Saturday, December 8, 2007

Herman Saddle

Mt Baker Backcountry, WA
Herman Saddle/Table Mountain
December 8, 2007

Earlier this week, I wasn't optimistic for good snow over the weekend. After a couple feet of snow last weekend, around 5 inches of rain fell on Monday, give or take a couple inches, then the freezing level dropped to near the surface the rest of the week and it was mostly dry, so I figured snow in the mountains would be bullet-proof ice. But reports starting coming out of Mt. Baker that they had received several inches of dry snow towards the end of the week, so Kirsten, Andy, Pete, Becky, and I headed up on Saturday. Pete & Becky decided to join us at the last hour when Pete bailed on his surfing plans due to reports that there was possible contamination in the water from the flooding, and Becky found out she didn't need to stay in town for work.

It felt a little weird to be going out in the backcountry after the deaths, injuries, rescues and disappearances of around a dozen people in Washington last weekend related to the big dump of snow we had, and there was a bit of a pallor over the backcountry community all week. In fact, Marcus, whose enthusiasm for skiing is mostly unbridled, chose to stay home. But snow conditions this weekend were about as stable as they get. All the previous snow was consolidated down into a solid substrate that the new snow was well bonded to. And to make things better, the weather was picture perfect. Cold. Really freaking cold. But clear, and it's hard to beat a clear day in the mountains in the winter.

Skinning in, we passed several large groups practicing avy rescue. It was nice to see so many people take it upon themselves to learn the skill. After a while we arrived at Herman saddle and thought we saw some nice snow on a slope southwest of Herman Saddle, but when we got to it we found a thick, wind-scoured crust. So we skied the east slope of the north subpeak of Table Mountain. The snow was pretty decent, though the crust below the new snow was more apparent than we would have liked. We couldn't head out with just one run skied, so we headed back up the skin track, circled around across Herman Saddle, then headed toward the prominent gully running down northeast from Table Mountain's summit, stopping once to yo-yo a short pitch. We skinned all the way up to the ridge crest just north of the summit, and as the sun dipped close to the horizon, we started down. The snow here was great -- no evidence of the crust for most of it, and after picking our way through a cliff band, ran it out all the way to the valley floor.

After skinning back out through Bagley Lakes and down to the parking lot, we planned to cheer the good day at the North Fork. We had a fun day, despite an abnormal amount of gear problems: Kirsten's Dynafit binding toepiece kept releasing on one traverse, then her skin glue failed; Andy lost the tail clip for one of his skins, then the toe loop on the same skin broke. The North Fork was packed though, so we stopped farther downstream at the Skagit Brewer, which it should be noted is not a bad fall-back plan at all, and then you've a shorter drive to endure the food & beer coma.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Crystal Backcountry

Crystal Backcountry Skiing, WA
Bullion Basin & Crown Point
December 1, 2007

Winter is finally here. We had some big dumps of snow in the mountains in September and October, but November was mostly dry and warm until the past week. Andy, Pete, Mica, Marcus, Kirsten, Tundra and I left the Crystal backcountry parking lot at 9 o'clock or so and headed toward Bullion Basin. After a couple hours of skinning, sometimes on nice old road cuts and sometimes busting through thick, only partially covered underbrush, we reached the ridge above Bullion Basin. The sun peeked out for a few minutes midway up to Crown Point, then dark storm clouds rolled in and the snow and wind picked up. Pete dug a test pit on a NE aspect and found some marginal conditions. We ski cut the runs and the top couple inches of unconsolidated snow ran downhill fast, but nothing else moved. Then the joy began and we all floated 500 feet downhill on crazy hero powder, bouncing in and out of the turns, hooting and hollering. What a way to start December! We broke trail back up to the top and took another run. The snow was falling heavily at this point, and strong winds were transporting a lot of it onto the slope we were on, so we called it a day and headed back out. We avoided much of the nasty brush that we skinned up on by staying on the road, dropping about 1,000 feet in a snowplow. Then, with quads burning, the road threw one last thing at us: a minefield of sharp, softball-sized rocks lurking just below the surface at the end. We tried to forget about that though, and as we chowed down on burgers and beer at the Naches Tavern and watched the snow falling outside , we just thought of bouncy, fluffy powder. Yum.

:: TR
:: Turns-All-Year

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Table Mountain

Table Mountain, WA
Mt. Baker/Artist Point Area
October 27, 2007

We may have been a little too eager for winter. Mike had his annual waxing party on Friday night, and it seemed that taking our newly tuned skis out should be a good idea. Kirsten, Becky, Andy (w/ Tundra), Anastasia, Marcus and I drove up to Mt Baker Saturday morning. We didn't arrive at the upper ski area lot until about 10:30 and when we arrived our motivation jumped out of the car and hid in some un-snow-covered bushes near the parking lot. The snow was sparse, although it did look like there was decent coverage above 5000 feet. We had driven three hours to get here, so we figured we ought to give it the ol' college try. We booted and skinned up the east shoulder of Table Mountain and took a lap on some decent old dust on crust, paused to talk in order to push our return to the car past 2:00 before skating down most of the road back to the car. Then, Scotch Ale and mega meat pizza at the North Fork Brewery. Total ascent/descent for the day: 1300 feet! And some of that was on dry ground. But it was a beautiful day and it's always great just to get out in the mountains, especially for skiing in October.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mt Rainier Skiing

Mt. Rainier, WA
Skiing On or Near the Muir Snowfield
October 21, 2007

Ah, it's great to stretch out the ol' skinning legs! Kirsten just had her cast removed after five weeks of healing from her freak collision with a bicyclist in which she broke her wrist and sprained her sterno-clavicular joint. On top of that, it had been well over three months since we had done any skiing at all. As we were packing our gear Saturday night, we found it much as we had last left it early in the summer -- some of it dirty, some of it badly in need of wax -- a nostalgic reminder of those days when it isn't necessary for your vertical feet of skiing on snow to surpass your vertical feet of hiking to the snow on dirt.

Sunday morning we caravanned down to Rainier with a group of about a dozen. We pulled in to the Park around 9:30 and got the news that the gate wouldn't open until 11 o'clock while they finished the snow plowing. We speculated they were trying to force feed business to the Longmire restaurant. Nonetheless, we met up with dozens of other skiers and wiled away the time, and retold the story of our harrowing coffee mission. A lactose emergency emerged as they are prone to do, and our car needed to find a coffee stand in Spanaway. As fate would have it, we repeatedly approached several stands from the wrong lane and couldn't get over in time. Until finally there was one. As we pulled in, the barista standing outside in an oversized sweatshirt put out her cigarette and went inside to serve us. As we pondered the sign that said, "Come check out Scarf Thursday," the barista took off the sweatshirt revealing her approved barista uniform: a scanty police shirt. Then when we finally looked at the name of the place that we were at, the light bulb flickered on. It was deftly named, "Hot Chick-A-Latte."

