Saturday, March 6, 2010

2010 Rock Climbing Season Opens Leavenworth

Despite all the decent skiing these past few small storms have provided up high the Rock climbing is ideal out in Icicle Creek Canyon. We ran our first guided program this past Friday and today I headed out to check out a few favorite bouldering spots and things are amazingly dry and nice on the South side of the canyon, which is where most of the climbing exists.

The week of March 8-12 is forecasted to be cold and we expect some precip, but it looks like it might start to warm up in time for next weekend. We have been running mostly half-day programs as things need to warm up a bit in the morning, but the climbing has been warm, sunny, and perfect from about 10 am until 5 pm.

I have posted a new page on the website that details each program and has links to our Washington Rock Climbing programs for 2010.

We are available to guide 7 days a week and can often accommodate individuals or groups on short notice. Give a call at 509-548-5823 or visit the Washington Rock Climbing Guides page on the Leavenworth Rock Guides section of the site.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Chiwaukums Ski Traverse ~ Feb 27 - March 1, 2010

On Saturday February 27, Lew Miller and I set out from Bridge Creek on Icicle road to complete a traverse of the Chiwaukum Range. My interest in the Chiwaukums stems from proximity to my home in Leavenworth and views provided by clear days at Stevens Pass, which lies a few miles to the West. Like most of the mountains in Washington, the Chiwaukums provide good skiing above about 4000', but also like most mountains in Washington they are hard to access.

We opted to do the tour from South to North. We were starting with an avalanche hazard rating of considerable above 6000' and moderate below and the thought was that we would be able to comfortably get up most of the South facing slopes and then assess the NE through NW facing slopes from the starting zone. This is a pretty common strategy that yields a nice combination of skiing uphill in the crust and skiing downhill in powder. We also knew that our cell phones would work on the North end, which would make it easier to arrange for a pickup at the end.

From Bridge Creek we borrowed one of Johnny Brenan's snowmobiles and used it to get up to the washout about 1.5 miles shy of Chatter Creek campground. Lew drove, I was towed, and we left the sled which our friend Rob Fallon was kind enough to retrieve on his way home from another adventure.

From Chatter Creek the basic idea is to tour up and over Grindstone Mountain, cross over to Cape Horn, climb Snowgrass Mountain, ski down via one of several routes to access Big Chiwaukum, ski Big Chiwaukum, and then finally make a beeline for the Swauth and our exit at Cascade Meadows Church Camp. Cascade Meadows can be reached by car from US hwy. 2.

We completed the first part of this plan, and then evnetually bailed out the South Fork of Big Chiwaukum Creek through Timothy Meadows. We popped out near the West end of Tumwater Canyon, where Olivia picked us up a bit after dark on day 3.

Lew is a pilot, so he flew a recon of the Chiwaukums a week in advance. NMS guide Nick Pope and Forrest McBrian made the traverse during better stability in late February, and I was able to look at the aerial photos with Nick while he was staying with us during an AIARE level 1 avy course. Writing this now it seems like an unusual amount of information to have access to, but it provided us with a good overview of various route options. The above photo looks to the SE with the Swauth just behind the wingtip, and then the White Pine Cirque, and then eventually Big Chiwaukum.

The photo above is looking to the NW with Grindstone Mountain just behind the wingtip, the col we crossed over just under the wingtip, Cape Horn directly above the WT, and finally the beautiful East face of Snowgrass Mountain (7993') above that. The big peak on the horizon in Glacier Peak.

The main face on the left here is the East face of Snowgrass, which I had been yearning to ski for a few years, and the shaded face behind that is on the East side of Big Chiwaukum (8081'). We spent our second night in the cup shaped basin directly below the middle of the wingtip after deciding we did not want to ski down to Lake Charles, which is located in the shade below Big Chiwaukm in this photo. Our camp below the cup shaped basin was located at around 6800'.

This photo looks at the East side of Big Chiwaukum with Lake Charles sitting on the side of the shaded face in the bottom left. There are many ways you could work this terrain, but a notch just above the low point on the ridge in the bottom left proved to be the easiest way to access Lake Charles.

Lew and I at the Bridge Creek getting ready for a quick 5-6 mile drag up the Icicle.

As 2009-10 has been a low snow year we were able to follow the faintly depressed trail that leads up Chatter Creek. It was not until we got above 4000' that we were able to stay in our skis without having to boot around dry patches in the trail. We were amused to see Nick and Forrest's ski tracks even though two storms and 10 days had passed since their trip along the same route.

The ski up Chatter Creek has nice views of the Stuart Range, Mt. Cashmere, and some really big Ponderosa pines.

We started walking at around 10:45 am and we made it to the pass at the top of the basin on the SE side of Grindstone mountain by about 5 pm. The trail head sits at about 2700' and we climbed around 4000' to the pass at just under 6700'. The skiing off this was predictably good powder snow.

