Category Archives: Touring

Mt Shuksan, Fisher Chimneys

Mt Shuksan, Fisher Chimneys

Saturday, July 31st, 2021

I just moved back to Washington from Denver and I was psyched to get out in the North Cascades on return.

I met Byron at the Mt Baker Ski Area on Friday evening and we camped out so that we could have a leisurely start Saturday morning. The road is currently closed up to Artist Point at the Heather Meadows Visitor Center, or Grandma’s Hut as I’ve know it to be called. This added only a small amount of milage/elevation to our destination for the day, the White Salmon camp just below Winnies Slide.

We started at 10:30am and made it to Lake Ann by noon. It was a warm day and we stopped by the lake to have lunch before starting up the trail toward the Chimneys.

The trail past Lake Ann is well established and there are a number of good camp sites about 5-10 minutes down the trail just before the creek crossing. After that the path switchbacks up steeply for a ways and crosses a talus field just before entering the first of the chimneys.

There were a number of groups climbing that day so it wasn’t difficult to see the route from a distance but even without other folks to follow, the path seemed to be well established. We made it to camp just before 4pm.

The next morning we started our climb at 6am. The lower bivy site didn’t have a great water source so we climbed Winnies Slide, the first steep snow pitch, up to Camp 2 where there was a good flow coming out of the Upper Curtis Glacier. We filled our water bottles and then started onto the snow.

The glacier was in great shape and travel was straightforward with minimal obstacles to navigate. We climbed the Hourglass, the second and final steep snow pitch, before traversing on to the Sulphide Glacier. The upper stretch of the Sulphide was also in good shape and we climbed it up to the based of the South East Ridge on the summit block where we took a brief break before starting our climb on the ridge.

There are a couple of notches you can start the ridge climb from. We chose the further right and slightly deeper notch which resulted in some light down-climbing after the first pitch. This put us at the saddle of the second notch. We simul-climbed the route in 3ish blocks. It is mostly 3rd class with a few steeper but unsustained low 5 moves.

We summited at 10:30am and turned around quickly to start the long slog back to the car. We down climbed via the gully which was ultimately going to be much quicker than waiting around to rappel it. The gully down-climbed no harder than 4th class.

Both snow pitches we rappelled on fixed deadman that had been buried at the top of both Hourglass and Winnies. We made it back to our camp at 2pm. A nap was the vibe at this point so we took a brief one then packed up and walked out of camp around 3:30pm

The climb down the chimneys with our overnight packs wasn’t too tricky. The first two “pitches” off the ridge were the most sustained 4th class and it seemed to ease up after that. We were able to down-climb the whole thing without any additional rappels. I think we hit the lake at 6pm, only 4 more miles to go.

Things slowed down for us after this, finally we got to the cars at 8:40pm. Just under a 15 hour day. Not too bad. It’s nice to be back in the Cascades.

South Arapahoe Peak, Skywalker Couloir

South Arapahoe Peak, Skywalker Couloir

Monday, May 31st, 2021

The county plowed the road to 4th of July campground on Thursday so we got up early Saturday morning to go ski Skywalk Couloir before the weather turned to rain for the weekend.

It has been a grey and wet spring in the Front Range. The forecast for Memorial Day weekend, starting around noon on Saturday, was thunderstorms and heavy precipitation through Monday, but there was a short window of sun Saturday morning that looked like we could squeeze something in. We started from the trail head at 4th of July campground just before 7am and hiked up a trail that was equal parts dirt and snow.

Nice day!

It took an hour to get up to the base of the couloir at 11k with the skis on our backs. Here we transitioned briefly to skins and split for a few hundred vert before strapping up the crampons and throwing the boards back on our packs. We also saw a moose here which was cool.

Once you are in the couloir starting about 11,800 it has a pretty consistent pitch of 45°, ramping up to 55° at the very top. Although it faces south southeast, the walls shield it so it stays shaded until later in the morning. Because of this it was just starting to warm as we climbed softening the snow gradually but preserving it well for climbing.

David taking a breather on the climb

I believe we finished on the Princess Leia variation (direct) but I did not see where the alternative or standard finish went. At this point the clouds were moving in and we were beginning to hear thunder in the distance. We transitioned and dropped back in on skis just before 11am, retracing our climbing line.

By the time we started skiing, the snow had softened giving nearly perfect top to bottom conditions. While the crux is at the top, the whole thing is a steep ski for 1500ft that doesn’t ease up until the apron.

