Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Snow Lake skiing - 12.27.10

Steve, Toph and I headed up to Snoqualmie Pass for a ski. Steve had all kinds of ideas for where to go in the area, but after some contemplating forecasts and aspects, we opted for a skin into Snow Lake.

There was one other car in the Alpental upper lot when we arrived and the blower was still clearing the lower end of the lot. We parked and geared up as two other cars arrived with skiers. We were trying to stall to let one of the other groups break trail, but we were all too ready to go before they were. So we headed up taking turns breaking trail. The ski area's cat had not yet groomed the road portion, so we were breaking trail from the parking lot. Occasionally we would hear shells from avalanche control above us. The echos they made from across the valley lasted longer and sounded like thunder.

We made good time reaching Source Lake in a little under an hour. We had followed a faint skin track from a previous day. Around this time a group of three caught us and introduced themselves. As it turned out two of the men where avalanche instructors including the locally renowned Gary Brill. They offered to do some of the trail breaking and for us to work as a team of six on the uphill. We agreed. And shortly after crossing under Source Lake and venturing out onto steeper terrain where we were not following a faint skin track, we let them take a turn at the front. It was around this point that instabilities in the snow were being noticed and we took care in the open slope above the lake to reach the next bench.

The course we took on the bench led us a bit too far east and the three of us departed the other group on a more northwestern course to our first run drop in. We snacked and transitioned. Steve took a short run down to check out the line. I then joined him. I felt the steep angle with the trees was a little too tricky for my skill level and traversed skier's left to see if it eased a bit. I passed over a first chute and when coming over the rib to the next a slab cracked above me. I got scared and just kept going to the other side of the chute to safe ground. Steve and I had some discussion and I told him I was going to stay put at least until he or Toph had their run. I was in a position where I could see a portion of their runs, and was safe.

Toph had enough of our talking and came down between us running the first chute and releasing a soft slab with a 8-12" crown. He rode it out to the rib between the chutes and after a pause, he continued down. Once at the lake he advised me to take the next area to my left as it was lower angle. Steve went next and rode the first chute on the clean surface until reaching the debris lower. My run was mellow at the top, but finished in the lower chute with all the debris. The debris skiing wasn't too hard, but transitioning from the packed debris to the deep powder resulted in Steve and I falling.

Now down at the lake we snacked and transitioned again. It was around 11:30am and we had plenty of time for another run. We followed the skin track of the other party up the basin below Avalanche Mountain. We caught them and soon took over duties laying the track. As we went into the trees up to the ridge instabilities in the snow presented themselves. At all the kick turns a slab would crack to a ski length. At one point as I (second to Steve) rounded a turn the cracks propagated multiple ski lengths. We got a running commentary on the conditions from Gary as we stopped frequently to do test blocks. Within 100' of the ridge we stopped as the last turn Steve made calved a block a dozen feet across without sending it anywhere. It was time to turn around.

Our high point (Photo by Steve Machuga)

We transitioned and had a really nice run through the trees back to a tarn where Toph had to post hole to get through rather than split his board. One last steeper section to the next pond and we put the skins back on to ski out the last rolling bits before heading uphill once more.

Soon we caught the other group and we took over trail breaking duties once more. We opted to try and ride out the trees while they continued further west to make runs down to Source Lake in the open. Our last run was tricky. The steep slopes sloughed at every turn. The narrowly spaced trees made turns difficult. We took turns making our way down the slope until we were all in the more mellow open terrain above the lake. Some booting back to the other side of the lake got us back to the "luge run" out. Unfortunately, the luge run was not as fast as I am used to it being and it took a bit of effort to get out due to the slow speeds and rolling terrain.

This was a fun day. Although it was my first experience with an a slab trying to take me down the mountain. It was a scary moment, but I now have a better understanding of the situation. Lucky for me, Toph and Steve are better riders than me and can release slabs and ride them out making conditions for me safer. The second run off Avalanche Mountain was really fun. Steep treed skiing similar to Yodelin. It was also great to have Gary Brill present and constantly discuss the conditions. It was like having a free refresher class in avalanche safety.

