Winchester Mountain Birthday Surprise


Here come the balloons! Baker peeks above the clouds.


Party ready! PC Ken

Yeah, we took over a lookout. I almost felt bad, but everyone around us was pretty nice and patient and there weren’t many people because the mountain gods decided to wrap us in fog. To make the colors really pop, I assume. Thanks guys.

Eva had planned this crazy surprise from scratch maybe two weeks in advance. Like two dozen people coordinating formal wear, balloons, blueberry tarts, carpools up one of the worst roads in the cascades, how to get everyone there on time despite everyone being chronically late… amazingly it worked out.

  • Distance: 3.4 miles (i know, it’s almost a personal record of shortness)
  • Elevation gain: 1300ft (not too shabby for 1.7mi)
  • Weather: 40’s and partly sunny?
  • Commute from Seattle: 3hrs with no traffic
  • Did I Trip: Not today

Blueberry break! PC Ken

I got to the meeting spot at 9:45. Everyone agreed to meet at 10. They all went to the Wake and Bakery (heh) beforehand, but I was out of cell service so I assumed they were wrapping up and moments away. But then it was 10, and then it was 10:15, and then Emily rolled up so at least I had company, and then it was 10:30… and finally everyone was there. We shuffled gear into the cars of those willing to take on the burden of driving to Twin Lakes, and headed off to the trailhead.


The procession of the balloons

My car had about 40 balloons, which I figured would be enough to float us to the top. But it wasn’t, and that meant we had to actually face the road. Turned out the road isn’t technically that bad, just some small washouts. The scary part is the steep drop and the fact that it’s one lane. And I didn’t want to back that shit up (back up that shit?) in my manual transmission xterra, which, as dope as it is, doesn’t even like reversing uphill in a city. I need two gears for reverse in that car. Amazingly, we only had to pass two others, one that was a little spicy with like 3″ of space (Emily was like uhhh don’t go any farther this way…) and one where Emily and I both laughed and cheered because we passed them on a nice wide beautiful switchback. And suddenly we were at the trailhead!


Each balloon can lift ~14g, so they helped a bit with pack weight

It took a while again to get everyone organized (party decorations, balloons, kids, dogs, debating turning cars around to hide obvious bumper stickers that would give us away) and finally we were on our way. I stupidly signed “EVE – PARTY OF 12” in the trail register. Thankfully, Eva had the foresight to guide Stephen away from the register so my idiocy didn’t give us away.


The procession!

Meanwhile, we scampered (slowly) up the trail, taking blueberry breaks, pictures of everyone with their balloons, making bets on whether we’d have any views at the top. We got to the lookout and started setting up. Splitting up helium balloons (which don’t float as well at 6000ft because of the lower air density), recruiting the kids to blow up normal balloons, taping streamers across the ceiling, hanging up birthday signs, putting out the alpine blueberry tarts that Becka made, eating everyone else’s snacks because my snacks were mediocre at best:

  • A crumbled honey stinger waffle
  • A bag of muddy buddies grabbed at a gas station on the way to a SAR mission months ago
  • A salami wrapped around a cheese stick I didn’t know I had (aka old)
  • A quest bar I didn’t find until later
  • Some Peter Rabbit baby food (emergency sugar)
  • Espresso clif shot (emergency caffeine + sugar)
  • Pride and also Shame with a dash of Embarrassment (what I ate on the way up this time)
  • PB2 dust(???) in my pocket??? Basically pocket sand

My favorite on the balloons

Yeah, I hadn’t been out since like mid August. I wouldn’t have starved but I mean… I’d need a certain level of desperation. Anyway, we finished up the decor just as Eva topped out, a few minutes ahead of Stephen. We scrambled to get the last of the balloon inside, eventually shoving them in the door and closing it while we tried to get the strings loose (I can untie them!! Wait! I can’t untie them!! What happened to the strings?! DOES ANYONE HAVE A KNIFE?!” I dodged inside worried Stephen was coming around the corner and snuck the knife to Eva, who finally cut the balloons free and turned around innocently just as Stephen crested the final incline.

