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Inspiration Peak, East Ridge

Inspiration Peak, East Ridge

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

This year Tim and I decided we wanted to learn the true meaning of Labor Day so while we could have spent our three day weekend climbing anywhere we chose the Pickets, a range in the North Cascades known by climbers for its remoteness and inaccessibility. In 1931 when all of the major peaks in the Tetons had established routes the Pickets saw their first recorded technical ascent. When people talk about the wild of the North Cascades they are talking about the Pickets.

So we decided on the east ridge of Inspiration Peak, a route first climbed by Becky and company in 1958. We started from Upper Goodell Creek Campground at 10am on Saturday morning. The first 4 miles follows an overgrown road bed along the east side of the creek until it abruptly ends, signaled by a cairn and turns uphill. From there it was an unrelenting 5000 ft charge uphill on what is generously called a climbers trail. But even that doesn’t tell the full story, in a place where an approach is better measured in time rather than distance. And 8 hours later we made camp following a well traveled trail into a gravel basin  at 6000 ft with a meadow at the bottom and plenty of water to make up for the lack of it on the approach. Big views of terror basin the  the southern Pickets took some of the hurt off from the approach and reset our motivation.

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The moon was so bright at night that I woke up and ask Tim to turn off his headlamp and I saw the big dipper sitting right on top of Inspiration Peak. That must have been around midnight. Four hours later I woke up to make breakfast and by 4:45am we were on the trail picking our way around boulders and across massive rock slabs on our way up to the glacier. We tried to follow the cairns across the outlet of a lakelet and then down and across a bigger ravine that we made note of because the scramble up the other side was a little tricky but also tough to identify from the top. (note: It may be easier to swing way up high on this one and cross over the creek around 6400.)

When we hit the glacier we roped up for some fairly straight forward glacier travel up until our final crevasse crossing. We navigated it by down climbing off of a snow bridge onto a lower ledge and climbing out. And then we stood at the bottom of the route, 7,400 ft above the ocean, four hours after we had started. We simul-climbed the first “two” pitches following a series of gullies and ledges trending toward a notch between the east ridge and a small spire to its right. The climbing gradually turns into a blocky face that we broke out into two 5.7 pitches as we worked our way onto the east ridge.

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The next two pitches are the ones we came all the way out here for. The layback pitch starts exactly how it sounds climbing right around the roof and then straight up to a roomy belay at the bottom of a splitter hand crack. The crack climbs straight up and offers the occasional face hold but mostly excellent hand and foot jamming. At the top we cut out right aiming at the notch in the rock around the roof and then up and left to a belay.

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Now through the crux we simuled the last “three” pitches to help ease the rope drag on a wandering climb across the top. From above the hand crack drop on to the north side and then up and left and around the south side of the east summit. We crossed the ridge down climbing to the base of the True summit and then and easy low fifth class scramble all the way up checking in at the top at 4pm.

Now the good part. Three double length rappels down the West Ridge. Raps are easy to find. Three more double length rappels down the gully. Lots of loose rock with very little protection offered from above. This took us 3 hours. Then we were standing at the upper glacier trying to figure how to cross a massive moat to get up on top of the snow. As it was, we climbed down underneath the glacier through a tunnel and popped out on a ledge in a crevasse. It was dusk now and we were loosing light, so with no great option to get out we front pointed straight up and out which was a less desirable approach with a lot of exposure to what lay below but ultimately better than turning around and finding another route out in the dark.

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The rest of the trek back was long and circuitous in the dark, but generally uninteresting. Back at camp at 11:30pm. We had stashed a couple beers in the creek that made the hike back slightly more bearable and made dinner slightly more enjoyable.

Slept in on Monday but the smoke came in that night to punished us in the morning and then on out hike out. We made it back to the car in 6 hours. It doesn’t get much more Cascades than this. It may take awhile to forget the approach and head back into the heart of darkness that is the Pickets but we did well in honoring the holiday.

The rest of the photos

East Basin, The Brothers

East Basin, The Brothers

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

Looking west from Seattle, The Brothers rises up from the sound to 6650 ft. The East Basin is the obvious line from the top and even from 40 miles away is clearly a sicky.

