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First morning ski of 2012

Lookout Mt (5699', p1139')

Ski the Summer trail route

Dec 31, 2011 – Jan 1, 2012

Franklin Bradshaw, Carla Schauble, Niko Popov, Boon, Doxie

Clouds and sun, temps, low 30s, eve 16F high winds

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Pre-Ramble

From a week away the New Year’s Eve weekend weather and snow report did not look promising.   A lead up of rain and warm, then a day of cooling and fresh snow.  And the forecast showed lots of snow, over 36”.  Plan set earlier was another NYE at a lookout.  Lookout Mt. was the choice.  Not sure if it’d be open, how it’d be getting there or what amenities to expect.  Research of a few trs on NWHikers.net showed a stove, lantern, beds, and the lookout high on a tower.  So, at least with the lower snow depths we’d not have to dig the place out.

 

Tuesday was BC skiing before the rainfest started.  As usual for this time of the year the rain started, and it dumped.  Not so bad with a change to snow on Thursday and great resort skiing (high avy issues) on Friday.  Hint… be early for parking and good skiing.  Even with the reported crowds, I would have never guessed.  We had “our spots” and somehow even missed long lift lines. With longest wait less than three minutes.

 

A group of five ready for the trip.  Avy forecast settling to good and weather to partially sunny.  Sweet, nice for the improved outlook.  I’d been planning on skis, while the others would partake on snowshoes.  Was I making the right choice?  There looked to be a million and a half switchbacks up a very steep slope.  The snow coming home from Stevens was deep and down to 1500’  Would the trail be deep and covered.  Hmmm, nice to get the skis on early.  And the upper field crossing?  An email from the caretaker made it sound treacherous and difficult.  What to expect.  Well, an early start and a plan to have 8 hours before dark.  If that tough it would be another in the dark summit –no biggy.

 

Friday morning the Driver had to bail due to Gus’s surgeries from trying to be buddy buddy with a porcupine.  Then later the dominoes started falling.  Things about bad weather and conditions.  The group diminished back to the core of two of us.  A late night addition of Niko and Boon-Dox would hopefully help with trail breaking and keeping the NYE party going.

 

NYE

Tired from a too long day of powder hounding we planned a later start.  Still managing to hit the trailhead by 9:50am. GEES! Gotta’ be that latest start in a long time.  What were we thinking.  With all the questions we should have done a normal morning start…

 

Over the hwy530 bridge and past Rockport cars were parked all over.  When you are late you get to see more people action.  Rows of them lined with binoculars checking out the eagles.  Through quiet Marblemount, over the bridge and about six miles up the Cascade River road to the Lookout Mountain trailhead.  Pack heavily burdened with party goods, excess warm outfits and skis (Ugh, damn heavy), we started up.  Sky overcast, plants dry and temps warmer than expected.  The hike up switched back over and over.  Passing Heavily mossed and icicled rock formations.  Fifty minutes, 0.9miles and half of the millions of switchbacks we reached the first dusting of snow at a “not so steep” area.  I was slow stopping to slow the pulse.  I’ve been getting lazy with packs getting lighter and lighter as the season progresses.  Now back to the heavy cold weather ski overnighter suffer climb.  Carla put a nice light on it that at least we weren’t caring climbing pro and rope.  Gees!  I how would I lift a pack that was over ten pounds more –a fork lift?  So no snowshoes, pickets, crampons (boot), cams, harnesses, pulleys, webbing, ropes… you know, all that heavy stuff.  It’d just take up room needed for warmth and alcohol. 

 

Last day crawling in 2011

Crawling up the switchbacks the snow didn’t increase in depth.  Eventually some shallow ice did form under it.  A whole almost and nearly inch of snow by 3400’.  I’d hoped not to lug the skis all the way to the summit, but this was looking grim.  Progress was faster, but I’ve a jones to ski (rather than lug them on the back).  This difference in snow from what I’d seen earlier this week made the “Pass Effect” very apparent.  No wonder Stevens could have piles of snow, whereas Pilchuck went out of business with low snow dumps.

 

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Snow?

At c3450 (1.4m, 1h35m) the trees opened to a flatter field.  Thin covering over a hard crust.  Well, not hard enough, we were on the surface, then breaking through to the thigh.  An exit stage left to trees for more hard shallow snow.  Loop to the top of the field and catch the now getting less obvious trail as it started its sidehill traverse left.  Old boot holes were still visible under the now getting thicker layer of fluff.  The last sign-in in the trailhead register was Dec 3rd.  I could believe these to be those tracks.  I wondered how far they went.

 

Just under 2 miles I was breaking through the top layer and having joyous times getting back out.  Once hanging from the backpack stopping my progress to Middle Earth, I just hoped I was not dangling feet in a creek.  Tender walking we crossed a small open creek and to a sunlit spot for a lunch break and wait for all to gather (2m, c3980’, 2h25m, 12:15p).  The temps were cooler now surrounded by ample snow and the trees blocked most of the sunshine.  Time for hats, gloves and skis.  Across a dual log bridge with Boon-Dox deciding to break Newton’s laws and occupy the same space as Carla.  Hey, a little excitement for the last day of the year.

