Home > Trip Reports > May 5, 2002, Sauk Mountain, N. Cascade foothills

May 5, 2002, Sauk Mountain, N. Cascade foothills

WA Cascades West Slopes North (Mt Baker)
Posted by ema on 9/9/02 9:33am
For some reason it's gotten very difficult to convince my regular ski partners to join me in skiing fresh, soft, light powder recently. One wasn't feeling well, another had a prior engagement, and yet another actually claimed a preference for a trip to Yakima (!) this weekend, though I did not fall for this obvious lie. Once again I had an entire mountain to myself today (although three snowboarders showed up briefly on a sled, then left after filling an acre of hillside with giant landing craters).

Sauk Mountain is a steep little hummock only 5500 feet high, just outside the illustrious town of Concrete; it is a small mountain with BIG avalanche tracks. A logging road provides access; it took just over an hour to drive there from Bellingham (all the good citizens of the Skagit Valley were probably in church or at home watching Sunday morning cartoons; the roads were deserted). In Bellingham it was drizzling slightly; in Sedro Wooley spitting rain; in Hamilton pouring; in Concrete a deluge of biblical proportions. On the Sauk Mountain road, however, it was snowing at 2000 feet, the road blocked around 2500.

I left the road to climb directly up the first avalanche chute starting around 3200 feet. It was clogged with an astonishing amount of debris, which appeared to have come down wet during the past week, dropping 2000 feet or more off the summit face. I intended to traverse along a less-than-precipitously-steep bench above 4400 feet, passing under the steep face where the summer trail is located, circling around the peak to climb the obvious SE trending ridge or continuing around to the bowls beyond. Most of the exposure faced west, and would therefore be less likely to have accumulated fresh slab in the current storm. But as I traversed I found that each little micro-terrain feature had collected its very own windslab pocket, heavily crossloaded by shifting winds. These got more pronounced as I continued across under the face, and I began to feel uncomfortably exposed. I stopped to consider, then carried onwards, then stopped again, got an unmistakable premonition that this was the wrong place to be on this day, turned and traversed back.

I settled instead for a couple of runs between 4500 and 3500 feet, dropping through open bowls, glades and narrow gullies. The fresh snow was about 8 inches deep over a firm base, and although I did not fully enter the fabled white room I did manage face shots on every turn, again helped by an upslope breeze. Ski cuts released loose sluffs on slopes steeper than 40 degrees, releasing on the refrozen crust at the base of the storm snow. I did not try anything steep, and I stayed out of crossloaded features and anything else that looked wind affected. My terrain selection has become more conservative since my recent lesson in decision-making process.

On my last run the sun poked out a few times for five minutes or so, which was just long enough to turn some of the powder into a gluey mess below about 3700 feet. Another 5 or 10 inches is due tonight, and if I were as ambitious as some on this board I'd be out there at first light in the morning, tracking up powder which will by then approach knee-deep. I'd definitely watch out on anything steep or wind-affected, and I'd be prepared to whoop and holler at high volume.



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2002-09-09 16:33:59