Home > Trip Reports > December 2, 2001, Mt. Baker Backcountry

December 2, 2001, Mt. Baker Backcountry

WA Cascades West Slopes North (Mt Baker)
Posted by ema on 9/16/02 10:12pm
Five of us in two cars joined a steady stream of crazed drivers on the Mt. Baker Highway: the eager ones passing on blind corners and against oncoming traffic, others tailgating at speed in compact little bunches. The DOT crews had plowed and sanded, but some slick sections remained, and we passed one fat-tired 4x4 which had spun out and high-centered on a snowbank and another upside down in the ditch. Mister Darwin sure knew what he was talking about.
We arrived in the parking lot just as the ski area opened, and geared up while a huge rubber-tired front end loader belched and bellowed and pushed snow around right next to my left ear. About 80 inches of snow had fallen since last weekend, some of it during periods of high, shifting winds, but I had this idea that the wind might have died early Saturday night, and that the final foot of snow would therefore be soft and smooth. I am prone to these fits of optimism, and once we arrived it was clear that winds had howled all night. Up on Shuksan arm there were a series of big slab releases on the usual terrain rolls: a patroller told us that they had gone naturally, after ski cutting and explosives had failed to release them. Slabs had also released on both north and south aspects in Bagley Basin, indicating interestingly varied wind-loading. Everything I touched was wind-crusted or slab, and there were odd layers deeper in the snowpack. On the other hand, the visibility was reasonable (for Mt. Baker) in filtered sunshine.
We went directly up to the usual place for skiing in times of instability and took a run down through open glades. My companions skied smoothly and effortlessly on variable windslab, stopping just above the small, steep gully at the bottom. I experienced a certain amount of trouble staying upright, and spent a lot of time trying to extricate myself from various contortions and entanglements. Because I really wanted a last couple of turns, I continued past my companions into the gully at the bottom. This was where all the unconsolidated snow had lodged, and I spent a good 20 minutes or more busting my way out. By the time I staggered back to the spot where the sensible ones had quit, they had lapped me and were ready to head back uphill for a third run. Ah, me.
By this time there were others skiing the area, and we opted for a change of scenery after one more run. We dropped into the Bagley Basin, climbed a skin track put in by anonymous others to Herman Saddle and dropped through the glades down the other side. The snow was better here: less wind-affected, more even in consistency, apparently stable. I joined a stranger and dropped through steeper (40 degree) glades to the lake, by far the nicest skiing of the day. Returning down the other side in failing light I returned to my earlier form, leaning uphill, failing to stay in the fall line and in general thrashing ineptly. I caught a brief glimpse of my companions at the bottom, before they (apparently) sprinted back to the parking lot. Obviously, I need to get out more and spend less time fretting in front of the computer.
In today's report, the Canadian Avalanche service suggests selling your rock skis immediately, before the market for such things crashes due to what is suddenly a perfectly adequate snow depth.



Reply to this TR

2002-09-17 05:12:43