Sunday, December 17, 2006

Chair Peak Pub Crawl

Chair Peak, WA
"pub crawl"
December 17, 2006

check out this, the official awesome chair peak pub crawl video

Avalanche conditions were going to be tricky today, we knew that much. A foot plus of new snow had fallen on top of the crust from a week ago, and there were reports of graupel at Snoqualmie Pass. We decided at the parking lot to give the Chair Peak circumnavigation a go because weather was stable and visibility was very good. When we reached the steep slope up to Bryant Col, Pete dug a shovel tap test and found the 4 inches of snow sitting on top of 6 inches of graupel to slide very easily and then a one foot slab of new, consolidated snow to slide moderately easily on the week-old crust. So we bailed and skied back down to Source Lake. We skinned back up into the bowl we skied last weekend with the intention of climbing up to the ridge and dropping down onto the Snow Lake side. We climbed up the lower of two notches on the ridge, but when we topped out, we found we were cliffed out.

Back down the way we climbed we skied, then just picked the nicest looking lines around the east side of Chair, working our way around finding the easiest pickings. Hence we dubbed it the "pub crawl." We wound up getting about 4,200 feet of skiing in on mostly untracked powder with the occasional crusty section, which translates to a pretty good day.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Chair Peak

Chair Peak, WA
Short Ski Tour
December 10, 2006

Reports of bad backcountry conditions left us with low expecations for the day, but we decided to park at Alpental and head on up toward Chair Peak and see what we could find. On the optimistic end, we hoped conditions would allow a Chair Peak circumnavigation. On the less optimisticl end, we figured we could take laps at Alpental, or if things were really bad, get breakfast at the Pancake House.

We did not do the circumnavigation route because we were having beacon issues (random switching to search mode -- not to worry, it's been shipped back to the manufacturer) and time issues (needed to be back by 3 or 4), but we did end up in one of Chair's upper bowls after following a recently made skin track up a steep chute through clouds floating in and out. Part way up the bowl, we dug a couple shovel tap pits and found some marginal conditions in teh snowpack. Loose powder below a sun crust 12-18" below wind-deposited new snow. We were on a pretty mellow slope, so we took a run on it, and it turned out really nice, so we took another run on it, then headed out. After picking our way through the trees, we found our way into the chute again. We skied one at a time down the chute down to the lower angled slopes below, where we found more nice new snow on a firm crust. Far better skiing than we were expecting. Coupled with the occasional, unexpected views we were granted, it turned out to be quite a fantastic day!

Other Links:
+ Pete's post on TAY

Saturday, October 7, 2006


Enchantments Wilderness, WA
October 7, 2006

Becky, Pete, Kirsten, Jen, BJ, and I drove up to Leavenworth Friday evening to do the Enchantments traverse through-hike on Saturday. We began the traverse at the Stuart Lake trailheadand ended at the Snow Creek parking lot, tagging Little Annapurna on the way. We're not sure of the exact statistics, but Pete's topo program said it was roughly 20 miles, 6,000 feet of elevation gain, and 8,000 feet of elevation loss.

We got up at 6 o'clock Saturday morning after crashing at 8-mile campground and set up the car shuttle. We dropped Jen and BJ's Jeep off at Snow Creek parking lot, then piled into Plum and drove up to the Stuart Lake trailhead. We took Plum to the starting point because we thought Kirsten and I might have to turn around on account of her mysterious knee injury. We weren't sure how it would react to the hike, but we figured Colchuck Lake four miles in would be a good place to evaluate it and turn around if she thought it best.

At the trailhead, about twenty or thirty (forty?) hikers showed up at the same time as us, apparently from a Mountaineers organized hike or something, because they kept asking what group we were with. We took off at 7am and spent most of the time up to Colchuck Lake hiking by ourselves, but when we got to Colchuck Lake, suddenly we were swarmed by them. Fortunately, Kirsten's knee wasn't feeling too bad, or at least not any worse than when we started, so she decided to continue. At 9:30, after a break for some food at Colchuck Lake, we started the long, grueling climb up Aasgard Pass. It wasn't too bad with a light daypack; just a slow steady slog. Throw in the hords of people we were hiking in the midst of, and it was an experience similar to hiking up the Interglacier or the Muir Snowfield on Mt Rainier.

We arrived at Aasgard Pass around 11 o'clock and the breathtaking views of the Enchantments opened up around us. Massive granite spires rising abruptly out of the high Enchantments Plateau. The plateau itself clad in granite slabs and sprinkled with the orange glow of autumn larches, then dropping off down to central Washington on its eastern end. After another break for food and rest, we cut between some small lakes and walked and hopped up granite boulders and friction slabs up the west side of Little Annapurna. This was our bonus peak we tagged on the traverse. It was only about an hour and an extra 1,000 feet from Aasgard Pass. From this side, the west side, Little Annapurna seems like nothing more than just a low mound along the Mount Stuart chain of peaks, but it is actually quite interesting the way the terrain varies from the other peaks. All the granite is stacked in horizontal slabs, and the stacks increase in size at the false summit and true summit, forming features that look like ancient South American ruins. The summit also gave us great views down into the Enchantments, of the Stuart Range, Glacier Peak, Mt Rainier, and the Pennant Peak/Flagpole ridge.

At 1 o'clock we started down the north side of Little Annapurna, walking down more friction slabs and following vague foot paths. Our diversion had separated us from the bulk of the mass of through-hikers and we found ourselves with a little more isolation. Descending into the Enchantments Lakes was like walking into another world with all the gray and white granite, pristine green lakes, bright orange larches framed against the brilliant blue sky. Prussik Peak, with it's steep south face and sharp ridgelines stood imposingly off to our left as we made our way around. We took our time walking through here, stopping and taking photos, admiring all the views, and just being generally pretty darn happy. Two hours later, we reached the far end of the plateau at Lake Vivian.

After another break for food and some mountain goat watching, we began the knee-pounding descent to Snow Lake. The trail frequently crossed large granite slabs, but big rock cairns and even glued-on footholds made finding the way pretty easy. It was after 3 o'clock a this point, and the long day, lots of elevation gain, and short night of sleep was starting to catch up to us a bit, but the group's energy managed to stay high as we rounded Snow Lake. The lake's water level was quite low, and we found a sign that said the Forest Service was drawing down the lake to replenish the fish hatcheries down stream. The low water level revealed an interesting feature of Snow Lake: snow white shores. I'm not sure of the geology, if it was sedimentary rock or bone-white granite, but the effect was to look like a small glacier terminating in the lake.

