Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sierra Shralpathon: Green Butte, Shasta

After 10 hours driving south on I-5 though a raging rainstorm, Jim and I capitulated and stopped in the city of Mount Shasta, CA for the night on Monday. The wind and rain howled against the hotel throughout the night, but it felt too warm for there to be good skiing accessible.

In the morning we cast the weather I Ching, and it reported that Shasta had received at least 10 inches of snow above 7800 feet, and the wind--while brisk--was not as narwhal as what the Sierra was about to receive. We drove up towards Bunny Flat, heartened by the deepening snowbanks on the road, and increasing deposits of fresh on the trees.

Shasta Soup

We skinned up through fog, snow and occasionally gusty winds along the Green Butte, a gentle treed ridgeline to the east of the Avalanche Gully route. We made it to 8300 where the poor vis and snorting winds turned us around, and enjoyed smooth windpack and then 3 or 4 inches of fluff on denser snow down to 7400. It was fun enough that we were totally in agreement about the necessity of another lap. This time, the sucker holes opened, and we being undoubtedly a pair of suckers, followed them up to 9100', where the vis promptly shut down and the snow got increasingly slabby. Fortunately, after a few minutes waiting in an emetic whiteout, another hole opened up and we hastily skied down to tree line, where we enjoyed more fluffy turns on a bowl that drained off the east side of the ascent ridge.

Sucker hole (and sucker)

The runout was not as flat as it looked, and the trees were beautifully spaced, so we had no problem gliding through the powder and pines back to the car, freshened for the remainder of our voyage to the Eastern Sierra. This was a bit different than Erin and my adventure two days ago in the Stuart Range. I think I could get used to California.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Four days in the Glacier Peak Wilderness

Glacier Peak is the wilderness volcano. It lies 10 miles as the crow flies from any road, and ever further as the homo sapien walks. It doesn't dominate the skyline like Rainier does in Auburn, or Baker does from Burlington, but on a clear day on the bridges in Seattle, look east and it'll be there gleaming white. It occupies a lofty piece of sky from Cascade Pass, Buck Creek Pass, the Alpine Lakes: some of my favorite places in the cascades.

A late start from Seattle Friday afternoon dashed our hopes of getting beyond the Mackinaw shelter that night. Views behind us to Sloan distracted us from the hard work of carrying skis and boots and winter gear along the dry trail. Once we got to the shelter, we stayed up late attempting to keep the campfire burning, mistakenly believing the next day would be an easy one.

Reaching continuous snow the following morning was cause for celebration. The late winter sun warmed us as we changed into boots and crampons. The sun was also rapidly warming the south-facing slope we need to climb, we soon realized, as we occasionally sunk through the 190-pound crust and resorted to the time-tested "alpine wallow" to climb out of tree wells.

We finally made it to a bench, changed to skins and nervously eyed the headwall above. After much debate, we skinned east across the bench, including one sizeable pile of fresh-looking avy debris and aimed for a steep, treed rib that offered some protection before it petered to steep, open slopes until the angle mellowed out towards the top.

Meandering along a ridge towards White Mountain, we were not quite sure how we were going to enter the White Chuck drainage, since the north side of the ridge was steep and corniced, until a promisingly-looking gap in the cornice appeared, leading down into the White Chuck basin and a series of bowls and benches. Night quickly fell as we made camp in a stand of trees.

The next morning we left after daybreak, but long before the sun had climbed over the ridge to warm us. We followed drainages up and across a glacial plateau, then crossed a broad col before finally arriving at the foot of Glacier, several hours later. The summit was still a humbling-distance away. We followed a wandering ridge a ways, then dropped onto the Gerdine Glacier and made a rising traverse to the east. We reached the Gerdine-Cool Col as the sun was diving back below the ridge, left with neither time nor energy to go any higher. To the south lay Daniels, Hinman, Overcoat and Chimney and eventually Rainier. To the west, the Olympics poked through. To the southeast, the Dakobed, cloaked in white poked up craggily. We skied variable snow: from soft sastrugified windpack to shallow powder to gently-breakable crust, then reversed the long, rolling traverse back to camp.

Monday morning, we struck camp and skinned back south towards the notch in White Mountain's corniced ridge, arriving before noon to slightly-undercooked corn. We made a few turns here and there and mainly traversed west on the steep (45 degrees in places) slope on the tasty corn snow. Below a couple hundred vertical feet of truly-atrocious breakable crust transitioned to stable, summertime corn, which we skied through increasingly-dense slide alder to 3300 feet, where we encountered the snow-covered trail.

Glacier was now hidden behind the ridge. But I could feel it looming invisible, impassive, above me as I shouldered my skis and hiked out.