This season has been fickle so far and there have been very few windows of favorable conditions.
After a decent storm that set down 25″ over the weekend, the clouds cleared and Presidents Day offered us one of those weather windows.
Bish and I met a the new market at 11:30am with the intention of going up Mt Snoqualmie and finding something to ski. Starting from Alpental and noon, we set a skin track up the Phantom slide path until we ran into another track that we followed up the South shoulder to the summit.
Once up top, we took a look down the Slot but it had already been skied pretty good by that point in the day and it was looking chewed up. Instead we decided to ski the crooked couloir off the summit which was much broader with fewer tracks.
The entrance into the top was steep and required a little billygoating to get into but after that it opened way up for some nice deep turns all the way down to the choke. At the choke the couloir takes a 45º turn left and tightens into what can sometimes take the form of an ice buldge. Today it had been scraped by other skiers but the coverage was good so it was easy to maneuver.
This placed us out on the apron of the Slot that we skied down into Thunder Creek Basin to about 4600′. Here we transitioned and split back up to the notch getting to the top at 5pm. We skied down the front side and made it back to the car just before sunset.
In the week it took me to write this it has snowed another 1.5′ and then rained 5″ on top of that so once again everything is toast. Get it when you can.
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.
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.
We made it out to Bullion Basin for what possibly could have been a very wet afternoon. We had received some snow the week prior, but it warmed and rained on Saturday.
We arrived to the trailhead parking lot around 8:30 am. Stumbling out of his car, we saw Kyle Miller and his buddy stumble out of their camper van only to confirm the rainfall they had seen Saturday. The freezing level had risen to nearly 6,000 ft. on Saturday and saw quite a bit of rain. After conversing with Kyle for a bit, he showed us the sweet K2 Aspect boot coming out next year. The boot looks dope. Kyle put them through the ringer this past year (150 days on ’em) and they still seemed to be doing well.
We then began up the trailhead traveling on switchbacks through the forest. The trail clearly had seen a bit of rain over the past couple days and was icy in spots. One area required a short boot up a steeper pitch. The weather was all over the place on Sunday. In the time we spent traveling up the switchbacks up to the basin, we saw heavy overcast with low visibility, followed by snowfall and sunny skies.
As we started to climb out of the basin up to Bullion Peak the sun broke again giving us clear views of the loose wet pinwheels that had moved prior to our arrival. This was the only sign of avalanche activity we had witnessed throughout the day.
After reaching the Bullion Peak we decided to ride the same stuff we were looking at on the tour up. This would get us some great turns we could clearly see and allow us to see how the snowpack felt while riding. After taking a short lap down from the peak it was clear a rain crust had formed on all aspects below 6,000 feet. This kept us making shorter runs, keeping to the upper elevation.
We headed our way back up and took a lap down Union Creek. Once again, on the tour up we saw just about every type of weather the day had to offer. Overcast, high winds, snowfall and bright sunshine. The turns down Union Creek were great until again, rain crust at about 6,000 feet. The new rain seems to have stabilized recent storm snow, but doesn’t make for the turns we all love.
All in all it was a great day for some exercise and fun in the mountains with friends.
It’s also worth mentioning, David and I both were dealing with issues on our Karakoram Flip-Speed Risers all day long (not the first time). We both love the new design of these over the old and think they’re easy to switch between different climbing modes, but we’ve had nothing but reliability issues with them while climbing. Mine actually broke in half this tour. David’s replacement pair (2nd he’s owned) kept failing him as well. Flipping down to flat while they should still be in climb mode. Hopefully the crew at Karakoram will shed some light on this and we will get something on the blog if they do.
Andrew and I were liking what we were seeing in the forecast for Saturday so we split for the east side to check one off the list. Cannon Couloir has all the essentials that make up a classic Washington ski tour, a long road approach on skis, an endless bushwhack, a ptarmigan. Turns out we just took a wrong turn and both the bushwhack and the ptarmigan could have been avoided. But the weather stayed positive and the snow stayed soft.
We left Bridge Creek Campground at 7:15am with continuous snow from the parking lot, and split the road up to 3000ft. Rather than waiting for the creek to meet the road, we dropped a few hundred feet to meet the creek for a questionable crossing and a nasty fight with every known plant native to the area in some really steep terrain. That was a bit discouraging and added an extra 40 minutes on to our total time spent in the mountains, however once we got back on track around 4000ft it was much easier going and fairly straight forward from there.
