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.

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