Monthly Archives: April 2012

Skiing the Duff

Alison Kilroy finds snow and breaks trail

Sunday April 26, 2012

The WCN crew: Alison Kilroy, Dawn Mueller, Heather Mirczak, DianeHennessey and Nancy Kim

When we  pulled the plug on the WCN Baker Backcountry trip due to weather, thoughts turned to a tour on the sunny side, Blewett Pass.

We arrived at the Tronsen Meadow trailhead, just north of the pass, at about 9:30am. The road (FR 7240) was bare and perfectly drivable for a short spell. From the road, we scouted Diamond Head in the distance and spied some paltry patches of white. I wouldn’t characterize the snow conditions as poor since technically one needs snow to have any sort of snow conditions.

Optimists at the trailhead see the snow somewhat there, not all but gone.

Everyone was game to stay in the sun and pack skis for recon. The tour’s prelude is a labyrinth of x-country ski trails and forest roads, but we were armed with a detailed RD by for the Diamond Head East, aka Windy Knob, tour. Note, however, that the usefulness of a good RD is directly proportional to the number of times one consults it. For some reason, we preferred to look at our altimeters, take compass bearings and consult the topo rather than read simple directions such as “take a left at the marker tree.”

Diane Hennessey rejoices at the ski conditions.

Lunch with the elk

On one of several false starts, we contoured east toward Haney Meadow on a thin, icy ribbon. Impatience to gain more elevation got the better of the group and we decided we were off route. So convinced of our navigational error, we didn’t bother reading the RD and promptly about faced only to discover we were traveling in the right direction. After an hour and a half of skiing through needle duff and skunk cabbage, passing through pretty stands of red osier and ponderosa pine, we decided to have lunch, abort the tour and salvage the day with a dusk patrol skin up Hyak.

Olfactory field identification of scat

As we ate in the sun, our conversation was punctuated by a primal counterpoint of rutting elks. Rutting elks? Yes, gentle but dubious reader, the elk rut is a fall event, but let’s not quibble. It weakens the narrative. The sharp, high pitched bugles weren’t merely alarm calls—they were the territorial vocalizations of bulls. Clearly, we needed to finish our meal and high-tail it back to the cars where snowpatch-chilled lagers awaited.

We left skins on skis for the drive to Snoqualmie Pass. It wasn’t raining at Hyak, so we climbed the slope and played “Name that Peak” at the top before a quick descent of corn and mash.

Alison, Dawn, Nancy and Diane with view of Gold Creek Valley

Heather Mirczak about to drop a knee


Chair Peak, North Slope Descent (Volken Tour)

Sunday April 15, 2012
Snoqualmie Pass temperature: 51 degrees with predicted sun

Colleen heading to the north side of Chair Peak

Reg, Colleen, Paulina and I arrived at the upper Alpental parking lot, elevation 3,200 ft., at 8am. A few other cars were parked and a handful of other groups were putting skins on when we arrived. The avalanche conditions for Sunday were considerable on south and southwest-facing slopes, so we nixed plan A, Red Mountain, and opted for the north-slope descent of Chair Peak.

We departed at 8:20am skiing up the groomed path and further upvalley reaching Source Lake in good time, 45 minutes. It was a good place to recalibrate my altimeter, look at the map and route description, and observe snow conditions. There was plenty of evidence of the spring avalanche cycle on south-facing slopes. Reg pointed out the “Cliff of Shame” also known as “Nancy’s Cliff” where I found myself last year. On that tour, my ski buddies had sensibly avoided said cliff by descending skier’s right after I came to a quick hockey stop when I saw the drop. “Huck it, dude!” was the advice from the peanut gallery below.

