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| | |-+  March 23, 2014, Watson Traverse, Mt. Baker
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Author Topic: March 23, 2014, Watson Traverse, Mt. Baker  (Read 3919 times)
mtbakerguides
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March 23, 2014, Watson Traverse, Mt. Baker
« on: 03/25/14, 11:36 AM »


Storm totals for the Baker Backcountry on Thursday morning surprised us a little. The NOAA forecast for Wednesday night called for 3-5 inches, so when telemetry reported 19 inches of new at cold temperatures, we were a little shocked. Oddly, we are getting into the time of year when more snow is not necessarily better. The weather forecast for the weekend was splitter, and we had plans to head into the alpine. We did not need a massive dump to contend with. 3-5 inches would have been fine.

Friday’s plan for the Northwest Couloir on Shuksan got scrapped when we arrived at Baker and observed many, small skier triggered storm slabs. Instead we headed around into Anderson Creek and worked some fine lines off of the high, west face of Slate. We finished the day with a late season descent of the Clean Slate Gully. Conditions were beautiful on north aspects and the storm slab seemed to be rapidly gaining strength.

NWAC forecasts for the rest of the weekend were Moderate at all elevations with pockets of wind slab being the primary concern. Saturday looked cloudy, but Sunday was shaping up to be spectacular. Our experience on steeper north faces gave us confidence, and we decided to make plans for the Watson Traverse.

I began making preparations with my wife Jenni on Saturday morning. Snow levels were still pretty low so we lined up a couple snomobiles to make Glacier Creek Road more manageable. One to get us up the road in the morning and one to get us back up the road at the end of the day.

Ben, a guide for the Institute happened to be ski guiding all weekend and crashing with us. He rolled in around 4:00 PM on Saturday and reported heavy snow in the Baker BC. The NOAA forecast was only calling for an inch, but by 5:00 PM, telemetry was showing 4 inches. “Shit” I thought, not again…We deliberated for a while, but ultimately decided to stick with the plan when the snow and winds began to die down around 6:00 PM. At 7:00 PM I got a text from another friend, Lee. “Are you skiing tomorrow?” “Yep, sure am” I thought. I called him back, and by 8:00 PM we had a third.

2:00 AM came early. We loaded our gear and picked Lee up on the way out of town. Sleds were unloaded by 4:30 AM. Jenni and I packed our gear onto the back, and we tossed Lee a tow rope. The track up was incredibly hummocked, and I felt a little bad for Lee’s uphill mogul run.

Lee and Jenni set trail up Grouse Creek. The few inches from Saturday added up nicely, and the snow was phenomenal. It was great having a third pair of legs to help with breaking. We crested Heliotrope Ridge and headed for the Saddle. The entire Coleman Glacier was coated in powdery, boot-top bliss. Part of me just wanted to hang out and ski hot laps.

We dispatched the Coleman quickly, set track up the Roman Wall, and were on top of Baker by 11:00 AM. We pounded lunch and began investigating descents down the northeast side of the mountain. Ideally we wanted to ski the Park Headwall, but the Boulder Glacier and Cockscomb Ridge were viable back up options as well. We poked our heads over the Park and noted beautiful, smooth conditions for much of the run. We decided to head north and scope a steep line on skier’s left side of the Headwall. We were a little worried about pockets of wind slab right off the roll, so I eased slowly into the run, and tried to cut my skis down through the wind-effected snow to the bed surface. About 20 feet in I released a wind pocket which broke at my skis and ran down the face. Good argument for easing into slopes. Better argument for belayed ski cuts. I pondered the rope coiled in the bottom of my pack.

I let it rip down the run. Skiing doesn’t get much better than steep, powdery turns down the Park Headwall. After a few hundred feet I pulled out left under a rock band above the bergschrund, and waved the others down. Jenni followed next, and Lee finished up. We discussed the next pitch, and Lee lead across a nice bridge on the schrund, and down what was possibly the best shot of powder in all of the North Cascades that day. Jenni followed, and I snapped photos from above.

I put the camera away, and made a few turns towards the bergschrund. The snow was deep and sluffing heavily. I decided to stop a fair bit above the schrund to let my sluff run, while still giving myself enough slope to pick up speed. As I laid into my last turn, the entire bridge failed catastrophically below me, taking a 20 ft. by 5 ft. section, as well as both sets of previous tracks down into the abyss. The slope under my skis, now suddenly unsupported, slabbed off into the schrund – leaving me edged into a steep, firm, convexity above the pit. “I’ve got an issue” I yelled down. I began gently side stepping uphill into the softer snow, while being super careful not to release any hang fire. Given recent events, I decided to forego nearby bridges, and ran a traverse all the way to the north side of the face, where the bergschrund was buried deeply.

I’m not sure why I decided to stop above the bergschrund, or if it was the best decision. Normally I commit to the line and “mach” across the bridge as fast as possible. However, given the situation and the odd timing, I imagine it would have failed anyways – the outcome of which is uncertain. It’s difficult to say that I did or didn’t make the right decision. I think the moral with bergschrunds is that you should be prepared to air the entire crack, regardless of the presence of a bridge.

