Friday, June 03, 2011
North Central Cascades Traverse
The plan for the North Central Cascades Traverse (NCCT) matured quickly the fall of 2009 when I entered the zone around Trinity for my first time. I remember looking at a map while on the south side of Clark Mt and double checking that I was standing amongst a continuous 6000’ descent of skiable terrain. I thought such vertical was only offered up on our bigger volcanoes and amazed that I had not heard more about the ski potential in this part of the Cascades. From then on, the map studying intensified as I tried to piece together an east to west high route.
Fall of 2010, I got commitment from my main touring partners. Finally on May 20, 2011, Adam Vognild, Peter Avolio, Rob Bolton, and myself boarded the Lady of the Lake headed for Lucerne and then on to Holden where our man-powered adventure began.
The folks of Holden Village were as friendly as fellow ski tourers had reported and I look forward to longer visits in the future (both amongst the community of the village and amongst countless ski explorations in every direction). Thanks to a long winter, we only hiked ten minutes and fifty vertical feet before we started skinning up the Copper Creek basin.
Traveling in the afternoon hours of a warm day, we swiftly followed the path of least objective hazard. This basin is a steep skier’s delight and we were impressed by the large wet slides that trenched out football field arenas in the low angle valley floor. While the forecast indicated this would be the last sunny day for who knew how long, I was relieved that conditions would become less “mushy” with colder temps. While this stability relief was long endured throughout the tour, the continuous poor visibility eventually triggered some navigational concerns.
Feeling strong and knowing we had a large climb up to Fernow’s south shoulder the next morning, we continued over into the head of the Entiat where we set our first camp. This location proved true to what we expected with most camps: a place we would want to base out of in the future for days of great ski lines.
The next morning we left early without any overnight freeze. We made good time up the southeast side of Fernow with a couple short boot sections to get over it’s south shoulder around 8900’.
We downclimbed a couple hundred feet of rocky section and then patiently waited out a whiteout before enjoying a fun 3000+’ ski into the head of Big Creek.
We set camp just before enduring an eight hour stint of rain. This was the first of many tests for Bolton’s new Beta Light shelter. It proved successful through all the tests and instills a great argument against my Megamid for two people.
The next morning Peter sniffed out a smooth route up to the Dumbell/Greenwood saddle. Clouds stayed at least a peak away this day and we enjoyed visibility throughout a fun ski to the northwest. While the map indicated we should trend skier’s right for less aggressive terrain, this route had slid to rock and we were forced to finish the descent fall line through cliffed terrain.
Peter and Adam descended left around a rocky ridge on belay where they found a ledge of 3rd class scrambling down to snow.
Bolton had been eyeing a snowy line with uncertainty directly below us. Peter skied down to scope it out and gave us the OK. Rather than battle a pendulum repel with uncertainty of pulling ropes, I preferred Bolton’s ski line.
More than 2500’ below the saddle, we transitioned to skinning and climbed south/southwest to 7200’ on the ridge looking west onto Lyman Glacier. Adam encouraged a long “drying” break as the sun was shining. We hung shelters and sleeping bags, air dried happy feet, and enjoyed a most comforting hour and a half lounge session.
While the sun shone bright through most of this relaxation period, clouds continued to cascade down Chiwawa’s northeast side prohibiting any views of the next day’s summit ascent. Chiwawa convincingly became known to us as “The Cloudy One.” The final 1000’ ski to the bottom of the Lyman Glacier instilled smiles on our faces as our legs quickly trusted consistent mush turns.
Before the trip started, there were two crux points in my mind. The first was getting over Fernow which we had accomplished. The second was getting over Fortress and descending its huge southwest face. This second obstacle required we first travel over the summit of Chiwawa and then look for the weakness in the south ridge of Fortress. We left camp on Day four with this Fortress test and the challenge of getting to our food cache at Buck Creek Pass. Light snow showers fell from the sky and clouds stayed low preventing any looks of “The Cloudy One’s” summit. The glacier climb went smooth with the couple inches of new snow benefiting our skinning efficiency. In decreasing visibility, all of a sudden we topped out a few hundred feet lower than the map told us we should. We saw a peak a bit higher to our climber’s right and realized we missed the summit. It appeared best to descend down the other side of our high point and then hope visibility increased to shows us a good route up the peak on our right. If a weather window didn’t prevail, we could descend to the head of the Chiwawa River and work a route west over the ridge to Buck Creek. We downclimbed on belay and then ski cut belay a steep chute before committing to skiing the steep terrain below us.
