Olympic Mountains Touring

Hurricane Ridge… er, Heather Park, The Olympics

After a nice Thanksgiving I was presented with the opportunity to stay on Bainbridge Island, halfway from my home to this week’s destination. We set out at the crack of dawn for Hurricane Ridge with the plan of ski touring. The snow conditions were promising with infinite visibility – vistas of Baker and Mt Rainier amped our stoke levels as we drove toward the Olympics. And then there they were. The beautiful Olympics finally enjoying their winter coat after being totally bare for a few months during our west coast drought.


We got to the Heart of the Hills ranger station gate around the scheduled opening time of 9 am. Roads were icy and we were informed that the sand truck had broken, with a road status update coming at 9:30. The ranger seemed to be letting us down softly so we began backup planning. Our most knowledgeable team member of the Olympics came up with Heather Park as a backup destination. After relocating the cars we geared up with our setups on our backs, starting at the Mt Angeles trailhead (elev ~1800′) just off the Heart of the Hills campground.


After 2.1 miles of hiking on top of a dusting, two of us went into tour mode at a landmark known as Halfway Rock (elev ~3200′). The other two carried on booting up the well defined trail. Hard to say which method was more efficient but it was nice to get the weight off the back.


After a mile of touring I realized I had skipped brekkie and the day before I consumed the smallest thanksgiving meal in the history of thanksgivings so I was bonking hard. After injecting about 100 grams of sugar I pushed my way up to meet the rest of the crew up on a saddle between First Top and Second Top (elev ~5500′) near the heather park shelter. We never saw the shelter, not sure if it still exists.


The views up there were great, And given more time we would have pushed on to Klahanee Ridge.


The snow on this particular day was excellent. The top section was definitely lap-able and given more time we certainly would have done just that. Instead we hit about 800 vert feet of open pow field and then back into the track.


And back in the track we were… For all you mountain bikers, this is excellent cross training. READ: use protection. Bring a helmet on this single track run and ditch the fancy mirrored lenses if you like that coating as tree branches to the face at speed were a regular occurrence in the top section. We rode the 2 miles down to Halfway Rock hootin’ and hollerin’ all the way down as we passed several hikers.

The snow got slick and coverage started to get pretty bare toward the end but the top section had plenty of pillow options. Overall the track portion was very playful on a board, but skiers might have a tougher time with this track. Our skier wasn’t as stoked on the trail as we were but he enjoyed it nonetheless.

With the gear back on the back we booted down to the lot for our much anticipated après. We were informed that the correct decisions were made in terms of backup planning as Hurricane Ridge Rd didn’t reopen until noon. The Strava app showed a very even pitch up and down at about 1000ft/mile.

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 1.54.01 PM

Lesson Learned: don’t forget your hiking boots even if you only plan to tour.

Mt. Baker Touring Movies

Heliotrope Ridge, Mt. Baker

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.


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.


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.

Mt. Baker Touring Movies

2015 Mt. Baker Backcountry Opener

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!


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!

Mt. Rainier

First Turns of the Season

The forecast was looking promising going into the weekend with a cooling trend moving into Saturday afternoon and lots of precipitation. But we showed up in the parking lot at Chinook Pass a little before 10am on Sunday and it seemed most of that weather didn’t come through. Despite the absence of new snow, we are just excited to be back snowboarding in the mountains again.

There is enough snow to cover most of the major obstacles and make for a fairly non confrontational skin out to the east facing bowl below Naches Peak. It is still pretty low tide with some tricky turns to navigate down both the east and west facing slopes. Most turns result in a dirt slash or worse when there are rocks under foot but there’s enough snow to get down the mountain and even get a few fun blasts in when you find that good pocket.

It needs another foot to really get going out there, but with a big storm forecasted to come in this week it could be nice real soon. Fingers crossed we don’t get stood up again.