I’ve done Adams twice before and its outstanding south ski slopes have turned it into what I hope is an annual pilgrimage for me. Both times I chose to climb/ski it in a day instead of camping over – both of these are brutal due to the long drive from Seattle and the very large amount of gain. This time we elected to camp and I think it was a good variation.
David and I arrived at Cold Springs campground in the early afternoon on a Saturday and struggled to find parking, per usual. I think backcountry skiing has gotten more popular even in the short time I’ve been doing it myself. We lifted our heavy packs and started out walking on dry ground, for around an hour until we hit the around the mountain trail. We transitioned shortly after and started skinning up Suksdorf Ridge (the winter route, skiers right). We gained, gained gained elevation and I could tell my conditioning wasn’t what it was last year – thankful that we were breaking up the climb into two days. However, my new Dynafit Denali touring skis and bindings were a huge weight improvement over my old set. It was especially apparent on such a long ascent.
After a few hours we made it to our campsite at around 9000′ on Suksdorf Ridge, among rocks overlooking the ‘lunch counter’ area. We could see the massive south slopes that we would ascend the following day. We also considered descending the Southwest Chutes route, but that would involve carrying over our overnight gear and the high snow level made the traverse back to the trailhead a bit of an unknown.
The campsite was gloriously scenic as the sun set that night.
David and I headed up Stafford Creek after seeing some encouraging trip reports in the more westerly reaches of the Teanaway earlier this month. We may have missed primetime by several weeks but there were still some great turns this late in the spring.
We pulled up to the Stafford TH at around 7:30 AM Saturday and headed uphill with skis on packs. We didn’t transition until after making camp after the summer trail crosses Stafford Creek at about the 4800′ level.
Earl Peak was on our agenda for the remainder of day 1. We crossed the western branch of the creek at the Trail 1369 crossing (5000′) and skinned along the western bank of the creek in a northerly direction, avoiding the steeper rocky bands on the left before hanging a sharp left into the obvious NNE facing bowl of Earl Peak.
Rather than skinning directly up below the summit, we gained the ridge at the second saddle point on the NE ridge via more moderate slopes then booted/scrambled the ridge to the summit.
Andrea is in town this week and had never been to a desert before, so I figured that this was the time of year for that kind of adventure. We headed eastbound on I-90 through the Kittitas Valley, stopping in Ellensburg to avail ourselves of a wine tasting Groupon before continuing along to Vantage (a bit over 2 hours total).
Crossing the Cascade crest at Snoqualmie, one can sense a dramatic change in the landscape as the next two dozen miles roll by. Dense Douglas and silver fir forest transitions to drier, more open stands of Ponderosa pine. Passing through the city of Cle Elum, the forests turn to grassland and alfalfa fields. The contrasting ecological regions are a consequence of the Cascade rain shadow, where Pacific moisture rises on the west slopes and falls out as precipitation near the passes, drying out the air before it makes it to the other side. East of Ellensburg, the rain shadow effect is at its strongest, producing an arid shrub-steppe landscape straight out of a Western movie. It may not technically be a desert but it sure looks like one.
Our first stop was in the Gingko Petrified Forest State Park, where we enjoyed the polished petrified wood specimens at the interpretive center for a few minutes before heading out on the trail. The trail started north of the visitor center on Recreation Road, crossing mostly BLM land I think (trailhead description here). The terrain was open and afforded good views of the Columbia River and lots of wildflowers. We saw a few mountain bikers but nobody else.
Jeff, Becca and I headed up to the ridge east of the Crystal Mountain ski resort for some winter camping and skiing in the Norse Peak Wilderness. We toured up from the Upper C parking lot along the snowshoe track into Bullion Basin before ascending to the ridge on the W/SW aspect of the basin.
My relative inexperience showed as I found the kick turns on the steeper lower slopes of the basin to be surprisingly sketchy with the couple inches of light snow on top of the Thursday rain crust – the track kept sliding out and it would have been possible to take a long slide over some steep rollovers and trees. I ended up booting the middle 1/3 which was significantly more secure.
Once on the ridge, we made an surprisingly sheltered camp south of pt. 6654 and took a quick lap on the highpoint before it got dark. We awoke to beautiful blue skies and 3-4 inches of light snow that had fallen overnight!
After breakfast and coffee we ducked over into Cement Basin for some beautiful turns with enough new, light powder to smooth over the crust.
Rain runnels were evident up to the highest point on the ridge, building confidence that the weak layer problem had been successfully nuked on Thursday. We then toured north along the ridge, bagging the unnamed high point south of Scout Pass and continuing along to the moderate south ridge of Norse Peak. We stuck mostly to the west side of the ridge and were able to find plenty of clear spots in the trees to navigate without much trouble.
I spotted a party of two in Cement Basin in the early afternoon:
After a summit snack, the visibility began to diminish as clouds rolled in from the south. We skied our uptrack along the ridge but ducked west along the PCT after Scout Pass. We broke camp, then enjoyed creamy afternoon turns all the way down the main line on East Peak. This was especially satisfying after having spent several afternoons at Crystal admiring tracks on the open slopes.
Beautiful area, great weather, and I hope to spend more time in the future exploring farther out into the wilderness and MRNP!
Mt. Baker has been staring me in the face for months, ever since I started hiking Central Cascades peaks again. Rising almost straight out of the ocean from some viewpoints, Baker towers over the North Cascades with one of the most extensive glacier systems in the lower 48 states. While nearly 4,000’ lower than its neighbor Mt. Rainier, prodigious snowfall more than makes up for the difference when it comes to ice and snow.
This trip was lead by Radka and Chris, a couple of instructors with the Mountaineers glacier ski and snowboard travel course. This was the second year that they had agreed to lead a trip for recent graduates of the course like myself, and I had to take advantage of the opportunity. (See C&R’s turns-all-year trip report)
Mt. Baker made me a little nervous as a ski objective. There were a lot of “news” associated with this trip: first time summiting a glaciated peak, first time skiing on a glacier unroped, first time wearing crampons with my ski boots, first time climbing on steep snow as a rope team. Most of all, I was concerned about my admittedly not awesome skiing ability when considering the “Roman Wall” on the upper mountain. I had skied to 30 degrees steepness on Mt. Adams with no trouble, but under icy or hard snow conditions, the 35 to 40 degree Roman Wall would be some of the tougher skiing I’d ever done outside the resort, and with pretty terrible consequences in the event of a fall. This kept me thinking twice about whether I should join the trip, but ultimately I resolved to go along, knowing that I could hang out at the summit crater and wait for the rest of the group to summit and come back down if I didn’t like the looks of the conditions.