Monday, March 30, 2009

Leavenworth Weekend - 03.28-29.09

Ian was having a field trip to get the Intermediate Students leading on gear. He was kind enough to take some of my students along, assuming I would also be there as an instructor.

The forecast didn't look great for Leavenworth, but it did not look awful either. When we arrived in the morning it was fairly sunny in town, but after heading a few miles up Icicle Road, you could see the clouds coming in from the west.

We started with ground work at Mountie's Dome and then on to mock leading. The clouds and precipitation got closer and closer throughout the day until it reached us. It wasn't bad at first, and was barely wetting the rock. By the end of the afternoon, it was full-on raining (and looked to be snowing only about 1000' up from our location.) Once it got really wet, we called it a day.

Sunday started out with cooler, but much sunnier weather. The sun quickly warmed things up as we took the 30 second hike to Roto Wall. Some people started out with their gear leads, while others took some following and an additional mock lead before they got out on the sharp end. Overall, everyone did well, but some people need to practice more.

For the people who finished early, there was even a little free time to climb on their own. Lori and Josh headed up to Givler's Crack for an adventure, and Adam got to follow me up a 5.6 slab climb on the right of Roto Wall. It is always an interesting experience being the first to climb a slab in season. It had a lot of kitty litter on it and the 5.7 to the right of it was even a bit mossy at the start. The 5.6 was also fairly run out at the start, with only two pieces of pro in in the first twenty feet or so. After the free time, we packed our gear and headed home.

My pics are here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

3 days in the desert - 03.23.09-03.25.09

This is Jennifer's break before her last quarter of nursing school. She wanted to go on a mini-vacation before putting her nose to the grindstone again.

We decided to hit some sites in Eastern Washington where the weather should be drier this time of year. I also got the idea from my previous climbing trips to Frenchman's Coulee that it would be nice to cover some ground by mountain biking on the jeep roads through the desert. So we loaded up the bikes and set course east.

On the way over, we decided to drive far the first day to Palouse Falls State Park. This would mean we could hit sites on the way back, and have a shorter drive on our final day. So we passed the coulees of Central Washington, and drove through the flat farmland to reach our destination in the southeast portion of the state. After making a few scenic stops and to check out camping accommodations we arrived at Palouse Falls State Park in the afternoon. Guidebooks herald the falls as one of the best in the state. This is true. But part of the beauty of the falls is that the Palouse river flows through the deep basalt cliffs of Palouse Canyon below the falls. Not quite The Grand Canyon, but quite a wonderful site to see. We strolled around the grounds and viewed the falls and upper falls. There are a few scrambles that would take you closer to the falls, but we opted not to. The "Falling can be deadly" signs must have worked on us.

Since camping was available in the park, we set up the tent and stayed the night.

Palouse Falls pics here.

The next day we awoke to rain. So we decided to head south to Walla Walla and check out some wineries. On the way there, we hoped to stop in Lyon's Ferry State Park, but it was closed for the season. We were able to get in via access through some federal land and got to glimpse the lower Palouse Canyon and the confluence of the Palouse and Snake rivers at Lyon's Ferry. Lyon's Ferry State Park also marks the location where the oldest human remains have been found in North America. The dig site is now buried under water, but it is still an interesting place. We walked a bit around, then headed toward Walla Walla.

Sulfur Lake and the confluence of the Palouse and Snake Rivers

We stopped in two wineries in Walla Walla; the Three Rivers and L'Ecole #41. Both were nice and the old school house that is L'Ecole #41 was really quaint. It appears most wineries in Walla Walla charge for a tasting. (Usually $5 per person, but we were able to split the charge.)

After Walla Walla the weather cleared a bit, and we were headed to Potholes State Park to camp for the night. On the way there, we were going to stop at Twin Sisters Rock a little south of the Walla Walla River on the Columbia. In the guide book, it looks more impressive in size than it actually is. It is a cool formation, but with such easy access to the road, it is heavily vandalized. After a short hike up, we headed north to Potholes.

Twin Sisters Rock

We arrived in Potholes State Park and much to our enjoyment read that the camping fee was free until April 1st. We set up camp and hiked around a bit. Potholes State Park is centered around Potholes Reservoir which is a man made reservoir out in the desert. The damming of the stream, caused the water table to rise, and filled many of the potholes in the area with water. Unlike the rest of the desert, there tends to be lots of water, and it is a bit greener too. A little to the east of Potholes State Park is the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, which hosts many migrating birds. We hiked along the creek in Potholes and saw lots of deer tracks and coyote scat, but no mammals other than a muskrat.

