Colleen Hinton (fearless leader who forgot her skins, but not her book)
Nancy Kim (humble scribe and Mid construction manager)
Diane Hennessey (terrain-management consultant)
Dawn Chapel (map expert and mascot handler)
Paulina Varshavskaya (worker’s rights activist)
Clare Parfitt (tavern centerpole-dancer)
We skinned. We stripped. We skied.
Weather was unseasonably hot for WCN’s Third Annual Ski and Snowcamp, so in lieu of dressing up, we dressed down, way down. Normally a winter trip, this weekend outing turned into a spring affair, and what better rite of spring than skiing in skivvies?
We left the back lot of Mt. Baker Ski Resort a little after noon on Friday. The plan was to camp in the flats just below Artist Point, a little more than a mile from the parking lot. The group departed for camp leaderless since El Jefe had forgotten an essential piece of gear–her skins—and was forced to drive to Glacier to rent a pair.
It was an easy skin south, up the cat track to the “Backcountry Warning” sign where we hived off towards Artist Point. Plenty of day trippers were out, but we had the camping flats to ourselves. A cloudless sky cast Shuksan in sharp relief. This year’s smaller goup of six allowed us to forgo the second Mid, so we only had one tavern to excavate. I told the day laborers that we would follow an exciting new protocol in Middie…umm…erection: pitch and dig. Rather than guesstimate the perimeter of the Mid, we would carve out the bench seating and table with the shelter in place. Clare stabilized the centerpole while the rest of us pulled taut and staked the corners. Paulina attempted to unionize the workers, a leftist movement I immediately quashed. They demanded health care and I showed them a first-aid kit.
Colleen’s timing proved impeccable. She came sauntering into camp in some jerry-rigged G3 skins just as we had completed the tavern. We quickly pitched our tents and set out for a late-afternoon run on the north-facing slopes near camp. The free-heelers outnumbered the fixed, four to two. Colleen, in her non-judgmental therapist’s tone, queried Clare, “So tell me why you bought teles again?”
I had my new birthday skis in tow, Armada JJs, fully-rockered boards measuring a chubby 115 mm underfoot. They surf pow and ski switch well. I was curious to test them in spring conditions. I dropped into a steep section of soft, tracked-out snow with caution, then carved turns effortlessly as I headed skier’s left to await the others. “These fatties are the shit,” I thought to myself.
Back at camp, libations flowed. Comfortably seated at the tavern, we toasted the day with Margaritas, spiced rum, bourbon and red wine. We left the door open to the view of alpenglow over Shuksan. Then came the noise, faint at first, a whiny roar. ‘Bilers on dusk patrol. How thankful we were to admire the blushing scenery to the music of their engines. We could only hope they had enough fuel to last until nightfall so that we might gaze at Orion and the Pleiades to that peaceful, soporific drone.
Saturday was another warm, sunny day. We discussed our options given the avalanche conditions, considerable on south-facing slopes, moderate on other aspects. The standard tour of Herman Saddle crosses a significant avy slope that had released. We looked at the map, scanned the terrain and wondered if there was an alternate descent route to avoid a late-afternoon crossing of that slope. We also reconned the boot track up Table Mountain. Ultimately, we decided the safest bet would be skiing shadier aspects off Shuksan arm. We dropped in from the ski area cat track, hiked up an existing boot path, then skinned over icy slopes to gain the ridge. Dawn cursed a bit, fighting to get purchase at times on a dicey section. She mulled turning around, but ended up joining the gang for the last push. We snapped photos with Baker as backdrop. I noticed more smiles than frowns on the descent which offered better-than-predicted snow.
Once back on the cat track, I felt the need for a costume change. “Let’s ski back in our underwear,” I suggested. Colleen was game, but wanted to wait until we were a bit closer to camp. So we skied down to our turn-off, and casually removed our clothes. An unsuspecting couple came across our scantily clad party. Surely, we looked like some twisted parody of a catalogue, Title 9 meets Victoria’s Secret. The man cut a wide berth while the woman simply repeated “have fun” several times like someone who just learned English from a Berlitz guide. It’s a good thing they didn’t linger longer. Our tops came off for a twilight run off a sunny knoll near camp. Backcountry chicks are suckers for exposure.
Saturday night was a capella night at the tavern. Our rousing singalong—always spirited, seldom on key—spanned the genres and decades. Pink Floyd and Pink Martini, Rocky Horror, followed by the true horror, Abba. More liquor, more wine—and beer! Snow-chilled Bodington lagers courtesy of Colleen “where the hell did I bury those” Hinton. We sang for hours. Hoarse throats were our reward the following day.
Sunday morning, our fearless leader and I buried our beacons with candy-filled eggs to celebrate the Easter bunny’s ascension (not to be confused with the day when the bunny looks for its shadow). Colleen called out “Avalanche! Quick, get your shovels and beacons!” The avy drill/egghunt did not go over well initially with the campers who had other plans. Someone had to take a crap; another wanted to put on her ski boots. The sense of urgency for our two victims seemed low. The rescue drill was more a recovery.
Our final ski tour was Herman Saddle. We managed to get the most recent avy report; the danger level had not increased despite Saturday’s higher temperatures. We decided to do the tour, skiing only the east face and descending early enough in the day to avoid potential wet-slides off the south-facing slope. We cooked in the solar oven as we skinned up from Bagley Lake basin. We stayed on the north side of the gully for the descent which produced sweet turns for the upper two-thirds of the ride. Despite the heat, we demonstrated a bit of modesty and kept our clothes on.