Crystal Mountain to Stampede Pass

Over the years I have fallen in love with self supported long distant travels. There is something special about traveling long distances through the snow covered mountains and the way you become in tune with your surroundings. Over a decade I’ve been piecing together a traverse through the Washington Cascades and the Crystal Mountain to Interstate 90 was a trip I had been putting off for years. The area consisted almost entirely of tree covered peaks, clear cuts and logging roads and is one of the only areas in the crest of the cascades that’s not in Wilderness or National Park. Below is a link to some of the other traverses Jason Hummel and I did over the years. It’s through those week to 16 day traverses that I have some of my fondest memories I highly recommend checking out some of both my and Jason Hummels trip reports if you want to see some awesome and rarely mountains within the Cascades.

The Picket Range
The American Alps Traverse
Sauk River to Highway 2
The 14 lake traverse
Alpine Lakes Traverse
Snoqualmie Pass to Stampede Pass
Crystal Mountain to Paradise (in Mount Rainier National Park)
Paradise to Carbon River (in Mount Rainier National Park)
Carbon River to White River (in Mount Rainier National Park)

I had arrived in Washington early March 2016 with the intent to do a few on trips on my “tick list” only to find the forecast filled with wet and cloudy days nearly the whole months and a half while being in town. Jason Hummel and I scanned the forecasts almost daily and finally a forecast called for clear skies for 2 days. We knew this was the only opportunity and decided to attempt a 4 say traverse from Crystal Mountain to I-90, the last two days would be wet but as they say “you work with what you get”.

Ski traverses are a logistical nightmare if you don’t have two cars at your disposal so we came up with a plan to leave Jason’s car in Kent, take the train to Sumner and my good friend Rick Kadar was kind enough to drive us up to Crystal Mountain, when we made it to I-90…who knows but we would figure it out when we got there.

Taking the train………this is something I have gotten used to over the years as it goes no where near the actual ski resort BUT is on the route from Tacoma to Crystal so it allowed me to have options for carpooling from both Seattle and Tacoma and without the use of a car myself it was a good viable option. I have used metro buses on so many trips, taking multiday gear on 2 buses through the heart of Seattle to meet up with my friend Ben on Fridays for a weekend adventure. So like so many of my trips this adventure started with local transportation this time being the Seattle Sounder train.

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Day 1

I would lie if I said I was excited about this particular traverse as it had very little downhill snowboarding and we would be in forests instead of high mountains with the second half being on logging roads but I was excited to see what was beyond the Crystal Mountain backcountry. When we arrived at Crystal the forecast called for clear skies but that wasn’t the case with limited visabiltiy as we said good by to civilization for the next few days.

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Winds were howling and snow was falling sideways as we made it on top of our first ridge and with that we made the call, push forward and hope for the best.

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Here was the one part of the trip that I was truly looking forward to and here we were with nothing to see but walls of white, not only would it be somewhat challenging navigating but the weather had turned for the worse in the form of strong wind and blinding snow but we pushed forward through the forests with little ups a downs in areas familiar and leaving our travels to a mixture of trust, intuition and occasionally a GPS system.

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It was a catch 22 as they say because the alpine always delivers but the trees providing shelter from the winds. It was in these sheltered sections that we could take a breather and look about to what was in out limited view, the trees plastered in ice and rime.

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After a few hours we were at the end of the zone which I would call myself familiar with and heading out into an area that barely saw foot traffic in winter traffic if any at all during the winter months.

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For the rest of the day we were plowing through dense forests attempting to follow the Pacific Crest trail which was buried under feet of snow with only the occasional marker to confirm we were going the right way.

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For hours and hours we wrestled with thick forest making our way north slower than anticipated but we were happy to have Gps systems, we would have been fine without but I will admit it was nice to have this piece of equipment confirm we were heading i the right direction. Finally we found a suitable camping spot just a half our from sunset and if the forecast proved correct would have a clear view of Rainier if the projected forecast turned out to be accurate.

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Day 2

The next day we awoke to clear skies are rested for a few brief minutes before heading out. We knew we had a lot of ground to cover and this was our only clear day, it was vital to make it to the logging roads as it would make travel in the upcoming bad weather much easier so we need to make some ground.

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We had around 30 miles of travel ahead of us and 10 behind. Some of which was dense forest and the rest was logging roads. This was the only real time that I got a good view of the North Cascades firmly in the distance. There is something awesome about looking at Mountains 100 miles north and knowing you had snowboarded many of them, each one a story, each one an adventure.

