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April 28, 2002, Mt. Baker backcountry

WA Cascades West Slopes North (Mt Baker)
Posted by ema on 7/14/02 10:23am
We were four this Sunday, all male, middle-aged and in full-fledged denial of our various frailties. One of our party skied Pellastovas, which are intolerably-almost insultingly-scrawny skis, matched to low, flimsy and in other respects clearly inadequate footgear. Thankfully, the remainder of the party made rather more rational choices: big, heavy boards, some of which sported flames, driven by beefy bindings and huge, manly boots.

We chose a roundabout tour, beginning with a climb, descent and another climb to Lake Anne, then rambling up and down along the ridge which connects lake and "butte." It was along this ridge that a couple of civil, but undeniably energetic youngsters overtook us, socialized briefly, then left us gasping for breath in the vortex left by their passing. The descent from Lake Anne Butte featured 1700 feet of pretty good corn on slopes to 45 degrees; photographs were taken and smiles were widespread. I tried to blame my new bindings for a few minor technical imperfections in my own skiing, but it is almost certain that no one believed me.

My companions demonstrated a degree of healthy skepticism about things in general, but I was nonetheless able to convince them to break one of the cardinal rules of snow-sliding ("Never leave good snow in search of more good snow."). It is possible that I was unusually persuasive this day, or that their defensive common sense had been weakened by the bright sun, warm air, exquisite views and hero snow. In any case, they went for it, based on my promise that what I had in mind would offer snow identical to the wondrous stuff we had just skied, my assurances that descent would be in no way problematic, and my confident prediction that we'd be on our way down by 4:00. So instead of climbing back for another run we circled around, again climbed to Lake Anne, then ascended Shuksan Arm and began touring west along the rolling crest toward an area much beloved by lift-serviced skiers but not often visited by the likes of us. Unfortunately, a minor obstacle (in the form of an impassable ice cliff) forced a change in plans, and we retreated back to the east. A fortuitous slot in a giant cornice allowed us to squeeze onto a remnant piece of the White Salmon Glacier (this involved, however, a short traverse of a slope consisting of 50 degree reforming crust mixed with half-frozen avalanche debris), and down we went. The others mainly skied, while I blundered and blustered and spoke bad words to my bindings.

At one point we dropped too low and had to climb again, but the skiing was mostly quite good: we were now below the narrow band of crust and skiing mainly fine corn on a firm base...with occasional pockets of mysteriously bottomless and wholly unconsolidated slush to keep us properly humble. By some combination of careful consideration, expert routefinding, and blindly following the tracks of others who'd traversed in from the ski area, we found our way eventually across Rumble Gully and into the deserted ski area. At the lower base lodge, instructors and patrol were hoisting beers to the last day of the season while worker drones stacked chairs and packed up espresso machines. Of course, this was just the bare beginning of what looks like several months of good spring skiing, with a couple of hundred inches of consolidated, high-water-content snowpack at 5000 feet. We saw no signs of major current instability, although there were a few minor sluffs on 45 degree slopes, and lots of pinwheels off ski cuts. Giant cornices are still present on the ridges, glide cracks are everywhere, and the patches of deeper slush were worrisome at times. I also noted the first of the tree pollen stuck to my bases, a sure sign of spring in the Cascades.

I can testify that Chilis (which I am using as placeholders) are indeed markedly inferior to Cobras: each new Chili required drastic tightening after a couple of hours' skiing, though at quite different times. They certainly offer less transfer of energy to the skis, and noticeably less control. On the other hand, I survived just fine on Chilis for a number of years (until one massive binding explosion early last fall), and these will continue to be of service while I wrassle with an unrelated problem involving my preferred Cobras. Your mileage, as is so often the case, may vary.



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2002-07-14 17:23:58