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.

Lane Peak Ski via Fly Couloir

 

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Ready to ski! (Photo Credit Haley)

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The view of Rainier

I started out the day as a bitch. Anyone can attest. Grumpy cat in true form. I had several friends going up Fuhrer Finger and Gib Ledges, I hadn’t been out in the mountains in weeks, I wasted my Saturday in the city, I was stressed about work and exhausted from the past few weeks and just wanted to disappear and despite my grumpiest efforts no two day trips came together. So there I was, at 7:30am, nagging everyone to hurry the hell up after lying in bed awake for two hours wondering if I should just go solo.

Somehow no one smacked me across the face even though I nagged for another 45 minutes, and then whined about getting breakfast, and then grumbled when Haley thought she forgot her beacon, and then sheepishly confessed that actually it was I, Eve Jakubowski, who had forgotten her beacon. I drove my own humbled ass back to the cabin to grab it and met them at breakfast where I finally relented to the fact that this was going to be a very slow casual day. So I enjoyed my Denver scramble and my cups of tea and the facilities with running water and took a deep breath. Skiied 4/22.
  • Distance: 3 miles? Not sure.
  • Elevation: ~1500ft gain (6012 highest point if you summit)
  • Weather: 50’s and sunny
  • Commute: 2.5 hours from Seattle
  • Did I Trip: I did not trip, but I did pinwheel
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Calvin crossing the meadows

We couldn’t figure out why everyone was booting it up the slope from the parking lot to the upper road until we saw a snow plow toss a fridge size snowball over a snowbank. Oohhhhhkay. We’ll boot up on the left too.

We walked the road to the forest, clicked into skis, and survival skiied down to the meadow while Tricia snowshoed around us. You only spend around 10 minutes in the forest, which surprised me. I expected to have hours of suffering because that’s how backcountry skiing works, you earn your turns with hours of suffering. And instead we were cruising through a meadow, took the last snowbridge across the creek, and boom we were at the bottom of the three couloirs. The Fly Couloir is the obvious one on the right. You’ll pass the bottom of the Zipper just left of a patch of trees about halfway up, and Lover’s Lane is still a mystery to me unless I’m looking at Lane from afar, but that’s okay because I’ll never ski that one.
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Here we come!

I started switchbacking up in the sun through a mix of slush and ice. The slush stuck to my skins adding who knows how many pounds of shit to my legs and the inability to edge on ice, so really a lose lose situation. I waited for Calvin to catch up to me to take the helmet and ice tool off my pack that I had neglected to grab before (rookie mistake), and started kicking steps up and up and up. The Zipper looked prime and untracked, and I was a little jealous we weren’t climbing that. I paused briefly for a selfie, savoring Calvin’s F bombs in the background because he hadn’t put on his waterproof gloves. I forgot just how satisfying breaking trail is. I was in the zone. I freaking LOVE steep snow. How had I ever forgotten?! Next thing I knew I was hitting sunshine and then topping out. I snapped a few pictures, explored the mini-couloir at the top only to determine I did not want to scramble the rest of it, and dropped onto the south face to see how far it would be to the summit. Far enough that I didn’t want to go because going uphill without skis was like wallowing in nipple deep slush and a recipe for disaster.

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Tricia about to top out

We had snacks and water and got ready to ski down. I flipped my boots into downhill mode and SNAP! I stared in disbelief. It had finally happened. My beloved Proclines had broken. Oh my god. I can barely ski to begin with, I can’t ski with one boot in walk mode the entire way. I took calvin’s extra ski strap and the velcro strap I had and jerry-rigged it so I had some semblance of control, but the range in those boots is so crazy it didn’t make much of a difference.

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Side slipping like a boss (photo credit Haley)

I side slipped for what felt like ages. On soft snow, until I hit the shade. Then one turn. Then side slip on ice. Then another turn on ice. Side slip on ice. Turn. Shit myself. Slide on ice. Mega wipeout. Head over heels, is my ski above or below me, were there rocks below me? No, right? Okay, good, I came to a stop with my ski amazingly only a few feet away, and looked up to ski I had skipped the hard part. Awesome. Thank god we didn’t go after the zipper. I had forgotten that I don’t know how to ski.

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Calvin forgot how to cross creeks

I was shaken, that’s really the first fall I’ve ever had while skiing. I clicked back into the skis, made one turn, then two, then three. Gave Haley my picket in case I wiped out again (you still have that Haley I know you do) just in time to wipe out again, and finally I decided to pop the skis off to walk to wider, softer terrain. Finally I put the skis back on, and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of it. To the point where I skinned back up to Haley and skiied down again. And then skinned back up to Calvin and Tricia (being ski-belayed by Calvin, which didn’t seem enjoyable), and skiied down again. With my one boot. Which I would always forget about until I had to turn left. Ugh.

We made it back to the gate just in time for closing, including a survival glissade (skis horizontal so you can glissade) back to the parking lot because everyone at the bottom was yelling DON’T SKI IT IT’S NOT WORTH IT. I’m not sure why, because the slush was so deep glissading was hard and walking was even worse. Like wading through quicksand. More swimming than walking. I was beyond happy to chug powerade back at the car.
Awesome half day, one of the best I’ve done. Definitely need to go back for a day with better conditions, non-broken boots, and the Zipper when I’m better at jump turns. Dare to dream!