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I like being outside if it's nice out. This includes mountain biking, trail running, sailing, climbing, skiing and much more. If you're going on a fun adventure, let me know!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mount Baker - Coleman Deming Route

The clear and dry conditions in early March this year were perfect for getting up in to the high alpine. After doing a very warm tour around Table Mountain, Keith Georgia and I made plans to head up towards Mount Baker, and see how far we could get with the conditions. 

While loading the car outside the cabin on Sunday morning, and with even less sleep due to the daylight saving change, a faint headlamp approached the car. To our surprise, it was Tyler, who had driven from Vancouver that morning to meet us at the cabin. I didn't think he was going to make it after a no-show on Saturday night, but my firm 6am departure from the cabin worked out.

We left the parking lot at 7am. One of the benefits of a low-snow year is the high access. The parking lot is at just under 3000'. We drove up Glacier Creek road, which was in good conditions with some potholes. Normally, the parking lot is blocked by snow until at least June. We carried skis along the Heliotrope ridge trail to the bottom of the Hogsback, and continued carrying skis up firm morning snow until 6600', where the slope angles eases off on the Coleman Glacier. We were not alone today, with many other people out either going to the summit, looking for turns off Heliotrope ridge, or climbing the ice lines on Colfax Peak. 

Headlamps on and getting ready at the trailhead.


Hiking up the Heliotrope Ridge trail


Sarah Hart and crew walking up towards Heliotrope Ridge


Catching the first rays. Almost time for skis.

Tyler had issues with his dynafit bindings, so he borrowed a friend's tele setup for the day. I should point out that this was Tyler's first day on telemark bindings. He's a strong skier, very fit guy, and figured it should work. Part way up the Coleman Glacier, Tyler was slow and in the back of the pack. When he caught up to me, he told me he realized one of his boots was in ski mode, and his Voile switchback bindings were not in free-pivot mode. He just figured the low range of motion was how the bindings were. Tyler's original idea was to take his skis to the summit, and then surprise me by asking how to telemark. 


Note the flipped down plastic lever on the right boot. I noticed this after uploading the photos at home!

Travel conditions were firm on the way up to the Baker-Colfax col. There were icy sections, where ski crampons would be handy. I left mine in the car because none of the others owned them. Having been up here a few times in the spring in previous years with a big snowpack, I was surprised by some of the crevasses that we weaved around. We never roped up, but there are big obvious seracs and crevasses to avoid. The good news is that all this late March precipitation has been coming in cold and wet up high, and coverage should have improved for the next big weather window this spring. 



Seracs on the Coleman Glacier


Marching along the Coleman Glacier, dwarfed by Mount Baker


Climbers on the Roman Wall

If you look at the sunny slope on the right, the Roman Wall, you can see some climbers on their way up.


Typical snow condition higher up


A few minutes earlier, the bottom part of the serac to the right of Keith broke free, and cascaded down the glacier. The last time I was here, I saw an empty tent pitched in an incredibly dumb location right in the path of that serac


Working our way around the crevasses

Keith and Georgia below the Colfax seracs


The view towards the North and South Twin Sisters, the Salish Sea, and Vancouver Island

A moderate northwesterly wind funnelled across the col as we switched over to boot crampons. They were essential for today's conditions, with icy chickenheads and frozen grappel on the Pumice Ridge, the divided between the Coleman glacier to the north, and the Deming Glacier to the south. Even with crampons on, travel was slow. Each step was carefully placed on the frozen beads, which were like miniature penitentes. While I chose to carry my skis up from the col, I had no illusions of skiing this stuff. In my mind, I thought that with the freezing levels at 7000-8000' today, the Roman wall would soften up by mid-afternoon. On the way up, descending climbers would ask me about the rimey ice section, the crux of the ascent today. 


It's still a long ways up there


Crampons were essential here.

Hard Rime Ice Chicken Heads

Tyler cramponing up Pumice Ridge




Tyler and I slowly bootpacked up the Roman Wall. I wore my puffy layer the whole way up, never overheating with the constant upper level winds. Asides from two other skiers, we were alone on the summit plateau. I clicked into my skis and descended at 2:15pm, which was a bit early as the snow on the Roman Wall did not soften into perfect corn. I didn't want to wait longer, since Keith and Georgia were waiting somewhere below the col for us. With the wind cooling the surface snow, I also doubted the snow would soften more. The turns were enjoyable, but variable with ice in spots, and then nice wind pressed powder and corn. I switched back to crampons for the rimed section, and then continued down from the col. 


Still slogging up.

Tyler on Pumice Ridge with Colfax and the Salish Sea behind


Tyler on the summit plateau

Skiing down the Roman Wall

Skiing down the Roman Wall

The snow stayed icy until below 8400', where we found our friends hanging out in the sunshine, away from the wind. We skied in the sunshine down the Coleman Glacier, with wind pressed powder, and some nice corn. We all skied as far as we could, down below the Hogsback, but the skiable snow ended just above the trail. Regrettably, the skis went on the pack, and we marched down the trail towards the cold beers in the car and pizza at the North Fork Brewery. 