After a very wet March and April with few breaks in the weather, Easter Sunday was forecasted for sun so we camped out at the Lena Lake trailhead the night before and hit the trail at 4am for what would be a 14 hour day. The first 3.5 miles were in the dark, we reached the lake at 6am. From there the hike slowed with with several broken bridge crossings and a bit of route finding up the Valley of Silent Men.

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When we reached the climbers camp a little after 8am we had enough consistent snow to finally get the boards off our backs and transition to splitting. We crossed over to the west side of the creek almost immediately and traveled until we broke out of the trees into the basin. Now we had to deal with some difficult travel conditions in steep brushy terrain and sloppy snow, a lot of which had shedded into massive debris piles during the previous rain cycle.

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At 5000ft the travel eased up and it was smooth sailing until 6400ft where we switched over and boot packed to the summit, topping out at 1pm. The descent was fast then slow, beginning with spring powder conditions then warming into a mush near 5000 ft.  The basin itself is huge and paired with the numerous bulges, windlips and steep chutes that filter into and out of it, it offers a ton of rad skiing opportunities. At 3400 ft we switched back to skins until it was time to put them on our back and make a break for the car.

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We ended up back where we started at 6pm rounding out the trip with some Milano cookies and a couple beers. I think we’ll be looking at this one for a long time once more until we decide to go for it again.

The greatest brothers in all the land. #peakoftheweek #olympics #thebrothers

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Wendy Thompson Hut, Marriott Basin

Wendy Thompson Hut, Marriott Basin

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

Another year, another hut trip. 2017 was the Year of the Coast Mountains in British Colombia. The Wendy Thompson Hut was nearly booked full when we decided to make reservations in late summer but we managed to score 5 days in for the beginning of March and score we did.

Wendy Thompson Hut Trip - March 2017

After a drought that seemed to last most of January and February with a few exceptions, the snow returned in a major way the week before our Saturday departure and dropped nearly 3 ft around the Duffy Lakes area and then cleared allowing a mostly sunny tour in. 4 miles and 2000 ft put us at the front door of the hut right before the clouds came back in for another storm that brought us snowfall for the rest of our trip.

Because of the recent and continuing snowfall we kept our objectives fairly conservative for the entirety of the trip, venturing into steeper terrain only a handful of times and when we did it was brief. Our use of extreme caution was rewarded with no accidents, blower powder and collective hours spent in the white room.

Wendy Thompson Hut - March 2017

We managed to ski safely and that is significant, when you consider the high avalanche danger bulletin that was in effect, combined with a fatality that weekend in the greater area. The snow was definitely wanting to move while we were out and while one couple in our group did manage to break off a sizable slab about 18in deep and a few 100 ft across on the first day, we all managed to keep our noses clean.

Another one for the history books, time to start planning for next year.

Photos Courtesy of Brian Behrens

Commonwealth Basin, Snoqualmie Pass

Commonwealth Basin, Snoqualmie Pass

Thursday, January 19th, 2017

Car window got smashed weeks ago, too cold to drive without it. David picks me up dark and early. We pick up where the late night text storm left off…

Where we going today? Definitely the pass. Snow is dry, low density blower. So it’s a question of how big… How far? How committed? The debate commences and hardly abates when we stop for Brian at the P&R.

The truck feels smaller now. Three egos battling for mindshare. Six eyes popping as we pass snow on the ground in North Bend. Decisions made, minds changed, decisions unmade, the same decisions made again, but this time in reverse…

Eventually we settle on the most conservative option. Pursue turns in terrain from which we can easily retreat. Dip our toe, test the temperature. I know a spot where the terrain has called me, let’s head there and see what it has to offer. And so we do…

Tour up Commonwealth Basin

David rules out Red: “I wouldn’t ski that with a ten foot pole”

Tour up Commonwealth Basin

Tour up Commonwealth Basin

Pushing up the first bench: Three steps forward, two steps back.

Tour up Commonwealth Basin

It’s deep and dry and we like it.

Tour up Commonwealth Basin

David projects our position on the map… These augmented reality ski goggles are really worth their weight.