Will skiing midway down Skywalker

At the bottom we threw the boards back on our packs and hoofed it out, getting back to the car just before 1pm and right as the first big drops oof rain started to fall. Just barely snuck it it.

Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Finger

Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Finger

Sunday, June 9th, 2019

It’s Friday evening, and Zach and I had just been set up by our mutual friend Whitney to climb and ski Mt. Rainier together over the weekend.  We had both been looking for partners to attempt the Fuhrer Finger route, and had both approached Whitney about skiing the Finger.   The Fuhrer Finger is an extraordinary ski mountaineering line; it takes a direct line up a south aspect of Mt. Rainier, and gets its name from the 3000 vertical foot, 40 degree chute located about two thirds of the way up the route, called ‘the finger.’  Some sources cite it as the biggest ski descent in the lower forty eight, but I’m skeptical of anything with a ‘biggest’ quantifier in front of it.   It’s definitely up there, a rad line, for sure.  In good conditions, the entire 9000 vertical feet of the route is ski-able on the descent, with the option to extend that even further by skiing to the Nisqually bridge.

After reviewing our 2-person crevasse rescue skills, we talk about details on the route.  There’s a risk of rockfall within the finger, which is heightened later in the day as things heat up.  There’s also the risk of loose-wet slides later in the day.  Timing on ascent day will be critical, as you want to be descending after the snow has softened up enough to be ski-able, yet before the rocks start firing down from above, or before the snow beneath you becomes warm and unstable.  Based on the predicted warm weather, we set a turnaround time of 11AM for summit day

Saturday, 12:00PM: We arrive at the Paradise Parking lot. We gather our permits and gear, and hit the trail at 1PM

The weather for our ascent was warm and sunny.  Just before dropping down to the Lower Nisqually Glacier, we got a nice view of our planned route.  We chose to hook low and left around the Wilson glacier and gain the ridge to camp, rather than picking our way up through the middle as some do.

Both the Lower Nisqually and the Wilson were in great shape – neither ourselves nor the other two parties we ran into opted to rope up for these glacier crossings.

Saturday, 6:00PM: Arrive at camp .  If you camp by the castle, there’s currently nice, clean, running water by the upper sites.  We skipped the water boiling routine, and haven’t gotten giardia, yet.

Sunday, 2:30AM:  Summit day!  We hit the trail and cross the Wilson glacier to begin the bootpack up the finger. 

Around 4AM, despite it being the coldest portion of the day, a softball size rock came flying down the finger between Zach and myself.  Although jarring, that rock was the only rockfall we witnessed throughout the day.

6:00 AM: Sunrise. After 9000 french steps, we reach the top of the finger.

At the top of the finger we went high and left above a serac before hooking right onto the Upper Nisqually Glacier.

We roped up here. The upper Nisqually was still in great shape – only a couple of snow bridges to cross on the way to the summit.

Slow going on the last couple thousand feet. We chose to continue booting, however, skinning with ski crampons would have been an equally reasonable choice. A group of Canadians did so, and we played rope team leapfrog for a while.

11AM: Summit! We snacked and transitioned quickly, as we had just barely made our turnaround goal. Just enough time for a ski guitar summit picture :).

Conditions were perfect corn on the way back to camp. The terrain was fantastic, and the scenery unbeatable.

We took a leisurely pace packing up camp, and ended up getting back to the car around 4PM.

What a fantastic weekend on the mountain. The Fuhrer finger delivered everything that was expected, and more – absolutely worthy of it’s reputation as one of the best ski mountaineering descents in North America.


Mt Adams, South Face

Mt Adams, South Face

Monday, June 25th, 2018

We had planned to do this one a couple weeks ago but the weather was bad. This weekend however delivered perfect climbing conditions so we trekked south for a Mt Adams climb.

Leaving Seattle on a Friday is a loosing prospect to begin with. Then there is the location of the mountain itself. It is said that Glacier Peak is the most remote volcano in Washington, but I think I would rather do a few extra hours hiking, than the five hours in the car it took to get to the town of Trout Lake. All the same, we camped out on Friday night which made for a relaxing morning on Saturday where we slept in, made breakfast, checked in at the ranger station and drove up to Cold Springs where we started out from the trail head by 11:30pm.

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We stopped for lunch at 7000 ft where the snow finally became skinnable. By 2:00 pm we were moving again, making it to Lunch Counter camp by 4:00 pm which allowed for casual evening.

