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Big Snow Mountain skiing photos: Lake Dorothy, Gold Lake, Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area
Turns All Year: Previous Home Page Galleries
This is a gallery of Big Snow Mountain skiing photos which appeared on the Turns All Year home page in the past. Thumbnail images on this page can be clicked to view the full-sized photos, and lead into a slide show sequence for the gallery. These photos are from a backcountry skiing trip using lightweight telemark ski equipment across Lake Dorothy, up to Gold Lake and then to Big Snow Mountain, in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area of Washington State. The weather, snow, and skiing conditions were perfect and made it possible to do this long ski trip in one day.
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Turns All Year CD-ROM

The complete version of this photo gallery is now available on Turns All Year CD-ROM. Below you can view thumbnail photos from this gallery.

Turns All Year CD-ROM contains over 180 photo galleries, containing more than 3200 full-sized photos, from backcountry skiing and snowboarding trips in the Pacific Northwest.

from May 15, 2006:
Backcountry ski touring, Miller River, Lake Dorothy to Big Snow Mountain,
Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington, May 3, 2006

Approaching the north end of Lake Dorothy
Approaching the north end
of Lake Dorothy
Cliffs along the northwest shore of Lake Dorothy
Cliffs along the northwest
shore of Lake Dorothy
Big Snow Mountain reflected in Lake Dorothy
Big Snow Mountain
reflected in Lake Dorothy
David cruises the Lake Dorothy Highway
David cruises the
Lake Dorothy Highway
Good view of our ridge route on Big Snow Mountain
Good view of our ridge route
on Big Snow Mountain
Snowpack along the Lake Dorothy - Gold Lake stream
Snowpack along the Lake
Dorothy - Gold Lake stream
Melting snowpack in a meadow around 4100 fee
Melting snowpack in a
meadow around 4100 feet
Starting the final climb to Gold Lak
Starting the final
climb to Gold Lake
Skinning toward Gold Lake
Skinning toward Gold Lake
Skinning just above Gold Lake
Skinning just above Gold Lake
Looking southwest from above Gold Lake
Looking southwest from
above Gold Lake
Skinning with Gold Lake in the background
Skinning with Gold Lake
in the background
The last of the trees
The last of the trees
Corniced cliffs along the east ridge of Big Snow Mountain
Corniced cliffs along the east
ridge of Big Snow Mountain
Overcoat Peak and Chimney Rock
Overcoat Peak and Chimney Rock
Travelin
Travelin'
Lake Dorothy and Miller River valley
Lake Dorothy
and Miller River valley
Mount Hinman and Mount Daniel
Mount Hinman
and Mount Daniel
Summit Chief Mountain
Summit Chief Mountain
David skinning along the east ridge of Big Snow Mountain
David skinning along the east
ridge of Big Snow Mountain
Heading toward the summit of Big Snow Mountain
Heading toward the summit
of Big Snow Mountain
Made it!
Made it!
David skiing, with Lemah Mountain and Chikamin Peak
David skiing, with Lemah
Mountain and Chikamin Peak
David skiing, with Summit Chief Mountain
David skiing, with
Summit Chief Mountain
Skiing, with Mount Daniel and Bears Breast Mountain
Skiing, with Mount Daniel
and Bears Breast Mountain
Turns in a skim of newer snow
Turns in a skim of newer snow
Ski tracks in shiny firn spiegel
Ski tracks in shiny firn spiegel
David skiing perfect corn
David skiing perfect corn
Turns heading down the rolls toward Gold Lake
Turns heading down the
rolls toward Gold Lake
Bonus turns on a corned south facing aspect of a roll
Bonus turns on a corned
south facing aspect of a roll
More turns in shiny firn spiegel
More turns in shiny firn spiegel
David skiing below another roll
David skiing below another roll
Heading toward Gold Lake
Heading toward Gold Lake
The snow was still a little firm on north facing rolls
The snow was still a little
firm on north facing rolls
David having fun just above Gold Lake
David having fun
just above Gold Lake
Perfect sun warmed corn
Perfect sun warmed corn
Trees and rolls to the south of Gold Lake
Trees and rolls to
the south of Gold Lake
More trees and rolls
More trees and rolls
Great skiing in the gladed forest below Gold Lake
Great skiing in the gladed
forest below Gold Lake
Some final turns on the slope below Gold Lake
Some final turns on the
slope below Gold Lake
Snowbridge across the creek near 4200 feet
Snowbridge across the
creek near 4200 feet
All terrain skiing at the south end of Lake Dorothy
All terrain skiing at the
south end of Lake Dorothy
Skiing across Lake Dorothy in the late afternoon sun
Skiing across Lake Dorothy
in the late afternoon sun
Final view of Big Snow Mountain from Lake Dorothy
Final view of Big Snow
Mountain from Lake Dorothy
Camp Robber Creek
Camp Robber Creek

