During the 2009-2010 season, I focused my attention on the exploration of Washington’s North Cascades.
This area is considered by many to be among the wildest, most remote, and most rugged of those in the contiguous U.S., and certainly the wildest of the Cascades. Situated North of Stevens Pass and stretching to the American border, I subdivided the area into ten unique subranges, as consistent with Peak Bagger’s subdivision system.
The map below indicates which areas are encompassed by each range subdivision, or subrange:
I explored remote objectives in each of these areas. Click on the trip reports below to read a report from each subrange.
1. The Skagit Range: North Twin Sister Trip, Mt Baker, Mt Shuksan
2. The Pickett Range: Partial Traverse of the Picketts, and Mount Ruth
3. The Hozameen Range: Crater Mountain
4. The Okanogan Range: Mt .Robinson
5. The Methow Mountains: Abernathy Peak
6. The Central North Cascades: Mt. Buckner, Spire Peak, Sahale Mountain, Johannesburg Mountain
7. The Entiat Range: Seven Fingered Jack
8. The Chelan Range: Cardinal Peak
9. The Glacier Peak Area: Mt. Pugh, Kyes Peak
10. The Glacier Peak Area north of Stevens Pass: Stevens Pass Circumnavigation,Rock Mountain
Nearby Ranges Visited:
The Chiwaukum Range, The Stuart Range, The Tatoosh Range, The Bailey Range, and The Dakobed Range
Situated just east of Ross Lake and dead center in the North Cascades is a small yet rugged peak known as Crater Mountain. This area which is found in the Hozameen Range holds two separate summits which until recently housed fire look outs that held some of the best views of the North Cascades. With names like the Pickett’s, Jack Mountain and Mt. Goode surrounding its landscape one can see why little attention is paid to this peak from a skiing perspective.
With a six a.m. departure from Seattle I arrived at the Crater Mountain trailhead at 10 a.m. with not another car to be found, today this whole area would be mine. The sweltering summer heat blazed above me as I packed my backpack in silence, only to be interrupted by the occasional car driving past on Highway 20.
From the moment I started hiking on the abandoned trail I was greeted by lush green forest and a trail cut into the nearly vertical cliff side, dropping abruptly into Canyon creek. Switchback after switchback the trail quickly gained elevation with no shaded resting spots to hide from the afternoon sun in sight for the first five miles. I was first greeted by the comotion of rushing waters as I hiked the dust covered trail, my mouth salivating with the though of drinkable water. The moment I stepped into alpine I was surrounded in jaw dropping vistas with multiple waterfalls cascading down a near vertical glacier carved wall with a small tarn lake 100’s of feet below.
I had pushed myself for many hours so a rest was in orders as I sat on the edge of the tarns drinking liter after liter of the freshly melted water. The heat had taken its toll on my already sore body but with every drink I could feel myself getting stronger. With rested feet and a hydrated body I set off again for the final push up to Crater peaks sub summit. From here on I would have to sacrifice the shade that I had come to love in exchange for panoramic views of the cascades. For months I had been obsessively looking at topographical maps and here I was eye level with peaks like Mt Ballard, Golden Horn and Tower Mountain to the east.
While the slopes to the east were absent of snow the high glaciers of the North Cascades still lingered on the Peaks to the Southwest. With views of peaks like Mt Buckner and Black Peak coming into view my mind became flooded with memories of climbs I had experience within the past few years. This high crest is home to some of the tallest and most challenging peaks in all of the Cascades.
I had been hiking for well over 6 hours without a skiable line in sight so I was greatful when I arrived at the sub summit of Crater Mountain and saw snow in the distance. From my vantage I looked directly down at Crater lakes turquoise waters filled with glacial silt and breaking loose of the tight grip of ice that had smothered it for the past 9 months and the Jerry Glacier beyond. The only thing that stood between me and the glacier was a thousand foot face melted out and riddled with cliffs. My only hope of making it down to the lake would be by down climbing an exposed ridge which provided mellow terrain other then a 50 foot crux of 4th class scramble. With tree branches in hand I down climbed the crux, skis scrapping against near vertical rock and feet slipping on the smooth granite until I finally got back on mellow terrain. After the face it was easy hiking down glacier carved rock until arriving at Crater Lake where I dropped off my approach shoes in exchange for snowboard boots.