We set our sites for the final day to ride the roads in the Wildlife Refuge through the desert. We went to sleep under clear but windy skies. The next morning we waited a bit for the sun to warm the desert before heading out. It is about a two mile road ride from the state park to earliest entrance to the refuge. You could ride along the narrow dam roadway if you wanted to enter the refuge farther east. We wanted to start our adventure as soon as possible and entered the refuge right before the dam.

Although it was clear the refuge had seen a fire some time in the past, the area is significantly more lush than the surrounding desert due to the higher water table. There is more variety of vegetation than the typical sagebrush and rye grass. We rode on jeep trails for a bit, until we noticed the sky darkening and rain starting to our east. We hoped to ride back to the west and out to avoid it, but wound up at a dead end. As we headed back to retrace our route, we went through a bit of a dust storm, and eventually the rain which was headed in the opposite direction of us. It was over before we got really wet, and we retraced our route back out to a location we could ride out from. Jennifer was a little tired, and we left to go home.

Overall, I'd like to do some more exploring in the desert on my mountain bike. It was a fun and faster way to get around than on foot. Although I did find it somewhat difficult in the more sandy sections. Hopefully I'll have more opportunity in the future to do it again.

Wildlife refuge pics here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Leavenworth Rock - 03.21-22.09

Took Julie to Leavenworth for a phase of her farewell tour this weekend. The big goal was to climb Givler's Crack. In my opinion, Givler's Crack is the best accessible crack in the state, A four star classic that I had climbed in October with Lori. I wanted to lead the first pitch, and give Julie the money pitch. We had some other climbing we wanted to do, as Givler's Crack would not take more than a few hours.

Julie and I took a leisurely drive out to Leavenworth by leaving Seattle at 8am. Some rain was forecast for the morning, so we figured we would miss it if we left later. When we arrived in Leavenworth, Julie wanted to hit Gilver's Crack first. The weather was great, and it made sense to get our main objective before the weather turned sour. We had planned for snow on the ground, but most of the south facing slopes were snow-free, with a patch here and there. The north facing slopes of Icicle Canyon were full of snow and crags on that side looked cold and wet. There was still a fair amount of ice on the Pearly Gates.

We hiked in the general direction of Givler's Dome, but wanted to do a warm up on Freewheelin' (5.7) which is another crack route Lori and I did in October. Due to the snow patches, and general water erosion from the winter, we had some difficulty finding the trails. We eventually wound up at Freewheelin', which Julie led and I followed. No issues there, we headed up to Givler's Dome.

After a short walk, we were roping up. I let Julie know that I struggled with the crux when I followed Lori, so I wanted her to know I may need to take rope, or worst case fall. Funny as it was, just getting on the rock proved a little difficult for me. Once on the rock, I placed four pieces in the first ten feet of climbing to get through the crux. It was not as much as a struggle as I remembered it, but it was definitely a work out. The rest of the pitch went quickly and smoothly (I placed only three pieces the rest of the pitch.) and soon I was ready to bring Julie up with my anchor on top of the flake. Julie made quick work of the pitch and reported to me at the belay that taking the pieces out at the crux was difficult. It was her turn to lead up the four star second pitch. We both cruised the second pitch, and were celebrating on top in no time. Now to find other endeavours.

We hiked about a bit to find Fit 'n' Trim (5.8) a two pitch bolted/gear route near Mastodon Roof. Getting there was difficult and as best I can tell, no obvious trail leads there. I started to lead the beginning moves. There is an overlap/roof about eight feet off the ground where I placed a cam. After that, a bolt is clipped above the roof. After bungling around trying to overcome the overlap, I lowered off and gave the lead to Julie. She got through the overlap rather easily, and continued on the pitch to a tree belay. (off route) I followed up to her, after a fall and some hanging at the overlap crux of the pitch. We both ended up going a little left to overcome the crux, which was easier, but perhaps not exactly on route. Once up to the tree, I could see a bolt anchor and led up to it. This was supposed to be the top of the first pitch. I brought Julie up where we discussed the options of continuing up the wet second pitch or rappelling off. We decided on rappel, but I would lower Julie first to see if the rope would reach the ground. It did, and I then rapped down to the packs. (Lowering Julie from the top proved somewhat stressful for my body. I think if I was going to lower someone in a situation like that again, I would lower off the anchor.) We hiked out and called it a day.

