Sunday, November 29, 2009

Amabilis Mountain - 11.29.09

Ken had organized a mellow outing up Amabilis so that people could either ski or snowshoe. The road up or in has not been groomed yet, so I made the decision to bring fat skis. There were six of us on the trip and it was split with two people snowshoeing and the rest skiing. We had a casual start, and didn't leave Seattle until 8am. With a few stops on the way, we were finally on snow around 10am and headed up the road.

The road conditions down low

Despite the recent warm weather and rain, there was enough coverage down low. Shortly after getting on the road to Amabilis, there were a few dirt patches, but there was adequate coverage from previous skiers to keep going up a track that was put in by multiple parties before us. We skied up under cloudy skies and hoped that they would turn "partly sunny" like the forecast had told us. While the coverage was nice on the road, snow depth in the trees was minimal. The snow on the road had a packed section where people had previously traveled, but the snow was deep and mushy outside of that section.

Upon reaching the intersection for the loop of the upper mountain, two of our party decided to turn around. Liz turned around because she had Nordic skis which just weren't ideal for the situation. And Jack turned around due to blisters from his boots. This was his first time using his AT setup to skin. After our little break the rest of us continued upward, choosing a clockwise direction to complete the loop.

In the woods near our turn around

The conditions got worse from there as there were few people who had gone up that section of trail. The snow had a breakable crust which wasn't good for the two remaining skiers or the snowshoers. It took a long time for us to continue up while the weather worsened. When we finally made the last section of woods before our turnaround, a cool mist was wetting us and I quickly put on a rain shell. In moments we had reached our turn around point, where I donned another layer under the shell. We all had a quick snack/lunch. While us skiers transitioned into downhill skiing we discussed with the slowshoers that we would wait for them at the intersection of the top loop.

And away we went. The skiing was surprising not horrible. With a slightly steeper road than on Mount Catherine, I was able to glide without a whole lot of double poling. But Ken and I did have to remain in the track otherwise we would slow to a stop. A few portions were difficult to maintain speed as they were lower angle or the track wasn't wide enough for both of my skis. Had we not had to wait for the snowshoers, Ken and I would probably have returned to the parking lot in a little over and hour.

The ski out

After a certain distance, the track widened, and was more compact and our speed picked up. I had to occasionally snowplow in order to maintain speed. Sometimes you could just steer into the deeper snow to lose some speed, but this practice proved to be a little difficult as you didn't know what to expect outside of the track. Once closer to the intersection, the packed swath of road was wider and more firm. I really picked up speed on this section without trying. And the last stretch into the meeting point was all snow plow. Ken followed behind me and attempted to scrub speed by sticking a ski into the deeper snow off the packed section. He started to lose control and laid down instead of continuing toward the immanent crash.

Ken on a faster section of the road

We waited a long time before our snowshoe friends arrived. We greeted them and asked if they needed anything. They didn't. And we were on our way. I got to the car in about 20 minutes from that point, and that even included one stop to rest my legs and a short uphill that I had to side step. The lower section of the road had some good snow and the packed section comprised more of the road in certain areas to the width where I could actually make small turns. Before I knew it, it was over and we were back at the parking lot where Liz and Jack were waiting. Once again we waited for the snowshoers, and then it was time to head back to Seattle.

Jennifer and I had done this trip with Gabriel and Lindsay a few years ago. At the time I was new to skiing and debated about trying it on my skinny skis. I opted not to and stuck with snow shoes. After seeing Gabriel's ease of skiing it, and the relative easy conditions, I had wished at the time I had attempted it on skis. While it would be interesting to try it with a Nordic ski, they weren't the right option for today's conditions and I was happy to have my backcountry skis which did not inhibit my performance at all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mount Catherine - 11.25.09

Scott had the day off and wanted to ski before Thanksgiving. I wanted to burn the calories that I was about to consume, so I happily obliged. The plan if there was good snow was to go yo-yo somewhere and have fun in the powder. However, it looks like we have hit the El Nino segment of our dark months with higher temps. This meant rain at the passes the day previous and a 10000' freezing level on the day of our trip.

Skinning up the slopes of Hyak

So we headed for Mount Catherine with the hopes of a summit. Chad joined us at the Mercer Island Park and Ride and we were on our way. The weather was clear and we saw a beautiful sunrise before arriving at Snoqualmie Pass to low clouds and fog. Instead of taking the Sno Park and forest road in as it seemed tedious. We opted for the skin up Hyak and over the other side. We followed forest roads (Nordic ski trails) down the other side a bit before leaving on a bearing across the North Face. After endless traversing through trees, we got to an open area which we confirmed with the map was the east end of the summit ridge. There were cliffs and no obvious way up, so we traversed more and more which reminded Scott and I about the Ski Patrol Race we had done back in February.