Tour up Commonwealth Basin

David finally says “yes, I’ll ski that.”

Tour up Commonwealth Basin

Tour up Commonwealth Basin

Life is a dream.

Tour up Commonwealth Basin

Smoothest ride is in the backseat.

Tour up Commonwealth Basin

Tour up Commonwealth Basin

In moments like these, you’ve gotta thank the person behind the camera. This one’s for you, Brian.

And here’s the edit:

Cashmere Mountain, Questionmark Coilour

Cashmere Mountain, Questionmark Coilour

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

It was with variable spring weather in the forecast that Tim and I started game planning a Sunday tour. Originally looking at the goat rocks region, notice of a washed out road changed our plans. We started looking east and found decent weather as close by as Leavenworth. With icicle creek road bare and dry we opted for a tour off its flanks. Cashmere seemed to be a good option. We tied up the hiking boots and headed up toward Lake Victoria from FS 7605 (elev 2400′).

After getting out of the lowland brush, a sweet couloir off the north ridge of Cashmere mountain presented itself. It seemed complicated though. Aside from questions of whether the thing even got us off the rock face, Victoria Creek had started roaring with the snow melt and would possibly separate us from being able to get back to the trail.


Tim eyes up the couloir to the left, Johnny V scouts the trail


Another angle on the couloir

We kept booting until we hit a reasonable snowpack at 4700′ and tossed the hiking boots for the snowboard boots. Skinning was challenging at parts with a lot of melted out terrain. In hindsight, skinning would have started around 5000′. Scratch that, in hindsight we would have brought our downhill boards. We booted more that 75% of this thing.


Definitely patchy in places

Eventually we hit the creek crossing with substantial snow bridges. Not long after we arrived at the lake. A couple of our friends were snow shoeing with us with plans to chill at the lake eventually meetig us at the car. We had become confident enough in the couloir route so we headed left at the lake and on up. Straight up.

Snow conditions made skinning incredibly difficult so we booted up to a ridge. At this point we noticed the weather coming in from the west. Things would be questionable without visibility. We picked up the pace and topped out at 7100′ just as it started snowing. The sun was still shining though, and we could see the very broad entrance of a couloir. It seemed like it went, but it looked much broader than the one we were after.

With time running out, we boarded up and got ready for our decent. We started down a ridge and I went skiers right to see if I could find the coulior we were after. Nothing that direction. We then debated dropping into the large coulior. After a bit of discussion we realized this had to be it. After booting back up a little to the entrance it was go time. Once we dropped in it was apparent we were in the right place.

The snow was very firm once inside. Lot of chatter on the way down until we found some sun ripened corn. Super mixed conditions all the way down but what a blast. It was steep and adventurous. At one point there was a 30 foot cliff where the snow had separated from the rock forming a schrund. The gap was jumpable but not by much. The rest of the way down was fun, but that’s when the real fun started – find the exit!

Quick edit of the decent:

We traversed to Victoria creek which sounded rageful. Luckily for us there were plenty of downed trees that acted as sketchy bridges. The traverse to the trail was heavy with brush, lots of bushwhacking. With some hootin and hollerin we heard our friends Brandon and John in the distance. We found the “established” trail but they were still off to the left, buzzin through the brush. The trail can be hard to find at times. Eventually we all linked up giving Tim and I a chance to change out shoes. A rainbow appeared along with the drizzle of rain giving us the gamut of weather we often see in our lovely maritime ranges around this time of year. Great tour, would love to rip questionmark coulior again in the winter!

Bonus TR: RICO’S PIZZA

If you’ve ever driven westbound on highway 2 over Steven’s Pass toward Seattle you’ve seen the sign. You’ve seen the establishment, sticking out like a sore thumb. But you probably haven’t been inside. With so many friends aware of this place, having passed by hundreds of times, and not a single report of a visit to this legendary place, we had to engage our curiosity. Results – Very good pizza, definitely worth a visit.

