Granite Mountain Bivvy & Ski

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Kaleetan & Chair Peaks in the background

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The lookout with Rainier

Don’t get excited, I know everyone loves a good ah-shit-I-was-stranded-overnight story but this was an intentional bivvy. I was having a hell of a day. Around 6pm JT texted out of the blue. “Wanna go sleep on granite?” I mean… yes? But I’m anxious. Should I stay here in case Google answers my emails and there is a real issue, I’m still stuck getting access to this freaking API which I wanted to have by Monday, I still haven’t finished my taxes, I need to clean, my tabs are about to expire, oh god the panic set in and then was exacerbated by all of the big picture concerns that get dredged up when I’m in a bad place. My two best friends moved this morning, my other best friend is still dead, I have a mortgage to pay and what if I never save enough money to do anything ever again besides fix my house, what if I take 6 hours to get to the top of Granite and I forgot how to ski? Kacie called me to straighten out my manic state and I left the conversation 30 minutes later confident that Granite was the right choice. I’m in. I’m packed. Are you ready?? I’m ready. Let me know when you’re an hour away. Come on come on come on!

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Not so bad sidehilling (PC: JT)

I ranted for the entire 60 minute drive (in my head, alone in my car, you’re welcome). I was hoping anger and frustration would carry me up the mountain, but by the time I got to the trailhead I was just exhausted. It didn’t matter. I didn’t care. I was just going to be head down, one foot in front of the other until my ass was on top of that ridge looking up at the stars in my cozy bivvy and then I’d take a deep breath of air and remember that the majority of things that stress me out don’t matter and it’s just a matter of perspective. Perspective that has been difficult to get the past few months, whether it be because of work or weather or conditions.

  • Distance: 9.5mi round trip (incl. West Granite)
  • Elevation: ~4600ft net gain (5,600ft highest point)
  • Weather: 20’s and clear overnight, 50’s and clear during the day
  • Commute from Seattle: 60min
  • Did I Trip: Basic trip on flat ground followed by a ski wipeout also on flat ground an hour later. Don’t get complacent folks
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The ridge in the dark

We started up the trail, which was snow free for probably two entire miles. From there it turned into some uncomfortable sidehilling, fighting with skis and boots caught in trees trying to balance on said uncomfortable side hilling (you’re like 2′ wider than you usually are when the boots are sticking off of your skis too), and oh yeah we were wearing running shoes. It’s a delicate balance, trying to rip skis through branches while not slipping or committing to the point where you stumble.

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Bedtime! (PC: JT)

Once we got above treeline, JT broke trail and took off. Which was a relief, because screw skis snagging on trees, screw my soppy wet feet, screw the cold, the highway is stupid, it looks like it’s the same distance away all the time so we’re making no progress, it better not rain, and why is it always longer to reach this ridge than I think it is. This brought us back to our regularly scheduled evening programming, where JT is mostly a headlight dancing in front of me and I moan in my head until we get there because my bedtime is at 9 and for some reason I’m dragging my ass up a mountain at 11pm instead of sleeping. And I wasn’t sure if I still had feet. They were there somewhere, numb stumps becoming one with the ice in the darkness. At one point I figured JT had disappeared over a knoll, until I heard his voice 30ft in front of me. He had turned off his headlamp to get a better look at where we were going (that sounds like the opposite of what you should do, but your eyes adjust to the darkness and there’s usually enough light above treeline to still see shapes) and probably could have scared the shit out of me if he had waited just a few seconds longer until I was closer.

The ridge was almost a knife edge, which was wild in the dark. Abyss on both sides, though in the morning it turned out the height was not nearly as significant as it seems in the darkness. We debated camping lower than the lookout on a flat piece of ground, but I figured a) there has to be some flat around the lookout and b) I didn’t come this far to camp 50 feet below the top. ONWARD.
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Sunrise, Mt. Stuart in the back

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Beginning the crusty traverse to W Granite

Just behind the lookout and before the cornice was a flat spot. Home sweet home, baby. I set up my two sleeping pads. One has a sneak leak that I haven’t found, so I brought a second for extra insurance so I didn’t end up chilling my body like a sushi roll on the ice every 45 minutes. I tore off my socks and stuffed my feet into the sleeping bag, suddenly coming to the realization that I had entirely forgotten ski socks and was stuck with my dank (not the cool dank), soon-to-be-moldy athletic ankle socks. Well, shit. Put those suckers against your skin or you’ll be even less happy in the morning. I dozed off in my now soggy ass clothing, happy I had brought the 0 degree bag and smiling to myself at the fact we had pulled off a 9pm ascent of Granite and I was away from people and work and responsibility beyond staying safe where we were. Do you ever have those moments where you feel like you are exactly where you’re supposed to be? That’s how it was.

