Sunday, March 8, 2009

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.

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