My mind always wanders to the mountains thinking about endless possibilities of exploration and the high country that I express myself through.
This journey takes place February 4th-6th 2012
This trip had been on my mind for years as the final piece in a puzzle of complex travels and routes that had formed my perspective. From someone new to the backcountry, to a well-traveled splitboarder, it was these areas that taught me the hard knocks of splitboarding. With the promise of 3 days of uninterrupted sunshine I decided it was time to put this dream to rest.
The contrasts of life can seem so overwhelming as I woke up to a bustling city where every square inch of land was covered in concrete, buildings and people underneath the early morning’s sunrise. The car ride up to Mt. Rainier seemed so surreal as we laughed and enjoyed luxuries like heaters and easy access to food. Within a few hours we would be alone with nothing but our own thoughts and conversations to break the loudness that silence can create.
Once reaching Paradise, Jason Hummel and I spread our gear on the warm pavement trying to find the balance between luxury and necessity, a fine line and an art form of its own. It didn’t take long before we were off the beaten path and left alone to sort our thoughts, hopes and dreams in an area rarely touched by man and constantly changing from the forces of nature.
The contrast of the white snow below us and the blue sky above us was shattered by the moon leading us into familiar territory. Eight months earlier I was taking this same exact route heading toward Little Tahoma (a piece in the 10 highest peaks puzzle) and I found myself reflected on those moments. Just before dusk we made it to our camp for the night and the high point of the tour, Whitman Crest, a place as scenic as they come in Washington.
The sunset was surreal as we watched the light slowly dissipate, transitioning from a warm sunny day to a bitterly cold night. In front of our eyes was our final destination which seemed beyond reach hidden behind endless valleys and obstacles all covered in the darkness of Rainier’s shadow dominating the eastern skyline.
Both Jason and I hid in our sleeping bags trying to conserve our energy and not let any of the heat escape. The darkness of night was quickly shattered by a nearly full moon rising to the east and leaving behind an eerie glow. That night we chatted back and forth, anticipating an adventure into the unknown wondering what was in store for us the next two days.
The next morning we awoke moments before sunrise and watched the early rays of the sun cast a light show on Rainier. We had a friend climbing the mountain and my thoughts were with her wondering how everything was going and if she was looking down upon us as well.
We cooked our standard meal of oatmeal and I fed my daily addiction of coffee before we decided we had to push on. This day would be the crux and time would either be our friend or our enemy.
Within a few minutes of skinning we were at our first big descent down the Fryingpan Glacier. This is an area everyone at Crystal has pondered about riding on a sunny day and here we were skiing down, turning our dream into a reality.
With each step Rainier was getting further and further away, walking on a high plateau otherwise known as Banshee Peak. I had visited this area with both Boot and Amar the previous winter, the landscape was familiar but had changed with time. Behind us the sun was ablaze giving views of a lifetime worth of exploration.
While not necessary I decided to go to the high point of Banshee and look at our path ahead of us. Excitement was quickly filled with the overwhelming realization of how small and insignificant we are when dwarfed by such massive mountains.
Each time I had visited this area my attention would focus to an east facing line and one of two paths through the Sarvant Glacier cliff band. I had been drawn to this line for years and with a huge grin we dropped into a line we dubbed “The Gateway Couloir”.
From here on out we were in familiar terrain that we had seen both in the grasp of winter and the warmth of spring. No longer was there an uncertain feeling of the unknown, instead that gave way to the dreaded realization that we had a long and strenuous route ahead of us. There would be many lines that we would ride along the traverse but the highpoint of the trip was the Cowlitz Chimney which I had rode once 3 years previous in spring slush. This time it was powder, all 2500 feet of it!
The two small ridges that I remembered between us and our planned camping spot were far from small. Thoughts of mellow slopes were replaced with steeps that the edges of our skis would barely hold onto, and before long our boards were on our backs and we were bootpacking up Governors Ridge. That night we camped with a view of what we had skied in the past years and stuff we plan on skiing in the future before drifting off to sleep. If all worked out this would be our last night disconnected from civilization.
The early morning light show felt like a dream as the different shades of purple and pink basked among the high alpine. You would think that sunrises would get old but I can attest this is not the case.
It was bittersweet as we left camp heading towards Crystal Mountain. Before long we would be hitting Cayuse Pass, a highway abandoned almost 9 months out of the year because of the same snow we build our lives around.
From Cayuse Pass we could have easily followed Highway 410 down 9 miles to Crystal Mountain Blvd but we decided to stick to our intended route, in the high alpine. By now we were so close that we could taste it! We had intended to skin up a steep ridge accessing Deadwood Lakes but it was both steep and firm so for the second time during the trip we bootpacked to the ridge.
In the distance we could see a skin track and our first sign of others in the past 3 days. You would think we would be excited but this wasn’t the case. I think both of us wanted to head the other way but we were at the mercy of the forecast which was calling for an upcoming front.
Before long we were in the tracks of others and what was at first a single skin track soon became numerous. The silence we had become accustomed to was shattered by people’s chatter on the high ridge of the ski resort. It was a race against time as we finally reached the Southback gate of the ski resort. Jason had no idea why I was rushing him but quickly figured it out as we rode down to the Forest Queen chair lift, making it just in time for last chair.
With a smile and holler we were riding down the groomed run towards the ski resort base with full packs. Our grins could not have been any bigger as we arrived to the bottom. Quickly rushing into the cafeteria we stuffed our faces with pizza and warm beverages, something so mediocre was a treat from the heavens to us. Here we were at our intended exit but there was one thing we hadn’t considered, how we would get to my place in Greenwater. Within five minutes we had hitched a ride down to my place and Jason was able to get a ride home to Tacoma.
Little did I realize this was only the beginning of my adventure as I had left my only shoes in Jason’s car, so I hitched my way to Tacoma the next day in my snowboard boots.
When people hear the word traverse they think of endless miles of sidehilling but this was all ups and downs, 14,000 feet in total. While I imagined the trip would be amazing, it was far better than even I could comprehend. One would think that a tour like this would satisfy me but in all honesty it just made me hungrier for adventure and the call of the unknown. So with that I call it “The Traverse of the Fallen” in memory of all the lives lost this year in the snow we love so much.
Thanks must be given to soo many people but in particular I would like to thank
Jason Hummel, Amar Andalkar, Kathy Chrestensen, Robert Chrestensen, Boot, Hannah Carrigan, Jon Garrision, Scott Mcallister, My Mother, Skier Dan and Stugie, All the peeps at EB, K2, and Spark R & D and all the other people with whom I have enjoyed touring and hanging out. Without all of you there is no way I would be where I am today and I am forever grateful!