The weather was not improving and due to The Cloudy One’s short observed history, we weren’t going to hang out and hope. We followed the skiable terrain first to the right and then left through firm runnels. When visibility would increase to a few hundred feet, we glimpsed dark walls to both sides of us. We finally arrived on a bench after 2000’ of steep skiing and took a well deserved break. I pulled out the map to see our options. While I expected steep terrain off Chiwawa’s south side, something didn’t feel exactly right about our descent of least resistance and especially this flatter area we were resting on. It was at this point (2000’ too late) that I pulled out the compass to confirm our direction.
I held the compass level…waited a bit, shook it a bit, and momentarily wondered why the arrow was not moving to where it should. We were headed northwest…almost 180 degrees from where I thought we were going. Lovely. We had climbed the upper Lyman Glacier too far right to a sub peak north of Chiwawa’s summit and descended into Miner’s Creek. Rather than travel back south up to the col between Chiwawa and Fortress into worse visibility and still have the Fortress crux awaiting us, we agreed to ski down Miner’s Creek and then travel south over Middle Ridge, across Small Creek, and finally to Buck Creek Pass. After beating myself up a bit for the major navigational blunder, I enjoyed the final turns of a sporty 3500’ descent!
We knew we had a lot of mileage between us and our food cache at Buck Creek Pass so got into a slow and steady pace. With pea soup visibility and the recent navigation error still fresh in my mind, the compass stayed out getting the attention it deserved. After trying to force a route in bad visibility through steepening terrain, we resorted down to safer slopes to set up camp and hoped for clearer visibility and thought process the next morning.
It snowed off and on through the night and the morning yielded the same pea soup conditions as the day before. Confirming our camp location with the GPS, we chose a more conservative route over a flatter bench of Middle Ridge at 6240’. We then descended south to Small Creek through trees (most of which were spaced tighter than one would like).
We climbed to a saddle east of Flower Dome and then traversed to Buck Creek Pass, the location of our long desired food cache. The navigation anxiety momentarily subsided while the uncertainty of our food’s security built. Will it be there? Will half of it be shredded by long claws or beaks? Will we be forced to exit to Trinity on the small rations we have remaining?
Food cache in tact and it was time for a well deserved refueling session. The cache consisted of five hanging Ursack bags…one had its strings cut and one had been pecked through its Kevlar exterior but nothing inside any of them was altered. We relished in the fact that we had an extra food bag as my brother Rob had to bail from the trip last month. We consumed all four of his dehyrdrated dinners, all his chocolate bars, and some of his trail mix. Hmm hmm good. We figured he deserved a thank you phone call and pulled out the sat phone to send our appreciation and get a weather report. He was amazed we were still socked in as it was bluebird in Seattle and he could see a good portion of the Cascades.
With his optimistic weather observation and our full stomachs, we continued south that afternoon. Bolton led us up Liberty Cap in the same 50-100’ of visibility we had grown accustomed to.
But then the heat on our faces intensified, the light through the fog grew brighter, and soon enough we had risen above the cloud layer! Mountain tops started appearing in all directions and soon the massive volcano to our west started to revere it’s bulky mass. All photo capable devices came out and we stood still to admire our surroundings.
Knowing we still had some tricky transitions with limited daylight, we couldn’t gawk too long and kept traveling south along the ridge. We skied down along the east side of Pt. 7276 and climbed back over the ridge through a weakness in the cornice. At this transition, the skylines began displaying immense color contrasts. Dark gray clouds were approaching Buck Mt from the southeast while the sun was beginning to set over thin clouds to the northwest. The result was fiery orange to one side of us and gothic purple to the other. We descended southwest and hastily set up camp below Triad Lake as a blustery rain shower moved in.
The next morning we traveled over High Pass and skied south to the Napeequa River. Again, we observed many days of fun ski terrain in our immediate surroundings. With the aid of bear tracks, Peter led us up the Napeequa and over the col to our camp at Moth Lake. The wind was howling down from the glaciers and the forecast called for ugliness so we spent some extra time digging down for added protection in our shelters. That night Adam was pretty excited about our whereabouts and kept brainstorming where else in the Cascades we could get this “deep.” I tried to share his enthusiasm for our remoteness but also wished to talk more about it the next night after we had traversed the rugged north side of Tenpeak Mountain.
