Touring Movies Snoqualmie Pass

Commonwealth Basin, Snoqualmie Pass

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:


Cutthroat Wall, Easy Getaway: No Surrender

20 years from now, Sam and I will say we were there, there at the birth of a classic… I’d be lying if I claimed that thought was going through my head as I down-climbed towards the middle of pitch two after an ill conceived foray and subsequent fall in lichen laden territory on the Cutthroat Wall. As Sam belayed from above, and I placed gear on our retreat, the team next door was rapping after two pitches on Perfect Crime (5.9). Was Easy Getaway (5.9) an instant classic?

To answer this question, I must draw upon my extensive knowledge of Washington multi-pitch alpine routes of the grade. To be frank, I’ve climbed one other, Outer Space, which is an indisputable classic of West Coast rock. After the classic, I know what it takes. Sustained, steep, splitter. I’ve been on it. Case closed, right?

Easy Getaway is none of these things, not to be confused with nothing at all. It is dirty and wild and broken in a way that engenders intimacy. You can see the line up Outer Space from a mile away. On Easy Getaway, you can’t see the line for the lichen, ahem trees, when it’s six inches from your face. Crystals stud the rock in the afternoon sun while water rushes over a granite bench in the distance. Go for the rock quality, the setting and the adventure, but don’t expect a straight shot to the top.


Park at the Cutthroat Lake Trailhead a few miles east of Washington Pass. There are free campsites on the creek side, if you need a place to crash. Follow an overgrown road bed climbers left of the main trail. Cruise this for longer than you think but no further than the creek. Bushwhack up left along the path of least resistance. Trend right. The base of the wall is level with a set of broad waterfalls. The base is characterized by a large granite bench.

Disclaimer: Sam and I were off route for portions of this climb. Some of our pitches were shorter, some of them were longer than described elsewhere. Let it be a warning and an example of the merits of the route.


Head up and left from the granite patio to a corner that takes pro. Cruise this towards the small roof, which is easy to send in a move over to the right. Climb up slab/crack. We belayed from a horizontal crack at the base of block. Probably could have ended earlier.


Lead up and right from the belay into a clean orange corner. Beware, the corner continues with nice, albeit filled in, cracks to the base of a block above. Don’t go that way. Head right out of the corner shortly after you enter it.

We overshot the corner and had to down climb back to the top of P2.


Really nice layback crack on this one.


Up and right to the small overhang (1 or 2 moves). Ride the corner all the way to where it dead ends in the overhang. Undercling and step out along horizontal cracks that lead out of the corner. We belayed at a small tree right at the exit.

Sam climbs towards the first root, headed into the Zebra Corner.


Sam took a burly lead through dirty slab up and right from the belay. I’m pretty sure we were off route here, but he did a great job. Great hand cracks up to a tree belay.


More fun and engaging climbing up through a deep blocky crack. I managed to squirm my way up the left crack. Sam found face features just left of the block system that got him through. Easy climbing as high as rope length/drag will allow.


Scramble up and to the right from the top of your last pitch if it’s not too hairy. Contour around until the head of a gully with a rap station. Rap. Sam found an old rope jammed in the chockstone at the end of the first bench. Our 60m rope didn’t get us all the way. We rapped again from cordellette and an old biner at the second bench.

The scramble down from here is steep and loose. It funnels into a bedrock gully where it’s quite easy to release rocks. I wouldn’t want to do this with people above or below. Pinball alley.

North Cascades Climbing Touring

Mt. Shuksan, North Face


They told us the approach would be hell this late in the season. It was, but we’ll never admit it.

The Details

Car to Base of White Salmon Glacier, 4:00-7:15

We parked at the gate to White Salmon Lodge, left the car at 4am and walked the road past the lodge to the base of Chair 8.
There was plenty of snow. Material online and on paper described two ways forward from here. The first has you traverse along Shuksan Arm, maintain elevation where you can and generally avoid the dense brush in the valley. The second has you drop immediately from Chair 8 through an old clear cut to the valley floor. We went with option one and found a suitable place to cross the first (of many creeks) several hundred feet upstream. In general, our route from here maintained elevation along the Arm. We did a fine job, but sloppy snow, cliff bands and creeks made progress relatively slow. This approach worked well, though would have been better with more snow. We felt smug as hell on the open slopes below Shuksan. Where was all the alder we’d been warned about? Naysayers be damned!