The next morning we were up a little after 5:00 am and on the move by 6:30 am. We topped out by 11:00 am, rode the south ridge down and were back at camp by noon. It was a gorgeous sunny June day and we enjoyed every minute of the climb crowd negotiation included. We were back to the car by 3:oo pm. The snow was soft but sun cupped and made a choppy ride down at certain points but warmed significantly from the day before. None the less it was good to check another Washington volcano of the list.

 

Mt Hood, Cooper Spur

Mt Hood, Cooper Spur

Friday, May 25th, 2018

We’re standing on the top of Oregon’s tallest volcano which by itself isn’t that impressive considering over 10,000 people attempt the summit every year but our path was windy one and for awhile the whole thing seemed unlikley so for now we are just happy to be here.  The Cooper Spur route on Mt Hood doesn’t get traveled nearly as much as its cousin route to the south. The steepness of the route combined with its relative inaccessibility early in the season while Cloud Cap road is still closed, increase both the physical and technical factors.

If you’re coming from Hood River the route follows the skyline up the left side of the mountain in what is obviously a desirable ski. We drove down from Seattle on Friday afternoon, stopped for dinner and started hiking by 11:15pm that night. We we’re concerned about rock fall up through the chimney at the top so we wanted to summit early before things started heating up.

The road is currently closed at the Tilly Jane Sno Park so that added an extra 3.5 miles and 1500ft to the day. Climbed up to 8200ft by 230am and we encountered 40mph winds and low visibility so we bivied to wait for the sun to come up. It was very cold.

At 6am we moved camp up to the bottom of the “climb” at 9k despite continued poor viz. At 830am we decided to bail on the summit because we didn’t feel comfortable snowboarding a route that we couldn’t see.

We had dropped about 500ft when suddenly everything blew off and the weather cleared. At this point we decided to go for the summit after all so we turned back around and finished the climb.

The final 2200 is a fairly sustained 50 degree pitch that requires front pointing with two tools. I only had one, so things were slower for me. The objective hazard from rock fall was mitigated by the wind keeping things cool. We opted to not rope up as an unarrested fall would have been potentially fatal for the whole team due to the exposure below.

We summited around 130pm riding the line down that we climbed. It hadn’t really softened so the top 2000 ft was fairly icy. It made for a pretty gripping descent.

The corn skiing was decent between 9200 and 7500ft and mush after that. We got back to the car by 4pm.

It was a 17 hour day with about 11 hours actually moving. A very aesthetic natural line on the mountain with nice exposure and great climbing in that last 2k feet. It wasn’t the basic route to the summit and it wasn’t our typical climb but the results were great all the same.

Snoqualmie Pass, Holy Diver

Snoqualmie Pass, Holy Diver

Wednesday, March 14th, 2018

Having both been recently unencumbered by employment, Rory and I made plans for a weekday tour.   Monday’s forecast was for Sunshine and temperatures approaching 60F, so we brainstormed higher mileage tours that would avoid south facing, large and/or steep terrain in the afternoon.  The prior weekend was unseasonably warm as well, so we figured any good snow would be hidden on north aspects.

We settled on a loop in the Aplental backcountry with descents down a north aspect of Chair Peak and Holy Diver on the way out, and descents from Gem Lake and Snow Lake on the way back. For this route the larger more avalanche prone descents down Chair and Holy Diver are north facing and accomplished early in the day, before snow would be expected to be sliding around.  The route’s descents down from Gem and Snow Lakes are south facing and skied in the heat of the afternoon, but the terrain here is smaller and more manageable.  The ascents on this tour are favorable for a warm day as well – The south aspect ascents up Chair Peak and Mt. Roosevelt are accomplished early in the day, leaving shaded north facing ascents to Gem Lake and Snow Lake Divide for the afternoon.

GPX track for the day. 10 miles, 5400′

We hit the trail at 7:30 AM, just between dawn and sunrise.   Conditions for the tour up were hard pack, as to be expected with Sunday’s warm weather and refreezing overnight.  Travel got a little friendlier as the sun began to warm the snow/ice surface while ascending Snow Lake divide.

(L) Descent to snow lake from North Face of Chair Peak. (R) Rory scoping descent from midway bench.

The snow for our descent from Chair to Snow Lake was a bit firm and wind affected, however, the north aspect’s cooler temps and shade left a chalky edgeable surface with fresh snow scattered about.  Fun turns overall.

The ascent from Snow Lake to Holy Diver was steep, sunny and beginning to get warm. We topped out at 11AM and would have been in a tough spot any later in the day.

Booting to Holy Diver

 

Atop Holy Diver

Holy Diver held similar snow conditions to the north aspect of Chair Peak. Rory and I are typically snowboarders, but due to the mileage, amount of transitions and expected snow conditions, we opted to goon around on skis for the day.

