March 15-17, Chiwaukum traverse

WA Stevens Pass
Posted by kamtron on 3/18/20 9:01pm

Jack, John, and I did the Chiwaukum traverse from South to North over the last three days. Conditions were quite good, although there was enough fresh snow to make us concerned at times. This was a really cool route that takes you through spectacular high terrain. I haven't done many other traverses besides the Forbidden tour, and like that one it feels like you're taking a mostly moderate route through big terrain.

Okay so the details: We left Seattle reasonably early to drop a car at the White Pine road below the Swath. Luckily there was one spot left for us in the plowed pulloffs. Then to the Icicle road (after trying and failing to find decent breakfast food in Leavenworth, cursed virus) where to our surprise the berm had been plowed! We were able to drive to within about 2 miles of the Chatter creek trailhead on firm snow and parked the car off the road on dry ground.

Coverage throughout proved to be nearly ideal. From our parking spot, we skinned the road and nearly the entire Chatter creek trail, walking only a few short sections. From then until we skied back to our car to the North, we would travel almost entirely with skis on.

As we climbed Chatter creek, we observed plumes blowing off the peaks above, a sure sign of high winds. The snow we skinned on was dry powder, so we knew it would be moving with the wind. After one false start stymied by fat wind drifts, we found an okay route to gain the pass to Index creek drainage. An amazing but short descent on perfect protected powder took us to a camp among the larches just across the pass.

We set up Jack's mid and enjoyed beautiful sunset colors on Icicle ridge.

The next morning after brewing up and drying off the ice crystals on our bags, we skinned towards Cape Horn. There was a dead hare that had been killed by some kind of animal. We saw only the hare's tracks but could see claw marks from the struggle nearby. Wolverine? Fox? Eagle? I'd love it if someone knows.

From the next pass, we could see our next stage looming ahead: A big rising traverse through the S Fork Chiwaukum cirque.
2020-03-19 04:08:00
AWESOME! Way to get way out there!
Nice one!
Pretty exciting coming across that hare. Interesting how much wasn't eaten.
2020-03-19 04:12:00
The next descent was also amazing fluffy powder! I couldn't resist taking it a bit farther than optimal for traversing.

From our low point, we skinned and briefly booted up moderately steep slopes with small trees to gain the high cirque. I was somewhat apprehensive about this traverse, as I knew it faced East and we would be underneath slopes that could threaten us (and we were above cliffs). However, in retrospect the terrain is wide and only moderately steep. In any case, we made good time on the mostly flat traverse and had no issues.
2020-03-19 04:14:00
Once across the cirque, we decided to climb Snowgrass peak, as described in the Volken et al. book. This is a nice ski summit from the SE side. I was leading at one point and noticed the snow stiffening into a slab and felt a "whoomph" near a rock. Luckily the slope was low angle, and I changed directions to avoid the more blasted snow.

The 360* views from Snowgrass were spectacular! We actually watched a party of 2 or 3 skiing down into the S Fork Chiwaukum drainage behind us. Care to chime in on how your trip went?

We decided to ski the N bowl from near the summit. It is a lot steeper than I expected from the book description. Looking at the snow, we could tell it wouldn't be great skiing, but it looked scoured enough to be safe from avalanche. I thought it was actually fun, but Jack got off-kilter on some grabby snow and briefly went for a slide. Luckily, he was able to arrest somewhat with his poles and get his skis back under him. He came kind of close to some rocks but seemed in good spirits anyway. Way to go Jack!

The moraines at the bottom of this slope were partly melted out to rocks and ice, which I was able to sidestep through, but Jack took his time and walked down. We all brewed up here and looked at the SW face of Big Chiwakum.

At first, we had thought the route would take us up this side, but reexamining our beta told us to head up a gully right above us. One of the coolest parts of this part of Snowgrass is the crazy rime features on the summit and ridges around it.
2020-03-19 04:22:00
After crossing through another portal, we found ourselves atop a large, shady, and imposing cirque that drains into Glacier creek. From here, the brief description we had said to "maintain elevation", so we skinned northwards before getting stymied by steep terrain, backtracking, and making a descending traverse for a bit with skins off. This got us to the E buttress/ridge of peak 7804. The snow in this cirque was a lot more wind drifted than we had encountered so far, and we were on edge. We could tell there was very steep terrain and likely cliffs below us, the drifts were waist deep in places, and from the ridge above loomed cornices. After poking a bit farther and feeling not stoked, we decided to turn around and look for another way. (We turned around where the SE edge of the glacier begins on a map of that area.)

It was getting late and without being able to complete the high traverse, it wasn't looking like we'd make it to our intended campsite at Larch lake by sunset. We skinned back nearly to the pass we came through to avoid steeper, more wind-loaded terrain, and then took a long descending contour and skied mellow pow slopes down to lake Charles. That was the consolation prize we needed, plus a totally flat and awesome campsite at the far side of the lake.

I felt kind of fried from the stress of decision-making and was slightly upset with myself for not bailing on the high traverse earlier. But it worked out, we skied pow, and after eating our fill and drinking a mini bottle of tequila and getting a "moderate" avy forecast on the InReach, I at least felt a little better.

