Aug 01

For my friends who are experienced climbers the summary of this post is that Steve Wrigley, Gideon Olson and I crested the crater rim of Mt Rainier at about 6:30 AM yesterday morning.  This was my 7th successful summit in 11 attempts.  It was a bit breezy on the summit (30 + mph winds) but looking west and north the view was the best I have ever seen.  Mt Olympus in the Olympics and Mt Shuksan in the North Cascades were both clearly visible.  Best view I have ever had of the entire Puget Sound area.  To the south Mt Hood was easily seen but it started to get a big hazy further south and Mt Jefferson was just barely visible.

For my friends who are uninitiated to climbing here is a bit more detail.  Climbing Mt Rainier from the south via the Disappointment Cleaver route is an 18 mile trip in which you gain and lose a bit more than 9,000 vertical feet.  We arrived at the climbing information center (5,400 feet elevation) just after 7:30 AM on Wednesday to register and get our climbing permit.  By 8:30 AM we began the 4.7 mile climb to Camp Muir (elevation 10,100 feet) through the beautiful alpine greenness that is Paradise this time of the year.  The wildflowers in the Paradise area are just at the start of their riot of color.  We had our normal rest on a patch of snow at 6,500 feet almost an hour into the climb.  We hit continuous snow at Pebble Creek (7,200 feet) where we briefly stopped to replenish our water supply before pushing on our next rest which we decided would be at 8,000 feet.  We reached our second rest stop at about 11:00.  Carrying a little more that 40 pounds each we were making good time.  We decided to make our last rest stop at 9,000 feet and see if we could make Camp Muir in just over 5 hours.  The weather was perfect with clear skies, bright sun and a hint of a breeze to help us stay cool during the hard work of climbing. 

We arrived at Camp Muir in 5 hours 16 minutes feeling strong and healthy.  We were the first group to setup in the public shelter so we had our pick of where we wanted to sleep.  We melted enough snow quench our thirsts, provide drinking water the following day as well as water to fix dinner and breakfast.  By 5:45 PM we were laying in our sleeping bags trying to sleep.  We set our alarm for 11:30 PM.  We wanted to get an early start so we did not have slow groups to wait for or go around. 

Mt. Rainier is the most heavily glaciated peak in the lower 48 states.  On our climb from Camp Muir to the summit we would travel over the Cowlitz, Ingraham and Emmons glaciers before entering into the summit crater.  All of these glaciers are heavily crevassed with spectacular ice falls.  The move down the mountain are a rate somewhere between 1 and 2.5 feet per day.  This movement creates and constantly alters the crevasses which can only be crossed on snow bridges.  We climb in the middle of the night when the snow bridges are frozen, strong and reasonably safe.  As the day warms sketchy snow bridges can fail adding extra danger.  To coltrol objective hazards of glacier travel we want to go up and down quickly while the surface is frozen.  That means we start climbing at 12:30 AM.

We got up at 11:30 PM after only an hour or two of sleep.  There was no moon but the sky was ablaze with stars and the outline of Mt St Helens could be seen because it was backlit by the Milky Way and the nighttime glow of Portland OR.  By 12:30 AM we had had some form of breakfast, put on all of our climbing gear and were watching in the headlamps of the guided group traverse across the Cowlitz Glacier as we tied into our rope.  There was another group of two, that started off as we were getting our rope organized, which we passed when we reached the top of Cathedral Gap (the rocky ridge that seperates the Cowlitz and Ingraham galciers).  About an hour into the climb at an elevation of a little of 11,000 feet we rested at an area of the Ingraham Galcier named Ingraham flats.  Almost immediately after moving onto the Ingraham Glacier we had to step across the first of many crevasses we would soon lose count of how many.

Above Ingraham Flats, just below the Ingraham ice fall was the most interesting crevasse crossing.  Because the gap had become so large, a ladder has been laid across the gap.  Belaying one another across this ladder, at 2:00 AM, was fun and very cool.  The ladder crossing got us over to the base of Disappointment Cleaver.  The Disappointment Cleaver is a steep ( ~ 45 degree), rocky ridge of about 1,000 vertical feet that divides the Ingraham and Emmons glaciers.  It is the crux of the climb for the route that bears its name.  At the momemt the first 200 or so vertical feet up the cleaver meanders through large boulders and loose scree.  Route finding, in the middle of the night, on this part of the climb is difficult even though the route is wanded by one of the guide services.  We passed another slow team while navigating the rock area of the cleaver.  Once we moved off the rock, the route through the snow was a series of steep switchbacks in frozen snow and easy to follow.