When the gate opened early, sometime before 10:30, there was a mad dash up the road to paradise. We started skinning behind a long queue of skiers at 11:15. The line snaked up from the visitors center and on up past Panorama Point. Here the wind picked up and snow occasionally blew across the slopes. The degrading weather thinned out the crowd. We climbed up a ways, before venturing over to a slope above Edith Creek. We dug a test pit and found an easily released 5 inch wind slab on top, and a moderately releasable layer about 18 inches down. We started toward a lower-angled slope and Becky paused to jump on the snow just above the test pit and made the deeper layer slide. This caused us enough concern that we headed to safer terrain.

At around 8,000 feet our carpool turned around. The snow on the ski down was variable, from breakable crust to wind-packed powder to thinly covered rocks to mashed potatoes. But Kirsten was able to ski through it all without reinjuring herself, which was the primary goal for the day. It was nice to be back on the skis and out in the mountains, and a nice little adventure to hopefully signify the kickoff of the ski season.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

YAB & Tomyhoi

Yellow Aster Butte and Tomyhoi Peak
7,451 feet
Semicircumnavigation Route
September 8 - 9, 2007

This was the weekend Kirsten and I had reserved to take off and do a nice summer trip on our own. After a couple weekends in miserable weather, we were ready for an easy, sunny, dry, warm trip with no snow, freezing wind, rain or rime ice nor temps in the teens nor pre-dawn alpine starts. After consulting our hiking and scrambling books, searching for something mellow and appropriate for a two-day trip, and not requiring any off-trail hiking, we settled on the Tomyhoi and Yellow Aster Butte ("YAB") combo. When Kirsten was at REI on Friday, she ran into Maria and found out she and Randy were heading in to do Tomyhoi, too, and Jim was going to come out Saturday night and meet them. We figured by far the most important requirement for this trip was the warm and dry part, so let's make a party of it. And Kirsten called Becky that evening and recruited her into skipping The Tooth and joining us instead.

When Kirsten, Becky and I pulled up the forest road near the trailhead suddenly cars were parked everywhere. At least a hundred of them. We couldn't figure out what was going on. Here we thought we had found this jewel of a trip, buried obscurely in the Cascades north of Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan, yet we wound up in the middle of some kind of trail parade. After hiking the short picturesque trail, we arrived at Yellow Aster Butte Lakes and looked around for a campsite big enough for five people. We found one just off the trail, but we didn't get the glorious views of Baker & Shuksan from camp. A ranger stopped by and chatted for a bit, apparently there had been a write-up in the Bellingham newspaper about this hike the day before, and that is why the throng of people were there. But it was mostly people on dayhikes, so as afternoon turned to evening it thinned out considerably.

We pitched camp, then hiked up to the false summit of YAB. It was a very quick but steep hike through pretty fall colored heather, and the view from the top was oustanding: Pickets, Shuksan, Ruth, Baker... all just right there in your face. We ran the ridge to the true summit, snapped a few pics, then headed back. Randy and Maria showed up shortly after we returned to camp. We opened some single serving wine bottles and chattered idly while we cooked dinner and soaked in the alpine vistas. As the sun was setting, Jim finally wandered into camp. After Randy read some North Cascades history to us, we attempted to sleep through the chilly night.

The next morning we set off for Tomyhoi. It was a pleasant hike and we took our time, pausing to take pictures every five feet. A few hours in, we reached the edge of the Tomyhoi Glacier. According to the guide and topo we were following, we needed to descend down the glacier, around a buttress, then climb back up to the ridge. The scale was difficult to decipher and we noticed a set of tracks going up the ridge when, we thought, based on the route description, that they should be going down around a rather large rib of rock. This is where things got interesting. I forgot my crampons back at camp. Jim intentionally left his crampons at home. I would much rather have left them at home than have shlepped them all the way in to camp, only to leave them there as tent weights. In any case, we forced our significant others to unwittingly participate in a little experiment of wearing just one crampon each. We tried wearing it on the downhill foot and on the uphill foot. I thought downhill would be easier and Kirsten thought uphill would be easier. Turns out she was right, for those of you interested in the technique.

After slowly working our way around the buttress to the point where we thought we should ascend back up to the ridge, we were greeted with an enormous bergschrund separating the glacier from the ridge. The expanse was much to great cross without any kind of climbing equipment, so we pushed on to the other edge of the glacier looking for a reasonable way off. Time was eroding, and we were not making any progress. Randy ended up in a moat trying to find a way to climb onto the steep-walled ridge. Jim ended up scrambling a low fifth class buttress, and Maria eventually followed him because he was actually making progress. The rest of us weren't comfortable soloing that kind of terrain and ended up working back across the glacier to that first set of tracks going up to the ridge. We scrambled up a smooth, wet rock finger that extended down onto the glacier and found ourselves on the ridge.

Finally we seemed to be making progress, and we continued along the ridge until we reached the base of the final scramble to the summit. It looked impossible. We couldn't see any way up it. We searched all over the place trying to find a way up that made sense, until eventually Jim and Maria materialized way up on the summit from the other side and waved to us and we realized we were probably out of time. They started down, and with them perched at the top of the ridge providing some scale, the route popped out at me. I got some nerve and scrambled up. It went pretty easily, but it was definitely exposed, so I just tried to move smoothly and not look down. Jim and Maria waited for me at the top, then Jim guided me around to the summit.

On the way down, we realized what had thrown us off about the route description. The glacier has receded so far, that the relevant south lobe is only half as big as it is on the route description. We thought we needed to cross a fair amount of glacier before we ascended to the ridge, but in reality there is now only about 100 feet of glacier left to cross!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Mt Rainier, Emmons Glacier

Mt. Rainier, WA
14,410 Feet
Emmons w/ Ski Descent
July 7-8, 2007

Pantengliopolis Video Fantasticness [18 mb]

TROG by Kirsten Hauge

Back in January, Pete and Becky came up with the idea of skiing the Emmons over 4th of July weekend. As expected, our usual gaggle of skiing friends jumped on the idea and a rather large group of us put in for permits. Months passed and we lost a few of the group due to injury and other commitments. In the end, we were left with Becky and Pete opting for the 4-day climb, Andy and Murray opting for the 3-day climb and Marcus, Anastasia and I opting for the 2-day climb. Sadly, Nate was not going to be able to join us because he was going to be at a friend's bachelor party-weekend. We had the forecast we had been waiting for … 14,000ft freezing levels for the entire 4-day event.

