Saturday, January 31, 2009

XC Skiing - 01.31.09

With most people unavailable this weekend, I asked Ken if I could join his "Intro to XC Skiing" group. I didn't need the lesson, but it wouldn't hurt me either to get more learning in.

Ken warned me I didn't know what I was getting into. He told me it would be slow without a whole lot of skiing. Well, at least I would be outside.

In a good turn of fortune, Ken accidentally brought his skate skis. So he borrowed my track skis to teach, while I spent the time on his skate skis. I have been wanting to try skate skiing, and this was the perfect opportunity.

Upon first getting on the skate skis, I found them easier to handle than track skis. They edge better, and since they were 25cm+ shorter than my track skis, easier not to trip over. Conditions at Crystal Springs were icy with just a touch of fresher graupel on top. The conditions were not ideal for learning.

Originally, I found myself poling too much because I was unable to work my feet correctly. Later after Ken gave me some pointers, I started to get the hang of it. However, since you build speed quickly when skate skiing, I would lose my rhythm quickly once I got going too fast. I was even able to skate down modest hills (on green trails.) It was super difficult to skate up steeper slopes, where I resorted to a herringbone walk. Overall it was a fun learning experience. Perhaps next winter I'll take up skate skiing?

No pics. Left the camera in the car.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snoqualmie Skiing - 01.28.09

Steve called at 8:30 this morning and said he wasn't working. He wanted to know if I wanted to go ski. I told him to pick me up in an hour.

Since I wanted to be back in town at 4pm, and since avy conditions weren't great, we decided to poach some lines at Snoqualmie West, which was not opening until 4pm for night skiing.

We skinned up from the far west parking lot through the trees. There was about 7-8" of fresh snow on top of the previous crust. Steve was able release a few small slabs just above the water towers. We skinned to the top of the Pacific Crest Chair and transitioned for a run. West of the chair was ungroomed, while everything east of the chair had been groomed. We made a run down the lift and through Julie's on surprisingly good soft powder. At our bottom transition, a ski patroller came by on a snow mobile and told us to watch out for the groomers, and to have fun. For the second run, we decided we would hit the 360° bowl for more powder. However, conditions had changed and lighting was so flat we were having difficulty reading the slopes. The snow wasn't as good as the previous run. Most likely due to wind and periodic sun. So we skinned up one more time and hit the groomers all the way down to the lot.

The first run was best, and they deteriorated from there. Snow pack is horrible right now, and I would imagine the pass will get closed once or twice in the next few days due to avalanches.

We drove back and were in Seattle before 3pm.

Some pics are here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mt Erie - 01.26.09

Steve and I decided on doing some rock climbing at Mt. Erie on Monday. Skies were to be clear, and temps around 40° up in Anacortes. This was our choice after being somewhat tired from our Saturday climb, and not thinking the skiing was going to be all that great.

We had a leisurely start to the day, and left Edmonds around 8:30am. Our intention was to climb in the Snag Buttress area of the mountain, and check out some new (to us) routes in that area. Steve's main interest was in the route Touching the Sky, a 5.9 sport route accessed from Snag Buttress. That meant climbing the first pitch of Zig Zag (5.7) to get there. Once on the ledge, we determined that the down climb, and water seep on the route meant we did not want to do it. Instead we opted to climb up the ledge slightly above the top of Snag Buttress where there were multiple routes to chose from. We opted for the Ray Auld Memorial Route (5.7) which brought us up to the top of wall.

We hiked around a bit trying to make sense of the maps and crags. We stumbled upon a short blocky sport route which I am thinking might be A View to a Climb (5.6) on the Lumpy Crag. Hard to tell. We climbed it, and just west of the top we were above the Friction Slab area. After that, we played the typical Mt. Erie find the best way down game. We looked through the book and followed some weak trails down. (Made more fun by walking on slippery grass with rock shoes.) A free-hanging rappel off a Madrone tree and some bramble bushwhacking got us back to the packs.

It was a fun day. However, I seemed not mentally up to the climbing and had difficulty at times with moves/grades that are well within my ability. Also of note, was the generally crummy rock quality and lack of good protection in some areas. Plenty of relic pitons and old bolts around too.

Coming up Zig Zag (photo by Steve Machuga)

Steve leading up Ray Auld

Show off

Saturday, January 24, 2009

McClellan Butte - 01.24.09

Yet another time on McClellan Butte, and another time not making the summit. The first time I had been there, Jennifer and I hiked up the first summer we were in Seattle. In the last 500' or so before the summit it was snowing. When we arrived at the final summit scramble, it was too wet and slick for us to attempt.

This time the goal was to do the North Gully or North Couloir route. Avy conditions had been low and Steve, Julie and I were going to give it a try before more snow fell. However, we were thwarted by another individual that was in our vicinity. We were heading up the correct gully, and saw him heading farther west. Since none of us knew the route, we started heading west. After wandering around, we came back east, and eventually climbed the north west gully.

