Snow Day

Spring is officially here- but I managed to make it through the entire winter without enjoying a single day on the ski slopes. I had to go at least once so I made it happen on Friday. Not a whole lot to say about this; a beautiful day up at Mount Baker with partly sunny skies and about 4″ of new snow to start the day. After my break for lunch, I spent some time photographing Mount Shuksan before the clouds swallowed it whole. The afternoon brought the snowy weather back and eventually the expansive views completely disappeared. The ski area shut down at about 4pm and before I headed home, I stopped off at Hannigan Pass Road. I hoped to check out a particular spot overlooking the North Fork Nooksack River where Mount Shuksan is visible. The mountain wasn’t visible but I did experience a crazy snow squall that passed through my location despite the presence of sunshine. Very cool experience! A great day and just what I needed..
Mount Shuksan and the White Salmon Creek valley from the Mount Baker Ski Area
Clouds drifting over Shuksan Arm
Shadow and sunlight on Mount Shuksan's lower slopes beneath Winnies Slide
Mount Shuksan summit pyramid and clouds
Snow squall and sunshine along the North Fork Nooksack River
Snow squall and sunshine along the North Fork Nooksack River
Snow squall and sunshine along the North Fork Nooksack River
Snow squall and sunshine along the North Fork Nooksack River
I also put together a little snowboarding video from my day on the slopes which you can view here:

White Salmon

Mount Shuksan and the White Salmon Creek valley
Mount Shuksan and Shuksan Arm panorama from above the White Salmon Creek valleyFive weekends in a row of sunshine? Amazing. Temperatures were flirting with 70 degrees but I still had winter somewhat on the brain. Due to our normally abundant snowpack, I wanted to scout out a “pseudo-winter” shot I’ve been visualizing for a while. It centers around the White Salmon Creek, which flows away from the sheer cliff face of Mount Shuksan’s northwest face. There’s a certain level of commitment to my vision so I really wanted to be sure of its possibilities before attempting it.

White Salmon Creek lies outside the Mount Baker Ski Area, and it’s that ski area that provides the best and most direct access. The ski lifts stopped running at the end of April so the best time to make an attempt is now. Winter snowpack is still close to maximum and the travel is much easier (White Salmon Creek has a reputation for Sitka Alder thickets which abuse anyone who dares travel through them).

Backcountry ski tracks on Mount Shuksan
Slope details on Mount ShuksanIt’s only 0.75 miles from the White Salmon Day Lodge to the base of Chair 8 and under bright, cloudless skies it was a pleasant 30 minute snowshoe hike. Much to my surprise, White Salmon Creek in the valley below me was buried under deep snows. Hmm. So much for my plans. On some level I was a bit relieved to see this. The sun was BAKING the snow and I know I would have had quite an ordeal to posthole back out of the valley.

It was still a fantastic day so I set up my tripod and scoped out Mount Shuksan. On my hike in, I was following a pair of skin tracks which continued on towards Shuksan. High above on the mountain’s slopes, I could see their skin track uphill and graceful figure-8 turns from their descent. I had come this far, lugging my snowboard, so it was time to make it worth my while. I double-backed to the base of Chair 8 and proceeded to hike up towards the top of Chair 8.

Shuksan Arm study
Shuksan Arm studySince the ski area’s closure, the snow has continued to fall. In fact, enough snow has fallen to freshen up every slope within the ski area. Moguls, ruts, mounds…all gone. My visit also was the first in a quite a while to this part of the ski area. As I plodded along, I looked back at my progress and my snowshoe tracks were the only tracks in sight. For a few hours, the ski area was all mine.

The higher I progressed, the deeper the snow got. My trekking poles would easily sink into the snow at least a foot and my snowshoes were slogging through 4 inches of sun crafted corn. My goal was to reach the top of Chair 8 but time was running out for me on this day. I settled for a spot where Chair 5 spills out and joins Chair 8’s traffic. Not the top but still over a mile long descent and 1,000 vertical feet. A fabulous day in the mountains and another reminder of how blessed I am to live here!

