Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ski What You Climb

When the long days of spring hit, eventually the unbalanced tour becomes inevitable. High snowlines force long approaches, and suddenly half the descent moves to foot instead of ski. A reality of spring, yes, but not one that I was mentally prepared for in early February in the PNW.

Nonetheless, on Saturday we found ourselves looking at the likely end of a beautiful-looking line only halfway between the peak and the car. The open corn gullies on Granite Peak towering above us dwindled into an alder-choked abyss with open waterfalls. It looked like we’d be bootpacking 4000’ feet up, and skiing only 2000’ back down. But the weather was nice, and we were desperate for good turns in the midst of the northwest’s dryspell.

(Lulu Bael, Elizabeth Lozner, and Charlie Lozner geared up for the climb. Photos by Graham Gephart.)

We headed out the hiking trail on foot, leaving our skins in the car. The hiking trail alternated between dirt and snow, but off to the sides the snow offered a hint of promise. It was thin, dimpled like a golf ball, covered with a layer of evergreen branches and needles, and threaded with cascading streams, but the ground cover sparked the thought that perhaps it would be linkable all the way out to the car. The challenge was on.

The warming air turned to hot sun as we cleared the gully into the alpine two-thirds of the way up, sweat pouring off down our backs with each step on the bootpack... up and up to the top, the highway fading far into the distance below.

(Charlie and Elizabeth climbing to the sun.)

(Looking south to Rainier, the road far, far below.)

From the summit, the day rang clear blue, with visibility from Mount Baker to the north all the way to Adams in the south, and the Olympics rising above Seattle’s persistent fog to the West. The full month’s consolidation of snow had softened perfectly, that smooth, soft thin surface corn that allows precision hero turns. After several spring jaunts in knee-deep schmoo, February would turn out to offer the best corn skiing I’ve had in Washington yet. Make do with what ya got, I guess.

(The view over to Snoqualmie Pass.)

(Karhu's Charlie Lozner enjoying the corn.)

(Lulu Bael loving life, a long way still to go.)

Descending far down the gully, the smiles never faded even as the brush closed in. The challenge was on, and pulling every adventure skiing move out of the bag – the forearm brush block, quick wheeling pivot turns, exstream skiing, short dirt hops, hooking trees to turn or stop.

(Then, things got thick.)

(Lulu Bael, exstream skier.)

(Graham on an imposing, rocky stream crossing. Photo by Charlie Lozner.)

The descent eventually slowed to a crawl as we crossed the last obstacle, picking our way through a snowy marsh beset with massive deadfall. But one last tree to cross, and we skied out right to the bumper of the car. It may have been a spring approach and skiing in February, but we still managed to keep our skis on for a full descent that matched our climb. All in all, a great day in the mountains.

-Graham Gephart

(Lulu skis it out to the end.)

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1 comment:

Tom R said...

I thought CA/NV was the only one going through the dry spell. Kinda looks like East Skiing minus the steep mountains Just kidding. Looks like a great trip I wish I was there. Lulu looks like she is ready for gate skiing. I hope you didn't scratch your Karhu skis.