Day 2 we again took a leisurely start and hiked up to the Planet of the Eights area in the morning. This is another not so easy to reach crag in the Icicle. Basically you cross the street from the Snow Creek Parking Lot and head generally east until you can cut back west and then up a 3rd class step near Poison Ivy Crack. Trails were well defined, but we had to cut through some cabins on the way there. Not sure if that is a normal or accepted practice. All routes on Planet of the Eights are 5.8, and all have at least one star. When we got up there, the routes looked a bit imposing, and we decided on the far left (Small Change) as our first route. I led it slowly, and then Julie top-roped it. We then both top-roped Surveillance of Assailants which was a more interesting and fun route. We left the third route for another time, and headed down to top rope Poison Ivy Crack (5.9.)

We were pretty much committed to rapping Poison Ivy Crack, as the 3rd class step was wet and not a safe down climb to get back to the road. So we set up an anchor, and we rapped to the bottom. Julie went first and did nice work on the crack. The crux is at the top where the crack ends and you have to move left out of the crack and onto a steep slab before topping out. Julie hung a few of times while working out the moves. She lowered off, and I gave the route a go. Unlike Julie, the route was never really a hands crack for me. However, I was able to climb the crack up to the crux fairly easily as well. I weighted the rope briefly at the crux and then worked out the finishing moves. Neither of us felt that we needed to climb it again. Julie and I agreed that is was not that difficult, but would be a bit harder to lead. I would recommend that anyone wanting to top rope it, use a cordelette or long runners to build the anchor so it reaches over the lip of rock at the top.

That was our last climb of the day. After saying "hi" to Ken, we headed back to Seattle.

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

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Sunshine Wall - 03.18.09

Ian asked me last week if I wanted to get out to the desert for some climbing. I told him I'd prefer Leavenworth, but that the Frenchman's Coulee might be our only option due to weather.

Ian has a project of doing all the routes on Sunshine Wall, so I figured I could help him with that.

We headed over to Sunshine Wall with no specific game plan. Once on top of the coulee, we opted to do a 5.6 gear route which I believe was called "Chapstick." It was perhaps one or two stars in the guide, but was fairly uninspiring. Although it was nice to finally get on a gear route out in Vantage. I'll probably try to lead it the next time I am there.

We then moved onto a 5.10a or b route that was "in your face" for the first three clips then mellowed out with easier holds. Probably some of the trickier climbing of the day was the first three clips on that route. Next, we moved over to Bushido (5.10b) that was more strenuous than having technically difficult moves. The route is about 95' high and dead vertical, if not a touch over-vertical in places. Big holds through most of the route with one section of thinner moves somewhere in the middle. Once again, Ian led this in fine form. I believe I took once in the thinner moves area, where I could not find a place to move my feet.

Finally, we finished on a 5.10c. It was a shorter climb. Which is something both Ian and I needed after the strenuous Bushido. This climb did not look difficult from the ground, but we were intent on finding why it was a .10c. Ian led off, and took a fall about three bolts up. The route wandered back and forth across the arete, and was difficult to follow the route because of it. I climbed the route on top rope and had the same difficulties. Ian and I worked out the route, then he re-led it without falling or taking. I took another shot on top rope, but still had some difficulties and hung about three times.

Overall, the weather was great. (Although not too great considering I had worn black pants with long johns.) It was probably in the mid 50°s and sunny most of the day. (Only the second time ever I've used chalk while climbing outdoors.) There was a light wind, but mostly at the tops of the climbs. It was fun getting to follow Ian on some harder routes that I wouldn't have the opportunity to climb otherwise. It was also nice to finally get on a gear route to get a feel for how the rock takes gear.

