The final 2.7 miles of the Mount Baker Highway (SR 542), the road to Artist Point, is OPEN for the summer. That’s earlier than the originally anticipated opening for July 4th weekend. Located at over 5,000 ft above sea level, Artist Point serves up commanding views of Mount Shuksan, Mount Baker and the North Cascades mountain range. This is one of our favorite zones for easy access to backcountry skiing so you know we’ll be there soon. See you there.
On the other side of Paradise in Mt. Rainier National Park, there is another paradise for ski tourers and climbers: Inter Glacier. This is on the way to Camp Shurman, the jumping off point for climbers summiting via the Emmons Glacier. We love this route not only for the grand vistas of the Emmons Glacier -the largest glacier in the lower 48- but also for the wide open and long 5000′+ vert, continuous pitches for skiing down. So, after a week of wild wintry weather in our Cascades and new snow, we spent Father’s Day back in Mt. Rainier NP. TNT and I were joined by Kam Chan, Dave Leffmann (telemarkers), Peggy Vert and Tara Minotti – and a parking lot full of others who had the same idea. We started out from the White River Campground (4400 ft. elevation). The campground is presently closed (no restrooms) so the road ends at the main campground parking lot. From there, we hiked the Glacier Basin trail the entire 3.5 miles. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough continuous snow to skin. From Glacier Basin (patchy snow still), we crossed over to Inter Glacier to begin skinning. With warm temperatures (the forecast high was mid-50s on the lower glacier), several inches of new snow at the base of Inter Glacier (approx. 5600 ft elevation) and reports of 2 ft or more at higher elevations, we saw a lot of sloughing and slides on the sides of Mt. Ruth onto Inter Glacier. We made it up to about 9500 ft. on Steamboat Prow. We decided to skip the last stretch to the top (9702 ft. elevation) given the high sustained winds. As we’ve experienced with past trips, the upper part of Steamboat Prow was crusty. This time, it was 2+ inches of breakable crust over a ft or more of settled new snow – not fun. But once we got down to the upper Wedge, the snow softened and there was a deep enough layer of corn to reward TNT for schlepping the fat boards this time. We also saw some amazing sun halos and sun spikes. With sunset after 9pm, a full moon and no bugs, we maxed out the day – took our time chilling afterwards and didn’t pack up until after 10pm – so stoked to be summer skiing in June.
We are experiencing some serious winter weather in Washington’s Cascades this week. Another 8-14″ of new snow is forecast for today at higher elevations (over 9200 ft or so) on Mt. Rainier. That’s on top of the 2-4 ft that already fell this week. With sun and high temperatures returning tomorrow for our ski tour, we were discussing and assessing avalanche dangers. It may be summer but NWAC still issues special reports and news whenever there is major snowfall. Be sure to read Northwest Avalanche Center’s current report before heading out. Live to ski another day!
Snow fell this week in Washington’s Cascade mountains above the 4500 ft elevation. Photo above is from Austin Pass (~4600ft elevation), over a mile before Mt. Baker ski area. The caption reminds us of NOAA’s outlook for La Niña. As of their most recent June 9, 2016 Advisory: “La Nina is favored to develop during the Northern Hemisphere summer 2016, with about a 75% chance of La Niña during the fall and winter 2016-17″. This is GOOD news as La Nina brings heavier snowfall for the Pacific Northwest. We’ll be watching La Nina developments closely.
6/17/16 UPDATE: Paradise Valley Rd. opens tomorrow, Sat. 6/18 so it’s possible to park near Fourth Crossing for this skin/ski trip. ORIGINAL POST: Here’s the video that goes along with yesterday’s post. Telemarker Kam Chan and splitboarder Brett Hlavka joined the Snow Troopers’ TNT and Sting for a sunny ski down from the Paradise Glacier to the Fourth Crossing trailhead in Mt. Rainier National Park – fresh, untracked snow in June 2016. There’s even more fresh snow on Mt. Rainier today after yesterday’s snow storm. Hope you can get out there to enjoy it.
Winter returns to Paradise: 4-8″ of new snow is expected by tomorrow above 5000′ (ie, below the Paradise Visitor Center @ 5940′ elevation) and over a foot by Thursday is expected at higher elevations above 9000′. The Paradise parking lot is already blanketed with snow today – see webcam here. TNT, Kam Chan, Brett Hlavka and I made it up this past Sunday during a break in this storm system. It was full on blue bird so temps warmed quickly to mid-50s by late morning. By afternoon, it was hot enough under the sun for shorts, even at around 8600′ on the glacier. We were able to skin on the Skyline trail a mere 50-100′ from the steps outside the visitor center. Snow coverage is still excellent and the couple of bare stretches on the paved trail below Alta Vista (5940’ elevation) were easily dodged by staying off trail. Above Pebble Creek and McClure Rock at about 7789’, we crossed over to Paradise Glacier. There appeared to be an estimated 4” or more of new, settled snow at glacier level. We skied down from just below Anvil Rock at about 8600′ on perfect, untracked corn snow down to the Fourth Crossing trailhead on Paradise Valley Road at 5200’ (see map to left). The Paradise Valley Road is still closed (estimated to open 6/24/16) so if you go that route, be prepared to walk about half a mile back to the Paradise lot — although it could be possible to skin part way after this week’s snow. Below are photos from our day – video to follow soon.
Among the countless backcountry ski gems in Washington’s North Cascades, many would consider the area around Sahale Mountain one of its finest. Marc Fendel, Kam Chan and Steve Macfarlane made it their destination for last weekend’s ski tour. Here’s Marc’s report:
Our Sahale Arm ski touring trip was amazing. As for the trip itself. The trail is a beautiful grade of switchbacks to Cascade Pass. As a long distance hiker you learn to really appreciate good trail. Combine that with huge granite walls of hanging glaciers, cascading waterfalls, and views of the Cascade River headwaters, the journey is splendid! The trail itself is almost snow free now until you get to Cascade Pass. There you can easily walk from Cascade Pass via the Sahale Arm or ski tour to Glacier Camp. In case you missed it Backpacker Magazine has an amazing photo from that exact spot in the current issue. From Glacier Camp the ski tour was a fairly simple 1000ft tour to the peak. The last 60 feet is steep and easier just to boot pack. Lots of climbers doing the last pitch to the summit and rappelling back to where I was chillin’ and taking in the views, and thinking about skiing (not snowboarding). Kam and Steve free climbed to the summit. There’s a few moves with exposure, and I am no rock climber. The snow was very soft making it easy for the skis to bite into the snow, that and a bit of encouragement from Steve, I instantly regained my confidence. It is certainly one of the most breath taking ski descents in the Northwest, many say that it’s the best view of the North Cascades. I believe it! One last thing. You don’t have to be a crazy drunk skier willing to hike 10 miles with skis, or hardcore climber trying to climb the peak in under one day. The views are the same if you just hike the trail. Go see it for yourself!
Wondering where it’s possible to ski in June close to the Seattle area? Amazingly (because it’s high 80s out), there’s still snow at Snoqualmie Pass, WA – if you know where to find it. Melissa Chapman sent us this photo from her tour up to Silver Peak today. The peak and ridge are melted out but snow is continuous below the ridge on down to the bottom of the bowl (looker’s right). Melissa was able to skin with a few short carries after getting above the meadow and over the first hump below the bowl. The road is snow free making it an easy and beautiful walk up to the snow. Just follow the road past the Mt. Catherine trailhead. We’re guessing this is the last week for Silver Peak since it’s going to hit 90s tomorrow.
Enjoyed excellent backcountry ski conditions on Memorial Day at Chinook Pass, WA. With temps dropping to about or below freezing the night before and sunset at almost 9pm, there was no hurry to start early. We were skinning from the Chinook Pass Overlook lot around 10:30am. It was probably still in the mid to hi 40s and snow was somewhat firm, especially in the shade but all was soft by noon-ish. By late afternoon, it was blazing hot touring under the sun (temps in Seattle reached the low 70s that day). Our best (steepest) run was off Yakima Peak – our large posse left a solid boot path up the first chute. All NE to SE faces skied well off Yakima Peak under deep snow with just a few rocks. The west facing ridge is already melted out so it’s not possible to ski westward down the back to SR 410 inside Mt. Rainier National Park (however, you could skin from that road pretty far up). Naches Peak is also melted out so our group lapped the ridge instead and skied all the way back to Tipsoo Lake and SR 410. We were back at our cars a bit after 7pm. Thanks to Kam Chan and friends for rallying and for a great day. If you missed it in May, we expect skiing will be good for a few more weeks this June: snow pack is still 6+ ft at the Chinook Pass Overlook parking lot.
Our recent trip up Silver Peak in pouring rain reminded us of the importance of good skin glue. If you’ve had trouble keeping skins adhered to your bases, you might be overdue for a skin re-glue. If you’re getting ready to head out and aren’t sure, simply test the skins by wetting the adhesive side to see if they’re still sticky. We’ve found that not all skin glues are created equal and some don’t do so well in wet conditions even when new. In any event, it costs a lot less to re-glue skins than get new ones. Pro Ski and Mountain Service in N. Bend will re-glue skin tips and tails for just $30. Or if you’d like to labor through the task yourself, they sell the Black Diamond Glue Renew transfer roll for $49.95 -we’ve tested Black Diamond’s glue and it holds up well in our wet and warmer PNW conditions.
For the descent and end of day, when your bases collect too much debris (be it old wax, pine, dirt, etc.), we found it handy to add a wax scraper to your backcountry tool kit. If you’re not near a ski shop or just want to save a few bucks, any solid plastic straight edge will do – an old ski pass or plastic putty scrapers from Home Depot (pictured left — I personally like the handles and keep these in my car). Plastic is better than metal which can scratch/damage your Ptex. Scraping is the easiest way to clean much of the build up off of boards. Of course, base cleaner works great too but we find it’s better to use it after scraping – makes the job neater and requires less base cleaner. Pro Ski and Mountain Service has a great video explaining the basics here.