Heading into the trees

We occasionally crossed open slopes and contemplated trying to gain the ridge to the summit but we were having little luck. Our difficulties were exacerbated by the constant fog which made seeing ahead not easy and gave us little incentive to try and head up only to be confronted by cliffs. So we maintained a fairly level traverse and then we started seeing flatter terrain. We finally made it near Windy Pass and eventually saw a sign with an arrow pointing in that direction. There was a weather monitoring station there too, and some blue diamond trail markers. We stopped for lunch. (It was around 1pm.) The sun just barely came out briefly enough for us to see our shadows. Then we deskinned for a short ski down to another road. At this point we had forsaken our summit attempt and were content with a circumnavigation.

A more open area

Unfortunately due to the poor sloppy snow conditions and the ungroomed state of the road, going downhill on the road took almost as much effort as going uphill. We worked hard to make our way out and after it seemed like there would be no more downhill, I gave up on the skinless skis and stopped to put my skins back on as it seemed they would offer me better propulsion. They did, but Scott and Chad were out of site, and I did not catch up with them until the final downhill to the parking lot in the Hyak ski area. (Which was in more disappointing slop.)

Boulder field

Overall, I was happy to get out. The weather wasn't great, but that wasn't really a big deal. We knew going into it that the snow wasn't going to be so good for skiing, but it was more about the journey. Even though the road out was tiring and tedious, it was still better than being on snowshoes. Plus I think this is the first time I have circumnavigated a peak. Cool.

The road out

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Crystal Springs - 11.21.09

Got out on the skinny skis for the first time this season. Jennifer and I were originally planning a trip to one of the MTTA huts but were not able to on short notice due to their archaic reservation system. (That and our hut of choice was already full.) We decided on one day of skiing but where would we go? While the state was already charging to park at Sno Parks, no grooming had actually occurred except on the MTTA trails. I checked with the ranger stationed in REI and he told me the I90 Sno Parks would be groomed starting December 5th. Since this information was not online I took it because it was all we had. Jennifer and I were still going to head that way because we didn't know where else to go.

Meany snow cats awaiting more snow

Signs were good when we arrived at the pass and it was snowing. We continued east and stopped at the Crystal Springs Sno Park. We figured with the snowmobile traffic, it would resemble groomed and be good enough to ski on. To our dismay, the parking lot was not plowed and a high clearance vehicle was needed to negotiate it. So we drove down the highway to Cabin Creek to see what was in store. When we arrived, we saw a few guys digging a spot out in the parking lot so they could park. I wasn't particularly interested in that kind of workout, so we went across the highway to check on the trail condition. It certainly was not groomed. There was a small trail trench in the middle and that was it. We decided to head back to Crystal Springs.

The road

From our earlier trip to the parking lot we knew there was a spot to park just outside the lot where the road was plowed and we would not be in the way. We parked there and geared up. Jennifer was excited to use her new skis for the first time. We skied through the parking lot and onto the trail while keeping a close eye out for snow machines. The snow coverage wasn't great, but we didn't have to ski on dirt anywhere. Once we hit the road, there was low coverage from wheeled vehicles driving on it, so we kept to one side. We decided to head down the road to Trollhaugen as they had run their snow cat on it but did not groom. (That, and it was off limits to snowmobiles.) We skied down that way on what was nice compacted snow from the cat. Once at an intersection, the cat had turned around and we ventured out into untracked snow on the trails there. We made a small loop and returned back out to the road.

Skiing in the untracked forest

On our way out we stumbled upon ski tracks heading into the Erling Stordahl trails and we followed them for a loop. While not quite as nice as skiing on the trails the cat had driven on, it was nice having the track in there for us already. After that loop we called it quits and headed home.

Faster skiing on tracked snow

It was fun getting out on the skinny skis for a change. They'll probably make me better on the fatter skis, because I find it more difficult to balance and ski with them. Jennifer had fun and cannot wait to go back. Unfortunately, the trails will not be groomed until December 5th. Which makes sense to me now that I saw that the coverage probably wasn't enough for a proper grooming. And they wouldn't want to start grooming on Thanksgiving Weekend for obvious reasons. (Although I bet the state could have earned more money if they did.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Paradise Ski - 11.18.09

After failing to connect on Saturday, Dan and I got out to go skiing today. Unlike our plan from the weekend to go close and short by heading to Steven's Pass, this time we headed south to Mt. Rainier where avalanche danger was predicted to be lower than further north. On the way down we came up with a plan to ride the Mazama Ridge area. Mostly because neither of us had, and with the weather forecast, neither of us really wanted to skin up to the snowfield to get turns especially because higher winds were predicted.