Out of everything I had seen throughout the day the highlight was an up-close view of Jack Mountains south face. I had heard of and seen the face in pictures but nothing truly represented how massive and steep it actually is. It had been my goal to attempt Jack Mountains 9100 foot summit this season but with small weather windows and bigger projects I never had the opportunity to make it that way. This giant would have to wait for a later time.
With my Splitboard on my feet I quickly skinned up the Jerry Glacier situated in-between the two summits of Crater Peak before reaching a low col. The glacier provided perfect low angle corn as I retraced my skin track tacking in the views of the Pasayten Wilderness.
This was my final trip in the range project and as down climb back to my car I thought back to all the climbs
I had done in the past 9 months. I had delt with everything from 0 degree snowstorms to sweltering heat and finally I was done with a project I had obsessed over for so long. This season had been by far the most exhausting season yet with brutal approaches and hair raising descents and it was finally over.
While I am taking a much needed break, I look forward to my project in the upcoming year.
The Okanogan Range is located deep within the eastern end of the North Cascades. While only five hours away from Seattle this area provides massive rugged mountain sitting in some of the most isolated wilderness within Washington.
With nothing but a topographical map and an old climbers trail I was on my way running solo for a 24 mile roundtrip hike into an area I knew nothing about. The moment I started hiking I was intimidated by the massive relief of the mountains surrounding me knowing that I would have to hike over 20 miles and 6000 feet to tag the second highest summit in the Pasayten Wilderness.
The first 6 miles went fast on a maintained trail following Robinson Creek then following an old climbing trail up Beauty Creek before the snow halted the quick progress. I decided to push on creating my own path through the old growth forest, climbing over dead trees and dense forests along the way. It had taken 9 miles before reaching Robinsons east face, covered with avalanche paths along the way. I had no idea what line I intended to ride until arriving at a narrow steep coulior on the east face of Robinson.
With an objective in sight I pulled out both of my ice axes and started climbing into a mellow bowl that would allow me access into the couloirs 3/4 the way up and above the crux. Carefully kick stepping up the steep ridge provided tricky kick stepping up the mid 40 degree face. The climb went smoothly and before long I was looking west at endless terrain and almost the whole expanse of the North Cascades all the way to Mt Baker. This season I had seen so many different areas and gained so much respect for these dense, jagged and remote mountains. Looking back among the Central North Cascades from Mt Robinson was rewarding seeing peaks I had climbed from a whole new perspective.
Looking south I was stoked to see the North facing slopes of the Eastern Cascades still thick with snowpack. Here I was standing among the summit ridge look back at my objective 48 hours earlier the north face of Abernathy sat less then 20 miles away.
Before long put my gear together and traversed the ridge to scope out the line I had seen earlier.
Since I had scene the line from the bottom I was aware that the line was continuous. Before long I was standing on top of the steep line still lit by the afternoon sun, which made conditions for a huge potential for wet slides. A quick ski cut on the main headwall provided a massive wet slide which ran the entirety of the 2000 foot face and lasted almost 3 minutes. The slopes were steep but the snow was soft as I hop turned down the chute with ice axe in hand, my blood pumping as I rode into the crux. The choke was tight and the slopes were narrow as I rode the huge walls to avoid a huge runnel know 3 feet deep in the gut.
I was stoked to pull off such an aesthetic line on a mountain I had known so little about. If you ever have a chance to make it out this way Mt Robinson will not disappoint.
My line is the steep headwall followed by the tight chute on the left hand side
Abernathy peak can be found right outside of Winthrop on the Eastern Border of the Cascades. While on the very edge of this dynamic range it still rises to over 8,500 feet with both mellow and aggressive lines for the choosing. As fate would have it this area was almost home to a mega resort but locals wouldn’t have it only to have the company invest in Whistler/Blackcomb.