Our descent down to Nada Lake was a little bit of a blur. It was 5:30 and the sun was starting to set, and the joint pain was starting to set in. Jen switched shoes and we all took a big dose of ibuprofen. Around 6:30, as we passed by Snow Creek Wall, we switched on the headlamps and commenced the death march from Nada Lake down to the Snow Creek parking lot in the dark. After the 22 (or was it 24?) painful switchbacks at the end of the trail, we arrived at the parking lot. It was 8:30 and our trip had taken thirteen and a half hours. We piled in the car and dropped Jen, Becky, and Pete off at the campsite, then Kirsten, BJ, a random hiker whose group had decided not to bring a shuttle car, and I drove up to get Plum. We got back to the campsite around 9 and began grilling up sausage sandwiches. We absolutely stuffed ourselves with food and beer, and finally around 11 o'clock we all crashed in our tents, stiff and sore, but happy as can be with the day we had.

Sunday morning, Jen and BJ lead us to Renaissance, a basement cafe in downtown Leavenworth, which is actually a really cool restaurant; not so annoying and kitschy as a lot of the Bavarian-facaded places in Leavenworth. And the food, well, I might not have been in the most discriminating mood, but it sure seemed fantastic. After filling up on breakfast and coffee, we headed home. On the way, we noticed thick rain clouds filling the valleys in the mountains and we again felt so lucky to have such a perfect day in the Enchantments.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Tooth

The Tooth, WA
South Ridge, 5.4 - 5.6
September 30, 2006

The Toof. That epitome of what Chad calls a CAME-UP, a "Classic Accessible Moderate that is Ultra Popular." No other rock route in the Cascades attracts more climbing class students and continues to be run over with all sorts of climbers all year round as long as there is no snow on the route. Becky, Pete, Kirsten and I left the Snow Lake trailhead at Alpental at about 7:30 Saturday morning, and picked our way across large boulder fields and then up an even bigger boulder field into Pineapple Basin, arriving at the notch around 9:30, and the base of the climb around 10. Lo and behold, we were the first ones on the route, and after four pitches of super fun climbing, we reached the summit around 12. The views from the summit were pretty nice, considering the forecast was pretty gloomy. Because of its status as a CAME-UP, it's easy to expect the presence of crowds to detract from the enjoyment, but being the first ones on the route and not having to wait for anyone reminded us of just what a nice route this is. Nice clean rock with easy climbing, punctuated with a few interesting sections to keep your attention.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Baring Mtn

Baring Mtn
6,125 feet
September 23, 2006

Marcus and I decided to take on a grueling objective while our wives were off climbing Big Snow, so we chose the scramble up Mt Index. The 75 Scrambles book from which we were referencing, suggests gettiing a Weyerhauser logging road map from the North Bend Ranger Station. We didn't have one, and after about an hour of driving around the logging roads of Forest Service Road 60, and deadending three times, we decided to bail and go hike up Mt Baring.

The trail to Baring begins at the trailhead for Barclay Lake, but heads up a climbers' trail 1,800 feet straight up to a ridge west of Baring. We topped out on this ridge after an hour of steep, calf-pumping climbing. Once on the ridge, it was a fun romp for a mile or so along the crest of the ridge until we reached a long boulder field spilling down from the notch between the north and south peaks of Baring. We boulder hopped up the talus until we reached the notch, where crystal clear views into the Central Cascades opened up.

From the notch, we stashed our trekking poles in preparation for the "T5" scrambling ahead. After about 8 feet it was over and we were hiking again. We were a little disappointed and hoping it wasn't the end of the scrambling. Mid-way up the ridge we decided to veer off to the left over to some granite slabs to make things a little more challenging. We found some nice hand jams to mimic the feel of some real climbing, although it was never more than 3rd or 4th class. From the summit we had breathtaking views all around, from Rainier in the south to Stuart and Glacier to the east and Baker to the north. We enjoyed some snacks and the Guinness that Marcus carried up, then headed down.

The way down was more difficult than the way up because the trail is so steep for periods of time. Most of the forest is devoid of underbrush, which seemed remarkable because it is on the wet, west side of the Central Cascades. There seemed to be a lot of potentially good skiing on this trail. Not just the nicely spaced trees in the glades, but we came across several steep chutes. Lots of potential for a multi-day skiing trip if there's a good snowpack and if the road stays open. In the summer though, it is quite a pleasant outing with good views and varied terrain.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Slush Cup!

Pinnacle Peak, WA
Slush Cup '06
August 20, 2006

The Pinnacle Peak Slush Cup is an old event revived by members of the Turns-All-Year community. It takes place at a small tarn that melts out below a decayed glacier between Pinnacle and Castle Peaks in the Tatoosh. The goal is to build up speed as you ski down the 200 foot slope of the glacier remnants and then continue as far across the tarn as you can go. This year's edition was the fourth in its revival, and around 50 people showed up. Things started off calmly enough, with people mustering the speed to make it halfway across. Then Marcus hit the slope and let his Tele Daddies loose. He skimmed across the surface of the water with only the tails of his skis even touching the water until he finally came to a rest in the tarn's outlet. After that it was game on and people were flying across the tarn like regular water skiers. Then, after a couple hours of that it was time to build the kicker...

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Tofino Honeymoon!

Tofino Honeymoon!
August 8-13, 2006

On August 5, 2006, Kirsten and I tied the knot! Woo! On Tuesday, the 8th, we left for Tofino, BC, for our honeymoon. We drove to the Tsawwassen ferry terminal, arriving about an hour before the ferry was scheduled to leave. We thought that on a Tuesday morning the ferries wouldn't be too busy, but we barely made it on, being once of the last 5 or so cars to load. We drove off the ferry in Nanaimo and started the long drive across the middle of Vancouver Island.

After about three hours we finally made it into Tofino and checked into our hotel, the Pacific Sands Resort. We got a nice, cozy lodge unit with a living room and kitchen about 100 feet from the beach. Tofino is pretty expensive. It's hard to find a meal for less than $15 per person, so we ate in for about half our meals. Tofino also is not known for having spectacular weather. It was overcast for most of our trip, which was actually really nice because allowed us to participate in lots of activities without being uncomfortably hot. On Wednesday we took surfing lessons in the afternoon. On Thursday, we had planned to rent surfing gear, but we were too sore from surfing the day before so we went for some short hikes in the rainforest.