Marcus, Anastasia and I left Seattle on Friday early evening. After a quick stop at the ranger station and the White River Campground, we drove back to Greenwater to eat dinner at the Naches Tavern. Nate and I had eaten there in 2005 the night before we headed in to Rainier for our summit attempt. I remembered the milkshakes being really good and, being a bit superstitious, figured it couldn't hurt to re-create the events leading up to my summit in 2005 for our attempt this weekend. Marcus even bought Anastasia a new Naches Tavern baseball hat which I dubbed her new "lucky cap".

We hit the trail bright and early on Saturday morning. A sign at the beginning of the Glacier Basin trail states that the trail was obliterated in the November floods and that word really describes the trail well. I can't even imagine the force of water that moved all those huge trees and boulders the size of small cars. Luckily, the trail is well marked with yellow caution tape and it only took an extra 30 minutes to get to Glacier Basin. We were very happy to finally reach the snow so we could get the boots and skis off our backs and onto our feet. The skin up the Interglacier is always the same as I remember it … long and hot. As we topped out at Camp Curtis we could see two small dots skiing down the Corridor on the Emmons Glacier. When we got to Camp Schurman, we realized it was Becky and Pete. They had summited that morning and had skied the entire route back to camp. Yeah!

After talking with Becky and Pete, who had spoken to the climbing ranger the day before, our group of five (Andy, Murray, Marcus, Anastasia and myself) decided to leave for the summit at 6:30am. We had such a relaxing evening knowing that we didn't have to wake up until 5:30 in the morning - what a luxury on Rainier. I love the ski descents! The weather was sunny, warm and windless - we all sat around chatting, relaxing and eating. As the wind started to kick up for the evening, we settled into our tents. The wind blew pretty fiercely during the night and only a few of us were actually able to get a good night's sleep, Fortunately, I was one of them.

Pete and Becky got out of their tent to send us off in the morning and at 6:45am, we headed up. The long climb began and actually, for me, time went by very quickly. We took a couple of sit down breaks and made steady progress towards the summit.

Roughly seven hours after leaving camp, we had made it to the summit! What a huge accomplishment for everyone, but especially Anastasia since it was her very first time. We sat on the summit for 20-30 minutes enjoying the views and taking everything in. A solo climber walked on up and offered to take our picture, after which he quietly left. Other than that one guy, we were the only people on the entire summit - a very surreal and unique experience on such a glorious day. The summit was a little bittersweet for me, however, since Nate wasn't there.

The top 1500 ft of the Emmons was pretty icy but nice enough snow to hold an edge. Negotiating the bergschrund was easy and we managed to get past a couple other slightly sketchy crevasses with no problem. On the way up, I had been thinking there was no way we were going to be able to ski some of these tricky crevasse sections but here we were … doing just that. It was pretty neat. Eventually, the snow turned to schmoo and after only an hour and a half, we were back at Camp Schurman with huge, did I mention HUGE, smiles on our faces!

After a short rest, we packed up camp and headed back down the Interglacier for the last 3000ft of skiing. The ski down the Interglacier was slow and painful for some of us as we were really feeling the weight of the overnight packs and the tiredness of our legs. We skied to a small little ribbon of snow just above the campsite at Glacier Basin. After searching the river for what seemed like an eternity, Marcus finally found a decent rock-jumping river crossing that was pretty spicy. Thanks again Murray for the hand across.

The boots and skis went on our pack and we started the 3 mile hike back to the car along the obliterated Glacier Basin trail at 6:30pm. Luckily, the hike out went a little faster than the way in and we made it back to the car by 8:15pm with only 2 ankle rolls and no emotional breakdowns along the way. Success! Sadly, we were too tired to drink our TRB's (Triumphant Return Beers) so we postponed them to later in the week. Since it was so late, we all decided we wanted to get home as quickly as possible which means we didn't even stop for Triumphant Return Dinner (TRD) … all we ended up with was cold-cut sandwiches from the QFC in Enumclaw. But even that tasted good after our long day.

It was a super fun weekend with great friends, positive energy, lots of laughter, glorious weather, a fantastic climb and an unbelievable ski. I couldn't have asked for anything more except that it would have been cool to have Nate there, too. Next time. :)

:: TR

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Winter/Spring 07 Montage

Winter + Spring 2007 Video Montage

On a whim and feeling creative, as much as that can possibly apply to me, I remixed a bunch of footage from the first half of the year together into a 4 minute video with a distinctly different theme. I've been listening to some movie scores recently, and was inspired to do something sort of dramatic. So I started experimenting. It's a bit unusual, though not unrecognizable; not intended to highlight anything in particular, just more of an artistic piece. I guess. Enough disclaimers?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rainier w/ Aaron & Johanna

Mt Rainier, WA
14,410 feet
Disappointment Cleaver
June 22 - 24, 2007

TROG, by Aaron Riensche
[editor's comments]

Day 1
It's just a vague, distant memory now, but I seem to recall the weather on Mt. Rainier wasn't too bad as we started the long slog up to Camp Muir from Paradise Park. I think the skies were clear, and we actually had layers of clothing that we weren't wearing.

It was the wind that kicked up first. By the time we got to our lunch spot at Pebble Creek, we were huddling under boulders for protection from the constant blast of icy air. Then the fog rolled in. Up until that point, Nate and Kirsten had felt free to wander ahead of Johanna and me. But after Pebble Creek, the whiteout was so dense human figures turned into silhouettes after a few feet and then disappeared after a few more, and at every trail marker we had to strain our eyes to recognize the next wand. Nate and Kirsten felt less comfortable leaving us behind, and were constantly having to stop and wait, freezing, while we caught up.

At the Muir Snowfield, which spans the last couple thousand feet up to Camp Muir, Johanna and I were really slowing down. I have a recollection of stumbling up toward Nate and Kirsten, seeing them huddled, shivering together, and wondering aloud how John Muir feels about having an F-ing bitch named after him.

Around this time, Nate and Kirsten suggested they go on ahead, so they could get their tent set up and be ready to help us with ours when we arrived. So they went ahead, and Johanna and I carried on, in the wind and the fog and the freezing cold, with forty-pound packs on our backs, slogging upward through the snow. At this point, one pauses to wonder why the National Park Service sees fit to suddenly stop marking the trail with wands, at the point where people are at their most exhausted and disoriented. A cruel joke, I assume. At any rate, Johanna and I reached a spot where the trail was hard to decipher, and this was complicated by the lack of markers and visibility.

But we somehow stayed on the correct path. And then, finally, several dark, rectangular shapes rose up above us in the fog. Camp Muir. The closest thing we'd seen to civilization in over six hours. As we trudged into camp, the fog broke for a few seconds, long enough for Kirsten to spot us from the outhouses and direct us to our campsite.

