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2012 Backcountry Trip Reports => January 2012 Backcountry Trip Reports => Topic started by: andybrnr on 01/23/12, 01:56 PM

Title: Jan. 23, 2012, Snoqualmie Pass, Phantom Cliff Out
Post by: andybrnr on 01/23/12, 01:56 PM
After a fantastic day of touring around Steven's Pass on Sunday, the promise of fresh, fluffy powder had me looking for partners with a dawn patrol in mind. I coerced GMark into coming along with the promise that we'd get a quick lap or two on the Phantom in and be back for class at UW by 0900. After an 0315 wake up, we were on our way by 0400 and made it to the pass from Fremont by 0515, and departed the lower Alpental lot by 0530. Fresh powder and darkness largely concealed the usual skin track in the trees looker's left of the Phantom, and numerous downtracks criss-crossing the ascent route confused the issue. Apologies to anyone who follows our skin track up, as while it comprises parts of the usual route, I'm pretty sure I incorporated a few sections of downtrack that left something to be desired for uphill efficiency.

Combination of routefinding issues and trail-breaking meant a relatively slow climb and top out below the upper ridges of Mt. Snoqualmie around 0700. Plan was to check the slope for stability and ski the right edge of the Phantom down, with a duck back into the trees if anything moved. Several ski cuts produced only surface sloughing of the top 2" of powder, so we leap-frogged down the right edge of the upper glades in faint pre-dawn light. 8-12" of light new powder over denser, supportable base skied like a dream. Unfortunately, I forgot the discontinuity between the border of the upper glades and the lower slide path, and following the edge of the trees shifted our descent line ~75m skier's left of the open slopes of the Phantom. In short order, we found ourselves snarled in the cliff band that lies ~100m over from the left edge of the Phantom... initially, we thought we could follow the gully out between cliffs, as I had seen a snow deposit bridging them in one or two spots, but this merely served to seduce us lower, where we became quite convinced that getting down without a rope was not happening. With morning light and clearing skies yielding beautiful views of Chair Peak, Alpental, and the rest of the valley, we struggled to skin and boot our way back up our line of descent, finally extracting ourselves and traversing into the left edge of the Phantom two hours and change after halting our descent. Powder turns in the bottom of the Phantom were partial solace, and we were down to the car in short order, albeit two and a half hours beyond our desired departure time.

Mentally debriefing this, I recognize that while I had an inkling about halfway down that we weren't quite where we should be, I continued in the hopes of finding a familiar landmark or thinking we could pick our way out. In retrospect, taking a minute to look at google maps on my phone would have shown the error before correcting it necessitated a great deal of extra work in exposed terrain. When in doubt, check the map/gps/stop and think. For the SW slopes of Mt. Snoqualmie, if I were to err in any direction, skier's right would be infinitely better, as it merely yields a steep tree run, and we would encounter our uptrack, anyway... left yields cliffs. Wanting to get down quick to get back to the car and return to Seattle for class contributed to a mindset that didn't encourage careful assessment of the situation, and a false sense of familiarity with the terrain meant I had done less route prep than was clearly required, including carefully reviewing the topo and sat photos to clarify the route in my mind ahead of time. Internalizing these lessons will hopefully decrease the odds of a similar screw-up in the future.

Approximate route for our "adventure" tour: http://www.hillmap.com/m/agtzbG9wZW1hcHBlcnIQCxIIU2F2ZWRNYXAYucMODA

Title: Re: Jan. 23, 2012, Snoqualmie Pass, Phantom Cliff Out
Post by: RonL on 01/23/12, 05:51 PM
I have had to re-learn that lesson on the cliff band there a couple of times now. Good choice to climb back up and over. I am sure there are some ways to survive that cliff band but from below it looks like there are a lot of other possibilities as well.

Title: Re: Jan. 23, 2012, Snoqualmie Pass, Phantom Cliff Out
Post by: TBill on 01/23/12, 09:13 PM
Thanks for the first half uptrack Andy!
Suncrust has formed on exposed slopes.


=lemah, chikamin, stuart



=back up for seconds

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