One of the best parts about the honeymoon compared with most other forms of vacation is that you can watch lots of movies in your hotel room and not feel bad about it. Even really bad movies. On Friday, we got up and rented our surfing gear. Then we came back to the hotel room and it was really cold outside, so we watched a movie. We finally went surfing later in the morning, but after a couple hours it we got too cold and walked back to the hotel room to warm up and watch another movie. Then in the afternoon we went surfing again.

Saturday we went kayaking in Clayoquet Sound. Our guide, Nick, took us to an island filled with ancient rainforest. The island was the site of huge logging protests in the 80's and 90's and there were some pretty incredible trees, including one in particular known as the Hanging Garden Tree because it had it's on ecosystem growing on it, including other trees. On the way back we paddling across a strong current. As we were going by a small whirlpool, the two French-Canadians in our group, bumped the rear of our kayak with their bow. The impact pushed the left side of our boat down and the current almost grabbed it and pulled it under. Fortunately we stayed upright. The French-Candadians however, weren't as lucky. Their kayak also started to tip and the current dragged the side of their boat and pulled it under. I turned back just in time to watch them go in, but they were able to rip off their spray skirts quickly and get out. After several minutes of effort by Nick and them, they managed to get out of the freezing water and back into the kayak.

After more movies Saturday night, we had to get up Sunday morning and prepare to head home. Our magical two weeks of getting married on Orcas Island and honeymooning in Tofino was over and it would soon be time to rejoin the real world. Everything was all so fun and exciting and relaxing -- a perfect way to unwind and enjoy our first week of marriage.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Kangaroo Temple

Kangaroo Temple, WA
7,572 feet
NW Face, 5.7+
July 22, 2006

Picasa Photo Album

For our first alpine rock climb of the year, after a full year of skiing and wedding planning, we headed up to the NW Face of Kangaroo Temple. It was a peak I had climbed a couple years earlier with Andy, Andrew, and Murray and enjoyed it enough that it was worth a return trip. The hike up to Kangaroo Pass was BUGGY. We could see the welts growing on each other while we were hiking. After a couple hours and some very loose scree climbing, we made it to the base of the route. I'm still not entirely sure the best way to start this route. We started pretty far left, to the left of the horns shown in the Beckey guide and traversed all the way across, down the slab, then up the mostly unprotectable face to the first belay. I think the chimney/crack in the rock not quite so far left would make a better start, but I can't verify that.

That first traverse is pretty nervy, and kind of a rough way to warm up, but we made it across, then headed up 2nd pitch, the first 5.7+ layback, which is very nice! From the cave, we angled off to the left under a roof, then up a left-facing dihedral. This is very fun climbing, reminiscent of Deidre in Squamish. This leads to a tree belay. Here is where I made the same mistake I made last time, and decided to continue leading past this belay and up through the next 5.7+ layback. By doing so, we ended up turning the 5 pitches into 4, but the rope drag was horrible. Before each sequence of moves I had to pull up several feet of rope and then let is loose and hope it would pile up on the ledge below me just enough to allow me to move before yanking me back again. I'd recommend stopping at that tree and belaying. 

I made up for this mistake by correcting one mistake we made last time, and that was crossing the Dance Floor properly. Last time, we crossed it high, trying to get as much protection in the rock as possible. Problem is, we increased our chances of falling dramatically! So this time, I crossed the bottom of the floor, where it's ever so slightly lower-angled, but with less protection, yet it felt much safer and easier. Once across, it's just one attention-getting slab move up and your done. I took the rest of the lead all the way up to the end of the technical climbing, although if you had belayed the previous pitch from the proper spot, you would have to set up a belay just above the dance floor. That's what makes this climb sort of difficult to manage, because the belays just don't seem to work out right. In any case, it was much fun climbing this route again. It's great to have a route with such quality climbing only a couple hours from the highway -- close, but far enough away to keep away the crowds. 

Sunday, July 2, 2006

Mt Adams SW Chutes

Mt Adams, WA
12,276 feet
SW Chutes
July 2, 2006

Our objective this 4th of July was Mt Adams, the second highest volcano in Washington. We wanted to climb it not just for the sake of getting to the top, but because we had an equally strong interest in skiing the Southwest Chutes, which offer about 4,000 feet of 30-40° fall-line skiing! After the long drive down on Saturday, Marcus, Anastasia, Kirsten and I found a spot off the road below the trailhead to camp because the main campground was still snowed in. We left camp around 5am on Sunday, because we planned to attempt to climb it all in one day.

As we approached the trailhead, we stopped and talked to some search and rescue folks who were standing by their response vehicle. They told us a woman had slipped and broke her leg high up on the mountain the night before and her and her boyfriend were hypothermic and dehydrated, but the first responders had got them into a tent and they were doing okay. We offered to take something up for the rescuers who were on their way up, so they gave us some cheese sticks and chocolate.

The climb was pretty uneventful. After a mile of hiking on dirt trail, we reached consistent snow cover so we stashed our hiking shoes and started skinning. We made it up to the Lunch Counter after four hours or so, and stopped for, well, lunch. We found the rescuers and delivered the cheese and chocolate, then continued up the steep slog up to the false summit, Pikers Peak, arriving around 11am. The legs were getting a little tired at this point, so we had to decide whether we wanted to continue up to the true summit, or begin our delicious ski descent. The pull of the summit was strong, however, so we risked letting the Chutes get a little over-cooked and headed over. We started off on foot and when we reached the slope up to the summit, we started postholing really bad, so we put the skis back on and with our more efficient skinning, made it up to the summit pretty quickly, arriving around 12:30. 

After splitting one Rainier tall-boy between the four of us, we gave the other one away because the altitude and exertion of the day made just a few ounces of beer extremely effective. Around 1:00 we started down. The skiing from the summit was much better than had been recently reported. People were saying it was icy, but we were lucky and got a pretty nice layer of corn. We traversed to the top of the SW Chutes and then began the long descent. The snow in the Chutes was a little too baked -- about an inch or two of somewhat heavy and sticky corn -- but once we got used to it and found the better patches, it was quite enjoyable. And the line! The line is so incredible. So steep and continuous and free of obstacles. I have never been half-way down a perfect slope and thought, "It's too far!" Legs quivering from all the tele turns, we leap-frogged down the slope, watching each other ski in turn as an excuse to rest.