[Kirsten and I feel sick to our stomachs when we think back about this. Someone had apparently put in the steps during a whiteout because at a point where the trail normally does a rising traverse to the left toward Muir, they went straight up and then descended left around a rock outcropping before ascending to Muir. We debated whether we should wait for Aaron & Johanna to make sure they went the right way because someone had pushed the trail past the turnoff point and continued even further straight up. We decided they would be able to figure out which was the most well-trodden path and it was just too darned cold to sit and wait and we really wanted to be able to be able to help them get their tent up as soon as they got there. It was one of those tough decisions to make that could have turned out to be quite wrong if they had gone the wrong way and ended up prolonging their exposure to the freezing temperatures while they wandered aroud trying to find the right track. Just before they showed up I was starting to get a little worried and was planning what I would take with me to go look for them.]

Nate and Kirsten's tent was already set up, and they had saved us a spot next to them. Our friends, Eric and Brandon, found us as Nate and I were engaged in the struggle to set up our tent in the driving wind. They offered to help with the tent, but we had it pretty much under control, so instead they helped Johanna pull a few more layers out of her pack and put them on without having to take her gloves off.

By the time we were settled and cooking dinner, the altitude and dehydration were getting to me. I had a nagging headache and was feeling nauseous. When dinner was ready I renewed an argument, from earlier in the week, that the amount of couscous we had used on our Memorial Day Mt. Baker trip was one box at dinner. I thought my evidence was sound: there was too much food here and it was too dry. But Johanna insisted two boxes was the correct recipe. I couldn't finish my dinner, so we stashed my excess couscous in one of the little blue bags the park service gives you for excrement storage.

Day Two
Saturday morning, we awoke to clear skies. The cloud deck was just below camp. From the Muir outhouses, we had a panoramic view that included Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood's angular peak off in the distance, and Mt. St. Helens' dome just barely pushing up through the clouds.

After breakfast, we did some crampon practice on the hill that slopes up from camp, and then donned our climbing gear and roped up for a practice hike. We did roughly the first leg of the summit attempt, crossing the Cowlitz Glacier, where boulders were falling through the trail all weekend, and then shortening our rope to ascend the Cathedral Rocks. At the top of the rocks, we stopped for lunch with a spectacular view of Little Tahoma. The skies were clear, but it was still windy and very cold. About this time, I realized my camera batteries were not reacting well to the temperature, and I never got a good picture of Little Tahoma.

Back at camp, it was time to start melting snow for dinner and our water bottles. Eric and Brandon stopped by again. They were there with the guide service, RMI, which provided hot water for them, so while all our spare minutes were spent firing up the camp stove, digging for clean snow, and waiting for water to boil, they were actually getting a little bored. Brandon wanted to climb the rock formation in front of camp that he had already climbed the night before. Once again, he wanted me to go with him, and I, despite thinking it looked pretty fun, had neither the time nor the energy for such a venture.

Groups were coming back from summit attempts all day. Generally, the professionally guided groups seemed to be making it, while the private groups were not. Kirsten talked to a guy from California who was in one of the groups that had come up short. He told Kirsten he had climbed Whitney and Shasta, and that the hike up to Muir was more difficult than summiting either of those mountains.

We had couscous for dinner again that afternoon. And while I was able to finish mine this time, it was Johanna's turn to finally acknowledge that the correct recipe called for one less box. This time her leftovers went into the little blue bag.

Around dinnertime, a ranger came to talk with us about climbing conditions. She said the forecast was for temperatures in the teens (Fahrenheit) at Muir, and obviously dropping the higher up we went. From those temperatures, subtract the wind chill from expected fifty mile-per-hour winds, and you start to get an idea of how cold it was. One to four inches of snow were also predicted.

Nate and Kirsten were planning to wake up at midnight. But, knowing it would take us longer to get ready, they asked us to get up at 11:30. I had brought my cell phone along because it was the smallest alarm-clock-type device we had. Unfortunately, in the early evening, as we were just trying to get to sleep, we discovered that its battery was suffering the same fate as our camera batteries. Hence, it started to ring out a pleasant little chime, informing us that the battery was dangerously low, about once an hour for the rest of the evening.

We didn't get much sleep that night. Between the anticipation, the early hour, my phone's hourly chime, the constant wind shaking the tent, and the general discomfort of sleeping on snow, circumstances weren't exactly restful.

I did eventually sleep, however. And then I awoke to the sound of the tent door zipper. Johanna announced that the skies were clear. I looked at my phone: 11:33. Why hadn't the alarm sounded? Johanna wondered. I'm not sure - I'm quite certain I set it for 11:30. I scrolled to the alarm function; I had indeed set it for 11:30… A.M. So we had been waking up every hour all evening to the low-battery warning of an alarm that was never going to go off. A few minutes later, I picked it up to check the time; the battery was dead.

Day Three:
1:30a.m. Bundled up in all our layers, boots and crampons on our feet, packs on our backs, ropes and prussiks clipped into our harnesses. Cold and windy, but the night was clear and it seemed we could see every star in the sky. By headlamp light, we began our ascent. Nate led the way out of camp. When his length of rope was extended, Johanna followed, then me, then Kirsten.
We soon established ourselves as the slow team. Several groups passed us as we crossed the Cowlitz Glacier and made our way up the Cathedral Rocks, including Eric and Brandon's threesome, who appeared to be the fastest team. By the time we reached our first resting point, at Ingraham Flats, there were no more groups behind us. Actually, a group in front of us, three men from North Carolina, had already turned back, intimidated by the gaping series of crevasses that crisscross the Ingraham Glacier.

We had a snack, and Johanna complained of a pain in the back of her neck. We couldn't rest long though. It was just too cold. We traversed the glacier, our trail zigzagging to avoid the crevasses-although we had to step over one that was a foot or so wide at our crossing point.

At the bottom of the Disappointment Cleaver, we clipped into a fixed line. The way up the Cleaver was painstaking. Every few steps, one of the four of us would reach a joint in the fixed line, and the whole team would have to stop while that person unclipped from one side of the joint and clipped back in on the other-not the easiest of tasks with big thick gloves on.

The sun peeked up over the horizon off to our right, but we had to focus on what was directly in front of us. The trail was steep enough that at times I shifted my ice ax from the vertical, cane-like position, to the horizontal, hammer-like position so I could dig the pick into the trailside snow that seemed to be right next to my face. The trail was narrow, and if you didn't step just right, you would catch your crampons on the pant leg or footwear on the other foot. Then there was the occasional blast of extra-strong wind, which if you weren't in a stable position when it came would blow you off balance, causing a shuddering moment of panic before you could dig your ax back into the mountainside and regain your composure. Looking at the steep slide down to yawning crevasses below, even with the rope the thought of taking a fall was unpleasant.
So we continued up the Cleaver, in a plodding, methodic rhythm-two steps crunching in the snow followed by the stabbing sound of the ice ax. About a third of the way up the Cleaver, the fixed line came to an abrupt end, and we were on our own. The sky was getting light, the glow of our headlamps on the snow overwhelmed by a general pallor all around us. Crunch-crunch-stab, crunch-crunch-stab…

We were about halfway up the Cleaver when Nate reeled in Johanna's line and asked her if she wanted to stop and evaluate. With pain still gripping the back of her neck, Johanna readily agreed. We drove our ice-axes into the snow and removed our packs.

