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

 

Norse Peak Overnight Ski Tour

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!

Blewett Pass / Tronsen Meadow

Got a late start heading to Yodelin for some trees on this considerable avy day to find that the parking lot was completely full from Stevens overflow parking! Instead, we diverted to Blewett Pass which allowed for much more solitude, but we didn’t begin skinning until after noon so the tour was pretty limited. We made it as far as the NE/E flank of Diamond Head via some XC trails before meeting another pair of skiers on their way down from the DH/Windy Knob saddle area, reporting windscoured, rocky conditions. We called it a day and found some really nice pow in the low angle trees on the north facing rib off DH on the way back to the car. The glimpses of blue sky were a plus.


Looking across US 97:

Windy Knob from the NE flank of Diamond Head

Winter Awaits – Paradise Tour

After watching the Snotel telemetry like a hawk for a few days, I bet that the recent torrential downpour in the Cascades wouldn’t beat up the early season snowpack too badly above Paradise. With a few inches of snow forecast following a nice cold front, we headed down to Rainier for our first turns of the year.

As we passed through Puyallup, we saw a thin layer of snow on the trees and fields and our spirits rose. I don’t remember seeing that at all even in the depth of winter last year! The hills around Ashford were beautiful in white and green.

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Conditions at Paradise were windy with an inch or two of fresh snow drifting considerably. We skinned up to the slope below Pan Face but the wind picked up and scoured the slopes clean to the icy rain crust, so we turned around. The best snow was in the trees just above the parking lot. Coverage was OK – large rocks and creeks were still quite open. Edith Creek valley needs more snow.

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Edith Creek from below Alta Vista
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Powder in the trees below Alta Vista. Yummy.

The mountain even came out for a little while and we got a bit of sun.

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