This spring I was busy with school and as a result, didn’t get out on the planks as much as I would have liked. No matter, there’s a time for everything and summer in Washington is the time for skiing!
Andrew called me up with a plan for a multi day tour out of Snoqualmie Pass. This is one of the many areas of Washington I have yet to explore, so at the last minute I agreed. I drove there that evening, and after meeting Stefan, the third member of our group, and dropping off his car at the end point, we agreed to start early the next morning. Even though we woke up at 3:30 a.m., we were skinning in daylight almost immediately. Ah, those long summer days up here in the north country!
We were able to put on skins surprisingly early, although I switched back to boots quickly as we ascended the steep, hard snow towards the ridgetop. It was an odd feeling scrambling up rocks only to step onto the wide, flat, “catwalk” section of the PCT. The easy stroll only lasted a few feet until we were back on steep snow.
We continued traversing, skiing, and climbing toward Mt. Thompson, our first goal of the day. As we neared it, we decided to check out a sweet, north facing chute that Stefan had in mind.
As I crossed over to the north side of Mt. Thompson and made my way toward the top of the chute, I started getting excited. The north side consisted of majestic vertical rock faces, underneath which our chosen chute snaked seductively. We stopped at the top of a sheer drop, where we took a break and scoped the line. Far below, the valley was choked with several miles of green — green that we would have to navigate to get back to our beloved white snow. “Well, it doesn’t look that thick,” we reasoned, “It’s only a few miles.” The lure of steep corn proved too much so we went for it.
The couloir skied beautifully even with a few stray rocks lower down. Nearing the bottom we encountered a waterfall. We had two choices: either boot back up the couloir and have more traversing and climbing to get to camp, or find away around and bushwack up the valley. We shied away from the potential rockfall and extra vert of the couloir, and opted for the ‘shwack.
We found a way through steep slide alder, rocks, and trees around the waterfall, and then started to make our way up the valley. Every time I end up bushwacking in the PNW (which is all too often), I am always convinced that it is the worst one I’ve ever done. Whether they are getting harder, I’m getting lazier, or my memory is conveniently selective, this trek qualified. We battled through dense, prickly foliage until we couldn’t take it any more, then took an extra long break next to the river. After napping, eating and cooling off, we powered it out and made it to the promised land of snow leaving the green, man-eating, carbon based life forms behind.
After making it to the head of the valley, we couldn’t discern an easy route through the trees, intermittent snow, and cliffs to the alpine above. We opted to make camp, a little short of our goal for the day, but not for lack of effort.
After copious calories and zzz’s, we found an easy route in the morning. After a few minutes of climbing, I could already feel the previous day catching up. We slowly left the lowlands behind, and emerged, victorious, into the alpine once again.
We continued through gloppy snow, and decided to go for the summit of Chikamin peak. The highest point on our route, Chikamin was hard to resist. We booted up, stashed our skis at the end of the snow, and scrambled the last few feet to the summit. At the top we were treated to the view of the rest of our route. “We have to go all the way over there!?” After a brief break, we made our way back to our skis. Despite the snow being quite soft, the skiing was enjoyable.
We still had three climb/skis remaining, and a substantial amount of distance. I rationed out my remaining food, and we set off. As we made our way along we enjoyed views of different valleys, mountains, and ski descents. The first climb went quickly, the second was agonizing, and the third surprisingly short. I won’t say it went quickly, but we made it soon enough. For our last ski we were blessed with a surprising amount of snow. After that petered out, the trail appeared serendipitously at the end of our ski tracks and we followed it to our waiting car.
The car might have been waiting but the keys were not, having been forgotten in my car the day before. Stefan, adept at the essential ski mountaineering skill of hotwiring his own automobile, set to work while Andrew and I let our feet breathe and packed for the drive.
After a few worrisome minutes of cranking, the engine roared to life and we were off, eager for a smorgasbord of dollar menu items at the North Bend McDonald’s.
As was said at least once on the trip, “A pretty good intro to the Snoqualmie Pass area.” I’m going to be back, that’s for sure. Thanks Andrew and Stefan for an incredible trip!
That’s my take, for more check out the report over at Turns All Year.
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.