March 3, 2002, Coleman Pinnacle, Mt. Baker

WA Cascades West Slopes North (Mt Baker)
Posted by ema on 9/10/02 11:35pm
After last weekend's pig wallow north of the border it seemed just as well to stay closer to home this weekend, so six of us wandered out Ptarmigan Ridge past Coleman Pinnacle and had our way with the north-facing terrain there. This particular company consisted of four of us old farts and one old fartette, together with one robust and strapping young man (who smoked us all on the downhills but tended to lag towards the back of the pack on the long climbs, often competing with me for my accustomed position at the far rear). Skies were startlingly blue, visibility limitless in all directions, the air generally soft and friendly and the views sublime.

It has now been over a week since our last notable precipitation, a major rain-on-snow event which we prefer to think of in terms of its very beneficial densifying effect on the snowpack (which now consists of over 200 inches of approximately 90% water content, hard-frozen ice). At 4000 feet, remnant powder sprinkled liberally with death cookies covers a raincrust capable of supporting-should the need ever arise-Sherman tanks or armored personnel carriers. At 6000 feet, however, there is buttery, thick powder almost knee deep, quite stable and of a perfectly even consistency. At that elevation on north aspects the skiing was very, very good. Of course, on all other aspects the snow ranges from breakable crust through windslab to dirty water ice. Terrain selection is key.

On our return trip along Ptarmigan Ridge, determined to head home in a blaze of glory, we decided to ski up and over Table Mountain. I do not at this time recollect whose idea this was, nor what sort of undeniably persuasive arguments were advanced in support of the concept. Apparently, the clincher for at least one of our members was a promise, convincingly presented, that there would be no breakable crust encountered on the downhill run. Fortunately, there was no breakable crust: there was, however, approximately 800 feet of heinous avalanche debris, piled deep, frozen hard and covered with a couple of inches of obscuring snow in the flat, late-afternoon light. It was ungodly brutal: linked turns were replaced by single stepped-teles, followed by kick turns and traverses, followed by gingerly sidestepping....followed, at least in my case, by near-total paralysis. It probably advisable to stay away from such slopes until covered by a minimum of three feet of fresh snow. I myself will hold out for four.

The powder up high seemed, as mentioned, stable and well-bonded. Lower down, where rain or melt-freeze crusts had formed within the pack, there were pockets of slab which released easily on ski cuts. There was a lot of slide activity during the rain event a week ago, with extensive avalanches on mainly north slopes to size 3, but for current activity I noted only some wet, loose point releases from sun-warmed rocks. Given the widespread crust on all but north aspects, there will be reason to be cautious once it starts snowing again tomorrow night.



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2002-09-11 06:35:28