Jim Hill Mountain Ski Tour

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Gaining the north ridge of Jim Hill

I think I can honestly say that this is the first trip I’ve had that was about the skiing and not the summit or the views or anything else. We debated many trips, but settled on Jim Hill, a peak I had heard about for years but never checked out. We saw it from Rock Mountain a month or so prior, and I had always kind of poo-pooed it thinking there were better things to do. But we needed a day trip, didn’t want to trailhead camp, did want sunny blue skies, and settled on the Stevens Pass area. Jim Hill it was. Skiied 3/25/2018.

  • Distance: 5ish miles?
  • Elevation Gain: 3400 (6400 highest point, we didn’t summit)
  • Weather: 40’s and sunny, 40’s and cloudy, 30’s and snowing
  • Commute from Seattle: 2hrs without traffic
  • Did I Trip: Some backsliding while skinning but no faceplants or tumbles
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Lanham Lake

We arrived at the trail around 8. Problem was, we had planned on starting up via Henry Creek, but couldn’t find parking anywhere and I was too lazy to figure it out so we just parked at the Stevens Pass Nordic Center and went up via Lanham Lake. Lanham Lake is a popular snowshoe, and we made quick work of the 1.5 miles to the lake. I stubbornly left my heel risers down as long as possible before finally caving and putting them up, only to have the trail flatten out. So I walked in basically high heels for another few minutes before putting them down, only to encounter another hill around the corner. I grumbled and put them back up again as Robert sang Jack Black parody songs behind me.

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Almost at the ridge!!

At the lake, we crossed the outlet stream to the east and started switchbacking up through the woods. It was a surprisingly steep skin trail. Whoever was ahead of us had great balance, or just determination, because it was a few inches of fresh snow on top of an icy crust. I was hoping the other side would be a nicer ski out, because I knew immediately I wouldn’t have fun skiing the trees down to Lanham Lake.

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Robert coming up the ridge

We got sneak peeks of the views to the south as the trees opened up, and finally I saw blue sky ahead! And rays of sun! Yes!! I whooped as I gained the ridge and broke out into snow covered trees and spectacular blue sky all lit up by the sun with the open slopes and glades below Jim Hill begging to be skiied. Oh my god. Robert hurry up. Look what we can do. I relented and agreed to have a snack, I can’t run on stoke and pride forever.

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Weather moving in

We followed the skin track up the ridge. To my dismay, weather was already moving in. We knew it was coming, but it wasn’t supposed to get cloudy until 11am, and no snow until the afternoon! Yet here was a wall of precip coming towards us. Ah, shit. Visibility deteriorated, I decided I didn’t want to tag the true summit because it was steeper than I had expected and the northwest slopes felt totally windloaded. We decided to ski back the way we came, and once we hit the ridge we’d drop into the north basin and ski out via Henry Creek.

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Visibility didn’t get too bad!

We transitioned to downhill mode and dropped onto the softest, lightest, most glorious powder I have EVER skiied. My sample size is small, but these were easily the best backcountry conditions I had ever seen. We carved two feet of powder, maybe more, whooping and hollering the whole way. It was an absolute dream. We went one at a time to be sure we liked the snowpack, and damn it was perfect. We came to a stop near another party, who was going back up for more. One more? Worth the hike? Hell yes!

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Neat textures up high

Since visibility hadn’t gotten as bad as we expected, we skinned right back up for round two. It almost got sunny (“partly sunny” is often how these days are described even though you’re mostly looking at the inside of a ping pong ball) but the light never got too flat. This time we started higher up and earned ourselves an extra 200ish feet of turns, and it was worth it so many times over. I dropped in first knowing Robert would catch up and we could just party run it (everyone at once instead of one at a time). This time we kept going to the bottom. From wide open alpine slopes to open glade skiing threading the needle between sparse trees to slightly more dense trees I mean seriously I wish this run had gone on forever. We finally hit the only patch of bad snow, which was sloppy grabby crust that I did not enjoy. But I still made it through without booting it.

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Robert shredding the north bowl. Two tickets to pow town!

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One more with moody clouds

And from there, we had some survival skiing (slide slipping on ice, dodging thicker trees, the works), some split-board-skiing (Robert’s actually quite good at it), some forest road cruising (soft and enjoyable), and a short highway walk (sorry mom) and we were back at the car just as it started to snow and visibility was officially shot. So on one hand, we had awesome timing. But on the other hand… we definitely could have gotten in a few more laps, and right now sitting on my couch I wish I was back up there. The sound of skis slicing through champagne powder is like the sound of rain on a tin roof. There’s just something soothing about it.

Yakima Skyline & Umtanum Falls

 

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Walking near the “summit” of the Yakima Skyline

2 people, 4 knees, 3 MCLs. This trek was deemed Operation DUSTAFUBK, short for Drive Until Sunny and Try to Avoid Fucking Up Brad’s Knee. The B is silent. Brad tore his MCL skiing a few weeks ago, but was going too stir crazy to care, so we found ourselves at the Eastgate Park n Ride at 6am on Saturday. Originally Surafel was joining us, but we received a 3am message that he was in the ER, and no, this would not be like last time where he got an IV and joined us a few hours later, good as ever.