Snowshoeing through the Mount Baker Ski Area. Iphone picture
Snowshoeing through the Mount Baker Ski Area with Mount Shuksan in the background. IPhone picture
Ready to descend fresh ski slopes within the Mount Baker Ski Area. IPhone picture

Mount Saint Helens

The beginning of May is when I think about climbing Mt St Helens. The weather is a bit nicer and the snowpack is fairly consolidated which makes for one long ride down in some nice corn snow. Typically the “summer” climbing route on Monitor Ridge isn’t accessible due to the snow covered road and so the standard winter route begins at the Marble Mountain Snow Park at 2640 feet. You do earn your turns though- 12 miles roundtrip and 5500′ of elevation gain.

I’ve climbed Mt St Helens a couple times before but not since the dome building episode of 2004-2006. My last attempt was aborted below the summit due to wind and rain so I was anxious to experience the new view from the crater rim. There was a promising forecast for the weekend so I purchased a climbing permit and headed down on Friday. Yet another “unseasonable” storm during the week brought new snow to the slopes of Mt St Helens. The promise of sunshine and warmer temperatures brought something else- high avalanche danger.

Monitor Ridge (Summer route) in the center and Worm Flows at right center
If I was to be on the mountain, I needed to try and get an early start so that my descent would be before the peak temperatures and sunshine. I arrived at a quiet snow park late Friday afternoon. I wanted to take some sunset photos but hadn’t decided on where to taken them- up the trail near timberline or down the road off of the mountain. I decided the latter and so during the last hour of daylight, I headed back down a few miles to a clearcut which offered a nice view of the mountain. Quickly looking around, I saw this fallen tree and decided to use it as a compositional piece…

Mount Saint Helens from Forest Service Road 81
Mount Saint Helens from Forest Service Road 81
The sunset wasn’t especially noteworthy and just faded away. Still, the setting light did accentuate the slopes of the mountain…

Sunset on Monitor Ridge
Sunset on the western slopes
After sunset, I headed back to the snow park where I sorted my gear for the morning went to sleep. I got up about 2:20am and hit the trail at 2:50am. I hadn’t paid any attention to the moon cycles so I was surprised to see that this particular morning was a full moon! It was already setting but did offer up a fair amount of light. After about an hour or so of hiking through the forest, I arrived at timberline and had my first good view of the mountain…

A moonlit Worm Flows from Timberline - 4am
The elevation gain begins in earnest from this point on. I do not consider myself to be a strong climber and so I opt for the slow and steady approach and utilize the climber’s breathing technique known as the rest step. Even with the warmer temperatures and sunshine, the snow did refreeze overnight and so I did have some latitude in my pace for the summit. In addition to food, water, snowboard & helmet, I was also lugging my SLR, 3 lenses, and my tripod. All of this starts to build after a number of miles!

View up from around 5,000 Feet
I plodded onward, taking the occasional extended break every 1000-1500′ or so. The weather remained clear and sunny with some increasing winds at the higher elevations. Crampons might have been good for piece of mind but weren’t required since there was an adequate bootpack in the snow on the route up. Once the sun’s rays started hitting the slopes, they slowly began to soften up.

Deceptively close - 2,000 feet to go...
A few clouds materialized during the morning but nothing too serious. It took longer than I would have preferred but just shy of 12pm, I topped out on the summit. A steady wind kept things cold and discouraged a long visit to the top. I was still very concerned about the avalanche forecast and so I only stayed long enough to take a couple photos before clicking in and heading down.

Panoramic view inside the crater
Crater Wall
After descending about 500-1000 feet, the snow conditions turned into perfect corn snow and I enjoyed smooth turns for 3000 feet. Below timberline, the snow was a bit slower but still rideable and I made it to within 1/4 mile of the trailhead before momentum finally ended. I was exhausted but I enjoyed sitting in the sunshine reflecting on a successful day.

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