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Looking back at Granite

We woke up briefly for sunrise pics, went back to sleep and lazed around until 8ish, when we decided we’d do a lap on West Granite before the snow on Granite was soft enough to ski back to the trailhead (or to the trail, with our sad snowpack). We followed the ridge down Granite, through some trees, and up to the summit of West Granite, also known as Tusk O’ Granite, I believe (a way cooler name). It might have been the first time I had worn crampons all season. Holy crap. We soaked in views, dreamed of skiing Kaleetan, and set up for a ski down to the basin between Granite and it’s Tusk.

The ski ranged from crust to mush to 1″ corn on crust. Nothing terrible thuogh, and overall quite fun. Cramponing back up the slope to gain the ridge back to Granite was less than phenomenal, though it was good to get back into the rhythm of crampons on fairly steep snow, especially crust where you can’t kick nice bucket steps. I was so dehydrated. I hoped I was getting a tan.
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Kaleetan & Chair over Tuskohatchie Lake

Back at camp we packed bags quickly and skiied the ridge to the gully. We debated skiing the way we had came up, which is the summer trail, where most hikers/snowshoers were. The gully looked way more fun, I was just scared of it because of all of the horror stories. But the snow up high was bulletproof, and it would be a pretty quick ski, and definitely well within my skill set. We took off and made a few turns, tucking over on a ridge where a party of four was skinning up.

Just before that ridge. we set off three loose wet sloughs. Yeah, they were sloughs, but I got stuck in one of those once and arresting with skis on your feet is a BITCH. And these ran probably 800+ft, basically to the bottom of the snowpack, through a narrow funnel at the bottom of the gulley. So… that was all of the red flags I needed. I took off the skis. I was booting the ridge. I can’t even put into words how disappointing it was. I’m finally good at skiing, we have this beautiful gully, I can even do it with a huge overnight pack… and we waited just a little too long and everything got just a little too warm. Every step set off more sloughs, but on the mini-ridge I was at least confident that nothing big would go (the snow on the ridge was shallow) or stick me in a terrain trap. We were back at the trail way faster than it had taken us on the way up.
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Trudging our way back up to the ridge

We switched back to our soggy shoes (at least my soggy shoes, JT’s were waterproof) with maybe a mile and a half of trail left, and cruised back to the car marveling at how loud the highway was and how it never seemed to actually get closer, not unlike how it never seemed to get further when we were on the way up. But finally I caught a glimpse of yellow through the trees, yes! My car! Which has SOCKS! And dry SHOES! Oh, the simple joys of clean footwear.

I used to think that driving home during daylight hours meant you wasted daylight and should have gone farther and done more, especially on a beautiful weekend. But I still had adulting to do, we already spent more time skiing than expected, and it would be good to be home by 2. All things considered, I’m incredibly lucky to be able to sneak in a 15hr trip on demand like that and go from sitting at a desk in Seattle to sleeping on top of a mountain in the Cascades.
Oh, and as soon as I got to Seattle I turned right back around for a SAR mission, so there wasn’t much adulting done on Sunday.
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Kaleetan, Chair, and the Leham/Summit Chief group on the far right

Table Mountain Circumnavigation

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Brad skins up below Shuksan, Artist Point in the background

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Looking up at Table Mountain

I’m sure there will be a collection of winter turnaround short stories and half day might-as-well-get-out trips, but I figured I’d start with the first successful (as in “wow look where we are!!!”) trip this winter. There’s been a lot of resort skiing, a trip to Costa Rica, some weekends where I couldn’t drive the hill in front of my house and skied the 48th St Couloir in Fremont instead of touring the backcountry… and then this weekend happened. Short and sweet.

 

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Baker! Brad scouts out a traverse route

Surafel was fresh (6 weeks?) off a major surgery and ready to get back at it. Brad for some reason had no plans. I was resigned to staying in town to work, but then decided to stick it to the man because when did the expectation change to assuming I’d be available on weekends? That’s not my modus operandi. Especially on one of those unique weekends where there’s powder and blue skies in the winter. And the slopes are like an adult playground and the snow is widespread enough for car to car instead of carrying the damn sticks for 6 miles each way before skinning and did I mention it was sunny and the days are getting longer and the skies are blue? Yeah. You bet your ass I’ll be there.

So we met late (by our standards) at 7am at the Lynnwood Transit Center. We almost lost Brad, who parked on the weird side instead of our normal side and also jumped when my car rolled because we were on a slight incline and my car is manual. Surafel had a banana for breakfast, Brad forgot to eat the muffin he had packed, and I didn’t bring breakfast because I’m too impatient and ready for action. Who needs food anyway.
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Brad’s awesome pic of Shuksan being a beaut

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Heading towards Ptarmigan Ridge

We drove up to Baker, stuck in the clouds until halfway down Baker Highway. Surafel had to rent snowshoes because he forgot that I, too, might own snowshoes he could borrow, or perhaps Brad, another grizzled outdoorsman. We finally broke into the sunshine, and everything was oversaturated and the sky was bright blue and the mountains were all white and we were ooh-ing and ahh-ing staring out the windows. Every switchback on that road was fantastic, I just kept laughing looking at Shuksan. It doesn’t get old. We freaking live here. And it’s been so long since I had a sunny weekend in the mountains, wow standards were low.

