“Explorations behind Kangaroo Ridge... or -to Gilbert and back the hard way”
Kangaroo Ridge ski Traverse
April 21, 2013
Carla Schauble, Gordy Skoog, Lindsay Malone, Kevin, Susan Chan, Peter, Anna and Jack
Weather: Low visibility, snowing (4-6") temps below freezing. After 5pm skies lifting and sun/moonshine
Maps: USGS Washington Pass, Silverstar Mountain and Gilbert quads
Warm, wet and high winds for Washington Pass held us off from a two day weekend trip. Sunday was forecast to snow in the morning starting at 11 then starting to clear after 2. Predictions were changing rapidly and Fridays skiing was reported at sub-par. Should I take the day off or go? One of the group decided to work and go mid week with the predicted sunshine. Such a beautiful location, almost a crime to not have the stunning views to soak in. We left Seattle at 4:30am planning on Washington Pass Hairpin at 8.
A group of 9
A pit stop in Newhalem, as we left one car pulled up. One car at Easy pass, several already at Rainey Pass and more at Blue Lake. Heading east we were hoping the weather would improve and clear. At Washington Pass we could see we were in for a gray day. First at the Hairpin this morning at 7:50. Three more cars arrived -including the one from Newhalem. Looked like we'd have a full crew of nine. Some I knew, some I ski with and some new faces. Maps were passed around and discussion on a route. The close up maps didn't make sense to me, I rotated them and still nothing. I think it was more than glasses. A reminder for me to highlight areas and potential route. Our goal was to get east of Kangaroo Ridge, a first for us. I liked the idea of a loop. More committing, but to me more fun trying to ferret the route back. Our thought was the coming snow cell would dissipate and we'd have sunshine for a view of the Spires and our ski back to the car. Well, we had a great view, but nothing like we had planned. Plan -over Kangaroo Pass, down the North Fork of the Twisp River, up over a saddle south of Marsupial, down to North Lake. Down North Creek, over the ridge to Cedar Creek, Over the ridge to West Creek and through a saddle south or north if more time of Big Kangaroo.
The group of Nine heads out The Spires hidden in clouds
North Lake of Gilbert or...
As we started (8:45a), so did the weather. Snow and soon a brisk wind. Under the fresh light powder was a firm layer. Enough for ski crampons, but soft enough to break out under booting. The first hills to Kangaroo Pass proved a little challenging. Some in the group had ski crampons and some not.
Two of us pounded a good flat track, but most decided to just boot up the section to Kangaroo Pass 1500' above the cars(1.5m, c6700, 10:20a).
Yeah! At Kangaroo Pass
At the saddle the wind was brisk with limited visibility, yet a promise of soft snow. Playing safe since the light layer was not cohesive to the underlying layer, we traversed to the shallower pitch slightly west and skied down our first turns. The shallow pitch along the buried Twisp River (a creek up here) was gentle and fun velvety gliding. southwest of Wallaby a discussion of route choices. Split the group for some doing laps, and some doing the loop. Un-suspecting of the adventure to come, all voted to continue the loop. Maybe the fact that Mr. H had stayed home should have been an omen?
Cookie break time
Around 5720' (not correctly marked on the USGS Topo) and WSW of Marsupial we traverse and zigzagged up a basin (11:10a).c6900' we entered a gulley and started booting up Peter in the lead (12:00).
Heading up to Gilbert Ridge
Gordy took a turn kicking as we exited right out of the gulley onto a face -more like he was swimming in the deep snow. I took a turn and with smiles we all stood to admire the total lack of views on the saddle (3.3m, c7307', 12:28p, 3h40m from car).
Getting ready for more turns down to North Lake
Gordy took the honors of the first vertigo induced turns and I followed.The snow was falling and the contours un-recognizable. Some debris negotiation and some good turns here and there. It was much better with orange tinted goggles. From a flat area we veered left down a ravine, the slope pitched down, then eased off for whoops and mini tree dodging all the way to the lake (1:05p). It was a full on snow storm now, more winter than spring. We crossed the lake and found a protected grove of trees to enjoy lunch (1:08p, 4.3m, c5742').
