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Climbing Washington Touring Mt. Rainier

Lane Peak, Zipper Couloir

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, if it wasn’t directly in the shadow of Mount Rainier, the Tatoosh range would be it’s own National Park.

The gate into the park was a little late, opening at about 9:30am. We drove from Longmire up to Narada Falls under a nearly cloudless sky. Crossing the Nisqually bridge we considered skiing the Nisqually Chute but instead stuck with our original plan to head towards Lane Peak.

From the parking lot there was obvious debris on the apron below the Fly and Zipper couloirs from what was likely loose-wet activity the day prior. Considering the northern facing aspect, it looked like there was potential for crusty conditions but the trees were holding good snow and skinning up to Stevens Canyon Road from the falls we found light powdery snow that we were hoping for reassuring us on the conditions.

At this point in the season Stevens Canyon Road has been plowed so we threw the skis over our shoulder for the short walk to the bend were we transitioned and rode the trees down to Tatoosh Creek trending west toward the base of Lane Peak.

Now the clouds came in on what had been blue sky all morning and it began snowing heavily. Crossing the creek we passed a group who was bailing due to avalanche concern. We continued on, following the skin track of an another group who appeared to be heading for the adjacent Fly Couloir.

Up until this point we had not committed to a specific objective, instead keeping an option open to ski either the Fly or the Zipper Couloir. At the tree stand that sits where the base of the two couloirs meet we decided to boot up the Zipper, being the steeper and narrower of the two as the group ahead of us was going for the Fly.

The climbing started out in thigh deep snow making for slow going, however as we ascended the booting eased up. As we climbed the snow began to warm and drop off the tree branches on the walls above. As the trees bombed the couloir the snow would pick up speed and mass flushing the slope we were on and creating significant loose-wet slides that could easily take you off your feet. We picked up our pace to minimize our time in this hazard zone and finally finished the remaining 500ft of the couloir by 1:30pm with no major incidents.

This time of year the gate is closing at 4pm and not wanting to get stuck in the park we hurried our transition to drop in. The day was still warming as well and the wet slides in the couloir were increasing in their frequency and volume. We skied the length of the couloir one at a time to reduce our exposure.

The turns in the couloir itself were incredible. The snow was soft and loose. A little too loose as sluff mitigation was critical after almost every turn. The apron had a lot of debris on it and made for some chunky skiing in spots. After this the snow warmed significantly slowing us to a crawl by the time we returned to the creek.

From here it was back up to the road and then a ski down to the car. We hit the gate at 3:50pm just before close.

We got lucky with the conditions. The skiing was great but the avalanche activity due to late spring sun on a northern aspect was much more than we anticipated. As is often the case it became a matter of timing. We got up and down without issue but any later in the day and we would have surely experienced significant hazard. Either way, another amazing ski line in Mount Rainer National Park.

Categories
Washington Touring Central Cascades Snoqualmie Pass

Mt Snoqualmie, Crooked Couloir

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.

South Shoulder with Red Mountain in the background

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.

Hard turn on the apron
Categories
Colorado Indian Peaks Wildernesss Touring

South Arapahoe Peak, Skywalker Couloir

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.

Categories
Washington Touring Snoqualmie Pass

Chair Peak Circumnavigation, Alpental Valley

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

 

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bf6vfvSHc0C/?taken-by=peakoftheweek

Categories
British Columbia Selkirk Mountains Touring

Asulkan Hut, Rogers Pass

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.

Categories
Olympic Mountains Touring Movies

The Brothers, East Basin

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

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

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

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

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