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Author Topic: April 13-15, 2013, Snowking Mtn, Winter in April!  (Read 6138 times)
JoshK
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April 13-15, 2013, Snowking Mtn, Winter in April!
« on: 04/17/13, 01:12 PM »

I really want to do a longer write-up of this trip, but to start, I figured I'd start with a summary and some pictures. I will follow up with the novel length version!

The Short:
Elliot and I shwacked, hacked, crawled and skinned our way up Snowking Mountain during last weekend’s stormy weather. Saturday it snowed hard all day as we made it up to an early camp at 4800 feet. On Sunday, we moved camp up to 5600 feet above Cyclone Lake and skinned up to the top of Snowking Mountain in weather that alternated between sunshine and dumping snow. We skied off the summit in a snow squall and limited visibility. Concerns over stability and visibility saw us ski the ridge north of Cyclone Lake before dropping down to Snowking Lake. We skinned across Snowking Lake and back up the ridge to return to camp. Hopes of another summit and different line vanished Sunday when the weather blew back in. The ski out was generally excellent, until we took skis off at 3300 feet and, unable to find the trail or our old track, enjoyed an invigorating shwack/controlled fall down the hill until we hit the abandoned road. In summary, it was a most excellent time in a most spectacular area, bounded by plenty of low-grade brush suffering to keep us humble.

Gear notes: Umbrellas, dry sacks, extra socks. If you want more of an adventure, leave the GPS at home. We discovered this omission at the trailhead, and hey, we never would have seen that cool waterfall had we remembered the GPS. Wink



Oh yeah, you know this is gonna be fun...


Elliot Poppins, floating through the BC


The suck begins to subside as we reach skinnable snow


Trader Ming's noodle boxes, heavy but highly recommended


Finally, we catch sight of our objective


Elliot, skinning along the ridge. When the sun finally did come out, it was *warm*


Looking back at our second camp, en route to Snowking's East Ridge


And the snow returns as we ascend the East ridge


Elliot boots the last few feet to the summit of Snowking


First turns off the summit in the whiteout and snow


Occasionally the sun would tease us by pretending like it would win out over the clouds


The sun and visibility finally make their reappearance after our "traverse of shame"


With visibility back, things return to thrift shop mode..."this is fuuccccking aweeesome..."


Really, this is April??


Back at camp, which had picked up 2-3" of snow in our absence


What a spectacular area. This is why I keep coming back despite that god-awful schwack.


Me checking out the views before heading back to the forest


Elliot tearing it up on the way down to the 4800 foot saddle. Excellent snow continued!


So...much...fun


Elliot checking out the ski down to 4800 feet


It wouldn't be a true Cascadian adventure without some of this shit!


Elliot keeping the stoke alive. Side benefit of missing the trail, we got to check out this very cool slabby waterfall. The picture definitely doesn't do it justice.


Back down to the abandoned road. It's incredible how quickly nature reclaims her terrain.


Me, contemplating the wetness of our universe.


The route. Blue is the estimated location of our bonus excursion on the descent.
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elliotts
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Re: April 13-15, 2013, Snowking Mtn, Winter in April!
« Reply #1 on: 04/17/13, 01:41 PM »

....and thank gawd we Josh's pocket stereo to blast out some rock'n tunes while we skied and bush wacked our way through Vietnam. Smiley
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JoshK
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Re: April 13-15, 2013, Snowking Mtn, Winter in April!
« Reply #2 on: 04/17/13, 01:52 PM »

....and thank gawd we Josh's pocket stereo to blast out some rock'n tunes while we skied and bush wacked our way through Vietnam. Smiley

Yes, I did miss this crucial gear note. The Alpine Boombox ($9.99 at Fred Meyer) is an invaluable piece of gear that should never be left at home. Forgot the GPS? No worries, keep going. Forgot the stereo? Time to head back to civilization and properly equip one's self. Smiley
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jesski
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Re: April 13-15, 2013, Snowking Mtn, Winter in April!
« Reply #3 on: 04/17/13, 01:59 PM »

dudes, nice job.

Way to make freeride out of lemons.
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bringing the fun since 1984
Jake the Brit
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Re: April 13-15, 2013, Snowking Mtn, Winter in April!
« Reply #4 on: 04/17/13, 02:49 PM »

Umbrellas: portable roof, lightweight, ventilated....... genius.