The weather forecast was looking much more forgiving on the eastern side of the Cascades so Jessie and I decided to do an overnight trip on Abernathy. We camped at Scatter Lake which is at 7000 feet and climbed 1400 feet up the southern face to reach the summit.
My goal on Abernathy was to ski an aggressive colouir on the north face that had been skied by Jason Hummel and Phil Fortier 4 years earlier.
(Thanks for the photo Tazz)
It’s always sketch dropping into a line especially when you know it is riddled with exposure. I made a few cautious turns to test snow conditions and found a few inches of soft snow which made for excellent edge ability. Once ridding into the colouir proper I rode the sidewalls to stay out of a 2 foot deep before making it onto a mellow apron. After 2000 feet of steep exposed riding I took out both of my ice axes and retracted my steps via the sport colouir and the headwall which was some of the steeper climbing I had done recently.
2 hours after dropping the line I once again met up with Jessie and we rode back down the southwest face back to our camp. With a nearly full moon and a huge alpine basin to us it was a great camping experience.
Cardinal Mountain is the high point of the Chelan Mountains and is bordered on the west to the Entiat Range and to the East by Lake Chelan. The closest town is the ferry accessed Holden Village but is mainly accessed via the Entiat River Road with a turnoff on the north fork.
Using the river as a catch line Dan Howell and I finally reached alpine after 6 miles of trail hiking and 3 miles of bushwhacking. The contrast between the low forests and the high mountains was wild. This area had a very rugged and unique fill for the Cascades as we skinned into the high mountains.
It took quite a while before we finally reached the head of valley with Saska, Emerald and Cardinal Peaks feeding the river.
We had no intended route to ski as we climbed but quickly Cardinal Peak grabbed our attention.
Under the northwest face of Cardinal was a flat bench formed by a now non existent glacier. With daylight quickly fading Dan and I decided to bivy on a flat boulder for the night.
While Dan rested for the rest of the night I decided to skin up Cardinal in the sunset alpenglow.
While it was steep I found the snow to be easily skinable up the upper 30 degree slopes.
After the col I switched to bootpacking for the final 400 feet and carefully climbed under a knife ridge all the way to the summit of Cardinal. I was concerned about the snow conditions as I dropped onto the steep headwall, producing a huge wetslide with a simple ski cut. I navigated through the crux bordered by rocks and ripped down the lower apron to Dan who was waiting below.
The next morning we enjoyed views to the west as we skinned up to Cardinals Col with Glacier Peak towering in the distance.
The higher we climbed the more astounding the views of the surrounding peaks.
Once we crested the col we skinned over to a flat bench on the eastern ridge 7000 feet above Lake Chelan.
Dan skinning on the eastern flats with the summit proper off in the distance.
Looking off to the north with Eldorado, Sahale and Buckner Mountains in the far skyline.
The slopes on the northeast side looked to hold both better terrain and quality of snow so we decided to make a 2000 vert run.
With no terrain traps or rocks on the permanent snowfield we were able to rip down the slopes and experience the best turns of the day.
Looking back up at our tracks before skinning back up to the col.
Back on the northwest slopes Dan took advantage of corn conditions
and with a quick traverse we rode back to camp and packed our bags for the long hike back out.
The hike was chaotic with thunderstorms, hail, river fording and the occasional patch of blue bird skies. While it was a long and excruciating trip to pull off in 36 hours it is a worthy tour none the less.
The Spire Mountain area has a reputation for being one of the most isolated areas within the Cascades and as we found out, it lives up to the reputation. I was fortunate to be invited on a Hummel family outing with not only the Hummel twins but also there younger brother Jessy to explore this rarely ventured area. The first day was almost 12 miles of trail hiking, some of which hadn’t been maintained for nearly a decade. The slide alder tested our patience as it clung to our skis causing the occasional moment where I was forced to crawl on the Bachelor creek trail before reaching our base camp at Cup Lake.
Avalanche dangers were a real concern with the forecast calling for extreme conditions. It quickly became apparent that the possibility of wet slides had become a real issue. We started our day before the slopes were baked in the early morning sun, finding the snow still soft from the night before.