On a final note, I had some difficulty cleaning anchors. It wasn't my own fault exactly, but the design of the anchors. I don't understand why someone would go through the trouble of having two nice stainless bolts and Fixe hangers, only to use a crummy hardware store lap link to attach the chains with. This doesn't make sense. Furthermore, the lap link takes up too much space in the hanger, and makes it difficult to get a carabiner in there, let alone two. My big anchor cleaning screw up occurred when I attempted to attach my personal anchor to one of the hangers on top of Bushido. This caused it to get stuck. I had great difficulty in removing it after that point. I was planning on cutting my personal anchor and leaving it there. Ian told me to hit it. I didn't hit it, but yanking the chain in multiple directions finally got it to a point where I could free it. I understand a lap link costs about 75 cents at a hardware store, and a climbing quick link costs at least $5, but it makes so much more sense to do it right the first time.

Pics are here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Snoqualmie Ski - 03.16.09

Steve called on Saturday to let me know that his Monday plans may fall through. I told him I'd be up to skiing if he was available. We decided that we'd try to hit something on I90 if we were getting out together.

Sunday night came and our outing was given the green light. I mentioned to Steve that Alpental is closed on Mondays and it would probably be a decent place to go. However, when we awoke Monday morning, avalanche danger was "considerable" below 7000'. Not wanting to chance it, we decided on heading up to Summit West, which was also closed.

We arrived at the parking lot, and saw two older men head toward the Commonwealth Basin on 3-pin bindings. From the parking lot we saw someone else skinning up farther to the east. We decided our intended route to be skinning up to the top of the Pacific Crest chair, and then ski east to a low point, and skin up to the top of the Wildside chair. We started up under light snow with cloudy skies. The snow would only increase, while the skies got darker.

The snow was deep and not too light. Skinning was a chore. We got to the top of the chair, and Steve wanted to go up to the cell tower and ski a small opening in the trees. The last 30' of vertical was deep. We skinned to the cell tower to make a transition, and then I skied down to take pics of Steve coming out of the trees. The skiing was slow and there was almost no need to turn. After Steve dropped through the trees, we skied down east. Even heading in a straight line, we eventually stopped in the middle of the slope. We scraped our way across to a cat track, and converted to skinning again.

We then got to the top and tried to ski a steeper slope which we hoped would offer us enough speed for the runs down. The steeper slope did offer more speed, but the low light visibility did not allow us to see the slope well, and made us keep our speed under control. After a run down to the cat track, we skinned up again and decided on another aspect of the same slope thinking it may be faster. We ran down that slope a little better, and then took a cat track out, as it was the only way we would be able to maintain speed on the lower angle slope.

The skiing today was vastly different from Saturday's skiing. Possibly due to the lower elevation (3000-4000') but more likely due the the snow that had been falling since Saturday. The snow was deep and slow. The skiing was interesting, but not too enjoyable. Steve and I got some exercise, then left for home.

A few pics are here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Lichtenberg Mountain ski - 03.14.09

I was fortunate enough to get invited on a backcountry ski that Ed Palushock was organizing. The goal was to ski northern exposures on Lichtenberg Mountain near Steven's Pass. An early start time was recommended as we were going to be a group of eight and avalanche danger was forecast to increase throughout the day. This was mainly due to the weekend weather forecast for lots of snow in the mountains. It was going to be an interesting experience where many of the people were not aware of my some time inability to ski.

When 5:30 am at the park and ride hit, we were down to six participants. A call to Chloe, and she was going to meet us at the trail head. On the way up, we were slightly dismayed by such a high snow level. (We were only a few miles from the pass when the rain changed over to snow, perhaps 3000' or so.) We joked in the car I was in that if it was raining at the pass, we'd turn around and head to the Sultan Bakery. Snow, albeit heavy and wet did arrive at the pass and for the few miles we had to drive past it. We parked as near as we could get to Smith Brook Road as there were at least a dozen cars already parked at the pull-out. Some, if not most had been there overnight.

We geared up and skinned up the road. Wet snow was coming down constantly. It was a losing battle trying to stay dry. Either you wore hard shells and sweated it out, or took off the shells and got soaked from snow. I chose the former, as it tends to be easier to maintain heat if the wind picks up, or if you stop for an extended period. After two switchbacks in the road, we left it for a skin track up the Northeast Ridge of Lichtenberg. Some sections of the skin track were poorly laid down, and we had to negotiate steep switchbacks with many kick turns. The ridge leveled out after a bit, and became easier. There was one more section where we followed the skin track to the right of the ridge, where there were more steep switchbacks. We were able to leave the skin track for an easier way up. Jonathan found an even easier way up closer to the left side of the ridge.