Open Slopes to Base of NF, 7:15-9:00

With plenty of light, and a clear view of the saddle below the NF, we picked up the pace of travel. The debris field beneath the Hanging Glacier impresses the power of the mountain upon the observer. Don’t mess around.

We trended climber’s right and wrapped up and around a large rock outcropping in the path to the saddle. In retrospect, trending climber’s left  might have been more efficient, especially with more coverage. The snow surface was variable. Frozen and hard in some places, and soft in others. Wet skins and loose corn eventually brought us to the saddle. We had a quick snack, donned harness and threw skis on our packs.

Traverse from Saddle to NF, 9:15-9:45

We were roughly an hour behind schedule, but decided to push out toward the face. This section has a lot of exposure. Cliffs rise to your right, and Price Lake is visible several thousand feet below. The slope isn’t that steep but it left me on edge. At this point, we were pretty concerned with the quality of the snow. It was wet and soft to a depth of 10-15 inches. Even though this section had received sun for several hours, it was clear it hadn’t frozen the night before. As boots displaced snow, we kept a very close eye on the progress of rollers down slope. They didn’t entrain other snow, generally broke up a dozen feet below us. We proceeded with caution into the hot sun.

NF Ascent, 9:45-12:45

Tim and I took stock of the line, and the terrain we just crossed. We acknowledged that we didn’t want to retreat along the traverse later in the day given continued solar affects. We committed to topping out. The first 500 feet had some large cracks. We navigated them without too much trouble and avoided the main runnel that runs down the face wherever possible. One can see exposed rock above, and the lines written by releases of yesterday.

We trended climber’s right and at about 6,900 ft (10:45) passed through a notch between two rocks. At this point, exposure from cliffs above the lower face decreased. We took a deep breath and established a rhythm as snow firmness increased with elevation gain.

It’s worth noting that this section of the climb is steeper and receives less early morning sun this time of year. The breeze picked up as well. Tim set a g-o-r-geous boot pack in firm conditions on the upper face. I wished I had a second ice tool.

Lunch & Options, 12:45-14:00

The rock that borders the top of the climb make an excellent lunch perch, with astounding views to Price Lake and the valley below… Not to mention the summit pyramid of Shuksan. When we left the car that morning, we weren’t planning to ski back down the NF. Needless to say, the climb hadn’t changed our minds. We had two (reasonable) options from here. Circumnavigate the summit pyramid (and possibly summit) or take the Hanging Glacier to the White Salmon (via the Upper Curtis). The decision was postponed until we toured up to the saddle SE of our resting place.

From here, we were able to see the upper reaches of the HG to our west and the Crystal to our south. A quick look at the time and the smooth corn to the west, and we made the easy decision to save the summit for another day. In retrospect, this was a fantastic choice.

Descent to End of Snow, 14:00-16:00

Perfect corn down the HG to the Upper Curtis. We were cautious for several reasons, the most obvious being cracks. We also didn’t want to miss the entrance to the White Salmon, somewhere to skier’s right. As we approached the ridge separating the Curtis from the White Salmon, Tim wondered if we could tour up along the Arm. Anybody know if that’s a viable route?

Our last few cuts on the Upper Curtis were a turning point in the tour. All of a sudden, loose wet became a major concern. Hot pow cut from our tracks slid slowly down the steep glacier.

At the top of the White Salmon, the snow is less exposed to the sun. We evaluated the terrain and plotted a route down. The first 500 feet were consumed boarding fall line on quality corn. There are many roll-overs, we paused atop each to avoid boxing ourselves in.


The temperature increased dramatically and snow quality suffered. The remainder of the descent was spent minimizing exposure to wet loose. We traversed left across the slope toward mellower terrain, cliffs below. Nothing major released, though some slow movers plodded away.

Some good hot turns and a few short carries took use all the way to the end of snow. Phew. As we drank the last of our water and shared a final bar, our thoughts turned to open roads and full changes…


The Alder Path, 16:00-17:15

The Arm wasn’t on our list. It was hot on the way in. We knew it was a dead end on the way out. We generated a mental map of the valley, noting where we’d break up through the trees toward Chair 8. It looked close, doable in an hour.

