than we expected when making dinner and water. As it turned out our filter frozen so we ended up using iodine tablets.

We continued up the steepening road. The slopes on the right side opened up revealing small cliffs. Snow had fallen down these cliffs in small avalanches. They did now spill beyond the side of the road. But we still leap-frogged our travel here watching each other cross under the slopes just in case. We kept thinking this section of avy slopes would go away, but the slopes and cliffs get taller and bigger the higher we traveled. We reached a high slope that had not yet avalanched and stopped there to have a discussion. We decided we would cross under this slope and look around the corner one last time to and make a decision. We crossed leap-frog style. The next slope was taller and partially avalanched. At 2:30 our chances of reaching Sunrise Point were not very good with all this uphill trail breaking and the avalanche danger seemed to be increasing with turn around the corner. We opted to turn back at camp on the White River Bridge.

Getting down took much less time on the downhill broken trail. We were able to glide easily and made it to the bridge at about 3:30. We passed a group of snowshoers just before the bridge. They had started the previous afternoon. But they were camping down the White River Campground Rd about another mile away. We began putting up out tent on the bridge as the temperature dropped. A large male elk plunged through snow up to his chest near the river giving the evening a true wilderness feel. He paused by the river for a few minutes and looked at us as though deciding if it was a good idea to cross the icy water. He ended up turning around bounding into the forest. Darkness settled as we cooked dinner and made water. We had just enough fuel. That night it was colder and it snowed.

We awoke to 2 more inches of snow. The going was extremely faster ont he way down. We reached snowmobile tracks about 1.5 miles into our trip and the trees has massive holds sawed into them providing less precarious passage. The winds picked up at one point blowing down massive amount of snow from the treetops. This created momentary whiteouts on the trails. Damien would be there and then suddenly vanish! We stayed in the middle of the road as best we could to avoid a direct hit of falling powder! The closer we got to the White River Entrance the more folks we ran into and the easier the track became. We made it out in 4.5 hours! Cutting trail definitely takes up a a lot of time, but it tested our endurance and persistence in the backcountry… and the solitude of the winter wonderland was more than worth the effort.