We ran into some folks from the WAC, Mike, Doerte, and Christy, near the bottom and joined them for the traverse out. The 7,000' traverse was a little tricky, with the snow interupted by a series of rock ribs, but after an hour or so and an extra 500 feet of climbing, we made it back over to the South Route around 3:30. The rest of the trail was a combination of fun luge-tube skiing and dirt trail hiking, and before long we arrived back at camp and began the triumphant sausage grilling. 

Monday morning we drove into Hood River and had a tasty breakfast, then on the way home we stopped at Beacon Rock and sort of inadvertantly hiked up it in our flip-flops. We only meant to go up a little ways and check it out, but the trail was so cool that we kept going and before we knew it we were at the top. Not quite as significant of a summit as Adams, but still pretty cool.

Picasa Photo Album

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Mt Baker Ski

Mt Baker, WA
10,788 feet
Easton/Squak Ski
June 10, 2006

Picasa Photo Album

by Marcus
Schreiber’s Meadow Trailhead; 6/10/2006; 3:30 a.m.
God damn, it’s early. I’m not cut out for this. Inevitably, these are my first thoughts of the day when I’m on one of these trips. It doesn’t really matter how often I do it, or what the destination is – I’m a second-rate underachiever before four o’clock in the morning. This time, I’m hoping my ear picks up the sound of rain on the sheet metal roof of my Chevrolet tent, but I’m disappointed.
“It’s time to get up!”
Ask my wife to get out of bed before 7:30 on any given workday and you’ll be lucky not to get kicked in the stomach. Ask her three hours earlier when there’s a chance she’ll get to ski that day and it’s like you’re sleeping next to a 7 year-old on Christmas morning. I exaggerate a bit, maybe – still, she’s already getting dressed while I’m still waiting for the van to start flooding. It’s in my best interest to get moving now, or she’ll start poking me in the eye to get me going.
Easing back the slider, I hear the muffled conversation from Big Top – Nate, Kirsten and Becky are awake. As usual, Kirsten and Becky are laughing in counterpoint. It makes me wonder if I’m the only second-rate in the group, but it also makes it a little easier to pull on my shoes and get out of the van. Nate hears the slider and gives a greeting. I’m the first one outside, so I offer the weather report – overcast skies, no wind, no rain, much like it was when we rolled in the night before and set up camp. The forecast for the day was not the best, but when you’re pushing into June and still skiing from the car, a 40% chance of showers doesn’t really dissuade, especially in the Cascades.
I had packed my bag the night before, leaving only a few things to wait until morning. Choking down breakfast is mandatory, no matter how much the body dislikes food that early in the day. I’m sure Nate and Becky would agree, however, that the body will eagerly accept espresso, milk and sugar from a can. Mine accepts two, happily.
As everybody gets situated and finishes their morning rituals, my mood begins to change. It usually takes longer than this, but it’s already quite light and the temperature is pleasant, so I’m warming up to the idea of climbing a big lump of rock for the next eight hours. I lash my skis to my backpack for the short stretch of bare road before the trailhead, taking up the rear with Nate as Anastasia, Becky and Kirsten chat about the coming day.
We stop briefly at the snow-covered trailhead and click into our skis for the rest of the day. Anastasia is quite taken with a woodpecker, banging fruitlessly on the metal chimney of the trailhead bathrooms. I’m not convinced we’ll be able to pull her away, but skiing wins out in the end. Had it been a penguin, she’d probably still be standing there.
As we climb into the wooded hills above Schreiber’s Meadow, my mind begins the familiar slip into neutral, allowing passing thoughts and scenic views to spin up the motor, but glossing over the slippery skinning and the occasional complaint from my body. It’s this that allows me to do these trips over and over, I think.
Around 7 a.m. we begin to see the forest thinning, though we seem to be climbing into the cloud layer that’s kept us so warm. But after a brief spray of rain we pop out, finally getting a view of the surrounding peaks, nestled in the cloud deck like rock candy in spun sugar. The snow covered slopes of the Metcalf Moraine rise above us, eventually giving way to the smooth, silky surface of the Easton and Squak Glaciers.
The snow is firm, with a soft coating on top. Just enough to let the skins bite and make the climbing easy. We spread out as we mount the glacier. Somewhere below this flawless white blanket the crevasses are looking up at us, but for now they’re choked with snow, making our passage easier. We take turns playing the rabbit, breaking trail up the glacier and giving the rest of the party someone to chase.
As the hours roll by the weather remains unpredictable. Periodic gusting winds and fast-moving clouds keep the Roman Wall at the Easton’s head shrouded in fog, while the cloud deck in the valley slowly rises. I stop every few minutes to look around – a convenient excuse to take a quick breather. The rabbit runs on, so I continue the chase like a good dog.
The snow begins to get thick and heavy – evidence of a low freezing level and a foot or more of new snow earlier in the week. Here, today, it’s 43 degrees at 8,000 feet, so what once might have been powder has become loose mashed potatoes. We climb on, but I’m beginning to wonder how much farther we’ll go. The summit looks socked in and the wind hasn’t died down – I don’t care much for white-out glacier skiing. It’s that second-rate thing coming back to bite me in the ass.
Finally, the rabbit hits a wall. After another 40 minutes of progressively more difficult trail-breaking, we ski up between the arms of a curving crevasse, perhaps 25 feet across. Two sagging snow bridges span the walls. You couldn’t pay me to ski across them without a rope, but nobody’s breaking out their wallet, so I think I’m safe. We discuss our options.
If the weather looked more promising we’d rope up and find our way around this crack easily. With a summit unlikely and only the skiing to look forward to, we decide we’ve reached our high point, our personal finish hold. The skins come off and we prepare for the first 1,000 feet of wet glop, hoping we haven’t missed all the good corn snow below.
Once we’re through deep stuff, the turns are great. I’m hard-pressed to complain about any skiing, really, and the company and atmosphere only add to the long, fall-line run back to the top of the Metcalf Moraine, where we take a lunch break in the sun. It’s 12:30. We still have 3,000 feet to go, so we get to it after politics, health care and tax law discussions have run their course. I talk most about these things when I’m in the mountains with these people, perhaps because it’s easier to face the realities of the world when you’re not staring it in the face from an office window.
Back at the car, the chairs come out and the skis dry in the sun, while we cool our throats with the first round of beers. This is what I’ve been thinking about since we started. No matter where we are or what we’re doing, within the first 30 minutes of one of these long days, someone will say “You know what I’m looking forward to? A beer and a sausage sandwich.” It’s like the icing on the cake.
The Easton Glacier stretches out on Mt. Baker’s southern flank, rolling from the Roman Wall down past the crater and into the lowlands toward Baker Lake. It’s a popular, easy glacier climb that makes for a brilliant ski trip, especially in the spring when you can ski all the way back to the car. Doing it all in a day is even better, since the packs become wonderfully light

