Category Archives: trip report

Skywalker TR: Squamish, BC

The phone rang on Sunday afternoon. It was Anne Tarver, calling to ask how my week was looking.

“I have to work. Trying to squeeze in a client before this other job starts,” I said.

“Have you seen the forecast? It’s supposed to hit the 70s this week. We could go to Squamish and climb Skywalker,” responded Anne, a self-described leisure consultant, ignoring my talk of work.

She was referring to the 5.8 multi-pitch line, near Shannon Falls, put up by Jeremy Frimer in 2011. We tried to climb Skywalker that year, but news and topos spread quickly on the Internet and several parties beat our lazy asses to the start. Put off by the wait, we aborted. For Anne, a crack connoisseur, visions of climbing Skywalker never ceased.

The invitation was attractive, but I paused. One must have a mind devoid of winter to dwell on up instead of down. The resident devil on my shoulder whispered tantalizing things about granite cracks, sunny belay perches and handsome coastal views. I turned to the angel and the angel said unto me: “Fuck work. Go climb.” Devil on both shoulders, clearly.

We left Wednesday morning sometime before 10am. The little Honda Civic was stuffed. Anne, the maximalist, appeared to be moving to Canada. Just when I thought we had reached capacity, she squeezed Rummikub behind the driver’s seat.

It was 2pm when we pulled into the Shannon Falls parking lot. The plan was to climb Klahanie Crack and perhaps something else before setting up camp at Paradise Valley further north. Skywalker was on Thursday’s agenda. Not surprisingly, there was a party on Klahanie, so Anne suggested we take a peek at Skywalker. We had spied climbers on the scenic traverse before we entered the forest trail. By a stroke of luck, not a single party was waiting. It was close to 3pm. The opportunity took us by surprise and now we had to decide whether warming up on a multi-pitch was a good idea. Both of us were coming off the couch. There was a rap station in case of retreat, Anne noted. I stuffed a headlamp into my Bermudas, clipped a jacket to my harness, slung the El Cap rack over my shoulders and tied in.

I puzzled a bit over how to start. The finger-sized fissure, notoriously rheumy and lachrymose, offered only wet jamming. I took the dry option of face, eventually moving into the crack. The line continued right, a traverse protected by two bolts, to a debris-filled crack leading to the belay. Anne led pitch two, the so-called Flume, a left-facing corner crack. Again, the challenge of getting into the corner without getting wet presented itself. Anne drew on gymnastic opposition to avoid wet rock and moved steadily upward. The lead swung back to me for pitch three over a few stumps to a ramp, then to a crack with a cruxy move before the belay. Embarking on the penultimate pitch, Anne smiled as she romped across the low-angle slab traverse in a very considerate, second-friendly manner, lacing the underling. The finish was short work, easy slab protected by several bolts.

We topped out a little before 7pm, an ascent time of just under four hours, leaving us an ample ration of light for a headlamp-free descent. We took the recommended side trip to Shannon Pools and ogled the raging flows until the spray chilled us to the bone. Later in the season, these pools might make a welcome après-climb swimming hole.

The warm, sunny weather held on Thursday. After an unhurried morning at camp–breakfast and coffee and a one-looney shower–we made our way over to the Chief. We schlepped our heavy climbing packs up to South Peak and and rapped down to Raven’s Castle, perched on the nose of the Chief. The climbing there is more about the setting than the climbing–we witnessed multiple paragliders hurling themselves off the summit towards Howe Sound just as we finished the dogleg line, Talking Crack.

Our last day, Friday, brought rain, but not until we climbed at the car park crags at Smoke Bluffs. The thirty-second approach bore stark contrast to the quad-busting staircase up to South Peak. What’s more, the view of the Smoke Bluffs’ parking lot was a gob-smacker. (Though High Mountain Woody is on my tick list, I figured given the dodgy weather, it was not the day to climb at the more atmospheric Malamute.) Happy to belay, Anne bundled up in layers. I gave her my Nano Puff which she improvised as leggings. Happy to take the sharp end, I led the 5.9 finger crack, Cold Comfort. We rapped down, coiled the rope and felt the first drops of liquid sunshine as the weather window snapped shut.

