March 23, 2014
Posted in Splitboarding, Trip Report
For a trip that was planned in the comment section on a photo, you would think we’d take a few pictures. Bad light, no room in the pack, laziness (yes, it is still possible to be lazy while touring in the mountains), whatever the reason, some days taking pictures is the last thing on your mind and it is a refreshing change of pace.
While at Berthoud Pass, the sun was out and I was stopping every five minutes with my camera, trying to find interesting shots. The day was incredible; blue skies and fresh snow, but the trip felt more like a photo shoot and less like a day of riding, which just seems a little backwards.
We did not have blue skies yesterday. In fact, we bailed on our original plan of exploring Porcupine Gulch in favor of a more familiar area, Butler Gulch, that we knew we could still navigate with poor light. So, the camera stayed in the car and it snowed on us all day. What started off as light flurries, turned into a respectable snowfall throughout the day.
The snow was decent in the morning. A little bit of wind transport meant there were plenty of stashes of good snow to be found. Butler Gulch was a new zone to me; mostly mellow rolling terrain that just barely pokes up above treeline. It’s an area that you can feel comfortable when the conditions aren’t great, enjoy romping around in the mountains, and make a few turns along the way.
In my typical eager and blindly ambitious form, I spotted a knoll with a good approach and a steep, open landing that was just begging for me to jump off of it. I figured I could stomp out a little kicker in a few minutes and have some fun. As if hiking for turns wasn’t enough effort already, stomping out a makeshift kicker will definitely get the heart rate up. Well, it turns out I suck at building jumps (at least when I do it on a whim) and we all had a good laugh at the build up for what was ultimately a complete failure.
That’s just the vibe that I get from Butler. It’s a playground where you want to have fun and try silly things.
Right as we were transitioning for our second lap, the storm picked up and the snow really began to accumulate. The day was just getting better. We decided to take a break after our second lap and eat some lunch in the woods while the snow fell. Normally breaks aren’t very noteworthy, just a regular part of the day where you sit down and enjoy your $2 Safeway sandwich or cliff bar, at least that’s how my breaks usually go. But yesterday was different. Between the four of us we’d brought, leftover pizza, a fancy sandwich (aka not pb&j or safeway), some homemade jerky, venison I think, a few bite-sized Snickers, a cliff bar, and most notably, a Mountain House Beef Stroganoff meal.
Who brings a hot meal splitboarding? That means not just the meal, but the stove/pot to cook it in! For a day trip, the idea of hauling all this gear and taking the time to prepare it just sort of blew my mind. I will say, those few hot bites did taste pretty good. It was a little bit of a luxury for what is normally a not very exciting part of the day.
The long meal break served another purpose. While we hung out in the shelter of the trees, the snow was falling hard. In fact, we timed our break pretty well because just as we started moving again, the snow began to let up. By the time we got to our intended zone, the weather was back to more or less a flurry and a few inches had accumulated. We rode the shoulder of a ridge, eventually dropping into drainage, making for some low angle surfy powder turns, the best of the day.
All told, it was a great day to be outside and we all had a fun time. Butler’s an area that I’m sure I’ll be back to, I’ll probably replace the camera with a few beers, attempt to make another kicker (and likely fail), and who knows, maybe even pack in a hot meal.
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March 18, 2014
Posted in Splitboarding, Trip Report
Last week I made it up to Berthoud Pass for the first time. I’d hear this area as one of the mecca’s for backcountry skiing in the front range. Not necessarily the best, or the steepest. But a sort of fun playground with some safe mellow tours that makes for a popular destination for a quick lap or two.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, and most pictures I’ve seen from the area are your usual skier pow shot, or some other tight framed shot that, while it looks nice, doesn’t give much perspective to the area as a whole. In fact, something a lot like this.
So, I was a little surprised when I got out to Berthoud Pass at just how large the area was, and how diverse the accessible terrain was. While we stuck to some mellow lines for the day, the sun was out and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Mixed with the 4 or so inches of fresh snow, it was what I would consider a perfect day to be out in the mountains.
And we weren’t the only ones out there. It was a Wednesday, and by the time we made it back to the parking lot, the lot was full and cars were driving around trying to find a spot where they might be able to squeeze in if they got creative. There were a few other groups of people headed to the same zone as us (it’s name escapes me at the moment), but there was enough terrain that we were all able to find out own lines, and I was able to get a few good shots of some of the other skiers. Thanks anonymous tele skier! I don’t know who you are, but you made some nice turns down this chute!
It had been a few weeks since I’d taken the split out and it was starting to show. After two short laps I was completely worked. It was kind of pathetic, but it was about all I had in me. Thankfully one of the other guys had to get back early for a work, so I didn’t have to make any excuses.
In all, it was an incredible day and felt amazing just to be outside. If anything it reaffirmed my love of the mountains and reminded me that I need to get out there more often.
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May 21, 2013
Posted in Mountaineering, Splitboarding
When I moved to Seattle, well to be frank Mt Rainier was nothing more than a mountain. Surely impressive, but mountains were yet to captivate my imagination. It was merely an impressive and iconic backdrop to the city I lived in. Over the years, climbing Mt Rainier became a fantasy. It was a place for mountain climbers that I romanticized with a childlike fascination. To stand on top of that mountain, so close to Seattle, seemed so impossibly far away. Three years ago, had you invited me to climb Rainier, my imagination would have inevitably wandered to the fantasy of standing on the top, but reality would have set in and my response would have been something along the lines of, “Are you crazy?”
It is funny how perception can change over time. It started with snowboarding. I stopped sleeping in the car and starting staring out the windows. “Look at the line on that mountain! I bet that would be fun!” Dreams. At the time, I was confined to chairlifts. But as my eyes widened, I began to appreciate the mountains. When I started backpacking, I stopped simply looking at the mountains with wide eyes and started exploring their vast riches. Alpine lakes, waterfalls, and beaten trails marked the true beginning of my shift in perception.
My fascination with mountains grew the more time I began to spend in them. I came back from Montana completely absorbed in the snow-capped rugged peaks of the Cascades. Armed with new tools, knowledge, and a driving passion, I began looking at the mountains renewed. The lines I have stared at dozens, possibly hundreds of times, are no longer unobtainable fantasies, but plausible excursions. No longer do I simply look at a line and think “Man, wouldn’t that be awesome.” Instead, I think to myself, “That would be awesome, how accessible is it? Could I get there in a day? Who could I get to go with me?”
When I first started snowboarding in the backcountry, Rainier was still a fantasy. While my world was beginning to open up, it took nearly a year (and some incredible adventures) before I realized that Rainier was no longer a dream, but a goal. Once I made that shift, staring at Rainier from the city became insufferable. That mountain was sitting there, taunting me in all of its iconic majesty.