Mount Baker, Easton Glacier Route

Mount Baker, Easton Glacier Route

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

A week of sun and 70 degree temperatures in the city will begin to induce touring withdrawal symptoms for even the heartiest of peakers. With raging monkeys clawing at our backs, we set our weekend sights for a fair-weather summit attempt of Washington’s 3rd highest mountain and stratovolcano, Mt. Baker (10,800′). The snowpack this year has been deeeep, and with summer weather forecasted for the mountain, conditions looked ‘absolutely splitter’ – to quote D.B. Kiker himself.

For Brian and I, this would be our first experience with glacier travel so a large part of the trip was educational. If you happened to be at Gasworks Park last Thursday, then yes, we were those kooks pretending to rescue each other out of imaginary crevasses in the grass.

We chose the Easton Glacier route, and Ranger reports indicated that the road was still snowed-in for about mile before the trailhead.

1:00 PM: Parked the car at 3000’ elevation, threw the splitboards into tour mode, and hit it. A large section of un-snowed dirt road about 100 yards around the first bend in the road forced us to portage the boards on our backs for a bit, but trailhead access was uneventful other than that ~ 1 hour.

Touring up the Road

** Touring the snow-covered road pre trailhead

We followed the well-defined sled trail about 1500 vertical feet from the trailhead up to the start of railroad grade, where the sled tracks broke-off into the valley above. 3:30PM

Garrett Railroad Grade

** Garrett starting up the valley – railroad grade on the left. With the snow from earlier in the week compacted and wet from the heat, the snowmobile tracks made for easy touring.

6:00PM: With daylight waning, we exited the north end of the valley, and set up camp at 6500’, just below the Easton Glacier. The night was clear and the views were spectacular.

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**Brian and David scoping out a campsite

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**Sunset view of the San Juans

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**Night Mountain.  Roman Wall & Summit on left, Sherman Crater in middle

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**Turning in for the night

3:00 AM – Wake-up. Clear sky allowed the temperature to drop overnight and freeze snow. A leisurely morning of pacing for warmth, hugging warm coffee mugs, and packing camp leaves us ready to hit the trail at 6AM. Splitboard crampons required.

Rope-up

**Roping-up to start the day. We ascended through the saddle to the NW (top right), then pointed directly to the Sherman Crater.

The snow was very firm throughout the morning, but splitboard crampons made short work of the first 2200’. At 9000’ the grade steepened, necessitating a switch to boot crampons and board carry to the Sherman Crater.

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** Approaching the Sherman Crater. Roman Wall to left. If you look real close, you can see two people (dots) just to the edge of the shadow formed by the left crater.

This early in the season there was minimal crevase exposure. Throughout the ascent and descent we saw just 2-3 open crevasses that were small and easily avoidable. Worth noting that it’s important to remember the location of these for the snowboard descent, else you end up having to do a last second emergency ollie.

11:00 AM: We stopped for a quick lunch at the crater rim

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*David and Brian taking a breather

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**Brian and Garrett on the Sherman Crater lip

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**David contemplating the meaning of life

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** The Sherman Crater was smoking like a chimney

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Revitalized, we cramponed our way to the summit by noon with boards on our backs. At this time of day the Roman Wall was very steep and icy – even a boot crampon ascent felt sketchy.

Obligatory summit pics:

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Fearing that the bottom of the mountain would become a slushy mess, we strapped on our boards and rode down quickly after reaching the summit. In retrospect, we could’ve waited until ~1PM to descend – which would’ve made the roman wall a bit more enjoyable.

Phenomenal Corn skiing was to be had below the Sherman Glacier. Packed up camp quickly at 6500’, and snowboarded the remainder of the way out.

