December 4, 2012 | Posted in:Uncategorized
I may be a few months late, but this is a trip worth sharing. Why? Because the group I went with was fantastic, we had several terrifying moments that I hope to never be subjected to again, and we were riding entirely last year’s snow, which is a stark contrast from the sweet pow I shredded just this weekend.
With the ceaseless rain falling here in Seattle (it’s okay because, snow in the mountains) it’s hard to remember the sunnier days, but I promise they were in fact real. Try to remember back to early October, the 6thto be precise. The sun still shining and fresh snow was not yet even on the radar. This was OcTAYberfest and our goal was simple, make turns in October to add that extra tick mark in one of the trickiest months of the year. We had no misconceptions, the snow was going to be sparse at best and sun-cupped beyond belief. Riding it was going to be…interesting.
I was the new guy in the group. It was some veteran TAY guys, all of whom were looking to add another month to their rather impressive streaks (60 months if memory serves me correctly). I was not only the new guy, but I was the young guy too. Combined, we represented four generations, brought together by the similar desire to get out and explore the mountains. Being able to relate to and enjoy the company of people coming from such diverse backgrounds is a small part of what makes these trips so enjoyable.
We managed to get an early start (the 4:30 am departure was delightful) and made good time to the trailhead. Without any snow in sight and very limited knowledge of where we were actually going or how far until we actually would find snow, the group consensus was that we had a long trek ahead of ourselves. With our goal fixated on making some late summer turns and unclear on how much work we would have to put in to make that happen, the group consensus was to shed weight in any way possible so that we could move quickly. This meant things like the axe and crampons, which we had all so diligently remembered to pack, were left at the car.
So off we went, into the woods, making excellent time with our considerably lighter-than-expected packs. It only took us about two hours to clear the forest and get on to Cougar Divide. With Mt Baker looming over us, and what was left of the snowpack in view, we were able to begin to plot our line.
There was a lower patch of snow that would be easy enough to make a few turns on. But we had make much better time than we had anticipated and the lure of Hadley peak and making turns on the glacier was just too tempting to pass up. We plotted a tentative line that would take us up a steep narrow chute then a mellow skin across the glacier and up to the ridge. We all agreed that the chute was the crux and we were all starting to kick ourselves for leaving the crampons behind.
Feeling fairly confident, albeit hesitant, we took off eager to see how far we could get. Acknowledging that we were ill prepared for the adventure we were setting off on, we agreed to not push too hard. The sun-cups were solid ice. About the only good news was the sun-cups were large enough that they served as pretty solid footing, even in the steep chute. About halfway up the chute, taking refuge from the ice by scrambling up rock, I kicked loose a boulder. It was about the size of a small microwave (yes, I just looked around to find the closest object of approximately the right size), and headed straight towards Chris. He was able to dive out of the way at the last second, the flying microwave missing him by mere inches.
At the top of the chute, we re-evaluated our situation, opting to push on, up the glacier, traversing between two crevasses. While the slope was not terrible steep, the icy sun cups made the traverse absolutely terrifying. I struggled to remember why the extra couple pounds seemed like such a big deal (especially when I still carried my camera).
We eventually made it up to the top of the ridge, stopping somewhere around 7,000’ with Mt Baker right in our face.
The ride down was exactly how we anticipated it would be. Which is to say, not great. The sun never really softened anything up, but turns are turns and this was early October in the sun. I am not going to complain. It was much more than I had hoped for.