Sasse Mountain Ski Tour

Sasse Mountain, our objective
The face of joy

You know those trips where expectations are sort of at rock bottom, and then everything ends up being amazing? This was one of those. We had our minds set on the Chiwaukums, but upon getting home Saturday night and realizing there was way more fresh snow than we anticipated followed by a sunny day, we figured we’d hedge our bets and pick something less ambitious. The stoke was tempered, motivation was fading, we were pitching ideas like the Tatoosh for the 183498th time or Hyak laps. Guys. It’s going to be sunny. There’s fresh snow. Let’s explore somewhere new. I pitched Sasse Mountain, which honestly I had really only heard about snowshoers doing, but looking at caltopo, there were definitely some sweet bowls back there. And assuming those bowls were full of snow, that meant skiing.

  • Distance: ~10mi round trip
  • Elevation gain: 3600ft (5,700ft highest point)
  • Weather: 50’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 2hrs
  • Did I Trip: Powder faceplant, yes
Making upward progress

We met on Salmon La Sac road at 7am. There are two options to this peak: skin like 6mi up a road (boooo) that avoids most avy terrain and then go cross country at the end, or boot up through a forest (boooo) cross country from the start and negotiate some forested avy slopes. We chose the latter, because skinning roads is boring and booting straight up is fast.

Quick hand shear test

Except we couldn’t find the trail. I’m still not sure where it starts, but we could see the old roadbed the trail follows for a bit from the road, so we just walked straight to that and followed it. It was dry. Really dry. We negotiated a stream crossing and started to gain elevation, only to find… more dry slopes. Where. Was. The. Snow. We started to worry that there wouldn’t be any good skiing. We started to lower expectations. “I mean, this is boney, but I’d ski it” “yeah it’s not bad” “dust on crust but mellow enough maybe it won’t suck” “it’s still a workout at least” “yeah better than staying in town” “all backcountry skis are rock skis right” and finally, FINALLY we got a glimpse of the views. Panoramic views of the “Snoqualmie Pickets” (heard that the other day and love it), aka the chain of Lemah/Summit Chief/Bear’s Breast, with Hinman and Daniel to the east. Okay, okay, so at least it’s freaking gorgeous here.

Rainier! And a soft snow spot thank god

And then we rounded the corner onto the first sharp ridge. And BAM. Beautiful open ski slope, right in front of us. Dane did a quick shear test on the snowpack since it was a similar aspect, and about 8″ slid cleanly off. Okay, so we agreed that while we were all drooling at the prospect of skiing that face, we weren’t going to do it. And that was fine, because after a few more rolling humps and bumps and transitions from windblown pockets of powder to scoured ice and cornices along a ridgeline, we found out the face was frozen solid. Avy danger? Nah. Skiing? …nah.

The face we were all drooling over

My skis popped off twice traversing steep icy slopes as we sidehilled to avoid cornices, so I booted it the rest of the way up the ridge, postholing the crap out of Dane and Robert’s skin trail. “Why’re you setting such a shitty skin trail?” “Why are you so shitty at skinning?” Dane and Robert carried us along with their trash talk. We were almost at the top when I realized that we hadn’t gone nearly far enough to be at the true summit. Dammit, this was that knob on the way, Not So Sasse. Which was way sassier than Sasse given its ridges and cornices, and actually had better views due to the lack of trees at the tippy top. You could even see Stuart poking out over Jolly Mountain. We skiied down to the saddle between the two setting off some baby storm slab sloughs in the process, and quickly skinned up true Sasse, which was covered in burned trees, was far more mellow than it looked, and you spent like 15 minutes traversing 500ft to gain 10ft of elevation to get to the “summit.” But along the way, we were oggling the shady tree runs coming off to the west. And from the summit, we decided to ski directly down to the bowl through the trees. We started off on ice, timing turns for pockets of powder. But three or four turns later, we had PERFECT POWDER.

Almost at the summit
Robert getting the goods

We giggled all the way down. HOW is no one else here?! Powder stash!! Bluebird powder day! Darting through open burn zone trees leapfrogging our way down we popped out into the bowl only to find… someone’s skin track. Dammit! It’s been discovered! But uh, should we utilize this and do another lap? No one protested. Back up we went. And the second run was just as good.