At that point we dug a pit. Not on the steepest slope, but it was what we had to work with. Our findings were similar to the "moderate" forecast for avalanches for today.

A little more climbing and we reached our high point. Probably around 200' vertical from the summit. There was a brief break, as we transitioned to downhill. We took a bearing on the map on our descent route, and started to head down.

As predicted the snow was powdery. We skied in pairs on the way down, as Barbara and I followed up the rear being the two with the least experience. I had a couple of falls, including one where my shovel blade somehow came off my pack. Barbara was kind enough to pick it up, and promptly fall while trying to ski holding a shovel blade. With my blade and I reunited, our group continued down the slopes. We were mostly on benches and there was a section of steeper terrain where I lost my shovel blade where the upper layers of snow were sloughing.

We navigated down the benches and eventually returned to the road higher up than we left it. Since the snow down low was sticky, we took a moment to apply some wax and headed down the road. We took another diversion by cutting the switch backs in the road to ski the slopes in between. This was not very good for me, as I found this lower snow much more difficult to ski.

Overall it was a fun trip, even if it was a little wet. Ed taught me a few things, and gave me a few pointers. It was a great learning experience because of it. I did not ski that poorly, but I was definitely the worst skier of the bunch. Also, my boots were bothering me a touch where both of my big toes were banging into the front of the boot. They also felt like I could have tightened them more. I thought this was because of the resort skiing where I had them very tight. When I got home I found the true reason. I forgot to put the foot beds back into the boots before leaving the house this morning.

Some pics are here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Alpental - 03.10.09

Used my other free pass for Alpental today. A completely different experience from when I went a few weeks ago. All the lots were full when I arrived at 10am! For my first ride on chair 2, I probably waited 20-25 minutes. This was probably one of the busiest days at Alpental all season. The crowds were somewhat disappointing.

Even the snow was somewhat disappointing. By the time I got to the top of the mountain, most everything was tracked out. I did not get to practice my deep powder skiing like I was hoping to. However, the skiing was great, and after being turned off by the wait for chair 2, I rode chair 1 most of the morning with very short lines. I explored a few runs that I had not been down before on the lower mountain as well: Ingrid's Inspiration and Dom. Ingrid's is a really nice run that can be done in the trees, or just under the cliffs. I was really enjoying that run.

Once Noon rolled around, I figured people would be heading home, or at least breaking for lunch. I jumped back on chair 2 for a few more runs down from the top. One of which was my first double black diamond run, Schluct. I eyed it up last time, and again today on a few rides up the lift. It didn't look significantly harder than the single blacks on the mountain, so I figured I'd give it a go. Once in the chute, I quickly realized the difference between single and double black diamond. (Even if Schluct is a mild double black.) There was a 20-25' section of the chute that was noticeably more steep, and it was narrow as well. I skied it without falling, but not without a little stalling. It wasn't my prettiest run of the day, but it was fun to ski it.

After my experience on Schluct, I headed for the lodge to end on a high note. My legs were tiring, and I had logged over 10000' of vertical again. When I got to the lodge, I ended up doing two more runs up chair 1 as I was attempting to get to my car in the high lot without having to take my skis off.

Overall, it was a fun day and great to be out. Nothing gets you practice on skis more than lift serve. Also, the powder was so deep today, that I saw no less than three people digging in the snow trying to find a lost ski. Yipe.

First ride up.

Top of chair 2.

Edelweiss Bowl.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Desert Climbing - Sunshine Wall - 03.07.09

With a good weather forecast only for Eastern Washington, Julie and I decided to head out to get on real rock. We also figured we could help Ken out as he was having his basic students out there for rock climbing practice. Our goal was one day of rock climbing and then skiing in the mountains on Sunday.

We opted to have two followers as we were looking for a more mellow day. Tony and Andrew joined us as we did a few routes in the sun and wind at Sunshine Wall. Highlights of the day included the first pitch of Chossmaster (5.7) and Skip 'em or Clip 'em (5.8). Both routes which Julie led. I led a 5.6 (Peaceful Warrior) and a 5.7 (??) which were not as nice. I really liked Skip 'em and wish I had led it.