I started hearing of other people climbing it. I was even invited once or twice and had tentatively agreed to go with someone. But for one reason or another, I never made it. I kept saying that I would go for it during the next nice weather window.
Weeks began to slip by, and that wouldn’t be so concerning if I weren’t leaving for the summer. I began to realize that I was quickly running out of time if I were going to try to climb Rainier.
When my buddy Stu texted me, to see if I was interested, I was in the middle of hiking Mt Si with my dad. This was Monday. He wanted to go on Wednesday. I had work and was already exhausted. By all means, I had plenty of excuses for why I shouldn’t climb Rainier.
I thought about it for the rest of the afternoon. I was laying in my back yard, napping after the weekend excursions with my dad and I realized that I needed to go with Stu. I needed to work and I needed to rest as well. But I had an overwhelming desire to fulfill that goal – to climb Mt Rainier and snowboard off of the summit. I knew that if I didn’t try, I would sit at work staring about the mountain, daydreaming about being up there with my friends. Work and rest would have to wait.
We were ill prepared for the trip. None of us had much (if any) glacier travel experience and we had hastily thrown together an amalgamation of gear that we deemed sufficient to summit. Stu had summited once a few years ago with a guide, but apart from some vague recollections, he didn’t have much memories of the trip. At least not that would be beneficial for us while climbing. We were predicted to have sunny and warm weather for the next few days and coupled with our excitement, our concerns dissipated.
We laid out all of our gear in the paradise parking lot, taking up most of a parking space. We weren’t exactly traveling light. The crew was Stu, Eric, Laura, and myself; apart from me, it was a crew of Mt Baker instructors, all killing time between the end of the season and the start of their respective summer plans. Though only Stu, Eric, and I planned on summiting, we were carrying three days of gear and supplies for the four of us. The heavy pack and the warm weather made for an interesting day getting to Camp Muir.
Though we’d gotten an early start, it was dusk by the time we started setting up camp and we all decided that we should take a day to chill before attempting to summit.
The following morning, we took our time getting out of our tents, waiting for the morning sun to warm everything up before we decided to crawl out of our tents. After a drawn out breakfast of oatmeal with trailmix (a bit too heavy on the peanut MnM’s) we opted to take a lap down to the top of the Chute that drops in to the Nisqually.
The corn snow was fantastic and only a little slushy near the bottom.
On the hike up we ran into a couple of Eric’s friends from Seattle. The 6 of us chilled in the snow for a while, eating lunch and throwing snowballs at a ski pole. Ah, the joys of being easily entertained!
Our down day went by fast and made for an enjoyable way to spend a day relaxing in the sun and preparing to make the push for the summit.
After talking with the rangers and other climbers coming off of the mountain, we were growing increasingly weary of the conditions on the two routes we could take. The Ingraham direct route was well marked and, before the sun hit it, the snow bridges were holding well. However, as soon as the sun hit, the bridges were getting soft and icefall from the seracs was a huge problem. Basically, not somewhere you want to be after about 7:30 am. The other route, up Disappointment Cleaver, had it’s own issues. The unusually warm weather created an isothermal snowpack not conducive to climbing or riding. Not to mention, there was a sharp cliff at the bottom of the route, so it was unstable snow with high exposure. Oh, then there was the rock fall hazard during the day.
We stayed optimistic. Ultimately opting for an early, 2 am start, with the hopes of climbing Ingraham Direct and riding down the DC before it warmed up too much.
At 2 am, you are moving slow. I thought we were making good time, but with firm snow and an earlier-than-anticipated transition to crampons, by the time we made it to the toe of the Ingraham and roped up, the sun was starting to peak over the horizon.
We met up with another group of skiers on their way down, who were in a similar situation to us. They had started around midnight, giving us some good beta on the routes. Ultimately they bailed for reasons that would soon become apparent.
We got to the entrance to the Ingraham Direct route. It peeled off from the skin track and headed ominously straight up into the seracs. While we had heard the route was in good shape, I think we all agreed that our inexperience with glacier travel made skipping that option a no brainer. We continued on to the DC. At the base of the route, the snow was crummy. While we could have continued on, we were all now thinking about the ride down. It just didn’t seem worth subjecting ourselves to so much risk. This would be as far as we would make it.
While we were all a little bit defeated, we were not upset. As much as I wanted to reach the summit of Mt rainier, once a mere fantasy, we tried and we came close. I hadn’t fulfilled my goal of reaching the summit, but I put a large dent in achieving that goal. There will be other attempts and the knowledge I gained just from trying, will help me in the future.
When we turned back, it was still early. We made our way to a safe zone and stopped to rest. We’d been awake since 1 am and all that was left to do at this point was enjoy the sunrise and wait for the snow to soften a bit.
Eventually, we got impatient and made our way back to Camp Muir on firm snow. The ride back wasn’t exactly pleasant. Hard snow and disappointment are not exactly ideal conditions. After breaking camp, we threw our still-heavy packs on our backs and enjoyed some fabulous corn turns back to the car.
At the parking lot, we stripped our packs (an most of our clothes, did I mention it was hot?) and enjoyed the few cold beers that remained from our hidden stashes. (We presume one was found, I hope someone enjoyed those cold beers!) Driving off of the mountain I had mixed feelings. Sure I was disappointed that we didn’t reach the summit. But we gave it our best shot and it was factors outside of our control that ultimately led to us not making it. Could we have pushed it and made it to the top? Probably, but there was something satisfying about being able to make the tough decision to turn around. That was rewarding in itself.
Also, I now have some rad calf-burns. Pro-tip, if you roll up your pants, if only for a few minutes, apply sunscreen liberally. Snow-burns are quite pronounced and happen quicker than you think. Then again, who doesn’t enjoy funky tan lines?
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May 20, 2013
Posted in Snowboarding
It has been ages since I had a weekend with my dad – just the two of us, no fixed agenda and no rigid plans. Our time together is usually dictated by some compelling outside force that brought us to the same place at the same time. A wedding, a graduation, a family vacation, etc.; there was always something going on. Whatever that something was, it meant that our time and attention was already focused elsewhere. There was a plan – put in place by someone else, and we were lucky if we could sneak away from that plan even for an hour.
Last summer I did manage to steal away, from a week with relatives celebrating my cousins wedding, for the better part of a day with my mom and dad. It was a huge ordeal and clearly a disruption from the predetermined plan. The result was a hasty trip to the Shenandoah Mountains, where we felt rushed and in a hurry to get back. It was hard to stop and enjoy the moment. (Not to mention the, while beautiful, Appalachian’s lack of rugged Cascade peaks to which I am growing accustomed.)