The climb was enjoyable, and had a very different flavor than what I would expect a spring ascent to have. From the parking area, the snow was bulletproof. No need to snow shoes. Almost a need for crampons. We hiked up the trail and veered off around 2800' heading directly toward the couloir. We found the abandoned road and continued up in the snow field below the gully. (Later, on descent, we would notice that we could have taken the trail all the way to the clearings below the gully.)

This is where we saw some woods above us. According to our pictures, the gully should be continuous, and this is also when we witnessed the lone individual heading farther west. We started going into the next gully, and then the next after that. We realized we were too far west, and headed back one gully and started up. This wasted some time, and it was around 11am when we stopped part way up the gully to have lunch. (There was a reasonably flat area, which we weren't sure we'd see too much more of.) With crampons and ax, we all soloed up to the top of the gully where the angle reached about 45° or more.

Steve then led out belayed up a short 3rd class rock step and more gentle snow. Things still looked promising for us to be summiting. Although where we were didn't look exactly like pictures we had. We took our crampons off and Steve led a belayed rock climb through snow and 5th class rock to a sub-summit of McClellan Butte. We could see the true summit and the correct gully. Which is much steeper for the last 200' or so. (Perhaps 60°) After Julie and I arrived on top it was close to 2pm, and we needed to get down. There were flurries in the air, and we weren't sure about the best way down. After a bit of down climbing on the hard steep snow, we rappelled a rope length, and more down climbing got us back into the gully we ascended. From there it was a slow climb down the gully, and a moderate hike out on the trail. We left the crampons on all the way to the car.

The correct gully

Overall, it was a fun time. I don't feel I climbed all that well, but I have been getting sick as Jennifer was sick most of the week. I haven't felt particularly strong because of it. Also, I was still recovering from last week's blisters. (I did a lot of work to the right foot, but none to the left foot before the climb. The left foot wound hurts more than it did this morning, while the right foot does not.) Also the McClellan Butte trail has some of the largest Douglas Firs I've seen in the I90 corridor. We saw some mountain lion tracks in the snow on the way down as well.

My pics are here.
Julie's pics are here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Missed Opportunities

So without employment getting in my way, and a great weather system for climbing, you'd think I would have posted more trip reports in the last week.

Well, this is what I was trying to avoid when I mentioned my planning not always cooperating. Or is that the weather not cooperating with my planning? Anyway, weather has been great, and I was unsuccessful in getting partners for last week. Now that I have an influx of partners, I have an injury (blisters) that is keeping me from climbing. I am not happy, and I could be out doing a lot of cool things. Hopefully I'll be healed up enough for the weekend to do something fun.

This is the exactly the type of thing I need to stop happening for me to have a more fruitful and enjoyable climbing season. It also makes me more aware of the scheduling aspect of climbing. I said I would be more open to changes of plans, but I think I need to be more strict about my plans. I should come up with a plan for the good weather, and then find a partner. Not put multiple objectives on the table and find someone who may be willing to do them with me. The shotgun method is not working. Time for some sniper accuracy.

4 days after.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Paradise Skiing - 01.18.09

(Almost) Spring skiing in January.

With the recent inversion, spring like ski conditions were being found at higher elevations while Seattle temps hovered around freezing. With the help of mostly south facing slopes, we headed to Paradise to check out the scene. Our first mistake for this trip was probably heading out too early. We left Seattle around 6am, and we were under way up the slopes around 8:45.

The snow was frozen and icy. Very icy in spots. The road to Paradise was closed for a few weeks, and we could see tracks from the previous two days. The snow will get softer we kept telling ourselves.

Without crampons for our skis or feet, we had to be careful in places. This meant boot packing up Pan Point. It was very icy, and we had to use available steps as kicking with my plastic ski boot was only making a 3/4" indent. After booting a bit above Pan Point, we decided it was once again safe to start skinning again. This decision proved incorrect, as we both lost our edges at different locations, and fell on the ice. My fall had more drastic consequences as I was trying to transition back into boots, and had both my skis go for a ride down hill. (I now know in sketchy conditions to keep the leashes attached until I am out of my skis.)

After my fall, Dan and I discussed our options. Snow was still too hard and icy to make a safe decent. Above where we were at, the snow was more wind affected and didn't look as fun to ski. So going higher didn't seem to make much sense either. Especially if the snow does not soften too much. We decided to continue to 8000' and stop. We had lunch and waited for the snow to soften while watching the ever present train of ants climbing up the snowfield. Those people had the right idea though. Starting later to have softer snow.

Once we decided the snow was soft enough, we started to head down. The first turns were alright. Then we crossed the icy area above Pan Point were we previously fell. We boot packed a bit through the rocks and then opted to ski a bowl on the eastern side of Pan Point. The bowl was some of the best turns of the day. Nice corn snow, mostly smooth surfaces, and fun contours.

This is where things went down hill. (Literally, and figuratively.) Dan took a steep gully down to the next basin. It was beyond my ability to ski, so I decided to try and boot it down. However, with the ever present wind, the sails (skis) on my pack made balance difficult. I still felt too sketched to attempt this narrow gully with rocks on foot. So I put my skis back on and attempted to find the blue or green way down. I met up with another couple who were having the same dilemma. I ended up skiing ever gentler slopes as I could not find a path down that looked comfortable to ski or boot.

