Chair Peak, November 27, 2010
Our Snoqualmie-based day touring took up where we left off last season. Seth put out the call via e-mail and Kevin, Crispin and I made our way to the still-closed Alpental parking lot at 9:00 AM. Ian Mackie pulled in shortly afterward, subbing for the 8.5 months pregnant Holly who was still ski touring as recently as yesterday at Hyak, but taking it "easy" today . . .
It was still early in the season, and we were skeptical about both the amount of snow and its stability . . . taking a hint from Monika Johnson, who had headed up this way a few days ago, we chose to use the Snow Lake trail rather than the usual Source Lake access. The trail had been broken in by several snowshoers and a couple on foot, but was smooth enough for efficient skinning and posed no problem. Higher in the Chair Peak Basin we forged our own way and I felt fortunate to have the services of Seth and Ian, who were just coming off of their cyclocross season. The final boot-up to gain the ridge of the Snow Lake divide had plenty of rocks underneath, but again didn't really slow us down.
Visibility was in and out on the Snow Lake side, mostly out. We hemmed and hawed about skiing down into the Snow Lake Basin, with its many huge boulders and very large holes that appeared suddenly out of the fog, but finally a glimmer of sunlight persuaded us to just do it. We took it easy in the questionable conditions, and still most everyone fell when running into a roll or bump they hadn't seen at all. Pretty comical. Good thing we avoided skiing over any of the cliffs that were still quite prominent this early in the year.
Very thick wind-affected snow was what we got, giving way to lumpy, slightly lighter stuff lower down. Snow stability was fine - questions we had regarding several days of big temperature gradient cold weather over a thin snowpack, unconsolidated light snow under heavier, and wind deposition (especially on the Snow Lake side of the divide) came back with the same answer - no problem. Surprisingly, none of us hit many rocks on the Snow Lake side of the ridge, but there were plenty of hazards to beware of that aren't normally visible. The ridge line that one can ski over later in the year with only a six foot "surprise" drop is currently a fifteem to twenty footer to who-knows-what landing. There is also a huge hole just as the bowl begins to narrow into a gully before the lake. We skinned back out following our down tracks, and once at the top decided on doing another quick lap.
On the climb out after the second lap those of us who hadn't been cyclocross racing began to really feel the effort. At one point I was so worked I keeled over during an uphill kickturn, and had to rejoin the line at the rear. I had a Raspberry Hammer Gel and some hot sugar-laden cider and felt better, and we headed back over the ridge toward home.
Skiing down the front side actually yielded better snow conditions than the Snow Lake side, and aside from my finding a huge slab of barely-buried granite in the entrance slot was quite a bit of fun. I also skiied past our skin track heading back to Alpental and had to do a bit of extra hiking to regain the trail, but at that point a little extra exertion was no big deal. Actually, I'm lying, it was pretty painful. We did a luge run down the Snow Lake trail and managed to miss the two groups of people coming the other way, and adjourned to Seth and Holly's place for some light beer, cheese and salami courtesy of Alex and Marg, two of my favorite retired skiers.