My pics are here.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Gold Creek Christmas - 12.25.10

I took the skinny skis up to Gold Creek for a short Christmas tour. Conditions were pretty good for the Nordic skis with lots of compacted snow on the road from snowshoers.

The road

It was cloudy and warm, and outside the track, the snow was wet and sticky clogging up the scales on my skis. I wanted to be back before Jennifer woke up, so I only went a few miles in. Once the trail left the road it climbed slightly and got more twisty with little ups and downs. This wasn't the greatest terrain for the skinny skis. Just before a clearing I took my skis off and hiked up to the clearing to check it out. Visibility was poor with low cloud cover. I hiked back to my skis and proceeded to head out. I avoided a downhill section in the track by cutting through the woods and eventually regained the track.

Once back on the road I checked out a small pond and skied over to Gold Creek to check it out. Wild tear drop icicles on a log over the creek:

Then a deep snow trek back to the road where the skis were more like snowshoes. Once back on the road it was a quick ski out to the car.

Gold Creek

This was a pleasant jaunt for a Christmas tour. The weather was nice enough and I got some exercise. The only complaint I would make is that there were too many unleashed dogs about.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wish List 2011 - Objectives

With the baby on the way, I'm going to not do my typical wish list for this year.

I figure that I will have less time, but perhaps not reduced as much as I currently anticipate. This coming year I hope to get on some things that I haven't done before, but keeping my options open for objectives will be key. Jennifer has already told me that I can have some weekends to climb, but whether that will change after the arrival of the baby is another matter.

So my only real goal is to climb Mount Stuart, hopefully by the North Ridge. I think some of the other big objectives are still there, but my guess is I'll be confined to mostly day trips. No big deal, but hopefully I can find partners and manage to be flexible and conform to the goals of my partners rather than go off on my own agenda.

No list this year, only anticipation.

Year End - Best of 2010 - Recap

I'll keep the tradition of posting before the end of the year again. Although with one weekend left, and no partners I feel pretty safe typing this now.

This year brought me out on lots of trips, but unfortunately not nearly as many as last year. I think this is once again due to lack of partners willing to do similar objectives. Or perhaps lack of partners with similar time freedom. I have a number of friends who complained about the weather, but I remember it being really nice for climbing most of the year, and a great summer for snow, ice and skiing with the not so warm temps and lack of precip.

This year I got a lot of new climbs in. Plenty of objectives I wasn't specifically planning on or wasn't really on the list for this year. Some trips were repeats, and some were on the list and I can now check them off.

Two events that stick out in my memory were trips to other states. First in February when a group of us visited Hyalite Canyon in Montana to ice climb for a long weekend. This was a pretty memorable trip and lots of fun considering the general lack of consistent quality ice in Washington State. The other trip was going out to City of Rocks to crag for another long weekend with Sabrina, Anne and Rod. That trip was a really fun time and a fairly new experience for me having never been there before. (And the long drive to crag for a few days.)

Other standouts are getting to climb Orbit in Leavenworth and Skiing South Sister and Bachelor in Oregon. And it probably goes without saying that climbing a classic like Liberty Ridge is on the list as well. In addition, the North Face of Mount Buckner was a nice trip and gave me a whole new perspective on the Cascade Pass area. Other notable climbs would be the winter ascent of The Tooth, and the lowly Mount Ellinor in the Olympics.

I just don't feel like I had a stand out this year. Some trips were wonderful and very memorable. Some were great purely due to the company I kept. Where did I shine? It is hard to say.

I'm inclined to say Liberty Ridge was the highlight of the year. But is that because it is a "50 Classic?" It was a great climb and a fun challenge, but left me feeling like it was too easy. I'll immediately discount the trip to Hyalite as I was sick and did not have the greatest time due to that. City of Rocks was really fun and a great time with great friends. But I also didn't feel like I climbed that well when we were there, and truthfully I wish I climbed more while we were there.