We set up a simple camp near some trees. I used a Exped Hummingbird Sleeping bag (40F), which weighed 1 lb. 9 oz, and an OR Nighthaven Pocket Shelter with the footprint pre-attached to allow for a quick set up. This combo was very light, super bomber, and perfect for keeping our packs light. This tarp-tent has no poles so you use adjustable ski poles to hold the roof up. Oddly, the footprint floor made it easier to drain any loose snow that had worked its way in on boots, clothes, etc. and proved to be the right choice for a long overnight tour.

On the morning of day 2 we crossed over to Lake Edna, and then up and over the col to the East of Cape Horn. The skiing on this slope was creamy and good, but we were a bit concerned about a persistent layer of buried surface hoar that we had been watching and found buried under a 30 cm slab on the N slopes below this col.

From the col at around 7000' we skied down to almost 6200' before we started the long climb up and across the East side of Snowgrass, which at 7993' is the second highest peak in the Chiwaukums.

The lower portion of the East side of Snowgrass is steep, so we climbed up to about 7000' and then made a long traverse up toward the summit. We were out during a bit of a warm-up, so we moved efficiently through terrain with some cornices above.

This is looking to the NW from around 7000' on Snowgrass. This whole slope feels like it should be glaciated, but in the summer it generally loses most of its snow. From the top, this slope can provide a bit over 3000' of descent on snow that remains good as the bottom is still above 5000'

As we did not want to mess with the cornices we would need to negotiate in order to go to the summit, we skied to the small col to the North and contented ourselves with reaching 8950'.

From here we skied almost due East and dropped down to about 6600' to get under some cliff bands. We wrapped hard around the base of the peak that lies East of Snowgrass and eventually got back into our skins at around 6350' on the edge of the large slide path that descends from a col at 7000' just above Lake Charles. It can be a bit dicey to access Lake Charles directly from the Col due to large cornices that form there, but you can get in just above the Col by heading up the ridge to the east.

At this point we had spoken with Olivia and confirmed that the freezing level was going to be headed up to 9000' the following day. As it was near dark and Lake Charles looked a bit exposed for a winter camp during a warm-up, we dropped back down to 6800' and camped just under a small peak to the East.

The next morning things were starting to brew in the skies above, so we decided to head down and out the South Fork of Chiwaukum Creek. We started by skiing the bullet proof slopes of the south facing slide path and then eventually joined the summer trail heading down valley. Like the trails in the Icicle, we could just barely detect where the trail sat by occasional sags in the snow and the way the brush was cleared along the edge.

We skied the slide path from 6800' to 4800' and found decent skiing as the crust was still supportive early in the day.

The trip down Chiwaukum Creek was long, but very interesting. Animals had heavily used the trails (now buried in snow) as a winter highway. We saw deer, rabbit, coyote, and Wolverine tracks. The Wolverine tracks were the most interesting as it is clear these creatures have a huge range and cover great distances in their daily wanderings. The Wolverine tracks would stop and investigate every tree well, rock, or creek and then inexplicably turn and head straight up impossibly steep slopes before appearing again a mile down the valley. Other highlights included Aspen with trunks 2 feet in diameter and a Ponderosa Pine that must have been close to 6 feet in diameter. We also sw signi

By the end we were getting tired and the skiing involved basically bombing straight down the trail with occasional dry spots to work around where big tree overhung the trail.

At the very end of the trail there is a .9 mile ski down a road that leads to the Chiwaukum Creek campground. We were happy to be able to get into recent tire ruts that had iced up and provided a nice glide all the way down to US highway 2, where Olivia was waiting with celebratory beers and a ride back to Leavenworth for cheeseburgers and beer.

If interested in heading into the Chiwaukums, visit our Chiwaukums Ski Traverse page or give a call and we can provide any current beta we have for the trip. As the elevation ranges from 2000' to 8000' this trip works best at a time in late winter or early spring when the days are long enough for big days of skiing, but there is a still good snow coverage. While the tour can be done in less than perfect stability, you are gong to have a better trip and many more options if you go in good stability.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Forbidden Ski Tour, February 27-28

Skiing the North Cascade's Forbidden Tour
by Nick Pope, NMS guide

In what seems like a lackluster winter at lower elevations, I've been constantly amazed that excellent conditions can be found by climbing a little higher in our local mountains. Trees are blooming in the valleys, but an intrepid skier can still be carving powder turns after climbing a few thousand feet.

The low snow year made for a shorter approach as the road was open further than usual. It didn't take long to get to snow and soon we were climbing from the Cascade River Road towards Boston Basin trail head.

Skiing up Cascade River Road with Mix-up Peak, the Triplets and Cascade Peak from left to right. The beginnings of Johannesburg can be seen on the right.