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JoshK
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Re: April 13-15, 2013, Snowking Mtn, Winter in April!
« Reply #5 on: 04/17/13, 05:44 PM »

So if anybody is bored and interested in a read, here is the novel length version. It's been a long time since I've written up a lengthy TR on anything, so it was more to exercise my own meager writing ability than anything else. It's too easy for all the trips to blend in to one another without reflecting (and writing), and I need to remind myself of this. If you want to read, enjoy, otherwise I hope you at least enjoy the pictures above. Smiley


Sometimes the weather says no, but we say yes.
Snowking Mountain, April 13-15, 2013


The background

Earlier this year, Elliot, Dave and I had made plans to ski at the Asulkan Hut in Canada, an area that I’ve never explored on skis and have always wanted to. At the same time I was making plans for a minor medical procedure. Unfortunately the intricacies of navigating the U.S. medical system got the best of me, and by the time I was finally scheduled to get myself cut up, not enough time was left to heal up sufficiently to go on the Asulkan trip. I was bummed to know I’d be missing out on days of powder skiing with good friends, but we talked of tentative plans to get back when they returned and I had healed enough.

As last week rolled on, plans to visit the Methow Valley were discussed, but when news broke that the DOT planned on opening the highway on Tuesday, it seemed prudent to postpone that trip to take advantage of the shorter, scenic drive over SR20 once the highway opened. As soon as they crossed back in to the U.S. from Canada last Thursday night, Elliot called me, reminding me of our plans to get out. He said he was ready to get after it and wanted an adventure. The weather said otherwise, as did the avalanche forecasts, and a fair bit of common sense. Heading somewhere east, where the weather was likely to be tamer, seemed like the logical choice, but the man said he wanted an adventure, and who am I to deny that? Plus, the opportunity to ski deep powder in April was upon us, assuming we could do so safely.

The Plan

The idea of somewhere on the Cascade River Road quickly bubbled to the top of the list. The forecast was clearly calling for a lot of snow, but in our minds we managed to fit the forecast to our desire. “Well, they say a convergence zone will likely form, so maybe it’ll be clearer north of Stevens?” “The snow level is low, so at least it won’t be rain.” Phone calls were made, and unfortunately “The Daves” would be unable to join due to the responsibilities of work and taxes. They would be missed, both for their company and trailbreaking abilities. We settled on Snowking Mountain as a destination. It’s an incredibly scenic and beautiful area, with amazing skiing all around. Most importantly, I had been there several times before, including in storms, and was confident in our ability to safely navigate the largely forested and ridge-top approach in the conditions we had. It may not be particularly high, steep or chest-thump worthy, but it would offer a good adventure and challenge given the conditions.

Elliot arrived early Saturday morning at my house, and we discussed what gear to bring in my garage as the rain pounded the Seattle streets outside. “Trust me man, you’ll want an umbrella. It might look stupid, but there are no points for fashion” I told Elliot. I also handed him a large dry-sack to line his pack, saving him from learning a lesson I had learned the hard way many times before. “Yeah, bring that extra thing of fuel too; the Reactor can make a great ghetto gear dryer if we have enough fuel.” Packs stuffed, we merged on to I-5 north, both of us dreary from short nights of sleep.

Into the Muck and the Mire

Somewhere near Rockport the rain transitioned to wet snow, making me think we could approach without rain and giving hope to the illusion that we could maintain some amount of dryness. As we 4x4ed across the numerous stream washouts on the South Side Cascade River Road the snow started falling in huge, heavy flakes. We parked the car at the large boulders the Forest Service blocked the road with a few years ago after budget cuts and washouts finally doomed the road to an eternity of being quickly reclaimed by the jungles of the North Cascades. Umbrellas were deployed and we hoisted our heavy packs with skis and boots attached and set off down the overgrown road. Spirits were high, but my confidence was low.

After a few switchbacks we had gained enough elevation for the brush to be thoroughly covered with heavy wet snow. The umbrellas became more of shields to duck under as we waded through the brush, our skis constantly knocking copious amounts of snow all over us. I mentioned a few times to Elliot that turning around and doing something else is always an option, but he wanted to persevere. It was laughable how ridiculous the situation was, so that’s what we did: laugh. We arrived at the small clearing on the road where the climber’s trail starts and ducked in the trees to discuss safety protocols, switch in to ski boots and begin the fight upwards.