I think I am going to say the best trip of the year for me was to Bachelor and South Sister. [This marks the second year in a row I picked skiing a volcano.] Once again stuck without partners, I made the most of a situation. The weather was great, and I successfully summited both peaks on skis. Sure the skiing wasn't great, but it was more about the challenge of doing it and going alone that enhanced this experience. The solitude of having the summit crater to myself on top of South Sister was fantastic and an experience I'll never forget. Not relying on anyone else to have fun and be in the mountains is great, and is something I have to try not to overlook in the future. Cheers to not having partners and to a year that will be as productive as the last!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Leavenworth Ice - 12.21.10

Adam and I once again set out to find some ice on the shortest day of the year. This time we were headed to Leavenworth where we were sure we could find something climbable.

The plan was to head out early and get there just after the sun was up to start climbing. But a later than planned start and some travel delays put us in the Icicle around 9:30am. Icicle road was not yet plowed, and we slowly made our way to the Bridge Creek area to hike in and see if there was ice.

The road past the closure was well packed by snowmobiles and we made good time walking the short distance to our cut off into the woods. The woods were a different story. We did not bring snowshoes on the poor assumption that there was not a whole lot of snow out in Leavenworth. Well there isn't a whole lot compared to the west side, but we post holed our way up to the flow we were interested in only to find out it was not ready to be climbed. So we headed back to the car. That burned an hour of time so we headed elsewhere.

Our final destination was most likely the Snow Creek parking lot, but we decided to take a look at Chicken Gully on Icicle Buttress on the way there. We parked on the side of the road and gave it a closer look. There was enough ice to climb and protect early, but the slab was definitely mixed climbing and protecting it looked difficult. We once again hiked back to the car.

This time we parked at the Snow Creek parking lot. We opted to have lunch since it was already 11am and it would keep us from packing sandwiches up the trail. Since the trail receives steady traffic, we felt encouraged about our progress up the trail, especially considering there was a car there and some snowshoers ahead of us. We headed off at 11:30am and made good time up the packed trail. Then the snowshoers passed us on the way back to their car. A short distance beyond and we ran out of freshly compacted trail. But the going wasn't too bad. Someone had been there in the past week with snowshoes.

As we navigated the switchbacks, we ran into some snow drifts that were waist deep. I almost decided to stop when I couldn't find the trail on the other side of one particular drift. But we found the trail and continued. At some point around 2000' we were only following a boot track which we believed was at least nine days old. The narrow compacted track was buried under 8-12" of snow and falling off of it meant plunging down calf or thigh deep. This occurred frequently and Adam and I took turns breaking trail. At this point we were committed to getting up there. I think the challenge of making it to Millennium Wall had become the goal of the day.

A hike that takes an hour or less in the summer took us two and a half! We arrived at Millennium Wall where there were a few freshly downed trees making our getting to the base of the wall even more difficult. After more wallowing we got to the base where I didn't feel so up to leading the wall. I think mostly due to how late in the day (2pm) and my tiredness from trudging up the trail without snowshoes. We looked for an easy way around to set up a top rope. But the additional wallowing left us frustrated, and we opted to do a bit of "ice bouldering" at the base as a consolation. We shortly tired of that routine and packed up to head back to the trail.

On the trail we dropped our packs and navigated numerous downed trees to head up the trail a short distance further to get a look at The Goatee. Due to the low visibility, it was hard to tell the exact condition, but it did not look like it was climbable to me. After making our way back to the packs, we trudged back down the trail. Both of us at one time or another attempted to cut a switchback, but this proved more energy and time consuming than staying on the trail. We made it back to the car just as the remaining light left the sky.

It is frustrating to want to climb ice in Washington. If Adam was a skier, we could have gone out skiing. But we quested for ice and while we found some, we were somewhat out of time when we arrived there. I think I'm going to stick to skiing for the next few weeks until it looks as if ice is in.

