Sunday, December 17, 2006

Why Washington is sweet

Ok, so we can't skate ski right out of our back door anymore. BUT, what we CAN do in Washington is have a great day in the mountains skiing powder on Saturday and on Sunday go for an hour-and-half trail run through tall stands of cedar and Doug fir.

Today, we headed out to Squak Mountain to see what kind of damage the storms of the previous week had done to the forests around Seattle. Oh, and what damage there was. Most of the trail was more like an obstacle course than a trail but cresting over one of the hills, with the sun beaming through the trees, I couldn't help think that maybe there was something to this snow staying only in the high mountains. Nothing like a PNW forest in the morning, with the sun burning off the mist, and the loamy trail leading you into the trees, to make you feel alive.

Crystal post-storm

Hmmmm, I love a good storm. And the PNW was hit with another monster this week, brining in rain, wind, and snow; lots of snow. Crystal was hit with almost 3 feet in three days. The top of the mountain was on a wind hold for the second half of the week (they had winds of 100+ mph) so on Saturday, Andrea, my dad, and I headed up hoping for some super deep fluff. Did we get what we were looking for? Not so much. Before the final six inches fell, the wind had beaten the snow on most of the exposed slopes into an rock hard boiler plate. But the top 6-9 inches were great skiing and the boiler crust gave you something to edge into as you carved.

Ok, so we had gotten our hopes up for 2 to 3 feet of the kind of uber-deep madness that makes jumping off the chairlift seem like a reasonable suggestion. It was not to be (is it ever in the PNW?). But the area got a dumping, Seattle and the surrounding area was owned by mother nature for the second time in two months, and Baker's base just got that much deeper. Which means that Baker, where we will be skiing with Chester and his brother Will, over New Years, is going to be nuclear. (Well, if the crust gets soft.) And we are all better skiers for it.

On the way up, we were treated to a wonderful sunrise over Rainier. The storm knocked out power for over 1 million people in Oregon and Washington, many were happy to see the sun.

Here's a little experiment, a video of Andrea making some turns at the end of the day.


Monday, December 11, 2006

More pics from Saturday

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Skyline Ridge

With our touring legs under us from our pseudo-alpine-pseudo-Nordic debacle last weekend at Hyak, Andrea, and I and Andrea's co-clerk Jen headed up to Skyline (Heather) Ridge in Steven's Pass on Saturday to do a little recon mission for longer tours later in the season. One of the best parts about being new to the touring scene here is that there is so much to explore, one of the bummers is that we will probably be fumbling around in the dark in terms of route choice for most of this winter. But if our fumblings yield more results like this day's, it is going to be a great winter.

Skyline Ridge, or Heather Ridge depending who you ask, is a ridge tour that runs NW up the side of a mountain, with options for glade skiing on either side. The tour starts at 4000' and with the snow-level predicted at 4000' as well, it looked like Jen's intro to PNW skiing would involve crust and glop.

But it didn't. We skinned for about 1000' vertical feet through thick fog to what is locally referred to as "the Summit" and took our skins off as the snow started to fall.
It didn't stop through most of the day, creating a dust-on-crust scenario that quickly buried the crust in about 3-4 inches of thick fluffy.
The terrain was great, definitely classic Cascade tree-dodging with little pockets of open snow - not for the faint of heart or the slow of turn but we all had a really good time.
At one point the clouds broke and we were able to see a far ridge locally referred to as "the Point" (they don't seem to get to specific with local nomenclature), definitely a long day's march but featuring open glades that looked awesome. It is definitely on the project list.

Snowpack Observations
We did a shovel compression test on two aspects (W and SW) at around 4800' and did not have a failure even after ten hard blows from the shoulder. I observed about a meter of consolidated snow (perhaps wind blown) sitting on a very deep layer of more rotten large crystals (practically at ground level). We did observe some avalanche debris from the storm events two weeks ago but no signs of recent activity. Wind was moderate and did not appear to be moving significant amounts of snow in the areas. Looks like the snowpack is getting a really solid base!


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Hyak and nordic trails?

With the swelling in the jaw subsiding, Andrea and I headed up the Snoqualmie Pass for a few laps on Hyak Mountain, which is labeled as a great place to "get to know your gear." Hyak is usually not running its lifts so its a good piste for relatively avalanche safe slopes to do some laps on. And the backside offers some great tree skiing. And in our case, a great opportunity to get lost.
Since I am using new skis and bindings, I was looking forward to getting to know my gear. But this trip should have been labeled, "getting to know your crappy sense of direction."
After a quick skin to the top of the Hyak lift, which has seen better days, Andrea and I quickly decided we needed to abandon our planned trip off the back of Hyak Mountain and head for a glen of untracked snow we could see in the far off distance. Way far off in the distance. And unlike in Alaska, there was a forest between us and our destination.

Our search involved spending an hour skiing around in our alpine touring gear on Snoqualmie's nordic skating trails, which actually was quite enjoyable except that we were lost and didn't have our skating skis. Good reference for other days though, wow, there are trails up there that (God forgive me) rival the best Anchorage has in terms of quality but definitely not in length.
We never did end up finding that glen we were looking for but we got to make some great turns on the back and front side of Hyak and the sun was shining. Two days after getting my wisdom teeth pulled, that's about all I needed.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Crystal 12/02/06

I think that today was the first time I've seen the sun in over a month. No joke. Between work and winter darkness, I've definitely been missing that sun-on-my-face awesome feeling. Well, today was my day. Jan and I had five+ glorious hours of sun and snow at Crystal. The snow was a bit skied out and cement-y but who cares? I could have spent the whole day on the chair lift and been content.

Wisdom(?) Teeth

One would think I could plan ahead to get my wisdom teeth removed on a weekend when the Cascades have not been pounded by one of the most epic November storm systems in recent history. No, even pre-wisdom tooth extraction, my level of wisdom was lacking.

Andrea and my dad headed up to Crystal this morning for the season opening of Crystal's North Back Country, which should prove to be fantastic.

And me? Sitting here, icing my jaw, hoping the swelling goes down by tomorrow so I can at least get some BC turns up at the pass with my brand new rig (more on that later). And after the ice melts, I just ordered TWO KILOS of wax from - a freshman effort fronted by one of the TGR regulars. Turns out two kilos of wax is a ton for a one man shop (I have a kilo of moly and a kilo of warm) but at $20 a kilo, for alpine touring and skiing you can't beat it. The guy's site isn't totally operational yet but he is definitely selling wax so drop him an email if you too would like way more wax than you can handle. Good thing that if you keep this stuff wrapped up, the shelf life is basically indefinite.