Mt. McCausland Ski

 

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Bish coming up from the saddle with Lichtenberg in the background

Guys I swear I’m still here. I have just been boring the past few weekends months, with SAR training (going well) and a WFR class (went well) and some lazy Sundays (did not go well, I was bored by 8:30am) and some ski lessons (okay, only two). But finally, a weekend where I was free, weather was good, avvy conditions were good, and shit, I hadn’t been backcountry skiing AT ALL yet. I had two days at Stevens Pass, where I falsely inflated my own ego because groomed runs are wicked easy. So I needed to be humbled. And humbled I was, thanks to an old favorite, Mt. McCausland! “Skiied” 1/14/2017.
  • Distance: 9ish miles?
  • Elevation Gain: 3,300ft (5,700ft highest point)
  • Weather: Single digits and sunny! Dreamy!
  • Commute from Seattle: 1:45, unless roads are frosty/snowy/covered in spun-out cars
  • Did I Trip: I wiped out on skis many times and one time hugged a tree to save myself
  • Rough map (from an old meetup post) for McCausland (north peak) and Lichtenberg (south)
We were planning more ambitious peaks (I had them listed here but decided I’m not going to tell you because I’m selfish and sneaky) but unfortunately, some of us overslept. Which was okay, because Bish only had boots (no skis or snowshoes) and we had decided to #BootforBish (come on that’s adorable) and our original plan would have been a true trailbreaking sufferfest.
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Finally off the road!

We were going to meet at 6. I woke up at 5, rolled over, said “meh” and hit snooze. I texted JT asking when and where he was meeting Bish, who I thought was in Seattle. Woke up again at 5:30. No response from JT. Hit snooze. Woke up at 5:40. Shit, I didn’t actually text JT, I just dreamed that I did. Okay, I actually texted JT. “ETA… 6:30.” Okay, well now I’m up, so I’ll… have…. tea…? “ETA…. 7.” Well if they take that long I could go to the cafe that opens at 7… “ETA…. slow.” Hell yes, cafe time. So I left my apartment, ice axe in hand, and went to the cafe, where I sipped my earl grey looking not unlike Seattle’s homeless population fabulous.

JT and Bish pulled up around 7:40, and we brainstormed alternatives. I pitched Lichtenberg and McCausland off of highway 2, knowing it was a much shorter drive than the original plans with less elevation gain and less navigation and a large chunk of the travel would be on a road. Bish and JT agreed, and we went to seek out a pair of snowshoes for Bish while JT and I piled ski gear into the car. Woo! We took off, found some snowshoes thanks to Haley (who lives in Florida as of yesterday and will not be using those snowshoes), and soon enough were at Stevens Pass.
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Snow tree curls

2 degrees is what the thermometer said. We piled on all of our layers, no skin visible, eyelashes and snot freezing, and started skinning. I lasted about 15 minutes before taking off the first layer. Another 15 minutes before I took off my second layer (three puffy jackets was excessive) and JT ditched his puffy layer. By an hour in, we were all down to one or two layers.Toasty warm, except for my camelback, which was frozen. The Day of Dehydration had begun.

 We followed the usual winter route, which follows a valley heading southwest from the second switchback in the road (the furthest switchback to the west). From there, we were on snowmobile tracks for a hot minute, and finally were on our own breaking trail. I laughed as we left the snowmobile tracks behind. “First day of the rest of the season!” Time to learn how to suffer again.
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Bish in the trees below Lichtenberg

But when I saw we broke trail, I mostly mean JT. I think I broke trail for like 200ft. Dammit. And it wasn’t exactly challenging terrain. But that’s okay, gotta start the season somewhere and I was feeling good. We followed a snow covered creek up to the saddle between Lichtenberg and McCausland overlooking Lake Valhalla, and set our turnaround time at 2pm. We don’t often do turnaround times, but we wanted a true day trip, so we figured we’d see what happened. I was sick of being in the trees, needed a snack, and was very thirsty. Grumpy Cat was back.

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Doesn’t look so far from here right?

Hitting the saddle, I voted to push it a bit further to the top of a knoll for some good views before taking a break. As usual, we got to the top of the knoll and kept going as views opened up below us and sunny blue skies egged us on. “The trees would be easier but the face.. I mean the face looks more fun.” I looked up at JT. I had already said it earlier that day when JT chose the toughest path up a gully for whatever reason. “Why would we ever take the path of least resistance? Let’s do the face!” And JT took off making zig zags up the face while I snapped pictures of Bish coming up from the saddle with my recently-thawed camera. Well, almost thawed. There were still some blurry frost patches.