Everything was going according to plan as we skinned up to Illowet ridge with the occasional cloud leaving odd shapes in the sky.
Before long Glacier Peak was looming in the distance with a demanding view of the north face covered in dense glaciers.
Soon we were standing on top of the col much earlier then expected. While we were high in elevation and surround in a world of ice, it felt as if we were in an oven as the sun baked us. I took a much needed break on the col and took a nap under the warm sun before transitioning to snowboard mode.
Each turn would cause a severe fast moving wet slide so we were forced to ride cautiously. While the snow was wet and heavy I found it enjoyable to bank on the high walls.
Even jumping off the occasional cornice along the way.
And watching the Hummel brothers perfect the art of tele turning.
While it was a long hike in it was more then worth it to share this experience with the Hummels and my good friend Dan. In my personal opinion the Glacier Peak wilderness in the most rugged and scenic area in all of Washington and this area is a true gem. This area is a perfect example of the quote “You have to pay to play”
While most of the past winter in the Cascades has been, well, less than wintry, the past few weeks seem to have really made up for that by bringing the winter back. Rain has ravaged the lowlands but it’s been coming down as snow in the mountains.
With stable weather and the possibility of over 2 ft of fresh on the E side of the Pacific Crest, Scott and I decided to attempt riding the North facing slopes of Mt. Stuart.
The indispensable Fred Becky notes of Mt. Stuart:
“Mount Stuart has been pronounced the single greatest mass of exposed granite in the United States and dominates the Central Washington Cascades… Predominate southwesterly winds keep the SW flanks of the peak relatively bare while depositing considerable snow in the N and NE facing cirques to sustain the Stuart, Ice Cliff and Sherpa Glaciers. Recent retreat has left hanging glaciers and ice cliffs well away from their terminal moraines… Because of its height and alpine nature, Mount Stuart has dangers unique to peaks in this area and can be a dangerous lightning target. The mountaineering problems are magnified by the mountain’s massive dimensions and complexity.”
- Cascade Alpine Guide: Climbing and High Routes, Vol. 1, Columbia River to Stevens Pass, Third Edition, The Mountaineers, 2000.
In addition to Becky’s recommendation, Mt. Stuart had long tempted me as the 2nd highest non-volcanic peak and the 6th highest peak in Washington.
I met Scott at 4 a.m. in Goldbar, a town situated 30 miles from Stevens Pass on highway 2 and a hour and a half from Leavenworth’s Mountaineers’ Creek Road. The further East we drove, the better the weather became. Quickly the rain turned to blue skies, and we found the road blocked by now a mile from the trailhead.
We set off under the dawn skies by skinning into the Alpine Lake Wilderness and following the creek situated between some of the biggest Granite mountains in the lower 48 states. We blazed through over a foot of fresh snow following a semi-popular summer trail crossing numerous creeks along the way. After 5 miles of skinning we finally got our first view of Stuart and its massive granite towers. We were in awe of our potential line and stoked to find so much fresh snow above us.
Before long we were off the trail and creating our own path by loosely following a small drainage towards the Sherpa Glacier Basin. Travel was hard in the densely forested slopes but the occasional view of our objective in the distance kept us on path.
Within 4 hours we were getting into the alpine with views of Argonaut and Sherpa Peaks in the distance. When we finally reached the Sherpa Glacier Basin the weather was slowly deteriorating with clouds moving in from the west.
With almost two feet of new snow on the slopes, we were careful to look for potential avalanches. We minimized exposure by keeping distance from one another and skinning on slopes that had already naturally released. The climb would be long–over 2000 verticial feet of open slope– before arriving to the base of the Coulior.
By the time we had reached the couloir the weather had deteriorated dramatically. What was originally the occasional cloud had become a stormy mass that overtook the mountains around us. We skinned just below the cloud deck, feeling as if any moment we’d poke through and into the fog.
Once arriving at the couloir we skinned above the bergshrund and switched over to crampons. We boot-packed up the steep chute, kicking in each step on firm, wind-compacted snow. The slope quickly steepend as we reached the crux.
