The views become fantastic once you break out into the treeline through an old burn from 1945, cresting the gentle rolling ridges that characterizes the geography here. The distant pyramidal shape of Silvertip Mountain stands solitary to the west, while to the south, the jagged summits of the Picket Range and Hozameens in the North Cascades blend together in a serrated horizon.
I was here last year at the same time, but missed all the views. We were touring in a full-on whiteout at that time, looking around at many different shades of grey and white.
Camp was at 1950m, 2.5km west of Big Buck Mountain after a few pleasant hours of skinning and breaks. There was just enough daylight to wander east, towards some south facing slopes. They are short runs, don't come here looking for epic long descents.
In the days leading up, the weather had been very cold with an arctic front. Overnight low's at Blackwall Peak on the 29th and 30th were down to -20C. A temperature inversion followed, with daytime temperatures reaching 6C on the 31st. Northerly winds had also scoured ridgetop, leaving behind a mess of sastrugi and windcrust. Knowing all this, I had low expectations for finding good turns on this trip, but was ready to be surprised. It's been a frustrating ski season for me, watching storms roll through with above seasonal freezing levels.
The first three turns off the ridge top were difficult. Breakable crust. But that transitioned into 10-15cm of smooth creamy snow down into the headwaters of Fat Dog Creek.
The sun dipped below the clouds, but just above the peaks. The light changed from a dull grey to vibrant hues of yellow and oranges, sparking alive the clouds above. I raced back up to the ridge top to take a few photos, knowing that each successive shot would be better as the colours developed in the sky.
Although we were camping, comforts like good food were not scarified. Back at camp, we feasted on pasta with fresh veggies and finished off with a triple chocolate tart. A rich concoction of a chocolate graham cracker base, a chocolate ganache filling, and a bittersweet chocolate glaze. The high clouds began to break up, and the moon came out. Two skiers skied past our camp that evening. They had just spent the day ski out at the Three Brothers, and were returning to their camp at valley bottom.
The next morning, we woke up to a whiteout. I got out and started the stove, while light snow flakes fell, with occasional gusts of wind. This was deja-vu for me. I was re-living the whiteout skiing from last year. At least the forecast was spot on.
We wandered east towards Big Buck Mountain after filling up on oatmeal. I followed the ridge top, traversing across pockets of freshly wind loaded snow, interspersed with wind-scoured patches. The snow was best a treeline, free from wind-affect and the temperature inversion. I abandoned the idea of continuing up to the top, knowing the snow nor the views would improve. I have some ideas for loops in the area, but I'll wait for some more snow below treeline and longer days.
We returned to camp, packed up and headed down the Fat Dog trail. The low-angle glades at the top skied well, with enough coverage between the widely spaced spruces. Large snow flakes began to fall, adding to the soft conditions on the road, below the inversion level. It's frustrating to ski powder on the road out, but it made for a fast and fun ski out. Don't expect to glide the entire way out, several short sections require double-poling, or just a slow waddle on a gentle uphill.
A great trip to start the year!