Crossing North Lake
Lunch time at North Lake
After lunch we headed north traversing above North Creek. I took a higher line keeping an eye on Gordy. The plan was a short traverse taking advantage of gliding then up over the ridge to the north. I stayed high as possible and soon no longer saw Gordy or could hear any responses to whoops. In the dense forest visual was spotty and sounds muffled by snow dampening. I put skins on and intersected the North Lake trail (FST 413) in about 20 feet. The trail went upward west while the Cedar Creek trail (FST 476) heads east then north and up. (click for Forest Service page of trail conditions). We were off my map, so I took time to figure navigation with the tiny map on the GPS. Scanning and waiting for refresh took patience. Checking the map the Pass up Cedar Creek trail was a long ways from the direction we'd planned. My best guess of our planned route and saddle to Cedar Creek was about a mile back west. Perhaps I'd just gone too far too fast and the group was heading that way. I waited a short bit then started westward on the trail. I followed the North Lake trail a short bit, then angled up on a slow rising traverse. I could see a cliff to the north and kept the low traverse as the trees thinned passing a few gulleys. A view below now of a flat marshy looking area. I hollered and clanged my ski crampons on occasion (more cowbells?). No response... I left the dense trees and started up and across more open slope , crossing a few gulleys. The cloud had lifted enough to see nearby -I scanned for a skin track -nothing. The light snow on the soft crust (dust on crust) made for slow going up this southern slope. I kept traversing west to intersect their up track, but never found it. The extra two miles would surely have set me back.
Heading up the ridge north of North Lake The low saddle pass to Cedar Creek
Still snowing, I topped off at the west end of the long low saddle (c6780'). Brrr! A cold north wind and NO tracks. A scan of the south slopes showed nothing. I took care of business -drink, munchies, and traversed the saddle east -no sign. The snow was letting up a bit, so I scrawled a sign in the snow "4:00 -2 car". I took care scanning the map for possible saddles through Kangaroo Ridge. I'd never crossed the Ridge before so it was all new to me. Each potential saddle I projected a point. Now that I'd plotted where to go to cross over Kangaroo Ridge, next step was how to get there. I needed to cross Cedar Basin, over another ridge and then up West Fork Basin. The ridge to West Fork would be the tough one. I marked most likely saddles and also alternate saddles to check if needed. How accurate would the iso-lines be and would the zooming in and out mix up the perceived steepness as I left one area to look at another? I found two good options and a maybe. A high one above 7800' would land me closest to the cross over of Kangaroo Ridge to the west. My favorite was down low about 6600'. I'd figure out more as I got there. Next, I plotted a gliding traverse, which basin to go up and what the land should be like (cliffs, gentle or steep slopes... North the visibility was socked in. Navigating in very poor visibility can get confusing if you just wander. It was after 4pm, I concluded the group had gone another route or still working on finding the route up. At least they'd have my track and a new note in the snow "4:00 -2 car".
I clicked in and entered a wind lip, out on the north face I made a few cuts, with minimal slope movement. Four long gentle turns to a long leftward traverse. Six to ten inches of light powder to glide through and ever attentive for occasional avy debris to avoid. Over a flat large ledge and through groups of small and large larch. This would be beautiful in the fall with the blazing colors (note, add to larch viewing list).
Around the first ridge a beautiful bowl aching to be skied. No time to lap that today. Tight to the cliffs on my left I continued my traverse. Looking up for options -nothing to see but white cloud. Skin time and a weaving through a field of house size boulders (c6750', 4:26p).
Out in the wide expanse and passing among these giants, I felt so small. I came to a large ridge sticking out from the west. I was too high and the pitch ahead not a good one, so dropped a hundred feet on the ridge and back into the basin ahead. Time to get my bearing again. The dominant feature was grayness, everywhere gray with skeletons of small larch leaning down slope. As I entered the small larch grove, the darkness of a cliff loomed far ahead.
The seemingly darkening of the gray day had me thinking of time, it was already 5 o'clock. How delayed was I and would the group be making good progress? Would I be waiting for them or them me. Bummer they didn't carry a radio. I should get the repeater info for this area... The dark grayness added a gloom feel, not bad, just not the brightness you can get here. Back to the trek, it was time to head up this basin.
Within minutes it started to brighten. Far above the shape of a saddle and small trees, clouds lifting, magic.
The basin grew, and grew as the cloud lifted and the views began to open. Stunning, simply stunning.