So, when my dad said he was coming in town for a weekend, just the two of us, I was quite excited. I began to formulate ideas in the back of my head for things we could do together. The time was ours and we could spend it however we liked.
My family has always been incredibly active – A trait that I hadn’t adopted until recently. I wanted to share my passion for the outdoors with my dad, who I knew would appreciate the somewhat unique ways that I choose to experience. More importantly, my parents were to ones to first get my excited about skiing (and I guess snowboarding). They have been skiing since before I was born, but always at a resort.
I wanted to take my dad out backcountry skiing and he was all for it. We couldn’t have asked for a better weekend either. A spring bluebird day on a volcano seemed like the perfect place to start. The question then, where do I take my dad for a first tour? I immediately thought we should go to Camp Muir. A day touring on the tallest mountain in the state, with incredible views, would surely be impressive and memorable. But there was an element missing. The views on the way up to Muir are incredible, but arriving at camp is somewhat underwhelming. Rainier still looms above you and I always get a sense of incompleteness when I turn back at Muir. Incredible? Yes. Breathtaking? Sure. I can do better.
Last year, I climbed St Helens on my birthday. It was an awesome day, and something I had been itching to get back to. I remembered it as a much bigger day than Muir, but nothing toocrazy. I decided to leave the final decision up to my dad. I gave him the options Muir or St Helens (I know…I am a nice son). Both consist of (for the most part) fairly mellow touring, both have incredible views, both make for a great day. Muir ends up higher at just over 10,000’, but St Helens is a longer day with more elevation climbed, by a considerable margin. With St Helens, you get to stand on top of a mountain.
I tried to be objective but I think my desire to get back to St Helens was apparent. So when I asked my dad, which he would prefer, he said he was “up for a longer day.” So, St Helens it was. I did have my reservations. My dad is 62, has never used AT skis, and has been living in the desert for the past several years. But, he is my dad and he is a badass. So when he said he was up for it, his enthusiastic attitude was all of the convincing that I needed.
I’ve come to realize climbing a mountain is a lot like many other pursuits in life. In the moment, you can push yourself sometimes harder and further than you could have imagined possible. After the fact, you completely forget about the challenges you faced, remembering only glimpses of your struggles, your memories dominated by the overwhelming satisfaction of succeeding at whatever it was you set out to do.
St Helens’ was easy last year. I woke up early, on my birthday and climbed a mountain. The view from the top was incredible and the ride down was awesome. On top of that, we were home at a decent hour, too.
So, I may have forgotten just how early we woke up. I may have also forgotten just how long it took to reach the rim and how late we got back to Seattle. Yes, it is a very doable day trip, but it is a longday.
My dad showed up Friday afternoon, after driving over from the Tri-Cities. I got him set up with rental skis and boots, touring in rental boots sounds absolutely no fun. The afternoon sipped by and by the time we were both hungry, our plan was thus: we are waking up early, to climb St. Helens and that was about it. I’d yet to look up how far the drive was, where we had to pick up the permits, pack food, or really pack anything for that matter.
On the way to dinner, it became apparent that my dad was exhausted. During the drive, he would ask a question, then fall asleep before I had a chance to answer. A few minutes later, he would wake up and, without a missing a beat, ask another question. At some point, I stopped answering. I was starting to get worried. I had just done the math, and realized our alarm needed to go off at roughly 4:30 am if we were indeed going to climb St Helens.
That was much earlier than I had anticipated or remembered. But, my dad took it in stride and was wide-awake and ready to go in the morning. We made excellent time on the drive, stopping only once and well, twice if you count the speeding ticket.
Upon picking up our permits, we were delighted to discover that we were near the tail-end of nearly 375 like-minded individuals who wanted to spend the beautiful day climbing a mountain. I’d expected a crowd, but was yet again shocked by one of the small details that I had forgotten since climbing the previous year.
So we took off. There was still snow all the way to the car, allowing us to start skinning right away. My dad threw on the skis and so began his first backcountry ski experience. There was a bit of a learning curve. It’s hard to relate skinning to any one other activity and it takes some practice and getting-used-to before you learn to balance and trust that you can indeed stand up straight without sliding back down the hill.
We weren’t in any sort of rush, so we took our time. After all, we didn’t need to reach the summit to have a great day. As we meandered through the woods, my dad started to get the hang of it. I was having a great time and I think he was too. The slog to the summit really is just a long push. There were a couple of short tricky sections where we carried our skis, but for the most part, it was just skinning, all the way to the summit.
In the morning, I set a turn-around time of 4pm, in case we hadn’t made the top by then. During our last lunch-break, I looked at the time. It was 2:30 and my best guess pegged us at about 1000’ from the summit. Doable for sure, but my dad was clearly getting tired. I pulled out (one of several) energy reserves I had stashed in my pack and hoped that we would make it.
I’d been staying with my dad the whole way until this point, I didn’t want his first experience to find him climbing all alone and it was by no means a race. I knew my dad could make it to the top, but we were going to have to hurry. Apart from the lure of chocolate and beer, one of my best motivators is to not want to fall behind. So, I took off and told my dad I would see him at the top.
Sure enough, my dad made it to the top of Mt St Helens, just shy of our 4pm turn-around time. At that moment, I was so excited and proud. I think that anyone familiar with the sport would agree, for a first time in the backcountry, climbing to the top of Mt St Helens is no small feat.
While well over 100 people had already left tracks, down the south face of the volcano, we still enjoyed some fantastic spring corn and even found a few sections still pristine. The reward for a hard day’s effort. We were able to ride all the way back to the car, with just a few hazards to navigate. With the warm weather, it was likely one of the last days that you could ride all the way to the car without getting extra creative.
If the weekend had ended there, it would have still been fantastic, memorable weekend. But it didn’t. I think it was our ambitious plan that fueled a friendly father-son competition of sorts. It came to be that neither of us wanted to admit that we were in fact tired or sore. So, when one of us mentioned a Sunday bike ride, our response was, “sure that sounds fun!” It was like a game of chicken and the loser was our legs.
In all seriousness, we had a delightful bike ride, broken up with breakfast at Portage Bay Café (with mimosas!), a nap at golden gardens, and a beer at the Fremont Brewery. It was actually really nice and, if anything, helped keep us limber.
The fun didn’t stop there either. When picking up the skis on Friday, my dad mentioned that a hike up Mt Si sounded fun. So, naturally we had to do it. We dropped off the rentals Monday morning and set off for a hike. The view from the top was spectacular. You could see south past Rainier and north up to Baker. The Olympics were in clear view, creating a dramatic backdrop for the Seattle skyline. Truly impressive, especially once we made it to the top of the haystack.