 

Firm crust and still sidehilling, almost missed the Monogram Lake trail post (2.2m, c4145, 12:51p). Another 0.2 miles (c4290, 1:12p) a bank to descend and a creek crossing.  Success with the skis floating a snow bridge.  Now up a shallow ridge.  Treed, but promising for good skiing.  Now the snow was 8” deep over the crust. Very boot-able and ski-able too. On our way up we could see the summer trail in places as we worked our way to c4595’ and an exit left to a long, wide open sloped field.

 

 

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Are we there yet, huh, huh

Time to stop and assess.  Thin snow over a crust.  Could slough.  Above old avy crowns and weird piles below.  It was heartening that the old snow had slid.  We figured a potential slide was minimal and started our crossing spaced out as we rounded a corner to get a better view.  And my first clear view of the lookout perched high on a bluff.  There had been peek-a-boo views earlier, but now it looked impressive on its high perch.  At the end of the field we went up a slope to the saddle NE of the summit (3m, c4710, 4h40m, 2:30p).  This was most likely in the lee of the winds and the snow was a little deeper. More difficult was the light and dryness that made compression and traction difficult and travel even slower.

 

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Niko and Carla gave a go at setting the track to give a short break, then with a surge of Gu’d up energy I helped pushing the track higher.  With the snow no compressing well and the underlying hard crust/ice layer it was difficult to cross any steep slope without sliding.  I took off skis a moment to try gaining 10’ to a better line.  Oops! Big mistake.  Bottomless after breaking through the crust.  I wallowed back to safety as Carla demonstrated reverse skiing.  A few tricky moves and we crossed a small pitch, through trees and into a bowl between the SE and E ridges.  The lookout looking so close, but the filed not a go due to riffs between what may be large boulders.  We gained the SE ridge easily (3.3m, c5558’, 6h5m) for the final cakewalk up the ridge with the low glowing sunlight breaking through the cracks in the trees.  Not until looking at the stats did it become apparent how slow progress was that last stretch.

 

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Soon we were on a flat stretch of the summit.  Softly sculpted snow lit by orange sunset light and the beckoning fire lookout tower within a snowballs throw. 

 

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Ten minutes from gaining the ridge we were taking off skis and suffering from shutter delay (3.4m, 5699’, 6h16min, 4:06p). Carla first up the steps and I followed.  We scraped the ice and snow off the windows and removed the door cover.  Inside a very neat, clean and welcoming home for the eve.  Before sunset, a few rounds of picture taking from the walkway and a filling of the lantern (bring your own white gas).

 

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As sunset the winds increased and temperatures dropped. After dinner I read 16F on the outside thermometer and 26 inside.  For a moment I wondered what the windchill was, then was distracted by the festivities to begin.  We had toasts and fun with our glow in the dark glasses awarded at the Bulger Big Boy party. Tried some night shots of the lookout and back inside to warm up. Found there to be good cell service so made a few end of the year calls and messages.  We entertained ourselves with card games and reading passages from the lookout log.  The party hounds we are we forced Niko to stay up late and we all crashed just after 10pm.  It was past midnight on the Eastcoast and it’d been a good day.  I slept warm and well.

 

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Happy New Year

The winds howled all night long.  For me only a break to let the dogs out.  Had to push them out the door.  Knowing it would be a quick descent we slept in. 

 

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Relaxed making breakfast and got a late start after 10:30a.  We let Niko get a headstart with the dogs.  A final floor sweep, filled the lantern with gas, shuttered the door and took in the last views from the tower.  A little wind packed on top, then good skiing down the first bowl.  We went down the south ridge in the gladed trees rather than the up route.  Sweet turns and smiles.  Traversed east along our up traverse route and leap-frogged to and down from the NE saddle.  The sun and light snow was all worth the carrying of the skis this far.  A little to low a traverse to the treed ridge finding a spot to cross the creek near our up-track (35min).

 

 

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Now just a traverse, with the snow still soft.  A short break at the dual log bridge.  The traversing from here was just passable.  With the snow being shallow over the old frozen snow layer.  We broke into the opening for the last stretch of “good” snow.  At the bottom of the field we took a break and loaded the skis onto the backpacks (1.9m, c3422’, 1h). 

 

Ski-less in the Cascades

After a break and all of us together we trudged the final 2200’ on slippery step at a time.  Snow covered ice changing to a light fluff.  Sun streaming through the trees, temps getting warmer.  The trees, moss and salal and rocks were so different from the snow covered cold windswept summit.  In a little over an hour from our break to take off skis we were standing on the Cascade River road.  No snow in sight.  Now the NYE of 2012 just a memory.  Was it really cold and snowy?  Was the sun really shining at times?  The next day my quads reminded me it was more than a dream.  The uphills are a snap.  It’s the downhills that give the joys of gliding in the snow and sore legs from down hiking with a heavy pack.  All is good and a New Year of adventures just started.

 

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Thanks for keeping up with the rambling and…

Happy Trails!

fwb

 

Ascent: 3.4+m, 6h16m, 4580’vert (+2730 hiking, +1720 skinning)

Descent: 3.4m, 2h34m elapsed time,  -2280 ski, -2200’ down hiking

 

 

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Copyright 2011, FWB, all rights reserved