Sunday, February 20, 2011

Mount Si - Standard - 02.20.11

~3300' elevation gain
8+ miles RT
Left car: 1:15 pm
High Point: 3:40 pm
Back at car: 5:30 pm
4.25 hours car to car

I decided in the cold dry spell to make a quick run up Mount Si and see what the haystack looked like in winter with a coat of snow. Spent the morning in the gym, came home and ate lunch and then drove out.

I left the car making great time blasting through the first mile in under 20 minutes. I was looking at a sub ninety minute time to the haystack if I could keep it up. I continued with this pace until I came upon the frozen trail. At first, it seemed like packed frost or just frozen dirt, but as I went higher it became more snow and ice like reflecting where the sun hit it. Lots of nervous people coming down were sliding on their butts, grabbing trees, and using sticks for balance. I watched a guy take a spill and start cussing. I thought about donning crampons, but figured this was good practice (for what, I don't know.)

Compacted snow on icy trail

The left hand switchbacks deeper in the woods were worse and my pace had slowed to barely a walk. I leapfrogged with another guy who was in trail runners. He seemed to have better footing, or was just more confident than me. Nearing the end of the trail, the snow was softer and we both started moving well again. We stopped to let a group head down crawling and hugging trees. He looked at me and asked, "Trade you my legs for your heart and lungs?" I guess that's a compliment, but the pace I was going for a long time on the snow didn't require much cardio work for me at all. I could have used some shorter legs and a lower center of gravity.

Up out of the woods I left everyone else behind and headed to the haystack. Apparently I was the only one with this intention who was on the mountain at this time. I moved quickly on the snow that was less compacted over to the start of the scramble. Even with the slow going on the icy trail I arrived at the base in around one hour forty five minutes. I stopped to drop my poles and put on a helmet and a jacket as I was on the cool north side. Then I started up.

Base of the haystack

If I was going slow on the icy trail, I was hardly moving through the scramble. I made a decision to stay on the rock as much as I could. This was difficult, because not much of it was without snow or ice. With forty feet or more to the summit I made a move I didn't think I could duplicate heading down. I checked my watch, I'd have to turn around as to avoid hiking out in the dark. Things weren't going smoothly and so I pulled out my axe to add something to hold onto and picked my way down. I was glad to be back on flatter terrain. I stopped at the bench to have some snacks and call Jennifer before I started back down the trail.

Looking down from my high point

The trail was good going at first, and then in the woods a way I just didn't like how slow I was going in an effort not to fall. I stopped and put on the crampons. Wow! I blasted down the compacted snow effortlessly, passing more sliders and tree huggers. At some point the snow started looking fairly dirty and I opted to remove the crampons. About one switchback later and the continuous ice ended. There were a few more right hand turns in the woods that were slippery, including one where I skated for five feet with incident. After that it was just a matter of hoofing it back to the car.

This was a fun trip. I have never been up Si in the winter before. The trail conditions were abysmal with the compacted snow. I'm surprised people weren't being carted out of there. I am somewhat bummed about not making the top, but I am also happy I at least made an attempt of it. I think if I started up with crampons and my axe out I could have stayed on the snow/ice and made better time, as well as feeling more secure. But from the bottom the rock looked like a good option. The higher I went the more snow and ice covered the rock making it less of an option. At my high point I contemplated donning the crampons for a summit push, but realized I had burned up too much time to that point. A second tool may also have helped, but I didn't feel like lugging one up the mountain. Being alone was a contributing factor as well. I spent almost ninety minutes without seeing or hearing another person while near the haystack.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Kendall Stump - 02.16.11

Josh had a rare day off mid week, so we decided to get out and ski a bit. His backcountry rig is new this season and he hasn't got out much on it. He wanted to get out and tour a bit, perhaps as a shakedown. If the skiing was good, so much the better. With the recent winds and a mostly moderate avalanche forecast we opted to stick to the treed slopes of Kendall Stump.