I am still like a child playing hide and seek, suddenly I have to use the bathroom but I know it’s just the anticipation. Don’t turn around. Don’t make eye contact. Stephen of course immediately starts heading in the wrong direction. No don’t look. We hear Eva trying to corral him towards the door. He finally turns around like okay fiiiine i’ll look inside first.


Cheryl helping with streamers

“SURPRISE!!” Those bastards going rogue, we had agreed to say happy birthday! At least, everyone except me seemed to be on the same page, and that page said surprise and I had just missed the update memo so I said more like “hhhhhhaaPRISE!” Stephen just goes “oh, hey guys??” and we can see the wheels turning. “Oh there are lots of you!” “Oh oh wow you even decorated!” and we’re all laughing and clapping and HE HAD NO IDEA. I figured he’d at least have a feeling he was getting into something, just not the full scope of what we had pulled together. But he was completely clueless.

We had blueberry tart, whipped cream, whiskey, champagne, sang happy birthday with Eva on ukelele, and caught up on just how Stephen had no idea. He said everything suddenly made sense. Why Eva was waking him up early. Why Eva was rushing him out of the house. Why Eva dodged the trail register. Why Eva was dragging him up the trail so fast. I can’t believe the numerous WHC stickers (and bright yellow car) didn’t give us away. I was worried they’d even catch up to us, because we were pretty behind schedule too!! But everything went smoothly.


Balloons make it easy to find your friends

We eventually took down the decor and headed back to the trailhead, stopping along the way for formal photos. Eva and Stephen do this thing where everyone brings up formalwear and changes into it at the best viewpoint, and we found a great outcropping on the way down that wouldn’t block the whole trail but also had a perfect backdrop. We froze in the cold and the wind in bare feet and semiformal dresses but it was totally worth it for the laughs and the pics. And we were still back to the trailhead before sunset, which is great, because it meant we could drive the shitty part of the road in daylight, instead of hugging the road next to the abyss for 2.5 anxiety inducing miles.

Great day, great company, and even the long drive didn’t bother me (it helps having company – thanks Emily!!). The days like this are just as good as the crazy climbs and runs. Happy birthday Stephen!!


HAPPY BIRTHDAY STEPHEN! (don’t judge by this streamer THE REST WERE PERFECT)

P.S. I used a couple of Ken Poore’s photography. They’re easy to spot in this post. You can tell by the way that they are. By which I mean they’re brighter, sharper, and better composed than my poor phone’s attempts at making clouds look okay. You can see the rest of his (more epic) work here:


Royal Basin & Mt. Deception


Anita coming around a glacier boulder, Deception on the right


Wildlife by Royal Lake

Hooooly crap, this was a good one. You know sometimes everything just falls into place last minute and your mildly half-assed plans actually work out? That’s what this was. Like 24 hours in advance Anita mentioned she was going to Royal Basin, which I had always wanted to do as a trail run. And some dude had done Mt. Deception earlier that week, so I knew it was in decent shape. And that would be a cool day trip too. Maybe I could run up early in the morning, meet her, and climb Deception? She was stoked when I suggested it, and I decided I’d head up late Sunday night after Marmot Pass/Buckhorn and camp with them so we could get an early start. “What are you wearing?” she asked. “Some yuppie lululemon outfit” I responded. My climbing pants have a 6″ hole in the butt [insert asshole joke]. “No, I mean for boots!” Oh, duh. A real gear question.

  • Distance: 20mi ish
  • Elevation: 5500ft (also ish, highest point 7,788ft)
  • Weather: 50’s and partly cloudy
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30 without traffic or ferry delays (ha!)
  • Did I Trip: No, I’ve gotten very good at walking

Flat beautiful trail to Royal Basin

Mt. Deception is the second highest point in the Olympics, which I didn’t know until we were done climbing it. It is one of the largest piles of chossy shit I have ever had the pleasure of touching, and it was mostly covered in snow when we did it. I have strong feelings about this. I would not have enjoyed it if it hadn’t been snow covered. But snow meant some steep snow, some 3rd class scrambling, and a more mountaineery-feeling experience than had we struggled up a one-step-up-slide-half-step-back-god-damn-scree climb.