The sunrise was in full splendor at this point-the entire sky a brilliant orange, reflecting off the clouds below, a sea of white flowing from the horizon and then billowing up around Little Tahoma's peak like waves crashing off a reef. Mt. Adams looked majestic off in the distance. As beautiful as the morning was though, we could see that the white clouds below were coming up toward us, gray clouds were already obscuring Rainier's summit, and menacing, black storm clouds were drifting our way from the southwest.

We had been on the trail for roughly four hours, and we estimated we were at about 11,800 feet, only about 1,800 up from Muir, with well over 2,000 to go. At this rate, if we kept going, summit or no summit, we would get caught in the storm and then be crossing the glaciers in the late afternoon, the most treacherous time of day. Meanwhile, Johanna's neck was hurting badly, and the fatigue of altitude, sleep deprivation, cold, and a third straight day of hiking were wearing on both of us. As we discussed the situation, another group, having given up ahead, passed us on their way down.

Nate and Kirsten let us decide if we wanted to keep going. In the end, it came down to the realization (a) that we were probably not going to make the summit at this pace, and (b) that short of the summit we were not going to see anything more impressive than the view we had right there. It seemed as good a place as any to turn around. Johanna opened her pack and unfurled her Ecuadorian flag. And, after posing for a commemorative photograph, we started down.

[If the weather had been better we would have willingly pushed higher up the mountain just to see how far we could make it. But even though the weather started out clear, the forecast was bad and we could see bad things on the way and it was not going to get any easier the higher we went.]

In these freezing temperatures, the snow was icy, and we had to walk carefully, leaning back and digging all our crampons into each step. Another group, three women and a man from various parts of the country who had been our neighbors in camp, passed us heading down, proclaiming they had "a pooper and a pee-er" and had to get down urgently. They had been forced to turn back because the lone man had come down with altitude sickness. (In his defense, he was from Phoenix and had undergone a 100-degree temperature drop in the last few days.)

On the Ingraham Glacier, we each paused at the crevasse we had stepped over earlier, straddling it momentarily and peering down into its depths. By the time we descended the Cathedral Rocks and crossed the Cowlitz Glacier, the clear skies were gone, and we entered camp in a whiteout. Johanna had slipped and fallen twice, banging her knees hard on the icy ground the second time.

At 8:30 a.m., we were back at our tents and decided to take a nap until noon. At about 11:15, Brandon and Eric and their guide (a.k.a., Speedy Gonzales, Edwin Moses, and Sir Edmund Hillary) trudged into camp having reached the summit. Under their guide's stern direction, they broke camp and were on their way down before we got up.

At noon, the mountain coaxed us out of our tents with little rays of sunshine. But as soon as I stepped outside, the skies darkened. It was clear the mountain was not going to let us off without one last lesson. Soon, Camp Muir was engulfed in blizzard. The snow was assaulting us horizontally and building up a thick layer on the tent-then an extra strong gust of wind would blast through and rattle the tent so violently the snow would fly off.

Johanna and I decided to pack our backpacks inside the tent. We kept the tent door open and put a pack inside the closed vestibule. But the wind was so strong it blew snow up under the vestibule walls and into the tent, so eventually we pulled the packs all the way inside. After an hour or so of bungling around, we emerged with our packs into the blizzard. We then began the process of taking the tent down, in what Nate and Kirsten described as the most "exciting" camp-breaking experience they could remember. In winds that strong, the different pieces of the tent are more like sails than shelter. You couldn't set anything down for fear it would blow away. And the things heavy enough not to blow away (i.e., backpacks and people) were building up a thick layer of rime ice on their windward sides. At 2:30, we started down.

The whiteout lasted the whole way. But the wind calmed down somewhat as we descended, shifting the snow from horizontal to a more reasonable diagonal, and the dreary trudging was interrupted by an occasional gleeful glissade (a.k.a. sliding on your butt). The snow turned to hail for a while, but at least it was falling vertically, and this turned back to snow, then to a light snow, and then to rain by the time we reached Paradise. (In the words of Sam Elliott's cowboy character in The Big Lebowski, "I didn't find it to be that exactly.")

At the visitor's center, we checked in with the rangers and looked up our route on a scale model of the mountain. We had brought Cerveza Pilsener, smuggled from Ecuador and saved for a special occasion, as triumphant return beers. But it was far too cold for beer, so we had triumphant return hot cocoa.

It's hard to look back on a trip where you were freezing cold, dog-tired, and in pain most of the time, and think what a good time it was. But we will have great memories of this expedition. You take the bad with the good, and this is what it takes for the once-in-a-lifetime experiences of seeing Adams, Hood, and St. Helens all at once, watching the sun rise over Little Tahoma, staring into the mouth of a crevasse, or getting up in the middle of the night and feeling the adrenaline pump as you clip into a rope under the stars.

Immeasurable thanks to Nate and Kirsten for taking us along on this ride, for all their help, and for their infinite patience as we stumbled along forcing them to move all weekend at a pace much slower than they're accustomed to. And a big congratulations to Eric and Brandon for making the summit on their first try-pretty cool.

[Aaron and Johanna should be proud of where they made it. Looking at the forecast prior to the weekend I wasn't sure we would even get a chance to leave Camp Muir. And Kirsten and I would like to thank them for being such great sports, for taking this thing seriously, and for doing everything we asked of them. It was a lot of fun bringing family into our little mountain world. The added emotion of having family not just with us but also reliant on us, made decisions a little more difficult, and I'm thankful that we completed both the Baker and Rainier trips without any serious problems. And lastly I want to apologize for the weather. We just got the wrong end of the stick on both Baker and Rainier. Rest assured we don't normally intentionally subject ourselves to those kinds of conditions.]

