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NWAC Avalanche
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| | |-+  November 29, 2008, Black Peak vicinity
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Author Topic: November 29, 2008, Black Peak vicinity  (Read 2745 times)

Posts: 122

November 29, 2008, Black Peak vicinity
« on: 12/02/08, 12:41 AM »

I've occasionally used this website to learn of new areas and check on current conditions, but never posted. Thanks to all of you for the good information and civil discussion. Now for my report ...

This was our second annual Sons-in-law (and friends) Thanksgiving Weekend Tour. It’s one of those trips where you plan the date ahead of time, and then adjust where you go after you see the actual weather/conditions. Normally, we’d head up somewhere in the Nooksack drainage (closer to home) but the weather report wasn’t encouraging and we really wanted to see a new location. We went east, up Highway 20, partly due to reports on this website from earlier in the week and because everyone knows the weather is (usually) better the further east you go.

Black Peak seemed to offer what we were after – a long day, higher than average Cascades elevation, at least some promise of good skiing, and awesome views (if weather cooperates). However, on these short November days, we didn’t have much hope of summiting Black Peak. A long journey was good enough for me. Our rather sad November snow conditions were not sufficient to interest us in a day of lapping some of our normal runs.

We hit the trail from the Rainy Pass Parking lot (about 4800 ft) at 8am; temp was 33 degrees with light rain. We returned by 6 pm in similar conditions. It rained most of the day, but not hard. At all times, we could see some mountain peaks; sometimes they were even ones on our route. About half of the time, we could see blue holes somewhere in the sky and for about half of one hour we actually had sun (along with a few snow flakes) directly on us.

On the way up to Heather Pass (about 6100 ft), we assessed our most pressing avalanche concerns of the day as (1) natural point releases from cliffs above (due to warming weather and light rain) and (2) the possibility they’d propagate to larger wet slides along our route, and (3) creating our own wet slides on steep meadow slopes that had little to no terrain anchoring. Overall, the snow pack as very thin and mostly terrain anchored. Cliffs along the route were generally were not heavily loaded and the few slides we saw had stopped mid-slope. We had no problem with #3, but had to keep #1 and #2 in mind on one exposed traverse along the route.

We skinned up the Lake Ann trail to Heather Pass following both boot and ski tracks from the day before. No one had been through Heather Pass out toward Lewis Lake yet. From Heather Pass we made an exposed traverse below a shoulder of Corteo Peak to the outlet of Lewis Lake (5700 ft). The traverse is on a talus field that was marginally covered for skiing and full of voids.

The traverse route is also directly above another cliff band and thus a deadly terrain trap. No slide activity from above was evident, and we judged it was unlikely there was enough snow to create a large slide that would propagate. However, we spread out and ski traversed this section as quickly as possible. At this snow pack level, there are a couple of refuge sections along the way.

At Lewis Lake, we traversed its western edge near the shore, staying far away from yet higher Corteo Peak cliffs.  We accessed the well protected (and low angle) larch/alpine fir slopes at the end of the lake and climbed to Wing Lake (6900 ft).

This larch zone would be a really fun place to ski in light powder and a deeper snow pack. Unfortunately, it was mank with more than the occasional rock today.  During the climb we watching over a dozen point releases come off of Corteo’s cliffs above. All but a couple slides stopped on the very steep terrace (or glacier) immediately below the cliffs.

At Wing Lake we stopped briefly to look at the many ski options, but our goal was the col just to the left (south) of Back Peak at around 7,900 ft.

The snow and weather were much better here than below. Instead of 8-12 inches of very wet snow over a shallow base, the still wet (but dryer) snow was shallower and over a firm base or sometimes a bullet proof crust. Traveling was considerably faster now, but the day was also getting late.

After traveling about two thirds of the way up to the col, we obviously were not going to make it before our turn around time of 2:15 pm. So, we detoured left and climbed a closer col of similar elevation which actually had a better ski descent under the current conditions.

With the sun actually shining now, we skied down to Wing Lake in surprisingly good conditions. At this point our camera battery croaked.

Our goal was to get to Lake Ann by dark and headlamp it out on the trail. We made it, but it was tiring.

The section from Wing Lake to Lewis Lake was still fun, but a major leg burn due to the bad snow (I am used to the downhill part of randonee skiing being the easy part). The now uphill traverse below the shoulder of Corteo Peak took about 40 minutes and two wet slides had crossed our morning’s tracks, one slide traveling over the second set of cliffs below us. The roughly 600 ft meadow descent from Heather Pass to Lake Ann was for some reason very fun (I expected mank skiing again). Maybe there wasn’t enough overall snow depth and the meadow provided a solid base. I don’t think we did any damage (to the meadow, I mean. Our skis from this trip – it’s all repairable). It was dark by the time we got to the lake outlet. The headlamp skiing with skins, on a trail in a downhill direction, with little snow, and in the rain is what you might expect.

We enjoyed ourselves, thanks to good company, the awesome North Cascades, Highway 20 being open in late November, and hi-tech breathable waterproof fabric.

Posts: 270

Re: November 29, 2008, Black Peak vicinity
« Reply #1 on: 12/02/08, 08:01 AM »

Great tr- thanks for finally posting and no longer just lurking. I would love to get out there and ski some of those slopes. We were just up the road a ways from you in the blue lake drainage (see tr) on that same day and mentioned how lucky we were to get such good weather when seemingly everywhere else was socked in. I too wish there was more daylight... please let it snow!

Posts: 2

Re: November 29, 2008, Black Peak vicinity
« Reply #2 on: 12/04/08, 08:13 AM »

Great TR, well written with nice pictures! Smiley 

Posts: 21

Re: November 29, 2008, Black Peak vicinity
« Reply #3 on: 12/04/08, 11:49 AM »

Thanks for posting, Eric.
North Cascades of the Plan B.
We should try for one trip before Christmas?
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