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Red Mountain, December 13, 2012

We were looking to get out somewhere in the Alpental Valley, but had been forewarned that DOT and the Alpental Pro Patrol were going to be conducting a test of the newly re-commissioned 105mm howitzer on Snoqualmie Mountain this morning. What that meant for our plans to tour the north slope of Chair Peak became clear when we were flagged down by a truck with DOT personnel at our bathroom stop at Summit West and told in no uncertain terms that the Phantom was out of bounds, as was touring around the back of the gun through Alpental proper. We briefly considered going in via the Snow Lake Trail, which they said would be OK ("Well, it should be perfectly safe - they'll be shooting over your heads but I don't think they would miss by that much") but decided that since they hadn't actually fired the gun yet it might not be prudent . . .

Several other groups we'd seen in the parking lot were gearing up to head to Kendall, so we opted to drive up the road a bit and try our luck with the Commonwealth Drainage instead. Crispin, Kevin, Geeb (Crispin's new dog) and I had the place to ourselves, though every few minutes we could hear the howitzer booming away down the street. No worries, they couldn't miss by that much, right?

Skinning was beatiful and uneventful until we got to the final 1,000 vertical feet of Red Mountain. A couple of strong young dudes joined us as the conditions went from soft snow to just a few inches of dust over crust. My new Huascarans, which have a forward mount point due to the new tapered tail design, were a bit of a challenge for steep uphill kickturns for this short legged guy, neccessitating a little lunge forward each time. This wasn't really ideal when the grip was tenuous, and I eventually racked the skis and booted for several hundred feet with our new friends. Kevin and Crispin gutted it out and skinned the entire way to the top.

Skiing was epic - we were above the cloud deck in clear blue skies, and the solid crust underneath was no problem if you kept your speed up. The Huascarans absolutely killed it on the descent, floating effortlessly above the tricky layer and pivoting to scrub speed with no effort at all. We tracked up the direct line off the summit, then waited as the two guys above us descended. They took some time setting up camera angles, and skied the gully feature immediately to skier's right of our line, setting off a rather large slough that ran easily to the bottom of the face. We didn't see any skis in the moving debris, and later saw them emerge at the bottom, so all good.

Crispin, Kevin and I did one more lap on an adjacent peak, where the sun and rising temps had combined to make the snow a bit more laborious, but we're not the sort to complain about any untracked skiing with no one else around, so we didn't. Geeb was a little sketched out on a few of the steeper aspects and we were careful not to let him get too close to cornices, but for a new dog with no ski experience he was a trooper.

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