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Author Topic: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse  (Read 13242 times)
Lowell_Skoog
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May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« on: 05/29/12, 11:13 AM »



Between Friday and Sunday, May 25-27, John Mauro, Crispin Prahl and I skied the Isolation Traverse in the North Cascades.  This route links two high-elevation icefields, the Inspiration Glacier on Eldorado Peak and the Neve Glacier on Snowfield Peak.  Between these points lies country that is infrequently visited on skis.

Several friends had been discussing the trip this year.  Crispin and John were the main instigators, and when they settled on a departure date, most of the others were unable to go. I almost dropped out due to the weather forecast, but decided to join them at the last minute.  We drove two cars from Seattle on Friday morning and met at the Pyramid Lake trailhead east of Newhalem.  Rain during the drive up was discouraging, but the weather seemed to be improving as we drove back to Marblemount.

From the Eldorado Creek parking area on the Cascade River road, we climbed to the Inspiration Glacier.  We found continuous snow about halfway up the talus slope in Eldorado Creek.  Higher, the snow became quite mushy.  At least a foot of new snow had fallen during the week's stormy weather.  We wondered whether it would freeze enough overnight to provide reasonable travel conditions.

Clouds lingered throughout the day and snow fell as we crossed the Inspiration plateau. During a break in the weather we climbed and skied Eldorado Peak.  At our camp that night, the wind was relentless and none of us slept very well.

Our second morning dawned clear and calm.  Thanks to the wind overnight and the continued cool weather, the snow was very well frozen.  From the McAllister Glacier, we climbed to the nearly 8400ft crossing of the divide north of Dorado Needle.  I was familiar with this route from previous trips going back to 1983.  After dropping to the saddle next to Early Morning Spire, we began the long descending traverse of Marble Creek Cirque below the summits of Backbone Ridge.  With fast snow conditions, this three-mile-long gliding traverse is one of the grand experiences in Cascade skiing.  Remote. Effortless. Spectacular.

We traversed around the northwest end of Backbone Ridge, dropped into McAllister Creek, then climbed over the southeast shoulder of Isolation Peak.  We encountered mushy snow for the first time that day on the east side of Isolation.  We ski-cut slopes before descending, but I made a mistake at one point, linking a couple of turns instead of waiting for the snow released by my first turn to clear the slope.  I skied out of the way just before the slough swept over my tracks and flowed over a cliff.  John and Crispin described what happened and I resolved to internalize this lesson better (which is why I'm writing about it here).

We camped on the divide south of Snowfield Peak.  The weatheradio called for clouds on Sunday.  We awoke to clear skies but noticed mists gathering in the west.  As we climbed Snowfield on frozen snow, clouds began engulfing Backbone Ridge and the country we had traveled.  We tagged the summit of Snowfield Peak then skied the Neve Glacier into the fog.  On a day that filled our senses, the most remarkable sensation was the rush of cool, musky air that filled our noses as we plunged into clouds fresh off the Pacific Ocean.

We passed a pair of climbers on foot near Colonial Peak. Following their tracks was helpful in the fog. On Pyramid Ridge, we descended to 4200ft before packing up our skis.  We never found the climbers' trail on the ridge, but fortunately found the hiking trail just below Pyramid Lake.  We reached our second car very satisfied.  The trip had exceeded our expectations, and the uncertain weather had made it especially memorable.



Selected Photos:

Crispin skis Eldorado Peak with the Forbidden Cirque in the distance: 



Crossing Inspiration Glacier with Klawatti Peak in the background:



John skis the upper McAllister Glacier below the Tepeh Towers:



Crossing the high divide just north of Dorado Needle:



The crux of the high crossing north of Dorado Needle:



Beginning the traverse of Marble Creek Cirque:



Traversing Marble Creek Cirque below Backbone Ridge on perfect corn snow--classic "flow" conditions:



High on the slopes of Isolation Peak:



The Needle (left) and Snowfield Peak from Isolation Peak:



Marine clouds engulf our previous day's route across Backbone Ridge:



Climbing Snowfield Peak on frozen morning snow:



Skiing the Neve Glacier below Snowfield Peak:



John skis the Neve Glacier just before plunging into the clouds:



Fog on the Neve Glacier:



Parting view of Snowfield Peak from Point 7505ft:


« Last Edit: 05/31/12, 09:32 PM by Lowell_Skoog » Logged
skykilo
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #1 on: 05/29/12, 11:44 AM »

Beautiful photos, Lowell. 
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ryanl
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #2 on: 05/29/12, 11:53 AM »