The climbers trail is really more of a steep forest tunnel. In dry conditions, it’s not that bad as far as Cascades climber trails go. With a heavy coating of new snow and skis on the pack, it’s a different matter. The skis did their best to knock all the new snow off the low hanging vegetation and on to us and they succeeded admirably. After a few hundred feet we encountered our first bit of snow from this past season and we were hopeful that we would be skinning before too long. Around 3500 feet we cowered underneath a tree to brew up a hot lunch and switch to skinning. This also happens to be around the elevation where the forest naturally transitions from a total shit-show of fallen debris and scrub trees to relatively well spaced mature forest. Buoyed by hot food in our bellies and skis on our feet we trucked upwards through some beautiful old-growth as the snow continued to pile up. It was falling heavily, accumulating fast, and we noted it was quite reactive, though not very cohesive at all. We felt safe at least continuing up to the saddle at 4800 feet and reevaluating at that point.

We reached the 4800 foot saddle around 4 o’clock. We had the energy to continue further, but we were both fairly wet so pressing on to nightfall at a higher elevation camp didn’t seem particularly appealing. Additionally, we figured another 12 hours for the snowfall to lighten and new snow to settle a bit before heading higher would be wise. We called it an early day, fired up the alpine boombox (why oh why had I waited this long??) and set to work building a camp and drying things out. As night fell, we caught a few glimpses of stars and the moon, giving us some hope the weather was improving and the struggle to get up there would be worth it. We kept the tunes going, melted plenty of snow for water and went to bed cautiously optimistic.

Up and Down Snowking

The next morning we fired up the alpine boombox again, broke camp and began the skin up to the next knob. The weather alternated between occasional clearing and sunbreaks and heavy snow squalls. As it would turn out, this would be the theme for the next two days: music, and constantly changing weather. While I wouldn’t call the snow particularly stable, it had settled out considerably overnight and we felt confident continuing up and along the ridge. We passed the impressive rock formations on Point 5791 and ripped our skins for a short ski down to the 5200 foot saddle. The snow was nothing short of hero powder, and it made for delightfully easy skiing with large packs. We kept remarking to one another what incredible snow this was for April and how lucky we felt to be up here in such a remarkable area to enjoy it. We skinned from the saddle up the elongated 5600+ foot knob that sits above Cyclone Lake where we dropped our overnight gear and decided to make camp.

Clouds blew in and out, as did the snow. We caught peekaboo glimpses of our objective from time to time as we ate lunch, set up our camp and put together some day packs. The plans were to swing around Point 5860, drop down to the saddle, and then ascend the East Ridge of Snowking Mountain. It’s a windswept ridge, and my hope was the trailbreaking would be easy. From the summit we were hoping to ski fall line from the summit north down to the large basin above Snowking Lake and then ascend back from camp. Dave K and I had skied this line a few years back in March, and the nearly 3000 feet of powder skiing deserved a repeat. We set off and made good time up the ridge, skinning to within about 10 feet of the summit, where we hand carried our skis the last few feet.

Clouds had swirled up and engulfed the summit at this point and we couldn’t see more than 100 feet below us. We bided our time, hoping for a clearing in the weather. No such luck would be bestowed upon us. We figured the time had arrived, clicked in to our skis and began the descent in the heavily falling snow. My goggles fogged up so I squinted as huge snowflakes hit my eyes. I made it down a few feet and called for Elliot to follow. We continued this way for over 1000 feet, a few turns at a time, using one another for a point of reference. Occasionally we’d make snowballs and toss them down the slope to reveal the dips and rolls. Thankfully the snow quality was good and the skiing very easy, though at one point I came to a stop and fell over on a 15 degree slope, victim to the vertigo of the whiteout.

As we neared 6000 feet the decision point came: continue to drop north over steeper slopes and down to the basin west of Snowking Lake, or skirt down the ridge above Cyclone Lake. We wanted to drop north, along the line Dave K and I had skied a few years prior. Unfortunately the visibility was terrible and I couldn’t even tell which cliff marked the spot we needed to drop in. We were also very leery to drop on to the steeper slopes with questionable stability without the benefit of seeing where we were going. We decided to suck it up and traverse east over the cliffs and find a more mellow spot to descend to the lake, hopefully with the visibility enhancing support of trees. As we neared the end of our traverse the snow broke, the clouds parted and the sun popped out. Timing is everything, and sometimes you just get unlucky. We looked back on our traverse line as it glistened beautifully in the sunshine. Had it been a skin track, it would have been a thing of beauty, but alas, it was only a shameful bailout ski track. We laughed at the fact that the weather broke at the worst possible time for us, but we had no regrets. The skiing was excellent, we chose conservatively, and had gotten ourselves out of the white room.

