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!

“The best alpinists are the ones with the worse memories”-Jimmy Chin

That pretty much describes the past weekend. After last years arduous episode ascending the NE Couloir of Argonaut Damien and I had both claimed that we would never, ever make an attempt again. And yet we found ourselves skiing up Eightmile Rd once again last weekend for our second summit bid. Not to mention this would be our 5th week walking up Eightmile Rd in a row!

We were much more weighed down this time as we walked up the Lake Stuart Trail. Our packs were overflowing with ice and trad gear, but our spirits were pretty high. We were hoping for good snow/ice conditions on the route. The avy was moderate and the weather seemed promising with sunshine and intermittent light snow. Finally we had a window to attempt a climb. We hadn’t had the opportunity to go for a summit since January with all the crazy weather this season.

When we reached Stuart Meadows and turned off the trail toward Argonaut. We crossed Mountaineer Creek immediately over a solid log bridge. This early crossing prevented us from having to cross 3-4x like we did last year since the creek branches further up (plus the crossing were much sketchier). The higher snow level also made thing much easier in the forest since low brush was covered. It is about 2 miles of cross country travel the where the tree open on the lower slopes of Argonaut. We switchbbacked up the slopes passing the large rock we had camped on last year and continuing to a meadow at 5400 feet where the slope angle will more gentle. We found a flatish spot here and, after some escalating of snow and leveling, we engineered a platform and windbreak for the tent. By then it was after 6 and we ate dinner admiring some excellent views of Stuart, Sherpa, Colchuck and Argonaut.

It was a bit windy at camp when we turned in, but it really picked up overnight, waking us up as gusts slammed against the tent. This was unexpected and made us wish for our 4 season tent. We woke up at 3am to find low visibility, high winds and driving snow. We decided to give it another hour. At 4am the wind and snow was the same, but visibility was better. We shouldered our packs and headed into the darkness up steep, crumbled avalanche debris. The thing about the slopes are Argonaut is that they never let up. Every time you this you are getting to crest the hill and reach a flat spot you a greeted with a slight decrest in incline followed up a even steeper hill! The debris field was enormous. Larger than last year. We found that climbing on the clean slide was easier than on the debris itself when we had an option. the snow felt stable, but not great underfoot. It was just “off” somehow in a way I can’t quite describe. Damien’s crampons kept getting snagged up, that was mostly due to crampon comparability with his ski boot, he had never tried combining this set before. He used a ski strap tto secure the crampons though and that seemed to help.

The wind was still blasting us when the sun crested the horizon. Heavy clouds and mist moved in and out concealing and then revealing the mountains thats surrounded us. Argonaut’s upper North face moved in and out of view with the clouds and snow that stung our faces. Every now and then the sun would peak out and some blue with appear in the sky, but the clouds always closed in again.

We took shelter from the wind as best we could by a large boulder to take a break and examine the couloir. It was definitely more filled in with snow this year. It looked clean. Almost too clean. We wondering if there was an upper wind slab that hadn’t broken free yet. We knew there was a wind slab danger on the NE aspect in the area. The filled in snow would also possibility make protecting the route with rock gear challenging. But heck we didn’t want to turn back on this route and have to start all over again on a third attempt either! Where these concerns legitimate? As we pondered if we should proceed a particularly heavy gust of wind somehow manged to lift Damien’s food bag out of his backpack and send the bag down the mountain. One more thing to add the the “going wrong list”. Yikes.

In the end we decided that “we don’t want to have to do another attempt” was not a good enough reason to get into the couloir. Too many things were wrong. Even if the couloir went well the wind on the ridge would be murder. We reluctantly decided that we would have to retreat. Slowly we made our way down following a trail of kind bars that were scattered over the slopes. Snow continued to swirl in the gales and snow hammered us like little needles in our faces. Camp was a welcome sight indeed!

We broke camp after a nap. The wind never let up and the weather continued to vary between stormy and clear. We made the right call just considering the weather factors alone. This was definitely the best adventure we’d had in a  long time. Sometimes the summit isn’t the most important thing. Sometimes the best adventure is the journey and being exposed to the alpine elements. If you get every summit you set out for, you’re not setting hard enough goals. I guess this climb has become poetic to me. And I have the feeling that enough though right now I fell like I am done attempt the NE couloir that I will find myself on the approach again.

 

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.

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!

After spending a frigid night camped inside out CRV at the Rogers Pass Discovery Center Damien and I began our ski tour to Video Peak just as the sun rose over the horizon. We were familiar with the route through the Connaught Drainage from our tour to Balu Pass the previous day so we were able to move pretty quickly. There was a great skin track, but to someone unfamiliar with the territory it can be a bit of a maze. You can take the first major turn right and cross the first bridge to the other side of the creek or take the second right further up to cross a different bridge. And once on the other side there are several different side trails. they weave within the drainage. The general idea is to just stay in the drainage on the right side of the creek using one of the bridges. Ultimately it seemed all trails on the right side eventually ended up traversing the bottom of the slopes going toward Balu Pass.