Monday, May 29, 2006

Washington Pass Skiing

Washington Pass, Hwy 20, WA
Modified Birthday Tour and Vasiliki Ridge
May 28 & 29, 2006
WA Pass May 2006

Friday, March 31, 2006


Moscow and St Petersburg
March 2006

March in Russia. Actually, Russia in March

We flew into Moscow at 11am, Friday, March 17, sixteen hours after taking off from Seatac. We came to visit my brother, Dave, who has been living in Moscow for the better part of two years. After a long wait to get through the understaffed Passport Control (they apparently failed to anticipate the daily arrival of a Boeing 767 from the U.S.), Dave and his fiance, Yulya, met us outside baggage claim. It was so great to see them, although the hurried fashion in which they whisked us outside to get a taxi served as a nice introduction into sociology in Moscow: don’t smile like Americans and don’t linger in public places, which could draw attention from police who may be on the lookout for tourists.

It was midnight back in Seattle when we landed, so our challenge for the day was to try and stay awake for 10 more hours to get onto Moscow time. So after Yulya helped us with our Cyrillic pronunciation, we decided to go with Dave to his school where he had to run an errand. This was our first experience with the Moscow Metro, their immense subway system, and after all the preparatory advice from Dave we ventured forward, prepared to push as needed, put on a Moscow scowl, and not make unnecessary eye contact. It was also the first time out on the frozen, slippery sidewalks. Dave describes negotiating the ice as walking like a penguin, and if you’ve seen “March of the Penguins” you know this isn’t a very efficient way to walk.

That night we played Yulya’s old Russian board game, Monte Carlo, which is kind of like Monopoly, drank Vodka (not like Russians though — i.e. we only had a couple shots each), and ate some Russian delicacies such as salty (pickled) cucumbers and salty (pickled) mushrooms, the latter having an interesting coating of ectoplasm. Yes, that ectoplasm, the sort that Slimer tended to leave on things. But if you got past the texture, they were pretty tasty. We managed to stay up fairly late before falling uncontrollably asleep.

The accomodations at Dave & Yulya’s flat were cozy, as real estate agents like to say. Dave & Yulya sleep on a couch in the living room that folds down into a bed, like a Futon, and the bottoms of the two living room chairs pull out and extend into a sleeping surface about 6 1/2 feet long, which would be our beds. These came with the apartment, to give you an idea that this might not be an unusual living arrangement for a family of four. But perhaps because Kirsten and I have a lot of experience spending many consecutive nights in a tent in less than cozy situations, we were very comfortable there.

There were a couple unique examples of the communist infrastucture that we learned about at their flat. The government pipes in all the gas and hot water to the city, so there is an unlimited supply at your disposal, and residents don’t pay for any of it. So leaving the hot water running while you’re taking care of something else? No problem. Turning on the gas stove to help heat the apartment? Totally fine. The first morning I walked into the kitchen and saw two burners running, I didn’t know what to do. My instincts told me it must be a mistake, and I asked Dave if he wanted me to turn them off. He gave me an inquisitive look as though it were obvious and said, “No.”

On Saturday, we went to Red Square because you have to. We didn’t try as hard to stay inconspicuous here, as there were many tourists, most of whom looked Russian, but we felt like we stuck out less with a camera anyway, especially with several members of the Russian military walking around with cameras. St Basil’s Cathedral is pretty impressive, as are the walls of the Kremlin. Lenin’s tomb was closed, so we missed out on the experience of viewing his 80-years-dead body, which we don’t have any regrets about. Afterwards, we walked to a cool little restaurant. Set up below ground underneath an old soviet building, it was dimly lit, but clean and the service was good and they had lots of hearty Russian food. The soup I had was so salty I think it gave me a dehydration headache. Kirsten’s BLT (the “B” part of which was questionably cooked) didn’t settle well and she ended up feeling really sick after we had toured the old and new Arbat Districts and were browsing the Dom Knigi (book store). We weren’t super impressed by Arbat, but I think March was really the wrong time of year to hang out there. It was just a little too cold and got dark too early.

Kirsten’s sickness lasted through Sunday and into Monday, so we didn’t do much those days. Monday, we had planned to meet up with the Russian agents of the people we got our visas through, in order to register. Moscow has this charming requirement that all visitors register their presence within three business days of arriving. This is usually done by your hotel, which is very easy, but registering when you are staying at someone’s private residence is a lot more of a hassle. So much so that when my brother, Aaron, was visiting with my parents last year, the police recommended he just pay the fine to them and hope he doesn’t get stopped. A cute example of the way the police like to supplement their meager salaries through the pockets of tourists.

On another occasion, shortly after Dave first moved there, a policeman threatened to put him in jail if he didn’t pay him an exorbitant bribe. Not knowing that it was an empty threat, Dave paid him, and thus learned the hard way that if you’re smart and you can handle a little confrontation, you don’t have to put up with the police shenanigans. We fortunately benefited from his experience, and while it made us a little freaked out by the confrontation, we were also a little reassured that if we did get stopped it didn’t have to be a terrible thing. After a couple days we figured out we should keep a “police wallet” separate from our hidden money belts. In this special wallet we kept a couple hundred rubles ready for any occasions in which we might need access to money quickly. We figured this out after I screwed up and revealed my money belt to a security guard at the Sculpture Park by Gorky Park and the New Tretyakov Gallery.

Kirsten and I tried to go to the Gallery on our own Monday afternoon. She was feeling slightly better and we figured it would be a good test of our ability to get around on our own and see how well she literally stomached the activity. Turns out we went to the new gallery on accident — we didn’t realize there were two. We were very confused as we were reading in the guidebook that there should be certain masterpieces on the 2nd floor, and all we saw were local artists sitting at vending booths selling their arts and crafts. We didn’t figure out until we got back to Dave & Yulya’s that there were in fact two and we had gone to the wrong one.