For whatever silly reason, we decided to trail run down. I’ve made the mistake before, but did it again. Running downhill destroyed whatever strength was left it our legs.
When we made it back to the car, I was thankful that we were parting ways, not because I didn’t want to spend more time with my dad, but because I was afraid of what bogus idea (we actually did mention trying to waterski, but just didn’t have time.) one of us would throw out next and I was seriously concerned that I was going to be the one to have to say no more.
So there you have it. A weekend with my dad, one of the most incredible men I know; spent backcountry skiing on volcanoes, biking through Seattle, and hiking up mountains. I look forward to the next weekend we can spend together and the wild adventures that we will accomplish next.
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February 19, 2013
Posted in Snowboarding
Hindsight is always 20/20, but in the moment there are a lot of factors that can send our decision making process awry, inevitably leading us down a path that might be less than ideal. For instance, Friday afternoon I knew I had plans for a big tour the following morning – yet after attending happy hour at 4, then migrating to an art show with a free keg, the logical decision to go home, pack and set my alarm for 5 am was lost to me. No, in the moment, meeting a friend in Ballard for drinks sounded much more logical. As was the shot of tequila at 1 am.
This was the first of several decisions that, at the time sounded logical, yet proved to be tragically flawed. I did manage to drag myself out of bed in the morning, but the drive to the mountain was rough.
Our original plan was to ride Jove peak, but the rain and the hangover made us change our minds. Instead, Ben and I decided to join up with a few other guys who were planning a more mellow day. After what seemed like an eternity of staring at a map, we finally took off – our destination, Lichtenberg Mountain, not too far away.
There was a strong contention among the group on how to navigate in the backcountry. On one end of the spectrum lie Ben and myself. We both rely on our knowledge of the area, having toured the area before and studied maps while at home. We don’t set fixed objectives, but are willing to adapt to the conditions and the environment. After all, half of the fun is getting out and exploring new areas and the best way to do this is to allow you to wander. On the other end of the spectrum lies Ryan. On the approach we were following a forest service road. It’s incredibly easy to follow. After all, it is a road. Not to mention we had agreed about our turnoff point, at the first switchback – A prominent feature that is damn near impossible to miss. Still, Ryan opts to stop every ten minutes to check our location on his GPS to make sure we were still on track.
It made for a long, slow approach (something I didn’t particularly mind as the hangover was still kicking my ass), with frequent stops and lengthy discussions about whether we were going the “right way”. I never really got the sense of exploration that I enjoy while touring. At some point, you need to be able to just look up and make a decision based on what lay in front of you. Is it good to have a plan? Definitely. Should you force yourself to always adhere to the plan? Nope.
Eventually we made it to Lichtenwasser Lake, a high alpine lake sitting not too far below the summit of Lichtenberg Mountain. The hangover had subsided and I was starting to gain energy. Perhaps the shift from a light rain to a steady snow was helping lift my spirits as well.
With Lichtenberg directly ahead of us, we split up. Ben and I opted to follow a direct approach; the others followed Ryan – taking a circuitous route along a ridge. After a nice little lunch break, Ben and I greeted the others when their route eventually met ours just below the summit. Neither was “right” nor was either approach “wrong”. They were just different. We followed our own decisions, informed by different information. We both made it to the same place in the end and that’s what counts.
There are two peaks on Lichtenberg, the true summit and a slightly lower peak just to the west, separated by a short saddle. We were just below the eastern summit and it looked fairly easy to access. It was a distinct point, but there was a snow ramp that ran all the way to the top. Ben and I decided to climb it. Sure, we would get a couple of turns, but we were climbing it purely because it was so close.
With the summit less than 100 feet away, our plan started to deteriorate. The snow was well bonded, but was on top of smooth rock and there was a large air pocket between the snow and rock that made the steep face incredibly unstable and difficult to climb. Both Ben and I made it to a rock outcropping just shy of the summit. I tried to get to the top, but had to give up within 10 miserable feet of the summit. Discouraging for sure, but we had wasted more time than we wanted on our foolish quest for the top. Our true objective, a chute off of the western peak, was still a ways off.
To make matters worse, the storm was picking up and the visibility was rapidly decreasing. We made a handful of underwhelming turns then quickly transitioned for what we hoped would be our final climb of the day. A large cornice blocked the better entrance to the chute, though we were able to find an alternate entrance that would definitely work. The whole face was wind-scoured with a hard crust, exposed, and the chute funneled down to something I would not exactly consider wide. We made a lengthy decision and ultimately concluded to abort our plan and go elsewhere.
This left us with two options: 1) We could circle around Lichtenberg, ride down to Lake Valhalla, hike across, then ride down to the Nason creek drainage and finally skin back out to the car. Or, option 2) Head back the way we came. There would be a few turns along the way, but mostly it would be nothing more than a long ride back to the car. It would likely take longer than option one without much in the way of snowboarding. To make matters worse, it was already after 4 pm and we were still a decent ways from an exit.
We chose option 1. There was one issue with this plan. To get to Lake Valhalla, we had to descent a face that we knew cliffed-out in numerous places. Not exactly the most inviting terrain when visibility was low. With Ryan’s GPS, we felt confident that we could navigate the cliffs and make it to the lake just fine.
Everything was going smoothly. We were about half way down the ridge and thought we had managed to avoid the cliffs successfully. We hit a row of trees with chutes that all looked like they ran out into a clearing. Granted, we couldn’t see very far. We’d been taking turns leading and I drew the lucky straw for this particular section. With the snow accumulating throughout the day, the chute was surprisingly well filled in. I dropped in, picked up speed and slashed a heelside turn on the wall of the chute. I kicked up more snow than I was expecting and found myself lost in the powder cloud.
Not a big deal I thought, I’ll just hang on till I am through, already setting up for my next turn. But I didn’t get the opportunity. Before I was able to see again, the ground disappeared from under my feet. Cliff. But how big? I had no idea it was there and I still couldn’t see. Okay, let’s just hang on, keep our balance and get ready to land. Then there was that terrible feeling, that feeling in your stomach where you are still falling, well after you had anticipated landing.
In that instant, lots of thoughts started to flood through my mind…I hope this isn’t too big, I really hope my back is ready for this, did anyone follow me, will anyone be able to follow me? And just like that, I found the ground. I bombed the landing, but hey, I was just happy to be in one piece. About all I managed to get out was, “Cliff!” I didn’t want anyone else to make the same mistake I just had.