We arrived at Longmire to find the gate closed and it was not set to open for another 90 minutes. We lounged around the inn for a while and then decided to get something to eat in the restaurant to pass the time. Even after breakfast, we still had 25 minutes to go before the gate opened. We read some magazines, and then it was 10am, and the gate opened right on time. Unfortunately, we headed down to the park with the thought of a 8am opening time. This was based on the information that the road opens at 8am if there is six inches or less of snowfall the previous night. According to the weather telemetry, Paradise saw around 6" of snow that night. But I guess the telemetry was wrong, because the gate opened at 10am and when we arrived in Paradise, I'd say there were at least 8" of new snow.

So when we finally arrived in the upper parking lot we were the second car there. We opted to skin out Valley Road. This would mean actually going back uphill slightly at the end of the day, but would be an easy skin in to where we wanted to head. We left the road just before Myrtle Falls and headed up into the slopes north of the road. We skinned up to the Skyline Trail and used it to cross a creek that was not well snow covered. We then left the trail and headed uphill again. This is when the sun came out. (Something we were not expecting.) This is also where we started noticing some wind affected snow. There were sections where there was little more than 2" of fresh on a hard base, while other areas had over a foot of deposited snow. The wind was blowing a little more the higher we went, but we wanted to top this slope to get an idea of what was above it.

At the top of the slope, the terrain leveled out for a bit. Mt. Rainier was out of the clouds and we made the decision to transition there as we would have to traverse flats a bit before reaching steeper terrain, that may not have had as good of snow. Our transition spot was quite windy, and we were sure the wind was worse higher up. So we transitioned and headed down. My first set of turns were good on powdery snow. I made a bunch of turns and then signaled for Dan to head down. He stopped at my location and then headed through some short trees to a stopping point. He signaled me to follow, and I immediately fell when transitioning from firmer windswept snow into a depression with deep powder. It took me a while to get up as my legs were crossed. After that embarrassment, I skied down to Dan and we both headed down to the trail.

We skinned back up our skin track and opted to descend a little further east where the terrain looked good. Once we left our initial transition spot, we experienced much more wind affected snow. There were sections of hard snow with no powder on top and we were starting to see sections with a wind crust as well. Once at the top we headed down. The conditions were not as nice as we saw on our first run with a breakable crust and sections of hard snow. After coming down a bunch of turns we decided to make this our last run and head out to the road. Closer to the trail and road, the snow was better and less wind affected, but the lower angle didn't warrant trying to do another lap. So we reached the road, and skinned back out.

Overall it was nice to get out. I had a terrible time skiing the conditions on the second run, and was slow and fell because of it. This made the decision easy not to do another lap as we felt assured we would run into those variable conditions again. While the Paradise area has the most reliable snow pack for winter enthusiasts, it is just too exposed and rarely offers up ideal conditions for skiing in the winter. Also, the road opening at 10am really put a limit on what we would be able to do. It eliminated a trip up to Camp Muir, although neither Dan or I were interested in that objective anyway. Dan and I vowed to head somewhere else the next chance we get.

My pics are here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Steven's Pass Ski - 11.10.09

First ski of the season. (Or about four months, ten days since my last ski.) I couldn't get a mid-week partner, but figured it would be safe enough to poach at Steven's Pass. The ski area is planning on opening on Friday, and I had seen a few trip reports reporting an adequate snow pack. The trip reports I saw for Hyak didn't appear as promising.

I left Seattle casually after 8am figuring that would give the DOT some time to clear the road. By the time I got to the pass, it was sunny and there was a bit of slush on the road, so nothing to worry about.

The scene when I arrived

I geared up in the parking lot where there were already 30+ cars! I guess many others had the same idea. I hiked up the stairs and walked in the snow a bit before putting my skis on. The snow was already fairly tracked out from previous days. (Probably Sunday.) So I went in search of fresh tracks by skinning under the Skyline Chair and eventually reaching the top of the Brooks Chair in a half hour or so. I transitioned at the top of the chair. Four months is plenty of time to get a little rusty transitioning. I then turned the skis downhill to go nowhere. The lower angle and deep unconsolidated snow was sticky. (Those factors combined with a need for a wax.) I worked my way to a slightly steeper section and mostly headed straight downhill without turning. It was the only way to keep up speed. Then I jumped back on a cat track for a bit before trying some other slope near the bottom. While I didn't fall, things were not smooth, and I wouldn't exactly say I enjoyed the run. So I decided to try something different on the next lap.