Photos by David Nicholson and Charles Eldridge
Backcountry skiing trip report:
May 3, 2006, Miller River, Lake Dorothy to Big Snow Mountain,
Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area, Washington

    I was concerned that we had waited until too late for this trip, but as it turned out I think we got about the most perfect conditions imaginable. It was easy to imagine how less than optimal conditions could cause significant problems in a variety of different ways: discontinuous snow in the forest, lack of stream crossings, snow too slow for this length of trip, breakable crust, avi problems up high, and, most of all, inability to ski across Lake Dorothy. None of these actually came true.
    David and I were able to drive to the Lake Dorothy trailhead (2200 feet), where there was one patch of snow in some shade - just enough to ensure that the beer would still be cold after the day's melting. Sunny with not a cloud in the sky, but very chilly in the valley bottom. The trail was mostly snow-free until after the bridge over Camp Robber Creek, then the patches got larger as we followed the trail to the outlet of Lake Dorothy, 3060 feet (note that the trail does not go where shown on USGS topo maps, but Green Trails has it right). Along the east shore of the lake there did not look to be enough snow to ski the route of the trail, but Lake Dorothy was still almost completely snow covered with just some fringes of open water. In addition, the recent low freezing levels and pooling of cold air over the lake had frozen the surface solidly. We put on the waxless skis and started the 1.5 mile ski to the south end of the lake, with perfect conditions. The fishscales could get a little grip and poling provided the rest of the force needed to fly across the lake. We saved a lot of time and energy this way compared to having to take the lakeshore.
    Open leads at the south end of the lake required us to leave the lake, and after a short bit of skiing we decided to hike instead due to the manuvering required with melted out areas and humped snow. In addition the snow was frozen solidly, making hiking easier compared to fishscaling. On the lake we had seen a set of ski tracks, and these seemed to continue up the drainage toward Gold Lake, our next destination. We wondered if these tracks were going our way, and if they could be trusted, so we adopted the Reaganesque approach of "trust, but verify" We used map and altimeter, but no GPS. It turned out both that the tracks were going our way and that they could be trusted - if the skier who left these is lurking out there, nice job (and reply here to receive your just reward)! We guessed the tracks might have been from Sunday - it looked like some breakable crust conditions higher - but it would be interesting to learn the truth.
    The stretch from Lake Dorothy to Gold Lake was incredibly beautiful forest and glades, and were we pleased to note that it looked like we should be able to ski all the way back. This section had alternating small steeper climbs and level meadowed areas. The snow was so firm that we hiked to 3900 feet, where we climbed a little knoll to get some view, and then started skiing. The sun had softened most of the snow just enough that the fishscales could grip now, although in tree shade the snow remained frozen. We did depart from the route of the ski tracks between 4000 and 4300 feet, crossing to climbers left of the creek to ascend in more open and sunny snow, but then crossed back to the right and put on skins where the slope steepened for the final climb to Gold Lake. This slope was much easier going than I had imagined from looking at the map, with deep smooth snow and no cliff bands. The scenery at Gold Lake was spectacular! Clumps of old trees scattered around endless layers of snow humps, beautiful ridge lines above, some still with large cornices hanging on, all in bright sun under a very blue sky.
    The most direct way upward on the map (to the SW) turned out to be good, and we found the old ski tracks here and there along the way. North-facing snow on the steeper rolls remained pretty well frozen, but it often had a thin coating of new snow (sometimes still powdery) which the skins could grip. We took the path of least steepness, which involved a ramp just above Pt. 5608, and before long more and more peaks were visible. When we reached the ridge of Big Snow Mountain near 6300 feet we met two skiers who had come up from the south side (via Hardscrabble Lakes) and were just preparing to start down via the eastern descent (to upper Hardscrabble Lake). The direct descent to lower Hardscrabble Lake had quite a bit of avalanche debris on the upper slope, and we couldn't see the snow past the roll over to the steeper part below. We skied along the ridge toward the summit, being careful not to step onto the north side with its hard and smooth snow, and left the skis at about 6500 feet to boot the final 150 feet up the firm snow to the summit.