With an axe in each hand, we pushed the final bit to the top of the col, as well as the cloud deck that had seemed out of reach for so long. Said clouds greeted us with blustering winds and low visability. While we had originally intended on heading to the true summit a thousand feet above, it quickly became apparant that this would be a recipe for disaster. We found shelter behind a rock spire and transitioned to our snowboards. Really, who could resist 3000 vert of may powder conditions?
I dropped in first quickly realized that while the snow was firm, it was easily edgeable. Situated between massive granite walls, I rode all the way down to the upper apron and waited in a safe zone. Soon Scott was ripping down the line, until we reached the pow and face shot after face shot along the way.
While the couloir was good we knew that conditions on the apron were going to be much better. One at a time we rode over the shrund and onto the Sherpa Glacier.
It was exactly what we expected with two feet of dry snow. Smooth and fast, we milked each turn. Riding down the glacier we negotiated the glacial toe, its vibrant blue jutting out of the fresh snow. Once on the moraine we rode well over 1500 feet of wide open terrain with not a single rock sticking out of the slope.
Each turn delivered face shots that were bitter sweet– as we rode down the final slopes, we knew that these could be our last powder turns of the season.
As we reached the bottom we both looked back at our tracks and exchanged exclamations of the excellent conditions. At that moment we didn’t care about all of that hard work climbing in and out of Sherpa Basin, we had just experience something we both knew was rare.
The retrace went fast as we followed our ascent route back to the car merely minutes before the sun set. It had been a long day of over 18 miles and 15 hours and while we didn’t make it to the summit, it was a amazing experience.
Kyes Peak is a prominent and picturesque mountain set near the abandoned mining town of Monte Cristo in the North Cascades. In the late 1800s, the Rockafeller family helped to develop the area by funding the exploration and intended exploitation of the area’s mining deposits. Situated in the Mountain Loop Subrange Area of the North Cascades, the town of Monte Cristo was at the turn of the century the terminus for an Everett railroad built to ferry ores from the surrounding mountains to the then-bustling town.
Perhaps glacial hazards, including seracs falls and avalanches, were a bit more than those mining had bargained for, as financial disasters near the inception of World War 1 precluded further development and mining of the area when prospectors’ expenses spilled beyond their budgetary constraints once again. Today, the majority of the very modest commerce in the area comes thanks to tourists exploring the beauty of the surrounding mountains and seeking a jaunt into recent history. Favorite nearby activities include visits to the now-abandoned mining sites in the area and hikes to the picturesque Blanca Lake, situated near the terminus of the Columbia Glacier.
Along with Monte Cristo and Columbia Peaks, Kyes and its surrounding ridges contain the Columbia Glaicer’s basin. Kyes Peak is geologically significant in that it is the highest summit in the Monte Cristo group of peaks. Despite its relative prominence and proximity to popular summer hiking destinations, Kyes is far from a classic ski or snowboard tour. However, the peak can be considered noteworthy for the mountaineering community in that it is one of the few named for one of the first to ascend it—James Ellsworth Kyes who climbed it for the first recorded time in August of 1920.
The remote location, colorful proximate history, and aggressive terrain of this relatively unexplored objective left Scott and I giddy with a sense of adventure as we set off on our journey to summit and then snowboard down Kyes’s northeastern face. If we were successful, we’d be the first documented to do so.
We approached by skinning up Quartz Creek, which was still buried under almost 10 feet of snow. Thin clouds veiling blue skies teased us with sporadic views of Kyes’ massive alpine bowls as we approached.
Once we gained our first ridge, we were forced to traverse under and around many a cliff band until we reached the Quartz Basin. We were surprised to find that the basin was composed mainly of cliffs, waterfalls, and generally unskiable lines, with only the occasional escape route situated between them.
From there, however, we were happy to see the terrain change dramatically from steep to mellow. We skinned up mellow, glacier-carved rollers until arriving at the Quartz col, its name reminiscent of the mine once nearby. The col was connected to Kyes via a long ridge and endless views of the Monte Cristos, still covered in clouds.
We were eight hours deep into the tour and visibility was nil, so we pondered our next move. Either we’d turn back to the car or push forward for a potential summit attempt.
