Kendall Knob, March 31:
On the last day of March I skied up Kendall Knob after work. For a goofy clearcut knob of a mountain, it’s a fun ski tour. I enjoyed views at the top of the clearcut before skinning back into the woods for a little more exploring. A lot of the old growth on the treed slopes adjacent to the clearcut are big and open. I carved turns and sprayed slush at ancient trees all the way to the car.
By the time I got to my car, I was already running late to meet Craig and Brett to plan an overnight trip on April 2 and 3. After a lot of careful discussion we made a plan. The next morning we changed the plan. They day after that, we met at the Preston Park and Ride in the dark and took off for the Mountain Loop Highway and Vesper Peak.
Vesper Peak, April 2 and 3:
My wagon was the only car on the Mountain Loop Highway that morning. After finding a spot to park on the highway shoulder, we put on skis and started skinning up (and down) the Sunrise Mines Road. Two miles later we reached the trailhead, excited by the steep peaks and snowy, fluted faces all around us. We took off our skis just past the trailhead and continued over dirt and patchy snow until we crossed the South Fork Stillaguamish.
From there, we picked our way through steep slopes and thick trees toward the hanging valley. Huge avalanche debris filled the valley. A couple difficult stretches of chunky debris and awe at the scenery kept us entertained until we reached the base of Headlee Couloir.
The firm crust we skinned up so easily wasn’t firm enough to support us without skis on. We wallowed waist deep in the short couloir for more than an hour. I crawled on my knees, trying to maximize surface area on top of the snow. Our frustration melted away at Headlee Pass, where we stashed our overnight gear next to a gnarled snag and got our first look at Vesper Peak. We skied toward Vesper Peak after lunch. The snow got harder and harder as we climbed.
All in all, the skiing was bad but the views were good. We made big turns down the open slopes, our metal edges scraping across icy snow. The views of the steep peaks, fluted faces, and narrow chutes surrounding us made up for the poor skiing. We had a blast cruising over the hard snow toward the deep valley.
Otter Falls, April 7:
Warm weather and blue skies lasted for most of a week in early-mid April. I was busy but I got out for a hike to Otter Falls.
Mount Ellinor, April 16:
Winter got a slow start in the Cascades, but the snowpack eventually caught up to average. The Olympic Mountains didn’t quite make it to average. At 3,000 feet on the road to Mount Ellinor we still hadn’t seen even a patch of snow on the side of the road through the rain drops on the windows.
I wanted to ski Mount Ellinor for a long time, and Brett agreed to come down and give it a shot. I was starting to feel bad about suggesting it because of the lack of snow. We rounded a corner on FR 014 and got stopped by snow a couple hundred meters before the upper Mount Ellinor trailhead. We crossed the deep, but small patch of snow and started hiking. A half-mile later, we were still walking on dirt. We put our skis on where the winter climbing route leaves the summer trail. Ten minutes later, at the base of the Ellinor chute, we put our skis on our packs again.
Easy boot packing between walls of dark volcanic rock and twisted trees brought us to a false summit. We saw a faint outline of the summit wrapped in the cloud that surrounded us, and marched on.
After a quick lunch in the rain on the summit, we got ready to ski down. Skiing in the chute is fun. It’s alternated between narrow sections and miniature bowls. The biggest challenge was the foot-deep glissade track that cuts down the middle of the line. In narrow parts of the chute, we could only sideslip or jump-turn on one side of the glissade track or the other. The turns in the more open spots were worth the trip, even in the rain. It was our first time skiing in the Olympics!