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sourdough Chutes

Sunrise, Mt Rainier National Park
Sourdough Chutes
June 16, 2007

Stats: 3 chutes, 2200 feet, 1.5-2 brats, 2 beers and lots of chips each. On a very chilly June day, with leaked sauerkraut juice on our gear and the urge to grill threatening to overpowering our will to ski, expecatations were pretty low. But we dragged ourselves out of the car and up to the top of the first chute, where we were pleasantly surprised with the nice snow and good coverage and ended up taking three runs on different chutes. Back at the car around 2 o'clock and we were ready to get brats going. First round went well. We were able to ration the sauerkraut. Then as we started round two, snow flurries started and the grill began acting up, alternately flaring up then dying out. We were perilously close to being denied. But we managed to keep it going and after a slow, difficult struggle we finished. There were even a couple teaspoons of sauerkraut left to go around. Despite the daunting, challenging conditions, we achieved our goal of skiing and grilling in the Sunrise parking lot. And that's what it's all about.

Other links:
Marcus' post on TAY

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Ruth Mountain

Ruth Mountain, WA
7,115 feet
Marcus' Birthday Tour
June 2, 2007

The Pantengliopolis Birthday Video. Pardon the singing. And the insanely fast panorama.

Marcus has a great time of year for a birthday -- at least for those of us who like primo spring skiing (yes, it's still spring in the Pacific Northwest). This year he chose Ruth Mountain as his destination. Ruth is located in the North Cascades, midway between Mt. Baker and the Picket Range. The views are advertised to be some of the best in the state.

We spent the night at the Hannegan Pass trailhead and headed up the trail at a little past six Saturday morning. The trail climbs along the Ruth Creek valley through open meadows and stands of mature trees for several miles before reaching Hannegan Pass. The trail was about 75% snow-free until Hannegan Pass. From Hannegan Pass, the route climbs south around a small sub-peak to another saddle below Ruth, then climbs straight up the northeast ridge of Ruth to the summit.

The day was perfect -- crystal clear skies, but verging on too hot. It was fine though, after last weekend hanging out in miserable weather on Baker for two nights, I will take a little heat discomfort. We reached the summit after about 6 hours and gave Marcus a beer and a birthday song and took millions of pictures. The views were every bit as advertised. We could have stayed up there a long time, but the snow wasn't getting any better, so after half an hour we put on the skis.

There has been a recent problem with pollen on the snow in the Cascades, but none of us had experienced it yet. Ruth was no exception, although it didn't seem as bad as we had heard. It was definitely grabby, but if you stayed on your edges by turning a lot (the method preferred by Kirsten and Anastasia and me), or just going really fast (the method preferred by Marcus), it wasn't too terrible. It did seem that those of us with more wax on our bases accumulated more pollen residue, which is just weird. We enjoyed our turns down the Tasty Chutes (as Pete called them) nonetheless. After 2,000 feet of skiing we were back at Hannegan Pass.

The hike out got hotter and hotter. As we crossed slide paths the air was cooled by the snow, but on the dry sections of trail it felt like hot air was just pooling on the trail. Clearly our bodies are still acclimated to more wintery conditions. We all emptied our camelbaks with at least an hour to go and when we finally got back to the car we were quite parched. We found a picnic table in a nice shady spot and had watermelon and beer and water, then headed out. 2,000 feet seems like a pretty small amount of skiing for a 10 hour day, but any skiing in June is always good, and the incredible views certainly made it a pretty ideal trip for Marcus' birthday tour.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Mt Baker Training

Mt Baker, WA
Coleman-Deming Training Trip
May 26-28, 2007

Memorial Day Weekend: our training weekend with Aaron & Johanna for our upcoming Rainier attempt. Their friends, Erik and Brandon, joined us for the first two days of the weekend. Aaron & Johanna had spent the last month training pretty hard, hiking Mt Si and Mailbox Peak every week, and buying new gear. Mountaineering gear is really expensive when you're starting from scratch, and especially if you only plan to use it a couple times, so Kirsten and I tried to help them prioritize what they really needed to buy, what they could rent, what they already had that they could get away with, and what they could borrow from us. I don't know the dollar amounts, but they still ended up spending a lot of money on gear. Probably a lot more than they were expecting.

We met Erik and Brandon at the trailhead Saturday morning... or a couple hundred yards from the trailhead where the road was blocked by a long strip of snow. During the drive up, clouds hid the mountain from our view, and because of the bad weather forecast, we were afraid we wouldn't get to see the mountain at all this weekend. Everyone loaded up their packs and started the slog up the partially snow-and-storm-debris-covered trail. The creek crossings all had relatively good snow bridges over them still, and as we reached Heliotrope Ridge we climbed up into the clouds. After four or five hours we reached the first basecamp site at 6,000 feet and dug out our camp. That evening, as we sat in our kitchen cooking dinner, the sky began to clear and we got our first views of the upper mountain.

The plan for the next day was to do training, and we were just hoping the precipitation would stay away, but during the night we were all woken up by the sound of rain and heavy wet snowflakes hitting the tents. We pushed our wake up time back and when we finally got up it was still snowing, so our four apprentices received their first lesson in cooking breakfast while it's snowing. The next lesson was glissading and self-arrest. Kirsten and I found a mellow slope fairly close by to practice on. We were hoping for something steeper, but it would have to do and certainly provided a safe introduction. Everyone had great attitudes and caught on pretty quickly, but Kirsten and I were glad we had duct-taped all the sharp parts of their axes because by the end they were gleefully flinging themselves down the glissade chutes trying to up the difficulty of their arrests.

Next lesson was ascending and descending in snow. We went through step-kicking, angled-traversing, and plunge-stepping, then we were hoping to find some ice or firm snow somewhere to practice French technique with crampons, but instead had to settle for bare boots on a big rock. After that, we practiced the very useful skill of running through the snow back to camp. That was a very short lesson. It was late afternoon and the weather was still crappy and Erik and Brandon decided it was time for them to bug out, so they packed up camp while we showed Aaron & Johanna how to tie into a rope team. We gave Aaron & Johanna the opportunity to head out early because the weather just wasn't looking good, but they impressed us with their sporting attitudes and said they wanted to have a shot at the summit. So we practiced switch-backing up a slope on the rope team for a while, then cooked dinner and made water for the summit attempt. As we were eating, suddenly the sky cleared up and we allowed a measure of hope to creep into our minds that the coming good weather was arriving early.

We went to bed around 8:00 and set the alarms for 1:00am. At one we woke up and heard the discouraging sound of snow falling on the tent again. Drat. I shined my halogen headlamp outside and could see the entire beam running from the headlamp to a point about a hundred feet away through the snow. The told me that we were in the middle of a cloud. The alarms were reset for 2:00.

At 2:00, we woke up and the clouds seemed to have lifted a little, but it was snowing just as hard. I shouted over to Aaron & Johanna's tent, "Do we need to discuss this?" and Aaron replied with a tinge of frustration, "No!" Alarms were turned off and we didn't wake again until 7 o'clock. The tents were glowing with the ambient bright light from outside and I poked my head out to find perfectly clear skies. Looks like the weather was just a few hours too late. We got up, had a leisurely breakfast basking in the sun and admiring the stunning views of Baker, then practiced some z-pulley before breaking camp and heading out.

