It’s been a wet and sometimes depressing early season for many skiers here in the Cascades. We’ve had lots of precipitation and weather patterns that weatherman Cliff Mass called “juicy” but sadly, most of it has come in the form of warm storms that have brought more inches of rain than snow in most places. However, we’ve still been able to get after it with the occasional snowfall. I’m working as a mountain host up at Scottish Lakes High Camp this winter and have managed a couple of dawn patrol tours before starting my workday at camp. Getting turns in before work is easy and rewarding when you start your day at 5000’ in the Central Cascades.
The conditions started out bony up on the ridge, but I haven’t done any significant damage to the bases of my skis yet, and at this point any turns are better than no turns!
After a couple of moderately busy weekends at Scottish Lakes High Camp, with some of the most challenging snowmobiling conditions I’ve ever experienced, Eric and I were ready for a couple of days off. The forecast for Tuesday looked like we might squeak out some powder turns before everything turned to rain in the afternoon, so with Noah joining us, we headed up to an empty and foggy camp Monday morning. We intended to go for a longer tour to the top of Mt. Baldy with hopefully reasonable weather, but low expectations for the snow conditions. As we gained elevation however, we were surprised and stoked to see that the rain that had soaked High Camp the previous weekend materialized as snow at higher elevations, and at the top of the ridge we emerged out of the gloomy fog into clear visibility and occasional rays of sunshine.
We skinned west across the broad and mostly flat ridge crest for a couple miles until it narrowed down and Eric found a steep pitch that would deposit us down on Lake Donald. None of us had dug into the snowpack yet this season, and as there was way more snow than we were expecting, we dug a couple pits to the ground to look at the layers. Satisfied with what we found we skied down to the lake and into the ping pong ball cloud layer. We headed across the lake and up towards Baldy, popping out of the clouds again to find Baldy looking a bit too scratchy so we headed up nearby Tamarack Peak, which had much better coverage.
The top of Tamarack provided awesome views of the Chiwaukum Range to the southwest and Eric pointed out portions of the end of the Chiwaukum Traverse that he skied last spring.
The descent off the top was way better than expected and although there were patches of variable snow, we all agreed those were the best turns of the season so far and another lap was necessary, although it meant we’d be skiing back to camp in the dark.
We descended a ridge to the south of Loch Eileen down onto Lake Julius and became enveloped in the mist once again.
A little elevation gain and a couple miles had us to the top of the gladed run Powderpuff and one last headlamp lit descent into camp. We made a quick dinner of quesadillas and “disposed” of some leftover wine from the previous weekend. Talk of firing up the sauna turned into simply passing out and hoping the forecasted pow materialized. The now familiar sound of rain on the metal roof woke me up at midnight and I turned my alarm off, cursing El Nino and giving up on the prospect of skiing soft snow two days in a row.
Back to praying for snow and trying to get it while it’s good. Not too different from a normal winter really, just with slightly lower expectations. When the pow does arrive, it will be that much sweeter.
(Guest blogger Jason Davis is a climber, kayaker and skier living in the Pacific North Wet. He works as a sea kayak guide for Discovery Sea Kayaks on San Juan Island, WA during the warmer months and searches for good views, aesthetic lines and soft snow while attempting to work as little as possible during the winter. His other hobbies include spaghetti western card games and enjoying vigorous legal debates with polite Canadian Border Guards.)