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May 6, 2003, Mt. Baker Backcountry

WA Cascades West Slopes North (Mt Baker)
Posted by markharf on 5/6/03 9:50am
Most of the folks I normally ski with have moved on to other pursuits: gardening seems to figure prominently, as does riding bikes, barbecuing animal flesh in backyards, and watching basketball playoffs.  Today I met up with someone with whom I'd never skied before, a potential partner in all the spring skiing yet to come.  Over the phone, she had claimed to be old, tired and out of shape, which immediately set off all sorts of alarm bells in my head; I've discovered that people who make such claims can generally run circles around me without even bothering the simple courtesy of pretending to be breathing hard.  In this case, however, it was apparent within ten minutes that she was, at the very least, quite tired and extremely out of shape.  We skied for a few hours on a few moderate slopes before parting, whereupon I went gamboling off in search of more challenging venues.  

I had a real hodgepodge of a day, skiing between 4000 and 5800 feet elevation on all aspects, in and out of sun, clouds and light snow showers.  Above 5000 feet on open southerly slopes, good firm corn is covered with 3-5 inches of fresh snow, offering very good turns.  Below that elevation and in partial sun, various forms of crust prevail, mixed randomly with mush of varying depths and stickiness.  Above 5000 feet on north aspects I found snow which I would not quite call powder....but which, being not excessively wet or sloppy, certainly skis somewhat like powder, especially on steeper shots€”40 degrees or so and up.  Great fun.  Other aspects offered their own mixtures of crust and slush: corn season is not quite here.

Stability was good wherever I went, although this would change pretty quickly in full sunshine.  Glide cracks are everywhere: down low, hidden in the trees and up high on filled-in cliff bands.  Some look pretty threatening.  My actual experience was reassuring; given that there was little bright sun, nothing slid on my ski cuts until I hit one slope down low that measured about 50 degrees.  It sluffed its new snow on my first turn, then another 5 inches or so of old, wet corn on my second.  This would be worth keeping in mind.  Snowpack is about twelve well-consolidated feet at 5000 feet elevation.  

The Mt. Baker Highway was blessedly free of traffic both coming and going, and the little town of Glacier is full of relaxed, smiling residents.  There are fat, complacent deer grazing on road shoulders late in the day, and the logging roads are melted out to 3-3500 feet.  No one seems in any hurry to see summer arrive.  



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2003-05-06 16:50:39