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I had a week off school for spring break this year. Plan A (Alaska) slowly turned into plan B, which morphed into plan C… Although initial plans fell through it still was a fun time, with incredible skiing in new places.
I’d been planing on heading up to Alaska this spring break, for a repeat of the amazing trip we did last year. The season in Alaska got off to a strong start, but a few weeks before our trip it became evident that the conditions were taking a turn for the worse. A nasty persistent weak layer began to develop and didn’t show any signs of stabilizing. A big attraction of Alaska is the combination of stable snowpack, good snow, and awesome terrain. With the stability lessened, the Glacier Bay/Haines area looked to be less attractive than it could be. About a week out, we switched our tickets to Anchorage, hoping to head to the Valdez area, as they had a bit better snowpack. However, a few days before we left, a big wind event created wind slabs and destroyed the powder in that area. We agreed to bail on Alaska altogether, in favor of a cheaper trip in closer mountains.
After getting out of class on Thursday, I spent a great few days in the Baker backcountry. First came a classic deep Baker storm day, then a rare cold and clear day (that was still pretty deep). Wanting to explore some different areas, and after researching options, I heard Washington Pass only had a few days before it would start to be cleared for the summer (effectively closing it to snowmobiles). Wanting a repeat of the rad skiing we found a earlier in the season (here), it was an easy decision to head out there. My good friend Zach unfortunately had a season-ending injury a few weeks previously, but still graciously allowed us to borrow his sled, and hung out with us in the evenings. Once again we found some incredible terrain, with beautiful surroundings. Although the conditions were a little warm and gloppy, it proved to be a great time.
After a few days we decided to head up to Nelson, BC, as they seemed to be having colder weather and great snow. After getting another day of skiing in, we headed out in the evening for the five hour drive. Four hours in we arrived at the border, shortly before closing time. One of our group had some minor border trouble in the past, so he went inside in an ultimately futile attempt to talk with the border guards. Unfortunately (and unexpectedly), the guards refused our entry into the country. While this was all happening, the guards had us unpack our stuffed-to-the-brim car (allegedly so they could search it), pile it on the ground, and then promptly load it all back up. Slightly miffed by the pointless busy-work, we pulled a quick u-turn, and headed back to the USA. Another bug in our plans, but we were determined to make the best of it. After a night camping in a redneck junkyard/pasture in nowhere Washington, we decided to head south towards Stevens Pass and Leavenworth.
High Camp is a group of cabins in the Chiwaukum mountains located between Stevens Pass and Leavenworth. Although focused on cross-country skiing, the surrounding mountains have promising terrain for backcountry skiing. My friend Eric is one of the caretakers of the camp, and graciously invited us up for a few days. Although I’d never been, everyone else on the trip had, and they were able to show me around. The skiing proved to be excellent. The weather was cloudy, so we stuck to trees, but were still able to find good snow at higher elevations.
Although the plans I originally had lined up didn’t work out, plan G proved to be a great time nonetheless. I prefer detailed plans; they tend to make trips easier, cheaper, and ultimately more carefree. However, you also have to be willing to abandon them and go a totally different direction. This certainly applies for ski mountaineering objectives, as we experienced on this trip.
After returning to Bellingham, I spent a few days enjoying the good weather up on Mt. Baker. Perhaps another TR on that?
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.