Kaleetan Peak, January 19, 2011
Five days of Pineapple Express had left the ski community in the doldrums. When it finally dropped below freezing on Tuesday, I headed up to see what was left of the snowpack and found surprisingly good skiing at Hyak, though some rather large "moats" had opened up mid-run. A couple inches of fresh cushioned the frozen but quite smooth raincrust, and the forecast looked good for at least another day. I was planning on lift skiing at Alpental on Wednesday, but when Kevin e-mailed with a plan to tour out to Kaleetan Peak via Bryant Col, I figured I couldn't pass it up.
I was still a little worked from my four laps at speed at Hyak the day before, but I knew I could count on Kevin to break trail and the day was perfect. We decided to pack crampons and ice axes in case the ice layer became an issue and we needed to do some hard-core booting - this turned out to be good planning. I was a little late to arrive due to traffic on I-90 and because we had plenty of distance to cover, we accessed the BC "euro" style and took the lift to the top, cruising all the way out to the base of Bryant with Joe from Pro Ski Service before putting on skins.
The snow conditions - really fine styrofoam varying from a couple of inches to maybe 10 inches, on top of super-saturated rain crust, left something to be desired for skinning. On the steeper sidehill sections both of us were sliding all over the place, and most of the way to Bryant Col is fairly steep. We ended up booting two long sections on the way to the top; fortunately both of us had convenient "quick load" ski carry configurations for our packs. The final bit of off-camber booting to the col made us glad we had remembered ice axes, as the grip was less than stellar.
The skiing down the back side of Bryant varied a bit according to how much snow had accumulated - the top had only a dusting, and turned into something of a sideslip derby for a few yards, but lower down in the bowl there was some nice wind deposit. We made it down to Melakwa Lake and poked around with the axes a bit before deciding it was still solid enough to ski over, and headed up the valley.
The views and weather as we headed toward Kaleetan couldn't have been better, and we hadn't seen anyone else all day until we reached the end of the valley and saw a lone telemarker doing a counter-clockwise Chair Peak tour. We skinned the ridge that separates the Melakwa basin from Kaleetan proper until hard crust again forced the switch to booting (man was I thanking my lucky stars I had done the pack mods last week!). The back side of the ridge was pretty comical - in the past we had left skins on and bindings in tour mode and simply traversed over to the base of Kaleetan, but I heard a scratching sound and turned to see Kevin trying to self-arrest as he slid about 100 feet down an icy line; after that episode we both decided to lock heels AND remove skins . . .
We had skinned to slightly past tree line on Kaleetan, when despite several Hammer Gels and trying to pace myself I started to feel pretty much like toast. I had seemingly been running on empty all day, so remembering that we still had to ski and climb out the way we had come, and taking into account the relatively late hour, we pulled the plug and decided to ski. The tele skier we had seen at Melakwa Lake had fortuitously left a nice skin and boot track out via Bryant Col, so we were able to simply zone out and slog back, but it seemed like a long day as we exited out the Source Lake Trail in dwindling light. Both Kevin and I commented that we hadn't done this much booting on a "ski" trip since summitting Rainier a few years ago via the Emmons and Winthrop Glaciers!