We took the overgrown service road for a short time at about 4500 ft but bailed on it when the brush got too thick for it to be an efficient way to travel. From then on we more or less followed the ridge up to 6500ft where we took a short lunch and transitioned to ski crampons for an icy bit of terrain before the snow got deep again in the burned trees. From there we were touring through some real powder until the last 100 ft where the crampons made one more appearance.
At 2:30pm we topped out just as the weather was clearing and the wind was dying down. Dropping into the couloir the snow was packed but soft after that deep turns were the norm with some hardpack thrown in just so you don’t have too much fun and the occasional icy patch to keep you honest.
At 6000ft we hung left and traversed out through some pretty wet snow that had seen some high freezing levels quite a few of wet slides. At 4500ft we made it back to the ridge where we were able to thank the dudes in front of us for setting a good amount of the skin track.
Back at the car by 430 we passed quite a few snow shoers, sleders, ski mountaineers, bird watchers and the like. It really is a true recreational area and that’s what makes Washington classic!
It was cold when we left the city, and even colder when we pulled up to Heather Lake trailhead for our New Year’s Eve adventure. The goal: summit Mount Pilchuck via the non-standard northeast route.
– The Non Standard Route
The day started off with driving decisions. The gate blocking the road up to Mount Pilchuck trail head was still open (it is now closed), but the road looked ugly and caused us to turn around quickly. If you had a pickup or jeep with clearance you would have a shot.
So we parked at the Heather Lake lot and started skinning up the established hiking path around 9AM. We immediately ran into an issue. There were large trees that had come down, blocking the trail and making it excessively difficult to travel on skis. I had earlier proclaimed this would be the trip in which I would monitor my body temperature diligently and not sweat. Optimism is one of my quirks.
– Tree Tunnels!
The trees only lasted for 0.5 miles then the trail cleared up for easier travel. Within two hours we had reached our first objective, Heather Lake. At this point the trail ends and the route-finding begins. After considering Bob’s Couloir for a minute, we opted for a different couloir just to the northwest.
– Looking up at Bobs
It looked gentle enough. Soon though, we happened upon some cliffs and had to navigate up, through, and around. At this point, kicking steps took approximately 9-10 strikes each time because the snow kept sloughing off the cliff. This was very sketchy and not recommended in early season. With another 2-3 feet of snowpack it would be a reasonable objective for a competent skier.
– Gearing up for the NNS Couloir
After topping out on Never Not Stopping Couloir (we named it) and attaining the ridge, we ate food, boiled some water, and kept going. This next section was also interesting. It was true north facing and had some deep snow and beautiful ski lines. Unfortunately we were still headed up and the beautiful ski lines made for difficult skinning. Also note there are many cliff bands in this section and the topo map likely needs to be updated. To get through it all, I recommend traversing west for 0.5 miles after the ridge and then heading up the mountain through some notches in the cliff band. You’ll have to maneuver a bit here but it goes.
– Traversing through fields of pow!
Soon we came upon the snow field, where we got our first views of the summit and the second party in our group who were heading up the standard route. By this time we were about 8 hours in, it was dark, and we had to use headlamps as the moon had not yet risen. After eating and debating stopping, we kept going up the snowfield. Travel was fairly simple as we found the ridge again and followed it up to the summit block.
– Scott & Tiff killin it on the other side of the mountain.
The final effort required traversing underneath the summit block and boot packing up Gunsight Couloir (east facing). It’s fairly steep, but the snow was good and it went smoothly. We topped out on the summit ridge at 10 PM. So if you’re doing the math it took us 13 hours up in total. I think we could have done it 2 hours quicker with more snow on Never Not Stopping Couloir and the subsequent snowfield. Nevertheless it is a long day.
– Nerve endings on the toes took a bit of a beating on these boot packs.
The best part of the climb, though, was our friends waiting for us at the fire lookout with smiles, christmas lights, adult beverages, and open spots on the floor to sleep. We watched the new years eve fireworks splash across western Washington at midnight which was a nice distraction from what was going on to the north east, Aurora Borealis was in full form behind us beaming up over Three Fingers and dancing across the sky towards Mt Baker.
We descended via standard route the next day, which was mild skiing, but recommended if you are low on energy.
Upon full reflection, the non-standard route was a blast. I wouldn’t trade this trip for any of them. 2016 is going to be good
– Tim Patmont in collaboration with Charlie Coultas
I took my friend Mel up to the Yodelin area at Stevens Pass. We’ve been getting hammered with snow in the Pacific Northwest this December and I wanted to get her into a zone with lower consequence considering it was her first time out on her splitboard.
