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Birthday Tour, June 2-3, 2011

The spring season at Washington Pass is one of those small-window opportunities that we always say we'll take advantage of each year and somehow end up missing. This year Highway 20 had it's second latest ever opening (after the winter of 1974) and opened at noon on May 25th, but the weather for the first few days was questionable. Frank was set on doing the Birthday Tour as part of a milestone birthday event, and we settled on June 2nd and 3rd as having the best weather potential of any mid-week days the next week. Frank's neighbor at Alpental Tom Davies was in, as was Kevin.

We met up at my house and decided to take two cars in the interest of comfort and to enable us to leave one on each side of Washington Pass, bombed the drive in rapidly improving weather and light Thursday traffic, and went straight to the Blue Lake Trailhead, which had only been plowed for about 4 cars. Arriving around noon, we decided to do a quick warm up run up and over to the hairpin turn with an eye to analzing the afternoon snow stability.

Skinning was beautiful and warm and we made the top of Spire Gulch in short order where we could see lightly buried avy debris from the top. Skiing was a bit of a handful, and once clear of the initial narrow entry any traverse tended to set loose a torrent of wet sloppy snow sliding on a saturated corn underlayer. Lower in the gulch the snow had already gone big, and we were forced to resort to side slipping the skier's right edge of a pile of corn rubble that included a number of 6-8 foot high snowballs. Kevin managed to find an interesting ridge and waterfall line that ended up right at the apex of the hairpin.

Tom's wife Lori had given us two recommendations: stay at Brown's Farm in Matt's Cabin, and eat at Wesola Polana across the street. Both tips proved to be golden - Matt's Cabin turned out to be nicely furnished, spacious enough for a party twice our size, and nicely finished by the owner, Jeff, who is a builder by trade. It even came with free eggs for breakfast from the chickens living a few yards away, and Henry, a black dog of indeterminate age who would plop down at our feet whenever we chose to be in the yard.

Wesola Polana was quite a find as well. How can you go wrong with a place that flies the Polish and Danish flags in the driveway and serves tapas and quality Spanish Garnacha? We sampled around 10 items, all tasty and with very distinct flavors, the wine worked admirably, and our waiters from Mexico City and somewhere in the UK were a hoot. I'm told this place is quite a destination in the winter with the XC ski crowd, and no wonder. As a bonus it's only a few hundred yards from Brown's Farm, but in a pinch you could also opt to stay in the famed "Rolling Huts" which lie in a field next to the restaurant.

We got an early start after a hearty "firehouse" breakfast of home-grown eggs with cheese and salami and got the show on the road at the Blue Lake Trailhead around 8:10. It hadn't quite frozen at the bottom, but higher on the mountain it turned crusty. We made do without resorting to ski crampons and switched over to booting for the last 200 feet of the climb to the top of Blue Lake Col. Once at the top we were rewarded with a nice view of the terrain to the east, and a slightly crusty but untracked descent. The broad expanse of Wall Street was a little hooky at the top, but yielded some nice turns lower down. The temperature rose in a hurry as we skinned toward Copper Pass, and quite a bit of wet snow was moving off the rocks higher in the valley, but we arrived safely just around lunch time and enjoyed sandwiches in the sun. Steeper pitches on the ski out to the highway again produced some wet snow "rivers" and required a bit of progressive traverse management, but all arrived without incident and the birthday gent most certainly enjoyed his day.

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