Eileen Kutscha had suggested doing the Mountaineer's Ski Patrol Race as a preliminary event to the weekend at Meany Lodge that Scott Heinz had planned. While I wasn't staying at the lodge, I was interested in the tour, so joined up. The Ski Patrol Race was done between the Snoqualmie and Meany lodges of the Mountaineer's Club in the 30's and 40's. It runs roughly from Snoqualmie Pass to Stampede Pass.
For more information on the Ski Patrol Race, see Lowell Skoog's website: Alpenglow.org
The day started under cloudy skies, with rain occurring most of the way up to Snoqualmie Pass. Scott, Eric and I shuttled Eric's van and my car to the Sno Park at Crystal Springs. We got back to the five others waiting in the DOT lot around 5:30am. It took a bit for everyone to get geared up and we posed for a timed exposure to spell out "Patrol", but it only captured "Patr." We crossed the street and started skinning up the Mountaineer's Snoqualmie property around 6am.
Events started out smoothly as we skinned up the Mountaineer's property to the top traverse on the resort property and started south. We had a little navigation issue near the top of the Silver Fir chair, but we decided to go down the Outback slope and into the woods. Outback was icy and quite a few of us fell while trying to edge with skins on. We got into the woods and after some tree dodging we got on a groomed road that led us to "the Grand Junction." We took a navigation break, and headed out on the Mt. Catherine loop trail. Skinning was fairly easy on the groomed Nordic trails. We shortly arrived at a junction where we were to take "the Ripsaw" trail. This led us farther away from the resort.
We then arrived at Windy Pass. The next part was to circle under Silver Peak and this is where the long period of "off trail" travel started. We entered the woods around 4000' and crossed a creek. We then spent some time finding an appropriate elevation to traverse at. We knew near the saddle of Silver and Tinkham that we would need to be around 4300'. But we also knew we would fare well if we could stay on the PCT. However, finding the trail in the woods under all the snow was not easy. We were on the trail for good periods of time, but we cannot say we were on it the whole way under Silver Peak. The traversing was difficult. The uphill leg never seemed to get rest. Some sections in the trees were very icy with little edge penetration. Other areas had some fresh snow and felt more secure. Overall things went smoothly if not slowly over this course of the trip. We had some minor redirection and map consulting at points, and there was some sketchy gully crossings that slowed things down as well.
We had finally come under Tinkham Peak as well, and were at a ridge above Cottonwood Lake. This was our first chance to de-skin. We skied an open slope into trees at the bottom. This was the only time of the day where I locked the heels on my bindings. The snow was pretty enjoyable, but icy/lumpy in avalanche deposition areas. We skied down to Cottonwood Lake, where we ate lunch and put our skins back on. The time was around noon. We were behind on time, so we didn't stay long for lunch and started our skin over to Mirror Lake. We crossed Mirror Lake and then had to descend steep treed slopes down to Stirrup Creek. Going was slow, and there was some opportunities to ski (with skins on) when the slopes opened up a bit.
We arrived at Yakima Pass and then set about climbing the ridge up to the top of an unnamed peak to the south. This was very difficult going through new growth trees, up an incline, in untracked snow. It was a bushwhack on skis. Lots of branches to the face, caught skis, poles etc. Once at the top, we quickly found the "gravel pit" as listed on the USGS map. From there we poked around a bit to find Forest Road 5483. Once there, we de-skinned and had a long fast descent down to Stirrup Creek. The only event worthy of note during this period, was that the sun shined briefly.
After bottoming out at Stirrup Creek, we put our skins back on and had a 1000' of gain ahead of us. Fortunately, mostly on a forest road that was "groomed" by snowmobile traffic. (We did not see any on this segment. Probably a good idea to do the tour on a weekday if you don't want to see any.) After being out for 8+ hours, the uphill was tiring and slow. But it was a welcome change from the previous side hilling and bushwhacking. We accidentally missed our turn and had to back track about a quarter mile. Shortly after our turn, we were supposed to leave the road and head uphill. This required more travel in the trees and the sun was starting to set. This segment was getting difficult as we tried to navigate trees while it was getting darker. We got pretty close to Baldy Pass, and then found a road which we followed for a bit until it ended. At this point, it was headlamp time and we were putting on extra layers. There was some discussion on navigation. We all agreed where we were, but had difficulty agreeing on what to do next. The decision was made to try and regain the route. However, we had little hope of finding an untracked trail in the woods in the dark.
Eventually we came out to a clearing on the side of a large basin. More navigation discussion ensued. We saw a road in the bottom of the basin and decided that the compass bearing matched the direction we would head to the road. Some headlamp tree skiing, (and side stepping down hill,) got us to the road. We then headed in the general direction of Meany Lodge. We hit another road (54) and turned left. We were skinning on a slight downhill. At a point where four snowmobilers passed, we made the decision to de-skin again. We headed down Road 54 quickly. (I was snowplowing, but lacked the strength to keep from going fast.) At some point there was a right hand fork. We all stopped and it was determined that the group staying at Meany would take that fork. The other three of us would continue on Road 54 all the way to the Crystal Springs parking lot. It was around 7:30pm.
We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. Except for the last half mile, Road 54 was all downhill. We made good time, and were back at the car by 8pm.
Overall, it was an enjoyable trip. We traveled around 20 miles and saw lots of terrain. At times there were too many people making navigation decisions. I believe people may have felt slighted by their choice not being selected. Navigation was definitely one of the elements that slowed us during the tour. With the low visibility, it was almost essential that we had a GPS. We used it for most of our navigation purposes. Other things that slowed us were all the tree traveling. If it was a heavier snow year, some of those trees would have been buried, making the travel easier. It was also difficult to stick to trails, as they were not obvious, and untracked. Snow conditions varied during the day from icy to 2-3" of fluffier snow. I think many people may have had blister woes. I was concerned about the locations of my previous blisters, and ended up buckling my boots really tight to negate blisters. It did the trick, but wore skin off on my lower shin.
I would be willing to do it again, but in better visibility. Also, probably on a lighter ski, like a waxless backcountry ski with a three pin binding.