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November 17, 2001, Twin Lakes, Mt. Baker b'country

WA Cascades West Slopes North (Mt Baker)
Posted by ema on 9/16/02 10:51am
Touring possibilities have been seriously truncated by the recent rains here in the land of smiling salmon:; much of the formerly abundant early-season snowpack has long since washed into the Pacific, while access to a lot of prime high country was abruptly shut down by the state DOT, which is curiously reluctant to clear the heavy snowfall and massive slides on the North Cascades Highway. I admit to feeling surprisingly glum for someone who's skied each of the past 6 weekends, though not nearly as glum as those waiting for the ski areas to open.

Two of us consider touring possibilities while cruising up the Mt. Baker Highway early this morning. My partner is driving, sometimes pulling over abruptly to wave various maps around, pointing and gesticulating and speaking emphatically. I sit in the passenger seat, breaking in periodically to lay out the elaborate conclusions I've drawn based on the skeletal (and wholly inadequate) information gleaned from certain weather-related websites. We turn into the Canyon Creek Road, then pull back out on the highway. Up the Twin Lakes Road to where it is blocked (around 3000 feet) by a gargantuan chunk of fallen tree. Ok, back down to Canyon Creek. No, back up the hill to the fallen tree.

We boot up the road for a mile or more and a thousand or so vertical feet. Patches of snow appear, first along the verge, then covering the road: old, refrozen, chunky stuff covered with an inch of dry powder. There is steady snow at the bottom of the switchbacks, 4100 feet, followed by deeper snow, and deeper still. At Twin Lakes (5200 feet) there is about three feet of old snow, with several inches of very appealing powder on top. We choose a SE facing line on Winchester Mountain for our first run, and push uphill. My partner, the Pellastova Demon, is again on light, flimsy and in many respects wholly inadequate gear, including bindings which feature tiny, insignificant-looking metal pins to hold boots to skis. I am on my accustomed K2's, mounted with enough manufactured metal products to sink the average aircraft carrier.

We turn around at the ridge, 6000 feet, in 4-5 inches of really nice powder over a perfectly adequate base. A bit of surface hoar gleams on the surface; the lakes sparkle in brilliant sunshine far below; snow-covered mountains are lined up to the horizons in all directions. Life is good. My partner makes ready the camera, and I start down the first, steep slope, sinking into my first turn.

Next thing I know something decidedly weird is happening to my left ski, and almost instantly I am tumbling oddly, skis hanging from their leashes. I come to rest after rolling once, and I begin to take stock. Both release plates let go, ok. One binding heel lever also let go, and the full binding is sitting in the snow near me still attached to its TRP plate. Never seen that before. Interesting. All body parts are apparently within their normal functional range. Ah, here's the problem: the toe plate on my Chili cracked and ejected my boot from the binding. It takes a good twenty minutes or more to figure out a way to duct tape the binding into serviceability, insert all the variously released bits and pieces into the appropriate slots, grooves and orifices, and start the slow, sad kick turns and traverses through the powder down to the lakes. I dare not do anything abrupt for fear of bursting the tape holding me in, and it takes a while to descend. The Pellastova Demon -not a bad sort, really- is kind enough to make some minimal effort to hide his glee at the quality of the skiing and the variety of the terrain....but I can see it in his descent when I briefly look up from my long, straight traverses across the bowl and through the glades. Near the bottom I hazard a few turns at slow speed on approximately 10 degree slopes. The duct tape is stretching, and my left ski vacillates unmistakably when I direct it one way or the other. Best to go easy and resume the traverses; I've still got a thousand feet of steep, narrow, bumpy logging road lined with rocks to descend. Again I ponder that slender little pin that attaches my partner's boots to his skis.

By all accounts, the skiing was quite good: turning sticky where the sun got to it, but still powdery in the shade. There had been some small slides, in addition to some interesting snow-creep-cum-slides, during the rains, but everything seemed quite worry-free today. Lots of nice terrain up there, and the forest roads are driveable to near 4000 feet, which offers interesting backcountry possibilities for the coming week. One hopes, anyway. There is more rain as well as more snow in the forecast.

On the way home we stopped at the just-opened-for-business Glacier Ski Shop, which was happy to pull a Cobra binding off the shelf for me, discount it generously, and send me home happy. There'll be more skiing next weekend, right? If you're looking for me, I'll be the one with the massive metallic scrap heap attached to each ski, and the huge roll of duct tape on each ski pole.



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2002-09-16 17:51:13