Nancy above the Alpental basin (photo by Colleen Hinton)

A trailing party skied up gladed terrain while we baked in the sun and toured up the open slope, staying climber’s right of the avy debris. Once at the flat spot (elevation 4,450 ft.) we debated which notch was the so-called North Face notch described in the Volken RD. Colleen was out-voted by me and Reg who agreed it was the one with the skin track. (I’m pretty sure the other notch, guarded by a steeper slope, leads to the south shoulder of Chair.) Reg, Colleen and I all removed our skis at the same point, booting the final 20 feet of the 45-degree slope to the notch (elevation 5,360 ft.). Meanwhile, Paulina removed her skis slightly lower down and took a different boot track with a steeper gradient, leading to a higher point on the ridge. Her route turned out to be a bit more treacherous so we suggested downclimbing and traversing right to our boot path. The soft snow conditions made traversing a bit hairy, so she soldiered on with the more arduous ascent.

Nancy booting with A-frame listing to starboard (photo by Colleen Hinton)

Our descent featured shallow corn, avalanche mank and heavier snow. A group behind us was doing the Chair Peak Circumnavigation. We lunched at a small bench with a view north of Snow Lake frozen below us.

Colleen, Paulina, Nancy and Reg above Snow Lake

We then skied the gulley furthest left—Volken calls it the funnel–leading to the lake while avoiding several cliff bands. I dropped in first, followed by Paulina and Reg who both triggered some shallow sluffs on the mashed-tater descent of the avy funnel to the western shore of Snow Lake. We ‘skinned’ (without skins) east crossing the frozen lake and then donned furs for the hundred feet back to the flat spot where we skied the final descent into the Alpental valley. Total tour time: 6 hours including lunch.

Outdoor Orthography

There ain’t no “c” in Shuksan, no “w” in Stuart, and no fucking “o” in gaiters. That thing you use to tie your flies is a vise, not a vice, even though your partner might think it’s the latter. The past tense of ski is skied, something skiers should know but had I a dime for every Turns All Year TR rife with that troublesome, double i, past tense (skiied), I could retire. Randonnée may be French for can’t tele, but the way I see the word butchered, it’s obviously American for can’t spell. Fix the heel, fix the problem and fix your spell-check. Or just use the term AT as acronyms are virtually impossible to misspell.

Beckey, the unreliable narrator

You’re not a backcountry veteran until you experience the utter uselessness of the Beckey guide, that moment when you realize you are not looking for a  needle in a haystack because there is no needle. You begin to wonder if these so-called guide books are actually works of speculative fiction.

To wit: the fisherman’s trail contouring the east shore of Otter Lake in the West Fork Foss River drainage, drawn on the map of page 201 of Beckey’s Cascade Alpine Guide (Volume 1) is mythical. Dawn Chapel and I, on an aborted high traverse from the West to East Fork of the Foss, beat our way through the thorny salad of Devil’s Club and slide alder to reach the lake’s southern outlet. We burned the better part of a day bushwhacking a scant ¼ mile. A sufferfest, truly. Morale plummeted to its nadir when Dawn threw off her pack in frustration and prepared to hurl it down the gulley. I convinced her of the folly of this, which went well beyond a mere affront to Leave No Trace ethics.

The only saving grace was the dry-fly fishing. I landed cuttie after cuttie, including a girthy 12-inch coastal cutthroat, on a number 14 Royal Wulff.

Skin Care and Whiskey

by Nancy Kim

Last night’s to-do list included a stressful phone call to my sister. I needed something to take the edge off and relax me while speaking with her. A shot of bourbon, definitely, and something else perhaps. I tried to think of a peaceful, meditative activity to engage in after drinking and dialing. Remember the hero in Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle? He ironed shirts to calm himself.

Eureka! I’ll iron my climbing skins, another item on the evening’s to-do list. Never mind that I’ve never done it before and I could potentially fuck up my skins. For those unfamiliar with this skin-care method, ironing the adhesive side of your skins is a way to revive lost tack in the skin glue. I took two long strips of parchment paper slightly wider than the skins and placed them on my Black Diamond Guide Lites. With the iron on the lowest setting, I pulled long rip strokes from tip to tail until a dark gloss showed through the white parchment paper.

And so it went. A wee dram, a bit of ironing and well, okay, a bit of shouting into the Nokia flip phone held together with blue tape. The call ended and I peeled the cooled parchment paper from my skins. It was brilliant multi-tasking from a hardcore monotasker. My skins seem like new. The sibling situation, however, needs a bit more ironing out.