One interesting thing about this area is that it was part of a massive wildfire called the Jolly Mountain complex back in 2017. Not So Sasse and its ridgeline as well as some of the lower glades look like they were spared, but it is always fascinating getting to a view point and seeing blackened toothpick trees for miles. This is the same fire that affected Hex mountain, a very popular snowshoe slightly further south. Towns to the south of here had to be evacuated for almost a month until the fire was contained and naturally put out by the first rains in fall.

Cornices in the distance, burn zone next to life

We decided to follow the mystery skin track on the way out so we could avoid regaining elevation and skiing mediocre ridges. We figured worst case scenario we could traverse waaay south to meet our skin (or boot) track. I was cruising and about to thread the needle through two trees and WHAM suddenly I was face down in the snow, mouth stuffed with powder, blinded by snow, skis still attached and still perpendicular to my body. Like the skis had stopped and my body kept going. Turned out I wasn’t as deep in the snow as I thought, I just had eaten a bunch of it and my sunglasses trapped quite a bit against my eyes. I oooohed and ahhhed and groaned while Robert shouted “Are you okay!” and I figured well he can hear me so he knows I’m breathing, and eventually got enough air to respond “yes I’m in one piece.” Feet of powder (or slush) tend to be quite forgiving. But then I had to wrangle fully buried skis out of extremely heavy snow, which required more core strength than I’ve developed or maintained during covid.

I popped around the corner rght beyond that sneaky patch of sticky snow only to find Dane patiently waiting above a second bowl! I don’t have an excuse regarding why we didn’t ski this bowl… we should have, just to tag it. But we were focused on adventuring our way out, and so we traversed to another mellow ridge, where we found….

The second bowl had phenomenal views of the Snoqualmie Pickets in the distance
Even the road has views!!

…a THIRD bowl, this one with mellow glade skiing with another party doing laps on the perfect soft snow. We could see the road across the bowl and below us, and skiied straight to it, which snuck out a few more turns. Rather than regaining lost elevation, we followed the road for a bit until we could cut switchbacks and ski straight to the next stretch of road below us, though more low angle glades. Careful of gullies if you cut the switchbacks, though, there are some nasty gullies and some sneaky cliffs. But we had heard if you followed the road the whole way, you had to put skins on for some uphill, and we weren’t having any of that. Sidestepping and switchback-cutting forever.

The theme of the day was variable conditions. Crust to powder on crust to powder to ice to the stickiest shit I’ve ever skiied, and the road was no exception. In the shade? Zoom zoom. In the sun? glop glop walk whine paddle with your poles. The trees soon got too tight so we committed to skiing the road until we were at the switchback closest to our bootpack, and then we’d switch to boots and hoof it back through the woods to the car. You can follow the forest road all the way back to the main road, but it would have been a mile or two away from where we had parked, so we went back to the “trail” we took up, and were still back at the car pretty quickly.

Classic backcountry skiing

All in all, it was about an 8 hour tour in a completely new area with a TON of terrain and routes you can safely follow even on big storm days. I’m amazed this isn’t talked about more. And it was even better by how low our expectations were around 9am that morning as we booted crusty, patchy snow in the trees telling ourselves it was better than nothing and I reassured myself that they’d still hang out with me and take my future recommendations despite this shitty one (though secretly I was just relieved to not be at Hyak or Castle).

We had a great dinner(? it was like 4pm) at “the brick place on the right when you’re driving back to i90 through Roslyn” where we all crushed burgers, fries, beer, and water. Turns out it’s literally called the Brick Saloon and despite stopping there most of the times I’m in the area, I never remembered the name. Definitely worth giving them a visit when you’re starving and parched after a trip, and I’m so happy that things are starting to open up again. This time last year, we were sneaking around, even minimizing trips to gas stations. Feels pretty good to bring some business to the nearby towns, and to wreck a burger when I’m starving instead of driving straight home, opening the fridge, being disappointed, closing it, lowering my standards, opening it again, reconsidering… you know how it is. Here’s to many more ski tours and burgers!

One more picture – the “trail.” Have fun!

An Anthology of Half Day, Half Assed Ski Tours

Down the Nisqually!

And some three-quarter ass trips for good measure. And yes, most of these can be snowshoed too! But snowshoeing anything is a full ass endeavor unless you’re just popping up to like Glacier Vista or Skyline Lake on pre-trampled trails and making hot chocolate and ramen in the sun. It’s freaking hard and you don’t get to go “wheee!!” all the way to the bottom.