The scenery on this tour begins at the road with the impressive faces of Mix-up Peak, the Triplets, Cascade Peak and, of course, Johannesburg Mountain looming above. From the road at 3,300' we climbed 2,500' to get above treeline, skinning our way through a mixture of open slide paths and old growth hemlock that allowed as easy passage as possible. Entering the alpine we gained the Quien Sabe Glacier setting our sites on Sharkfin Col. This Col would allow us passage over the rocky mountain spine that extends from Forbidden Peak to Boston Peak.

Crossing the Quien Sabe Glacier en route to Sharkfin Col. Sharkfin Tower, the high point directly above the skier, is a terrific summer alpine rock climbing objective. Sharkfin Col is the low point of the ridge to the left.

Since this is ski mountaineering, we soon had our skis on our packs and crampons on our boots for the climb up over the col. The south facing slope had gotten lots of melt-refreeze action and the icy surface made us thankful for crampons and ice axes.

Climbing up Sharkfin Col.

As we topped out on the col the winds picked up and clouds began closing in. The next day's forecast was for clearing with high pressure. Going over the col is committing as it would be difficult to reverse our path once we rappelled onto the Boston Glacier. We put our faith in NOAA and made the short rappel down the north side.

Rappelling down from Sharkfin Col onto the Boston Glacier.

Sure enough visibility went from poor to pathetic. Looking into the fog across a heavily crevassed glacier we decided to leave it for morning, dig in for the night and hope those forecasters are right.

Skinning across the Boston Glacier at dawn.

Snow fell through the night. We would occasionally bump the snow off the tarp covering our snow cave to keep it from collapsing. Finally after hot drinks in the morning things were improving. We could make out the mountains and glacier in the predawn light so we got going under headlamps. We had just enough light to enjoy some delightful powder turns down to the low point on this glacier crossing. Soon we were skinning up to the next col enjoying the light show that is a mountain sunrise.

Crossing the Boston Glacier approaching the North Ridge Col.

A quick boot climb got us up over the col at the base of Forbidden's North Ridge. This would put us on the top of the Forbidden Glacier leading west towards Moraine Lake.

Booting up the North Ridge Col.

The decent to Moraine Lake is not just the quintessential leg of this tour, but perhaps of North Cascades ski touring. 3,000' of glacier and rolling terrain under the mighty north faces of Forbidden Peak and Mount Torment, the ridge between clad in hanging ice, looking across at Eldorado Peak with its glacial mantle, Moraine Lake far far below; a tremendous place to be.

Looking across at Eldorado Peak from the top of the Forbidden Glacier.

The skiing on this day was good, we had perhaps hoped for perfect, but we'd settle for the slightly wind effected powder that we had. The scenery certainly made up for it.

Skiing down the Forbidden Glacier to Moraine Lake.

Our next "quintessential" experience came at the lake as we looked up to the daunting climb out of this glacial cirque. With cool temps and limited sun we decided on a south facing climb up the east flanks of the Inspiration Glacier. We crossed a foggy Moraine Lake and picked out a safe line up from the depths.

Skinning across Moraine Lake towards the Inspiration Glacier and Eldorado Peak above.

From the lake at 4,500' we carved a skin track up moraines, around icefalls and between crevasses towards the bench at 7,500' where the Inspiration and Eldorado glaciers meet. The Inspiration, Eldorado, McAllister and Klawatti Glaciers form the largest contiguous ice mass in the Lower 48 that isn't on a volcano.

Climbing up alongside seracs of the Inspiration Glacier.

Our tour was coming to end. Once we crested the Inspiration Glacier and headed south down the Eldorado we would have no more significant climbing to do. We took a final glance at the huge basin we had just crossed and ripped skins for the ride down.

Forbidden Peak and the Forbidden Glacier leading down to Moraine Lake. The crossing from the Boston Glacier is just left of center along the ridge.

If only the expression "Its all down hill from here." applied in this case. The snow would soon be cooked by the sun, the transition from skiing to walking occurs among a tricky boulder field and the hike out is a steep, rugged affair. That is what touring can be in these wild, pristine mountains. Relying on what you bring with you, and in you, is what makes these trips special. I don't mind riding a cable car or sleeping in a hut, but this wilder side of ski touring provides an isolation and adventure that I love.

Johannesburg Mountain peaks through the clouds. The road, our exit, lies at its base 4,000' feet below.

This was a quick trip. We decided on one night out so we could move fast with light packs. It was an athletic pace and we missed out on some good skiing and climbing objectives along the way. This tour is typically done as the 4 day trip, allowing time for a comfortable pace and the possibility of touring the Eldorado plateau. The skiing is never radically steep but snow conditions can be challenging.

I lead this trip for the Northwest Mountain School. For details visit our Forbidden Ski Tour Page at or give us a call at 509-548-5823.