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.

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