As I started to collect myself and figure out what exactly what was going on, I began to notice something strange. The snow around me was moving. I was moving with it. I still couldn’t tell how bad it was, but I was definitely moving. I yelled back at the others for a second time, another one-word-callout, “Avalanche!” And just like that, the snow stopped. My legs were a little buried, but I’d managed to ride on top of the snow for the most part. I looked behind me to find a solid 25’ cliff band and at the base of it, a crown line that extended nearly 30’, though thankfully only a couple inches deep.
Now, there were five guys still above me, all they had heard from me were two words, “cliff” and “avalanche”, my route didn’t really seem like a viable option for them to reach me. To make matters worse, just below me there was a larger cliff band. A cliff that I would most certainly not enjoy haphazardly falling over. There appeared to be a couple of lines that ran through the upper cliff band, so getting to me was only a minor inconvenience. Only, the chutes ran onto a section that hadn’t slid yet and I didn’t want anyone triggering a slide that would drag them over the lower cliffs. Plus, I wasn’t even sure there was a way out yet. For all I knew I was stranded.
All of this was quite difficult to convey with the heavy snow. I couldn’t see anyone and we could barely hear each other by yelling. Soon, two guys managed to make it down to me, though tension was high with everyone. Thankfully, there was a chute off to our right that looked like a promising exit. I said I would go check it out. When I first got to it, I couldn’t see the bottom and thought it cliffed-out as well. Then, we finally got a break. The snow slowed up and visibility came back dramatically. The chute ran out clean. Partially because I wanted to be done with the situation and partially because I wanted to show everyone that there was a way out, I rode out to a vantage point, well out of harms way and now visible by everyone. I collapsed in the snow, still shaking from the adrenaline.
Eventually, everyone made it down to me and we were all okay. The mood had shifted dramatically. Nobody seemed to be in high spirits anymore. While the visibility had returned, the daylight was quickly fading.
We pushed on, made it to Lake Valhalla, hiked across it and were eventually rewarded with what amounts to the longest and what I would consider the only real ski descent of the day. We silently made the last transition and those of us who had them (it’s a long story but I had somehow misplaced mine) turned on our headlamps.
The skin out was easy going and we were back at the car right around 7. It was a long day. Longer than it should have been.
Looking back, staying up late drinking – probably not the best idea. Wasting nearly an hour trying to summit a peak, just because, also not smart considering we knew how many hours of daylight we had left. Lastly, trusting the GPS and dropping into a chute completely blind – definitely a bad idea. I spent the whole day complaining about how it is important to use your eyes, pay attention to your surroundings and NOT rely on a device to tell you where to go. When the visibility dropped and the terrain was unfamiliar, I relied on the GPS and ended up in a really sketchy situation.
Could we have made better decisions? Sure. I knew I didn’t have a headlamp, so getting out in daylight should have been more of a priority. I could have gone home for dinner instead of going to Ballard for a birthday party. I could have taken the chute much slower and relied on what I could see to dictate where I went. Then again, in the moment the decisions all seemed sound. Climbing Lichtenberg was really fun (even if not for the riding). I had a fantastic time at the bars. While we gave Ryan shit all day for incessantly relying on the GPS, it hadn’t led him astray, so I had no reason to believe it would for me.
It is easy to look back at where I went wrong, but making decisions in the mountains can be difficult. You need to respect the mountain, take the time to evaluate your situation and make informed decisions. The consequences if you are wrong can be very high. I consider myself very lucky.
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January 23, 2013
Posted in Snowboarding
I went to my physical therapist last Friday. Strategically one day shy of the magic 6 weeks that bones typically take to heal. The intent was to make sure that I was actually healed and to get a final “okay” to go snowboarding. Well, to be fair both the doctor and the physical therapist both had given me the “okay” to snowboard, but with a strong caution to take it easy.
I didn’t really trust myself to take it easy, so against my strongest desire, I went for a 20-mile bike ride instead. Waiting until this week to strap into my snowboard for the first time in six weeks.
The visit with the physical therapist was somewhat superficial. By the time I set foot in her office I had already made plans to go snowboarding the following morning. She knew it too. She gave me a stern look of disapproval and left it at that. I promised to continue doing my exercises (something I had started to slack on) and the rest of our time was focused on getting rid of the bruise/numbness on my left hip with what equates to a 45 minutes butt massage.
You might think to yourself, “that sounds like a mighty fine way to start your Friday morning,” and I am here to confidently assert that it is, as a matter of fact, not a nice way to start your day. Ever. I am adding it to my list of things I probably wouldn’t experience had I not broken my back. It falls somewhere right behind ambulance ride, getting strapped to a backboard, and CT scan of practically my whole body.
I am getting somewhat distracted. This crazy weather we have been having in the PNW came at an inopportune time. For the first couple of weeks while I was out, it dumped. About two weeks ago the snow stopped. We were left with cold air and a high pressure ridge that kept the sun out and the cold air in place. For a couple days, this is great for riding. But soon a warm front moved in on top of the cold air, making the city cold and foggy, while the mountains – still sunny – warmed up, wreaking havoc on the snow.
So, come Saturday, I was determined to ride, but I wanted to find some soft snow (I am trying to take it easy after all). My crazy logic put touring in the backcountry higher on the list of safe activities than a day riding at a resort. I had two options. Find mellow north-facing slopes that are well shaded and hope that the warm air and sun hadn’t completely destroyed the fresh snow. Or, we could find some south-facing slopes and hope that they had turned to corn. Neither option sounded particularly thrilling, so we decided to gamble and stick to the North faces.
We headed down to the Tatoosh range, where I knew there was some fun mellow north-facing terrain. The approach was promising. While we did find some impressively large surface hoar, the snow was nice and soft in the shade. In fact, there was nearly 6 inches of snow on top of an unbreakable crust. It was enough snow to have a good day.
Unfortunately, the higher we climbed in elevation, the air warmed considerably, and the snowpack degraded. Eventually we found ourselves on rolling hills that were glistening in the sun. There were pockets of snow that had survived, but most saw the sun at one point or another and were now glistening sheets of ice.
A solo skier with ski crampons passed us, laughing as we struggled miserably to make progress up the hill. It was more difficult than it really needed to be. Eventually we all made it to the ridge.
We ended up relaxing for about an hour. The sun was shining, it was warm, and, what I would consider the reason what Tatoosh is so fun, Rainier is right in your face. Not to mention, Adams, St Helens, and Hood visible behind us. I think I may plan an overnight trip down there. The view is just incredible. Most of us had spent the week trapped in the fog, so the sun was a welcome sight. Sitting on the top of the ridge was a much missed and welcome feeling. The six weeks I was out blew by quickly, but I was ready to be back.