The first 30 minutes were spent trailing creeks, reminding me why I like summer in the mountains. Then the undergrowth got thicker and thicker. In retrospect, it wasn’t too bad…

We were close, maybe 200 yards from the clear cut. The alder was thick, and we’d been up and down the creek looking for a place to cross. We back tracked to the pool below the waterfall and charged in. Drained boots on the far side, wrung out socks and swore never to admit the alder had been as bad if not worse than David claimed it would be.

We’re on it Now, 17:15-19:00

One of Tim’s many great qualities is his ability to buy in, to validate the reality and cultivate an attitude that gets you through to the other side. Coming out of the valley was tough. Tim wrestled his way up steep slopes through the trees and brush. I tagged along.

There’s not much to say about this section. Not much advice to give. I guess do it early in the season, or don’t do it at all, or just do. When we finally squeezed through the brush onto the gravel road below Chair 8, we were a thousand steps from dry feet and a big gulp of water. Amen.

Bye Bye Big Gulp, 19:00-22:45

We arrived at the car triumphant, having just passed a nice couple on their way to a sunset picnic. Bags hit the pavement, I threw my ski boots off and started digging for the vest that held my keys. When I saw all 3 zippers gaping, I knew immediately. The keys were gone. All the times I’d thrown that thing around flashed before my eyes. For all I knew, they were sitting at the top of the North Face.

Bye bye big gulp. Bye bye dry shoes. We were stuck. Eli, Tim’s brother came to the rescue. After mere seconds of pleading, he agreed to drive out to pick us up. He even grabbed a spare set of car keys from my beloved housemate, Evan.

Tim and I killed the time doing laps up to White Salmon Lodge to stay warm. We ate palm fulls of crushed ritz crackers and begged water from kind motorists. By the time Eli arrived, I was fading in and out of cold sleep on the pavement. Tim was whistling to himself, mumbling about northern lights.

North Cascades Touring

Ruby Mountain, North Cascades

Animated Route Map

Weather busted our long-standing plan to climb Rainier this weekend. Coastal mountains do that to long-standing plans. Short-term developments dropped the crew down to me and Sam.

Storms rolled through the region most of the week, but tapered on Wednesday/Thursday, leaving us with the possibility of good turns and decent stability on Saturday. Our route search quickly took us to the North Cascades. We considered going after something high and alpine, like Colonial Peak, but ruled that out. A recent T-A-Y post points to a difficult approach and we weren’t keen on the exposed traverse below Pyramid Peak in current conditions.

Digging deeper into the grab bag of Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Routes: Washington (BSSRW) yielded Ruby Mountain. After a bit more research, we committed to Ruby. Elevation (7,408 ft) and aspect (north) would stack the deck for preserved powder from the recent storms.

As we drove through Concrete on Saturday morning, Sam asked if I’d seen the discussion surrounding Amar Andalkar’s turns post on Ruby from 2012. I hadn’t, so Sam filled me in. Amar’s report sparked a philosophical debate about why and how to document backcountry travel, particularly as it relates to “secret stashes”. BSSRW, with its description of Ruby, was published 2 years later and has since inspired much of the content on this site. What do you share? How do you share it? Skiing Ruby provided a great opportunity to reflect.

As a relative newcomer to the sport, I’m mostly a consumer. I haven’t pioneered new routes or lines. That said, every time I go out, I see something no one has seen before. Winter terrain changes constantly and those changes dictate where you go and how you get there safely. That safety piece is about collecting data at home and in the field, then applying it to make decisions. I consume data provided by professionals and individuals. Whenever I go out, I produce data with every sense at my disposal. I benefit through that consumption, it consistently brings great joy. Do I have a duty to share what I produce?

As an Open Source Geographer, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a beginner in a community of “perceived experts”. I see parallels between the ethos of backcountry skiing and open geo. And both communities are changing. Over the last decade, forces of industry have driven more and more people to open source tools. If those tools want to be useful to more than just the “experts”, they have to evolve or risk irrelevance. The forces are different, but similar shifts are taking place in backcountry skiing.