The skin track was icy, and the fact that I did a shit job trimming my skins did not help. Like really shit, like ashamed that I walked into REI 10 minutes before closing and said “oh I don’t need you to trim my skins hurr durr” because then I slashed off like half of the bottom of one of my skins and now a solid 12″ strip is only 1″ wide. But whatever. Problems for future Eve. We followed the ski/snowshoe highway to Artist Point, where we debated whether to continue and I groaned about how I forgot that I hate people, and boy were there people at Artist Point.
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Baker and the Seven Layer Cake

The people may or may not have been a factor in my decision to continue. On one hand, the snow was more stable than I had expected. On the other hand, I hadn’t been out in winter in a while, I’m a wimp, I’m good at psyching myself out, and I felt bad leaving Surafel behind. But Surafel insisted (he’s too nice) and Brad was pretty familiar with the area, so Brad and I took off into the silence of snow covered mountains and skied the traverse over to Ptarmigan Ridge (after wallowing in powder because I can’t transition without taking my skis off my feet). At the bottom, we switched back to skinning in a patch that had been nicely stomped down by some good samaritians ahead of us, and took off towards the ridge, where I waited for Brad to take the longest open-terrain bathroom break in my life. I thought he had broken a binding or something but no, just really, unbelievably hydrated. Unlike some of us.

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Looking back at the pass we came from

We skinned along the ridge for a while, enjoying the otherworldly views, aiming for what we were calling the Sydney Opera House or the Seven Layer Cake. It was a wild formation of cornices that looked like a sea shell or a fungus, and the Portals we were originally aiming for were something like 2 miles beyond it. Dammit. Classic winter underestimation. We figured that was a long shot and we didn’t want to get back after dark or leave Surafel waiting for hours, so we decided to ski down into the valley below and head up and out on the other side of Table Mountain if we could, assuming it would be the popular Table Mountain Circumnavigation. We scouted a skin track on the opposing slope from up high and committed to the descent.

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Coming back up to the opposing ridge

It might have been one of the best runs of my life. Only a couple hundred feet, but the type of powder that just makes you giggle the whole way because it’s so fluffy and beautiful and the “wshhhhhhh” surrounds your skis and i’m not a good enough skiier to deserve this. We skiied as far as we could and then started to traverse back towards Table Mountain, which took us across our first sketchy slope of the day. Shaded (new) and near tree line (new), even though it was a similar aspect to a piece of microterrain we had just skied the feel was completely different. Within a few steps we noticed the difference, but still kept going. Luckily it was short, but it was not where I wanted to end up, and I wish we had skinned back up to more mellow terrain. Good reality check that you should constantly be aware of changing conditions and new characteristics. We dropped into a river gully and popped out on the nice comfortable sunny side of the valley where I admired the shiny round white ass of someone taking a dump 50 yards away. Ah, the joys of the mountains.

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Almost at Austin Pass, Baker and the clouds setting the mood

We passed doody dude and avoided eye contact, skinning uphill through trees a ways before breaking out into the Chain Lakes Basin, where we had a glorious skin across a frozen lake with Baker in the backdrop and the first evidence of an actual avalanche all trip. It was a small debris field and we were well out of the way, and took our time crossing the lake soaking in views before skinning up to Austin Pass. We caught up to a group of four, who I innocently asked “are you doing the full circumnav?” “Yeah, full Table Mountain Circumnavigation, it’s been amazing!!” via which I confirmed that we were, in fact, on the trip that we thought we were on. The snow had changed to dripping, sun-loaded slush, but we were in the trees and the skin track avoided the steeper gullies on either side. At the top of Austin Pass we admired one last glance of Baker behind us, Shuksan in the sun in front of us (Homer Simpson drooling = me) before skiing a disappointing, surprisingly crusty run back to the shady base. After lamenting the loss of my brand new snow basket (RIP lil buddy) we found Surafel at the car, who had ravaged my backup snacks like an animal and eaten all of my candy.*

We devoured burgers and beer and bottomless hot chocolate on the way home to wait out the ski resort traffic. It was amazing to be back in the mountains, and I was stoked we pulled off a pretty classic half day tour out of nowhere and stoked that Surafel was back out. He even swore he’d never touch snowshoes again after a romp around Paradise last year, but it’s like a marathon, you forget the pain eventually and want to do it all over again. Bring on the spring season. My body is so not ready.
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Surafel’s awesome photo of Baker. Good thing we left him for several hours

*Just kidding, he only ate a reese’s peanut butter cup/kit kat hybrid.