Looking east down Cedar Creek
Nice to see shadows! My track off the low pass from North Lake
To my right a steep walled ridge running east. The west end butting to Kangaroo ridge glued on with an impressive giant shear rock walled mound. The features I saw matched what I saw on mapped. The snow was about 8+" deep though not adhering to the lower layer, creating slower travel as I went up. The first choice saddle now below and the next soon passed. I headed south of the huge vertical wall of the Pillar to the east cliff of Kangaroo Ridge.
Looking east down Cedar Creek
Looking east, the moon was above the huge solid rock pillar. I was almost getting vertigo as I looked at the pitch in front of me. Must be needing food, it was a long time since lunch. I better drink more water and have the rest of my sandwich at this saddle.
I followed the gulley north to the saddle. This was to be the short drop to get me somewhat near the low pass south of Big Kangaroo. I worked around to a place to get a glance down the gulley and not be on/near a cornice. YIKES! a 30+' drop onto possible dust on crust, then a steep pitch and a rollover. Did it cliff out and for how far? With the conditions and being solo, this was a no go. I ventured east and another peek-a-boo to below. This time some narrow very steep gulleys that turned to cliffs. Well, that was a no brainer, no way going over the ridge from here. A short 20' up and I topped off the rock pillar for a look around. It would make a great vantage point to see east along the ridge.
The tall Pillar has an easy up on the west side
I de-skinned and got a birds eye view down the ridge. Yeap, option number one, at c6900', was the choice -the only choice. It had taken me an hour and a half of slow going since passing the cutoff to for the proper saddle to top off. Gees, I was amazed how long it'd taken for the 1000'+ gain. I wish I had more time with all the good turns aching to be had. Another day. For now I enjoyed the opening views with the sun out. Some food and succumbing to shutter delay. I took some shots zooming in looking at my track from the last saddle and looking for movement and signs of others -nothing. Nothing but the most stunning views of the North Cascades. Bright sun and white snow on vertical walled spires, Wallaby to the south and Big Kangaroo north. Far off the Dog Tooth Spires and Big Snagtooth, Silverstar the connecting Wine Spires glowing in the late day sunshine. The clouds moving and shadows changing each time I looked back.
Wine Spires north of Silverstar
Curtain number three
Time to take care and head down. I took a conservative route that gave back to me beautiful and soft turns.Looking back up the slope I felt bad the others weren't enjoying the turns with me. Above me loomed hundreds of feet of featureless vertical solid rock. I just stood in awe looking up at it (6:40p). I think you have to be there to feel the enormousness of it. I zigged around the cliff on my left and a traverse to below the saddle. The up was a little airy on the 6-8" of dust on the firmer crust. At the saddle I took care to locate where I was and where I was heading. My last chance to see the Cedar Creek basin, I searched for movement and tracks. Only sign of a passing was my up track and a series of S's along side the massive solid rock spire. Several times I thought I may have heard voices, but the clank of gear and the loud ringing in my ears could be playing with my hearing. Sun and still clouds above, I kept taking pictures of Snagtooth area - very surreal with the cloud and sun changing patterns.
The left wide gap is the pass from North Lake Looking north into West Fork Basin. Background is Big Snagtooth
Dogtooth Spires and Big Snagtooth
7:20p -getting late. Another inspection of the col below, yes it would take me north into the West Fork basin.Some wind lips in it gave me pause. Ski cutting produced nothing. I gently arced some turns, on the sixth one some loose snow caught up and gave a reminder nudge. I move to the side and let it pass working my way down. I couldn't just drop it with the solid avy debris potentially just below the surface. Left the col with a left traverse. I moved with a lightness. The basin wasn't pretty, but I was getting close and I knew I'd be intersecting the groups uptrack. I was looking forward to knowing I would connect up with them. Around a ridge and gliding to a stop below a smooth rising pitch with small larch trees -No sign of people. I re-skinned and headed up targeting a large larch on easier terrain. Then right and through a wide patch of over head high larch. I'd been able to figure out more of this area seeing the Snagtooth Ridge ahead and right. It was a much larger area back here than I'd thought. Skinning solo, I have plenty of time to let my mind wander. back to the story of the trek... Above and right, the knob of Big Kangaroo and to the left cliffs. Further left a small saddle that looked like the spot I had picked as the way through. It was the only option in this basin.