What seems to be the norm for me at Vantage, is not climbing well. Julie and I thought that we both do not climb well when we are there. We think it has to do with our motivation. We are not really interested in being there, but want to get out on rock. I need to refocus my energy on climbing there the next time I am there as perhaps this will make me enjoy it and climb better.

My pics are here.

Snoqualmie Pass Backcountry - 03.06.09

With a big dump (16") of new snow and Dan having the day off from a canceled trip to BC, we decided to explore some terrain at Snoqualmie Pass. It would mark my fifth consecutive month of skiing, while probably marking Dan's sixth consecutive month of boarding. (He believes that September was the only month he didn't get out in 2008.)

Since I knew the area a little better, and Dan wanted to get to know it we headed in the direction of Source Lake from the Alpental parking lot. With a bluebird day following a big dump, there must have been a statewide powder alert, because slackcountry skiers were already heading down the backcountry before the lifts started running at 9am. Dan and I made quick work of the traverse, and made a decision at Source Lake to head up into the hanging valley near The Tooth. Another backcountry skier had already made a lap above Source Lake and was starting another.

Skinning up to the hanging valley was hard work. The snow was deep and the slope steep. The other skier caught us on the way up, and offered to blaze trail for the last 20 vertical feet to the valley. We parted ways, and he asked if we minded him poaching first tracks. We told him we were headed to the top of the valley and to go ahead. We skinned up to the saddle at the head of the valley and started a transition. We noticed some avalanche crowns in the valley from earlier in the week and decided to dig a pit, just to inspect the snow pack. The forecast was moderate for under 5000', and we did not notice any instability in the snow pack skinning up. We did witness some snow slough off a steeper section of rock in the sun.

Since none of the slackcountry skiers had hit the saddle yet, it appeared we would get first tracks. As we thought that, a skier who was able to hit the lower valley with lift assistance, put on some skins and headed our way. He arrived as Dan was digging the pit. He thanked us for the skin track, and then inconsiderately proceeded to get first tracks on the slope. Dan wished for his demise. We proceeded downslope behind him with me going first, so Dan could take some photos. My experience with the knee deep powder was greatly different than a week earlier, and I had a few crashes on my first run.

We made a short run and proceeded to skin back up for another. The snow was deep and powdery. The other skier managed to beat us up to the top and take another run before we could. Just before I took my second run, some other skiers arrived bare booting it from the lift in waist deep snow. After a few more crashes, Dan and I decided to head to somewhere where the lift served crowd couldn't reach. We headed out of the hanging valley.

We arrived back above Source Lake where the sun was shining. Our assessment of conditions was that the sun sheltered snow was lighter and better for skiing as the snow in the sun was getting wetter and heavier. We decided to skin up to Snow Lake to see what the north facing slopes had to offer there. There was already a skin track laid out, but no one took the opportunity to ski down to the lake. We had first turns in a really nice loosely treed run down to the lake. (It would have been better if we didn't have to keep stopping to make sure it was not going to cliff out.) The run was short (around 300'+) but enjoyable. We created a skin track back up to climbers left where there was more open terrain. We were hoping for multiple runs down, but by the time we made our second nice run down toward the lake, it was 3:30pm and time to start heading back.

On the skin up, we wound up closer to the summer trail, and this caused us a longer traverse over to the slopes above Source Lake. Snow on the ridge was wind blown and crusty. Upon arriving back above Source Lake, we deskinned, and proceeded down. The snow that had been in the sun for a good part of the day was now shadowed, and had a horrible 1" breakable crust. It was the worst ski conditions I have skied. It was difficult to ski, and was very stressful on the leg muscles and joints.

We found a final stash of more powdery snow further to the south above Source Lake. We ran down that and rode out the skin traverse back to the parking lot.

Overall it was a great day. The weather was fantastic, bluebird. The snow was great on the right aspects as well. We didn't like the slackcountry crowds, but were able to avoid them. There is more terrain up there that we have yet to explore as well.

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

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Tooth - South Face - 02.28.09

Julie and I decided to make a ski attempt on The Tooth this Saturday. Avalanche conditions were cooperating, and a recent dump of new snow meant that the skiing would be more enjoyable than the hard crust which had been persisting.

