|from March 15, 2004:|
Silver Creek, Wenatchee National Forest, Washington, March 10, 2004
West Peak from
Silver Creek Meadows
Silver Creek pinnacle
for a little run
Andy, Pt. 5280+, and Mt. Stuart
Silver Creek pinnacle
Looking down little
run to meadows
Snowbridge in the forest
Photos by Charles Eldridge
Associated trip report: A forecast bluebird day beckoned us to the mountains, but we were concerned about the recent snowpack instability and so chose a long forest tour with no unavoidable avalanche hazards. The 4818 road was closed by about 1' of snow at the Lake Kachess snowpark (~2200'), so Andy and I fishscaled the 1.5 miles to the actual trailhead (2400') on forest roads nicely groomed by snowmobiles and frozen solid overnight. From there, we skinned up the trail to the lip of the hanging valley at 3600'. Below 3000' (the S and SE exposures) there was considerably less snow than when I was here in mid-December, with ribbons of snow only on the trailbed in places, and a few short stretches of bare trail (which we skinned across). Where the trail turns a corner at 3000' into more shaded terrain, however, there was more snow than in December, with the trail-cut completely filled in in many places. The snow was fairly smooth and softly crusted for the most part.
We removed our skins at the lip of the hanging valley for the ~4 mile ski up to the meadows at the head of the valley (4800'). The snow was remarkably consistent: very smooth (no tree bombs), very good coverage (many bridges over Silver Creek above 4000'), with soft breakable crust in the forest and firm crust in glades large and small. It was turning into a warm and very calm day, and anywhere the morning sun made it through the trees the snow surface was softening, making for easy climbing with our fishscale skis. The traveling was not super fast with the areas of breakable crust, but easy enough with two of us breaking trail.
The meadows and surrounding small peaks were beautiful under the cloudless sky, and we kicked out a sunny snowbench at the end of the meadows. With the strong sunshine and lack of wind, it was hard to believe it was still early March, and we never had to put on extra layers of clothes during the entire trip. After lunch and R&R, we skied up a gentle open east-facing ridge to the base of the pinnacle and did a little run. The snow was pretty good for turning. On the south side of the ridge crest, the surface had softened considerably but it was still possible to mostly stay on top of the crust; on the north side the surface had just slighty softened and the turns were faster. Where the snow was in the shade of dense trees the surface was still frozen hard.
Based on that run, we thought that more southerly exposures might have some good corn-like turning, so we headed up a little peak (5280+) due east of the pinnacle. As I traversed up a moderate south-facing slope of a little SE trending ridge at ~5000', I heard the dreaded whoomph as the area on which I was standing settled. We altered our course and got to trees on the little ridge, then started up onto open snow around on the E-facing aspect of the ridge. Again the snowpack settled under me, and this time I could sense the whoomph traveling down the slope. Two warnings - we bailed to the trees and skied gentler wooded slopes back to our snowbench. So as to travel ligher, we had decided to not bring beacons or shovels, being prepared to abandon any turning.
We discussed the whoomphing in relation to the snowpack, fairly uncertain as to where the weak layer might be and how much depth of snow might be settling. There was no obvious settlement, no shooting cracks, and with the surface crust, no typical slab-like conditions. From pole pits, the snowpack was 1-2" of surface crust, 4" of medium-grained snow, then ~12" of fairly dense coarse snow that contained numerous icy clumps, over what appeared to be a solid crust. Perhaps the whoomphing was simply from regions of surface crust settling as the underlying 4" collapsed?
We left our snowbench at about 3:15, making it back to the car in about 3 hours. There are very few turns to be had on the way out before the lip of the hanging valley, and in the one section steep enough (just leaving the meadows), the snow was not good for turns. There was still soft breakable crust in shady areas, or no-crust slow snow where the sun had done it's work. With the good track we had set up the valley, though, the cruising was very enjoyable, and our speed could be controlled by just stepping out of the tracks, thus avoiding turns, when necessary.
The ski down from the lip of the hanging valley was one of the best ever, as far as snow quality (though this isn't saying much!). The breakable crust was gone, leaving a good surface for garlands and downward sideslipping traverses, and then easy travel along the traversing trail to 3000', where the snowpack dwindled ard bare patches appeared. Hiking from there to the trailhead was the worst part of the trip, as the snow would often collapse underfoot and we would plunge 1-2' in. Fortunately the road ski back to the car was fast and good XC skiing.