The spontaneous crack holiday merely reinforced my love of the curtailed work week and weakened my immunity to sun flu. Thanks a lot, Anne.

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2013 WCN Annual Climb: Glacier Peak TR

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Glacier Peak via White Pass and Disappointment Peak: July 12-15, 2013

Participants: Colleen Hinton (fearless cat herder); Diane Hennessey; Laurie Cullen; Laurel Fan; Daphne Rich; Robin Kodner; Mary Yocom; Paulina Varshavskaya; Clare Parfitt; Nancy Kim

Animal handlers: Cath Carine; Anne Tarver

Stock: Sumo the dog

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With access to the North Fork Sauk road restored, Glacier Peak was the top choice for the annual climb after previous attempts stymied by poor weather or road closure. I had dismissed the objective as just another checkbox on the tick list, though others were downright giddy to bag this remote, wilderness volcano. Rightfully so.

The weather forecast was excellent, marred only by a 30 percent chance of showers on approach day. We met Friday at 6:30am in Seattle, picked up Laurie further north, drove to Darrington and arrived at the small trailhead parking lot just after 9am.

Colleen’s pack contained half a Trader Joe’s aisle and a tiny harness, consistent with her hybrid philosophy of ultra-heavy food and gram-weenie gear. DH’s kit went on a crash diet: a new McHale pack with mysteriously sourced, lightweight glacier gear. Clare’s burden was tall and listing to port.

The gang was on the North Fork Sauk River trail, elevation 2,120 ft., by 10:20am. Clouds kept us cool as we hiked a gently rolling path through old growth cedar, hemlock and silver fir, past bogs of giant skunk cabbage. At approximately five miles, we reached the Mackinaw shelter, a dilapidated affair, moss-riddled and carved with initials and an obscenity aimed at former president Bush. Sun broke through the cloud cover as we climbed the switchbacks, then contoured east. Valerian scent lingered. Penstemon, columbine, and Indian paintbrush were in bloom. A bumper crop of glacier lily carpeted open slopes in yellow.

We reached the intersection with the PCT, our rendez-vous point with Mary Yocom, a hair ahead of schedule. Mary had spent Thursday night at Mackinaw camp. We arrived at the trail crossing just before 4pm and reached White Pass shortly afterwards. The barometer was dropping as thickening storm clouds crept towards us. A ‘No Camping’ sign at the pass proper directs campers to sites in a small basin below with plenty of running water, a tree-sheltered kitchen area, and a canted privy with crappy ergonomics (pun intended) mitigated by a sublime view of Sloan Peak.

The wind kicked up; rain and hail followed. A dog barked in the distance. Must be Sumo, Anne and Cath’s low-rider, we thought. I made out a squat dog in a rain coat herding a not-too-tall figure toting a pink umbrella. Sumo, Anne and Cath dropped in for a visit as we were discussing summit plans. One team—Robin, Laurel and Paulina—would summit the following day, while Colleen, DH, Laurie, Clare and I opted to move camp to Glacier Gap. Mary intended to accompany us to the Gap. Daphne chose to remain at the pass. She had just come out of the Enchantments the day before. Sleep was appealing. Moreover, she had forgotten her boot insoles back at the car.

On Saturday, Robin, Laurel and Paulina rose at 3:30am for a 4:30am alpine start. The rest of us slept late, sipped morning coffee in the sun and broke camp at a social pace.

We pushed off around 11am, taking the Foam Creek trail just below the ridge and county line. It was good tread of alternating dirt and snow. Chubby marmots grazed, largely indifferent to our presence. When the path petered out we hopped to the other side of the ridge to reach the White Chuck Glacier where we booted our way north on soft snow, heavily cupped and runneled. Crimson pools of snow algae stood out against the whiteness.

