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.

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