Descending Holy Diver

After dropping holy diver we looped around towards lower wildcat lake and transitioned for our ascent and return southward through Gem and Snow Lakes.

We experienced a bit of loose wet activity on the afternoon’s south facing descents from Gem and Snow Lakes, but nothing unexpected or unmanageable.   We also noticed a small slide took out a corner of our uptrack to Holy Diver later in the day as things warmed, reinforcing our decision to tackle that bit early.  The bottom of Bryant Col. slid pretty big down to source lake as well.

Back to the truck at 2:30PM

Fantastic sunny day in the mountains, fist pumps and high fives all around.

Chair Peak Circumnavigation, Alpental Valley

Chair Peak Circumnavigation, Alpental Valley

Friday, March 9th, 2018

We went out in Alpental Valley on Saturday. For me, it was my first time out there on a splitboard. Our objective was to Circumnavigate Chair Peak.

We left from the upper parking lot at 8am and split up into the valley following the groomed track until it ended. At this point split left until we met up with the main skin track just below Source Lake.

The East Shoulder of Chair Peak was pretty crowded with groups skiing off every aspect, by the time we got up there around 10am. We dropped the north side down to Snow Lake making the best turns of the day.

The trail out the west side of the lake was set for us up to 4400ft where we bumped off of it passing the guys who had set it as they bailed off of Holy Diver due to warming conditions. After that we were on our own, breaking trail up to Melakwa Pass and then down the other side completing 3/4 of the pizza that is Chair Peak.

Finally the last sprint up to the top of Bryant Peak Couloir where we could look back down into Alpental Valley and at our last descent. The run back to the car could be made by the determined one footed snowboarder without a transition.

Warming temperatures couple with storm and snow and wind activity in the previous days caused a lot of loose wet slides on just about everywhere the sun hit. Early in the week some pretty big slides released leaving crowns upwards of 5ft on North East aspects and significant debris on our descents into Snow and Source Lakes.

Nevertheless the snow and the weather lined up very nicely for a time out in the valley

https://www.strava.com/activities/1434898096

 

Asulkan Hut, Rogers Pass

Asulkan Hut, Rogers Pass

Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018

I booked three nights at the Asulkan Hut after the third separate conversation when it came up last year. The hut was built in 1995  so who knows why it took so long to get on my radar but I guess I’m still relatively new to British Columbia huts so away we go, to Rogers Pass.

The long term forecast had looked nice for the weekend of our trip. A couple feet of new snow and clearing weather for the holiday weekend, but that changed as temperatures started to warm straining several already anxious persistent weak layers from earlier in the season. As we split out into the valley on Friday we passed the last two of our hut compatriots just as they were turning around unwilling to risk a weekend at the hut in unstable conditions. They mentioned that the other four folks who had also booked the hut had already bailed so just like that we had one of Canada’s best huts to ourselves.

We arrived at the hut a little before 2pm, about four and half hours after we had left the car. The sun wasn’t coming up fully until 8am and it was starting to set by just after 3pm so we called it early and saved it for Saturday. On Saturday the avalanche danger was not only high, but there was a special bulletin out discouraging backcountry travel in the region. With this in mind we stuck to lower angle runs below the hut like the tree triangle and the moraine. We triggered one slide remotely, probably about 300 meters across, going up for the last run of the day but kept it pretty safe.

More warming on Sunday and we decided to pack up and head out a day early. The temps were predicted to spike just above freezing resulting is a significant shedding cycle that we didn’t really need to mess with. We drove back to Seattle that night and promptly booked 3 more nights at the Asulkan hut for next year.

Crystal Mountain, Silver Basin

Crystal Mountain, Silver Basin

Monday, November 13th, 2017

Just a quick update on early season conditions so far. We went out in Silver Basin at Crystal on Saturday. There were probably about 50 cars in the parking lot when we arrived a little after 9am. It was wanting to snow so badly while we geared up but it was coming down mostly as mixed precip.

Our group of 10 split up the Quicksilver chair line more or less in some very heavy snow that didn’t really soften until we entered the basin proper at 5600 ft. From there we followed the skin track of 5-10 other groups who were already out there attacking Three Way Peak, the King and everything in between.

We took about three runs and several core shots before we turned around at 2pm and rode back to the parking lot. Good snow up high, still a little wet, but that will help to cover some of the sharks that are still lurking up there.

More snow this week. Fingers crossed for an early opening.

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