Black bear tracks.

Black bear tracks.

At 1600-ish hours, we made high camp, elevation 7,200 ft., just as Robin, Laurel and Paulina rolled into town. As promised, we lit a stove for tea and served the happy summiteers. At 1700 hours, we bid adieu to the ladies who were White Pass-bound.

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Gerdine Glacier and Gerdine Ridge

Gerdine Glacier and Gerdine Ridge

On Sunday, the four-day team heard the 5am rooster call. We left at 6:05am and cramponed immediately from camp on good-purchase, styrofoam snow. Our route, via Gerdine Glacier, Disappointment Peak and Cool Glacier, presented no crevasse issues allowing us to travel unroped for the entire ascent. We skirted the main ridge and stayed on snow as much as possible to avoid the time suck of crampon removal and ditched glacier gear before the final stretch, a 900-foot section of pumice followed by a short snow slope to the summit of the 10, 541-foot volcano.

Laurie, Colleen and Clare on top.

Laurie, Colleen and Clare on top.

At 9:38am, we were on top. At 9:39am, Colleen was blowing up a pink flamingo and dressing up in a trollop’s costume, a 50th birthday gift from DH presented to her in Terror Basin. For the summit photo shoot, she donned the infamous red latex skirt, hemmed to porn-star specifications, and a wig ostensibly made by passing a space blanket through a paper shredder. When we sat down for lunch, she stretched out on the snow, flashed a coquettish smile and whispered hello to a young man with a wispy Jesus beard.

“Hello,” Jesus mumbled awkwardly. Perhaps he was wondering what the fuck Mary Magdalene was doing atop Glacier Peak? He scurried off with his two apostles a comfortable distance away.

I ripped open a “Pocket Shot” of bourbon and passed it around. The summit was getting seedier by the minute. (Guide to Ultralight Boozing to come.)

As we ate, a solo skier arrived, the underdressed and overly fit lad we had seen at White Pass

“That’s one helluva outfit!” he cried enthusiastically. He had bivied on Disappointment Peak and was yo-yoing runs from the top. He’s from Bellingham. Robin lives in Bellingham. Hmmm.

As we talked, a deafening sound pierced the air. Holy fuck. A nimble fighter jet grazed us from above scaring the shit out of all present.

Gazing west, we could see all the way to Puget Sound; to the north, the glaciated relief of the North Cascades; to the south, the peaks of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Glacier’s height, isolation and central vantage point from which to view all points of the compass won me over.

After a mere hour and a half of relaxing in a spot protected from the wind, we began the descent. We roped up for a short spell below the pumice track at roughly 9,500 ft. on the Cool Glacier, then coiled our ropes and removed crampons for the rest of the trip to Glacier Gap. We broke camp and hiked to White Pass where Colleen had a surprise stashed. She served frozen Margaritas which tasted divine. I pulled out a chaser of chilled vodka to share.

On Monday, we woke to sunshine. We left at 8am for the hike down to the forest where we identified flowers and plants with the aid of DH, a walking Pojar and Mackinnon guide. At Mackinaw, we stopped by the river and stared. I read the water, mimed a 10 and 2 arc, casting towards a soft pocket. As we walked the last bit of trail, our minds fixed on the usual theme of creature comforts: real food, cold beer, cotton clothes and sandals.

Glacier Peak with a fantastic group of ladies. Check.

WCN Third Annual Ski and Snowcamp: TR

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Participants:

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)

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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.

Clare dances on the centerpole.

Clare dances on the centerpole.

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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.

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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.

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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.

West McMillan Spire: TR

Aug. 17-19, 2012

L’Equipe: Colleen Hinton (and Hortense, her tapeworm); Diane Hennessey; Clare Parfitt; Carla Schauble; Nancy Kim

Alpenglow in Terror Basin.

To celebrate two score and ten, Colleen chose a climb of West McMillan Spire in the fabled Pickets range, a remote cluster of peaks in the North Cascades. After Colleen’s lackadaisical summer which included Rainier via Liberty Ridge and a Pickets traverse, it was good she chose a climb with a hint of relief.

