May 16, 2012 | Posted in:Snowboarding
Disclaimer: This is going to be a long post. But, I think the highs and the lows of this trip warrant delving into the full details of what transpired.
I haven’t spent much time in the North Cascades. In fact, until recently I had never even been on highway 20. I knew I was missing out on something spectacular, but I wasn’t sure just how much. I simply hadn’t had an opportunity to explore any of the abundant mountains that the North Cascades have to offer. So, when I received an email from someone from Turns-All-Year who wanted to plan a trip up hwy 20 once the road was cleared, I immediately said yes.
Over the next week or so, we anxiously watched as the road was cleared, and hammered out the details of the trip. Our plan was to head up Washington Pass, and ski around Snowy Lakes and Golden Horn. The plan was to leave Friday afternoon and skin in as far as we could in the evening. Saturday we would be able to set up camp near the lakes and take laps on the horn. We would stay until Sunday, when we would pack up camp and make the trek back to the car.
We started our hike in around 5:30 from a pullout at Swamp Creek. After a couple hundred feet of climbing, we were well in the thick of the woods, winding up and down, zigzagging between trees wherever we could find a clearing (and sometimes just squeezing through when we couldn’t). It was slow going. Not particularly difficult though, well at least for two of us. We were still making fairly good time. We made it across Swamp Creek and had a decision to make. We could either stop for the evening and set up camp, or we could climb up to the ridge between Mount Hardy and Knoll before the Snowy Lakes and Tower Mountain. It was a little past 7 in the evening and we were feeling pretty good. So far the tour had been pretty mellow and we felt confident in our ability to press on. There was a slight miscommunication about how much elevation was left between us and the saddle (yes, 1800ft is considerably more that 1000ft), and one individual who, I was beginning to realize, had a bad habit of not knowing her own limitations.
The tour took an interesting turn once we start the climb up to the saddle. We had to cross a number of big slide paths, the kind that only rip out every 20 years or so, taking everything down with them. That meant navigating through a bunch of new-growth forest. The fun thing about new-growth is that everything is packed together to the point that navigating through was incredibly slow going. We had started up the slope, so along with tight trees, we were actually gaining elevation fairly quickly. Once dusk hit we began to regret our decision to push on. However, we were now committed and all we could do was make the best of it. The one upside was dusk brought shade and cooler weather. The snow started to harden to the point that we decided to switch to a bootpack. We were still about 1200ft from the saddle and it was starting to get dark. The one upshot was the view of Porcupine Peak and Cutthroat Pass at sunset was something I won’t soon forget.
I did however have to put the view out of my mind for the immediate future so that we could focus on making it to the top. Around 9:30, we stopped to pull out headlamps and grab a quick bite to eat. It was around this point when it hit me. We had crossed over the line from adventure to fuck, this is sketchy. To clarify, I wasn’t particularly worried about myself. Sure it was dark and we were booting up a steep face, but I know my abilities and I was comfortable with my ability to make it to the top. It was the girl who I was keeping a foot in front of me, watching every step she took to make sure it was in the bootpack, preparing to catch her if she accidentally stepped wrong or shifted her weight too far back. It is by no means an ideal situation.
To everyone’s credit, we made it up to the saddle. At 10:40pm no less. We got to work setting up camp under the stars. Once our tents were set up and we had settled in, I took the opportunity to take in where we were. We were camping at 6600ft in the heart of the North Cascades. Was it worth it? I like to think so, though I would not make the same decision again.
Everything is so spectacular on such a grand scale. No picture or video will do it’s majestic beauty justice. I don’t know if I can come up with words to describe the sheer beauty of where we were. All I know is that when I was standing on that ridge, gazing out at the surrounding mountains illuminated purely by the thousands of stars that filled the clear night sky, I had a burning desire to be able to share that moment with someone special. I have no idea how long I stood out there, but I will hold on to that timeless moment for as long as I can.
Matt would chill on the knoll, while I hiked up Mount Hardy. There was a fun looking line right off of the ridge that was easily viewable from our camp and the knoll, and we both felt comfortable in me hiking it alone. The snow was feeling stable and I would be in view the whole time. So, I took off down the knoll again (another fantastic run) and began the tour up Mount Hardy. I am not going to lie, it was a little further away than I was expecting. The lure of the wide-open face and fresh snow was enough to drive me on.
Again, the view from the top was spectacular (surprised?). I didn’t stay long to enjoy it though because we were now on a schedule and none of us wanted to have to pull out our headlamps again on the way out. So, I strapped on my board and proceeded to have the single best run on my life out in the backcountry. The snow was a nice spring corn that is a blast to turn on. The entire face was open and completely smooth. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.
This trip was amazing. Sure it had its ups and downs, but that is part of the adventure. It was definitely a learning experience but totally worth it.