Anyway, while we were trying to find the gallery, we decided to walk through the Sculpture Park. We were about 200 feet in when we walked past three security guards. Kirsten kept walking and had gone about 50 feet before she realized I had stopped. She looked back at me and motioned to me to “come on!” But she didn’t realize that one of the guards had stepped in front of me and wanted to collect an entrance fee. Not sure if this was a legit fee, but he showed me the admission ticket I was to purchase, and the fee was 20 rubles each, but the guard told me we would have to pay 50 rubles. I was tired, hungry and hadn’t got used to converting rubles on the spot yet and was thinking that was about $20. It’s really only about $2. Anyway, I pulled up my jacket and unzipped my money belt to get out a couple 10 ruble bills. I did this stupidly in plain view of the guard, and he noticed that I had a 1,000 ruble bill in there as well, so when I showed him the 10 ruble bill, he shook his head, grinned, then with his finger mimicked writing two extra zeros next to the “10.” It didn’t matter how I did the exchange rate conversion, I laughed and shook my head vigorously, saying “nyet!” Kirsten started to get mad, and I tried to calm her down a little. I realized they weren’t very serious about it, and finally we ended up only paying him the 50 rubles. In other words, it was a lucky and inexpensive lesson.

We were planning on heading to Saint Petersburg Monday night, which would mean technically our 3rd business day in Moscow wouldn’t be until we returned from St Peterburg on Thursday, so we decided to wait to register until we returned. This was a bit of a risk, we knew, but were starting to understand this is all a little bit of a game, and Dave is comfortable playing it. Kirsten was feeling quite a bit better Monday night, even eating food for the first time in about 36 hours, so after Yulya helped us purchase train tickets and make hotel reservations, we packed a change of clothes and our sleeping bags (which Yulya called our “magic bags” because they are down summerweight bags and compress to the size of a large grapefruit) into our messenger bags, and hopped on the 11pm night train. I dozed restlessly throughout the ride. Neither of us had slept on a train before and our cabin was unbelievably hot, but Kirsten was smart and took a benadryl, so she slept a lot better than me.

When the train’s attendant woke us up at 8am, an hour before our ETA, our cabin-mates asked us to partake in their breakfast with them. Turns out they were from a small town near the Caspian Sea, the woman spoke good English, and they were headed to St Pete’s to defend her dissertation for her professor of philosophy degree. He was a computer programmer who understood English, but didn’t know it well enough to speak it. They were such nice people and we felt so lucky to have them as our mates. It was such a pleasant way to ease into our first venture out on our own!

We were gouged by the tourist price for our taxi ride to the hotel ($40 for a 20 minute ride), but we reluctantly paid it as we were just happy to be able to get to our hotel without any problems and didn’t really have a choice, having no bargaining power. Well, we did get there with no problems, once our driver added some gas to his tank from the jug he kept in his trunk. We checked into our hotel around 10am, showered, and took a nap while we waited for the hotel to register our passports. Then we started walking. No more cab rides for us; we hoofed it in the 20 degree weather, half an hour to St Isaac’s Cathedral. This wasn’t our primary target, but by the time we got there, we were pretty cold, it looked like it could be interesting, and it was only about $10 to go inside, which didn’t seem like much considering how cold we were.

We lingered in the beautiful, ornate cathedral for a while, taking lots of pictures, and then decided to head out and try and find the Idiot Cafe for dinner. We wandered around, doing our best to read the street signs and follow our map, but after an hour or so, we couldn’t find the restaurant. We were getting colder and hungrier and starting to get desperate, when suddenly Kirsten saw it. The only sign for the restaurant was a single set of 5-inch tall, bronze-colored letters that say “Idiot” hanging from the side of a dark awning on a dark building. It was as though they didn’t want people to see it, or they wanted people to feel like idiots while they were looking for it. We had actually walked right underneath it once already. Our hearts leaped and we hurried inside and grabbed a table. Our server came and brought us complimentary shots of vodka to help us warm up, and then we enjoyed a nice long, warm meal, then headed back to the hotel where I promptly crashed at about 7:30.

We woke at 9 in the morning on Wednesday; I slept straight through the night for about 14 hours. We decided to milk our noon checkout time and the complimentary breakfast, then checked our bags at the hotel and headed out on foot again. We roamed around the vicinity of the Winter Palace for a while, checking out some of the statues, the Admiralty building, walked across the Neva River past the Rostral Columns and the stock exchange, then came back and were getting cold so we went in to the Hermitage Museum. Here was the most overt example of the special tourist prices. On the ticket window they clearly show a 100 ruble admission fee for Russians and a 350 ruble fee for foreigners.

We walked through the museum for about three hours. We mostly admired the interior design, but it was also really cool to see all the old masterpieces. Rembrandt, Monet, Picasso, Michaelangelo, da Vinci — I had never seen any super famous artwork like that before.

It was also here that we witnessed our first American tourist group. It was remarkable and a little embarrasing the way these overweight people in college sweatshirts and tennis shoes so obviously stood out as Americans. I know we stood out as well, but more due to our distinctive Western European and Scandinavian-rooted facial structure than anything else. Although I suppose the fact that I was wearing brown leather shoes instead of black and that Kirsten was wearing glasses and flat-soled, black leather boots instead of stiletto-heeled boots with the jeans tucked in was a subtle give-away as well. How those Russian women walk on icey sidewalks in stiletto heels I’ll never know.

We walked back to the Idiot Cafe for dinner. We decided to go back because we were so happy with the food there. They had English menus and a nice vegetarian selection — the heavy, cheese-covered meat dishes at other places hadn’t sat that well with us. Afterwards we returned to the hotel and asked the front desk to call a cab for us. We showed them our train tickets and said we needed to go to Moscow Station (Moskovsky), which is wear the guidebook lead us to believe trains to Moscow depart from. We hoped by having the hotel call, we would be able to avoid the special tourist rate on the taxi, and sure enough, after getting off the phone they said it would be 350 rubles, or about $15 — a substantial savings over the $40 we paid the first time. But when the driver showed up and saw who his passengers were, he changed the rate to 500 rubles. Annoying, but no problem — still half of what we paid originally.