While the map shows a slight bench at 6000’ amidst Tenpeak’s rowdy north couloirs, I gained the confidence in this section of the route from Lowell Skoog’s previous crossings. Thanks Lowell & Co. for pioneering this section and for the beautiful photos of that zone…it’s refreshing to see what we traveled through!
We awoke to colder temperatures, light snow showers, and three inches of new snow. I liked it…good temperature trend for stability, not too much new snow for potential destruction but enough new snow to help travel over otherwise firm icy runnels.
We made a descending traverse from the outlet of the lake and then skinned (ski crampons mandatory) to a wide saddle that allowed an easy entrance onto the Honeycomb Glacier. Visibility held in there for great travel…never enough to see the top of Tenpeak or much into the valley below but plenty to see at least a couple hundred feet.
While on the Honeycomb Glacier, visibility got worse. Map, compass, and a GPS reassurance for a preset waypoint got us through the Honeycomb, down and across the Suiattle, and down the White Chuck to where we set camp northeast of White Mt at about 6300’.
This traverse was always intended to conclude with a Glacier Peak summit ski. The weather never presented much chance to even discuss such an opportunity. The weather also did not allow other summit alternatives along the route or even the visibility to enjoy some ski descents along the way. None of us ever complained. We were close to completing a long planned ski traverse through new country. We were stoked.
The next morning we awoke to three additional inches of snow. Bolton led us through powder turns from camp and then we began our final ascent to a col west of White Mountain. The top 1500’ of our south facing run to the North Fork Sauk River consisted of pleasant powder turns. It then slushed up before finally giving way to more dirt/rock/brush than snow and we downclimbed the last few hundred feet after enjoying another 3000’ ski descent.
We hit the valley bottom a little east of the trail and had to earn some Cascadian bushwack credos before finding the trail out. Due to road closures, our car was parked off the Mt Loop Highway at the start of the North Fork Sauk River Road adding seven additional miles of walking fun to the finish.
We got into the car and were amazed at how quickly the miles peel off when rolling at 30 mph. The culture shock continued in Darrington as we couldn’t find an appropriate dining establishment. We all stared blindly out the windows as the green pastures turned to concrete strip malls and soon founds ourselves in a Red Robin consuming 3 courses of high caloric meals.
The trip was extremely rewarding for me as I got to travel through entirely new terrain with my good friends. Strong work team and thanks for a most memorable traverse!
More NCCT photos here and will add more as get them from Bolton.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Central Cascades Traverse
The trip required some logistics: time, snowpack, and us being in the country. Finally this season was go-time. We had always envisioned this tour happening during sunny spring days with a reliable freeze/thaw snowpack. However, Peter becomes a father towards the end of May and his supportive wife had valid reason to want him around. So, our scheduled window was late April. Due to unfavorable weather conditions on the western slopes, we decided to start in the Enchantments and end on Snoqualmie Pass.
Robo dropped us off on the Icicle Creek Road on the morning of April 22nd. The sky was deep blue and we were thinking starting on the sunny side of the Cascades was going to reap rewards. A few hours further up the Rat Creek drainage, the weather turned to that which was consistently hitting home on Snoqualmie Pass: clouds, wind, and eventually snow. Not wanting to get stymied by too much snow for a safe climb up from Coney Lake to Canon Mt the next morning, we pushed on. Almost 7000’ above our start, we reached Canon Mt. in a windy whiteout. With skins and compass still in use, we quickly got down to the Lost World Plateau and over to our desired descent towards Prussik Pass. We enjoyed increased visibility and a couple sections of powder turns amongst larch trees before finally setting up our first camp above Perfection Lake.
We awoke to four inches of new snow and began touring through the Enchantments. There were a couple moments when the sun won the battle and we caught glimpses of our snow filled neighbors, most notably Prussik & MacClellan Peaks. Due to continued winter conditions, we chose to abort hopes of tagging Colchuck and Dragontail and elected for the more familiar descent from Asgaard Pass to Colchuck Lake. We took advantage of some brief sight distance and floated through cold smoke all the way down to the lake. We sipped tee and admired our turns waiting for the giggles to wear off. Then we roughed a nasty descent down to Mountaineers Creek where we filled up on water and tore layers off as the sun came out. Just a few minutes later we layered back up and toured through snow showers up to camp at Lake Stuart.