    It was difficult to know what to look at, with so many choices: Baker, Glacier, and Rainier, all of the major Alpine Lakes peaks from Hinman/Daniel to Summit Chief/Overcoat/Chimney/Lemah/Chikamin to the Alpental Peaks. This was a different perspective than I had had and it was fun to try to identify all of the lesser peaks as we sat on top snacking and enjoying our first chance to sit down in the six hours it had taken us to get to the summit. The air temperature was chilly with some easterly breeze, but pleasant enough with a shell on.
    After a good rest and lots of photos we booted back down to the skis and got ready to ski, adding the supercharging cables to our three-pin bindings to supplement our joke tele boots (it turns out that David and I have the same size feet, so he was using my second pair of new boots). The ski down to Gold Lake was very nice. Near the top we had to watch out for slightly too firm snow on northerly rolls, but soon we were into perfect corn. Or rather, better than perfect, because most areas had firn spiegel, which seems to make the snow fast and not grabby while at the same time allowing for good edging due to the still soft snow just underneath. Along the way we climbed up a bump to ski some SW facing snow, which was perfectly softened corn.
    The skiing from Gold Lake back to Lake Dorothy was very enjoyable, with even the snow under trees softened and turnable. We pretty much followed our ascent route, with a little extra time on skier's right of the creek near 4200 feet to get a better line. Below 3400 feet we had to watch out for softened snow over voids (which led to one spectacular wipeout on my part) and a few areas of forest debris-covered snow (rapid deceleration). We took a snack break near the south end of Lake Dorothy where we had a short carry back to the point where we could get onto the lake snow, then started skiing north across the lake, where things soon started to get, well, exciting. At first the skiing across the lake seemed just like it had been in the morning, despite all of the day's sun. After maybe a quarter of a mile, however, I noticed that firm pole plants would break through the surface crust on which we were gliding and plunge in to water-saturated slush. After gliding across an area where the slightest pole plant would break through, and where I could feel the tails of my skis sinking through the crust as I glided, I started to get a bit freaked out wondering (and imagining) exactly what the structure of this snow cover was. I easily imagined a quarter inch of crust, a layer of slush, and 200 feet of ice cold water. So we did what all good skiers do, we did a stability test, pole plunge style. This revealed that under the crust and about a foot of water-snow mixture there seemed to be a solid layer of ice. We repeated the test in a number of places always with the same results, but I still got an uneasy feeling whenever I glided through an area with very weak crust. This experience made me realize that it would probably be wise to to some research on how frozen lakes melt before doing this kind of thing again. Our best guess was that there was still probably a thick layer of ice on the lake, but that the warm days had been melting the surface snow, the melt water being trapped on top of the ice layer. Still, if the surface crust had become weaker during the day, our choices would have been to try to "ski" across the lake through a foot of slushy, or hike the lakeshore trail. Either way would have required a lot more time and energy. With the continued warm days it could be that the window for skiing across Lake Dorothy has come to an end.
    After all of the excitement on the lake, the rest of the trip was pretty straightforward. We were able to ski a little way past the north end of Lake Dorothy, to maybe 2800 feet, then it was just hiking with visions of Guinness dancing in our heads. Got to the car at 8pm. TOPO says about 15 miles and 4400 feet.
   Charles

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