At some point, I got on a well used snow shoe trail. Figuring this was the "way out" I followed it. A bit later, I met up with a family on Nordic skis. They informed me I was on the Mazama trail, and that I should head back up. However, I knew that heading down placed me on the Reflection Lakes Road. A combination of skiing and booting got me down to the road, and I skinned back up to Paradise.

During our separation, Dan had gone back to the car and waited for me. Then reported me lost to the ranger. It took me nearly two hours longer to get back to the car than it did for Dan. (Including a 45 minute skin up the road.) When I arrived back in the lot we informed the ranger that I was "found" and left for home. I think we both learned something about party separation. I also realized that going up early would have made more sense than what I did. The end result was me being a bit dehydrated and getting some nasty blisters. While Dan was getting a scare about my whereabouts and condition. Unfortunately, we had no means of communication, as neither of us had cell signal. Not even in the parking lot.

My pics are here.
Dan's pics are here.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Slush Skiing - 01.08.09

With avy conditions being high or extreme all week, Ian was itching to get out now that the conditions settled a bit. Our plan was to wait and see in the morning if I90 or Highway2 would re open. Neither was open at 9am when we left Seattle. So we headed toward the Mountain Loop Highway. Our original intent was to bring both AT skis and Nordic skis. But we decided on Pilchuck as a destination, and left the Nordic skis at Ian's. Ian had rented some AT gear that he wanted to try out.

There was plenty of flooding to be seen on the way. New small creeks running down to the road. Larger creeks running over the road. Some side creeks running over their bridges. The South Fork of the Stilliguamish was running high and hard. Arriving on Pilchuck Road, we noticed there was no plowed area to park. Not to mention the rest of the forest road was not plowed, but not well covered either. And it was raining hard. We made a decision to continue up the highway in search of better conditions. We got to the winter closure at Deer Creek and decided that we would get out there. This is a tour better suited to Nordic gear, but we only had the AT gear with us. So we started skinning up the road in the rain. We stuck to a compacted part of the trail so we wouldn't sink in deep to the wet concrete like snow. Eventually, the rain turned to mostly snow. Higher up on the trail we witnessed the signs from the heavy rains. Deep (30"+) crevasses carved out of the snow pack from running water. It was like a mini canyon. We crossed the first of the 'canyons' and after meeting with a few more, decided it was time to turn around.

The ski down was slow and non eventful. It was raining when we got back to the car.

No pics. Raining to hard to bring the camera.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Rainbow Falls - 01.05.09

First post of 2009!

Steve and I gambled on the impending weather doom* to see if we could hit some ice in Leavenworth. Our gamble paid off, as it never went above freezing in Leavenworth, and we even had a "mostly sunny" day.

We weren't sure what was in and what we could climb. So we headed up the Icicle to see what was there. First stop was Rainbow Falls, but we saw another party gearing up, so we continued on the road. We drove all the way to the end of plowing around Bridge Creek. There were assorted ice climbs that were visible from the road. Some not. Most of what we could see would involve wallowing long distances through knee/waist deep snow to get to. Other interesting looking formations involved inconvenient crossings of Icicle Creek. So we headed back to Rainbow Falls.

We parked at the Snow Lakes trail head and walked across the street. The approach was about 2 minutes of deep snow hiking to the base. There was a small section near the right, where the falls were still running. Steeper sections of the falls looks great. Lower angle portions had a fair amount of snow on them. (Maybe 6-8")

The other party was climbing the steeper far right side of the falls. We opted for the stepped middle of the falls. Steve had first lead. He picked his way up a ramp through the middle and topped out. He built an anchor and brought me up. The ice was variable. Some sections offered great ice for climbing, while other sections had little or no ice. Some sections required quite a bit of snow cleaning even as the second. After I topped out, we made the decision to walk off. Our 60m rope would have been too short to rap the route. The walk off was long and through deep snow. Steve and I sometimes went in up to our thighs.

When we returned to the base we had hoped to climb the right side. However, a third party arrived, and were climbing it. So I took the lead on a slightly different variation up the middle. What Steve and I thought would be better ice, turned out to be more of the same. Only steep vertical sections proved to be great for climbing. Sometimes the ice above a bulge was scary and made for unsavory moments. I was a bit tired and gripped when I reached the last step before the top out. I down climbed back to a good screw with a decent ledge, placed a second screw and brought Steve up to finish.

After the walk off, it was near dark and time to go home. We had some frozen gear that we needed to sort at the car and dry out at home.

Overall, this was a great experience for Steve and I. It was our first ice climbing this season. It may have been Steve's first time on waterfall ice as well. It was interesting, because of the highly variable conditions that we experienced. If the ice was better throughout, we would have enjoyed climbing it more, but wouldn't have gotten the experience we did.

My pics are here.
(I've included some of Steve's pics.)

*A warm spell with above freezing temps up to 3700', and rain. Making avalanche danger rising to extreme for 4000' and above. (High avy danger below.)