Eventually, we finished our beers and had our fill of vitamin D. I stood on the ridge with my board strapped on. I realized this was the longest stretch I had been away from my snowboard for at least a year. Six weeks to the day was not so bad.
Behind me was a south facing meadow with a handful of tracks in it. We’d seen a couple skiers drop in and the corn looked great. We made up our minds to stay north and hope we could follow the shade the whole way down. I held my breath and dropped in. I rolled onto my heel edged, praying that the snow was soft. My edge held well – better than I’d expected. I opened up a little and took off down the hill.
A friend described the Tatoosh range as a putt-putt golf course. I can’t think of a better analogy. Rolling hills with a couple of points that we had to stop and navigate around. Always a safe way down though. Mostly, it was carefree riding. We did find a couple zones worth coming back for. A hip with a long steep landing, a ridge with a cornice drop, and a narrow chute begging to be aired into. Not to mention the ridges in the distance, all easily accessible in a day and of course the three prominent couloirs on Lane peak. So much to do, I am sure glad this funky weather is nearly over.
Some people have sun lamps, I have the mountains.
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July 24, 2012
Posted in Snowboarding
Upon returning from Yosemite, I was having a hard time focusing at work. I made it almost two days before my mind started to wander to what my next adventure should be. The weather was fantastic and it had been a few weeks since I had last snowboarded. It was Wednesday afternoon when it hit me, Mt Adams. I had been talking about climbing Adams for a while, and now seemed as good an idea as any. I shot off a few texts to friends, and before long I’d found someone interested in a last minute trip up the second highest mountain in Washington.
Finn, Tristan and I set off Friday afternoon, getting in to camp late at night. The campground was overflowing, mostly because the road in was still covered in snow and most people didn’t want to try dealing with getting through it. Finn wasn’t deterred by a little snow, so instead of trying to wedge our car into makeshift parking spots down the road, we found ourselves digging out his car so that we could get it into an open spot while narrowly avoiding sliding into a tree. The good news was our campsite was right at the trailhead.
We woke up early and got started bright and early (well, 6:45 seems early to me). We hiked through off-and-on snow for nearly half an hour before the trail turned to solid snow and we could switch to skins. From there, it was a long, slow slog up to the summit. Adams, like the other volcanoes in Washington, is just an endless snowfield of nearly a constant pitch. It makes for a thrilling climb as the scenery stays amazingly constant the entire way to the top, or at least to the false summit.
We knew there was a chance of adverse weather and had already encountered brief showers near the beginning of our climb. Joking around, Tristan informed us, “you know what to do if you start to feel tingle-y right?” We looked at him curiously, “what do you mean?” Tristan continued, “Well, when your are about to get struck by lightning, you will build up with static electricity. Your supposed to kick off your skis, throw your poles, and make yourself as small as possible on the ground.”
I looked at him laughing, “Well that sucks for me, I can’t kick my skis off nearly as fast as you.” While the thought of lightning was a possibility, we clearly weren’t too concerned about it. Besides, as the forecast we briefly glanced at had said, after the first drizzle, the clouds were starting to part.
The false summit stays looming above nearly the entire hike. We made good time to Lunch Counter, where we stopped and each enjoyed a section of Finn’s giant Safeway sandwich. (Who carries a pound of sandwich up a mountain anyways?) It was a nice supplement to Tristan and my Euro-style lunch of bread, salami, and cheese.
Unsurprisingly, the false summit was still a long ways off. After lunch, we continued our slog to the summit. We were greeted with some welcome weather. Slowly but surely, we were making progress. The closer we got to the false summit, the harder the climb got. It had already been a long day, and as we were hitting the 10,000’ mark the elevation was starting to become noticeable.
Unfortunately, by the time I dragged myself to the top of the false summit, I caught a fleeting glance of the true summit off in the distance before the clouds rolled in and visibility was reduced to no more than 20’. We took advantage of the weather to take a break and discuss our plan. I was pretty well exhausted and the weather was not cooperating. We had reached the Southwest Chutes, and I was the only one in our group who had never summited. Thankfully, Finn pushed that it was worth it, and we had already come so far. The cloud pushed through and we had a nice break. There was the summit, looking much larger and further away than I was really hoping.
Despite the disheartening size of the final push to the summit, we set off. Not long after we began climbing an ominously dark cloud appeared around the corner. We started hearing the feint roll of thunder coming from the cloud. I couldn’t help but think back to what Tristan had told us earlier. At least now I knew what to try to do in case of impending lightning strike. We stopped to figure out the best course of action. We were about level with the cloud, and it looked like it was heading straight over the false summit.
We really didn’t want to spend any more time around the storm cloud than we had to. We decided the best course of action was to just keep pushing on, getting above the cloud as far away as quick as possible. It was much closer to lightning than I ever really desired. Thankfully, the cloud passed and we were able to enjoy the summit for a few minutes. I was surprised from the top how small Rainier looked in the distance. From any other viewpoint, Rainier looks like a monolith rising above all other peaks in the area. From Adams, Rainier seemed dwarfed in size and no larger than the peak we were currently standing on.
As we got ready for the descent, another ominous cloud rolled in. We decided to hurry. After a brief hike back to the false summit, we were at the top of the Southwest Cutes. 3000’ of continuous, steep corn skiing. I looked over at Finn and Tristan and let them know I would see them at the bottom. I was exhausted, but adrenaline helped fuel me into making turns from top to bottom. The snow was still smooth and the sun had warmed it up nicely. I can say without a doubt that those were the best turns I have ever made in July.
Once we all made it down the chutes, we navigated our way down the bottom of the snowfield, getting in a few more good turns as we went. Eventually we hit the trail back, and began the long traverse back to camp. Finally, we made it back at around 6pm. With a car full of beer, fried chicken, pasta, and various other snacks, we opted to enjoy the evening, spend the night and wake up early Sunday to drive home.
All-in-all, not a bad day. Over 7000’ climbed, over 3000’ snowboarded down, and some interesting weather.
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June 29, 2012
Posted in Snowboarding
It’s been a while since I have posted any of my excursions on here. There is a not-so-good reason for that! Namely, summer is in full swing and I have found myself replacing big adventures with smaller, but more frequent outings. I also got the sense that for a while there that I was one-upping myself, and every trip was more exciting than the last. I could only carry that momentum so far, so you will have to settle for some less exciting adventures with some, hopefully, still pretty pictures. Do not fret, I do still have some awesome trips lined up for the summer, including backpacking through Yosemite. And, my to do list is quite profound including both Mt Adams and Mt Baker (Mt Rainier is on there too, but I have to save some things for next year!).