We parked the car just off the road on the pullout. Knowing there might be issues trying to get it out of the unplowed area. Then we walked back to the turn in the road and started in. We didn't feel comfortable hiking past someone's house, and opted to head in the road a bit further before we did eventually turn into the woods and uphill. Which still resulting in walking past a house.

There was just the lightest dusting of new snow on top of very firm icy snow. The skinning was a bit slow and sketchy. We both had slips on the ice and we grew weary of being in the woods. We saw the light of the clear cut and opted to boot out to the clear cut the last hundred feet or so. Out in the clear cut the fresh snow was around two inches deep and the base did not appear to be as firm. We donned our skis and started skinning up the tightly treed opening.

When the guide books were written, this area was more recently cut. It is obvious from the pic in the Seabury Blair Jr. book that there were less trees in the cut and more open slopes than exist now. The trees here are tightly spaced and made navigating uphill almost as bad as the navigation downhill. As we went higher the trees became more sparse and we headed to more open spaces. We used some old logging roads for ease of travel and opted to head to the top of the ridge.

We took a brief break up top and looked at a line a recent skier took. We did not take the same line as the western aspect was more wind blown and had a bit of a crust on it. It was not the nice ankle deep powder we were experiencing around the corner. We transitioned, and I started down. We had a nice run back to the first road and went across it to continue down. We enjoyed the run so much we transitioned to do it again. Now with a good skin track in we made quick time to the top and were soon heading back down.

With the sun shining most of the day to that point it made the snow heavier, but the second run was still great fun. The lower we got in the run the less fun it became as the trees became closer spaced and the hard crust was not as well covered. We got separated a bit picking our way through the trees and then had to traverse skier's right in hopes of finding more open terrain. We were able to make some connected turns just before entering the forest and taking our skis off to hike the still frozen snow in the woods.

My pics are here.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bryant Peak - 02.11.11

[200th post!]

Adam and I headed for a short climb of Bryant Peak on Friday. The cloudy weather and recent lack of snow should have combined to give us good conditions for this type of climb without it being a snow slog. More importantly avalanche conditions were low, which is helpful for climbing some steep snow slopes.

We arrived in the parking lot before 8am and were on our way shortly. We packed snowshoes with us just in case the snow got deeper higher up. The cat track was freshly groomed and firm and we made good time on it. Once we left the track for the luge run the footing became increasingly less firm. But we still did not require snowshoes. Just before Source Lake we headed up into the woods toward the hanging valley. Since we were no longer following a track, the snow was a bit deeper, but the steepness made bare booting easier than snow shoe travel. I stopped for a "bathroom break" while Adam kept going. I eventually caught him and took over the step kicking duties until we got into the hanging valley to take a break.

After our break we climbed a bit higher and cached our snowshoes and poles behind a snow mound for retrieval later. We each pulled out an axe and started to ascend toward the gully. The gully was fairly skied out and we found some snowboarder boot tracks up that we followed for bit before they disappeared into the gully. Then we forged through some deep snow before we gained the more narrow section which had been compacted by skiers and boarders. We were now at the col and it was windy. We took a brief stop mostly to put on soft shells and then we started up the ridge.

At the steeper section we decided to go around as Adam had only one axe and was concerned about needing a second on the short steep pitch. Going around didn't prove significantly easier as we got out on firm snow that some times required a few kicks for a positive hold. The runout was longer and bit more dangerous too. And it didn't appear to be much less steep. We continued around a rock outcropping and then I took the lead again to head back up to the ridge. The snow was firm and shallow in places. I aimed for a group of trees. Adam and I were eager to get to a point where we could stand comfortably again. The small clump of trees was the spot.

It was around Noon and we decided to have lunch and contemplate continuing to the summit. The wind was pretty strong and both of us were feeling like we had had enough steep snow considering we would have to down climb anything we went up. We viewed the next step and decided against it as we were finishing lunch. We packed up and left the puffies on for the down climb. I pulled out a second ax for balance. It was slow going and after getting back to easier ground we plunge stepped back to the col. Adam started down while I removed my puffy and I followed. The going in the gully was easy, although we opted to climb it mostly face in. Even when the snow got softer it was a bit messy to face out. We eventually did face out and stomp our way back to our poles and snow shoes.

