Tag Archives: backcountry

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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Mt. Baker Ski Ascent via Squak Glacier

Mt. Baker via Squak Glacer

10,781’

7000′ gain

5200’ skiable vert

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.

Baker’s south side

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.

Continue reading Mt. Baker Ski Ascent via Squak Glacier

Mt. Adams Ski Mountaineering

[Cross-posted in part from Turns-All-Year]

Mt. Adams South Rib

12,280′

6700′ gain (6000′ skiable)

Becca (a classmate from the Mountaineers ski/snowboard mountaineering class) and I headed up Mt. Adams from the parking lot at Cold Springs to take advantage of the beautiful weather window and no permit fees yet. This would be my second climb of Adam’s – after a trip on foot in 2012, I was really savoring the idea of a ski descent.

We arrived from Seattle after a 5 hour drive through Portland  at about 9:30pm and crashed for a very short time.

Frozen glaze at sunrise

We headed out at around 3am thinking the snow would get soft and sloppy early in the morning given the warm night. The first ~mile and few hundred feeet were on dirt but we hit continuous snow at 6000′, transitioned to skis, and found that the snow froze harder under the clear skies than we were expecting; a breakable glaze covered everything and made skinning a bit challenging, especially on the steeper sections. As we skinned up Suksdorf Ridge we got pulled a little bit too high below South Butte in the dark and had to backtrack a bit to regain the line.

The beautiful South Face

Continue reading Mt. Adams Ski Mountaineering

Ingalls Pass ski tour

This winter I had the opportunity to visit one of my very favorite places in the state in snowy conditions – namely, Ingalls Pass in the Teanaway area. I love the Teanaway because it generally has better weather than the Cascade crest closer to home, and the scenery is second to none in the Central Cascades in my opinion.

Esmeralda peak

We left Seattle fairly early in the morning, knowing that the toughest part of the trip might be the road in. Fortunately, with these unseasonably low snow conditions (! Do not attempt the drive this early on a normal year !) we were able to make it to the trailhead in a Subaru Outback. We also knew some fresh snow had fallen a few days before – the avalanche danger was rated moderate with a loose wet avalanche hazard.

We walked the first mile or so of the trail to an elevation of about 5000′ where we put on the skis and started skinning up (most of us at least – we had a snowshoer in the party). The skinning was fairly pleasant except for a section in the middle where south facing slopes had melted out leaving dry trail. The snowshoer did not appreciate the miles of sidehill traversing, something skis handled like a champ.

Continue reading Ingalls Pass ski tour

Ski Mountaineering/AIARE Level 1 Class

In November I started a course with the Foothills Mountaineers, called Ski and Snowboard Mountaineering with an AIARE Level 1 avalanche certification module included. There are lots of informative classroom sessions, but the heart of the course is a series of field trips.

Paradise Shakedown Tour

The first field trip was a quick jaunt up into the Alta Vista section of Mount Rainier National Park, not far from the Paradise visitor’s center. It was great to get a chance to test out all the equipment with some knowledgeable instructors there to assist, and we even got some views.

 

 

 

Snow conditions were largely stable, with a well-consolidated snowpack, although we did see some avalanche crowns from a cycle earlier in the week.

 

We were supposed to build snow shelters but the low snow conditions made that fairly challenging. I learned that the dense snow sets up as hard as concrete so we tried to cut slabs of it with some success. My sad attempt at a shelter might have kept me marginally warmer than being out in the open but I’m looking forward to trying again during the overnight field trip in March.

The ski down was not much fun – foot-wide runnels where water had run off the snow during a rain storm earlier that week made it difficult to make turns. There were also lots of exposed creek beds and rocks.

AIARE Level 1 Class

The American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE)  sanctions local avalanche training courses at multiple levels of depth. The Level 1 class is designed for backcountry enthusiasts new to the backcountry, and it taught a very important set of skills that will serve me in multiple activities through the snowier months.

There were four classroom sessions covering avalanche risk factors, how to read avalanche forecasts, human factors, safe travel techniques, and other pieces of knowledge. The heart of the course was a weekend with two field trips in the Snoqualmie “backcountry” where we got to put our book skills to use.

Day 1 consisted largely of avalanche beacon practice. We tested the function of our transceivers, got a sense for the working range, and ran two “realistic” victim rescue scenarios as a team. Those were definitely the most useful portion of the course. It rained pretty much all day, and the low snow conditions made things challenging (navigation around exposed bushes and rocks).

 

Day 2 was a group tour in and out of bounds near Summit Central – we practiced making decisions as a team and discussed potential avalanche problems. Even though it was a low-risk day according to the NWAC forecast,  temps reached over 50F so we were able to observe the precursors to wet loose avalanches (as if there was enough loose snow to even have a problem!)

 

This picture pretty much sums up the conditions: