Sunday, November 17th marked the first official ski day of the 2013-2014 season! A winter advisory had been in effect since Friday night and all of the local resorts decided to open up on Saturday after the storm dumped 1-2 feet in most places. After surveying the weather and the 24 hour snow accumulation, Ryan and I settled on Rock Mountain a bit east of Steven's Pass. This peak is popular among backcountry travelers but we had yet to experience it for ourselves. The tour is about 10 miles with 4,200 ft of elevation gain and equivalent loss, which is quite a bit for the first day out of the season!
The day began with an early morning alarm and of course a 15 minute snooze. It is hard to motivate when it is still so dark outside (and after a poor sleep due to watching Breaking Bad and dreaming about it all night). By about 7:30am we were finally on the road a bit later than planned but not too bad. Our first stop was Sultan Bakery for the best breakfast sandwich on earth. It was just as good as we remembered. Soon we were gaining elevation and all of a sudden it was winter in the Cascades. It had really dumped over the last few days! We found the trailhead relatively easily and parked behind two cars...hurray for not having to break trail!
The skin track up the mountain was great and although coverage was thin on the bottom of the mountain we were able to skin all the way up from the car. The snow was coming down hard, so the rain shells stayed on all day and we were glad we decided to wear our Gore-tex pants. For the most part the pitch was pretty mild and the skinning was uneventful. We had an awesome snack of last night's teriyaki salmon about half way up and when we reached the ridge line the snow was nice and deep. Surprisingly enough the snow was also a bit unstable (which NWAC had warned about at higher elevations) and we saw two minor natural slides. This made us glad we had picked a mostly treed line. Even an early season dump can be dangerous. Towards the summit we were passed by the two other parties on their descent, which confirmed we were not alone on the mountain. We ate the other half of our breakfast sandwiches, converted, and began the downhill portion of the day.
The snow was wet and heavy but hey...we were still out skiing. We got in about 15 turns before beginning the ridge traverse in the opposite direction. The traverse consisted of short, fast spurts followed by directing a ski into the deep snow to slow down periodically. When we finally made it back to our ascent route there were a few more turns to be had but we quickly reached a point where the coverage was too thin. After hitting two rocks and falling over in a tangled mess each time, I finally pulled off the skis and began the hike down (after struggling in the snow for about 5 minutes trying to get my feet in a natural direction and get my ski off). The hiking was actually a lot of fun when the snow coverage was still decent at higher elevations. You take one step, slide on the underbrush, repeat. It sort of resembles skiing... and it was definitely faster than hiking down a dirt covered trail. Eventually though we reached a point at which there was maybe only a half inch of snow cover and then the pain of walking in ski boots set in. Just as we caught a glimpse of the road the rain began too. NOAA had said 4pm...it was 3pm...lesson learned. We finally reached Highway 2 quite soaked but very happy to have a day out in the mountains with a few good turns. Can't wait to see what the rest of the season brings!