January 27, 2002, Utah! (Mt. Baker backcountry)

1/27/02
WA Cascades West Slopes North (Mt Baker)
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Posted by ema on 9/11/02 9:45am
Three of us went wheeling up the Mt. Baker Highway, discussing the usual things: the reckless driving of others on icy roads, the dire avalanche reports of the past week (danger and death seemed to feature very prominently in these reports, possibly in connection with the 8-10 feet of snow which has fallen since last weekend); a tour which had been turned back by bottomless snow at just 2400 feet the previous day; the likelihood of appreciable stability, visibility and/or crowds in the backcountry today. There were neither more nor less than the usual number of cars in ditches and snowbanks, with snow on the roads from sea level all the way to the ski area.

We skinned up a sumptuous uptrack, offering profuse thanks to the dozen or more snowshoers responsible, all of whom seemed to have spent the night in various snowcaves and tents at Artist Point. Stomping, cutting, poking and prodding suggested sufficient stability to justify looking into another largely unexplored (and wholly secret) area of glades and gullies, mostly in the 30-40 degree range. Dropping off the ridge, in one of those mysterious but undeniable wrinkles in the space-time continuum, we suddenly found ourselves skiing knee-to-thigh-deep, unconsolidated, low-density powder. From the start it was clear that this could only mean we had left the rainforests of our PNW home behind and landed, blissed out and full of glee, in some corner of the great state of Utah. I became suddenly prone to fits of giggles and yips (uncharacteristic of me, I can assure you); Miz L behaved similarly, while the elder statesman of our little group maintained a suitably statesmanlike demeanor throughout.

Of course, there was hell to pay when, having giggled and yipped our way downhill to a reasonable stopping- place, we turned around to climb back out. Oh my, yes. We had all taken downhill lines too steep to follow back uphill, and were left therefore to wallow and struggle, knee-to-thigh-deep once again, endlessly uphill. At first I entertained hopes of another run, but it soon became clear that this was not to be. A couple of hours later we crested the ridge, staggering slightly, and bid our little corner of Utah (and the best skiing of this season) farewell.

The avalanche forecast, which had not been posted by the time I left home, was for high danger, and this seemed perhaps only very slightly overstated. We skied more or less southerly slopes, and found some slabbing within the top several feet of the pack, but ski cuts at 40-45 degree steepness yielded only sluffs in last night's snow. On a northerly aspect along the ridge, however, slightly wind-affected snow propagated short distances and released easily on a relatively mild slope (~30*), and there is clear potential for large avalanches, with several obvious slab layers and bedding surfaces within the recent snow. Your mileage, as is often the case, may vary.

Enjoy.

Mark

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january-27-2002-utah-mt-baker-backcountry
ema
2002-09-11 16:45:57