I took a big breath and skied down to Lee and Jenni. We discussed the events, and then continued down low angle terrain through absolutely perfect, cold powder. We worked our way around a few icefalls on the Park and the Rainbow Glacier, and finally ended our run at the West Portal, 4300 ft. below the summit. We all agreed it was one of our best lines ever.

Given the snow conditions, we decided to forego the high traverse back to the ski area, and instead, ski each basin down as far as we could in the direction that we wanted to go. We took a high, rolling line over the West Portal, and skied a fun shot down past the north face of the East Portal. A short hike brought us up to the ridge between Coleman Pinnacle and Lasiocarpa. The light was flatting out, so we stripped our skins quickly and skied all the way to the bottom of Wells Creek. We fought our way back up through the nebulous gullies to Ptarmigan Pass, and then opted to wrap north around Table Mountain and over to Alaskan Amber and Corner Pocket to finish the day. The last runs were as good as the first.

We made our way past a posse of snowboarders filming a booter, and out Bagley Creek. A couple of friends had shuttled another car for us, and we arrived at the Heather Meadows parking area at 5:45 PM, almost 13 hours after we began. We made our way down the hill and back to Glacier Creek. We waved goodbye to Lee, and with daylight fading headed back up the road on the second snowmobile to run the shuttle. The Watson Traverse had come full circle.


Full photos of the trip on Mt. Baker Mountain Guides Blog:  http://mtbakerguides.com/watson-traverse-20140323/

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kamtron
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Re: March 23, 2014, Watson Traverse, Mt. Baker
« Reply #1 on: 03/25/14, 01:01 PM »

You put in an impressive time with what looks like great conditions. Kudos!

I think I'd be pretty sketched in your situation on the headwall! That bergschrund is wide. Glad everything worked out.
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Norseman
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Re: March 23, 2014, Watson Traverse, Mt. Baker
« Reply #2 on: 03/25/14, 01:15 PM »

Great writeup.
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dberdinka
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Re: March 23, 2014, Watson Traverse, Mt. Baker
« Reply #3 on: 03/25/14, 03:22 PM »

You are so fortunate (and also highly skilled) to have experienced such spectacular conditions.  I dream of skiing the Park in conditions like that.  Much jealousy.......
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runningclouds
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Re: March 23, 2014, Watson Traverse, Mt. Baker
« Reply #4 on: 03/25/14, 04:52 PM »

Thanks for the TR. What a fantastic day! We saw your tracks from Mazama Dome and were wondering exactly how much fun you had. Estimates ranged from 100% to 167%.



* 2014-03-23_Park_glacier_tracks.jpg (238.47 KB, 800x800 - viewed 1112 times.)
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runningclouds
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Re: March 23, 2014, Watson Traverse, Mt. Baker
« Reply #5 on: 03/25/14, 05:34 PM »

BTW how far up can you drive on Glacier Creek Road?
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mtbakerguides
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Re: March 23, 2014, Watson Traverse, Mt. Baker
« Reply #6 on: 03/25/14, 09:10 PM »

Thanks for posting the amazing picture Runningclouds! That's a great perspective on our line. I'd love to have the Hi-Res version. Would you be OK with me using that on our website, mtbakerguides.com? If so, send it over to the email on our website.

I'd say that given my experience on the Head Wall, I had 100% fun. Lee and Jenni were probably closer to the 167% mark.

The Glacier Creek road is still pretty snowy. We parked down at the winter closure and ran the sleds over some dirt patches for the first mile or so. A Subaru made it about a mile past where we parked. There was a lot of melting on Sunday so you could probably get a bit farther now. I would still plan on at least a 1-2 hour skin to get to the trailhead.
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mtbakerguides
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Re: March 23, 2014, Watson Traverse, Mt. Baker
« Reply #7 on: 03/25/14, 09:10 PM »

You are so fortunate (and also highly skilled) to have experienced such spectacular conditions.  I dream of skiing the Park in conditions like that.  Much jealousy.......

Don't worry dberdinka - I've drooled over a number of your posts  Wink
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Gregg_C
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Re: March 23, 2014, Watson Traverse, Mt. Baker
« Reply #8 on: 03/25/14, 10:37 PM »

That run is one of the best anywhere!!  It goes on..and on..... and on.......  So happy that you guys got to catch it on one of those March gem days when the sun and snow conditions are ideal.  Hopefully Amar is spot on and we will have more powder days to come.
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tabski
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Re: March 23, 2014, Watson Traverse, Mt. Baker
« Reply #9 on: 03/26/14, 02:45 AM »

I'll have what he's having.
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BillK
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Re: March 23, 2014, Watson Traverse, Mt. Baker
« Reply #10 on: 03/26/14, 09:27 AM »

You take clients down that stuff?  Do you advise them to launch bergschrunds, too, or ski around them if possible?  My kind of guide!
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zestysticks
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Re: March 23, 2014, Watson Traverse, Mt. Baker
« Reply #11 on: 03/26/14, 08:10 PM »

Inspiring trip report!  Thanks for sharing.
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