The snowshoes and axes went back on our packs as a light snow started to fall. We headed toward the mouth of the valley and down to Source Lake. Somewhere around 4000' the snow changed over to rain and we had a soggy hike back to the car.

This was a fun trip, and nice to get out. With the precip starting to fall once we got back to our cache, I feel good about turning around before reaching the summit. But after feeling pretty good on the down climb, I feel like we would have had no issues continuing to the summit if we had decided to do so. I'll save the summit for another time. It was a good day.

My pics are here.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Mount Margaret - 02.09.11

It is almost embarrassing that I am typing this. I thought about not typing up a report for this trip, but I felt I should serve as an example to others.

So the intro is a little heavy. Reality is that nothing terrible happened on this trip. I set out for a ski of Mount Margaret solo. Due to avy conditions and time constraints, I figured this was a suitable trip for the day to achieve a summit and some turns. It was sort of a last minute trip and I briefly viewed the entry in the book the evening before. I had meant to take the book with me in the car to review it once more before heading out, but I forgot it. I didn't bring a map either, which would have solved my problems as well.

I left the car at 8am heading down the road on the snowmobile tracks. Within a few hundred feet an abandoned overgrown logging road heads uphill. (It still has a sign from the logging company and had a date like 1982 on it.) There was a faint skin track on this road, so I thought that is where I was supposed to go. After heading up for a bit I came to an intersection and went left, but once again this was because I was following a faint old skin track. After a while, the road ended in a bit of a clearing. I could see a ridge above me and the skin track headed out above the clearing. I paused, and then attempted to follow it. So far to this point the snow was mostly a breakable crust layer and this steeper section was no different. I got to a tree and took my skis off. I hiked up a bit and finally decided that this was not where I was supposed to be. I hiked back to the clearing.

I skied back to the intersection and took the other path. It ended quickly and soon I was traipsing through the woods at the end of the road. While the snow was better here, and the distance between the trees accommodating, I knew I wasn't going up Mount Margaret and turned around. I skied out back to near the car and started south with the snowmobile tracks. I had burned well over two hours wandering around on the incorrect roads.

I skinned fast to make up time. But skinning wasn't particularly easy as the snow was torn up from snowmobiles and had refrozen during the night. When possible I stayed off to the side of the road to have a better track. I briefly explored a track going into the woods near Rocky Run before continuing up the correct road. I was making good time, but at the expense of my foot. I felt a hot spot and stopped to put a bandage over it hoping to stop a blister formation. I got back up and started going again. I saw a faint track from Nordic skis and wondered how far the person was in front of me.

I arrived at what was the Mount Margaret trail parking lot. All of the sudden the snow was better (3" of fresh) and I thought I still had a chance to summit or at least get some turns. It was before noon and I finally felt like I was on track. The other skier was cleaning snow off his skis, and looking to head down. I just said "hi" and didn't ask for beta which may have helped. As I went past him, I noticed he had booted back to the spot where I saw him. Then I started to get the idea. There were numerous small creeks running through the road. Some required the removal of skis to get across. Others could be carefully navigated on snow bridges. The final wash out was probably the north fork of Wolfe Creek and where the other skier turned around. It was still around noon, and I had a turnaround time of 1pm so I got out my shovel and cut a step into the snow so I could get in the wash. It was about a 4' drop otherwise. I cut a step in the other side just in case, and then carried my skies across the creek. This burned a fair amount of time. Getting the boots wet caused difficulties with my binding as they were icing up with snow and cold water.

Shortly after this crossing the road ended. There was no clear way up, and I just headed into the woods. The trees were tight, and I was trying to navigate through the wider openings. I wandered around with a the vague idea of heading up and right, hoping to find more open forest. I got back to the creek. It wasn't any easier to cross where I was at, so I headed back to the road. I met my turnaround time. How quickly I had forgotten all the little creek crossings. While this section of road was fairly level, I felt I would be able to ski out and removed my skins after crossing the major crossing. Then I had to remove my skis for two or three more smaller crossings before I got back to the parking lot and the main road. The ski out from there was uneventful aside from wanting to put the skins back on for the flat section near the highway.

