Cascades Redemption — Guest TR

Post by blogger | January 10, 2009      

Photos by Josh Kato and Rob Mullins

Stevens Pass received over 13 inches of rainfall on January 6th and 7th. A Youtube video showed some guys at Alpental on Snoqualmie Pass riding tubes in flowing water on the Alpental Road, between the snowbanks. Across I-90 an avalanche and landslide of the entire snowpack on a ski run at Hyak removed lift towers and a home.

Backcountry Skiing

Josh on top of Arrowhead getting some Cascadian redemption.

All of the east-west Washington Cascade passes Highways were closed, as was the north-south pass over the Wenatchee Mountains, Blewett Pass Highway 97. The closures were related to avalanches, landslides, falling rocks, flood water and damage or destruction and removal of the entire roadbed in places.

After all this, a few days ago I checked the Stevens Pass weather telemetry and finally noticed a perfect trend for stability. The data showed a one-day trend of rain to snow gradually with significant cooling and low winds. This was in my view the ultimate scenario for snowpack stability, along with the previous 13 inches of rain that flushed away the deep instability.

In two days the north central Cascades weather and snowpack had changed from wet and rainy to cold and partly sunny with well-bonded new snow over a now homogeneous and hazard-reduced old base. Thus, January 9th was the day. We had some sunshine for a while on our ski tour, and deep new snow — what we call powder here in the land of ten percent water content “fluff.” Wet and crappy to partly sunny and powder skiing. Cascades redemption.

Cascades backcountry Skiing

My run on Arrowhead. Cascade powder, low avalanche danger, redemption.

We climbed from Hwy 2 at 2800 ft. elevation to the 6030 ft. summit of Arrowhead Mountain. Arrowhead is located a few miles east of Stevens Pass and directly above the 7 mile railroad tunnel. To the north is the ridge which includes Rock Mountain and to the south the spectacular Chiwaukums Mountains and Snowgrass Mountain.

We walked the different aspects of the upper open areas and found no evidence of instability. The refrozen granular was under about seven inches of new snow at 5000 ft., and I was able to penetrate the granular 6 to 8 inches with my ski pole basket which demonstrated adequate refreeze in my view. Higher up the snow had drifted in to perhaps 18 inches deep in places. No slab formation was seen by us, nothing went from a ski cut on the steepest faces, uptrack switch backs did not fail with a kick.

Climbing Arrowhead on skis is full-on exposure to avalanches while climbing and I avoid it most of the time, especially with hazard. Last year my second turn set off a six inch slab that propagated the path that we skied today for 2/3 of the length of the path. Today we saw no evidence of such instability, and we enjoyed turns in Cascade powder.

So, today was a good start — finally.

Cascade backcountry Skiing

On the way up, slides in background had all run big and full path during the previous week's events.

Luckily, in the maritime-climate affected Cascades snowpack rain and warmups change the nature of the snowpack on a regular basis. When one is skiing powder one must remember that it always rains, always warms, and crusts form. But then, conversely, at some point, it always snows.

(Guest blogger Rob Mullins lives in the Washington Cascades with his wife, daughter, and a black lab avalanche dog in training named Blackie.)


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4 Responses to “Cascades Redemption — Guest TR”

  1. Nathan January 10th, 2009 2:03 pm

    Rob, great post. Love the pictures and the redemption. Also, thanks for letting us in on your avy decision-making process. In this year of avalanche issues coming to the fore nationwide, it’s really nice to be able to confirm my own decision-making processes by hearing from someone else who has experience and expertise.

  2. Randonnee January 10th, 2009 2:34 pm

    Glad that you liked it, Nathan. It was a nice tour after a long wait for reduction of hazard in a crazy snowpack. In the North Cascades serious deeply-buried hazard remains and avalanches are rippin’ there.

  3. NORTH.BEND January 10th, 2009 3:57 pm


    Glad to se you’re getting out safely. But, you got to quit telling everyone how awesome our snow is.

    Let me know when it gets all crappy, I’ll come over for a tour.



  4. Randonnee January 10th, 2009 10:43 pm

    Hey NB,

    I hope that you all survived the deluge without problems.

    We scored a pretty good day for the Crest, I needed sunglasses for a while! But then, that preceding continuous stormy weather- no break in precip between rain to snow for crust formation and no clearing for faceting with the gradual cooling created great stability conditions.

    Unfortunately the main portal to skiing the Wenatchee Mountains, Blewett Pass Hwy 97, remains closed due to reconstruction of washouts. Perhaps next week we may return to the usually sunny geographic center of the state for ski touring.

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