I don’t know what it meant to be a beginner ten years ago, but I do know what it means to be a beginner now. Most of the people I ride with are also early in their backcountry journey. Did beginners primarily ride with other beginners 10 years ago? Tell me, I don’t know. As beginners, we rely on the same sources of information. Sometimes that information isn’t great. You don’t have the same context that experts do and context is safety. I view these reports as a sharing of context, primarily for beginners or others seeking to progress… “I thought about this, I did that and it cost me, I did this and it went well”. In the mountains, context is safety. How do you accumulate context safely? Maybe it’s a new paradigm, maybe it’s not.

Standing on top of Ruby Mountain, with Cascades in every direction, I knew it wasn’t an issue of terrain. Skill, time and climate change are the limiting factors here. Ruby is easily accessible and in the guide book, secret stash no longer. That said, not an easy tour. Furthermore, what percentage of the mountain was actually skied yesterday? I envy the folks who came before and I thank them for opening an unknown world to me. Rest assured, it’s still discover to me, even if it’s well documented, and there’s a skin track, and a few other groups. Perhaps someday, the context I gained there will propel me into the unknown.

aSo, onto the details. Check out this MAP

8:45 am – Ross Lake Trailhead

No snow in sight, we’ve surely got some booting to do.

Skis on?

Start skinning?

9:45 am – End of Happy Creek Trail

The trail ends near a waterfall. Climb up slope along the east side of the creek. You don’t have to venture too far to avoid the steeps.

10:20 am  – Meadow at 3,400 ft

We put skis on here. You can see the top of Ruby over the trees. We followed the skin track south east out of the meadow. This is the less direct, but less densely shrubbed option described in BSSRW.

Skis on

This snow may not linger long…

12:30 pm – Lunch Stop

We’ve been following the skin track, which trends climbers left up through the forested valley.

Let's eat

Let’s eat.

1:10 pm – at treeline

Snow quality improves as we climb. Ice forms on the bottom of our skins. We continue to trend up toward the ridge south east of the summit pyramid.

Upper mountain

Wide open

2:30 pm – Summit

We soak in the views, survey the area and prep for the ride down.



Sam cruising the upper mountain


I triggered a small wind slab with a 5 inch crown on our second run down after I went over a convexity at the top of the slide. I skied out of it without incident.

Summary: had a great day with Sam, good to get some vert and explore a new area. Very inspiring part of the cascades, much more to do up there.

Touring Snoqualmie Pass

Red Mountain, Snoqualmie Backcountry

For a visual tour, jump to the ANIMATED MAP.

David and I had big ambitions for the weekend. We’d hoped to ski the North Face of Mount Shuksan. That line stares you in the face from the Baker ski area. Unfortunately, injury and questionable snow stability convinced us this wasn’t the time for an attempt.

So, keeping with form, we turned our eye toward Red Mountain, clearly visible from Snoqualmie Pass, and slightly less committing. The result was a great, early-spring day in the mountains.

David, Bish and I left the car at 8am. We toured up Commonwealth Basin in firm conditions. Navigation wasn’t much of an issue. The deep snow pack provided ample opportunity to cross zigzagging creeks.

A ramp extends from the SW of the peak. We followed that to above treeline, then cut a skin track up and across the SW face. The slope is sustained and gets steep enough at the top that we switched to boots.

Great view up on the ridge. We stuck to exposed rocks during the transition. At the time of touring, big cornices hung off the north face.

By the time we dropped, sun breaks had done their work and the first 1,000 feet of turns were packed powder.

Back in the valley, the snow was wet and deep. Best cement that side of I-90.

Pioneer Mountains Touring

Pioneer Mountains, Sawtooth National Forest

So far, the season’s been great, no complaints after a wreck like last year. But a cold snap in early January and heavy precip over mid-month weeks wreaked havoc on snow stability in the cascades. The bottom line… We have so much snow, it insists upon moving en mass. That rules out a lot of peaks, too many.

So, cornered in the lowlands, or tepid lift lines, we did what any good peaker would do, packed up the whole operation for greener pastures with no regard for human cost. The logistics were staggering. I’ll never forget the night David burned his couch to make room for stacked carbon copies. To speak of broken friendship. Regret beyond recompense. And worst of all, we carried a lingering sense of dread that every road led to financial ruin.