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Oh how I missed the Z’s

I quickly followed JT where I got the first true kick turns of the season under my belt. The wind scoured snow was scalloped and everything was almost blue in the light. I remember looking up at JT and just laughing. “I love this shit.” It had been way too long.
Mt. McCausland was one of my first hikes in Washington. Which basically means it was one of my first hikes ever. I didn’t know what a “scramble” was, and I hadn’t heard of Glacier Peak. Mt. McCausland introduced me to both of those, though of course now the legitimacy of the “scramble” label is in question. I also was worse at photography, which you might not think is possible, but believe me it was. Go see my old post for proof. No, I didn’t ever learn how to edit the sky in photos. Someday.
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Don’t say anything WHC

There was a very neat somewhat corniced ridge as we topped out, and of course we wanted to see Glacier Peak, so we ditched the skis and went to boot across it. That’s the mountaineering I’m used to. The summit register I had found two years ago(!) was likely under 8+ft of snow, so we didn’t even try. It was windy and frigidly cold up there. JT wanted pics of Bish and I across the cornice, but his hands kept freezing when he tried to take pictures, and I was miserably cold and bitching openly about it until I realized I was wearing my entire fucking pack which contained all of my layers. Duh and/or hello?! So like a wise man, I shut up, stopped whining, layered up and booted back to my skis.

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Finally at home

I’ll have you know I did not put skins back on my skis from the summit all the way back to the car. Yeah you heard that. I strapped the skis on, jumped off the top, took a sweet turn, and immediately wiped out. Overconfidence at its finest. Confidence newly destroyed, my next turns were true backseat skiing. I couldn’t handle the wind scoured snow, but as soon as we were on more mellow powder I remembered how to use my legs. Unfortunately, in the backcountry, you don’t get a warm up, and on peaks like McCausland, you don’t get much vert before you’re back in trees. And me skiing through trees is like this dog, except I don’t have the excuse of having a box on my head. I just slowly go in confused circles and hit everything.

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JT taking pics with frozen hands

Bish had booked it down from the top, assuming we’d catch up (I think he forgot that I don’t know how to ski). I finally stopped to have a mother fucking snack because I hadn’t eaten anything since those damn cheezits for breakfast in the car and I was getting hangry. Yes, that’s hungry + angry, if you aren’t familiar with the term. *Side note, honey stinger waffles taste way better frozen. And then I couldn’t figure out where Bish and JT had gone. I figured I’d follow the tracks we had put on the way up (there were a bunch of new snowmobile tracks now) and just holler every once in a while. Soon enough JT responded. Woo! We roughly followed Bish’s fresh snowshoe tracks. I finally had to boot it for 15 minutes through a steep section I remembered from the way up. Sam, we need you back. Booting is way less fun when you’re postholing hip deep alone.
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Patiently waiting on top of the world

I finally got to a place where I could strap the skis back on. The worst part about leaving the skins off is the uphill parts. There was one where I thought I could pick up enough speed to make it up the slope at the bottom, but didn’t quite get enough so naturally I tried to dive for it. Which didn’t go as planned, considering I was wearing skis. One got stuck on a tree, the other was on the opposite side of the small mound, and I was floundering unable to get traction in any direction. Luckily no on was there. They gave the newbie some privacy.
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Easy section on the way down where I could pull my wits together

I caught up to JT putting his skins back on. I refused, and kept moving. He caught up to me immediately, because we hit a 10ft steep hill that was very difficult with no skins and my level of coordination (very low). The trees were too close to sidestep. While I grappled with the slope, JT skinned up it and took off. Sucker, I got to fly down the road without skins and finally caught  back up to him and Bish, who has established himself as the fastest snowshoer I know. We told him by the end of the day he’d want an AT setup but I don’t know. Also, “fly” is subjective. I was like juuuuuust fast enough to just and and not need to walk.

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Turns out you shouldn’t jump off boulders if it’s a flat landing

We were approaching the car and JT made a good point. “I think this is the first trip we’ve done where we’ve been back before dark.” I thought about it for a minute and… he was right. Our trips have all been sufferfests, and this was a mild 6-7 hour outing that wasn’t rushed or stressful or anything. And you know what? It was amazing!! After so long not being in the mountains (ski resort doesn’t count) it was refreshing to get out even if just for a day. And to think that our casual trip was something I wouldn’t have thought of doing myself two years ago when I didn’t know anything about snow/avvy conditions or winter navigation. Damn I’m lucky.

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Bish coming up McCausland once more with Lichtenberg in the back

Oh, and we topped it all off with a free dinner at Haley’s house because she had cooked ham and potatoes and pretzel buns and had too much left over. I announced that the day had almost gone too well. Smooth trip, successful summit, back by dark without stressing or hustling, and a free yummy dinner. Everyone freaked and told me not to jinx it, we still had to drive back to Seattle and Tacoma. Spoiler alert: we made it!

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