Sometimes you want to get out and ski, but you don’t want to spend 4hrs thrashing in the brush in the dark going uphill and 4 more hours slogging to the top and 2hrs skiing ice/being bitch slapped by trees and crying back to your car. That used to be my definition of a ski trip. Yeah, it’s more rewarding maybe, but it’s not realistic, especially as responsibilities start creeping up. Turns out I can’t actually only do chores/errands/adulting just on weeknights. Actually sometimes I need a weekend day for chores, which sounds SO old and SO boring and SO domesticated. And growing up I was told only boring people get bored, so I am now a boring person. SO. We need to mitigate that. And I’ll do anything to avoid using PTO on a weekday for chores. Oh god. Stage an intervention if I ever do that.

Heading to the Nisqually

Oh, and usually when these days happen my mind is already fighting off baseline choring anxiety (for example right now: “oh shit, I forgot to respond to that” “oh shit, I didn’t pick up those screws” “oh shit, i need to get olive oil” “god dammit, I was supposed to ship that” “you still don’t know how to get new blinds for your window, they’re gonna be entirely broken aka see through any day now you cannot keep avoiding this” “you NEED to sell that dress, dude” and “fuck, I need to figure out what to do with the (full) trash can that some asshole added to my trash cans”) so the capacity for additional challenges is low.

And thus, half day half ass tours are born. You might still feel like a poser, but at least those $700 skis are on your feet and not gathering dust in your basement while you sign refinancing papers and weep over tea remembering when you used to actually be cool and found adventure in untouched wilderness and powder and views instead of finding vague glimmers of grandeur in newly lowered interest rates.

1) Okay, we’ll start with the obvious: Paradise. What’s great about this? The road is usually well maintained and you can go as slow as you want, just pull over for the braver souls with bigger balls (and maybe smaller brains). The gate doesn’t even open until 9 so if you live in Seattle like me, you don’t have to get moving until like 7am. The most used skin trails are quite mellow, but there is a GREAT mix of terrain from open slopes to treed slopes and basically flat to avalanche territory and cliff jumps. And you can bring your snowshoe friends! If you are really nice to your snowshoe friends, they might agree to take your keys and pick you up at the Nisqually Bridge after you ski all the way down the Nisqually instead of just going back to Paradise. Oh, and if it’s clear, you can stare at Rainier or the Tatoosh all day, obviously. And when there isn’t a pandemic, you can stop at Elbe Bar & Grill and get a Boingo Burger on your way home. Copper creek is also great, but it can be packed. Also, despite Rainier looking grand, this is a great option when it’s socked in by clouds, because it’s less distracting and you can find treed slopes for contrast so you don’t get flat light vertigo.

Views heading up to Castle
that slope is BEGGING us to do turns

1.5) Castle/Pinnacle Saddle. This is like Paradise, but closer to the Longmire gate with a more specific objective and feels a bit more alpine. It’s only something like 4 miles round trip, and not that much elevation gain. Also, if you camp up there in shit weather, you can line every aspect of the bowl with your own tracks before anyone else gets there the next day since the gate doesn’t open until 9. BOOM. You’ll feel like a boss until you wipe out hitting a patch of scoured ice skiing down with your overnight pack in front of another party. Not that’s ever happened, to me, at least. A friend. Obviously.

The views!! And tons of terrain to play on

2) Artist Point. Similar to Paradise, usually well maintained road, lots of varied terrain though main skin tracks are quite mellow. Great for snowshoe friends too. In fact, you can just walk some of the trampled trails with no snowshoes, just be ready to posthole and faceplant if you step 12″ too far off track. And you can stare at Baker and Shuksan if you go to the right areas! And you can pay for a lift ticket and ride the chairs if you get lazy, or have a beer at the lodge and just stare at Shuksan. Downsides? It’s far. You’re probably leaving home at 6am. The lot will be packed. You might wait in line for parking. Snowshoers are traffic cones you’ll probably be dodging all day, including your friends, who you’ll wait for because you’re nice. Avy classes everywhere. People doing dope jumps make you feel like a nerdy wuss pretending to know how to ski. Also great for cloudy/socked in days, despite the ridiculous views on clear days.