Finally, we decided we’d wait to see if the weather changed. A few moments later, as if on command, the clouds began lifting and we got a view of the summit and our initially intended route.
We could see enough to tell that our intended approach ridge was impassible at spots. So, we opted to drop down onto the Pride Glacier and traverse under the cliffs and back onto the ridge.
From here on our tools for the approach would be crampons and ice axes. We kickstepped carefully and intentionally up the steep ridge.
While climbing conditions were great, it was immediately obvious that the snowboard down would be less than epic.
As we ascended, the cloud layers burned off and to our east was Glacier Peak and its endless alpine bowls. Before long we gained the Pride Glacier Headwall and made our way to 300 feet from the summit, the remaining vert of which would be a climb on rock. With only a few hours of sunlight remaining, we chose to ride down the headwall for an uninterrupted 2000 vert.
Since there were only a few inches of snow on top of ice, we rode the line cautiously, careful not to lose our edges. Soon, things mellowed out, as we rode a few inches of powder on the lower apron, but we were still mindful of crevasses and a bergshrund before reaching the base of the Pride Glacier.
It had been a long day and we were still only halfway done, since we still had to skin out. Retreating towards the Quartz col, we occasionally glanced back at Kyes and Monte Cristo now to our backs.
Being rushed for time, we opted to drop into the Quartz bowl and navigate through cliff bands until arriving at a 30 foot cliff. We had two choices, either to climb back up or to down climb, which we felt comfortable with because of the “veggie belay” opportunities surrounding us (trees and brush provided emergency purchase.) With the help of endemic plants, we climbed down the nearly vertical face until once again arriving onto the snowpack. Soon we were snowboarding down the final few hundred feet of steep terrain before putting on our headlamps for hours of skinning through low angled forests.
Some mountains inspire fear and respect among Cascadian mountaineers and Mt. Buckner is near the top of that list. At 9112 feet, it is the 10th highest peak in Washington, excluding Mt. Tahoma (or Little Tahoma Peak, a satellite peak of Mt. Rainier).
Mt. Buckners north face (photo by John Scurlock)
Many times I have looked at photos of Buckner dreaming of making tracks down the north face, so with little persuasion from Jason, my bags were packed and we were off to the North Cascades. To begin, Jason, Steph, and I bushwhacked through endless maple vine trees, then carefully skinned straight up an old slide path on Boston Peak’s northwest side.
As soon as we hit alpine, we were greeted by bright sunshine glistening off the foot of fresh snow that had fallen two days prior. Skinning was fast and efficient as we traversed the Quien Sabe glacier to our first of many destinations, the Shark Fin Col. Conditions were firm, so I cramponed up the steep colouir. Eventually, I clung to the slope with only the toe points on my crampons and ends of my ice tools. Finally, we reached the low col.
There was no room to stand let alone rest at the col, so as repelled one by one onto the Boston Glacier. After hitting snow, we found we had to wallow in wind-loaded pockets of chest deep powder, as we carefully crossed the Bergshrund with hopes that the snow bridge would hold.
Once on the Boston Glacier Jason and I once again dawned skins, while Steph put on her snowshoes, and we started the long traverse south towards Mt. Buckner, which still remained to be seen. We chose to rope up when we passed a serac over 30 feet tall and saw crevasses everywhere. Jason led the group as we went above, below and around the endless destruction of ice, and before long we had our first glimpse of Mt. Buckner.
The north face of Mt. Buckner was a perfect ramp leading directly off of the Glacier straight to the summit, with only 1500 feet of 55 degree slope along the way.
We were traveling fast in the afternoon light and preparing to call it a day when all of a sudden, Jason fell! Within a split second he is yelling to me that he had fallen into a crevasse and the only things holding him up is his ski on one side and his back on the other. By now I am in self arrest position while Steph runs up to get Jason out. After 5 minutes, the ordeal is over. Jason suggests I check out the hole he almost fell into, but I decline.
