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.

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