(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.
Route Profile: Mt. Erie's Zig Zag Route (5.7 or 5.8 II)
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