Home > Trip Reports > October 14, 2001, Squak Glacier, Mt. Baker

October 14, 2001, Squak Glacier, Mt. Baker

WA Cascades West Slopes North (Mt Baker)
Posted by ema on 9/16/02 12:59am
Two of us meet along the interstate early Sunday morning (fog, drizzle, darkness), ready to ski. We drive to the Schreiber's Meadow trailhead off Highway 20, then sit in the front seat for a while, sometimes peering out the windows at the gloom, sometimes opening a door to poke an arm out in the rain. We make a lot of useless comments designed to stave off despair ("I think it's lightening up a bit; I don't think I could see those trees a few minutes ago," or "Feels like it's getting colder; the snow level's probably dropping."), or to defend against unduly hopeful, upbeat or optimistic tendencies ("Could stay like this until mid-April for all we know. Shoot, last year it never even snowed at all until early December, and even then it mostly rained.") I get out and wander over to the large and luxurious pit toilets, then studied the posted maps and trail reports, read all the notices twice. My partner fumbles around until he finds the recliner lever on the seat, gets comfortable and ready to take a nap.

Then, without preamble, a couple of blue spots appear in the sky. Visibility improves, spirits lift. We shuffle our gear, discuss certain important philosophical questions (60 feet of 7mm line, or 120 feet of 9 mm? Stove for melting snow, or extra water? Ice axes, or self-arrest grips?), shuffle some more, and go trudging up the trail. As soon as the parking lot is out of site, the blue sky goes to wherever blue sky commonly goes, and it starts drizzling again. More philosophical discussions about this. Bits of snow along the trail below 4000 feet. Steady snow on the trail above 4000 feet. My partner is carrying unreasonably lightweight, floppy, waxless skis and wearing NN-BC boots; he puts them on, dances a little jig (it is possible that I imagined this part), and cruises happily up the trail. I am carrying giant, stiff skis, massive releasable tele bindings, plush climbing skins and huge plastic boots. My back hurts and my legs are tired, but I hide this as best I am able, pretending that I am happy to be carrying this additional 25 pound load uphill through the slush. We break out of the woods into an area of steep, snow-covered heather, and I hunker down to put on boots and skis. Suddenly we're skiing, it's mid-October, and life is good.

Every ten minutes the weather does a total reversal, from miserable to perfectly tolerable and then back again, but we continue trudging uphill along the ridge. Heather gives way to moraine, slushy snowpack deepens to 8 or 10 inches, and the Squak Glacier comes into view, horribly receded, melted out and crevassed. I am totally impressed to see rock where recently was snow, giant gaping crevasses where just a short time ago was smooth ice and snow. We climb a line along the glacier's edge through a small cornice above Crag View and prepare to descend. Above us, what is usually safe and skiable is slotted and weird. This sure has been a grievous year for snow and ice. On the other hand, skiing is pretty good, for a rainy weekend in October: 8-10 inches of consolidated (that's a euphemism for "sopping wet") fresh snow over old neve, smooth and slick 20-40 degrees, for about 800 vertical feet. Then 500 feet of half-hidden morainal rocks under 7 inches of snow, followed by 500 feet of lumpy heather under 5 inches....then a bunch of close-spaced saplings in 4 inches, a narrow trail descending through old-growth with 3 inches, followed by sections of pine needles, then deadfalls, then gravel under a meager inch. I take my skis off and load them on my pack, but my partner has long since shot off into the distance down the trail. Judging by his track, he's leaping over the gravelly streambeds and hydroplaning through sections of waterlogged pine needles at a high rate of speed. Eventually I find him, sitting by the trail, swaddled in a lot of clothes as if he's been waiting for me for a long time. He is polite about this, but cannot resist mentioning how pleased he is to have chosen such appropriately light and maneuverable gear (glancing disdainfully at my great and unwieldy load). I am obliged to suggest that his obvious advantage in skill, athleticism, experience and positive attitude probably contributed greatly as well. I threaten to denounce him publicly to the gear junkies on www.telemarktips.com. This seems to shut him up. We reached the parking lot under mainly cloudless skies, fall colors blazing orange and yellow. I skied a couple of thousand vertical feet, my more appropriately-equipped partner rather more than that. Altogether, this was a very reasonable first ski for the emergent season, informed in turn by pathos, bathos and a touch of the sublime.



Reply to this TR

2002-09-16 07:59:08