Carla Schauble on the root ladder.

The approach to West Mac is steep, commencing from Goodell Creek at a scant 600 feet, topping out at 6,350 ft., before dropping several hundred feet into Terror Basin. Our first challenge involved finding the start. We made the mistake of driving to Lower Goodell, only to find a curious absence of vehicles. We then drove to the group campground on the east side of the creek and found the small pullout described by Nelson. By 10:15am, we were hiking the relatively flat road, which crosses the creek a few times before arriving at a campsite with a rock arrow pointing to the right, marking the start of the climbers path. (4.5 miles and 1,600 ft.).

It’s pretty hard to miss the turn off, but if you’re not on a steep, well-defined path, you’re in the wrong place. The ascent is relentless with some sections requiring vegetation belay, the most vertiginous featuring a root ladder. It was extremely hot. We stopped for lunch well below the ridge where the views open up to the west. It was there that Carla had a lunch spot in mind, but Hortense would have abandoned Colleen for a new host had we waited to reach that spot. Carla, who had been snacking on Swedish fish (which curiously, are neither), ate nothing. I suspect she is a replicant and doesn’t need food to survive.

The climbers path forged over the years obviates the need to bushwhack. At one point it meanders up a dry streambed, cairned yet confusing at times. Once on the ridge, you angle north traversing a lovely ridge where westward views sprout up: Triumph with its stair-step ridgeline and the distinctive bevel-topped summit of the Chopping Block.

Carla descending into Terror Basin.

It was nearly 6pm when we arrived at the col at 6,350 ft. We could see the tents of two other parties as we peered 300 feet down into Terror Basin and wondered how best to descend. Carla, the only one in our party who had already bagged Mac (twice, in fact), said she dropped into the moat on previous trips. This time, we would have to descend hideous scree or frontpoint the steep slope, probably more than 50 degrees at its steepest. Nobody liked the scree option, so we strapped on crampons, faced the slope and dropped over the lip. I went first, followed by Carla, Colleen, DH and Clare. After speaking with others who had chosen the scree, I reckoned we had chosen wisely.

Saturday’s forecast called for 30 percent chance of thundershowers in the afternoon. We pondered bivy sacks, but decided to take HM’s ‘circus tent’ instead. The Black Diamond MegaMid (2 lbs. with stakes) is a great weight-saving shelter which sleeps four comfortably. Carla and Colleen packed bivy sacks. It was nice to have some shelter to stash gear while we were climbing in case the skies turned.

We left at a slackerly 7am on summit day, shortly after a trio of Bushwhackers departed. To reach the col for the west ridge, we stayed low, traversing up and over slab benches. By staying below the outlet of a high glacial lake at 5,550 ft (as described in Nelson’s), slightly lower than Terror Basin, you avoid cliffing out. We rested on some rocks for a quick snack before putting on crampons for the climb up the Inspiration-West Mac col on  30 to 40 degree-angle soft snow. Once off the snow, we tried to find a flattish spot in the loose rock gulley ill-suited for crampon removal. From there, it was a straightforward scramble to the summit on third class terrain, but I found myself throwing in some fourth-class moves to stay on ‘less dynamic’ rock. We topped out at 11am, four hours from camp, and admired views of neighboring peaks in Crescent Creek Basin, Luna and Fury in the Northern Pickets, and the usual suspects in the North Cascades.

Scramble to the top.

Clare Parfitt on the final push to the summit.

We moved off the true summit block to make room for the Bushwhacker boys, though oddly enough, only one arrived at the top. Looking towards Inspiration Peak, Carla spotted a red speck on the east ridge, which turned out to be a member of the BoALPS team. From our perch on West McMilllan we cheered them on.