The little pass on the left and Big Kangaroo on the right
I'd heard there was a way through south of Big Kangaroo and something north of it.What I knew is it was getting late. If this didn't go, I was going to be heading north over the next ridge looking for "the saddle" in the dark. I was more concerned that the others would worry and be sitting in the car waiting til late, or where were they going to end up. I'd been wishing I'd had time for skiing some of those back bowls, now I planned to top out the saddle in daylight. It was 7:40pm Sunday eve, a long drive home and we all had work in the morning. Up through the larch. the pitch angled higher. No tracks! Hmmm...
Moonlight and moon shadows
I was tired of skinning and booted the rest of the steepening pitch to the saddle (10.4m, c7483', 8:15p). No sign of anyone passing, the wind was brisk and cold in the saddle. I walked westward, almost holding my breath, looking down my heart lightened. This was the way through with a long great 2300 vertical ski pitch all the way to the basin floor. Sweet! I went back to the saddle top with strong wind pushing in from the east. I turned on my headlamp and gave out a loud call. Holy smokes, this time I heard responses. I think they were to the east, I was not sure. It was starting to get dark, so any lamp would stand out in the darkening treed basin below. I shined my lamp eastward hoping they would shine a light back. Nothing. I yelled again and again more responses, but from where? Up on the ridge to Snagtooth, in the basin below or...? I figured the wind carried the voices from the east. Easy choice, I'd wait. I dug a pit, bundled up and in a bit returned to the saddle to look east. After a bit, a lamp glowed far below. Thanks! Now I knew where they were. In time a few more lamps spaced apart. I attached a red bicycle blinky to my upright ski as a beacon for them to follow
West Fork Basin –the bright point lower right is one of the group’s headlamp
Moonlight lit the snow in West Fork basin, moon shadows added distinction and a few small bright lights approached. I kept moving and staying warm. In the dark I recognized Carla booting up. I had fresh dry gloves warmed and opened heat packs for her hands. I know how her hands get cold. Next the dark figure of Gordy came up. He went north around the corner to find a spot to gather out of the wind. One by one the group topped out their final pitch of the long day. Susan arrived and started to melt snow for water. Finally everyone was up -and relieved (10:00p). One to having found me, and two for being a nice downhill to complete the day.
Washington Pass Spires (SEWS to Liberty Bell)
Back on the west side, dark clouds framed South Early Winter Spire. Moonlight shone between patched of high clouds on the hill below. Gordy tested the hill and lead down a pitch. As people gathered I moved down and left to get a view of the route. By moonlight we could see, down and left was the call. We went down a section at a time. Stopping and taking a head count. How was everyone doing? This final pitch made the day. Sweeping aside how late it was, adding an experience unexpected and well worth having. Looking up, the scene was beautiful. Like Christmas with a parade of lights in a moonlit stage. Stunning. I wished I'd brought a camera that could have captured the scene. It'll just have to be a memory. The moonlight was so bright I was able to turn off my lamp and ski. Stopping and looking back, lights gliding down the hill, directly across the basin moonlight and shadow playing on the spires. Very surreal as on occasion a cars lights would streak down the highway from the pass. Did they see us and our torchlight parade? Maybe they missed the entire show. The final pitches mellowed. The lower angle allowed for less edge use and more gliding on the velvet powder layer than cutting though to the hardening crust below. We glided and re-grouped along the basin, a few pitches for velvet turns, a few tree walls to pass. The last opening and we slowed to a stop at the bend of the highway. 10:55p I stood at the car. I tried a last torchlight exposure, but they didn't come out as well as I'd liked.
Even being tired, everyone's spirits seemed to have lifted from earlier at the last saddle. De-booted, clothes changed, hugs and handshakes. Two cars headed west for home and two headed to Mazama for well deserved rest. The westward crew had a long drive ahead of us. The party wasn't over yet. Lindsey kept us entertained with comments, chips and a giant batch of delicious guacamole. I lost track of time, I think it was in the 3:00 range when we got to Seattle. Getting to work by 8:00 was going to be interesting. I fell asleep easily with memories of the days Kangaroo Traverse still playing in my head. With a group split, the main party taking a long route and the longer than expected day, there'd be a another good story to tell. I'm wonder about the other side of the story now...
Thanks for reading, and happy trails,
Hairpin to North Lake: 4.3m, +3083/-2537vert, 4h20m
North Lake to Hairpin: 7.9m, +3737/-4283vert, 8h46m
Total: 12.2m, +/-6820vert, 13h6m
Gear: BC ski and safety gear
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