Anyway, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. I had driven from the Marmot Pass trailhead to the Royal Basin trailhead and was rallying to knock out another 8 miles and meet Anita and Zee at their campsite. I assumed the trail would be flat soft dirt, easy cruising. I had also assumed that the Marmot Pass trail was one mile down the road from the Royal Basin trail.

Royal Lake with mist in the morning

I was wrong on both counts. There is a Marmot Pass trail close to the Royal Basin trail, but it is not the trail I had taken to get to Marmot Pass. And as for the Royal Basin Trail once I did get there, well… the first two miles were nice soft flat easy cruising, and particularly beautiful in the dappled afternoon sunlight. But after that it’s rocky, uphill, sometimes overgrown, there are mosquitos, devil’s club, spiderwebs to fight through (you know how I feel about that – spiders fine, webs nooooo), and a surprising amount of elevation gain, though usually gradual. And carrying an overnight pack still isn’t pleasant, especially when you did a 13mi hike right before it, and I was not too enthused every time I rounded a corner only to see more uphill, or opened up the map only to see I was somehow only 500ft closer than the last time I checked. Views finally started to open up and I got glimpses of Deception. Shit, I’m going up that? It’s sooooo far.


This used to be a lake! Heading to the Upper Basin

But I was making good time, and soon enough I heard two hikers. And one voice sounded familiar. Same accent, same tone, a guy dragging behind her… that’s gotta be Anita. I jogged up to Zee and said hi, just as Anita turned around and saw me. And we had a nice running hugging reunion, we hadn’t seen each other in months and holy shit I was so happy to have company for the last mile of the hike so it wasn’t me vs. my mind for another half an hour. And it guaranteed I would find their campsite and not be walking up to random tents in the dark “are YOU Anita?” “are YOUUUU Anita?” “Is ANITA in there?” and blinding everyone with headlamps while I stumbled around exhausted about to give up (which may have happened before).


Upper Royal Basin

We found a great campsite just northeast of the lake. I crashed in my bivvy almost immediately (after panicking at two things: the recently updated forecast, which showed overnight showers – not great for a non-waterproof bivvy and down sleeping bag and the bear poop like 15ft away and I was between the poop and Anita’s tent, aka I’d be the first bear burrito that evening should the bears decide we smelled delicious). Eventually it didn’t matter because I was unconscious by like 8:30pm and if it did rain, I didn’t even notice.

We got moving around 8am. There is the alpine start (the offensively wee hours of the morn), the Anita start (mid hours of the morn but as late as possible), and the bonfire start (>11am). So 8 wasn’t ideal knowing we’d be slow, but I figured if we moved steadily we’d be fine. And it was partially on me and the fact it took me 20 freaking minutes to find the stupid pit toilets. Zee turned around on the way to the upper basin, and Anita and I continued. The basin is spectacular, almost like Enchantments lite. I can see why the permits are so competitive. That’s another thing, I got SO lucky. Anita had been fighting for permits for years, and here I am mooching off her hard work. And the main attraction over the basin is Deception towering over some small glacier tarns below a dying glacier. At the base of the slopes, we decided to take a rising traverse rather than risk the rockfall on the more direct route, so we started kicking steps uphill. And so it would be for the next few hours.

Anita on the way up

There were a few scree sections (“ugh, should I remove my crampons?” “Nope, back on snow in 50ft!”) a few loose third class scramble sections (“can i take my crampons off?” “No, back on snow in 20 ft!”) some steep snow (PERFECT conditions for bucket steps and a nicely plunged ice axe) some moats (there’s no way for them to not be awkward, would it help if we took off our crampons?) and a little more kitty litter scrambling (“can I take off my-” “no”) and we finally topped out at the col, marked with a stick to help differentiate from the myriad of other similar cols.

Here’s where the route was longer than expected. We dropped down some talus (loose, because this mountain is a crumbling POS, we’ve been over this) onto another dying glacier and traversed to the back ridge, where “can I take off my crampons” was finally answered with a resounding “YES!” and we rejoiced in the feeling of boot sole on rock instead of scraping metal. We traversed to a third ridge, which was a perfectly straight talus walk on top of the world followed by a short step of near vertical snow and a final talus walk (i’m so done with talus by this point) to the summit, where we sang and hollered and waved at Zee and marveled at the views. It truly was incredible. Long day of uphill, but high reward with the gorgeous scenery up there.