My pics are here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hyak Nordic - 12.19.10

Jennifer and I went out to Hyak Sno Park to ski again. She had a good time last time and she is eager to get some type of exercise while pregnant. Fortunately Nordic Skiing is pretty low impact, and we went to Hyak due to the extreme flatness of the trail. (It is a converted railroad grade.) Jennifer is concerned about falling on anything remotely hilly, so the flat trails fit the bill.

Momma zipping along

Conditions were windy when we got out of the car. Not surprising being at a mountain pass and near a five mile long lake. I was wishing I had brought more clothing. We both started out with our poofy jackets on and eventually stopped to take them off once we had warmed up. I went considerably faster than Jennifer, but kept checking on her to make sure she wasn't overdoing it. We got a special treat in that the track got groomed while we were there. Although truthfully the track was in pretty good shape prior to the grooming. It would have been more special if we were skate skiing.

Along the lake

At some point Jennifer decided it was a good time to turn around. I told her I was going on further and would catch her before the car. I probably went about a half mile further before turning around. I was slowed by seeing someone I knew and chatting for bit. But I did catch Jennifer with at least a half mile to go before the parking lot. I think I did about six miles total.

This was a fun outing and Jennifer is caused less pain from skiing than walking. She is having fun getting exercise, and her exercise level had picked up since we started skiing because the pregnancy usually causes her to lose steam when walking.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Scotty Creek Exploration - 12.15.10

Adam was interested in heading back to the Swauk Pass region where I had been during the weekend. I showed him few topo maps and we thought it would be a fun adventure to see if there was ice.

We got a fairly early start and arrived at the Sno Park around 8:30 am. There was not nearly as much snow as driving up on Saturday. We donned snowshoes and headed down the road. This time we were going to head downhill toward Scotty Creek. We also had the advantage that the trail was packed with some previous snowmobile traffic which made walking easier. Off the trail was horrible breakable crust conditions which impeded movement.

On the way down to the valley we passed a few small streams. While it was cold enough for ice formation, none of the streams were icy. And they were also too low of an angle to make sense to climb even if they were. Within an hour we arrived at Scotty Creek. While it is a named watercourse on the map, it is little more than a three foot wide low flow creek. It too was not icy. We followed the road a bit and came upon some mountain lion tracks in the road. The tracks appeared to be used a few times, but perhaps for only one trip back and forth. We followed the tracks into the woods a bit where they went to a 4" log to cross Scotty Creek. While it would have been tempting to follow them to a den, I am not a big fan of disturbing wildlife, especially if it could threaten my own life.

We turned around and started to head back. But we had decided to follow a watercourse up to see if it would produce ice at any point. We snowshoed through the woods taking turns to break trail. We found a short section of about twenty feet that would have made a nice easy WI2 climb, but it was just running water. Perhaps the recent Pineapple Express washed away any ice that had formed and these creeks were starting over again? As we went higher, we started to see some rock pinnacles, so we headed to them. We first crossed a road and then investigated the pinnacles.

It turns out these are the Swauk Pinnacles and they had some routes on them. Adam and I contemplated climbing one since we had a rope and draws, but when then sun went away, it became much less appealing. We then attempted to hike back using the road we had found. It was heading slightly downhill, and did not have the packed surface our previous road had, so the going was a little more energy consuming. At one point the road forked. We opted for the left fork which went uphill while the right fork continued downhill. This proved to be a bit of a mistake because in ten minutes the road appeared to end. We opted to try some cross country travel to make it back to the car. This tactic involved attempting to gain a ridge and then side hilling until we made the ridge top a mile or so further. Once on the ridge top going was a little easier but we were getting tired and wanted a familiar sight. After a few hours, we made it back to the road and had a half mile hike out.

