Magic S Loop
Yesterday I did the Magic S Loop in 6 hours from the end of Cascade River Road.
Last year when I did the Monika Traverse, Allen and Ingmar did it the very next day and absolutely destroyed our pace (20 hours vs 14.5 hours). It's not like Dan and I had illusions of going anywhere near that pace, but something about someone doing the exact same route in the exact same conditions just way faster really fired me up. I don't know if there's much better than the gift of motivation so thanks to Allen and Ingmar and especially Allen's writeup for starting me on a worthwhile journey.
Doing the Magic S Loop was the culmination for me of a season of learning how to go lighter and faster on skis. I didn't go full skimo, but did go lighter than anything I've ever owned (Dynafit Blacklight Pros). But I knew that going as fast as I wanted would take more than just a new pair of skis, and it was hard at times to stick with the project because of the fear of failure. But I also kept improving and having a ton of fun and knew that the prospect of "failure", i.e. not meeting completely arbitrary expectations, was worth it.
6 hours could be handily beat by any number of talented skiers in the area but it's a time I'm proud of and I certainly wasn't capable of it last year!
The play-by-play goes something like:
- Started at 4:30 AM. 20+ cars at the park boundary... but once past the Eldorado trailhead I did not see a soul until my way back in the afternoon when I ran into a couple of hikers on the road and a mama and baby bear.
- I brought the grocery-getter e-bike for the road which was helpful for the first couple miles but then it couldn't handle the steeper grades. A couple downed logs and shallow debris piles also slowed me down. I'm not sure if I would bring the e-bike next time, it didn't help as much as I thought it would and it sucks to heave it over trees.
- At 5:30 I started skinning up to Cascade Pass. Getting up to the pass was pretty easy. I booted up a snow slope to about 10 feet of pushing through alders to reach the upper slopes (the Cascade Pass direct route).
- The wind was blowing all day. In the morning it made this beautiful lenticular cloud that streamed through Cascade Pass about 100 feet above pass level.
- Which meant that by the time I got to the Cache Glacier I was in a whiteout until after Kool-Aid Lake. But grateful to not be roasting alive like the last couple of weeks!
- Booting up the Plan B couloir, buffeted by winds, with the north face of Spider hanging behind me felt pretty wild. A true North Cascades position.
- The S Glacier was a little slushy and slow. Well, most of the skiing the whole day was a little slushy and slow.
- I topped out above the Yawning Glacier at 5:15 (10:45 AM) and realized I had a chance at sub 6 hours so I booked it the rest of the way. My legs were burning pretty bad on the ski down from Cascade Pass! There is a steep hanging snow slope that connects upper and lower slopes into the basin, it is still quite robust and will stay in for a while.
- Arrived back at the road at 11:30 and chatted with a friendly local who lives on Cascade River Road and hikes up throughout the year to watch the JBerg pocket glacier calve off. Every year with less ice remaining at the end of summer than the year before. It left me with a feeling of gratitude to spend a day among these ancient creations whose time is coming to a premature end. One day, the North Cascades will grow glaciers again.