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Author Topic: December 31, 2003, Mt. Baker backcountry  (Read 3253 times)
markharf
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December 31, 2003, Mt. Baker backcountry
« on: 01/01/04, 05:06 AM »

I spent part of last week skiing boot to knee-deep powder in the Elkhorns and the Wallowas in Eastern Oregon. The quality of snow was exceptional, and I started thinking about the boasting I'd do once I returned home. Unfortunately, the drive to Bellingham was long, tiresome and (in snow, heavy traffic and bad visibility) at times terrifying. Monday I skied only slightly inferior knee to thigh-deep powder under brilliant blue skies near Mt. Baker, marred only by a barely-forming suncrust on some south aspects. Yesterday, I returned for more of the same, finding even better turns: thigh to waist deep (at least for tele skiers) between 4200 and 5700 feet on Mt. Herman, with a pneumatic base and a topping of 6 to 9 inches of fresh champagne powder. After setting a skin track, we cycled three times on south and east aspects. Skiing was wondrous on slopes to 45 degrees, rendering the Wallowas just a distant, marginally relevant memory. When Brent says it doesn't get any better, he's not exaggerating.

Conditions were generally stable, with shallow sluffing on slopes greater than 40 degrees. Wherever Monday's suncrust was present under the fresh snow, sluffs became more alarming, in several places releasing as soft, barely cohesive slabs. We noted that these releases happened indiscriminately wherever the crust was present (including within bands of trees), and that they were running fast and for long distances within the day's snow. Under the circumstances, keeping clear of terrain traps seemed the better part of valor. We did not investigate other aspects, except to note that ridges were fairly wind-buffed, tending to confirm my initial suspicions about probable danger from cross-loading in gullies on, for example, otherwise-heavenly east-facing slopes.

We returned to an empty parking lot somewhat before dark (not always a foregone conclusion this time of year), and were greeted by a mysteriously and unprecedentedly discharged car battery. A Pisten-Bully driver named Alexandra gave us a jump. If you see her, please shower her with praise, adulation and adult beverages (not necessarily in that order).

Enjoy,

Mark

(edited to fix the usual bizarre formatting errors)
« Last Edit: 01/01/04, 07:51 AM by markharf » Logged
ron j
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Re: December 31, 2003, Mt. Baker backcountry
« Reply #1 on: 01/01/04, 05:26 AM »

Great report, Mark, and up to your general level of readability.
So what's this "Pisten-Bully" that these guardian angels... drive?
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"When I stop having fun I'm turnin' around"
“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.” - Niels Bohr
"If a given person makes it a priority not to die in an avalanche, he or she stands a very good chance of living a long, happy life in the mountains." - Jill Fredston
markharf
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Re: December 31, 2003, Mt. Baker backcountry
« Reply #2 on: 01/01/04, 07:55 AM »

Ron: If I've learned anything since I was a young, callow fellow, it's that Google.com will answer almost any question with ease (c.f., http://www.winnmarketing.com/parkbully1.htm).
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ron j
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Re: December 31, 2003, Mt. Baker backcountry
« Reply #3 on: 01/01/04, 09:33 AM »

Yeah, I shoulda thought of that.
So did you notice whether Alexandra was skinning the PB 100, the PB 200, or the PB 300?
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"When I stop having fun I'm turnin' around"
“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future.” - Niels Bohr
"If a given person makes it a priority not to die in an avalanche, he or she stands a very good chance of living a long, happy life in the mountains." - Jill Fredston
markharf
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Re: December 31, 2003, Mt. Baker backcountry
« Reply #4 on: 01/03/04, 08:57 AM »

Sorry, Ron.  All I noticed was that it looked remarkably like the one in the photo (though substantially larger in real life), and contained not one, but two of the largest 12v batteries I've ever seen.  You could jumpstart a battleship with one of those machines.  I mean, should you find yourself so inclined.

I sincerely hope that helps satisfy your curiosity.  
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russ
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Re: December 31, 2003, Mt. Baker backcountry
« Reply #5 on: 01/03/04, 09:02 AM »

Mark - where did you ski in the Wallowa's and how was the snowpack? I skied in McCully Basin toward the end of January last year and the snowpack was very thin - any better this year?
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markharf
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Re: December 31, 2003, Mt. Baker backcountry
« Reply #6 on: 01/03/04, 03:14 PM »

Russ, I day-skied out of the Salt Creek snow-park at  6,000 feet, climbing to about 8500 feet on Wing Ridge for two runs.  McCully Basin looked tempting, but I slept late and was skiing alone, so decided to rein it in.  

Ridges were wind-scoured, but sheltered areas facing east and northeast were fine powder over a surprisingly dense base (recent warm temps).  The surface powder was totally unconsolidated and sluffed harmlessly at about 45 degrees.  It skied very nicely, being very low density, and even breaking an uptrack was almost effortless.

My only previous experience in the Wallowas was in January four or five years ago, and while there wasn't much snow by Cascade standards, the skiing was pretty good up high.  On last month's trip I compared snowdepths at 7,000 feet: in the Sisters Wilderness outside Bend, 6 feet deep; in the Elkhorns and Wallowa's, almost 3 feet; near Mt. Baker, at least 12 feet.  Of course, all this will have changed during the recent storms.  Ski Anthony Lakes is currently reporting almost  5 feet, so I'd extrapolate from there.  

Hope that helps.
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