It was too bad the weather didn't cooperate, but Aaron and Johanna were great sports, cheerfully doing all the lessons we showed them despite the bad weather, and showed great resilience with the snow-camping. Most people get pretty worn out just camping in the snow for the first time, but they stuck it out for two full nights and never complained at all.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mt St Helens - Mothers Day

Mt St Helens
8,365 feet
Worm Flows Ski
Mothers Day, May 13, 2007

the Pantengliopolis House of Phat debut production: St Helens Mothers' Day 2007

It's been three years since the last Mt. St. Helens Mothers Day ski. The mountain had been closed for a couple years due to volcanic activity before they finally reopened it last summer, so we had a pretty nice-sized group of people ready to get back down there this year and everyone dusted off their old skiing dresses. I had to buy a new one because I took my old one back to Goodwill. Fortunately Kirsten and I happened across a very nice tropical print sun dress for $10 at Walgreens that fit the bill just fine. It even matched my skis and ski boots... I think.

Everyone trickled into the parking lot Saturday evening and after some debate about what time to get up in the morning, we settled on trying to head out by 7:30. Forecast wasn't great and indeed as we headed out it was cloudy and threatening to rain. The trail was dry for the first half mile or so and then when we hit snow and as we started climbing up toward treeline, tiny snow flakes started falling. Climbing up St Helens on Mothers Day is always quite a site. It's something to behold when people who aren't in dresses on a mountain look out of place. And it's quite hilarious to watch Murray get hit on by middle-aged men with moustaches.

About a thousand feet below the rim we climbed out of the clouds and had clear blue skies. We reached the crater rim after about 5 hours. The new crater additions that St Helens is building were pretty cool to see, and Rainier, Adams and Hood were all clearly visible. Chad topped out after a struggle for the last couple thousand feet, looking forlorn due to some intestinal problems. But after everyone took pictures and had a few drinks of beer, it was time for the glorious ski down.

To really get in the spirit, Marcus took his pants off from underneath his rather short dress. We started down on an aspect that was facing a little too much to the west and hadn't quite corned up. We did one group ski for a few hundred feet, then Marcus, perhaps with a little too much ski and too much alacrity for the conditions, washed out his tails and went for a slide on his side. The abrasian from the frozen snow gave him a nice bloddy 6 inch raspberry on his side. After giving him a little first aid (Tim's spare Goretex pants), we scooted back around to the south a bit and found the properly cured corn we were looking for. The skiing the rest of the way was fantastic, topped off by a little natural quarter pipe that people hit and caught some sick air off of. At the bottom the snow got a little gluey, but it was good enough that we didn't want to stop -- even when snow ran out, we'd walk across dirt in our skis to get to the next short patch of snow. Alas, eventually we came to the end of any continuous snow at all and had to walk the rest of the way back to the car.

It was great to be back at St Helens again. We had all missed her while she was closed for renovations.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Washington Pass

Highway 20, WA
Un-Cutthroat Pass and Birthday Tour
May 5 - 6, 2007

This weekend Marcus & Anastasia and Kirsten & I drove up to Washington Pass. The pass had just opened a little over a week ago so we were looking forward to some good early season conditions. We met up with Andy and Mica (and Tundra) at the pass late in the morning on Saturday and decided to try the Cutthroat Pass tour as an out-and-back from Rainy Pass. We skinned through firm snow and odd frozen chicken heads in the trees as we traversed below the flanks of Cutthroat Peak looking for the drainage to the pass. We couldn't get a good view up one of the prominent drainages we came to but decided to follow some other skiers tracks up it anyway.

That turned out to be a bit of a navigational mistake. We had a strange feeling about the tracks as we followed them further and further up the valley and then as they climbed up a ridge. Something about the way they kept side-stepping didn't seem right. Eventually we came to a high-point on the ridge where we could get clear views and we thought we were just around the corner from the pass. Cutthroat Peak seemed to be in the wrong place, however, so we took a bearing on it and discovered we had followed the other skiers to an uknown ridge spur off the west side of Cutthroat. Instead of back-tracking and trying to recover the route to Cutthroat Pass, we decided to cut our losses and get some skiing in. The south-facing slope down into the valley was good skiing on well-done corn. Once down into the valley we quickly skinned up to the top of a short slope on a north-facing aspect and found a thin layer of super nice unaffected old powder on a firm base.

We followed the drainage straight down to the road instead of traversing in order to shorten our time exposed to the frozen mank in the trees. From there we skinned back up the along the highway on top of the plowed snow wall. Back at camp, we grilled sausage sandwiches and had some beer, then after some deer shenanigans -- one young deer who wouldn't leave our campsite and another who interrupted our game of tag with Tundra -- and a visit from our camp neighbor, Jonathan (, we turned in.

Sunday we got up early and did the modified Birthday Tour. Much less of an adventure here. The only surprises were that the south-facing snow from Blue Lake Col was a lot better than we expected and the north-facing snow from the notch above the hairpin was way worse than we expected. The south slope hadn't been baked yet, so it was nicely corned-up. The north snow was sticky, gooey, glop. Felt like my skis were suction cups. The folks with the skinnier skis seemed to have an easier time, and Marcus utilized the power of speed to break through the shmoo-barrier. From there, it was back to Highway 20 and the road home, with a stop at Good Food in Marblemount along the way.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Kendall Chutes

Kendall Peak, WA
Kendall Chutes
April 15, 2007

Day before Tax Day. Perfect time to go skiing and relax. I met up with Andy, Mica, Becky, Lee and Murray on an expedition to try and find these chutes we had been hearing so much about. Kirsten wasn't feeling well, so she decided to stay home, but granted me permission to go without her. Pete, who had originally organized the trip woke up Sunday morning and decided he needed to spend the day at work. And a couple others who had considered going also dropped out, so instead of a hoard of 10, we were trimmed down to a much leaner hoard of six.

We skinned to the top of Kendall Stump, which was the part of the route we were familiar with, but without Pete there to consult us, we gave the map some extra attention and picked a route across the ridge, above Kendall Peak Lakes, and on to the back side of the chutes. We stopped for lunch as the in and out sun happened to be out, then picked one of the mellower lines and skied down one at a time. The snow was pretty icey at the top, which made things interesting since that was also the narrowest part of the chute. We scraped our way down this section, then the next section had lots of avy debris waiting for us. After surviving the bumpy ride through the avy debris, we finally hit good snow: an inch or so of fairly unaffected new snow on a firm base. We carved up the rest of the chute and gathered at the bottom.