I watched Tyler attempt to drop his knee here. It was harder than he imagined, and I persuaded him to parallel turn instead down the icy snow with crevasses below


Ice lines on Colfax Peak.


Fun turns on the lower Coleman Glacier

Awesome turns down the Coleman Glacier in the late afternoon

Awesome turns down the Coleman Glacier in the late afternoon


Keith skiing through spring, and heading down towards summer


I think the conditions up there will be good this spring. It's a hike to get up to the snow, but the trail is easy to follow. These recent storms late March should have plastered the upper mountain with heavy wet snow, hopefully sticking well to everything. Hopefully this inspires somebody to go up there and find some good spring skiing when the weather gets good again!

More photos

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Table Mountain Circumski

In early March, I spent a weekend making the most of the ski conditions down around the Glacier, Washington area. I had low expectations for the snow conditions, but warm temperatures were in the forecast and all I wanted was good views and corn skiing. On the Saturday, Agi Georgia Keith Kasia Mitch Catherine Martin and I headed up to the Mount Baker ski area in search of turns.

This year, the snowpack to the south has been just as dismal at the low elevation. Normally, on the drive up to the Heather Meadows base area, the side of the roads are lined with high snowbanks. This time the road was barren, the parking lot completely visible and everywhere was green or brown. Looking around, it might as well be June.

A bare parking lot, with Mount Larrabee behind.

Agi poses with her skis, the first photo was taken on a cold day in November, with temperatures down to -15C. In contrast, the temperature reached 10C on this early March day.

Just enough snow to ski on.

Mount Shuksan dominates the skyline here. The south side of Shuksan arm is free of snow.

The trees leading into the south face of Table Mountain were thin. It's best to traverse high here to get to the open slope. Normally this isn't an issue, and going down through the trees is fine, but I found discontinuous snow and deep tree wells this time.

Corn skiing was excellent on the smooth south slopes at 11am. Most of the snow has fallen off the south face of Table Mountain, with avalanche debris below. Freezing levels were high all weekend, at 2400-2600m. The winds were light all day, and temperatures reaching 10C. I skied in a t-shirt the entire day, never needing to put on another layer.

Agi harvesting corn on the south side of Table Mountain

Keith skis without a shirt on this warm March day.

The group skiing along the south side of Table Mountain

Agi transitioning, with a view of Ptarmigan Ridge, Coleman Pinnacle, and Mount Baker Park Glacier behind.

The group and Mount Baker.

I enjoyed two laps down from the col south of Table Mountain, down into Wells Creek. Compared to last year, there was way less snow here, with rocks showing on exposed moraines. The skiing was good, smooth and buttery.

We continued the circuit around Table Mountain, adding in an extra climb to the summit plateau. Instead of skiing down the steeper northeast aspects into Bagley Lake, we reversed the climb and skied more soft west-facing corn back down. The corn was slightly over-baked, but everybody was having a great time. Especially Agi, who shredded with perfect technique. It's the type of snow and ski conditions that she grew up with back in Ontario. Not like the weird fluffy deep stuff we normally get here.

Thin snow coverage on this moraine. The open slopes of Ptarmigan Ridge will continue to have good skiing for a while.

There's more rock exposed than normal, but not an issue for skiing.

Agi climbs up for another lap

Catharine and Kasia skinning along the summit plateau with Mount Shuksan

Agi skis the west facing corn

It's all about the timing and aspect in spring conditions.

Agi railing in the soft corn conditions

Kasia having fun in the snow.

Mazama Lake was not frozen, and I took off my skis to cross the creek draining from Iceberg Lake. After crossing the frozen Iceberg Lake, we continued up to the Herman saddle. I was not looking forward to the descent down to Bagley Lakes. From the parking lot, I noticed that the entire south side of Mount Herman was snow free, with snow patches below trees and talus field. The creek draining southeast from the saddle was also snow-free.

We skied down below the Herman Saddle to 4600' and then took off skis to cross the creek, easily done on solid boulders. The entire north side of Table Mountain had avalanched in the past week, leaving behind several hundred metres of icy debris to navigate through on skis.

The ski area has been doing their best to stay open. The Blueberry cat track was groomed, and uphill access on it was fine, with some bare patches. There were lots of skiers out enjoying the sunshine and groomers despite the limited terrain available. The ski area closed the following Monday, and operations are on standby. The good news is that the base area received another foot, and twice that on the upper areas in the last storm. Some rain is forecasted before the weekend, but there is a chance of snow after that. Here's to a snowy spring!

A very short walk between the snow. Don't let this deter you.

Crossing Iceberg Lake

Doing my best to stay cool during the day. Snow angels first, then barrel rolling down the slope.

Mount Shuksan

Kasia skiing below the Herman Saddle

Crossing the creek below Herman Saddle. It was straightforward, again, don't be deterred by this!

Back at the cabin,  Keith and Georgia prepared an awesome dinner. Ski to eat!

Smoked salmon with cream cheese, and Coq au Vin



The evening entertainment was a murder mystery game. We all dressed up for our roles. Here, Martin is dressed up as a French Duke.

Agi as a journalist, and Kasia as a wealthy socialite.