Pieces of steep snow

But we had to descend all of the shit we had come up. Getting back off the upper talus section was easy. Crossing the glacier on the north side was easy. Getting back up to the stick-marked col was easy. Then we had the only tricky part to contend with: downclimbing a few sections of pretty steep snow. Maybe 50 degrees. Face in, kick steps downclimbing. I kicked enormous steps for Anita, and luckily some cloud cover meant the snow wasn’t total slush. We actually made surprisingly good time, and these are the parts of climbs that are so singular, so focused, that everything else goes away. I had lingering stress from my old job and nerves around starting a new one, nerves around fitness after working weekends for so long, none of that matters when you’re on terrain like this.


Some 3rd class scramble

We even skirted most of the 3rd class scramble, with one awkward 4th class step either on a thin downward sloping slab or to hop across a moat back onto snow (pick your poison, I do think Anita’s route across the moat was better but I thought it looked sketchy from up high). From there, we cruised plunge stepping down moderate snow the entire way back to the basin after a short scree field! It was amazing! We found yaktrax prints at the bottom, I said I hope that’s Zee. Despite turning around earlier, it turned out he had rethought (almost went with “rethunk”) his decision, and gave it another shot. And I’m glad he did, the upper basin was phenomenal. We soon found goat hoof prints perfectly inside of the yak trax. They continued for maybe a mile, until we eventually found Zee, hiding in a patch of bushes from the goat that had been stalking him for literal hours. He did get an incredible picture when the goat got too close for comfort.



Mr. Billy Goat (credit Zee!)


Coming across the north face

We made it back to camp around 4. Zee went to get water (THANK YOU! I was so tired I did not want to do camp chores) while Anita and I changed our shoes and laid around a groaned. When Zee hadn’t returned for 20 minutes, we started wondering what was up. Should we be worried? Is he taking a nap? Maybe we should go look. And then we saw Mr. Billy Goat walk across the trail again, slowly, starting at us. “Zee, the goat is back!” Anita shouted. And then we hear Zee’s deep grumbly voice. “…I know.” We burst out laughing. He couldn’t get away. It’s okay, Mr. Goat will be extradited to the Cascades any day now if he hasn’t been helo-dropped there already.


Anita coming along the final ridge

I hung out until 5, and then packed up my bags to start the slog back to the car. Anita gave me a brownie for the way out (THANK YOU! For feeding me! Everyone fed me this weekend!) and I started on my way, where I was immediately blocked by Mr. Goat. God. Dammit. I tossed a rock and whined. I just wanna go hooooome mr goat pleeeease let me pass! He eventually ambled over to the side of the trail and I darted past. Anita made a bet that I’d be back at the car by 7:30. I thought 8. But she had given me a goal, and I made it back at exactly 7:30. Even took a selfie to prove it.


One last push to the top! Mystery in the background

Huuuuuge thanks to Anita and Zee for adding me to their Olympics permit at the last minute, and to Ranger Scott for all of the phone calls trying to get my name on there (and my payment). Seriously amazing trip, and another data point that the Olympics are far more beautiful than I ever give them credit for. And I was the perfect amount of wrecked when I woke up back in Seattle on Tuesday. Just in time for a shit ton of programming homework that I had procrastinated on. Woohoo!

P.S. This would be a sweet trail run (maybe minus the chossy shit, like we discussed above. Wait for snow).

Olympus way in the distance, the highest point in the Olympics

Granite Mountain Bivvy & Ski


Kaleetan & Chair Peaks in the background


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!


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

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.


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.

Sunrise, Mt. Stuart in the back


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.


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.

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.

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.

Kaleetan, Chair, and the Leham/Summit Chief group on the far right

Table Mountain Circumnavigation


Brad skins up below Shuksan, Artist Point in the background


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.



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.

Brad’s awesome pic of Shuksan being a beaut


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

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.