Category Archives: Washington

Cutthroat Pass and Winthrop

In early July, my friend from Michigan, Nick, came to Seattle for a visit on a long road trip. Last time we hiked together was on Mt. Timanogos in Utah! I figured since he already had plans to visit Olympic and Mount Rainier National Park, I’d show him a little bit of our least-visited, third national park: North Cascades.

Unfortunately the weather was a little bit cloudy for us as we climbed toward Cutthroat Pass, a high mountain pass with trail access located just east of Washington Pass on SR-20. I didn’t realize until the trailhead that the Cutthroat area is not really in the park boundary. Nevertheless, any day in the North Cascades is a good one. We hiked along easy trail to Cutthroat Lake, occupying the head of the valley, and snapped a couple of photos before beginning the well-graded switchbacks up to the pass.

We soon broke out into the open, alpine terrain that makes north central Washington so beautiful. This area would be ridiculous in fall – I’ll need to come back and visit or maybe move a little bit east to the Pasayten Wilderness for a more extended trip.

We met up with the PCT at the pass and walked along it for a mile or so before encountering some lingering firm snow slopes that we elected not to cross over. Instead, we enjoyed the views with lunch and watched as the cloud deck pulled up a little bit and afforded some views of the local granite peaks.

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Mount Adams ski descent

Mt. Adams

12,280′

6700′ gain

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.

St. Helens:

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Earl Peak / Navaho Peak Ski Tour

Earl Peak – 7036′

Navaho Peak – 7223′

Map recreated from memory: Hillmap

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.

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Desert Hiking in Vantage

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.

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Washington Inbounds

I’ve been awfully silent on here for a few months: I’ve been busy skiing, often sticking to in-bounds terrain at our fantastic resorts where a full blog post feels like a little bit of overkill – I’ll compile them all here instead. There have also been some good downhill and XC ski tours that will appear on here separately.

November 22: Mt. Baker

Mt. Baker is always a great choice for the early season because of the volume of snow they get – it builds up the base super quickly. Becca and I had a solid day skiing on and off-piste on springlike snow under blue skies and open clouds. The best part of a blue sky day on Baker is the view of Mt. Shuksan, the mountainiest mountain of them all! Run of the day: Austin

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Early Dec: Mt. Baker repeat

This was supposed to be a snowy day but it got a little warmer than anticipated and fell sticky and drizzly instead and the visibility was pretty poor. We still had a pretty good time lapping Chair 8 and Chair 6 while the rest of Washington’s ski areas stayed closed. Run of the day: Oh Zone to Daytona

Also early Dec (12?): Crystal Mountain

Headed up to Crystal Mountain with a friend to take advantage of a free pass that would only be valid through the end of the year. It was my first time at Crystal so I explored the resort a bit but the visibility was pretty bad. Run of the day: Green Valley main bowl.

December 19: Crystal Mountain POWDER

Ohhh man was Crystal great. Knee deep powder was harvested in the hike-to Northway and Southback zones. The video captures it best:

We started in Northway with 3-4 runs in Morning Glory and the trees on the ridge skier’s right of Penny Dawg’s, then did a few runs in Green Valley before travelling over to the Southback to finish the day.

Run(s) of the day: Morning Glory Bowl to Brand X, Southback Traverse to Silver Basin headwall (The Beach)

January 9: Stevens Pass

Stevens was odd today. It was sunny on the West side but a cloud loomed over the pass from the east side and made the light flat all day. Parking and lift lines were a mad house but some of the groomed trails were okay. There was pretty hoar frost on the trees on the backside runs. Everything was pretty chunked up and crusty though off piste and it wasn’t the best day of skiing. Run of the day: Pegasus

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January 16: Crystal Mountain

Today greatly exceeded expectations! It was too warm in the parking lot but the temps were pretty decent up high and it was snowing big flakes which refreshed the off piste terrain a little bit. We had a mixed group today so I spent some time cruising groomers around Forest  Queen and some off piste in Green Valley and Campbell Basin which was actually really great. Run of the day: Campbell Basin and Powder Bowl.

February 20: Crystal Mountain POWDER

Best day of 2016 so far! About a foot of powder fell over the prior 48 hours and Southback had not opened in two days due to avalanche danger. The day opened in full sun as we did laps off Chair 6 while watching the Southback gate. It finally opened up in time for us to harvest the goods with a couple of laps off the Beach in Silver Basin (quickly becoming my favorite run in WA). Video turned out pretty great too.

Run of the day: Silver Basin (duh)

Feb 26-27: Whistler Blackcomb

I split a condo with some really solid skiers and boarders to enjoy a long weekend up at Whistler. I wrote about Whistler last year; it is crazy large and I’m always blown away by the amount and variety of terrain to choose from. I’m hoping to hit it with better snow conditions one of these times.

We divided our time pretty evenly with Blackcomb in the mornings and Whistler in the afternoons. Friday was cloudier but conditions had stayed fairly cold and the groomers skied well. There was some packed powder and conditions weren’t too icy for the most part. Run of the day: Spanky’s Ladder. Saturday started off with blue skies and about an inch of new snow to freshen things up. Runs of the day: Blackcomb Glacier, Harmony Ridge to Low Roll