For the descent, we were hoping to be above the other team, but one of their members, Steve, had veered too far rapper’s left and was subsequently waiting in the wrong gulley. This would be only the first of his mistakes. With the lads now above us, I scrambled down the last of the loose rock above the snow, traversed over loose dirt and waited out of the fall line for my teammates. Once all the ladies had descended, I moved down to the nook where we had stashed some gear. Carla and Colleen came down as well while Clare and DH were still above.

As Carla and Colleen put on their crampons, I didn’t have a great feeling about our location. I asked whether the others thought it was safe. Clare asked Steve to wait. I’m not sure which part of wait he failed to comprehend, but he moved and triggered a cascade of rocks.

“Rock!!” someone screamed from above. I didn’t know whether to move left or right, so I just went left. Colleen, just a few feet to my right, was nailed on the thigh by a large flat rock released from approximately 30 feet above. She was grimacing in pain. I didn’t see any blood. We did rapid triage and determined nothing had been broken, but Colleen couldn’t fully weight her leg without pain.

Meanwhile, Chris of the Bushwhackers, wanted us to get out of the gulley post haste. He was holding back a lethal pile of choss. We helped Colleen up onto the snow and administered four Naproxen, then improvised an ice pack from a produce bag and snow, and wrapped it around the injury with an Ace bandage.

Diane Hennessey improvising an ice pack.

It was a slow hobble back to camp. What was shocking and infuriating was how the other team never checked in to a) deliver an apology or b) see how the injured party was doing. We got back to camp in five hours, not bad for having a gimp in tow.

Nancy unzipping; Carla toasting; Clare scolding; Colleen posing.

You’d think a rockfall injury might sap your party spirit. Not our birthday gal’s. She slipped into a latex, candy-apple red mini-skirt and a mylar wig seemingly inspired by a cheerleader’s pom-pom. I did not ask DH, who had packed this outfit as a surprise, why she owned such items. The hobbling harlot of Terror Basin then pulled out the surprise she had stashed in the creek: a bottle of champagne transported in the original bottle. I popped the cork, and traced its elliptical trajectory to the far bank for post-party retrieval. Colleen failed to bring flutes, so we were forced to drink our bubbly from camp mugs. Carla broke out a fifth of whiskey.

Instead of sleeping in on Sunday, we woke early to prepare for a 7am departure, figuring we’d need extra time for hop-along Cols. Chris, Steve and Fred of the Bushwhackers had offered to take out Colleen’s gear, leaving her with a light back for the descent. Carla, DH, Clare and I also shared the load.

We managed the “ice-climb” out of the basin by kicking extra steps so Colleen would have a side-by-side platform, thus minimizing the stress on her injured leg. Good weather was still holding at our elevation; the valley below was a sea of clouds with peaks breaking through. Nary a complaint from Colleen, who descended with relative ease.

The coda to our Pickets weekend was a bracing plunge in Goodell Creek with streamside bar service: IPAs, Newcastles and chips.

2012 Annual Climb: Sahale via Quien Sabe Glacier TR

Participants:  Colleen “Il Duce” Hinton (trip leader)

Dawn Chapel

Diane Hennessey

Clare Parfitt

Paulina Varshavskaya

Nancy Kim

Dawn Chapel hiking into Boston Basin.

The original plan for this year’s climb was such a distant memory, I had forgotten what it was. Like a shapeshifter, that plan morphed into different animals bearing little resemblance to the original since the weather gods were about to bestow a crap sandwich upon us: shitty weather followed by a day of partial sun followed by more shitty weather.

We met on Friday, July 20 with designs on doing the approach to something in the North Cascades that day. Maybe Sibley Pass to the Triad, possibly up Eldorado Creek to Eldorado or Dorado Needle or Austera, maybe a climb further east such as Black Peak. Clearly, we all skipped our dose of Ritalin. As you may have surmised by the title of this report, we did none of the above, and sought a permit for Boston Basin instead. At the ranger station in Marblemount, we learned that all six permits were taken despite sub-optimal weather, but two were available for Saturday night. Sold. Over the next hour, after exploring the sights of greater Marblemount to the soundtrack of thunder and rain, we checked three more times to see if any parties had bailed to free up a spot in the basin. Negative. Finally accepting defeat, we drove to Mineral Park Campground where we spent the night.