The day was unseasonably warm and wet in Seattle. Water rose in my basement as I locked the front door. Walking away, I wasn’t sure anything would be left when we got back…

Pioneer Yurt Trip near Sun Valley, Idaho

wrapping up affairs. cred: Brian Behrens

headed for greener pastures. cred: Andrew Powers

through these blades be Pios. cred: Andrew Powers

Our terrible purpose led us to Hailey, Idaho, where the mountains are high and the snow is dry. If you don’t know Hailey, maybe you’ve heard of Sun Valley, a resort town in south central. It’s a pretty upscale spot, but boy oh boy, there are mountains everywhere around there. We booked a yurt through our friends at Sun Valley Trekking for four nights in the Pioneer Mountains, just east of town.

Pioneer Yurt Trip near Sun Valley, Idaho

“What do you guys think, should we hit the airport in Hailey first?” Check that one off the list… cred: Brian Behrens

What we knew… The Pio yurt is high. At 8,700 feet, we had a good shot at consistently cold temps and a deep base. Towering peaks abound. Hyndman Peak (12,009′) is within striking distance in addition to a variety of closer, yet no less extreme objectives on adjacent peaks and ridges.

What we didn’t know… The Pios are notorious for high winds that shift dramatically over the course of a single storm. As we walked the streets of Ketchum, and rubbed shoulders with the good folks at Backwoods Mountain Sports and Lefty’s Bar and Grill, we quickly realized that commitment to high and exposed terrain had to be a game time decision. It’d be all-time or wind loading would trap us in the yurt. We had to get out there to find out.

Damn. Okay. Cred: Andrew Powers

Dreams carried us into the mountains… Only dreams could drive us out.

January 22nd, 2016

Duncan Ridge
Our first full day at the Pioneer Yurt was a bit of a leisurely one. A heavy snowstorm outside as well as an elevation adjustment were both contributing factors to this. We had received a tip that the tree skiing off of the south side of Duncan Ridge was good on stormy, low-vis days so we set off to scout out our new environment.

Tiff laying one down

Breaking trail in the two feet new snow that continued to fall made for slow going, but many hands made light work and with nine people in our group everybody got a turn on the snowplow. We topped out at 10,900 ft and rode the ridge back toward the yurt. Good, steep, open tree skiing with enough snow to bury a small SUV on a hard carve. We will revisit this zone again.

Eyeing our couloir from the bottom of Cobb

Cobb Peak
After lunch we were ready to do some more exploring. In anticipation of a future Cobb Peak attempt we thought it wise to preempt a skin track for later use.

From Duncan ridge we had eyed a short couloir of the north side of Cobb around 10,000 ft so again we set off, making itonly to about 9,200 ft before an unstable storm slab forced us to change plans and bail up into the valley below Hyndman. The snow continued to show no signs of stopping.

January 23rd, 2016

Cobb Peak, Comma Couloir
After approaching Cobb from the southwest we finally reached the south bowl and got a great vantage point on the ultimate objective – comma couloir.

Since we were short on time and had no previous beta on the winter route, we decided on a route that had us entering the couloir about 1/4 of the way up by traversing through the rocks to the west of the couloir proper. It looked achievable.

The bowl went from flat to steep quickly and soon we were setting a boot pack in waist deep powder on 35 degree powder. It was laboriously slow but fine safety-wise until we got to the traverse. It was a foot of powder over rocks everywhere. This was difficult to navigate as the snowboard boots were unable to track against the Rock and we kept slipping. Not to mention if you got caught in a slough here the snow would take you down 400-500 feet.

The clouds came in and out but there aint no stoppin Behrens

So we turned it around 1k shy of the summit and boarded down. If I could do it again under the same conditions, I would probably enter the couloir at its proper base. It’ll take longer but it may be doable. Ideally though you would hit this peak in the early spring once the base is a little more set in place. That would likely allow the traverse.

Big Basin toward Old Hyndman
Sam, Spencer and I left at dawn for a summit attempt on Old Hyndman. We got to within 500 feet of our objective after a long tour up valley. Turned around due to stability concerns on the couloirs below the peak.

Duncan Ridge, Night Ride
I think everybody had got after it super hard at this point and was probably pretty beat given that we were a few days in and feeling well acclimated. However that did not prevent us from taking advantage of the full moon and going for a midnight run.

