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+  Turns All Year Trip Reports
|-+  2003 Backcountry Trip Reports
| |-+  Sept.-Oct. 2003 Backcountry Trip Reports
| | |-+  October 13, 2003, Heliotrope Ridge
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Author Topic: October 13, 2003, Heliotrope Ridge  (Read 2761 times)

Posts: 614

October 13, 2003, Heliotrope Ridge
« on: 10/14/03, 06:46 AM »

Heliotrope Ridge, Mt. Baker: October 13, 2003

Not wishing to subject myself to torrential rains, howling winds or blizzard whiteout—and having no particular desire to be colder, wetter or more miserable than ever before—I declined to ski Sunday (3.5 inches of rain and 38 degrees reported at 4200 feet). Instead, a partner and I departed Bellingham lazily in mid-morning sun yesterday morning, arriving at the Heliotrope trailhead just as the clouds parted over Mt. Baker.  

Of course, as the first tour of the new ski season, this was basically a shakedown cruise.  Late the previous night I had scurried around gathering ski gear which had been scattered widely during the summer, tossing it in disarray into the back of my van. As a result, various bits and pieces turned up misplaced or mismatched: my bindings were missing their heel lifts; the skins I brought belonged with far fatter skis; my boots gave me blisters; I left my glacier glasses on the kitchen counter and lost my kneepads deep in the murky depths of my pack. For his part, my partner forgot his glasses, misplaced his transceiver, and neglected to pack any glacier travel gear. Mysterious lapses of cognitive focus featured prominently during the day, too: I was able to divert my partner when, in a moment of blissed inattention, he skied at a high rate of speed directly towards a large, open crevasse. In return, he displayed remarkable patience later on, when I had to stagger back uphill in search of the light hikers which I had failed to secure adequately to my pack.  

Fortunately, the mountain treated us mercifully. We hiked, then skinned to the usual place at 7200 feet under brilliant blue skies, with layers of fog threading up the valleys below, at times threatening but never quite reaching us. Stream crossings were perfectly straightforward, the trail in good shape, the parking lot empty (and devoid of uniformed law enforcement personnel checking trail pass permits). In contrast to those posting Sunday, my main complaints involved overheating (in a t-shirt), and sunburn; winds were calm, the views outstanding. We hit the first thin patches of snow around 4700 feet, with 6-8 inches of crusty slush at 5500, a foot or more at 6000, and two feet of firm snow covered by 6 inches of smooth powder at 7000. The lower Coleman Glacier is heavily crevassed, even in the normally clear areas off to climber's right. We brought a handful of wands, and, contrary to expectation and normal practice, actually used a few. This would not be a good place to be wandering around in whiteout. We charged uphill without roping up, probing a few suspect areas, then followed our tracks on the ski down.

We both brought rock skis: mine were a sort which was well-respected a mere five years ago, mounted with lots of excessive ironmongery: TRP's and a pair of Chili bindings (which, all claims to the contrary, did NOT explode in use, sending me hurtling to certain death or dismemberment; in fact, they skied surprisingly well). My partner brought skis so excessive in length and insignificant in width and fortitude that it is a wonder he was able to ski at all. In fact, while I blasted the season's first tele turns through the powder he practiced a variety of ancient and obscure "two-footed parallel" turn, mumbling incantations and imprecations to a primitive deity of some sort (I kept hearing the muttered name "Eric Burr," but this may have been my imagination). Later, skiing the steep and shallow slush low on the route, my partner demonstrated an arcane method of tight-radius tele turns by which, he claims, Dickie Hall can actually telemark uphill. I tried these, and found them reasonably functional under the circumstances (which were, at that time, dire). My partner claims possession of a number of photos in which I demonstrate some noteworthy early-season, unfamiliar skis, warm-up run, gorilla-turns...but this cannot possibly be true.  

Altogether, we skied a line of about 1900 feet; the powder on the upper 500 feet was remarkable—probably the best October skiing I've had yet. The next 900 feet were also quite good, with powder gradually stiffening, then wetting out. The final 500 were somewhat less than ideal, with 6 inches of slush over rocky moraine slopes transitioning to meadow. We cycled the middle section one additional time, turning back when the fog briefly threatened to envelope us just as we approached the most threatening of the crevasses. Of course, once we had dropped out of range the fog burned off and the summit cleared.

Photo by sb:

Andrew Carey

Posts: 1418

Re: October 13, 2003, Heliotrope Ridge
« Reply #1 on: 10/14/03, 01:02 PM »

2 old farts Grin Grin Grin Grin

... want your own private skintrack? Better move to the yukon dude. (B'ham Allen, 2011).
...USA: government of the people by corporate proxies for business.

Andy Carey, Nisqually Park, 3500 feet below Paradise

Posts: 1090

Re: October 13, 2003, Heliotrope Ridge
« Reply #2 on: 10/15/03, 09:03 AM »

Mark, thanks for the great TR. As usual, it seems, Baker is again the snow champion - early, mid, or late season, this always seems to be the case.
Paul Belitz

Posts: 409

Re: October 13, 2003, Heliotrope Ridge
« Reply #3 on: 10/16/03, 01:43 PM »

I'm jealous. You let us catch all the rain and low visibility! You should have come Sunday. Builds character.  Wink Nice photo.

Posts: 37

Re: October 13, 2003, Heliotrope Ridge
« Reply #4 on: 10/20/03, 03:50 AM »

did some "turns" down some scree slopes above the green river in Canyonlands NP last week but it sounds even better up at Baker... a great trip report to read as always from our Bellingham breathen ..... sure feels warm out there today tho Huh
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