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Muir, October 29, 2005

The week before had been bluebird skies, 65 temps, and smooth-like-buttah corn at Muir, but cold and wet weather had rolled in mid-week and the backcountry sliding community converged on Paradise in numbers on October 29th for the first fresh snow of the season. Kevin and I rolled out of the Four Corners Safeway lot around 7:45 AM and headed for the Cayuse Pass/Stevens Canyon route, which is likely to close in the next week or so if the snow continues. We were the second vehicle to come around the east side of the mountain, with only a park ranger ahead of us, and the Nokian/Audi combination worked like a charm in the 5 inches of wet fresh snow. What a difference a few inches of snow has on the scenery!

There were probably a couple dozen cars in the Paradise lot, with several large groups having already headed up, most skinning right from the lot. The prospect of not wearing trail runners through the several inches of wet snow was inviting, and we gave in to herd instinct along with Allyson, Cinnamon and Monika of TAY/Glacier class fame.

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Visibility was downright bad, with gusty winds in the 35 mph range right from the start, but skinning on real snow was a treat and the stoke was almost palpable as we encountered several other groups of excited skiers and boarders. Above Pan Point, the limited visibility combined with the new landscape caused by this year's snow melt made for some interesting navigation - we pulled out GPS units several times to confirm that we were in fact on course for the Muir Snowfield.

Several new snowcaves and large crevasses that none of us had seen before were now part of the landscape as our group continued up along the edge of the Nisqually basin, where paucity of snow made necessary a couple of ski carries.

When we arrived at Muir, there was a pretty good sized crowd gathering in the newly refurbished shelter - a couple of climbers from Bosnia via Florida who were lamenting the loss of weather window (ya shoulda been here last week!) - plus Matt Kuharic and crew and several other skiers we didn't know.

Skiing down in the season's first fresh was both a joy and a relief - no problem blasting through the wind-loaded berms on the upper Muir Snowfield, and we actually enjoyed a brief bit of sun for the first 1,000 ft. of the descent.

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Lower down the navigation became more of a problem and the lack of snow base more obvious - we hacked and scratched our way down past Pebble Creek and nearly to Alta Vista before joining the majority and taking off our skis. After a quarter mile of booting I changed my mind and put the skis back on, figuring that it was smooth asphalt underneath anyway, and skied back to the car.

At this point the Snow Fairies went into charity mode, donning full costume and distributing Halloween candy to the rest of the crowd in the parking lot, putting a memorable cap (cape?) on the first day of the "new" season . . .

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