Overall it was great to be out on a nice day. Was this trip successful? Yes in that I got out and got to exploring. There will always be another time to make the summit. Now I have a greater realization on why one should carry a map and compass. To eliminate these silly mistakes. I have looked at the map of Mount Margaret this morning and realized I would have not made any errors had I had it with me. Of course, I perhaps could have just read the book more carefully before heading out and I may have reached the top, or at least an area with a good ski run. Next time perhaps?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Granite Mountain - 02.02.11

3700' elevation gain
6 miles RT
Left car: 9:15 am
Summit: 11:40 pm
Back at car: 1:45 pm
4.5 hours car to car

I wanted to take advantage of the high pressure system we had here and get out. Only I had no partners to climb with. So I opted for a ski of Granite Mountain on I90 to enjoy the sun and perhaps some Spring like skiing.

I took a fairly casual start, as I wanted to make sure the sun had time to warm the snow. I did fear that I could end up descending in crampons, but this was unfounded even though the temp in Seattle was 28° when I left. I didn't bring skins, as I knew the snow would be too hard, and most likely a little too steep for them. Booting on the trail was going smoothly and went even more smoothly a half hour in when I switched my boots to walk mode. Once the Granite Mountain trail divides from the Pratt Lake trail, booting was a little more difficult with a more steep, rocky, rooty way. I passed a couple of skiers who spent the night and had skied down that morning. They warned me of sloughs up high and hard pack down low.

Continuous snow started around 3000' and soon after I was in the bottom of the avalanche chute. I attempted to keep booting up the chute, but the snow was hard and there wasn't a distinct set of bootprints going up it. After a bit of jabbing my toes into the slope and realizing I was doing myself a disservice, I stopped to put crampons on. Although I was adding weight to my feet I started moving more quickly and using less energy. Near treeline, I headed left to gain the south ridge and avoid the chute and the dangers that come with it.

Once on the ridge I hopped over to the windward side and had excellent snow for crampons. I considered leaving the ridge to the west to gauge the snow there for a run, but opted not to and jumped over to the east side of the ridge near the top to look at my descent options and get a feel for the snow.

At the top I chatted with a snowshoer and had some snacks, snapped a few pictures and started to gear up for my descent. Some runs on the north side looked great, but I needed to be back in town, and without skins, the deeper looking snow on the north side would have been miserable. I considered walking a bit from the lookout, but opted to put the skis on right there and make my way down to the south face.

After some slower skiing in good snow I got to some rollovers that mark the top of the south face. A few turns in and the snow was sloughing. Nothing serious to me, but perhaps the top 3" of wet snow would release. A few turns in and I saw a couple in the chute, the woman holding tight to her unleashed dog. I couldn't make out what they were saying, but I got the impression the woman was a bit scared and wanted to get out of there. I don't blame her, who hikes up an avy chute on this mountain?

After spying the couple I was more cautious so that I would not release sloughs near them. This followed with my intended path of heading skier's right to a section of snow scoured by a previous slide that I thought would offer the best turns. Cutting the slope did not release the sloughs, and only turning was releasing snow. After a few turns I would watch the snow slide down the chute to the deposition area near the bottom. It was slow going. At some point I finally got far enough right and cleared enough snow to have a good run for a bit through some small trees. I made mostly continuous turns to the deposition pile. I stopped a few times to check out the other skiers, now above me, to make sure they were going to slough anything off onto me.

Just below the debris pile I took my skins off and hopped across the chute on bare grass to gain snow on the other side of the chute. The other skiers followed me. A few hundred feet more of turns and it was time to boot. I hustled out the trail and was back at the car pretty quickly once I reached the clear trail.

Overall, it was good to get out and enjoy the weather. It was a nice day in the hills even if the skiing wasn't so great. I hadn't been up Granite in a few years, and it was nice to do it on skis and on a clear day with amazing views. It was a lot of work for ~2000' of skiing.

My pics are here.