Tamarack Peak, Washington Cascades Trip Report

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | December 12, 2014      

Jason Davis

Noah continuing the long tradition of tele turns in soft snow above Scottish Lakes High Camp.

Noah continuing the long tradition of tele turns in soft snow above Scottish Lakes High Camp.

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.

Sunrise from the top of McCue Ridge, an easy ~1000’ elevation gain from camp.

Sunrise from the top of McCue Ridge, an easy ~1000’ elevation gain from camp.

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.

A glimmer of sunshine above the grey on McCue Ridge.

A glimmer of sunshine above the grey on McCue Ridge.

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.

Eric and Noah with the top of Tamarack and lots of bare Larch trees behind.

Eric and Noah near the top of Tamarack, touring through bare Larch trees behind.

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.

Looking southwest into the Chiwaukums with Big Chiwaukum looming in the distance and a snow covered Larch lake in the obvious basin on the right.

Looking southwest into the Chiwaukums with Big Chiwaukum looming in the distance and a snow covered Larch lake in the obvious basin on the right.

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.

Crossing a frozen Lake Julius at twilight in the eerie mist. Photo by Noah Young.

Crossing a frozen Lake Julius at twilight in the eerie mist. Photo by Noah Young.

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.)


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


5 Responses to “Tamarack Peak, Washington Cascades Trip Report”

  1. Mike Marolt December 12th, 2014 10:53 am

    Makes me want to leave AT turns in soft snow above Scottish Lakes…..nice photo.

  2. Coop December 12th, 2014 11:20 am

    Sure do miss high camp. Sounds like you were all able to find happiness despite the Pineapple Express.

    Also, Jason, how are those vigorous legal debates going with our dear friends up north?

  3. Louie III December 12th, 2014 11:41 am

    Awesome! Looks like there is some good snow up there!

  4. Jason Davis December 12th, 2014 1:18 pm

    Yeah, there was happiness to be found (and AT turns by yours truly) up on top of the ridge at times during my stay. A few inches of fluff skis pretty good when it’s being illuminated by the rising sun! I’m betting that at least some of this big storm came in the form of snow up high and with the colder temps coming perhaps it will be back to a more normal winter of good skiing up there.

    Oh, and progress is being made with the great polite north, that’s all I can say for now.

  5. Lisa Dawson December 13th, 2014 6:05 am

    Beautiful photos! I especially like the grey on McCue ridge. Thanks for the trip report. Let it snow!

  Your Comments

  Recent Posts

Facebook Twitter Email Instagram Youtube

WildSnow Twitter Feed


  • Blogroll & Links

  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring 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 ski touring news and information here.

    All material on this website is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked, permission required for reproduction (electronic or otherwise) and display on other websites. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

    We include "affiliate sales" links with most of our blog posts. This means we receive a percentage of a sale if you click over from our site (at no cost to you). None of our affiliate commission links are direct relationships with specific gear companies or shopping carts, instead we remain removed by using a third party who manages all our affiliate sales and relationships. We also sell display "banner" advertising, in this case our relationships are closer to the companies who advertise, but our display advertising income is carefully separated financially and editorially from our blog content, over which we always maintain 100% editorial control -- we make this clear during every advertising deal we work out. Please also notice we do the occasional "sponsored" post, these are under similar financial arrangements as our banner advertising, only the banner or other type of reference to a company are included in the blog post, simply to show they provided financial support to WildSnow.com and provide them with advertising in return. Unlike most other "sponsored content" you find on the internet, our sponsored posts are entirely under our editorial control and created by WildSnow specific writers.See our full disclosures here.

    Backcountry skiing is dangerous. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. Due to human error and passing time, the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow owners and contributors of liability for use of said items for ski touring or any other use.

    Switch To Mobile Version