Spectacular Lowell. Nice write up as well.
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alpenho
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #3 on: 05/29/12, 11:55 AM »

awesome TR.  Have wanted to ski this one for a while now.  Thanks for the motivation!
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peteyboy
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #4 on: 05/29/12, 11:58 AM »

Amazing and inspiring yet again - thanks Lowell.
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Scottk
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #5 on: 05/29/12, 12:41 PM »

Looks like a great trip!  I love those high traverses.
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iron
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #6 on: 05/29/12, 12:49 PM »

beautiful. thanks for rekindling the memories. i trust the tarn on the ridge S of snowfield is still snow Smiley
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hedonaut
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #7 on: 05/29/12, 01:13 PM »

Agree, excellent TR and pics.  Way to go fellas. 
Love that feeling of covering vast mileage "for free"--skiing plain rocks.
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Gregg_C
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #8 on: 05/29/12, 01:15 PM »

Going on the must do list...
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Oyvind_Henningsen
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #9 on: 05/29/12, 02:02 PM »

sounds like a great trip Lowell, John and Crispin !
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Lytt til erfarne fjellfolk!
lrudholm
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #10 on: 05/29/12, 02:25 PM »

Beautiful country!
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Leyland
cprahl
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #11 on: 05/29/12, 04:03 PM »

Glad you rolled the dice with us on the weather, Lowell. A fine outing regardless of lack of sleep on 1st night due to strong E wind. Skoog's Cavern (snow cave) provided relative quiet on 2nd night. True ski bliss-glisse.


* MarbleCornGravity_Lowell.jpg (34.46 KB, 640x480 - viewed 1694 times.)

* Marble_Ck_Gravity-Wins.JPG (66.15 KB, 800x600 - viewed 1741 times.)

* Dorado_Ridge-Stoke.JPG (104.68 KB, 800x600 - viewed 1753 times.)
« Last Edit: 05/30/12, 07:55 AM by cprahl » Logged
SteveS
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #12 on: 05/30/12, 08:52 AM »

Spectacular!....and way to slip through the weather window!
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-- SteveS
runningclouds
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #13 on: 05/30/12, 10:41 AM »

Great photos. Is there a chance for a map with your route marked?
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Atraslin
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #14 on: 05/30/12, 11:43 AM »

Looks like a cool traverse.
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Lowell_Skoog
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #15 on: 05/30/12, 01:04 PM »

Great photos. Is there a chance for a map with your route marked?

The TR includes a link to one of my Cascade Crest stories:

http://alpenglow.org/skiing/isolation-1994/index.html

That story has a link to the following map:

http://alpenglow.org/skiing/isolation-1994/map.html

The map is not super detailed, but it shows the general route. I think it shows the low (8000ft) crossing of the Marble/McAllister divide. We took the high (8400ft) crossing.  My isolation-1994 article describes them as follows:

Quote
The divide between the McAllister Glacier and the southwest flank of Backbone Ridge does not have a skiable crossing. There are two alternatives. The lowest crossing is a notch about a half-mile north of Dorado Needle at about 8000 feet elevation. It requires roped climbing in summer on the McAllister Glacier side. In spring the rock may be snow covered, but it may also have crevasse obstacles. (It varies from year to year.) My favorite spring crossing is about half-way between Dorado Needle and the 8000-foot notch. This crossing is higher on the ridge (nearly 8400 feet) and very scenic. Normally the west side requires some downclimbing on crampons over mixed snow and rock to a snow slope. (A short rappel might be helpful in leaner snow conditions.)
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ski_photomatt
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #16 on: 05/30/12, 03:32 PM »

Looks like a great trip from the photos!  Thanks for the report Lowell.
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Jason_H.
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #17 on: 05/30/12, 07:14 PM »

Awesome Lowell. That was an great story and images. Loved 'em. Crispin. We need to get out skiing. Either way I'm sure we'll run into each other again.

BTW, another way to cross backbone ridge is to use the couloir between dorado and marble needles. It's a reasonably steep line (45 or more degrees?)...but a great ski if in condition. After you ski to the bottom, you climb/skin between morning spire and marble needle. It's a very fun line as long as your pack is reasonably light. I did this line for the 2nd time when we skied the Isolation last spring.

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kath
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #18 on: 05/31/12, 08:17 AM »

stunning scenery ... awesome trip ... great photos!
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alecapone
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #19 on: 06/01/12, 12:38 PM »

Very inspiring. Thanks for the excellant report!

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scott
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Re: May 25-27, 2012, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #20 on: 06/01/12, 09:08 PM »

Awesome trip!  Very inspiring.  Thanks for sharing.
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