The Worst Gear You’ve Ever Forgotten

One of us doesn’t have a sleeping bag. Doesn’t matter who
Yes please shine your head lamp on my dumb lampless ass

All of us have forgotten something crucial at some point going on a trip, and I’m going to highlight my favorites. Anonymously, kind of, unless someone wants to own their spaciness. Some of these are things I forgot. Some I was just present for. Some were by friends whose stories had me laughing so hard I got a core workout or had to stop climbing and prioritize breathing. Every anecdote here is from very experienced climbers, and everything turned out fine so we’ve been granted permission to learn from their mistakes. And laugh.

Roughly in escalating order of importance and ease of forgetting (debatable):

1. Headlamp(s). On multiple occasions. So often that you develop a reputation, and friends start carrying 2-4 headlamps knowing you will forget one or the one you have will break, resulting in multiple overdue trips like rapping the wrong way down Cutthroat and getting lost in the dark while off route or embarrassing yourself on a SAR mission when the batteries explode covering your headlamp in battery acid and leaving you lampless (gift received months later to take on future missions)

Munter hitch rapping

2. Boots for a winter scramble up Ruth Mountain. We’ve already driven like 2hrs out of town and I hear a long sigh followed by an f bomb from the back seat. “What did you forget?” “My boots…” “Well, what are you wearing?” “Um.. chacos. With socks.” He tried on all the spare trail shoes I had in the car, of course none fit. At the trailhead we met another group of climbers, one of whom had men’s trail runners to lend our chaco-bound friend. Not enough to summit but enough to accompany us halfway!

That’s uh.. better than no skin

3. A belay device on the Ice Cliffs Glacier route up Stuart. My climbing partner is about to work his way through an overhanging cornice as I slowly say “now um is probably not the best time to tell you I’ll be belaying you off a munter on a carabiner but really you got this you’ll crush it.” He proceeded to crush it. I thought I was going to have to leave the picket he placed there because throwing all my body weight at it wasn’t making it budge. A few hours later we found ourselves bailing off ice screws down the sherpa glacier. With more munter hitches. Sorry rope.

4. Skins. For skis. And one time actually the skis themselves, entirely. You have three options:
1) Drive the 2-3hrs way back to town to retrieve your gear, 2-3hrs back to the trailhead, and get a 1hr nap instead of a night of sleep, pretty much a necessity if it’s the skis you forgot (and a sure sign you are tougher than I am nowadays, because I think at this point I’d just go to bed when I got home)
2) In the case of skins, use ski straps to strap branches to the bottoms of your skis. Reasonable alternatives might be spare clothing, multiple ski straps if you have many, or the microspikes you found buried at the bottom of your pack. The fir/spruce used had directionally appropriate needles but was too voluminous to be practical. A hemlock may have been better. Branches selected from an already dead/soon to be dying tree.
3) A reliable but unpleasant fallback that defeats the point of the trip, boot as far as you can and see how long you (and your partner) can tolerate it. Pros: REALLY good workout, physically and mentally. Cons: Pendulum between amusement and anger, high likelihood of bailing/not meeting your goal, postholing.

Nice climbers packing up camp gave us stove gas

5. Sleeping bag on the Ptarmigan Traverse. Well, it was June, and we both had a bivvy, an extra puffy or two, and worst case, a down quilt we could share, and the alternative was driving 5hrs round trip to civilization and then back to the trailhead so uh… we still went. Besides nearly being abducted by aliens, we were fine.

6. Water and gas for the group stove going up Emmons on Rainier. We bartered a fancy locking carabiner for another party’s leftover gas at Camp Schurman, and split 2L of water between the two of us on summit day. “I’ve never felt the altitude like this before” my friend groans “well you’ve probably also never been this massively dehydrated on the way up.” They still crushed it though and no one knew because my friend is freaking superhuman.

“imagine watching someone break in or siphon your gas from here” [5 hours later] “…that’s an empty tank”

8. Car keys on a car-to-different-car-very-far-away-from-the-first-car traverse that has been deemed the Blumberhagadeen Traverse. Imagine being thousands of feet of elevation gain up a class 5 bushwhack postholing through fresh snow many many long miles from the original car and having your climbing partner sheepishly whisper “i left my car key in your car.” I don’t have the coping skills developed to process the ensuing emotions. Full story here with OUTRAGEOUSLY beautiful scenery.