Even though the search for ice proved fruitless, we enjoyed finding the rock pinnacles. It was also a fun exercise in cross country travel. We definitely got a workout as well. I was enamored with the mountain lion tracks too. There were also many other tracks we saw in the snow, some we could identify and some we couldn't. One set was possibly ermine tracks. I look forward to hitting the pinnacles in the summer.

Some pics here.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Blewett Pass - 12.11.10

Technically it is Swauk Pass. The old highway went over Blewett, and the name was kept when they rerouted over Swauk Pass. I headed out with the intention of seeing if there was any climbable ice in the area, but as best I could tell there wasn't any. It appears to me that the terrain is not steep enough, but there could be other issues as well.

I took the skinny skis out on the ungroomed forest service road 800. I have always stayed away from the Blewett Pass area because it is an area where snowmobiles coexist with skiers. This is usually not that pleasant, but I wanted to give it a try. After a few hundred feet into the woods, I could almost no longer hear them and I had stopped coughing on the two stroke fumes. Then it was a peaceful ski in. If I stopped, all I could hear was the snow hitting my body.

Peaceful skiing up the road

There are a few turns in getting to the correct road on the ridge, but it was fairly easy navigating. A group of three women started off long before me, so I had a decent track to follow, although with how heavy it was snowing, it wasn't obvious to me if they had been there the day before or not. (It wasn't until I caught them at my turnaround point that I could confirm they were there the same day.) I think they were following a track put in earlier in the week. Unfortunately I brought my track poles which were way too long to use efficiently when my skis were 4-8" in a trench. It really turned out to work my shoulders due to that fact. For future reference, I'll bring shorter poles in this type of scenario.

Snowing hard

This route would be fairly scenic if it wasn't snowing so much. But I did get some nice glimpses at the surrounding area. There isn't a whole lot of hills, and it made for a nice workout plugging along the road. Some of the downhills I could coast a bit, but mostly I had to keep kicking or double poling on the downhills as the snow was offering a little too much resistance to just coast every hill. At about the three mile mark or so I stopped to have a bite to eat and turned around. I wanted to get home to see Jennifer off to work, and hopefully eat dinner with her.

By the time I got back to the car it was covered in two inches of fresh snow. It was coming down fast enough that I had to scrape the windows three times before I eventually left the Sno Park. Then it was a slow ride down from the pass and out to I90. There were a few cars in the ditch on 97. From I90 things didn't get much better and I maintained a ~35mph pace from Cle Elum to Snoqualmie Pass. The area between Cabin Creek and Hyak was the worst. A plow hadn't been by in a while and there were stiff peaks of snow between the wheel ruts that made driving difficult. Heading up the hill from Hyak plows had recently cleaned the road, so it was much easier. Then everyone got stuck behind the plows on the downhill side and there were a few cars in the ditch near the big right hand turn before the Denny Creek exit. Soon after that we were low enough for the change over to rain and the speed picked up to near the limit. The forecast hard rain was being delivered, and I had to turn the wipers on high.

Being from the Northeast US, I had never associated insects with snow. Having lived in Seattle for a while now, I have learned to see spiders and insects on melting snow in the Spring and Summer. But now twice this Autumn I have seen this one type of insect on the snow. A quick search on the internet makes me believe it is a snow fly or winter crane fly. I have seen a bunch of these walking around today, and a few weeks ago with Steve at Hyak.

Snow fly?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Jim Hill Mountain - 12.06.10

Steve persuaded me to join him and Seth on an exploratory ski trip on Jim Hill Mountain. Now I should have guessed with the term exploratory that this would not be a straightforward trip. But that did not cross my mind. So we left Steve's house around 7:30 am to park near Hwy2 on the road into the Steven's Pass Nordic Center.

We parked near a closed gate and skinned across the lot to a gated forest road. There was a skin track in the road and it was easy going up the numerous switchbacks. At one point the road took a right hand bend downhill and we contemplated our options. We decided to backtrack around the corner and head into the woods there as the undergrowth was not as severe. Within a hundred vertical feet we ran into our first obstacle of getting around some downed trees. After circumnavigating them, we attempted to stay a bit lower off the ridge to avoid the more wind damaged areas.