3:00 PM: Arrival back at the trailhead

Jim Hill Mountain, Lanham Lake

Jim Hill Mountain, Lanham Lake

Saturday, January 9th, 2016

What happens when 6 peakers commit to a moderate Saturday tour off Highway 2? We weigh accessibility, snow stability and snow quality to select a suitable tour for the day. We had the following constraints to work with:

  • Somewhere on Highway 2
  • Moderate avalanche risk
  • No new snow in the last 5 days
  • Sunny conditions over preceding days
  • Solid base
  • Calm weather

We chose Jim Hill Mountain for the following reasons:

  • Accessible from Stevens Pass Nordic Center via Lanham Lake
  • Northern aspect (snow less likely to be sun effected)
  • 3500 feet and 10 miles (good distance for Jan daylight)

The results were solid. Major takeaways for those doing the tour:

  • Go left at Lanham Lake to ascend the eastern slope of the valley and gain the ridge at 5500 feet.
  • Travel quickly to allow time for laps on the upper bowls.
  • On the descent, traverse right (north) along the ridge to avoid getting cliffed out.
  • See map for additional context

Here’s the play by play…

08:40 am – Stevens Pass Nordic Center Parking lot

David questions the quality of snow given parking lot temperature, ~32 F.

Jim Hill Mountain

David discusses the route with Tim and Whitney in the parking lot

09:00 am – Lanham Lake Trail

We set out from the Nordic Center through the woods. The trail is well marked and well traveled. We don’t do much route finding. The route climbs gradually toward Lanham Lake along the west side of the drainage.

10:05 am – Lanham Lake

We arrive at the lake, eat a quick snack and follow the skin track across the lake continuing up the valley. Visibility is poor, but we see the lower slopes of Jim Hill ahead.

Jim Hill Mountain

The crew crosses Lanham Lake

10:35 am – Upper Valley, Lanham Lake

We stop to consider route options. The existing skin track doesn’t head “up” the way we expect it to. We question whether or not we went to far up valley. From Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Routes Washington, we know the route ascends the valley’s eastern slope and gains the ridge at 5500 feet. After several minutes of discussion, we cut back and across that slope.

Jim Hill Mountain

We approach the head of the valley and start to question our route. In retrospect, we should have started climbing the ridge at the lake.

12:05 pm – Almost to the ridge

We pay dearly for our navigational error at the lake. Sam sets a fierce skin track to get us back to the standard route. The trees are tight and the hillside steep. Ultimately we boot up a 150m section to get through the worst of it. Brian steps on a submerged tree and drops 4 feet into the snow. Go left at the lake, you’ll burn a lot less energy.

01:00 pm – On the Ridge

Things go faster once we connect with a skin track that climbs moderately toward the ridge. Up on the ridge, we approach the bottom of the cloud layer. We entertain the idea that we might break through.

Skinning on the ridge, seeking the sun

01:15 pm – On the Ridge, 6,200 feet

We have  a decision to make… We’re on the ridge facing south towards Jim Hill. To our left, is a bowl with tracks and people descending toward Henry Creek (the other ascent route). We see a saddle that provides access to a ridge that leads to Jim Hill. However to reach this, we need to traverse/descend into the bowl, then climb to the saddle.

To our right is a continuation of the ridge that we’re already on. There’s a saddle just west of the peak. If we can get to that saddle, we will boot the last two hundred feet to the peak, enjoy the views and descend.

We decide to head right. There’s another group behind us that heads left.

01:30 pm – Jim Hill Mountain, 6,400 feet

The ridge terminates in the upper slopes of Jim Hill Mountain. Sam and I survey the bowl below the peak and immediately notice the debris of a large slide.

A slide path under Jim Hill Mountain (left)

We see another debris field further up the bowl, under the saddle to the right of Jim Hill. We’re in a safe place, so we wait for the group and study the terrain. We see evidence of wind affected snow close to the ridge line. NWAC listed wind slab as a potential risk for the day and this confirms that there’s high risk on the terrain ahead. After discussion with the group, we decide to descend the same way we came up.

Making the call to turn around. It’s cold in the shade

02:15 pm – Dropping off the Ridge

We hug the ridge on the way down as we drop towards Lanham Lake. We find many open powder pockets in the trees.

Whitney grinning ear to ear

David makes the white fly

The trees are quite dense in places, and the terrain is steep. We proceed with caution and stick together. 2,000 feet of deep powder turns to the lake before conditions turn crusty.

03:40 pm – Back at the Car

Overall, it was a great day. We considered terrain carefully and made turns in deep, dry snow. With more knowledge and time to explore, you could access some excellent terrain. We’ll be back.