New pack has NO side straps for skis but.. we can fit ski straps around the entire pack AND skis and then tie the top together to A frame

9. Actually starting the gas pump when you put gas in your car. Yes, that’s right, visual confirmation that the nozzle was in the tank, but someone forgot to actually get the gas flowing. My car’s gas gauge is broken, so I rely on the odometer to determine when I need gas. We drove off thinking we had a full tank.

We did not have a full tank. The car sputtered to a halt. The tank was clearly empty. We thought someone siphoned gas out, but nope, turns out we just never filled it. Never got charged for gas, and no gas station is giving away free gas so… In case anyone’s wondering it’s >$500 to get towed to a gas station from WA pass with AAA, or you can coast downhill after some good samaritans get you gas with the spare change you have lying around your car/pack/etc and hope to miraculously average 50% more mpg than usual otherwise you’re about to run out again. Which is what happened. 26mpg in a car that usually gets 18mpg. And then we put 21 gallons of gas into a 20gal tank.

10. An entire pack. This has happened to at least three friends, believe it or not. Skis, skins, boots, poles all present, but picture your stoke stopped in its tracks as you open the trunk of your car at the trailhead and realize your pack is still sitting in your apartment.

Or maybe it’s still sitting in the street in Seattle with your rope, shoes, and harness, and you’re already at Vantage with 5 people and only one set of climbing gear. Don’t worry, the neighbor saw it 6hrs later(!) and took it inside.*

Hiking snacks waiting patiently for my return from Camp Muir

Or the crowning achievement: how about being so nervous about proposing to your girlfriend on top of Rainier that you manage to leave your entire overnight pack, including the ring, at home? And your soon-to-be-fiancee is pissed because you both left work early, you’ve already been sitting in traffic for 3hrs and now you have to turn around, still in traffic, and drive alllll the way home? In traffic? And then all the way back to Rainier, and get a super late start, and now you have lower chances of summitting, and who forgets a whole pack?! Don’t worry, she still said yes!

Honorable mentions to:

  • Empty camelbacks where you packed the bladder but didn’t actually fill it with water
  • Snacks left in the car, especially the hot pocket that was lost under the driver’s seat and found 2yrs later when the decomp gas made the plastic package start to crackle
  • $5 gas station sunglasses because you forgot yours (x20)
  • Putting black jeans in your pack instead of black long underwear for a 160mi backpacking trip
  • Sunscreen (forgotten, or you know dropped off a 1000ft cliff to be found in 2200 when the glaciers are gone but the spray can is still there)
  • Blue bags (easily replaced by used dehydrated meal bags)
  • Ski straps (classic)
  • A pack that can actually carry skis
  • Ski pole(s)
  • Dropped/lost keys mid trail, later found by a good samaritan who left them on the car tire w/ a note
One of those is not a ski pole

*this is a miracle – I’ve left my car locked w/ climbing gear inside it for 15-20min TWICE and it’s been broken into within those 20 minutes and $2k+ of gear evaporated into the abyss of petty theft. Once in a double gated/locked + video monitored garage in Capitol Hill, once in Ballard outside of Second Ascent when we ran in to get snacks.

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

Tis the Season…


I mean… how is this a Plan C?


Okay, it’s gross, but still pretty I guess

…of turnaround trips, and halfway trips, and downgrading from Plan A to Plan B to Plan C and eventually surrendering to Plan E, which stands for “Eating on my Couch.” It’s been a quiet season so far for me, but I’ve managed to rack up a few turnarounds and a few bails and and a few successful Plan C’s. And one weekend’s Plan C might be another weekend’s Plan A. Or maybe I burned out and Plan E is my dream weekend. But now it’s 2018, and it’s a clean slate ready to be filled with more turnarounds, and hopefully some summits and some carving turns and some technical pitches and a generally unreasonable consumption of alpine cider.


Plan A’s tend to be climbs. Awesome, ambitious climbs. I mean what else can you suggest when conditions are good and you only have so many good weekends in winter? The best way to get in shape is to bite off more than you can chew and see how far you get (safely). And carry those skis. See Spring Training for tips.


At least it was a powder day

Plan B’s are less committing climbs. Maybe avalanche conditions aren’t great, maybe the weather isn’t worth a two day trip, maybe you’re feeling sick and noncommittal, maybe you took too long to figure out plans and now you’re stuck alone. Or maybe it’s resort skiing, because I like to hemorrhage money during the winter pretending to be a yuppie.