After a short ride, he dropped us off at Moskovsky. Something didn’t look right and the ride seemed too short. We started to worry. We walked inside and the station looked completely different. We started to worry more. We looked at the board and our train number wasn’t on it. We really started to worry. We found an attendant, who didn’t speak English, but we said “pezhalstah” (”please”) and showed her our ticket. She got a concerned look on her face and shook her head and said “nyet!” And pointed to a 3-letter abbreviation on the ticket and said the name of another train station. I think it was Ladozhsky Station (Ladozhskaya). In doing the research I just conducted in the last half hour while STILL trying to figure out what happened, I now realize this makes sense as we were just riding one leg of the Moscow-to-Murmansk train. In any case, we were now in full-on, Amazing Race, panic mode. We were about 45 minutes from our scheduled departure and we had been warned that they often leave early.

We ran outside and grabbed the first taxi driver we could find, showed him our ticket, pointing to the 3-letter abbreviation. We were grateful because he sensed our urgency, nodded and said “Ladozhskaya,” and rushed to his car and drove aggressively to the train station, getting us there at 10:20pm, 30 minutes before our ETD. This was the first taxi we had taken that used a meter, and we were very curious what it would cost, especially considering he had the nerve to hide the meter! We basically threw our hands in the air at this point, knowing we were going to get gouged. Badly. Sure enough, he charged us 800 rubles for that 10 minute ride, or about $30. So all told, our 3 taxi rides in St Pete’s cost us about $100. We try to tell ourselves it’s nice to know we’re improving their way of life.

We hustled into the train station and saw our train number on the board, but next to it was the time “10:22.” It was exactly 10:22 and we started freaking out again, thinking they had bumped our departure time up. This was exacerbated by the fact that as we were riding the escalator down to our platform we saw our train moving! If we knew Russian, however, we would have seen that the time posted on the board was the arrival time for our train into the station. We realized this when we saw the train stop moving and people start getting off. When we reached our car, we gave each other a huge, relieved hug and a few minutes later we were resting comfortably in our cabin. And only a few minutes later the train left.

The ride back to Moscow was cooler, but rougher. I don’t know much about riding in trains, but I’m wondering if the first car behind the engine gets jerked around a lot more than the cars further down, because every time the train changed speeds at all, it felt like we were derailling. And then there were the frequent stops, one in particular which felt like it lasted about an hour causing us to wonder if we had broken down and were going to be stranded in the middle of the frozen wastelands of Russia. Even though I wasn’t dripping in sweat this ride, I had an equally bad night of sleep, which was disappointing because my desire for sleep was strong and the motion of the train was soothing when it kept an even speed. When we got into Moscow on Thursday at 7am, Dave & Yulya were waiting for us at the platform, and after greeting us Dave commented that he was glad to see us because he wasn’t entirely confident we’d have made it onto our train. Heh.

Thursday was our day to register in Moscow. We called the travel/visa agency and inquired about getting their assistance, and after what was expected to be an easy discussion turned into an argument, with them insisting that we should just go register at a police station, and us adamantly refusing this advice on the grounds that the police would just ask us to bribe them and not register us, and ultimately having them tell us it would take three days to get registered in any case, which would be near the end of our trip, we revised our strategy. We wouldn’t register at all. We would just hope not to get stopped by anyone, and if we did get stopped hopefully we’d be able to hand the cop a couple hundred rubles and be on our way. So we spent the rest of the day chilling at home, then in the evening we went to Dave & Yulya’s favorite restaurant for dinner, Sunduk. Sunduk was another dimly lit, friendly little restaurant about 100 feet away from their apartment. They had some tasty choices on the menu, although Yulya had to tell us what everything was because it was only in Russian. It was a delicious meal — Kirsten had an apple pork dish and I had cheese-covered pork — and left us feeling like every restaurant in Russia must be warm and charming, because so far they had been.

Friday, Dave was at work, and Kirsten and I were reluctant to go out on our own. It was our first day beyond our registration grace period, so we hung out at home with Yulya, but we wanted to go see the Novodevichy Convent. We asked Yulya to skip her dentist visit (they don’t actually make appointments — you just drop in), and go with us. Dave was getting off work early, so we met him at a downtown Metro transfer station and went to the Convent. The Convent was beautiful, originally built in the 1500’s, there is a six-tiered belltower, several ornate churches, and a museum inside the old fortress walls. I won’t attempt at any of the history of the Convent, but it has a story nearly as rich as some of the bigger attractions in Moscow and St Petersburg. This would have been a really nice place to hang out all day, but it was very cold out, and we only stayed for an hour then decided to go check out a Georgian restaurant that is highly recommended in the Fodors guide, Mama Zoya.

Mama Zoya is in a beautiful, large, old wooden boat, moored on the Moskva River, across from Gorky Park. It looked like it was going to be a super fun place to eat, and it was supposed to be cheap. We imagined it having the same sort of charm and warmth as the other restaurants we’d dined at. But when we went inside, we were greeted, and I use that term loosely, by some very macho, unfriendly men, who stood around looking at us suspiciously. Perhaps we didn’t look like the big-spending tourists that no doubt frequent the place because of it’s position on the back cover of Fodors. We were seated at a table by a jolly-looking Georgian woman, but the room struck us as stiff and trying a bit too hard to be fancy. There aren’t even any windows looking outside the boat! Imagine that, you’ve got this fantastic venue for a restaurant on an old wooden boat, in the heart of Moscow, on the most important river running through the city, and you can’t look outside. It was very disappointing. Then we ordered, and when we hadn’t ordered enough food to satisfy the Georgian woman, she essentially scolded us, and not at all in a joking manner. The food was not quite what we call “cheap,” running about $20 per plate, but we figured that wasn’t outrageous for a big plate of hearty, spicey Georgian food. But we soon found out why the woman gave us such a hard sell: the servings were tiny. Dave had what amounted to a single chicken wing; Yulya had essentially a side salad; and Kirsten had a baked red pepper. I had the only meal that would even come close to satisfying the average human — an admittedly very tasty lamb kabob wrapped in Lebanese bread. And when we tried to order more table bread, the woman got really annoyed and said, “I already asked you if you wanted bread.” On our way home we picked up a pirated copy of “Fun With Dick and Jane” and a frozen pizza, which we enjoyed immensely while cursing Mama Zoya.