The key to Video Peak is to find the uptrack the branches off the drainage trail. It is located at the bottom of Ursus Trees on a distinct round roll in the valley as the trees begin to thin in the drainage (best to use a map). The uptrack is pretty steep and travels along side a gully and then left through the trees to Ursus Minor Bowl. From the Bowl you get the first views of Video Peak. At that point I was pretty sure we wouldn’t make it as Video seems impossibly far off in the distance. We took a break here for a bit and decided on a turn around time of 2:30pm (it was 11:00). From there we pressed on following a good track that switch-backed across open slopes to Hospital Bowl and the base of Video Peak. To my surprised the track went fast and as we neared the peak is actually seemed to seem less daunting and very manageable. There was a good track that left under some rock bands on the right side of the summit and switchbacked up to the ridge. The skinning went pretty quick. We wanted though that this is very steep slope and a fall would lead to a ridge to the bottom. We had our whippets ready to self-arrest. The kick turns were tight as well. The skin track ended on the ridge several meters from the summit where the rocks were wind-swept and the terrain steepened. We took off out skis, pout them on our packs and booted the rest of the way to the summit making it to the top at 1:30pm.

We were greeted with some spectacular views of the surrounding Mountains and Glaciers. But the sun did not last and as we prepared for our descent flat light set in. This made things a bit more interesting. We skied down skiers right of the summit. The  snow was superb and each turned was effortless and bouncy. Endless virgin powder that wasn’t too soft or too heavy. Everything was just right and perfectly amazing! I don’t think we’ve ever experienced better turns! The one issue was the flat light since we we experience some unexpected dips in the terrain and fall face first  into the snow. Damien actually managed a full somersault. The powder was so pillowy, however, he barely felt it… but it also made it difficult to get up!

Once back in Ursus Minor Bowl the skiing got a bit more tricky as we entered the gully. At first we stayed to the left were there were less obstacles. As things get steeper we moved right away from the cliffs. However, about 150 meters from the bottom of the gully we were forced to enter a narrow and somewhat sketchy looking final funnel via dropped down a 2 meter cliff. It proved to not be horribly horrendous though we had to be careful of boulders and terrain traps in that final funnel. We made to back down without a hitch though and easily followed the wide skin track back to the parking lot at 4pm. Time for a wonderful freeze dried dinner and another night sleeping in the front seat of the car!

We didn’t know exactly what to expect when we arrived at Rogers Pass. We originally intended to climb Video Peak on the first day of the trip, but due to our unfamiliarity with the landscape we altered plans and changed our destination to Balu Pass. The track starts at Rogers Pass Discovery Center. We ran into some issues figuring out the junctions and other trails that seemed to branch off the main ski track. After pausing to evaluate every junction we discovered that there are two right hand turns off the main trail that lead to bridges that cross creek. It does not matter which bridge you take. They both lead to the mian track on the right side of the creek which is where you want to me. Once on the other side the trail branches off in several places. But those side trail all seem to lead back to the main skin track (so long as you don’t take a side track the goes directly up a slope out of the drainage). The main track basically makes a bee-line across the Connaught Drainage to Balu Pass which is visible straight ahead in the distance. Gorgeous vista of the Ursus Group and Sir Donald are present throughout the trip and get better as you ascend the switchbacks up to the top of the broad pass. Once at the top of the pass we explored a bit taking in views of the glaciers on the other side and endless wilderness. We also climbed a bit up the right side  of the pass  through sparse trees toward Balu Peak (aka: 8812) before preparing for descent. We wanted to get in some tree skiing. The slopes from the pass offer a mellow ride down. The snow was pretty much stellar being not too soft and not too hard. The Goldie Locks “Just Right” phenomena.

Once reaching the drainage is is pretty easy to ski most of the way back, though we hand to carry out skis in one area. We did release our heals about halfway down as well. A great intro ski to Rogers Pass.

It had been raining is the lowlands and snowing in the mountains all week! We had some unfortunate shores to get done Saturday, so Damien and I decided to get in this season’s first turns at Mt Rainier on Sunday. The plan was to start at Paradise and go as far as we could. The gate at Longmire closes at 5pm now… so we had to be back by 4:15 unfortunately.

The mountain was not visible from Paradise and it was pretty clear (not not clear) that we would be in low visibility throughout the ski tour. Nevertheless, we were certainly not the only folks taking out skis out. The parking lot had a good number of people  putting their skins on.

There was at least 1 foot of snow at the base. Using the summer route to get to the top of Panorama Point was very doable and on a well packed down trail. The top of the point was wind blow with rocks exposed, but it was easy to navigate around. From there the trail was less packed down but fairly easy to follow to Pebble creek (which was under 2 feet of snow). A lot of folks were turning around here due to the whiteout conditions above. Damien and I decided to keep going, but took waypoints at intervals to help us find out way down. We had too boot pack our skis to get around an area with lots of talus exposure , but mostly it was easy skinning on good powder.

The sky cleared up a bit at 8000ft. It was about 1:20pm and we both really wanted to keep going especially with blue ski in sight. But we knew how quickly conditions could change. We took off our skins and began the journey down. As predicted we found ourselves enveloped in heavy fog and snow within minutes. Everything looked white and we couldn’t see an features in the snow. Once i stopped moving and didn’t even realize it for a few seconds (which resulted in me falling when I tried to stop). Our waypoint helped us for a bit, but we ended up in the wrong chute and had to boot pack down a slope to the right chute.

We somehow skipped over the exposed rock section and made our way back down to Panorama Point. We opted to boot back down the waist deep snow down the winter route. That was exhausting, especially for Damien who sinks much more than  me. We thought it would be easy from there, but the whiteout made it still challenging. First we got cliffed out and then we ended up on the wrong side of the creek . We crossed and fought out way through deep snow up the creek bed where we finally met up with the packed down trail back to Paradise.

The skiing conditions were great except for the exposed rocks. Another few good snowfalls should take care of that though! Welcome winter snowsports!