February 23, 2002, SomewherenorthofBellingham

US elsewhere
Posted by ema on 9/11/02 9:01am
Six inches of rain in two days in my usual haunts, combined with a steep north-south temperature gradient, suggested that this was an appropriate time to head north of the border, to an area about which I was sworn to secrecy years ago. We met at an ungodly early hour in a giant parking lot, juggled skis and backpacks for a while, and were underway long before sunrise. A couple of hours later we arrived at the trailhead, met up with another party heading south from Rogers Pass, and got on our way.

There had been no rain here: instead, heavy snow. We were an unusually large party, numbering 8 in all, but this turned out to be a very good thing in light of conditions. Trailbreaking ranged from perfectly reasonable (i.e. exhausting and debilitating) to virtually impossible in three feet or more of fresh, dry snow. 6 to 10 inches of low-density, unconsolidated powder covered a semi-crust of warmer snow, which in turn covered essentially bottomless, dry powder. In the worst sections it was possible to step out of line, change clothes, adjust gear, have a bite to eat and a cup of tea before stepping back onto the skin track, no more than a hundred vertical feet from the leader. The crowd was, it must be said, merciless, having little to amuse themselves while waiting for the uptrack to be extended in minute increments aside from tearing to metaphoric shreds those who were sucked into bottomless tree wells or who fell, beetle-like, on their backs in failed kick turns. Anyone doubting that human beings are genetically programmed for efficient predation would have quickly learned otherwise on this trip.

Different techniques, strategies and abilities emerged. One of our party weighed significantly less than half of what I do, and when her turn came to break trail she just hopped up on top of the snow and glided on ahead, seemingly puzzled about what the fuss was about. Another, heavier than I and riding skinnier skis, devoted himself to grunting and groaning and thrashing around without making any apparent uphill progress at all. Quite a few of our members seemed to suffer mysterious equipment failures (which inevitably required stepping out of line to fiddle and adjust) within minutes of taking over the lead. One otherwise unremarkable skier somehow managed to take impossibly long strides up the hill, as if possessed of an ability to de-couple his hip joints at will; when he was out front breaking trail we almost seemed to make real progress.

Eventually we did attain the windswept ridge, 1800 feet above the road, where consolidated snow made the going significantly easier. However, turnaround time came remarkably soon thereafter (that 1800 feet had cost us more than four hours), and we abandoned our hopes of skiing the bowl beyond. The token split-boarder in our midst had some trouble assembling his board, and most of the group collapsed into little sniveling heaps in the snow to wait for him. Myself and another, determined to salvage some actual skiing out of the day, dropped through the steep glades near our uptrack. Staying in the fall line was definitely the order of the day, since to lose forward speed was to risk sinking without a trace; failing to adequately weight the rear ski for even an instant resulted in long, slow but spectacular falls. Deep tree wells on all sides grinned evil grins and beckoned with bony fingers, but we managed to avoid them. I made the mistake of dropping perhaps 50 feet below our uptrack, and spent a good 15 minutes battling my way up the little steep roll that had enticed me. The two of us then climbed back up what was now a very unremarkable and straightforward skin track to the ridge, meeting the rest of the party near the top, then followed their tracks down to the highway with its giant snowblowers, vehicle fumes and (this was key) heated restrooms and changing room.

We did not pay much attention to snow stability issues, being more concerned with our ongoing battles with gravity, but I cut a couple of steep rolls on north and east-ish aspects, finding nothing remarkable aside from a tendency for loose sluffs in the drier surface snow on steep slopes. These would have been significant on larger terrain features....had we been able to actually reach any larger terrain features. Most of the party reassembled for nachos, pizzas and beers back in Bellingham. I managed to stay conscious for long enough to finish an entire large pizza by myself (to the collective astonishment of the group) then retreated home and collapsed into a dreamless sleep.



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2002-09-11 16:01:43