Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Castle Saddle - 03.18.12

With my Mother in Law in town, I was able to escape to the mountains for some skiing with Sam. He was eager to try his new setup and get it on some deep snow.

The weather cooperated and even the avalanche forecast cooperated. We headed down to the park around 7am on Sunday. The NPS was estimating a road opening of 10am, so we had plenty of time. By the time we reached Longmire the road was open and we stopped for a services break. Then back in the car for the slow drive up to Narada Falls.

We were the fourth car in the lot as we watched two parties leave almost as soon as we arrived. Nice to have six people in front of you breaking trail when you haven't been out in a month. We geared up slowly and walked our skis over to the start of the trail hitting the snow at 10am.

The snow up the face to Steven's Canyon Road seemed stable enough to follow the skin track left by others on the face. The track in the woods appears foolishly steep and clumsy so we avoided it and headed out onto the face. In short time we were on the road above heading toward Reflection Lakes. The sun was attempting to poke out from behind the clouds, but it was generally cloudy.

We followed the skin track where it left the road through tight trees and more poor line decisions. The sun broke out briefly as well as views of Mount Rainier to just above Paradise. Then we hit a bench/bowl below the Castle Pinnacle Saddle where a group of four was digging a pit. I arrived earlier than Sammy, and watched the results of their testing. I didn't hold too much weight for it, as it was not in a spot that was representative of the slope. But it did confirm some suspicions I had about the snow pack. (Crust layer from Friday with new snow on top of it.)

We continued up, now ahead of the party of four, and chasing a party of two. We stopped at a spot near some trees to contemplate descent routes and discuss snow stability. We allowed the foursome to regain the lead. We followed them up to the saddle where visibility was lower in very flat light. Wind near the saddle made the newer snow layer on top more consolidated than down low, but we still were not seeing signs of instability.

The six other skiers headed down before us as we took our time transitioning. Since Sammy was considering this his first back country ski trip, we discussed ways to be efficient as well as our feelings on the snow pack. Some sloughs had come off Castle while the sun was out and they did not propagate. That gave us further reassurance on the stability of the snow. We leap frogged back down to the snow pit area and then skinned back up to the saddle for another run. We met a pair of skiers who were coming up for their first run of the day off the south side of the saddle.

Our second run we had decided to descend further east toward Lake Louise. We briefly stopped at one point and picked our way down what we thought would be best on terrain in an area we had never been on before, whether in summer or winter. We loosely followed some tracks laid before us and navigated our way back to the road. The snow down low was deeper and less consolidated and we enjoyed knee deep powder in places before hitting the flat road again and transitioning to skinning.

Back on the road the wind was blowing and new snow was falling fast. The skin track already had 4-5cm of new snow in it and at some point the I had to stop and put my shell and goggles on just to keep skinning into the wind. Fortunately the wind died down a bit as we got west of the lakes and by the time we got to the last hill before the lot, the sun was out and there was no wind. We transitioned one last time and took some nice turns before returning to the car.

Overall, a great outing. Snow conditions were great. It was great getting out with Sammy, who like me doesn't see as many opportunities to be in the mountains due to fatherhood.

My pics are here.