March 8, 2020, Chair Peak Circumnavigation

WA Snoqualmie Pass
Posted by ixchestr on 3/16/20 10:30am
Chair Peak Circumnavigation 3/8/20
Izzy Majcher & Jack Roten

Izzy: We arrived at the trailhead at 7:15 and got our start on trail at 7:30-7:40. This was a much timelier start than our attempt 2 weekends ago, when we arrived closer to 8, and due to delays in getting our gear prepared, weren't able to start until closer to 9. We made good progress on the first flat section of the tour and made our way to the flat before the real climb by 9.
Jack: Low avalanche concern and fair weather spirited our early start and speedy progress out to Source Lake.

Izzy: The climb up to the Thumb Tack was quick going at first, though we ran into a few sections that were challenging to skin given the conditions of a thin soft layer over a thick crust. However we were able to make it to the Thumb Tack by 10, so it felt like we were making good time. After reaching this same point two weeks ago at 12 and being turned around by whiteout conditions, this felt like undeniable progress.
We paused there for a short break and snack, and ran into my friend Josiah, who told us he was going to paraglide down to Snow Lake.
Jack: After several lessons on how to not fall down the hill when my skis slip backwards, Chair Peak came into view. Seeing a group of mountaineers attempting the climb up Chair triggered my optimism and gave inspiration for the boot pack up the last stretch to the thumb tack.

Izzy: We were able to see a group of climbers attempting Chair itself (you can see them if you zoom in on this picture).

Another small group coming up the other side of the ridge joined us and we did a small boot pack further up the ridge together, before doing a small skin to the middle of the face. We paused for a moment and watched Josiah descend in his paraglider down over the ridge and out of sight.
Jack: As I gazed upon the precipice of our predetermined boot pack up the ridgeline and beyond, thoughts of teetering on knife edges gave wind to the butterflies in my stomach and when Izzy asked what I thought, that single ounce of optimism left in me said, “It's definitely less steep than what we just booted up”. Although it was in fact slightly steeper, the foot holds were as true as a staircase, and the ridgeline that followed was less a knife edge and more of a pleasant skin track which skirted gentle descents to Snow Lake.

Izzy: We had an amazing run down to Snow Lake through surprisingly deep powder. I don't have a picture of the actual line we did, but this view from the Thumb Tack demonstrates how good the conditions were. This was definitely the stand out run from the day.
Jack: After watching Izzy's friend Josiah float slowly down towards Snow Lake, my initial feeling was jealousy for his flight, but after transitioning to ski and beginning our descent, that was soon forgotten. Soft snow, well adhered to a strong base layer, begins a technical way to describe the snow and run, but a better way is to say the snow made you feel weightless. Freedom gradually opened its gates with each successive turn. We kept left and passed through the couloir.

Izzy: We paused for a moment at Snow Lake to enjoy the beauty and perform our first transition back to skinning. Snow Lake itself looked amazing and we could see people camped on it, which definitely looked tempting. Now that we were warmed up, the skin up to the next high point felt much easier.
Jack: Looking back up the hill and out on snow lake I couldn't help but bask in the warm sun and the joy of the run passed. After snacking up with pretzel pop tarts and a bagel sandwich, we continued on up toward Melakwa pass.

Izzy: We down-skinned a short hill to Chair Peak Lake, and ended up sloughing off a small layer of wet snow (this aspect must have gotten a little more sun than the other hills we had skied up to this point). It was another short 30 min trek up to Melakwa Pass. We paused there and a
snack and a cider, before doing a short, ~5 min traverse-descent to Melakwa Lake.
Jack: It was worth down skinning the short descent to Chair Peak Lake and as we traveled across the lake tranquility soothed my bones to peace. Skinning up to Melakwa pass our fair weather conditions tended to overcast as we set fresh tracks for the day. After snacks the gradual traverse allowed me to take in the landscape as it passed by.

Izzy: By this time the clouds had come in a bit and the weather had gotten a bit colder. We kept looking to our left and tried to see where our line up was going to be and hoped it wasn't where we thought it was … it was.
Once we could see our line to the top, we tried to skin up, but here it was again rough conditions for skinning. Much like points on our climb up to the Thumb Tack but worse, there was a short layer of fresh snow over a thick crust. I attempted to skin up but ended up boot packing it with Jack and making our slog up the final ~1000ft of ascent. At one point I attempted to skin again and was beat down once more. My binding wouldn't fully close and after 5-10 min of frustration I gave up and decided to continue bootpacking.
Jack: From Melakwa Lake our skin was short lived as the slope angle increased and the snow firmed up. I ejected early and started the boot pack up toward Bryant peak. A test for the wills, we followed the pattern: kick-step, kick-step; repeat ten times, rest, all the way to the top. The best way to climb these climbs for me is to not think about how far away the end is.

Izzy: Once at the Bryant Peak col, we took our final rest and drank our second cider. A party caught up to us while we stood there and after thanking us for breaking trail with the boot pack (which Jack had led) we commiserated about the final climb. I discovered the source of my binding problem and ended up scraping a solid block of ice off from under my binding with my car keys, which finally allowed it to fully close.
Once we were ready to descend we hopped into the couloir (me with my skis and boots still in walk mode and wiping out as a result). It was a short but fun run. There was some decent snow on the sides but also plenty of icy surfaces to go around. Once near the flat at the bottom we booked it to the car and ended up being able to keep up momentum and stay high enough to avoid any sidestepping or duckwalking the final cat track, which was a strong plus at the end of the day. We made it back to the car at about 7.5-8 hrs from departure - not as fast as I'd originally hoped but also not terrible given the number of breaks we took as well as moments of subpar skinning conditions. Overall, a great day and would have been worth it if even just for the ride down to Snow Lake!
Jack:  One last cider before the final drop in, one last descent. Overcast skies set the tone for tired legs taking on soft crud inside the Bryant couloir and side slipped base below. We made our way through the col and out, me taking on the hotdogging-like ski form popular in the 70s to celebrate the circumnavigation/ because of tired legs. As we passed Source Lake and onto the twisty return track through the trees of Alpental Valley I said a personal farewell to the peak, the passes, and all the fresh snow we were lucky to ski. 7.5-8hrs of fun to reign in my first circumnavigation and the first completion of a challenging route. I think it's time to plan more bc trips!
Nice job you two and great write up! Loved the 2 person perspective,  especially the bit about freedom opening it's gates. Seems like you took the time to really appreciate what that route has to offer. One of my favorites for sure. Thanks for posting!
2020-03-17 01:10:00
Nice pictures!  We exchanged a few words at the top of the Chair N shoulder - it was a good day to be up there.
2020-03-19 20:28:00

Good report, it was nice to see you below Chair Peak Izzy! Paragliding video is here for anyone interested: 

2020-03-20 20:44:00

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2020-03-16 17:30:05