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Jim Hill Mt., April 11, 2009

Professor Kam Leang was in town, taking a breather from his new life as a high-stakes poker player based in Reno, Nevada. He sent e-mail to the usual suspects, hoping to garner a group willing to take a chance on the sloppy snowpack and marginal freezing levels prevailing in the North Cascades, and Chris Cass, Sarah Bruce, Drew Ettinger and myself responded. So far so good.

We hooked up at the Cass residence at a civilized hour, organized the transportation, and headed out with the objective being Jim Hill Mountain just SE of the Stevens Pass Ski Area. The long train of cars following us all seemed to peel off at the top of the pass, and we parked in the Stevens XC lot with a few other die-hards and some post-season cross country skiers.

The other tele/rando skiers in the lot seemingly weren't impressed with the crusty snow and drizzling rain, and soon got in their cars and headed out. Maybe beers in Leavenworth sounded like a better plan for the day.

Our group wasn't so easily deterred. We geared up and headed out the cross-country trail, only to be accosted by some guy in the lodge asking where we were headed. When we mentioned Jim Hill Mountain, he pointed straight up the hill and said we were going the wrong way. Hey, we knew that . . .

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A very heavy crust over mushy corn made for mostly easy skinning, with a tiny bit of fresh snow offering good grip. We made our way up to the shoulder adjacent to Jim Hill and tried to scope out the most efficient way to the top, but weather rolled in and made it difficult to make the call. After a bit of consultation at the base of the final steep portion to the top (Chris' altimeter said we had about 400 ft. left to climb) we split up, with Chris and Drew electing to boot and Sarah, Kam and myself deciding to skin.

With a minimum of fuss, I was able to find a clean line to the top utilizing a set of "mini ramps" that looked like they had been installed with ski touring in mind, and we put on all of our extra clothes to more comfortably enjoy a short lunch break before the "booters" arrived about 15 minutes later.

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Now for the fun part, except that it wasn't all that fun. Fog and a burly breakable crust off the top made the skiing exceptionally difficult for the first few hundred feet. After that, where the ridge opened up into a wide snowfield, you had to ski very delicately to avoid punching through the crust, as it wouldn't budge and you would end up straightlining until you could hop your skis around. Back in the trees for the middle portion, the crust was so heinous that all of us ended up side slipping for much of the descent. Not least, the bottom section had snow so heavy and waterlogged that we could barely sustain momentum. All in all, some of the worst skiing I've ever experienced in a top-to-bottom backcountry experience!

Fortunately the company was great, there was plenty of aerobic exercise to be had, and the beef and brews in Gold Bar really hit the spot. When people come all the way from Nevada for an experience like this, you know it's gotta be good.

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