The ski from the 5800 foot cliff bands down to Snowking Lake was nothing short of spectacular. The alpine boombox cranked away as we enjoyed blower powder and big open turns through troughs and trees. This had us hollering and quickly forgetting about the fact that we hadn’t gotten to ski the exact line we wanted. We skied down to the shore of the lake and took a short break in the sunshine before skinning across the lake and back up the ridge towards camp. The traverse back up towards camp in the evening light was beautiful and almost other-worldly. Clouds blew in and out and light snow fell from time to time. We spent a relaxed evening among the company of a stick fire and enjoyed occasional stargazing when the clouds would part. We went to bed hopeful that Monday would dawn clear and we could re-summit and ski the line we originally hoped to.

Descending Back to the Jungle Gym

Morning broke without much improvement in the weather. We decided the challenge of getting back down at a reasonable hour and dealing with the road madness again would be challenge enough, so we lazily packed up camp. The descent involves going back up and over the various knobs you cross on the approach, so it does require several transitions. Thankfully we got to enjoy scattered sunshine as we took breaks at the various transitions. The skiing down was incredible, and much more than one can reasonably hope for in April, especially considering the conditions stayed excellent down until we removed our skis. As we passed our passed our 4800 foot camp from the first night, we decided to skin up Point 5116 so we could ski a little more fall line on the descent.

We hoped to meet our descent track in the flat benches around 4600 feet in order to find our way back to the climbers trail. At this point it probably bears mentioning that yours truly had forgotten his GPS. While certainly not a necessity, the thing is a god-send when it comes to finding your way in otherwise difficult to orient snow covered, thick sub-alpine forest. The map shows 2 distinct drainages, which we attempted to use to orient ourselves while we performed crude map and compass navigation. As we descended lower and lower, we became less certain exactly which creeks we were following and second guessed ourselves constantly. On the upside, the snow remained incredibly easy to ski and the alpine boombox’s batteries remained strong. At just over 3000 feet we crossed a creek (unmarked on the map, from the best I can tell) and started to boot down. A very scenic slabby waterfall at this crossing provided our last scenic reward before starting in to our own personal Vietnam.

It wasn’t pretty from this point forward. If the creek was the one I originally thought it was on the map, we should have met the trail just on the other side, but that didn’t happen. I did remember there was an old abandoned road that extended pass the trail turn-off and it was my hope that if we just descended down we would hit it and be able to brush bash back to the clearing where the trail starts. I told Elliot this would be the time to say a prayer to his chosen god if that was his thing and we started down. It was heinous. Fallen logs of all sizes litter this forest at lower elevations and the already slick assortment of moss covered slabs and fallen sticks were covered by varying depths of wet snow. I remarked that this was the type of descent where we would be finding mysterious bruises on our bodies in the upcoming days. At this point, the refrain we had repeated all trip, compliments of Macklemore: “This is fucking awesome!” turned in to “This is fucking awful!”

At some point above 2000 feet (the map claims the road is around 2500 feet, but I’m pretty sure it’s actually lower) I spotted an unusually large patch of white through the jungle beneath us. I shouted to Elliot that I thought I saw the abandoned road, and we started dive bombing towards it. About 10 feet above the “road”, faced with a veggie belay downclimb over a mossy slab, I gave in to the madness and chucked my pack, skis and all, down to the flats so I could climb down unencumbered. We had made the road, or at least what’s left of it. Mother Nature has done an admirable job of making sure little is actually left of this testament to human meddling in her domain. We pressed our way through a variety of fine sub-alpine flora for the quarter mile or so back to one final creek crossing. On the other side of this creek was the clearing where the trail starts and where we would enjoy a return to some semblance of sanity.

