February 16, 2002, Mt. Baker Backcountry

WA Cascades West Slopes North (Mt Baker)
Posted by ema on 9/11/02 8:52am
A vast and impressive panoply of "interesting" snow awaited this weekend. Two of us skied up the north side of Table Mountain on varieties of wind-affected powder, slab, sastrugi, crust and (occasionally) actual skiable snow, booted up the 50 degree wind scoop at the Inner Glacier schrund, and tagged the quote summit unquote in light snow and gentle breezes. Then, being possessed of an abundance of adventurous spirit and a paucity of common sense, we set off down the west side despite the unequivocally problematic snow. After a section or two of 40 degree boilerplate (which my partner skied with his heel lifts raised in an attempt to inject a bit of levity into the situation) and a hair-raising descending traverse of even steeper icy slopes interspersed with avalanche debris, we finally located the goods: FOUR CONSECUTIVE TURNS on reasonable, boot-top snow. After that brief but glorious interlude the situation deteriorated rapidly, as we descended a long gully consisting of wall-to-wall breakable melt-freeze crust. My partner, heel lifts down, offered repeated demonstrations of a special descent technique involving full-body barrel rolls executed parallel to the ground while completely airborne; I, alas, was not so inventive.

I am ashamed to admit that we turned back before quite reaching the bottom, climbing back up the breakable crust gully, making quick work of the four-turn snow patch, booting the steep, icy avalanche debris and frightening me near to death skinning up the 40 degree boilerplate pitches. Then we skied what turned out to be entirely reasonable snow-heavy powder marred in places by work-hardened snowboarder tracks-back down to Bagley Basin....or rather, my partner skied. I suffered an inexplicable separation from my ski (TRP releasing as it is designed to do, but G3 leash also releasing for no apparent reason), and descended the final 500 feet on one ski. Far be it from me to belabor the point, but this is more difficult that one might think. WAY more difficult.

We took one last run in the Blueberry Chutes to finish out the day, in steep, cut-up heavy powder. Aside from a short but deep, vertical trench in the snow (which I dug with my forehead), we both acquitted ourselves well on this pitch, and returned to the parking lot sated. The day was actually thoroughly fun for its challenging skiing, astonishing scenery and incredible variety of conditions and landforms, and we both agreed that, while the actual skiing was not terribly good, the tour itself was a blast.

Anyone venturing out in this neighborhood after the next significant snowfall will want to be aware that there is currently serious suncrust on many east, south and west aspects, with windcrust in a lot of other areas. As windslab forms it will probably slide readily on those surfaces.



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2002-09-11 15:52:22