Plan C’s are classes (for me, plus the letters match). Last minute avalanche class? Sweet. Learning to dig huge luxurious snow caves? Sounds lovely. Help instructing ESAR Course I? Awesome, I’ll bring sides for the burgers we’re going to destroy in front of the trainees. And peanut butter, because I ate the whole thing last time. Sorry, sort of.


Big dreams on the way up

Plan D is whatever I whine about but eventually go on, or me texting everyone I know looking for people getting outside, and Plan E (short for “eating on my couch”) involves no effort from anyone whatsoever unless I actually walk 2 blocks to Markettime to get food, in which case I supposed I’m asking some favors of the cashiers and my digestive tract.

So let’s go through a few sample weekends. Weekend Zero is a good example of the quintessential weekend, with Plan C varying from ESAR training to SMR training to me taking classes I want to take. Weekends one through four are what I’ve been up to since early December, with a break for lots and lots of Plan E’s over the holidays.


Ready baby! Plan C is a go!

Weekend Zero: 
Plan A: Backcountry skiing (couldn’t get organized soon enough)
Plan B: Resort skiing (not worth paying for such lousy conditions)
Plan C: Help instruct Course I (awesome Saturday)
Plan D: go home and hope to rally people for a Sunday trip (fail)
Plan E: in full swing Sunday
Rough start to winter. I ended up on Plan C, which was actually a blast, followed by Plans D&E, though I certainly did not earn the luxury of my couch that weekend. And hopefully the freezing level will eventually be low enough that Plan B can be what I usually land on.


Looking back at Robert and Amber after leading the first pitch

Weekend One:

Plan A (Saturday): Three O’Clock Rock, Silent Running (bail)
Plan A (Sunday): Baker via Coleman Deming (bail – straight to Plan E)
On a weekend with surprisingly pleasant weather, I somehow could not convince anyone to come on a North Cascades snow slog with me. So I hopped onto Forrest’s trip, which involved a nice 5.9ish slab climb of Silent Running on Three O’Clock Rock out by Darrington. I wasn’t convinced we’d reach the trailhead, or that the rock was dry, or that we wouldn’t be pummeled by ice/snow/waterfalls, but everyone was pretty gung ho so I schlepped myself along.
We made it to the trailhead without issue, and the approach to Three O’Clock Rock is an awesomely short hike along a nice trail. Supposedly it’s unmaintained, but it’s not that bad at all, and it continues on to Squire Creek Pass, which is a nice winter/spring hike when Three Fingers is dusted in snow and you can watch skiiers doing borderline impossible ascents and descents of the north face. We took our turnoff, the only people interested in rock climbing, and started getting set up in the snow. The rock was a mix of dry and wet, but at least the first pitch was mostly dry. And the sun was coming around the corner, which should help with the rest of it.


Three Fingers from Squire Creek Pass

Forrest led the first two pitches with Brooke, and then I led the same two with Amber and Robert. Slab is my nemesis, I just picture slipping and cheese-gratering my face all over it. Until Forrest actually told me how to climb it. It’s almost like squatting. Get your feet under your chest and you can pretty much just walk right up it. I was standing up, but I was standing up with like a 15 degree angle between me and the rock, which meant a high chance of my feet slipping. If you can get your body weight as close to perpendicular as possible, you’ll have way more traction. And suddenly I was more comfortable. And the first two pitches are an easy lead with solid pro and a few bolts, and soon enough I was at the bolted anchors.


Robert getting to the watery sections in the cold shade

Belaying two people at once is a pain in the ass and my rope nest went to shit immediately, but hey the ledge was sunny and it was warm and that was nice. Robert and Amber cruised up and joined me on the icy belay ledge, waiting for our fingers and feet to freeze. Standing on snow in rock shoes sucks, so we tried to dance around it with little to no success. Oh, and then the sun went away. We had enjoyed it for like 15 minutes and now it was gone, never to be seen again.

Robert led the next pitches. With the warming temperatures, chunks of ice were starting to cascade down on us. I took a nice chunk to the wrist. Robert took a football chunk to the ribs and had a speed-clip mid-lead when he was 10ft above his last piece and the ice came, clipping just in time to be showered with golf balls. You’d hear the F bombs come down with the ice. “ICE!!!” “fuck” “oh shit AH” “ah jesus christ” “fuck OUCH” “fucking hell” and then you knew it was your turn. Helmets are good. I couldn’t help but wonder what the group walking below us thought. “Morons.”
Robert crushed the next two pitches, until it turned out that the last 20ft were flat, featureless slab with basically a small waterfall running down the entire thing. Forrest had traversed left and back right to get to the anchor, but Robert tried to go straight up and just ended up soaking wet. Can’t win that one. But he settled in at the belay ledge, and after a few minutes Forrest started setting up a rappel. Guess we’re bailing. “It’s too wet! The entire next pitch is soaked!” Yeah, like we couldn’t see that from the beginning. They rapped down as I climbed up. We’re here, I’m getting my money’s worth. As Brooke pointed out while I was being grumpy the day prior, “yeah we might not finish it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be fun.” She wins that argument. It was still a freaking blast.


