Well, it seems this winter every time we go looking for adventure we find the wrong kind. The season has been full of forced retreats, minimal snow, and lots of bushwacking.
1/12 - The week after Pickhandle the Cascades picked up some snow. With a new dusting on top of an old ice sheet though, conditions weren't super safe. We decided to head to Yodelin and ski some low angle slopes and trees. We thought that since the hike wasn't so long we would get a late start and sleep in a little. Note to self...do not attempt to drive on Hwy 2 after a dumping if you leave Seattle after 6:30am. We hit traffic immediately after Monroe when the road becomes 1 lane snaking through small mountain towns. We contemplated turning around many times but somehow kept convincing ourselves that it would be worth it. However, as we approached the pass it only got worse and we soon saw a number of cars heading in the opposite direction. Still we pushed on only to find a massive backup and chaos. The pass had been closed and was expected to stay that way for at least 2 hours. So much for those powder turns. We decided we couldn't just drive straight back to Seattle, so we put on our skis and hiked up a random road hoping to find some turns. However, when the road turned into a massive snow melt creek, we decided we had milked the day for all it was worth and turned our skis around back to the car.
1/26 - Two weeks later, we thought long and hard about where we wanted to spend our weekend. We discussed taking the time to practice mountaineering skills on the massive ice sheet that still was only growing larger and deeper as the snowless weeks continued. I mentioned hiking to a peak that is often skiable off of I-90, but Ryan wasn't too stoked on that idea. Instead, he got it into his head that Mt. Townsend, which we hiked last summer, could be a good ski descent. So, we decided to catch the 6am ferry to the peninsula, skis and hiking boots packed, prepared for whatever the conditions would be.
The ferry was a great call. A super early start is better when you can lie down and take a 30min nap on a comfy couch. When we reached Bainbridge, it was still dark and we drove through the fog to Mt. Townsend. As we gained elevation, the fog melted away and the sun finally came out. Hurray inversion! We reached the turn off, and similar to the summer time, proceeded to doubt our path as we went further into the forest. Despite our concerns, we were on the right track and soon reached the trailhead. Although there was some snow on the road, it was mostly an easy drive and felt surprisingly like springtime. About 5 minutes after we parked the car and started putting skis on our packs (just in case), two CR-Vs rolled up. They were there to hike, and one told us that a week ago there was no snow up top. So, seeing as there hadn't been any new snow since then, I convinced Ryan to leave the skis behind so we could go light and fast.
It certainly did not feel like January! After about 20 minutes of hiking, both Ryan and I had taken our pants off and were hiking in long underwear! The trail was just as it had been in the summertime with only a few more patches of snow and ice. We reached the top quickly and were excited to find that we had gorgeous views. In one plane we could spot Rainier, Adams, Helens, Glacier, and Baker, and we had it all to ourselves for part of the time.
It was gorgeous and good to be above the inversion. The hike down was fast and we felt lucky we had gotten an early start as we passed a TON of people. We decided to drive around on the way back so we could stop at Taylor Shellfish and pick up some oysters for a dinner appetizer.
2/1 - With two ski-less weekends behind us and another new round of snow, we decided to head to Yodelin again, but this time with an earlier start. We reached the trailhead traffic free and full of our favorite breakfast sandwich from Sultan Bakery. We were the first to hit the trail and made our way quickly to the open 20 degree slope for our first run. Minimal scraping, moderate powder. We quickly converted and hiked back up for a run in the trees. A bit icier, but still some great powder pockets. Back up again to a new tree section. Even more powder followed by a lot of bushwhacking to get back down. One last hike up to ski out down the road. Not the most exciting day in the backcountry and plenty crowded, but better than not skiing!
2/9 - Ok, ok. So now the snow really started falling. Like...it snowed in Seattle. So, we knew that this was prime conditions for a good day. Again though, conditions out on open slopes weren't super stable, so we tried to identify a good tree run. Last year we had skied a great avalanche chute in the Chiwaukums, but clearly that was out of the question. However, on that same trip we had had a great second lap in the trees. So, we headed back out Hwy 2 (again with an early start) with high hopes. The skinning was slow, as we had to break trail through a few inches of new snow on a never-ending road. Coverage looked minimal, which got me worried, but we were still low down so conditions were likely to change. That being said, each step was so light and fluffy, so it was good motivation to keep moving. There were many snack breaks and we even caved for lunch before reaching the top of our expected run. When we finally reached our tree run from the previous year, we felt that we needed to keep exploring. Sadly, 5 minutes later we were peering out over a large cliff at the end of the road, so back to the old run it was! We dropped in to perfectly spaced trees and knee deep powder! This is what we had been searching for! There were a few whoops and hollers and big smiles. Just as we were getting into our rhythm, the buried stumps, rocks, and branches began to peek through. A few more turns were made before fallen trees crisscrossed our fall line, forcing us to hike. There was a decent amount of bushwhacking...through devil's club...but we finally made it back to the road and were able to ski almost all of the way out. We decided we needed to get a few more turns in, so on the drive back we stopped at Skyline Ridge across from Steven's, raced our way up to the top of the open, tracked out bowl, and made a few more turns. The snow was definitely better in the Chiwaukums, so it seemed as if we had made the right decision after all. While we are still waiting for our 1000ft uninterrupted ski run for the season, things are definitely looking up with more snow on the way and a few more turns behind us.