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April 14, 2001, Silver Star Mountain

WA Cascades East Slopes North
Posted by ema on 7/14/02 12:15pm
Five of us from the seldom-seen Bellingham Mountaineers aborted a planned Shuksan trip and thought about the Birthday Traverse before settling on Silver Star as holding the best potential for long powder runs in a spectacular spot. Left the parking lot around 9:30 and skinned up through the trees on the usual assortment of weird frozen lumpy stuff carpeted with pine needles and debris, finally hitting the fresh, soft snow at swamp elevation, around 5000 feet. Unfortunately, all four of my companions turned back with skin icing problems after climbing a short distance further, and I continued on alone in a foot to 18 inches of dry powder, totally trackless. The first 400 feet of the glacier was pretty wind-crusted, and I almost turned back myself from a combination of caution and exhaustion, but the setting was so spectacular in periodic snow showers and intermittent sun that I kept chugging away uphill in the powder....past my turnaround time (4:00), my revised turnaround time (5:00) and my absolute-outside-no-messing-around-let's-get-real-here turnaround time (5:30). Finally gave up at 8450 ft, just shy of the final saddle at 5:45, when the slope steepened to 45 degrees or so and common sense got the better of me. The ski down was epic soft powder rolling over to 40 degrees in places, narrowing into couloirs then spreading out into big bowls. No sluffs, no cracks propagating, no whumphing; just that irritating little inner voice telling me it was going to be dark soon and I was a long way from the road. The windcrust tripped me up a couple of times low on the glacier, but aside from that it was definitely my best powder run of the year; first surrounded by sculptural granite spires and cliffs on the glacier, then down through meadows spotted with larches and finally a section of steep, deep trees down to the swamp. There, I located the track left by my partners and followed them out to the highway, chortling and smirking to myself. I arrived at the parking lot at 8:15, collapsed into the front seat, guzzled the coffee I'd been clever enough to leave there in a thermos, and drove at excessive speed back to Bellingham. An altogether epic day; I don't think I've ever broken quite so much trail alone, but it was worth every hard-fought foot of it.

 Just a foot or two of fast-melting snow at the trailhead, but the swamp is still covered and stream crossings not a problem. Not much snow coverage above the trail, therefore little apparent avalanche danger from above, though the climb up the glacier feels a bit exposed at times, especially after the recent snow (and alone late in the day). Where the coverage is shallow there is lots of rotten faceted snow at the base, and this would be worrisome on a warm day or where the snowpack was exposed to cornice fall or other major stress.



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2002-07-14 19:15:56