One advantage of living in the PNW is the access to year-round snowboarding. Sure, as it gets later in the summer it is going to get more tricky to find the snow, but it will be there. And for now, it is still quite easy to find. Namely you can drive 40 minutes (or an hour and a half if you make the mistake of leaving during rush hour) up Snoqualmie pass, park in the Alpental parking lot, and find snow after a mere five minute hike hike through a little brush and a few streams.
As you may know, last week was the summer solstice, marking the longest day of the year. To celebrate, a group of like-minded individuals started a growing tradition a couple of years ago. They meet at the top of Alpental, hang out with the grills going and beer flowing, partying until the sun sets over the western reaches of the Cascades and the Olympics (if you are lucky). The tradition has grown over the past couple of years and there were a number of people who came to admire this beautiful sunset.
Being a Wednesday, I wasn’t able to leave Seattle until 5, so we had a bit of a late start. I do not advise driving at rush hour if you can ever help it. We did not make it up to Alpental until around 7. We were nearly the last group of people, in a mostly full parking lot, to start the climb to the top. I made a new friend in the parking lot, so she, and her dog, joined Amy and myself on a leisurely stroll up to the summit. A vast contrast to some of my previous adventures, the rolling green mountains were a refreshing change.
We were climbing up the north-east face making the entire trip spectacular. Early in to the tour the sun dipped behind the peak and started to fill the clouds with spectacular colors. In fact, throughout the entire trip, the clouds were phenomenal.
The snow was not exactly ideal, but I hadn’t been expecting much in the first place. I was entirely happy to simply be back out in the mountains. It had been a whole week and a half since my previous trip to the mountains…I was starting to go through some serious withdrawals. Some of you who are a bit more astute may notice that it has been much more than a week and a half since my last documented adventure on here. Gasp. I went snowboarding and didn’t post about it! As a matter of fact, yes I did. I had a fantastic day snowboarding some fun June pow at Crystal. While indeed a fun day, I was still having an internal battle of wanting to on-up myself so I couldn’t bring myself to describing a day of resort riding. Oh well. It’s done now. Here have another pretty picture!
When we finally made it to the summit, we just barely caught the tail end of the sunset. I wasn’t able to capture it well having not brought a tripod, so my first slightly-blurry picture will have to suffice. It was in fact an evening of firsts. I had never actually snowboarded at Alpental, so this was my first time ever setting foot on the top of the mountain. It is a bit funny to think that I did it in June when the lifts aren’t spinning. It also marked the first evening I have ever done a beer bong on the top of a mountain. Good times were had by all.
We ended up hanging out well past the sun dipping behind the horizon. I ended up riding down with Amy and Aaron (who met us at the summit). I was the only one wearing a headlamp. While not my first time riding at night, it was a bit surreal riding down with the two of them. We came down a narrow line right next to a cliff. The snow had all melted away leaving an unpleasant looking 10ft drop to the left of us. Weaving in between each other, the light casting shadows off of the trees and reflecting off of the snow, with the sheer drop off to our left, the ride down was thrilling.
Again after a bit of bushwhacking and stream crossing, we were back at the parking lot. Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday evening!
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June 10, 2012
Posted in Uncategorized
It isn’t often that I do something that I consider “defining life moment”. It is even less common that I can identify these fleeting moments while they are happening. Most of the time, I do not realize a moment was in some way life-shaping until well after the moment has passed. These realizations hit after my life has changed and I am reflecting on what spurred the change.
This moment was a rare exception.
While I was fully immersed in what I can easily describe as the most physically and mentally challenging experience of my life, I had a brief instant of clarity that enabled me to see just what I am capable of, shattering previous notions of my own limitations. It was in this instant that I acknowledged this experience, a pursuit of adventure, was the most challenging thing I had ever accomplished. In the same moment I realized that it was also a gateway, the tip of the iceberg if you will, for more challenging forays into the mountains. I have been knocking on the door to a world that was intriguing yet unfamiliar and it has finally flung wide open. Stepping inside is both awe-inspiring and terrifying.
Enough with the metaphors, when I explain this “defining life moment” the sensation I felt should become clear.
It happened over Memorial Day weekend, on Sunday morning as I had just stopped to wait for my partner, ice axe still in-hand, after having made a handful of turns off of the summit of Eldorado Peak. Sitting at just over 8,800ft Eldorado was by no means the highest place I had snowboarded, but it was the tallest mountain (and only true non-volcanic mountain) I have summited. It was also the first moderately technical climb I have ever attempted. Cutting a shelf into the knife-edge ridge so that I had a place to stand and put on my splitboard, then dropping onto the face of the mountain from the highest point possible, was an exhilarating experience to say the least.
I am getting ahead of myself. What made this trip so spectacular was not merely the summit, but the approach as well. True to form, I found my partner on TAY Thursday evening, just two days before the trip. I was able to borrow and ice axe and crampons from my buddy, and Kevin agreed to teach me how to use them on the approach. We left Seattle around 5 am on Saturday so that we could get an early start. Kevin planned this trip, a non-standard approach to Eldorado. Instead of taking the typical climbers trail that ascends almost directly up Eldorado’s east face from the valley floor, we started well to the west of Eldorado in the Hidden Lakes area. After a quick skin up the logging road, and a brief jaunt bootpacking through the woods, we were quickly past the dense growth and were skinning up a large open snowfield.
Skinning up the hill, I stumbled into a little luck. Someone had dropped a pair of crampons in the snow. The way the snow had melted out, the looked as if the had been there for quite some time. I did a quick search of the area to make sure there was nothing else (or no-one) left buried in the snow and, while still puzzled, threw the crampons on my pack pretty stoked about my find and of course the extra weight dangling from my pack.
We made it up to the saddle in the Hidden Lakes area in good time. From the saddle, I could see up the ridge to Hidden Lakes. What was surely a fun and rewarding tour. This was not our intention. We instead had our eyes fixated to the east, at Eldorado Peak that was standing prominently in the distance. As Kevin promised, our approach was indeed much longer but offered views that were unparalleled. The jagged and exposed west face of Eldorado looked nearly insurmountable (at least given my abilities) and the winding ridgelines we intended to traverse seemed to meander endlessly into the distance.
However, we pressed on making good time, stopping shortly for a lesson in self-arrest on a steep face with low consequences. I should point out that the sun was out in full force. It was an absolutely beautiful day, though the heat was not making the travel any easier. The ridgeline varied from mellow and flat to flip-flopping sharp ridges forcing us to switch between skinning and boot pack numerous times. There were ups and downs, averaging out to a steady climb in elevation. As the day wore on, the traversing was starting to take its toll.