Never seeing the upper half of Mt. Stuart, we discarded plans of traveling over Goat Pass and chose a more direct route over Jack Ridge via Jack Lake. In winter fashion, the visibility shut down and the wind picked up as we climbed higher. We booted over the rocky ridgeline and safely navigated down a few inches of wind-consolidated snow on a firm crust. Once down to Jack Creek, we snacked and then started a long valley day. Once more, the weather and snow conditions turned us away from our intended exploration up and over Harding Mt. Instead, we opted for the creek cruising day and skied down Jack Creek and then up Meadow Creek to the southern base of The Cradle. Consistent with each morning thus far, we awoke to new snow on the Megamid. But soon the clouds dispersed and the sky appeared to want to remain mostly clear. Odd. Through a satellite phone call, we got a weather update that the next couple days looked cloudless. We relished in the thought of seeing our surroundings and quickly headed west determined to spend the big alpine day on Daniel and Hinman in the sunshine.
We spotted a gorgeous basin on the east side of Granite Mt we wanted to climb. Before entering this basin we toured across the first set of tracks we’d seen on the trip. I pondered different possibilities, “Maybe they are snowshoe tracks…no too small. They look like boot tracks…but way out here?” They turned out to be from a bear who either didn’t have the strength to lift it’s legs out of the snow or was simply too heavy to do so.
Soon we were climbing above tree line. In addition to the decent weather, being back in the high country increased our stokage! We continued north over a ridge and then climbed the NE basin to crest the ridge and reach Granite’s summit. For the first time of the trip we could see the top of Mt. Stuart and where we began the morning before. The northern flanks of the Wenatchee range boasted tons of attractive skiing that would have to wait for another trip. To the south was the almighty Rainier and obstructing most of the view to the west sat the snow-packed NE aspects of Mt. Daniel. Grande!
We began our descent with great curiosity and satisfaction. We were satisfied that we put ourselves into a position to get Daniel and Hinman on an expected good weather day. We were curious about our descent down to Hyas Lake and if the bucket of food I cached a month ago would still be there. Curiosity and uncertainty often result in surprises and we experienced the beneficial side for both revelations. We skied dry unconsolidated powder on the descent down to upper Robin Lake and then soft spring turns down the west side of Granite. Equally exhilarating was discovering the food cache was unhampered! We set camp and consumed as many calories as we could.
Early the next morning we started skinning up a chasm into the huge NE basin and eventually onto the summit of Mt. Daniel. Glacier Peak beamed to the north and Peter starting pointing its direction and saying things like “that’s next, the NCCT” and “then there’s the NCT.” We scoped out a safe entrance onto the Lynch Glacier and began a long descent down to Pea Soup Lake. Mt. Daniel definitely separates itself from the rest of the Central Cascades by its expansive alpine acreage. Feeling like I was closer to the Chugach range than my backyard, we slid through glacial powder without a tree in site.
From Pea Soup Lake, we descended west on firm snow down to the bottom of a gully separating Mt. Daniel from Mt. Hinman. We toured up this wind funnel and then accessed the NE side of Hinman. Except for having fewer rock towers around, the wide-open whiteness was similar to that found on Daniel. We got into a trance-like zone of skinning. I admired Glacier Peak thinking of the day we were on it’s top thinking about doing what we were doing right now. Peter was reciting a self-motivational mantra: “I am light, I am strong.” Whether the mantra helped or not, Peter’s strength was evident as I observed his relentless pace up the mountain. A reliable partner to get things done in the mountains, Peter is the type of guy who gains strength during these multi-day marathons.
Reaching the summit, we admired the ruggedness of the Snoqualmie Pass high peaks and sensed a connection to finishing the traverse. We traversed west off the summit, skied some steep breakable crud above La Bohn Lakes and then sloshed through soupy snow past Williams Lake to a nice opening safe from any wet slide runouts. It was only 4:00 and we basked in the afternoon sunshine: gear dried out, bare toes breathed, and multiple freeze-dried meals were consumed. We enjoyed our only open bivy and woke up early to beat the onslaught of wet slides we were expecting.
Touring up the valley under the north side of Summit Chief was as spectacular as ever. Snow and ice gripped its rocky veins displaying that the present warming was an oddity in this long winter. At Summit Chief Col, we continued touring towards Overcoat Col hoping we could avoid a descent and climb back up under the east side of Chimney Rock. We climbed to the ridge that borders the east side of Overcoat Glacier until we hit a dead end. Falling west onto the glacier or south onto steep slopes were a couple rappel options that both required more rope length than we carried. We easily decided to ski down to the south and tour back up under Chimney’s eastern flanks. After 2500’ of safely sliding over bulletproof conditions to the bottom of the basin, we were relieved to be skinning again as we climbed up to Overcoat Col. We skied directly off the Col towards Iceberg Lake in favorable conditions: a huge snowpack limited the amount of exposed rock and the heat of the day had softened the snow.