While it would have been good to get moving on Friday, I was pleased not to be slogging up in pissing rain with an oversized sponge on my back. Let’s not lie to ourselves. Rain in the North Cascades often feels unreasonably wet. Last year on the annual climb, we did the approach to The Brothers in a downpour and my last time in Boston Basin was a tragically sodden affair.

Saturday morning was dry, pleasant conditions for breaking camp and repacking our climbing packs. At 7:25am, we were on the approach and it wasn’t long before we caught glimpses of that serotonin-spiking hue of blue. By 10am, we reached camp. Snow lingered in the basin but we scored a great campsite on bare ground, large enough for our group’s three tents. We pitched our tents and inflated a couple of pink flamingos to lend a festive air to camp while yellow-bellied marmots looked on. Several rufous hummingbirds were hovering, drawn perhaps to the pinkness of our lawn ornaments.

The sun was shining with no wind or bugs to curse. Looking north to east towards the relief of Forbidden, Sharkfin and Sahale, we watched two large groups working their way up the Quien Sabe towards Sahale. One was a Mountaineers octet going up and over, descending via Sahale Arm, while the other was a 14-member party from the UW Foster School of Business. We split into two teams of three: Colleen, Paulina and Clare on a 30- meter rope and Dawn, DH and I on the 50-meter rope.

The going was easy without crampons so we booted the whole way, leaving red  impressions of our Vibram soles in watermelon snow, also known as snow algae. It was so red it looked like iron leaching from the rock rather than the cryophilic bacteria I’ve encountered in a lighter, pinker shade.

Boot track in watermelon snow.

Pack contents: one very large lunch (enough to feed me, Cols and her tapeworm Hortense), picket, ice ax, poles, a partially burned North Cascades map, Nano Puff, shell, hat, gloves, rain pants for glissading, 1.5 liters of H20, digital camera. Left behind: summit zucchini.

What’s typically a rock scramble to the top later in the season was now a traverse on steep snow. Prematurely, we had stashed our ropes, axes and other gear needed to protect the traverse with a running belay, so we were happy to call our lower bench the summit. Skirted by snow-capped peaks, we ate and pointed to places we had been and places we have yet to explore. Clouds scudded in at times obscuring our westward view towards Eldorado. To the northeast, Logan and the Fremont Glacier sprawled out. A postprandial inertia had settled and triggered fantasies of a summit bivy.

Colleen Hinton flashing the glissader’s grin.

Eventually, we mustered the energy to descend. Once below the crevasses, we pulled out our rain paints, took a seat on the snow and pushed off, glissading nearly all the way to the basin. At camp, we chatted with Kip, a climbing ranger who had just done the West Ridge of Forbidden where he encountered a solo climber (perhaps the fellow who passed us on the approach) and two other parties. Looking over at the infamous rap gulley, we spotted two static dots. We tracked the dots throughout the evening and made several bets on whether or not the dots would make it out of the couloir, off the glacier and back to camp before the sun slipped off the horizon. Around 10pm, Dawn and DH saw two lights appear on top of Forbidden and wondered if they were UFOs. Nocturnal summiteers, most likely, one of whom I guessed was Laurel Fan.

The camp scene.

As promised, Sunday brought clouds. The drab sky appeared mildly threatening, but the weather held for our hike down to the cars. Stay tuned for the next installment of  “Trip Planning in the Cascades and other Academic Exercises.”

Nancy Kim (left) and Dawn Chapel (right) demonstrating Dawn’s new invention: ultralight camp shoes. Remove insoles from climbing boots and attach to feet with prusiks and slings or voile straps.

Sally Portman Birthday Tour

Carla Schauble about to climb the staircase to Blue Peak Col.