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I was excited about having a sunny day and the oppertunity to dry out wet clothes and warm up my body. It was above freezing level and the trees were coated in new snow.

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For the first half of the day we were going through beautiful old growth (that sadly burnt down this summer) and getting constantly drenched by a downpour of melted snow. The day that I had predicted to be nice and invited turned out to be the wettest I had experienced in the trip.
But man was the forest beautiful.

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A few hours into the day I decided to take a less traverish and more direct line up and over a hill while Jason sidehilled along the trail. It was once I met up with Jason back on the trail that I realized I had dropped my dry bag which had both of my heavy duty pairs of gloves and a brand new Gimbal and Gopro. it was heartbreaking for my and very costly in the end but I knew we didn’t have the time to head back and look. From here on out I would only have a small inner liner gloves that was already soaked, it would be cold but I would have to deal with it.
Before long we were out of the woods and onto forest service roads and finally making a good pace through the Central Cascades.

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By the end of the day we decided to set up camp on the side of the road just past a burned section. The forecast called for rain for the rest of the trip starting in the night. We set up camp and enjoyed our last hour of sun on the trip knowing it was going to be nasty weather from here on out.

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Day 3

I woke up to the sound of rain pelting the tent and ferocious winds outside and rain around getting our gear into our bags, forcing our selves to stay motivated. We had a few miles of logging roads before heading up and over Blowout Mountain and back into the forests. At first my hands were numb from wet gloves but I felt the best antidote was to keep moving and let my body warm up. By the time we had made it back into the forests my Pomoca skins were almost compleatly useless with no stick at all and the only thing holding them somewhat onto my board was 4 Voile straps, it was fine when on flats but any sidehilling caused them to slip off and for me to stumble. It made me go about half my normal speed but going forward was the fastest way out so on we went making the best out of the situation.

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That afternoon we just kept our heads down and pushed forward connecting Forest service roads and the PCT piece by piece and each push forward felt like a victory on its own. At one point I had to climb about 200 vertical feet through insanely dense trees without the use of skins but in the end I was able to do it.

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Near the end of the day we finally made it to our first downhill ski run which was more 7 miles of slightly downhill riding with ski poles in hand. It was at the bottom of the hill when the end was in sight, just 3 more miles of uphill on forest service roads and 5 miles of flat road traverse until we could finally descend to the Stampede Pass trail head. We set up camp at a small creek on the side of the road and slipped into our bags with the hope that we would be out by mid day the following day.

Day 4

We woke up to about 3 inches of snow on the ground and my food scattered around camp. It turns out there was a mouse who became interested in my food and found it under the vestibule. He had a snack here and there but there was easily enough food to go on as we packed our gear and started skinning up the road now covered in about 5 inches of new snow. It was right at the top of the pass that I had one last gear issue, I was testing out a protype pair of Karakoram bindings and had the touring pivot break on one of them rending skinning impossible from here on out I would be boot packing the final stretch before one last downhill. It seemed this traverse was just not going my way.

On a side note the abuse I put gear through far and exceeds the normal amount of abuse and it allows companies to find and fix weaknesses before putting there products out to consumers. AKA the problem has been fixed.

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In all I had been fortune because someone had groomed the last bit a few days earlier so my foot penetration only went to my ankle making it somewhat slow but as long as I was able to move I was happy. Jason was able to skate ski this section but I had to go one foot at a time and was more than happy to make it to the final downhill stretch where I switched over to snowboard mode and made it to within a mile of the trailhead footing the last little bit to our exit point. Luckily Jason was about to do a few days riding with our friend Lexie who were heading over the Cascades and so we were able to hitch a ride back to Kent with them so the only thing left to do was to finally kick up my feet and relax as we had finished a traverse I wasn’t exactly looking forward to and was happy to have it over with.

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In the end I am glad that we did the trip though I wouldn’t say I would do it again. The forests were amazing and it breaks my heart that we lost them this summer to fires so at least I had the opportunity to see them one final time. This trip threw so many curve balls but we kept level heads and worked with the situation one thing at a time. I have to say thank you to Jason for being such a great partner over the years and congrats to him finally pulling off Baker to Rainier one traverse at a time, i’m almost there but once again almost.

Thanks for reading and look for upcoming adventures in the near future.

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