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.
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.)