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Author Topic: March 27, 2004, Mt. Baker backcountry  (Read 1851 times)
markharf
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March 27, 2004, Mt. Baker backcountry
« on: 03/28/04, 07:12 AM »

Four of us set out Saturday morning on the oft-attempted, seldom accomplished high-country traverse from Sublime to Ridiculous.  Of our intrepid group, three were highly accomplished and experienced randonee skiers; I myself favor That Other Binding Style, which I utilize to marked disadvantage.  

Initially, all went well.  More than three feet of fresh had fallen during the previous several days, with a couple of feet of damp snow nicely bonded to an old crust and topped with an overnight accumulation of eight or ten inches of dry powder.  

We began with a couple of short runs through 35-45 degree, south-facing glades.  Whoa: very nice indeed.  Sublime, in fact: stable, deep and fun.  Skinning up for another run, we crossed to a northerly aspect with significant avalanche exposure and poor visibility.  We debated for a while, teetering and evaluating, before deciding to traverse to a less exposed line nearby, which would allow us to test conditions safely.  One of our party took a quick ski cut across a 45 degree slope.  To our surprise, it sluffed at the base of the previous night's snow, cleared the lower-angled apron, and plummeted over a little rollover out of sight, severely traumatizing the mature mountain hemlock which stood in its path.  Hmmmm.  Our fearless leader cut another fifty feet across a shallower slope, and this, too, released and ran.  Interesting.  We skied down in less-than-exhilarated mode and regrouped.  The snow, so recently stable powder, had turned abruptly to sluffy mashed potatoes.  My partners bailed immediately, claiming sudden interest in certain alternate activities, but I soldiered on in the stubborn-bordering-on-pigheaded style for which I am widely known.  

First, I climbed higher in search of drier snow.  Following 45 minutes of increasingly arduous trailbreaking, I found an attractively-inclined field of serviceable thick, sludgy, bottomless cement at around 5400 feet.  Unfortunately, visibility at this elevation had deteriorated to nil; following my first few awkward turns I plummeted over an invisible wind lip, cratering unappealingly.  

Naturally, I next thought to try dropping lower in search of better visibility.  At first, this worked just fine; plowing knee-deep through open glades, I found I was able to maintain forward motion on slopes in excess of 30 degrees, although turning was out of the question.  Thus emboldened, I essentially straightlined five hundred vertical feet to a little landing next to a stream.  As I slowed at the bottom, a giant slab of wet snow built rapidly around both legs, trapping me; when it decided to stop dead, I had no choice but to comply.  Sadly, my upper body chose to continue down the hill, levering my heels off my skis and depositing me spread-eagled, face-first in the snow.  At the precise instant of contact, I knew that I had arrived at a state so utterly and completely ridiculous that it must signify the completion of my traverse.

Extricating myself involved clawing one foot at a time free of packed snow to release my bindings, squirming awkwardly out of my pack, then digging skis and poles free.  This took, essentially, the entire afternoon (note my judicious use of exaggeration for dramatic effect) and left me wrung out and exhausted.  Only by application of all reserves of willpower (and the energetic infusion of a handful of Fig Newtons), was I able to clamber back up the hill, finally descending through the ski area and back to the parking lot, where my van stood oddly alone in a sea of meltwater and slush.  On my return to town, the late-afternoon sun dropped beneath the clouds and came streaming almost parallel to the ground up the North Fork valley, rendering the thick valley-bottom mosses vivid green, the old trees standing proudly on glowing hillsides.  

Enjoy,

Mark
« Last Edit: 03/28/04, 10:15 AM by markharf » Logged
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