Heliotrope Ridge, Mt. Baker

Heliotrope Ridge, Mt. Baker

Sunday, November 22nd, 2015

The storm last Tuesday left a lot of trees and other debris across the road, though the trees have been cut up now and most of it is passible in a higher clearance vehicle. The snow starts at about mile 6 and parts of the road are vary icy. Another good snow storm and the road up the the trailhead should be out for driving this season.

The good news is, you can start splitting from the trailhead. The bad news is, that only lasts for a quarter mile. The snow on the trail gets patchy so we threw the boards on our backs and hoofed it up the the second creek crossing were we could resume the split.

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The snow is punchy down in the trees down low with big windblown spans of ice as you move up onto Hogsback ridge, making ski crampons useful. From the top of Hogsback we trended right and then took a straight shot up to Heliotrope ridge, topping off around 7200 ft.

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The good turns are the top 1000 ft or so where the mountain is north facing and more protected. Not enough snow to make us feel comfortable skiing straight down to the creek so we followed out skin track back down the hill getting back to the car about 3:30 pm, about 5 hrs after we started.

Lots of good snow for mining up above 6000ft, with more on the way. The good turns have finally come around.

2015 Mt. Baker Backcountry Opener

2015 Mt. Baker Backcountry Opener

Wednesday, November 18th, 2015

Someone definitely got the memo that Mt. Baker on Sunday was getting POW. We arrived around 9am to an already halfway-full upper lot. It was filled with 200+ backcountry enthusiasts eager to ride some powder. After last season being such a wash in the Northwest, stoke levels were very high.

We were pleasantly surprised to find the snow conditions highly favorable. There was great coverage starting well below the upper lot. By the time we got to eying up our first drop near chair 1, we were happy to find the snow depth was easily waist deep. One needed to find steeper lines on Sunday because it was deep and heavy! The snow was pretty typical of the Pacific Northwest, a classic Baker storm. Keeping to steeper faces was key for the day, if not you’d often find people digging themselves out from burying their tips. TIPS UP!

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After a lap near chair 1 we headed out near Artist Point. Here the sun was starting to break through and produce some amazing light. Even with the breaks in light, dropping in just below Table Mountain the light was still very flat once you got dropped below the ridge line. Flat light and heavy snow were some of my biggest concerns for the day. Some small sluff slides had been set off in the area by others, but nothing too alarming. We will have to see what the future storms bring over the next couple weeks. Layers of rain could be a concern as we move into late November. Lets hope this great dump of snow stays around for a bit!

Naches Peak, Chinook Pass

Naches Peak, Chinook Pass

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

Our touring group got up to Chinook Pass around 9 am. We scrapped our original plan to try and attack the Sheep Lake Couloir due to very minimal coverage on southern facing slopes (not sure why we thought that might work). We had no idea how you would even begin the approach from Chinook Pass let alone even if we could expect snow after what would have likely been 1,000+ feet of hiking dirt and rocks.

We instead decided to lap the northern facing slopes off Naches Peak. Starting out from the parking lot at 9:30 am we toured in light base layers. Lots of sun screen was a must… and I did not abide by that must. I’m paying for it tonight. The snow starts right at the parking lots and no hiking was required. The snow right from the get go was surprisingly soft with a very thin, weak crust layer about 6″ below.

Naches Peak, Chinook Pass

When we got to the base of Naches it was clear Friday was a lonely day, based on the few tracks we saw. Today, Saturday, was the opposite. We saw about 50+ different people out touring near Naches Peak. Northern aspects were great for making turns in soft, light snow… something we’ve known little of this season.

Skin tracks were heavily traveled. As the day went on snow began to melt and freeze in the skin tracks making them slick. There were a lot of blowouts on the skin trail, damn splitboarders. Side hilling became challenging as the day went on and setting a solid edge was key.

Naches Peak, Chinook Pass

Coverage all around is low, but we had next to no base damage on our gear, even after 5 laps with filled with airs and power turns. Throughout the day clouds kept trying to hold, but the sun would burn it off before visibility could become a problem.

On the drive home we encountered some rain shortly after passing Crystal Mountain Resort.