  • Distance: ~9 miles for Yakima Skyline to Gracie’s point and back, 3 miles for Umtanum Falls
  • Elevation gain: ~2700 between the two hikes
  • Weather: 60’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:45 with no traffic
  • Did I Trip: On Yakima Skyline, no. But Umtanum Falls made up for my graceful past few months with 1.67*10^198 trips, slips, skateboard slides, wipeouts, and assplants.
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Another hiking party ahead of us

We started driving. I made Brad drive because I’m an asshole my car either has a gas leak, or is a liar and the broken gas gauge is making the check engine light turn on.* The car was packed for just about every mountain activity, we pulled up a few options and figured we’d drive until the weather was acceptable. The pass was 48 and rainy. Ew. Keep driving. Cle Elum was fake sunny where the weather says sunny but actually it’s overcast and hazy. Keep driving. Wait, stop at the only gas station with no snacks in the entirety of Cle Elum first and use the slowest gas pump known to man. Okay, now stop at a gas station with snacks and a faster gas pump. Okay now keep driving. No snow left? Okay, so I guess we’ll just hike. To Yakima!

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Brad with Yakima in the background

The last time I hiked out by Yakima I was amazed at the sun and the air smelling like sage and the rolling yellow hills. Well, the sage is all dead, so that sucks, but the sky was still blue and the hills were still rolling and yellow and it was around 60 degrees, so it basically felt like May. We chose Yakima Ridge, a mellow hike that is host to a 50k race in early spring, and wow I can see why.

The trail gains elevation slowly but steadily up to the “summit” about two miles in, where you can drop down behind the ridge to continue on to Gracie’s Point. The trail splits around 3 miles in and you can either follow it to a 4×4 road (supposedly, didn’t look like much of a road to us) that wraps a bit west and tours the grassy knolls, or you can stay right which keeps you closer to the ridge. Instead of heading straight up Gracie’s Point the trail wraps around to the north side before following a series of fence poles to the top, where we took a long break to destroy some Wisconsin cheese curds and summer sausage and (in my case) excessive amounts of peanut butter.
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Looking behind us

We had taken the 4×4 road up, so we took the ridge trail back. Rainier and Adams looked incredible when we started hiking, but Adams was slowly swallowed by low clouds rising to meet a growing lenticular, and Rainier was gradually engulfed in dark mist and an angry wall of weather. Sweet, keep reaffirming that we made the right choice. We took a short break at the car to enjoy the sun, and decided what the hell, we’d keep driving to check out one of our other hike ideas.

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Dead sage

Our other hike idea appeared to be on private property. The gate was covered in maps and a sign for Discover passes and a sign reminding everyone to close the gate behind them, but it also had a sign that said “no public access.” So we kept driving. We found a dirt road that I realized would bring us all the way around Umtanum Ridge and back to the north end of Yakima Canyon road, so we took it! And halfway down that road, we found a perfect 2 mile round trip hike to Umtanum Falls. Great idea!!

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Wildlife!! (Photo credit Brad)

Well, the hike was completely iced over, and yours truly had only brought sneakers and mountaineering boots. And I left the boots in the car. So I was in my 2012 running shoes, which it turns out are mediocre at best on ice. So we slipped and slided all along the trail, finding game trails and social trails higher on the slopes to avoid the icy ground next to the river. Longest. Mile. Ever. Luckily everyone else was a dumbass like me and only had sneakers, so I fit right in. We made it to the falls, Brad went around to face the waterfall and I waited at the top. I had expected it to be a hike where you walk up to the bottom of the falls and are staring right at it, but you’re actually at the top looking down on it, with the option of scrambling down to the base. I stood, wiped out while standing, and waited for disasters to happen while Brad and two other hikers checked out the view facing the falls. I think SAR has ruined my invincibility.

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My view of Umtanum Falls

We made it back to the car well before dark without any further wipeouts (I think, if I remember correctly) and finished our rogue lap around Umtanum Ridge. The drive back over the pass was still a gross 48 degrees and pouring rain. I saw I think two people on the Snoqualmie slopes. Props to you guys. I cannot imagine this has been a good year for the ski resorts.

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Brad’s view of the falls (photo credit Brad)

So I have slowly been expanding my list of sunny places, and Yakima Skyline is an easy hike even for wobbly knees if you need an escape. I hear the wildflowers in spring are fantastic too, though we aren’t quite there yet. I’ll have to check our Selah Butte when those flowers finally spring up, though – it’s across the canyon from Yakima Skyline, so instead of staring at those freaking cell towers the whole time you’re under the cell towers and can pretend they don’t exist.

*Check engine light has since turned off so… problem solved? If you ignore your problems they go away right?