Everything looks better after you’ve bailed on it. Bring on Plan E!

I drove straight to the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead, where I met Shawna hoping to do a one push ascent of Baker. I was set up in bed by 9pm and we figured we’d get moving around 3am. I was recovering from a cold, so not feeling fantastic but not feeling awful either, and I slept surprisingly well. Unfortunately, Christie woke up sick (I know you can’t get someone sick in 6hrs but I still feel bad), so our group of 5 was down to 4. We skinned up the road to the trailhead (road is blocked around 1.5 miles from the actual trailhead) and started up, alternating skis and boots. Naomi decided her heart wasn’t in it, so she turned back too. We pushed on to low camp at the top of the hogsback, and decided we were turning around too. I have a three strike rule I like to keep, and having two people turn back was basically two strikes. Plus, I realized that we were a group of two skiers and one snowshoer, and a) I wasn’t sure I was comfortable skiing the glacier with as little snow cover as there was and b) we were slower than expected, likely due to me insisting on skinning un-skinnable terrain and c) what were we going to do, have the snowshoer walk down unroped? So we pitched a tent, shiver-napped and laughed at how we had forgotten how winter trips worked, and then skied down. Except I had forgotten how to ski. Shit. And my skis need to be waxed, desperately. I couldn’t even get them to slide at first. Ah, tis the season. The season of turnarounds, being slower than expected, fighting to skin or posthole, and remembering that you have no idea how to ski.


Snow caves!!

Weekend Two: 

Plan A: Skiing in the rain (bail)
Plan B: Assist with a Peaks of Life avalanche class (yay!)
This was a quickie. We were planning on resort skiing so I could re-learn how to ski, but it was supposed to be raining at Snoqualmie Pass and Forrest needed a last minute assistant for a Peaks of Life avalanche class, so I opted to help out. This involved a few hours of classroom education (basically plan E with some perks) followed by a short skin up to Mazama Ridge, where we built snow caves. And of course, evaluated terrain, worked on routefinding and snowpack observations, practiced companion rescue, and I got to get in a few mini turns while my muscles remembered how skis work. And it reinforced everything I had learned in AIARE 1, which was awesome. You can never stop learning this stuff. There will always be more to know, new research, better ways to do what you’ve been doing, new gear to be utilized. Never stop learning.


…I mean it’s almost offensive to call this Plan C


Brooke toasting us in snowshoes

Weekend Three:

Plan A: Shuksan via Sulphide (didn’t even start)
Plan B: Epic Nisqually ice climb (bail)
Plan C: Less epic Nisqually seracing (yay!)
This has been the highlight of winter so far, even if we ended up on Plan C. I bailed on Shuksan because I woke up on Saturday feeling sick, weak and pathetic. Sunday I woke up feeling slightly less pathetic, and we headed to Paradise to set up snow caves on the Nisqually and do some ice climbing in the area. I don’t like spending NYE in the city, so I was just happy to be getting out, especially on such a beautiful weekend.


I bet this is better than your plan C

You know the book “The Things They Carried?” Yeah, well this was like a non-metaphorical version called “The Things They Didn’t Carry.” I forgot technical crampons. Amber didn’t bring sunglasses or a stove or a spoon (sound familiar? I bring two spoons now). Brooke didn’t bring sunglasses or poles. “Everyone forgot something except Forrest! And even if he did he’ll never tell us.” A few hours later, Forrest announced he didn’t bring a goretex jacket, just bibs. Ha! But between the four of us, we had enough to share. We skinned through the forest and then along a beautiful ridge to our campsite, and spent the next hour (three hours in my case because I have no idea what I’m doing) digging out snow caves. I don’t have the art of snow caving perfected yet, like Forrest and Brooke do. And we welcomed the new year with a fantastic sunset, dehydrated mountain meals, and battery powered christmas lights in snow caves. By which I mean we pretended it was midnight at 8pm because I wanted to go to sleep.