Any clouds that may have lingered during the day from the storm were completely gone by sunset but even though it was clear the wind was kicking up snow creating a kind of haze around the moon that prevented it from illuminating the surrounding hills as brightly as it might normally. Regardless there was still plenty of light to see by when we stumbled out at 12:00am.

We had stayed up by drinking whiskey which served a double purpose of keeping us warm in the single digit temps. We chose the ridge because by now we were familiar with the zone and it sat sheltered at the end of the valley where the wind was sending most of the snow. So a group of 12 set off into the night to ride waist deep pow.
Cred: Charlie Coultas

January 24th, 2016

9920 & The Peanut
Looking for a bit of a cool down from the previous days Cobb Peak, we headed out in front of the hut for some casual turns. We had eyed a southwest facing slope from The Peanut the day before that desperately needed some turns on it. We were happy to oblige. A few teams had been up this direction on other days in various capacities but had always rode back in the direction of the hut.

The weather was sunny, and fairly warm at this point and the skin up was quick despite having to break a new trail. By far the nicest day we had on the trip and the turns down the backside also fell into that category as well. From there we split up the tree line on the back side of The Peanut topping out on it, for a run back to the hut on a face that also insisted on being skied, despite the obvious wind scouring that had occurred the previous day. The fact that we opted for a clearly inferior run due a primal urge to put tracks down this particular aspect, while perfectly deep turns sat only 200 yards away speaks to just how good we got it in Idaho.

Stevens Pass Movies

Jim Hill Mountain, Lanham Lake

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.

North Cascades Climbing

Vesper Peak, The Ragged Edge

Heading into the first weekend of August, Sam, David and I knew we wanted to climb. After heavy traffic on the Tooth and bad weather on Ingalls, we were looking for something less traveled with high quality rock, 4+ pitches and more challenging moves. On Vesper Peak The Ragged Edge route passed all criteria with flying colors.


Sam planning happily on Friday night

We left the car at 9:15 am and even then, the hike up Trail 707 to Hardlee Pass was hot, exposed and beautiful in the morning light. We crested the pass at about 10:45 am and got a nice long look at the granite summit of Vesper Peak as we traversed the talus field directly after the pass.

The trail then crosses the outlet of Vesper Lake and climbs out of the lake basin toward the peak (scramble route). At some point, we decided that we should have left the scramble trail at the lake outlet. We could see a very direct looking couloir to our right. We down climbed to the base of the chute and powered to the top.

Looking down the couloir to the outlet of Vesper Lake

As we huffed and puffed our way out of the chute, the trail was in sight and several people we saw earlier in the day cruised by. Evidently, this “direct” grind did not save any time. That didn’t stop us from breaking from the trail immediately, veering toward the eastern flank (hiker’s right) of Vesper Peak. This turned out to be a good move.


Sam and David head north east

After about 10 minutes of rock hopping, we arrived at a saddle on the north eastern side of the mountain where we gained outstanding views of the glaciated valley below. The rest of the approach wasn’t clear immediately. From this col, the approach traverses west under the north face of Vesper Peak. This is high consequence terrain, take your time and watch your step. You’ve reached the base of the climb when you can’t go any further without getting on rock. 2.5 hours to here.

Hugging the north face of Vesper

We geared up at the base of the first pitch and were sure to leave nothing behind. The Ragged Edge is a relatively new route (~2 years old) and while the rock is solid the climb took a bit of way finding. In some ways, this was complicated by the fact that the first two pitches trend west across the face.


Sam takes stock at the top of pitch 2

After pitch 3, the route really starts to shine. The exposure is phenomenal. They call this The Ragged Edge for a reason. The route heads up a jagged, blocky rip in the middle of the face.

Scaling the edge on pitch 5


David cleans the final piece

The Ragged Edge exceeded our expectations. It presented a lot of opportunities to learn without unnecessary risk. Climbing aside, this area is an absolutely spectacular section of the Cascades with plenty of exposure to alpine splendor.


After a quick walk off the summit and dip in the lake, we were on our way. The car was a welcome sight at 7:30 pm. Another great day in the mountains.

Refer to this map to avoid our mistake: