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| | |-+  November 15th, 2015, Park Butte - Mt. Baker
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Author Topic: November 15th, 2015, Park Butte - Mt. Baker  (Read 2290 times)

Posts: 10

November 15th, 2015, Park Butte - Mt. Baker
« on: 11/16/15, 09:13 AM »

Winter's Resurrection

For full post and photos, check out Mt. Baker Mountain Guides Blog


Iím going to be totally honest - The ski season last year sucked. Thatís not something youíll often hear from someone who makes a living off promoting winter, but there really is no other way to put it. Sure there were some highlights. We got a bunch of snow around the holidays, and I had one of my all-time best days of ski guiding, but that was pretty much it. Rain washed away our snowpack in late January, and the rest of the season was torture.

I consider myself an optimist, but last year gave me a run for my money. The next big storm was right around the corner, until it wasnít, or it showed up as rain. Ugh. Other folks slipped into a deep, negative depression, where it was never going to snow again. Winter had gone, never to return. Skiing was doomed, and the Cascades were going to be the next tropical paradise. Like Detroit Lions fans, we actually switched teams and rooted for failure. It we canít win, we might as well set the losing record. April snow-water equivalents confirmed the worst ski season in history. It came as a surprise to absolutely nobody.

Between a Super El Nino, and the fearsome Blob, folks have not been too psyched on this season either. As the eternal optimist I held out hope. I developed an appetite for weather discussions, ENSO forecasts, and amateur meteorology. Occasionally Cliff Mass would send me into a joyous frenzy, but despite reassurance from Seattleís favorite weatherman, itís not winter until thereís snow on the ground.

Iím not one to rush into the hills with the first falling flakes. I sold my rock skis when I moved to Washington, and Iím typically content to wait until the season is well underway before committing to any ski tours. But after last year, I had an otherworldly impatience. NOAA, Mountain Weather, and NWAC telemetry webpages have been open on my computer for days, ready and waiting for regular refresh. More than once, my wife has humored me as I read aloud the latest weather discussion with much vigor. Every inch of accumulation at the Heather Meadows weather station was duly noted. Every inch lost was mourned. When telemetry went down, I panicked.

And yesterday, we toured. Amen. My knowledge of meteorology is rudimentary, but I can tell you that it was cold enough to snow, and snow it did. Apparently, we have been lucky up at Baker. A cold front held steady to our south, and the resulting totals have been impressive. As a Colorado transplant, Iím always amused at how quickly we go from not winter to winter around these parts.

Park Butte Lookout made for a great inaugural tour. Freezing levels were low, but we were still able to drive to Schreibers Meadows Trailhead. Fantastically, we were able to skin from the truck all the way to Park Butte, with only minor shenanigans in the Meadows. Snow depths increased dramatically with elevation, with the big gain occurring between 4000 and 4500 ft.

3500: 24 cm
4000: 38 cm
4500: 65 cm
5000: 90 cm

Setting a skin track was like re-uniting with a long lost friend. The snow was deep and trail breaking was hard. The weather was in and out most of the day. We got some great views of Baker from high on the ridge, but we were also hammered by wind and snow from time to time. It felt great to experience winter once again, and to struggle against the elements.

Itís obvious that the snowpack was created both quickly and recently. The layers are unconsolidated, and slightly upside down. Boot penetration goes almost to ground in a lot of places. We got some test results on surface slabs in wind loaded areas, and there are definitely ongoing storm and windslab issues. NWAC has a great write-up on a recent avalanche at Pan-Dome at Mt. Baker Ski Area. Itís not a full blown report, but itís worth a read. If thereís enough snow to ski, thereís enough snow to slide.

Park Butte Lookout provided for a chill transition. Southerly aspects were protected from the wind, and offered much better snow quality.† Conditions were still a little upside down, so we didnít invest much into the descent. There were definitely a few good turns to be had though, and it felt great just to slide downhill again.

Long story short, winter is back. It may only be the first major storm of the season, but weíre already way ahead of where we were this time last year. As you can imagine, Iím optimistic. Naysayer be gone. El Nino may bite us yet, but right now itís dumping up there, and all is right in the world.

Thatís not to say that we are out of the woods though. Climate change is a big deal, and continues to threaten the viability of the winter industry, as well as our passion for sliding on snow. However, despite the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge, the Godzilla El Nino, and the Blob, snow is falling. Rumors of winterís death have been greatly exaggerated.

Posts: 418

Re: November 15th, 2015, Park Butte - Mt. Baker
« Reply #1 on: 11/16/15, 11:54 AM »

Thanks for the report! Three cheers for optimism (and safety).

Setting a skin track was like re-uniting with a long lost friend Beautifully said! There is a beginning of poem hiding in there.

Posts: 110

Re: November 15th, 2015, Park Butte - Mt. Baker
« Reply #2 on: 11/16/15, 05:34 PM »

Thanks for your post.  Climate change is THE BIGGEST DEAL & challenge for our planet!  We need to tell our elected reps to Vote for the Environment or we will vote for some one else.  Sorry for the thread jack.....


Posts: 316

Re: November 15th, 2015, Park Butte - Mt. Baker
« Reply #3 on: 11/16/15, 10:50 PM »

Way to say it, John.  Today was my first day and I couldn't possibly hit the fine point any better.  A long lost friend indeed.  And the sunrise over Shuksan and the North Fork peaks told me "we never went away."
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