Monthly Archives: February 2014

Late powder-flu season

Back in January, there was enough vegetation poking through the boot-cuff base at Hayak to dub our morning skin laps Lawn Patrol. The temperature hovered a few degrees above freezing, the worst, as snow devolved into rain and one’s aging Gore-Tex layers, miserably hydrophilic, grew heavy and wet. Cascade concrete with exposed aggregate, the stuff of dreams.

Fast forward to mid-February. Old Man Winter must have performed an act of contrition after scorning Mother Nature. The Pacific Northwest’s driest ski season in recent memory saw an epic storm cycle delivering much wanted (and needed) snow to the Cascades. Finally, winter hung in the boughs of spruce and fir. Winter lay on the roads strewn with broken cable chains. Winter of our discontent, no more.

Skiers and boarders, like Dust Bowl farmers after a rain, felt bright and hopeful. The Tuesday after Presidents’ Day, Barb Buys, Heather Mirczak and I skied sinfully good conditions with scant lift-queue downtime at Stevens Pass. Finally, powder to feed my porky boards. We stayed inbounds, a decision dictated by common snow sense and confirmed by the high avy rating at all elevations. The week before, a father and son triggered an avalanche in the Stevens sidecountry near Big Chief.

(For the full accident report, go to

Last Friday (Feb. 21), HM, her pal and former student Brianna Hartzell and I skied swing shift, starting a little past 1300 hours and clocking out around 2000 hours. It turned out to be a happy, hyper-social shift as we (primarily HM) came across familiar faces: Jenny Rice, Jenny Conrad and her husband Pat, and Carla Schauble. Seventh Heaven had the best snow. But I’ve a sixth sense that skiers, wherever they were in Washington, found seventh heaven.


High tea with Jenny, Brianna and HM.


The princess and the poo

This morning as I was checking NOAA for the mountain forecast, I received a text query from my sister Susan: How does one go to the bathroom while camping?

Susan is an urbane city dweller who has never camped, not even when she was a kid. She’s most comfortable in a little black dress and heels; style never takes a back seat to sensibility. She is the only one I know who shovels snow in Valentino rubber boots with bows. In her world, roughing it means staying somewhere besides The Four Seasons. In other words, she’s not the type to ask such a question out of random curiosity.

On Valentine’s Day, Susan promised her husband Steve she would do a trip with him. She was gathering data. You can imagine her horror as I delivered the sobering news, that she would use a privy, a rustic seat nailed to a wooden box placed over a pit, or dig a cathole and bury her turds. Omg omg omg, she texted laconically. Clearly, it is not the ability to think abstractly, but the ability to flush, which separates woman from beast.

I further explained that if she and Steve entered a sensitive alpine zone, they would have to blue bag it, meaning pack it out. To a woman aghast at the thought of sullying her bottom on a rough-hewn plank, the concept of hauling out poo was a bit much. She was now considering reneging on her promise to Steve, leaving the poor boy up shit creek without a partner.

I suggested Steve take an MP3 recording of a flushing toilet. “The sound could be comforting to Susan. She might forget she’s taking a crap in the woods,” I said to him. It’s a kind of reverse potty training, teaching adults not to use a toilet.

To be fair, some of Susan’s fears are understandable. A well-used backcountry privy is a scary, pungent thing, particularly when the pile is about to break the plane of safety. Strong quads are necessary not only for hiking, but also for suspending oneself above the convexity of the danger zone. I prescribed a mad regimen of squats. There’s little chance my sister will encounter anything in the backcountry as foul as the facilities in the near-country, say, the crapper at Vantage. If she does, it will mark her last movement.

Above sketch by Meg Hudson