Saturday, Dave had to work again, and I don’t think we ever left the apartment, but when he came home we had a party, drinking beer and Vodka, eating pizza and blinchiki, and playing cards. We slept late Sunday, then had a nice slow breakfast and drank lots of coffee — the American coffee that Ryan and Mom sent with us. This was Russia’s switch to daylight savings time — a week before it switches in the U.S., meaning we would get to lose an hour of sleep twice — once in Russia and once in the U.S.! Yulya devised a way to play a group game of Sims Nightlife and we spent most of the day playing that and lounging around reading.

The last thing we wanted to do before we left was to see Red Square at night, so early in the evening we took the Metro downtown. We made a stop inside the GUM — the shopping mall that forms one side of Red Square — for a bathroom stop and to try and get a to-go coffee at McDonalds. There are many coffee shops in Russia, but the concept of taking your coffee with you has not caught on, and Starbucks hasn’t been able to festoon the city yet (but stay tuned). Red Square was pretty empty and quiet, and extraordinarily pleasant. We didn’t see any police around at all, so we got to relax and enjoy the peaceful beauty. Then we walked over to a restaurant just outside the square, Vanilla Sky. Dave & Yulya had been there before — they have taken all their out-of-town guests there — so they knew it would be good. Sure enough, a slightly more modern, brighter restaurant; very friendly and with good, affordable food. A nice, cathartic, forget about Mama Soya experience. Then we went to perhaps the fanciest grocery store in the world. I don’t remember the name, but I’ve never seen a grocery store adorned like a cathedral, and here we procured the last of our souvenirs: lots of chocolate! And we picked up some Czech Budweiser, which Dave had been wanting to try for a long time, but hadn’t because it’s $2 per bottle. Here was a perfect opportunity to drink beer on the subway, a common and legal practice in Moscow, but we missed it.

Yulya arranged a taxi to come pick us up at 10:30 Monday morning. I woke up with Dave and had one last morning of chatting with him over coffee before he went to work, then Kirsten and I packed our bags and we said goodbye to Yulya (after she confirmed with the driver that he would only charge us the price they quoted her over the phone).

We got to the airport stressed about a couple of things. The first was that we were attempting to take one of Dave’s paintings home with us, but there’s this sticky little export tax on Russian artwork. Would they try to claim Dave’s painting was Russian? We put about ten grocery bags over it, then wrapped it about a dozen times with packing tape to try and discourage anyone from investigating it. The customs officials predictably asked what it was as we tried to pass through. We stopped and nervously said it was “a painting; a gift from my brother.” The officials looked at each other confused and said, “‘Painting?’ ‘Gift?’” not knowing what those words meant. They looked at us for help and we just repeated what we said, and they summarily waved us through, apparently not wanting to spend any more time trying to figure it out.

The second thing we were worried about was if Passport Control would question us about not being registered in Moscow, but for whatever reason, perhaps because we had registered in St Petersburg, they didn’t. After going through one last checkpoint, the security at the gate, and having them search our bags and confiscate the cool souvenir lighter I bought, we boarded the plan and were officially on our way home.

After 10 hours in the air, we arrived at JFK, where we had the contrasting experience of going through American customs. Where the Russian customs officials were understaffed and uninterested in giving directions or speeding the lines up, the New York officials were abundant and aggressively pushing people along through the lines. A nice change for us to have someone shouting directions in English, but I imagine it was a bit scary for someone coming in who didn’t speak English. We flew out of JFK at 6pm Monday, and landed in Seattle at 9pm. Ryan and Jess were there to pick us up — for the second time. I had emailed him Sunday to ask about a ride, and forgot to specify that we were on the Monday flight. He assumed I meant Sunday and sure enough, there was a flight with the same number coming in at the same time on Sunday. After waiting around for an hour and getting undoubtedly quite worried, he assumed we weren’t on the flight and went home. But they graciously returned to the airport on Monday to pick us up for real.

They dropped us off at home where we discovered the two houses across the alley from us had been leveled and new townhouse foundations had already started to be poured. We had returned to our townhouseland. Our trip to Russia was adventurous and fun and interesting and beautiful and a little scary all at once, but we are so glad we went and it was really cool to visit Dave & Yulya out there before they move to the States.

Sunday, March 12, 2006


Stevens Pass, WA
March 12, 2006

Back to Yodelin! We were a little lazy this weekend, so we just went with what is becoming our old stand-by: Yodelin. It was pretty tracked up already when we got there, but there was enough fluffy powder on the slopes to keep us going back up for more.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Jove Peak

Jove Peak, WA
February 18-20, 2006

Presidents Day Weekend brought a forecast for very clear, very cold weather. We thought it would be fun to do an overnight trip, but not anything too crazy, so we decided to go into Jove Peak. Jove is near Stevens Pass on Hwy 2, and is usually done as a day trip, but we did it in three days because we're just.. that.. hard.. core.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Nisqually Chutes

Mt Rainier, WA
Nisqually Chutes
February 11, 2006

Nisqually Chutes Feb 06

Day trip to Rainier to ski the Nisqually Chutes. The Chutes start mid-way up the Muir Snowfield and descend at 30-40 degrees for about 1500 feet down to the lateral moraine of the Nisqually Glacier. This was a great weekend for this route because the mid-winter snowpack allowed skiing all the way to the bridge near the Narada Falls parking lot, and the weather had been clear for a few days allowing the snow to settle until it was nice and firm. On the way up, we were a little concerned because the snow was so icey, but when we got into the chutes, the significant change in slope angle caused the sun's rays to hit at a more direct angle and it warmed into perfect corn.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Cave Ridge, WA
January 15, 2006

Cave Ridge

Beck, Pete, Kirsten and I planned to go in and ski the normal route on Snoqualmie Mountain up at Snoqualmie Pass, but slow trail-breaking through the new snow and tricky stream crossings slowed us down significantly. By the time we reached the saddle between Guy Peak and Cave Ridge we were pretty far behind schedule, so we decided just to head up Cave Ridge and see if we could find any skiing. We came across a couple long clearings that gave us a couple hours worth of stellar powder. This was probably the best snow we skied in Washington this year. Shoulda brought the helmet cam!!

Monday, January 2, 2006


Yodelin, WA
January 2, 2006

There was never enough snow last year for Yodelin to be any good, so we were excited to get there this year and ski the sweet tree glades. I had a new helmet cam that my dad gave to me for Christmas that I tried out with a little success.