We figured the climbing may be a bit more time consuming, but that we would make up time on the ski descent. This was of course, not computing that we were both less than stellar skiers. We left the Alpental parking lot at 7:45am under sunny, mostly clear skies. We followed the cat track until it became a skin track and continued on that for a bit. There were multiple skin tracks, which were also return tracks, and we wasted a bit of time in the woods trying to keep on decent track. We finally reached the gully to ascend to the hanging valley, and started skinning up in the trees between the two chutes. This lost us lots of time. Off of any track, the snow was deep. Floatation was required. Julie took a ski off, and was waist deep in snow. The slope was steep and treed, so not easy to make switchbacks on. Direct ascent usually resulted in sliding backward down slope. We struggled up this section until it leveled out at the top. That is when I realized the easier way to ascend it is to switch back under Chair Peak, and then take a rising traverse over to the basin. Oh well.

After the fiasco of getting to the basin, the skinning was fairly straightforward from there to The Tooth. Only thing was the skin track reaching the top of the basin proved a little too steep for me, and I had to blaze my own track. This was difficult, as the snow was deep, and we had heavy packs. Skinning under The Tooth we noticed a party on the first pitch of the NE Slabs route. The NE Slabs looks to be in right now, and almost made me wish we were going to attempt that route. We also noticed a party climbing the South Face as well.

When we arrived below the notch, we took our skis off and booted up consolidated steps up the gully. We stashed our skis and poles at the notch. I took this break to switch into climbing boots. We both took out ice axes for the travel over to Pineapple Pass. Snow down and over to Pineapple Pass was deep and unconsolidated. We post-holed down, across and up to the pass. Once there, we put on all our layers, and geared up. Julie and I debated about her wearing of ski boots or the approach shoes she brought to climb in. If she chose ski boots, I would be saddled with the leading on all pitches but the third.

I took first lead and started to climb. I wasted a bit of time deciding on which way to start. A party ahead of us had gone far left. I did not like this option, as it involved pulling on a boulder that I thought I could dislodge. After the boulder, was a snowy, icy, wet slab which was also not appealing. So I went to the right and got onto a ramp there which had about 2' of snow on it. Once through the ramp I climbed gingerly on the wet and snowy holds up the rest of the pitch.

I arrived at the top of the first pitch to a climber waiting to climb the second pitch. The party of three ahead of us was not making good time on the route. It was about 12:30pm. Julie was freezing down at the notch, and we decided we did not want to wait behind this other party all day and have a 4pm summit. I rapped back down to the pass and cleaned my gear along the way. We also rapped from Pineapple Pass to get by some sketchy wet snowy rock on the down climb. Once done rappelling, we were post-holing through the snow back to the notch.

At the notch, I finally ate something and we prepared to climb back out into the bowl. For me, this meant changing back into my ski boots, and putting my skis on my pack. I have to say, in winter conditions, is the easiest way up and down the notch. No 3rd class loose rock. No hard spring snow. Once at the bottom of the consolidated steps, we put our skis back on. A party of resort skiers was bare booting up our skin track in snow up to their thighs. They were attempting to do a run from the top of the basin. Julie got her skis on and proceeded to make long traverses of the slope with step turns at the ends. I made some long traverses as well in the upper steep section of the bowl. When we hit the flatter section, I noticed I forgot to put my boots in downhill mode, and had left the upper buckles unbuckled. No wonder I didn't feel too good on the steeps.

We started to make some good turns toward the bottom of the basin. Then it was time to pick our way down the chute. We descended the western chute, which is normally a small creek in the summer. Near the top it was somewhat steep, but it also had numerous holes. We made our way down. Julie sidestepping and traversing, while I would make a few turns then stop. We eventually made it back down to the correct skin/descent traverse and followed that. Since it was used a lot, it was hard packed and fast. This made for a few crashes by Julie and myself. Once we saw the lower cat track, we skied a powdered slope to it and made nice time back to the car.

Overall, it was an interesting trip. I accomplished one of my goals for this year which was a ski approach for The Tooth. Even though it did not result in a summit, it was good for the learning experience. It made me realize too, that skiing is not inherently faster than walking or snow shoeing. If I was a better skier, this may be true, but as of February 28, 2009, it may have taken equal or more time to ski. It was also interesting to see the south face in winter conditions. The recent dump of snow had more snow on the route than other parties probably experienced earlier this winter. The second pitch looked to have less snow on it than the first, but, of course, I did not climb it.

My pics are here.