3) Yodelin. Slightly more adventurous and not great for snowshoers. Not sure about views because I’ve never been there on a nice day. So I choose to believe that this has no views ever, and therefore is perfect for socked in days with flat light (woo, trees!). Usually space for parking, but Stevens Pass can be messy with a train of cars going slowly turning into the ski resort next to assholes still trying to do 60 mph to pass everyone on compact snow and ice with the occasional un-chained prius. You do actually skin to the top of a thing, which is cool. Two things, actually, since there are two minor peaks to check out. You do have to consistently head skiier’s left as opposed to true line of fall (or line of fall and then flat traversing for what feels like forever), though supposedly there’s a more direct line I haven’t found yet. There is also some neat history – this used to be a ski resort (with cabins/lodges/chair lifts) until the cabins were wiped out by a MASSIVE avalanche in 1971, killing four people. Interestingly, Yodelin is now known as a good place to go tour on high-avy-risk days due to its (mostly) mellow slopes and consistent tree coverage. Still looking for a map of where those cabins were, but the old concrete base of one of the cabins is still easy to find. Oh, one more downside: beware of sledding kids on your way out.

Yodeling burn zone towards the top
You have a LOT of this before getting to the skiing part if you go left at the “trailhead”

4) Kendall Fun Zone – yeah…… uh… fun…. I mean… it… has… skiing? It’s at Snoqualmie. Views are meh. You can listen to the highway the whole time. Park at the first lot on the right at exit 52, walk under the highway carrying your skis, and hop onto the snow just north of the highway. But Snoqualmie is low. It’s often wet. It’s often heavy. It’s often full of the other 500 people who woke up that morning and decided they wanted a short tour, so the bottom is a luge track and the top is already all chewed up by other people’s turns and “damn snowboarders scoured this” but turns out it was just skiiers survival slipping around other parties/trees/ice/backcountry moguls/dogs/children/lost snowshoers/rogue branches. You’ll also have to scout every corner on the way out or you’ll take down an innocent person on their way up while you battle ice. If you just got a dump of fresh powder and get there at 6:30am to beat everyone up? Sure, the trees are great, just knock out a few laps real quick and gtfo before the hoards come. Dru Bru opens at 11 so apres-ski can start early.

Laps laps laps

5) Hyak – not fun per se, but if you just want to rip some laps and get some vert then I guess this is your solution. Views? Who needs views when you’re pushing for laps. No views unless you like looking at ski resorts or highways. Expect people. This is like the Vantage of skiing, except it’s a $1000 fine or something like that if you’re caught while the lifts are open. But if you do the Hidden Valley area, you can choose between black diamond runs, blue runs, or a green cat track alll the day back to the parking lot, and that’s just the front side! There’s a world of groomed cat tracks on the backside too!. But don’t try to pee in the bushes, you might get rudely called out by ski patrol, including a surprising “I’m so sick of you people.” You people. Backcountry skiers? I assume the contrast between yuppie ski resort patrons and dirtbag backcountry skiers peeing on trees just highlights those of us that don’t like waiting in line with 100 people for an indoor 2 stall bathroom during a pandemic.

Honorable Mention:
Skyline Lake: The stuff on the back is fun, and you can get to Tye, but Skyline itself is underwhelming and shorter than Yodelin and highly trafficked (so you’d be lucky to get fresh tracks). Parking is also a nightmare now that everyone and their mom skis/snowshoes/snow camps/sleds/splitboards/swims in snow so let them have their space to learn and try just a liiiiittle harder to find something better for yourself.

Amabilis: I had high expectations for this one and have wanted to do it for a while, but all I’m hearing right now is nightmare parking stories, a very groomed road (sometimes groomed all the way to the top!), and we weird mix of xc skiiers, snowshoers, and the occasional AT skier who decides skinning up a groomed road with 200 of their best friends will be fun. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll try it someday because anything is better than sitting at home wondering if you should have tried skiing, but I’ll save it for a day with a snowshoer friend or a cross country skiier. I hear rumors of small views along the top ridge but nothing jaw dropping.

Okay, here are some not-full-day-but-more-like-three-quarter-ass trips. And these come with blog posts, because they were great and didn’t all blend together like a sloppy slope of pacific northwest concrete transitioning to mashed potatoes. And you should save them for clear days because VIEWS. Except maybe Jim Hill and Lane. Lane looks at Rainier like the rest of the tatoosh, and you don’t want to sacrifice powder for sun.