Camp that night was a stone’s throw away from Mt Buckner. We leisurely watched the last flickers of light fade before calling it an early night. But the leisure diminished quickly as the constant howl of the wind kept the tent slapping onto itself and making sleep difficult. As I woke sporadically, I couldn’t help but think of potential wind loading of slopes we’d have to travel the next day.
The next morning, connected by rope, we traversed to the lower apron of Mt. Buckner and found the area to indeed be somewhat wind-scoured. We were stoked to find perfect climbing conditions, and quickly transitioned from skins and ski poles to crampons and ice axes, with Steph taking the lead.
Her strength was unbelievable. She all but ran up the mountain, pulling me along with the rope. As I carefully packed in her steps one at a time, I tried not to look back at the exposure below us.
Before long we were standing at the summit and drooling at the endless white of snow-covered peaks that contrasted greatly with the stark blue skies hovering above.
Soon Steph was down-climbing the north face while Jason and myself patiently waiting. After a quick yell confirming she was safe from potential sluffs, we were off.
We pondered dropping into the colouir on the northeast face but a quick traverse across it produced a 4-inch slab. Not wanting to test our luck, we dropped into the northwest face, which yielded consolidated powder turns.
Further down, the apron delivered face shot after face shot until we arrived to our turn around point– the skin track we had put in earlier in the day.
After 20 minutes of skinning, we were back at camp, rehydrating for the final push up to Boston Col, the high point of an obvious ramp up the Boston Glacier.
While skinning was easy, in all actuality it was brutally slow, as we zig-zagged up the maze of crevasses with the North Cascades’ rugged scenery as our backdrop.
As the day went on, the weather deteriorated, and soon we were standing atop a huge col exposed to 50 mph winds. There was, at this point, less than an hour of daylight left. One by one, we repelled down a 60-degree ice gully.
I felt that it would be much faster to just snowboard down the gully, so I put on my board and quickly side-slipped down the Ice waterfall. When I reached the Quien Sabe glacier, I waited for Jason whose telemark skis required a greater measure of care and control as he sideslipped down behind me. As the sun set to the west and the moon rose to the east, I waited. Soon enough though, I was greeted by a relieved Jason, and together we rode the 4,000′ of perfect fall line all the way to within a half mile of the trail head.
There is something really special about the North Cascades’ abundant steep, glaciated slopes. After spending too much time in the resort, I had to get out and take advantage of our endemic topography. To further tip the scales of persuasion, sunshine and stable avy conditions were predicted. Scott and I were off to North Cascades National Park!
We decided to head up the Cascade River Road to Washington Pass. With peaks like Eldorado, Sahale, and Johannesburg surrounding you it’s like a ski mountaineers’ candy shop, with an endless selection of delectable potential lines.
But of all the options, the line that wetted our appetite was the CJ Couloir on Johannesburg. Boasting an aesthetic, steep, north-facing chute that runs 3000’ vert to the valley below, CJ was luring us in.
Ascent in Red Decent in Blue
Our first steps into the valley littered with avy debris led us to realize that this was no place for skins, so we switched to bootpacks and crampons for the climb.
As we made our way to the top, the route got steeper and steeper, and we found ourselves at a place where any slip or fall would cause an uncontrolled slide over rocks, cliffs, ice bulges, and debris. In fact, as we climbed, we were witness to many a piece of debris that showcased the consequences of such a trajectory. Had it not been for our careful navigation, these chunks of snow rolling down the gut could easily have inspired moments of panic.
Almost to the top, we passed a steep crux above which snow was thigh-deep and each step required much effort. When we reached the col and our highpoint, we rested for about 30 minutes before strapping into our downhill gear and preparing for the descent.
Stable, soft, wind-buffed powder greeted us, and the possibility of sluffs or slabs went happily unrealized. In fact, for the majority of the descent, conditions were far better than expected.
After navigating the fluffy maze up top, we reached the steep chute begging for tracks. I dropped first, and carefully rode on what quickly gave way to bulletproof ice from previous sluffs. With Ice axe in hand, I descended carefully, with Scott following. After the ice, it was easy riding in anywhere from an inch to a foot of fresh all the way back to the car, with only one quick transition in between.