The low traverse ended up being much more chill, as we didn't have to deal with sketchy deep drifts. We could see the full extend of the gnar that we had tried to traverse above!
2020-03-19 04:38:00
We skipped tagging the summit of Big Chiwaukum since we knew there'd be sunny slopes to get through and we didn't want to be in the line of fire later on. Skiing down to Cup lake was really good for a few turns before it got wind-jacked but still okay down low. Pic is of mega Jack shredding with Baker, Sloan, and a number of other peaks in the distance.

The N fork Chiwaukum drainage had more mega traversing in store. We skinned briefly through a peaceful, shady forest to link two two large descending traverse that took us to the bottom of our final climb. This was an easy skin and a short boot through 4" of corn atop a firm crust. As we climbed, a cornice fall and some small wet loose avalanches came down from the nearby Middle Chiwaukum which confirmed our plan to get this slope done with early. From the top of a shallow pass, we skinned a beautiful flat bowl with larches to the top of North Chiwaukum.

We brewed up on the summit, sent texts to love ones (and sprayed on the 'gram), before taking a lovely flat cruise to the top of the Swath.
2020-03-19 04:46:00
None of us had ever skied the Swath before. Standing on top, we could tell it would be a killer run in stable powder! But, unfortunately, it looked like what we had in store was more wind slabbed nastiness. We had encountered ski tracks by now and could see nice looking turns below. So we followed the tracks down the NE ridge of "Swath peak" into the forest and down. The ridge itself was sort of technical skiing, and the other guys walked down some. At one point, it looked like one of the previous skiers triggered a large avalanche when making a turn on the loaded side. We descended without incident and found ourselves in a tracked-out but killer pow run down to the logging road!

There were a few more shenanigans (road cuts, flat skating) to get out, but wow was it a joy to be able to glide straight to the car!  Retrieving the car wasn't an issue although the Icicle road was much slushier than when we arrived.

It was a Cascadian adventure without the customary brush-thrashing and dirt walking we all know and love. Definitely a cool route that I'd love to get more time on, maybe ski it N->S in Spring. In retrospect, if we'd known that we were going to take the low route through Lake Charles (which gets you another good descent), we should have taken the pass to the E of Snowgrass and skied directly to the lake.

Hope you enjoyed the writeup!

Gear wise, we had a megamid, two jetboils, 3 medium gas cans, ice axes, ski crampons (didn't use them), and the usual camping gear. It seemed like we nailed that. The InReach was a nice item to get updates and keep loved-ones up to date.
2020-03-19 04:54:00
Nice one Kam and co, have always wanted to check that out!
2020-03-19 13:56:00
Thanks for one of the best TRs in a long time!
2020-03-19 14:58:00
This a GREAT trip report and photos. ;)

I like breaking up the report and only 3 photos for each section. Yes, many folks can add more photos BUT breaking up the sections was great.

Thank you .
2020-03-19 15:23:00
Great report, what a way to start the traverse season! That shot of the hare is gruesome, if it was a wolverine I doubt there would be that much left.
2020-03-19 15:39:00
Beautiful, thanks!
2020-03-19 16:22:00
Early spring in Vermont... The TR rocked the day with the pics and tales. Keep on skiing!
2020-03-19 16:56:00
T. Eastman
super Solid and Good decision making
2020-03-20 02:42:00
I second that "one of the best TRs in a long time" :-) Sounds and looks like an amazing trip, love that blue sky...
2020-03-20 16:40:00
Sweet! Way to go guys. That's a route I'd love to ski too. Good choice skipping the Swath for the exit.
2020-03-20 19:58:00
Thanks for all the kind words, everyone
2020-03-22 03:13:00
2020-03-25 03:58:00
I guessed hawk but the pros say it might have been an owl.  Snowshoes are more active at night. Both kill snowshoes, dont eat much, and cant carry more then a few pounds. If it's too heavy, they eat their fill, then come back until they can carry it, or someone takes it.  In the photo there is a slight imprint of a wing. And a little where the feather tips drifted across the snow. Snow isnt packed down from a land predator.

Thanks for sharing!
2020-03-26 04:12:00
The Real TAY is still alive!
Thanks for sharing such a cool trip!👌👍
2020-03-26 14:00:00
author=alecapone link=topic=42784.msg167251#msg167251 date=1585195950]
I guessed hawk but the pros say it might have been an owl. Snowshoes are more active at night. Both kill snowshoes, dont eat much, and cant carry more then a few pounds. If it's too heavy, they eat their fill, then come back until they can carry it, or someone takes it. In the photo there is a slight imprint of a wing. And a little where the feather tips drifted across the snow. Snow isnt packed down from a land predator.

Well-spotted wing imprint, I see it now. Thanks!
2020-03-27 18:24:00

Index creek sunset powder

Testing the new TAY site. John took this video of our first run of the trip. Nice snow and evening light

2020-04-07 21:34:49

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2020-03-19 04:01:20