We got up to the nordic center around 9 am. The parking lot was about halfway full, but it seemed to be with only families sledding and wandering around the base area. We saw only 2 other touring groups throughout the day. The first group was two skiers skinning up about the same time as us. We saw one skier skinning up solo as we were leaving. I wouldn’t recommend riding solo based on the amount of tree wells in that area (I always ride with a partner). Yodelin appeared to have seen about 10-20 people touring the days prior based on the previous tracks.
We were able to reap some great rewards. The snowpack felt very stable. We saw no slide activity in the area. My biggest concern with Yodelin would definitely be the tree wells. We saw and battled many that got very deep in areas. Keep your partner within viewable distance, which can be hard in the dense trees.
We stopped after our first short lap to do some beacon training. It’s the first time I’ve done it this season, and I highly recommend everyone brushes up on this each year, or major trip. In every group people are of varying abilities and you always want to be sure you feel safe with your partner(s).
Happy trails and enjoy the deep snow we’ve been blessed with this season out west!
With the second storm in two weeks coming through the Cascades we took a quick trip up to Stevens Pass on Saturday for some winter analysis on the area. Tye Peak was the test subject and offered some shelter from the snowy weather which only got more severe as the day went on.
We started from the parking lot in about 6 inches of light fluffy snow that got deeper and deeper nearing Skyline Lake. The lake is frozen over, although we still opted to skin around it and then up to the ridge at about 5220 ft.
Dropping off the other side down into the creek is still fairly exposed and if you trend left to stay higher up in the top of the basin you have to navigate some very big boulders. However we found if instead you ride straight off the ridge the turns are better, steeper and a lot better coverage. In this way you end up crossing the creek at about 4400 ft.
Going up Tye Peak the stability above treeline was solid although with the increasing weather a storm slab was beginning to develop. There is about a foot and a half on top of the old snow from earlier this week but the rain seems to have removed any weak layers.
The turns were deep off of the top and no further testing was required. The results are in, winter is here!
Hungry for some rock pitches, Tim, Andrew, and I set out for Ingalls Peak on Saturday 7/25. We weren’t going to let a 70% chance of rain/snow and 30 mph winds slow us down!
The approach follows the very pleasant trail towards Long’s Pass before heading West, up and over Ingalls Pass. None of us had been to Lake Ingalls before so we were all excited about the new terrain. It sure felt like a beautiful place from the few glimpses we got, but we mostly were looking at clouds. In fact, the entire Ingalls group was masked in clouds, so we had one false start and headed up a boulder field towards the wrong notch on the ridgeline. We soon realized our mistake and had a mini adventure finding our way to the start of the climb.
In typical fashion, the rain picked up as we arrived at the base of the first pitch. Finding shelter under a small overhang we racked up and soon Andrew was plugging his way up the fun, gigantic cracks that comprise the first pitch. Tim and I were basking in our wind protected belay stance but could hear the howling up above. Andrew brought us up to the first ledge and the shivering commenced.
The first pitch…with extra rope drag!
The second pitch was a short one to the base of the final slab, which has a beautiful, easy crack up the middle. Well, it was actually nasty and wet and felt pretty hard, but in our sunny imaginations the rock was great and the climbing easy. On top we took in the clouds for about 2 minutes, snapped some photos, and got out of there. Two double rope rappels got us down. A couple nips of whiskey and an hour and a half of hiking got us to the car, right in time for the sun to start shining.
This one is a bit over due. I wasn’t planning on writing anything on the Dragontail hike, but it was such a rad trip and I was kind of thinking that it deserves its own place in the log of peaks here.
We started around 8 am from the Stuart Lake trail head, leaving the splitboards at home for lack of snow. I had been up to Aasgard two weeks before with the intention of snowboarding but the snow is scarce below 7800 ft.
2 hours up to Colchuck Lake. Stopped for a long lunch and another 2 hours to the top of the pass. Plenty of snow up top but not much below. It was the first weekend of permitting in the Enchantments for the season so we saw few people throughout the day. From the top of Aasgard we hiked along the North side of the basin on mixed snow and rock until about 8400 ft where you take the obvious traverse up to the saddle at 8500 ft. From there it is just a rock scramble up the south face with great views of Iron, Earl and Navajo Peaks, to the top where the rest of Washington comes into view, a little less that an hour from the top of the pass.
The trek back to the trail head is probably the hardest part of the day after the water runs out and the dogs start barking, but the scenery never gets tired, and the four of us, Shawn, Maddie, Alex and I made it back the the truck by 7 pm. Plenty of light left.