The Subaru awaits…

As we emerged in to the clearing, the snow level had finally inched up enough and the snow had given way to a driving rain. We put on our Gore-Tex armor, stashed away our approach shoes which we had left here and began the three mile brushy road walk back to the car. Apparently the descent hadn’t been quite bad enough, because we were already drawing up the next trip’s plans as we pushed rain soaked branches out of our way on the way down.

We arrived back at the car soaking wet, changed in to dry clothes and enjoyed the Fat Tires we had left there, fully satisfied with the adventure we had found. More than anything for me, this trip highlighted the fact that attitude and company can make all the difference. I’ve had the pleasure of sharing trips with some really great people, and I’m happy to have added Elliot to that list. Sure, there was some swearing at the brush (mostly by me), but we were laughing most all of the time, no matter how often the weather changed. Given the stormy weather, I’m more than satisfied with what we accomplished, staying safe and keeping our ambition in check. Cementing a new friendship in a spectacular setting with incredible powder skiing is pretty hard to beat.

This area doesn’t see much traffic any more, which is a shame. The forest service gave up on maintaining the road years ago and in the years I have visited, the approach has gotten steadily longer and the brush has gotten steadily thicker. It still remains one of my favorite areas for solitude and access to the alpine environment of the North Cascades with an approach that can be managed in stormy and marginal conditions with some careful route finding. With better approach conditions, the exploration that can be done beyond Snowking in all directions is virtually limitless. Lines of all aspects and steepness await anybody willing to put up with a little bit of the Cascade’s finest down low.
« Last Edit: 04/17/13, 05:47 PM by JoshK » Logged
dahu
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Re: April 13-15, 2013, Snowking Mtn, Winter in April!
« Reply #6 on: 04/17/13, 10:40 PM »

Great report and beautiful shwacking!  Feel better knowing that Jake and I had some shwacking friends up North!  Umbrellas are the way to go!  Snowking is just incredible, worth extending a stay up there to keep exploring.  Here is how we felt last year when we found the abandoned road  Smiley


* SnowkingChaval__117.jpg (62.84 KB, 640x427 - viewed 1292 times.)
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alecapone
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Re: April 13-15, 2013, Snowking Mtn, Winter in April!
« Reply #7 on: 04/18/13, 08:21 AM »

Beautiful!

Thanks for both reports. I read the readers digest version, but im putting the long edit on kindle with some other epic plays to read on  an upcoming roadtrip.

That area looks great. Would love  to get up there sometime.

Funny. Thought the umbrella shot was joke til I seen you both had one.
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scott
MattT
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Re: April 13-15, 2013, Snowking Mtn, Winter in April!
« Reply #8 on: 04/18/13, 09:53 AM »

^how you like those yetis?
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JoshK
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Re: April 13-15, 2013, Snowking Mtn, Winter in April!
« Reply #9 on: 04/18/13, 11:31 AM »

Oh, the umbrella ain't no joke! I remember quietly mentioning the use of umbrellas to a certain Cascade hardman who openly admitted to using one. That gave me the courage to step out of the closet of umbrella use. Smiley

^how you like those yetis?

Matt, I really like the Yetis, and Praxis was great to deal with! My only regret was getting them too short but I suppose that came in handy on an approach like this...
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Brian C
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Re: April 13-15, 2013, Snowking Mtn, Winter in April!
« Reply #10 on: 04/19/13, 11:36 AM »

That area is so awesome. Nicely done.
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alecapone
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Re: April 13-15, 2013, Snowking Mtn, Winter in April!
« Reply #11 on: 04/19/13, 12:14 PM »

Heh.. well hopefully elliot is working on his technique. His umbrella looks highly inaffective.

Why not just strap it to the skis?
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scott
JoshK
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Re: April 13-15, 2013, Snowking Mtn, Winter in April!
« Reply #12 on: 04/19/13, 02:58 PM »

It definitely works well strapped to the skis in more open terrain, though on that brushy ass road it is most effectively applied as a shield. Smiley
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kath
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Re: April 13-15, 2013, Snowking Mtn, Winter in April!
« Reply #13 on: 04/20/13, 04:26 PM »

beautiful up there ... nice work!
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Oyvind_Henningsen
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Re: April 13-15, 2013, Snowking Mtn, Winter in April!
« Reply #14 on: 04/28/13, 11:30 PM »

good trip !  i have only been up there in similar conditions, need to go back up when its not puking !
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Lytt til erfarne fjellfolk!
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