Washington Pass

Sunday May 20, 2012

We missed the good weather, and the zoo, by a day. Diane Hennessey, Heather Mirczak and I drove to Washington Pass on Saturday night with plans to ski the Birthday Tour the next morning.

A spring favorite, this ski tour boasts two stout climbs and two fun descents plotting a horseshoe path around the dramatic relief of South Early Winter Spire. It had risen to the top of my spring tick-list. The forecast for the Sabbath was iffy: 50 percent chance of showers after 11am.

We arrived at Klipchuck Campground, downstream of the hairpin, around 8pm and found Carla Schauble and posse—three fine lads named Brian, Tom and Randy—stoking a big fire and slaking their evening thirst. They had skied it that day and reported stellar corn conditions—the best in their collective history of skiing this route. Fun enough to merit a repeat. So instead of heading back to Seattle, Carla and the guys decided to ski the tour again with us.

Cloud cover kept the mercury above freezing at night creating toasty tent conditions. I read DH a bedtime story: Bruce Tremper’s tale of cheating death in a slab avy in a narrow couloir. Revelry bugled at a civilized 7am, allowing plenty of time for a spot of tea and soft-boiled eggs, or in Carla’s case, a single, stick-to-your-ribs Nutter Butter. Our gang of seven convoyed to the hairpin where we left DH’s ride, our shuttle car, and hopped into Brian’s newly purchased camper van to continue to the tour’s start, Blue Lake trailhead, elevation 5,400 ft. At 9:40am, our group was skinning up the trail under warm, cloudy skies.

Brian, HM and Carla at the start.

DH practicing old-school free-heeling at the trailhead.

We climbed a well-worn skin track along the forested trail, eventually spilling out to open slopes where we ascended southeast to Blue Peak Col, elevation 7,800 ft. Slipping was a problem and I had to lift my skis often to gain skin purchase in the soft track. I stopped at the bench before the final 200-ft. climb to A-frame skis to pack and to rest. Many thanks to the hundred people (no hyperbole) who had booted a staircase to the top. A beefy cornice lip typically droops off this saddle, but this year’s leaner snowpack and recent warm spring temps had reduced the flap to nothing. It was snowing at the col so I swapped out shades for goggles before locking heels for the south-east descent known as Madison Avenue, a wide, open run into the Copper Creek drainage.

The view north.

Skiing down 2,000+ ft. of quality corn was fun, though the 8 or 9 degree rise in temperature translated into liquid precip in the basin. Breaking out skins for the hoof-up to the second col, we observed a woman in snowshoes who had presumably come with her boyfriend. They didn’t seem to be in a festive mood, the kind that speaks “Birthday Tour.” They seemed more dour. Perhaps she was sad about the snow-shoeing conditions (somewhere between lousy and fucking lousy) or not keen about being the lone shoe-er among schussers. We suspected trouble in paradise.

The second climb, out of Copper Creek drainage, is shorter and takes you to a bench, then to a col at roughly 7,200 ft. We didn’t stop for lunch to enjoy the views that were sure to come once those pesky clouds burned off. (Hey, isn’t this just the marine layer??) Instead, we dropped into the skinny slot, one by one. I side-slipped down the slot without incident, but unexpectedly pooched a carve to the right and flipped assoverteakettle, followed by a stylish backside, head-first glissade, trying not to clip Brian in the process. (Insert frowny face or head-bashing emoticon.) I dusted myself off and waited for HM to drop in, scoop up my abandoned pole and deliver it. I continued the descent and caught wee air off a small jump Brian, Tom and Randy hucked spread-eagle.

I loved the final run down a steep chute with perfectly-spaced larches. We all triggered some shallow sluffing. A descending traverse through the thicker timber of Early Winters Creek brought us to the hairpin at 1:50pm for a total tour time of 4 hours and 10 minutes. A thin rain fell as we changed out of soft-shell and Gore-Tex. We piled into Brian’s van, drained the last of our IPA rations and toasted to another Birthday Tour gathering in 2013.

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.