Guest TR – Colchuck Glacier, Wenatchee Mountains, North Central Cascades, WA

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Wow, we recently had best-ever corn-snow skiing on the Colchuck Glacier, which lies between the spectacular walls and crags of Dragontail and Colchuck Peaks here in the Cascades. On May 30th my friend the Rev.Tom Hines and I walked in, climbed, then skied the Colchuck Glacier from the col at 8000′+ falline to Colchuck Lake at 5570′. This is the first time skiing here for Tom, but previously he has done quite a bit of rock climbing in the area such as on the spectacular Serpentine Arete on Dragontail. I have been climbing and skiing the Colchuck Glacier since 1980, and I never tire of it. The tour is convenient since from my Leavenworth home it is about a 12 mile drive from the trailhead and then there is about 5 1/2 miles of trail walking to the head of the Lake beneath Colchuck Glacier.

Click play button twice to view slideshow.



The late-May timing of this trip allowed snow-free trail walking until arriving at Colchuck Lake. We walked up the snow from the lake and put on crampons at around 7000 ft. on the still-shaded nieve. We were a little earlier in the day than my usual timing, and we ended up working a bit more than the usual walk-up, climbing with crampons on hard frozen snow.

On many popular spring ski tours in Washington, there is normally a stairway boot-track to some of the popular summits that allow me to use running shoes for the ascent. However, on this day, there was not the expected usual spring stairway. As is my habit, I walked in running shoes until forced to use crampons and then wore the Dynafit Zzero3 TF boots and used Camp XLC 470 aluminum crampons. I find that one moves the fastest in running shoes while carrying skis and boots as long as the snow is supportive, or until crampons are needed. I have the Ice Bug running shoes which have carbide spikes — perfect for this sort of thing. We took my pair of Whippet self-arrest ski poles split between us and left our ice axes at home. Tom walked in his new superlight Millet mountaineering boots and used Stubai Ultralight aluminum crampons.

Thankfully, when the sun shined over Dragontail Peak it baked the glacier at around 11 AM and the hard snow instantly transformed to sweet corn-snow skiing. After a leisurely hour-plus lunch with hot coffee on the col, and overlooking to the south and southwest the Wenatchee Mountains, Mt. Adams, the Goat Rocks Wilderness, and Mt. Rainier, we set off on our well-deserved ski descent.

Tom used my light setup, the 174 cm K2 Chogori, Dynafit Speed bindings and TLT 4 EVO boots. That rig would have been my choice for the day because it is so comfortable, but I chose to loan it to Tom since he had skied that rig on a ski tour last March. Besides, you should be nice to preachers.

Tom is quickly on the path of being a “Dynafitter.” He appreciates the light weight, especially compared to his wider K2 skis mounted with Fritschis. He tells me that he enjoys the light weight and touring/ traveling efficiency with the flexible TLT4 EVO boot. Tom previously enjoyed shallow-powder skiing on this rig in March, and says that the rig performed well. He is equally pleased with the skiing performance of this rig on our glacier ski tour.

As I expected, while walking up and cramponing with the Zzero3 boot I longed for the more comfortable and flexible TLT 4 EVO boot. I have been touring on the lighter and flexible TLT4 during the past month and was accustomed to it. However, I soon adapted to the stiffer Green Machine and walked up the glacier efficiently and with reasonable comfort. My all-purpose rig- Zzero3 TF, Dynafit Speed, and 178 cm Seven Summit skis performed very well and had a huge power and control margin that would be appreciated in more difficult conditions such as on an overcast day with mushy corn snow.

What a spectacular day, great turns, and terrific company on a truly classic tour. I find myself counting the years in the future that I will have the ability to continue repeating this spectacular ski tour of the Colchuck Glacier.

(Guest blogger Rob Mullins lives in the Washington Cascades with his family. His life has included a succession of careers that allow him to live in the mountains and ski tour a lot.)

Comments

9 Responses to “Guest TR – Colchuck Glacier, Wenatchee Mountains, North Central Cascades, WA”

  1. Sky June 13th, 2008 3:11 pm

    Also variously known as the Stuart Range and the Enchantments, I hear there are some titillating steep descents to be had in the vicinity.

  2. Gareth June 15th, 2008 7:02 am

    That looked great. You guys certainly get some fantastic looking spring skiing in the States. When you write “used under permission bmi” in the credits what does this mean? Do you have to pay? Or is there some free agreement with BMI? I have just had a video flagged by youtube for using a soundtrack and would like to know how I can use music in home videos legally (without paying)!

  3. Lou June 15th, 2008 10:28 am

    Gareth, I work with some video guys who have a BMI license they let me in on. Using just part of a song is not that big a deal and in the gray zone of legality, especially when it’s only part of the total work, but it’s nice to actually keep it on the up and up. But I’m not a lawyer, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for technical answers.

  4. Tyler June 15th, 2008 8:21 pm

    I just came back to CO from spending a week in the Cascades. Had six inches of new (or so, depending on elev) last Tuesday. Mixed rain/sun the rest of the time. I have been gone for a couple of weeks so…I was wondering if anyone had any ideas for where the snowpack is still decent in CO or if the warm-ish weather has killed off most of the snow. Friends tell me that a snotel station somewhere in the San Juans still reports 120 in, which seems absurd. Anything close to Denver still have snow?

  5. Lou June 16th, 2008 7:02 am

    Tyler, any of our high passes have decent snowpack, though somewhat suncupped in many places. Indy Pass was skiing well all weekend, for example.

  6. ATV Tires June 16th, 2008 2:36 pm

    Don’t you get ice burn if you fall in spring clothing? Dude. Sweet.

  7. Gareth June 16th, 2008 3:48 pm

    Thanks Lou, that makes sense to me. I’ll carry on my merry way and credit the artist if I use their music. I note that this “flag” on YouTube is just that, UMG (Universal Music) haven’t asked that I stop using the music and haven’t asked that the video is taken down, they just reserve the right to advertise alongside the video when it is played (presumably for free). I nice compromise I think.

  8. Lou June 16th, 2008 3:56 pm

    Indeed, YouTube is very smart.

  9. Randonnee June 16th, 2008 10:21 pm

    ATV Tires Says:
    June 16th, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Don’t you get ice burn if you fall in spring clothing? Dude. Sweet.

    Yes, actually I poked some fun at the Rev. Tom in regard to his outfit. That is the standard Seattle Mountaineers outfit for spring and summer : )}, but Tom did not fall.

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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