The next lap had me skinning to near the top of the Hogsback Lift. Once near the top, I decided to turn around and head down before getting into terrain I didn't want to be in. On the way up and from where I transitioned, I could see plenty of rocky areas that did not have good coverage, and I wanted to avoid those. So I ended up riding a cat track almost all the way down from my transition with a slight excursion into the powder near the bottom. Once again, the deeper untracked snow proved slow and unenjoyable. The time was now 12:30pm. I wanted to get one more run in that I really could enjoy. So I transitioned to skinning and headed up.


This time I headed up near the Big Chief Chair, skinning up the Showcase run. It was fairly tracked from early in the day as well as days earlier. (There were about 25 teenage boys with snowboards running up the slope to catch turns. They were also building kickers near the bottom of the slope.) I went up the slope for almost 30 minutes and decided to turn around at a flatter section of slope so I would not have to attempt to ski down this slower low angle area. During my transition I was joined by one of the teenage snowboarders. We had a chat about whether the ski area could kick us out or not and then he took his ride down. I followed shortly afterward on what was my favorite run of the day! Unfortunately, I was looking to get home and get my skis to the shop for a wax as I hope to get out later this week. So I headed to the car after ending on a high note.

Closing shot

Overall, I enjoyed my day out. The weather was mostly sunny, and fairly warm. (High was supposed to be 33°) I skinned in a light base layer and shell pants. I put on a shell jacket for the descents. It was nice to get back into the motion of skinning/skiing as well as working on my transitions without having others to wait for me. I tried out my new ski helmet which seemed to work as advertised and will be anticipating bringing it on other trips in the future.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wish List 2010 - Objectives

With the year winding down, it is time again to come up with some ideas for next year. Since I did not do such a great job on the 2009 tick list, some of those goals will be back. And of course, I'll have to come up with some new ones as well.

Leftovers from '09:
West Ridge of Thompson
NE Ridge of Triumph
NE Buttress of Goode
Torment>Forbidden Traverse
Curious Cube (at Static Point)
Dreamer redux
Outerspace redux
Tatoosh Traverse (Unicorn)

Ski objectives:
Ingalls (approach)
(These were from last year, but since they are not exactly new objectives...)
Three Sisters Traverse
Ruth or Ruth/Icy
I'd like to get onto something a bit steeper as well, but I'm not sure what that is.

New objectives:
Alpine ice routes, Kautz? North Ridge of Baker? Adams Glacier?
Glacier Peak
A route on Mt. Stuart (W. Ridge/N. Ridge)
Something in the Olympics (Brothers traverse?)
Something that takes a while to get to (Dome? Pickets?)

Since my to do list doesn't dwindle it is hard to think of new routes that I may be interested in. Unlike last year, I have a different take on my list for 2010. This time I'll schedule a bunch of the big items, but the one day trips might be more spontaneous in planning. I'd also like to revisit North Twin Sister, and possibly the traverse to the South Twin. As well as doing it on skis, and at least bringing a mountain bike. Goals like North Twin Sister and The Mole will stay off the list and be used as alternates and backups when avy danger is high in early season.

I feel like I am running out of routes to climb in Leavenworth. (I know this is not true.) But I have a few on the list and perhaps a few more in my head that I am interested in attempting next year. I would also like to go back to Squamish next year as I have a few more routes on The Apron I'd like to tackle. Not to mention having another shot at The Ultimate Everything!

I'd also like to do more climbing/skiing etc. in Oregon this Winter if possible. Perhaps a trip to the Wallowas or to Bachelor. I'm not adverse to skiing some of the other volcanoes as well. A trip to Smith always seems to be a good idea at some point. There are definitely some routes there I still need to tackle as well.

I'll say that sometimes I get ideas from friends who propose them to me. I wasn't so much interested in the West Ridge of Mount Stuart until Josh proposed it. Now I find it quite interesting. In the mean time, I'm going to try and get on some steep snow and ice this winter and I even may be going to Joshua Tree before our rock season officially starts here.

If you got any ideas, or want to join me on some of the ideas I listed, let me know. I'm not sure how this next year will play out.