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| | |-+  May 18, 2002, Birthday Tour, Washington Pass
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Author Topic: May 18, 2002, Birthday Tour, Washington Pass  (Read 2250 times)

May 18, 2002, Birthday Tour, Washington Pass
« on: 09/09/02, 06:03 PM »

I took a long journey in a wondrous and magical place, deep into the land of forgetting. First, I forgot to bring the breakfast and lunch which I had laboriously prepared at home (leaving them instead on the kitchen counter, bananas turning black and soft in the sun). Then, in the early-morning confusion of car shuttles I forgot maps, a camera and gaiters. Most damaging, though, I forgot where I had put down an unwrapped chocolate bar at the bottom of the day's first descent. Imagine my surprise several hours later (following one more descent and two hot and arduous climbs) when I discovered that I had put this chocolate bar in my hat. Which I had then fit tightly to my head. By this time, much of the chocolate had gone missing, melted by body heat, dissolved in the sweat which had been pouring out of me, and soaked into my hair and clothing. What remained, of course, I promptly ate. Good thing this is not grizzly country.

It is the season of the North Cascades Highway at last. Initially, there were thirteen of us, including carloads from Seattle and Bellingham plus one lonely resident of Mt. Vernon. We converged on the Blue Lake trailhead on the North Cascades Highway at the usual ungodly hour, shuffled vehicles and set off up the hill, following a few groups of postholing climbers but forging ahead of the hordes of other skiers who kept cresting ridges behind us and swooping down the descents. We opted for the longer option of this tour, which turned out to involve a generally easier level of difficulty and to take about the same length of time as the shorter version. In time, the younger and more energetic Washington Alpine Club group left the rather more sedate and elderly Bellingham Mountaineers group behind. By some accident of demographics or penchant for self-abuse, I also ended up with the faster of the two, though I lagged on both climbs and descents.

The hole which often splits the cornice at Blue Peak Col, a.k.a. The Cornice of Death, is not evident this year. We passed it on climbers left, booting steeply for fifty or a hundred feet. Old folks like myself, unsteady on their feet, might like an ice axe on this small pitch. The remainder of the tour was uneventful-my own losing battle with the chocolate bar aside-until the weather which had been threatening all day finally descended on us during our final, optional climb among the granite slabs and spires above Kangaroo Pass. There blowing snow and limited visibility sent us hurtling down to the hairpin turn on the highway, where an astonishing number of skiers were to be seen picking their way down thick, frozen avalanche debris in the lower reaches of Spire Gully.

Skiing ranged from very good to somewhat poor, with elevation bands of corn still frozen or nicely cooked, half-thawed breakable crust, deep slurpy slush, and actual fresh snowfall on a firm base. Shallow snow around rocks is quite rotten, and in a lot of places a potential sliding surface within the snowpack is overlaid by a couple of feet of unconsolidated wet snow; this probably bears watching. Many of the steeper couloirs have slid vigorously during the past week or so, but there is still plenty of snow perched precariously up high, including substantial cornices on what almost seemed random aspects. There are also ample numbers of steep and smooth rock slabs in this area, at least some of which are currently releasing wet slabs.

The parking area at the trailhead is tiny, and by the time we returned cars were stretched out along the highway, and persons unknown had actually rather rudely parked one of us in. Although everything worked out in the end, this seemed rather odd; in the world in which I have spent much of my life, such things are routinely dealt with very vengefully. Perhaps the owners of a certain camper-equipped white minivan have not yet glimpsed this alternate world as clearly as I. On the other hand, there were few or no cars at other trailheads along route 20, suggesting that solitude is available in other locations for those who desire.


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