Robert below the summit of Rock

6) Rock Mountain. This one was a surprise. Yeah, you’ll be pushing up some steep treed areas to start, but it mellows out above treeline and turns into another planet. Totally worth the steep grade coming right off the highway, and we only ran into one other party. There’s a traverse up here if you want more, but even just Rock Mountain for the was pretty damn good. And on the way home, Mountain View Diner. Food if necessary, but really, you just want the pie. Any of the pies. All of the pies.

Looking at this hurts a little. I’m jealous of myself

7) Jim Hill. Wow. This was another just phenomenal day, and another route that’s mostly skiiers and not snowshoers. I’d recommend the Henry Creek approach over the Lanham Lake approach. Lanham Lake had significantly fewer people, but some very tedious and icy sidehilling and a lot of elevation gain in a short time. We gypped ourselves because we thought it would take longer to get down than it actually took, and the Henry Creek approach was way less annoying (though it did resemble a luge trail). Either way, north facing cold powder when we were there, with minimal effort as far as ski touring goes and surprisingly few crowds (despite being a Saturday morning). It’s amazing we have something like this as a half day tour, and you can knock out several laps of ~500ft of vert pretty quickly once the skin track is in. Also pie.

Who doesn’t love cold fluffy low angle glade skiing

8) Arrowhead. Okay, I’m taking a unique stance on this one – you basically get the “ski route” experience of Arrowhead on Jim Hill, and both are amazing. But if you follow the snowshoer route up Arrowhead (east slopes through trees, not starting at Henry Creek and traversing), you might find some of the BEST low angle tree skiing in the Stevens Pass area. North facing aspect, stays cold and light, and NO ONE is there because everyone takes the main skin route that traverses from Henry Creek. There’s no luge track! Just the sweet “whshhhhhh” of powder on your skis making fresh tracks because the mobscene is to the west. And the ridge ski is fun too and you have consistent views of the Chiwaukums once you hit the ridge which are just outrageous. And you can take snowshoer friends with you, and you don’t have to worry about etiquette or splitting trails because there’s no one there to bitch about your inter-activity friendship! Just make sure you find the right turn off or you’ll be bushwhacking through dense steep brush and… not skiing. And the aforementioned pie.

9) Table Mountain Circumnav. More than a half day I guess, but less than a full day, and very easy/obvious navigation if it is clear and you have line of sight. Haven’t seen a snowshoer, but I guess it’s possible if you are determined? Pretty good skiing. despite being a circumnavigation, and spectacular views the whole way. Rare to get a high quality traverse in a day, but this sure felt like it, except for the ice couloir I tried to ski down from Herman Saddle.

Top of the Fly on Lane Peak

10) Lane Peak. Also basically like Paradise or Castle/Pinnacle, but with more vert and more technical skiing. Just make sure you don’t need to rope up on the way up. If you do, wait til you’re more comfortable on steep snow. Also, this sucks when it’s icy, or when you break a ski boot at the top of one of the couloirs. But overall, it’s a phenomenal ski, and you can choose between three sweet couloirs. The zipper is the classic, be comfortable with jump turns. The fly is the easiest one, you can pull it off without jump turns and still get in some sweet steep powder (or ice, if another party beat you to it and scoured all the good snow off). And Lover’s Lane exists too, but I don’t know much about how that one compares to the other two. the best part of this is probably how those couloirs look when you’re driving the road to/from Paradise – “Yeah, I skiied that” “NO WAAAAY THAT’S RAD” and secretly it’s far more mellow than it looks from the road. Also, see #1 re: boingo burger.

Another honorable mention: Union & Jove peaks (easy duo) or McCausland, also at Stevens Pass. Yes, you’ll skin up a road. Yeah, it’s probably chewed up and icy. But it’s worth it, especially if you hit the right conditions and know how to ski (I did not). If you’re ambitious you could probably combine all three of these, maybe even add Lichtenberg. But that wouldn’t be a half day, or a half ass.

Jove Peak, honorable mention for the three-quarter-ass trips

So there you have it. Want to sleep in? Lacking motivation? Dog/child/SO/your feelings can only handle a few hours of ski touring? I got a go to list you can knock out so you don’t feel like you’ve totally lost all sense of adventure/fitness/ski capabilities. And really, only some are like that. The three-quarter days are actually pretty dope, and you’ll have actually earned food afterwards, unlike kendall trees and hyak where you pretend like you had fun and then cancel everything you just did out with beer.

Views near the summit of Rock Mtn

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.