Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Another Adventure Ski

Another weekend, another adventure. We finally broke out of the corn cycle in the PNW last week, but not by much. A mid-week storm left 6-10” of new snow across the Cascades, mostly at the upper elevations. Without the dedication to drive a couple hours south to Rainier or north to Baker, we set out to find what we could locally. Saturday backcountry from the resort gave us some beta on aspects and elevations, and on Sunday we headed off to a new zone looking for the goods.

The trailhead started us low, and we knew we’d be in for hiking for a while. The snowshoe trail took us back up a river valley, making good time in spite of slippery hiking and multiple stream crossings. Doubts grew, as we knew that eventually we’d have to bushwhack off the trail up to the ridge above us, an uninviting prospect with firm snow and thick trees. After gaining some ground up a few switchbacks, we finally found a stand of old growth that might allow access to the ridge.

(No new snow down here, Lulu Bael and Chris Barchet start to go up. Photos by Graham Gephart.)

One foot after the other, we set our bootpack. Firm snow slowly softened to a thinner crust with a dusting on top, and the steps became easier. The forest thinned and eventually the sky became visible ahead, as we burst out of the trees just below the ridge. After a long morning and a stop for lunch, we were finally able to put our skis on for skinning.

(Breaking out of the trees, looking back at last week's ski on Granite Peak.)

Wind had hammered up high the night before, leaving a variable pack from a few inches of hard slab to mid-shin drifts. We covered ground up the ridge quickly on skins, getting a read for the new terrain, and trying to evaluate the snow around us. East-facing chutes looked enticing above the bowl, but an initial pit changed our plans to ascending a west-facing line of trees instead. Getting near the top, thick fog beset our skin track, and our minds could only imagine much of our new surroundings.

(Tempting-looking chutes on the east-facing ridge, but too much wind.)

(Lulu and Chris skinning up in the fog and rime.)

The topo placed us on a high shoulder two-hundred feet from the true summit, but with nothing visible directly in front of us, it was clear that our climbing had come to an end. We’d scouted some routes down while climbing, and we’d positioned ourselves well over a diagonal chute that held good snow.

(There's a summit out there somewhere.)

After nearly 6 weeks since the last powder in the Cascades, the first turns felt great. The heavy, wind-blown snow held the perfect consistency down the double-fall line of the diagonal, with thin breaks of trees holding deep drifts.

(Lulu looking down the diagonal.)

Before bottoming out the basin, we traversed back out to the ridge. We hit our ascent track nearly perfectly, and looked back on our line with some pride and amazement. We’d found our way up to someplace new, changed our plans after evaluating the stability, navigated the zone cleanly in tough visibility, and found some great turns along the way.

(Finally, Lulu gets some fresh powder turns.)

There was still more descent to come, a fast dust-on-crust ski through the old growth that returned us to the hiking trail. We tried skiing out the luge run, but too many stream crossings and teeth chattered loose from the tree-littered, frozen hardpack kept us from getting all the way out on skis as we had the week before. Skis back on our packs, we walked the final stretch back to the cars with tired legs and big smiles.

(Fast tracks out the luge run.)

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