Looking back up at all the great lines left to ski and pondering the unappealing conditions at the top, we agreed it had been a successfull recon mission and decided to leave the rest of the lines for another time -- when conditions were better (and when Kirsten could come).

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Red Mountain

Red Mountain, WA
Southwest Face Ski
April 8, 2007

A week ago we went into the Commonwealth Valley at Snoqualmie Pass in a group of about a dozen with low expectations to ski Red Mountain. The snow in the valley was bullet-hard and as we passed under Kendall a few people skied past us. They had just come down from Red and said the snow was the same up on the mountain. Well, that was enough for most of us and we cut the day short, opting for a late breakfast at the Pancake House instead.

This week, we decided to give it a go again. Temps were higher. The group was smaller. We had Tundra with us. There was no way we could fail. I forgot my camera in the car so there is not the usual abundance of photos, but you will have to take my word for it. We did make it up Red. It was supposed to rain at some point during the day, but on the way up to the summit the snow seemed to be corning up pretty well and the rain clouds that were threatening only spat on us just a little bit. Skiing from the top was nice, but closer to the valley it turned into pretty thick chowder.

We skated out the valley and were back to the cars not longer after noon. Super nice tour for a quick day. Gotta keep hitting the Snoqualmie Pass area while there's still snow.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sorcerer Lodge

Sorcerer Lodge, B.C.
elev: 2,050 m (6,700 ft)
February 10 - 17, 2007

Finally, the trip we've been waiting for all winter. This was Kirsten's and my first heli hut trip. It's not easy for me to get away from work during tax season, but this is just one of those ones we had to do. Marcus began organizing the trip almost a year prior, and after hearing people rave about this style of ski trip for a few years, we were determined to make it happen. So despite having spent almost all of our travel funds and vacation time on going to Russia and getting married and going on a honeymoon, we managed to scrape up enough money and time to go.

Sorcerer Lodge is a private, commercial hut in the Selkirks north of Rogers Pass in British Columbia. We drove all the way to Golden, BC Friday and after a stop in Revelstoke to pick up a couple kegs from the Mt. Begbie Brewery, we met up with the rest of our crew of 16 at the Kicking Horse Lodge. Saturday morning we got up early and caravaned to the heli pad between Golden and Rogers Pass. Ah, helicopters. There's something about all the adventure involved in riding a helicopter that really gets you amped up for the trip. "Don't lift your head under the rotor blades"; "Don't go near the rear rotor"; "Don't kick any part of the helicopter"; "Don't touch the emergency locator beacon"; "Wear your ski gear in case we have to make an emergency landing."

We all arrived at the lodge without incident, and settled in rather quickly. So quickly in fact that we had time for an afternoon ski run. As we all huddled around the map on the lodge wall, we picked out runs that looked like they would be close and quick. I learned quickly that reading the Candadian topo maps requires you to recalibrate your judgment of distance and elevation when you're used to U.S. topos. Skiing and climbing just a handful of contour lines is quite a bit further than it is in the U.S. What looked like a couple hundred feet of descent on the map, would turn out to be a thousand feet.

I would love to recount all the individual trips that we took during the week, but that would turn into much too long of a report. Basically, our concern going in was that the region had not had much new snow in the last couple weeks. But fortunately, the forecast was calling for pretty continuous snowfall. Sure enough, it snowed every day. And it was good. This, of course, meant the visibility was pretty consistently bad. Because of that, we didn't get to do any big tours, and we didn't get to climb Iconoclast, which is a pretty prominent 10,000+ foot peak in the area, but there was plenty of terrain nearby to keep us quite busy skiing untracked powder all week. And the long dry spell preceding our trip meant the old snowpack underneath the new was quite stable.

It was great not to have to worry too much about the deeper layers, but we still had to respect the danger of point-releases, or sloughing. The sloughs were entraining and running a very long way and building up to a not-insignificant depth. The scariest example of this came right on the heels of the scariest fall of the trip. Mike and Andrea and a few others went up the Wizard and skied a line down to the col above Ventigo Lake just past the Heinous Traverse. But the line was pretty bony and Andrea took a hard fall, landing on a rock, partially dislocating her elbow and bruising her hip. They decided to head back to the lodge via the Heinous Traverse, whence they learned the source of that name. As they were traversing, large sloughs of snow were naturally releasing from the cliffs above. They crossed eight slide paths on the traverse, and one of them came down right on top of them, burying them from the knees to the waist. Mike saw the snow billowing down the slope toward them and yelled to Andrea, "Hunker down!" and thought to himself, "I really hope those aren't my last words." They were able to extract themselves, and it certainly made us all acutely aware of the danger.

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful in terms of danger. It really was much more of a powder fest then an objective-achieving trip. And we became very fond of the lifestyle. Get up at a decent hour, say 7-ish and have a short breakfast and a cup of coffee. Leave the hut around 8:30 or 9 and go ski light, knee-deep powder until 3 or 4. Come back to lodge and maybe help restock the water and firewood supply, or just hang out and play games or read a book until dinner-time. If it wasn't your turn to cook dinner, you could go sit in the sauna for a while and let the heat melt away the soreness in your muscles. And because it was only your turn to cook one night out of the entire week, that meant a lot of evenings of just relaxing and eating.

There is the matter of the piss-pica which should be addressed. One day I was utilizing the assigned pee-hole for boys, minding my own business, when suddenly a rodent with a rather distressed demeanor was poking his head out of the hole. Unsure what the proper protocol for such a situation was (do I play dead? make myself tall and act fearsome?), I took half a step back then realized I had the upper hand so I continued to fend him off with my golden shower attack.

And who can forget the hut caretaker who joined us. Dave, the firefighter from Canmore, Alberta, was a pleasure to have with us. He take good care of the hut and had a great sense of humor. Most importantly he liked to ski anything and happily went along with us no matter the destination. And when us Cascade-folk would hesitate to ski something we were unsure about, he would willingly take one for the team and go first. It was a big sacrifice for him to make, to be sure, but it almost seemed as though he enjoyed getting the first tracks! He also made sure we didn't have any leftovers from dinner to deal with, which was nice.

Alas, the day of our departure sadly arrived. It was on the heels of a terrific storm which dumped a large amount of snow accompanied with high wind. It was so windy and so much snow was falling that snow was blowing up through the eaves of the outhouses and the water hole in the lake got buried under a foot of snow overnight. There was some concern about whether we would be able to fly out Saturday morning, but unfortunately we did. We were all kind hoping for a couple free extra days.

Back in Seattle, the adjustment back to the real world was predictably difficult. I think back on the trip with nothing but fondness: one week in a comfortable hut with 16 friends skiing our own private stash of sweet Selkirk powder every day. That's hard to beat.

Other Links:
- Ema's pics

Sorcerer Hut from A. Toyota on Vimeo.