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Silver Peak, December 2, 2006

It was opening day at Alpental, and my thinking was along the lines that the lift lines, not to mention the parking lot, would be a zoo at the ski area. Kevin suggested something in his backyard, saying that if we went far enough back there probably wouldn't be many people. He thought Silver Peak might be the right choice, so I pulled into his driveway around 9:45 AM and put my boots and skins on.

The nordic area was open, but the lift wasn't running, so there weren't many people out even though the weather was glorious - they were all at West, Central and Alpental, I guess. We skinned up the main hill and took the conveniently groomed 20 foot wide skin track to the top of Hyak, then down the back side and around Mt. Catherine before leaving the corduroy and heading up over Nordic Pass.

We found some nice snow down the backside through the trees and were all set to start the next bout of skinning when I heard Kevin mutter, "Oh shit. I'm missing a skin."

For a second I thought about telling him he could borrow my skis to go back up and look for it while I stayed there and had a snack, but then I told him I'd go up and get it. It was near the top of the pitch, maybe 400 vertical feet, but fortunately in plain sight. So I got in a few extra turns and a little extra exercise.

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We started up a beautiful meadow and through one of many clear-cuts in the area (pretty ugly in the summer, but quite nice with four feet of snow covering it). As we approached Silver Peak, we met up with two other ski tourists. Jerry Casson introduced himself as a graduate student working on a thesis project in "snow stability" (I later Googled him and found he also works as an avalanche instructor with Gary Brill). Whatever it takes to justify your backcountry addiction, right Jerry? More power to him, I say, and hope that his research goes toward making all of us safer in avy conditions.

As we approached Silver Peak proper, the wind kicked up to a howl and it got downright cold even with the bluebird skies - we all ended up putting on hoods and puffy coats for the last stretch of skinning to the west ridge of Silver. We didn't attempt to make the summit, which looked improbable from this approach, and after ripping skins and taking a picture or two, we decided to get out of the wind and ski.

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The first face down from the ridge was thick windcrust with big ridges in strange places and not all that much fun to ski. We crested the big roll further down and headed skier's right rather than retrace our uptrack and were rewarded with a beautiful sheltered gully that looked like it had been thinned just for our pleasure. The windpack turned to thick powder turns as we neared the end of the drainage, but the skiing had been great.

From then on, the skiing was mostly forest-oriented traversing as we attempted to get around Catherine and back to the groomed XC area. About 5 hours and 45 minutes after setting out from Kevin's place, we finally wound our way back to the Hyak base area and walked back to the house. Kevin whipped up some smoked salmon quesadillas to replenish the calories burned, and we agreed that it would be well worth a return trip.

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