Knowing the heat was going to start causing havoc in our surroundings, the rest of this day was all about safe speeding. We toured south from Iceberg Lake to a notch under the Lemahs where we quickly traversed one at a time to the outfall of Chikamin Lake. Here we found a safe spot and enjoyed some lunch while listening to the thunderous slides around us, most frequently from the rocky southern slopes of Burntboot Peak. We knew it wouldn’t be safe to ski south off Chikamin any time soon so extended our break. Late in the afternoon we toured up Chikamin’s north side to set camp and take a peak at our descent. Views from the summit ridge were spectacular and for the first time I was reversing the view out my condo window. We eyed our expected route under Huckleberry past Alaska towards the Kendall Catwalk and admired a ton of snow still remaining on the lower peaks west of us.
The next morning we awoke early for a less saturated descent off Chikamin. While the temperature did decrease overnight and the snow stiffened up a bit, the temperature was not cold enough to freeze the H20 falling from the sky. This was not good for the remainder of the traverse as we were camped higher than we would be at any future point west. With this in mind, plus the fact I allowed the wind to blow away the necessary maps, we chose to exit via the Gold Creek valley.
Picking our way through clouds and cliff bands, we navigated down the southwest side of Chikamin. Far from the methodology I have always envisioned while gawking out my window towards this aesthetic face, our descent consisted of careful sidestepping and long traverses. Once down on the bench northeast of Huckleberry, we safely sloshed down towards Joe Lake and finally the valley bottom. Due to a supersaturated snowpack that was still gaining water content, there was little ski success along Gold Creek. We stuck on our skins one last time and began the long waltz home. Ignoring the rain through thoughts of long sought after accomplishment, soon enough we saw the only other person we had seen since we began six days earlier: Robo our taxi driver.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Front Page News
It's been a crazy winter to be living up here on Snoqualmie Pass. We recently got over 10 feet of snow in two weeks. We're well on our way to having a record-snowfall year, and both the skiing and the road conditions have reflected that. Washington State Department of Transportation has a really interesting graph going that shows snowfall and closures for the last six years. We've been stuck up here off and on. But we've also had some fantastic powder days. The ski area's photo of the day gallery and the Hyak Flikr account (Hyak is the community we live in) show some of the craziness... everything from the end of January up to mid-February shows us pretty much buried. We'll see what's still to come from La Nina.
Being back and at work hasn't always been a super-smooth transition, but we're figuring it out. Trev's busy planning a spring Central Cascades Traverse ski tour that he's been dreaming of for years. Stay tuned for more on that one. I'm taking a math class at BCC, and working on getting accepted to graduate school. I'm hoping to start a Master in Teaching program this year.
As for continued blogging... we're not sure what we want to do with the blog just yet. In the beginning we set out to keep friends and family posted on the big trip, but now we're back and feel like we should be doing that by actual two-way interaction with our loved ones. But we both enjoyed the writing part of keeping a blog, so we may have some spin-offs in the works, once we decide if we have anything to say.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Home Sweet Home
After approximately 13.5 hours on the bus, we caught a quick taxi to the airport for our red-eye to Korea. Our lengthy layover allowed us to get out and see a bit of Seoul on the 29th. Unfortunately, the palace we were aiming for was closed for the day, but we did have a nice wander around before meeting Kara (a friend I haven't seen since high school!) for lunch. She's teaching English to middle school girls there, and managed to shuffle her schedule and get the afternoon off. She treated us to some fantastic Korean barbecue, and we had a great afternoon visit over coffee and dessert. We were having such a good time, we pulled it a little tight getting back for our flight, and arrived just in time for boarding.
A speedy transpacific flight later, we were ready to start the 29th all over again. Trev's parents picked us up at Sea-Tac, and we headed straight for Gorditos (how long have we been thinking about burritos????). Dave and Vanessa joined us, and we thoroughly enjoyed our second lunch of the calendar day.
Now we're starting to think about things like cars, cell phones, a laptop, driver's licenses, and all the other practicalities. It's enough to make a person want to hide in the hot tub for a week. And did we mention we're FREEZING? We have officially left the tropics. But overall we're really, really happy to be home. We're so excited to see everyone in the coming weeks! The air is clear, the sun is once more our friend, and the PNW is indeed a beautiful, beautiful place.