We traversed through some thick woods up and to our right and arrived below an area with many blow downs. It would have been arduous and time consuming to cross through it (if we even could.) So we passed under it and then continued on our course upward and rightward. The snow seemed good for skiing, but was deep and made for strenuous skinning on the steep treed slopes. We eventually made the ridge and crossed the tops of some open slopes before the terrain got too difficult for skis and we resorted to booting a hundred feet or so. We were hoping to ski off the right side of the ridge, but the terrain was steep (over 50°) and heavily treed. It wouldn't have been easy to even walk that terrain. We contemplated continuing in the hopes of finding a suitable ski path, but it was already after 2:30pm. We had maybe two hours of daylight left to get out, so we started to backtrack on the ridge to find a suitable descent route.

Seth dropping in the clearing (photo by Steve Machuga)

A little before the point where we started to boot was the decided upon descent route. We put the skis on and headed down. It was lightly treed at first but a fairly steep slope probably more than 35°. After only a few turns, I had to jump a downed log as there was no way around it. I was successful, but had to hit the brakes as soon as I landed. Then the trees became more dense and I side slipped and stepped down through a few sections linking a few turns and traversing where I could. I made a lot of downhill kick turn in tight spots. This probably progressed for a few thousand feet with Steve encouraging me the whole way down. I had some good moments like jumping/dropping logs without crashing. But I had some bad moments, especially lower down. I think the fatigue was getting to me and I crashed a bit including some real mix ups with my skis. I think my final crash had me sliding into a small tree like it was home plate.

Yes it really was that thick at times (photo by Steve Machuga)

We eventually made it to flatter ground where we donned headlamps and skins. After a short time skinning we found an old overgrown road and followed that through some alder. There was a moment when we had a clear cut above us and it looked like the road ended and Seth checked to see if the road switched back. It didn't and we continued through thicker alder before we quickly arrived at the road we skinned in on. Steve and I removed our skins, while Seth kept his on and his board split. From there is was the typical luge run down the now firm skin track until we hit the car. I was glad to have a good headlamp with a spotlight, because fast skiing at night is difficult without a fair amount of light.

Coming out by headlamp (photo by Steve Machuga)

Overall this was a fun trip. We now know this is not the way to go to achieve turns on Jim Hill Mountain. It was a fun outing and it pushed my limits in skiing. So next time I am in terrain that is more sedate I should be feeling more confident.

My pics are here.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Nordic at Hyak - 12.04.10

I discussed with Jennifer earlier in the week about getting a Sno Park permit for this winter. I wondered if she was interested in skiing and would feel up to it being pregnant. Jennifer was interested in seeing if she could go skiing and Ken wanted to go, so we headed out with him today. Jennifer didn't want to head to Cabin Creek due to the hills. She didn't want to fall. So we went to the Hyak Sno Park to follow the railroad grade.

The temp read 32° in the parking lot, but it felt colder. I put on all the clothes I had and couldn't wait to get moving. Jennifer had packed more warmly and wore a large down poofy to start skiing. Ken had little clothing but he hoped as I did that skiing would warm us. It didn't work for Ken, and he headed back to the car after we were out for 10-15minutes. I kept skiing along in an effort to get to an outhouse to pee. Once there, I warmed up a touch and started back. I saw Jennifer and she told me about Ken heading back to the car. I said we should head back too.

An interesting outing for the first of the season. Ken said one of the reasons he turned back was to not sour himself to the rest of the season with a bad first outing. While it took me the whole time to get back to the car before I actually started generating enough heat to perspire, it was a fun time. The snow conditions were better than any we had track skiing last winter. Soft snow, well packed and nicely groomed. Only there was a large group of boys (scouts?) that were snowshoeing on the groomed trail, and that is just bad etiquette. It also marks baby's first ski outing!

Baby on board