The wet, heavy snow did not make the going any easier. But we pressed on. Finally, around 4 pm we had finished most of the traversing. We had just descended a bowl below the Triad, a distinguishable set of three points nestled together on the ridge, and climbed up a chute to the top of a spine that was separating us from the east snowfield on Eldorado. For those of you keeping track, yes that means we wrapped a fair ways around the mountain from west to east. Finding a patch of exposed rock, Kevin and I treated ourselves to a little nap before making our final approach to camp up on Eldorado glacier (the largest glacier in the cascades not attached to a volcano). It was at this point, laying on a rock under the sun that reality began to set in. We had been hiking for nearly 8 hours with a minimal net amount of elevation gain. I was tired. That meant the car was nearly 8 hours away and there was no way of going back. Not in the state that either Kevin or I was in. We were past the point of return and the only thing to do was press on to camp, make dinner, try to sleep and hope that we would have enough energy the next day.
After our nap, Kevin and I felt slightly refreshed. Our bodies actually had a chance to process some of the calories we had consumed and were energized by the sight of our destination. We had a fun couple of turns from our napping spot to a safe point on the snowfield to start our final ascent to camp. As vast snowfields often are, the distance to the top was regrettably further than either Kevin or I anticipated. After a seemingly endless climb, we finally reach the glacier around 7:30.
We met up with a couple of Kevin’s friends who had made the standard Eldorado approach. For what it is worth, it took them two days to get to the glacier from the standard route, granted they were not skinning so their progress was much slower. Our evening consisted of building camp, cooking food, and an arsenal of DSLR’s snapping shots (three cameras for the four of us) of our 360 panoramic views. Amidst the gusts of wind, snow, and hitting the ski that was propping up our makeshift 4-man circus tent, I think I managed a couple hours of sleep.
To my surprise, I woke up feeling refreshed and not nearly as sore as I was expecting. Kevin and I made the decision to follow the standard route off of Eldorado, virtually straight down to the valley floor. Knowing this, Kevin and I decided we had enough energy left to make the final push to the summit.
In all fairness, this final ascent was fueled mostly by adrenaline for me, which I found works way better than the cliff bars I was relying on the day before. Not to mentioned we left all of our overnight gear below us on the glacier. The actual summit was better than we were expecting. The recent snow made the ridge up to the peak soft enough to kick in a nice boot pack. As mentioned before, the euphoric feeling upon getting to the summit was un-paralleled. In the context of the previous days approach, reaching the summit was such an incredible sense of accomplishment.
After snapping a myriad of pictures (none of which turned out particularly well in my opinion) we began the descent. Riding off of the summit was a thrill. You feel like you are standing on top of the world and dropping in to your line is more satisfying than any rollercoaster I have ever been on.
We had a solid 4-5,000 feet of snow to ride down, broken up by an occasional pesky uphill. While very wet and reactive, Kevin and I both got in some fantastic corn skiing.
When the snow ended, our journey wasn’t quite over. We had to down-climb a boulder field that was absolutely miserably. In any context it was not an easy route to follow, having to navigate through knee to shoulder high boulders is never fun. When you throw an overnight pack with skis sticking off the ends, it is downright terrifying. Just when you though you had cleared a boulder, a ski would catch, throwing your weight forward, causing you to hold your breath and praying that you can find somewhere to plant your foot to stop you from careening out of control down the hill.
The boulder field eventually cleared and the trail seemed to mellow out with each step. It was only a couple of hours before we were crossing a river on logs and were back at Kevin’s friend’s car.
This trip pushed my physical limits and showed me what I am capable of accomplishing. While I still have a long ways to go before I would consider myself a true mountaineer and I still have a lot of skills to learn, at the heart of this adventure, I began to discover the sheer power of will to truly push yourself.
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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.
That was the plan. The weather was in full cooperation, without a cloud in the sky and hwy 20 opened, as expected, the day before our trip. The funny thing about planning trips with people from an online forum – it can be a gamble. Everyone has different ability levels, experiences, and expectations. So far I have been lucky. I have had the opportunity to ride with some awesome people. This weekend, well, you can’t win them all. We were going into the trip with the attitude of nobody is in a hurry and it is okay if you are a little slow. I was starting to grasp what that meant when we met up in Sedro Woolley. That being said, I still had an amazing weekend and got to camp in one of the most spectacular locations of my life.
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.
I finally retreated to our tent (Sharing tents with strangers is fun!). When I woke up in the morning, the sun was out and I had a peaceful morning looking around and taking in the spectacular views. Eventually we boiled some water, ate breakfast and got ready for what I imagined was going to be a spectacular day of riding. Golden Horn, our original destination was up over this little 500ft knoll, and a bit of a tour out along a ridge, skirting past Snowy Lakes. I was fresh and ready to go. I broke trail up the knoll, not really looking back or stopping to take a break. The Knoll was perfectly situated in the mountains such that it offered a breathtaking panoramic view. Thankfully I had about a half hour to sit and take pictures while I waited for the rest of our crew to finish the hike (I ended up hiking down to them and then back up, setting in a bootpack up the last 50 feet). Here’s a couple of pictures from the knoll, that hopefully give a sense of the view.
Once we were all at the top, it was decision time. Looking out at the Horn, it was still a decent tour and would make for a long day for some of us. The girl in our group decided it was in her best interest to ski back down the knoll to our camp, and then the two of us could continue on. Unfortunately, as soon as she left, I remembered that she had on my goggles, due to losing her sunglasses on the hike in the day before. I was not about to ride the horn without my goggles. The other guy wasn’t in a hurry and did not object when I asked if I could ride down and grab them from her (I made in back in a half hour). It was actually a blessing in disguise. The snow on the knoll was fantastic, and while 500ft isn’t much, it was worth it. So I grabbed my goggles and headed back up.
When I got to the top (again) we decided to alter the plan. Matt was feeling pretty tired and not particularly inclined to make the trek out to the horn. Also, we decided it was in our best interest to call the trip a day early. We still had to navigate down the face we had booted up the night before and none of us wanted to do it in the morning when it was going to be hard as ice. New Plan.
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.
By the time I made it back to camp, the others had started to pack up. I was a little sad to be leaving so soon, but at the same time grateful to be getting back. We still had one last adventure we had to deal with. The ride out was by no means straightforward. The face we climbed the night before was littered with tight trees and was fairly steep. On top of that, we still had a couple miles of skinning back to the car after that. I don’t need to get in to the details here, but it was a long process getting out. One that involved pulling others out of numerous tree wells and more or less teaching someone how to ski wet snow with a pack on (they still need lots of practice). We were all thrilled when we finally made it to the car.
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.
The best part is, thanks to getting back a day early, I was able to go on another tour Sunday…
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