But this was Plan B

In the morning, we roped up for the Nisqually to be safe, but it’s nicely covered. Forrest gave the first two ice falls a good shot, but route A was too soft and route B was too thin. So on to the next idea, and we headed up to the seracs to get in a few laps. Forrest led two routes and the rest of us top roped. Ice climbing was like slab climbing. I’ve done it a few times, but no one has ever watched me and actually told me how to do it. Within a single pitch Forrest had given me three crucial tips. 1) Triangle. You want your ice pics almost in a vertical line, and your feet in a wide stance so your points of contact make a triangle. You can also yell “TRIANGLE!” at someone on their whole climb, just like skiing behind them yelling “PIZZA!” 2) On plasticy alpine ice, it’s possible (even ideal) to have more than just the front two teeth of your crampons in contact with the ice. And 3) You want to stick one tool as high as you can reach, then move your feet 3+ times, then stick your next tool as high as you can get it, move feet a bunch, rinse and repeat. Like rock climbing. And once I had those 3 things on my mind, everything was suddenly easier. It’s amazing how much having someone watch you even for just a few minutes can help.


Brooke belaying Forrest leading a nice WI3 pitch

We wrapped it up after a few laps, ripped the skins from our skis, and carved our way back down the Nisqually with Brooke dusting us in her snowshoes. She took advantages of our transitions to get a head start, but damn I have never met anyone that fast on snowshoes. We knew we were getting back to civilization when we heard kids and saw people sledding, and we skied all the way back to the parking lot, where all four of us ate it almost immediately on the black ice.

Weekend Four: 
Plan A: Lookout Mountain Lookout and Little Devil Peak! (forecast got worse every day)
Plan B: Just Lookout Mountain! (forecast got even worse)
Plan C: Resort skiing! (forecast changed to rain everywhere)
Plan D: Amabilis Mountain cross country ski! (avalanche conditions worsened, Kacie had a dream I died in an avalanche)
Plan D-2? Can’t be E because E is my couch: Hex Mountain


Clouds reflecting my grumpy bland mood

And you know what? Hex Mountain was fantastic. Super sweet low angle snowshoe out by Roslyn, which is often far enough east to get sunshine even when the pass is getting pounded by rain or snow. Kacie had to be back by 5pm so we needed something short and close, and this fit the bill. We crashed two meetups with had several mutual connections (one guardian angel on my Stuart trip last spring, Ashwin who came up Baker with me years ago, and some friends of SAR folks), I skiied (well, skinned) the worst snow I have skiied in my life, and we got to check out the remains of an area covered in wildfires this summer.


Okay, Hex isn’t so bad

It was pretty wild seeing the eerie, gothic needle trees leftover from the fire, or how the fire consumed one tree but the tree next to it was left unscathed. So stop whining, you still got out, got a workout, and got some awesome photos. And you can go back in a few years and admire the changes as the forest recovers.

Weekend Five: 

Plan A: Oakes Peak (too ambitious)
Plan B: Lookout Mountain Lookout
Problems I expected to run into: Slushy snowpack, moving slower than expected, loose wet avalanches, sunburns
Problems we actually ran into: Jackson being scared of going downhill on snow or bridges, ghost water stealthily draining from bladders, bloody dog paws, and excessive dog shitting


Rippley coming back to help us coax Jackson across

We started up the trail and finally strapped on snowshoes just below 4,000ft. You could have left them on for longer. I had been told Jackson was scared of steep snow but I didn’t know how scared until we reached the first snow bridge, where it turned out he’s also scared of snow-covered bridges even if the drop to the creek is like two feet. Shawna wrangled him across that, and then two more bridges, but when it came time to cross the steeper final slope, Jackson’s face said “absolutely not.” I was stomping a path across when I noticed Rippley’s paws were bloody, and announced that the pups were calling the trip for us. Back to the car! But hey, it’s sunshine, and a workout, and the smell of crisp pine trees in the middle of January, so it’s hard to complain. And Jackson actually slept in the car on the way home, imagine that.


Still a gorgeous day in the woods

So Plan C can be good. And so can Plan B, even if Plan A is the best. After all, getting out in winter is an accomplishment in itself. And the best way to stay in shape is to carry skis and wallow a bit. It’s not a true backcountry trip if there isn’t some postholing, or some booting, or even a tree well or two.* Bring it on, 2018, we’re ready!

*Brooke found that for us, during the only 10 minutes of the trip where she wasn’t leaving us in the dust.