We arrived at the top of Disappointment Cleaver (elevation ~12, 300 feet) in great time, just as the guided group was leaving.  The wind had started to pick up a little and it was quite cold.  Water in one of my water bottles had started to freeze.  After a rest of about 10 minutes for some water and to refuel we headed up again.  Because it was cold we decided to leave on our down parkas and would stop for a clothing adjustment when we became to warm.  It turns out we were on our way down from the summit before we took off our parkas.  The down parka is a piece of equipment never to be left at home when preparing to climb Mt Rainier.

From the top of Disappointment Cleaver, the route to the summit constantly changes to deal with the constantly changing glaciers.  For our climb the route went up a moderate slope to get around a couple of substantial crevasses and then traversed across a steep slope over to a shoulder of the Emmons Glacier which was accessed via a snow bridge over a spectacular crevasse.  As we moved onto the Emmons shoulder we were witnessing the pre dawn alpenglow and the route started a series of very steep switchbacks.  Steve had neglected to refuel properly at our last rest stop and started to slow down dramatically in this section.  We were a little above 13,000 feet when we stopped to watch the sun rise above the eastern horizon.  Nothing I have ever seen compares to watching the sunrise from high in the mountains and every time I experience it has been special.  At over 13,000 feet we were higher than all but a few places in most of the western United States.  A few minutes after watching the sun come up we finally arrived at our last rest stop before the summit.  Steve was sure to eat properly this time.

After a few more crevasse crossings and some switchbacks to get around even larger cravasses, we crested the rim of the crater at just about 6:30 AM.  I have made the climb from Muir to the crater in is little as 4:45 but six hours is a respectable time and we were in great shape.  We dropped our packs, untied from the rope and crossed the .25 mile distance to the climbing register and the knob of the true summit.  The wind was pretty sustained and it was cold but for where we were and the time of day, it was quite pleasant.

As I stated earlier the atmospehric conditions were much more clear than any other time I have been to the summit.  Previously the Puget Sound basin and Olympic mounatins had just seemed to disappear into the haze.  Yesterday I could clearly see Mt Olympus, The Brothers and Mt Constance in the Olympics.  To the north Mt Baker and Shuksan were very clear as were Glacier Peak and Mt. Stewart.  To the sould St Helens, Hood and Adams were (as always) very clear.  Mt Jefferson was visible but disappearing into the haze.

We spent an hour and a half on the summit to rest and refuel before we were on our way down.  The descent showed us many spectaclar glacial features we had missed in the dark.  11 hours after we left our sleeping bags we were back at Camp Muir resting a few minutes before packing up to go home.  Returning to Paradise after a climb is often long and hot, yesterday was no exception, but we did and were home by 6:30.  A very successful trip.  Now back to the real world.

Jan 29

On the first full day of our 5th annual "once-in-a-lifetime" ski trip, we started our day in Missoula Montana.  We didn't manage to get away as early as I wanted on Friday afternoon and as a result it was almost 1:00 AM by the time we got checked into our motel.  With almost 35 years of being married to Becky I knew that an early start was out of the question.  we had a liesurly breakfast and headed for out first ski destination about 10:00 AM.  First ski stop was Discovery Ski Area outside Philipsburg MT.  Discovery has 7 lifts a peak elevation of just over 8000 feet and about 700 acres of terrain.  It has snow quite a bit in the previous week and the temperatures were in the low to mid 20's all day long.  

The skiing was wonderful.  The snow on the groomers carved beautifuly and the off piste terrain had some great pitches and easy turning snow.  it being a Saturday we did have to wait in lift lines of 15 - 20 people a couple of times. 

It is always interesting to see how different places evaluate the difficulty of their runs.  We have skied at some places where the black diamond runs would just barely be blue squares at Crystal Mountain.  Discovery did not overinflate the difficulty of the runs.  Double blacks had nice pitches and interesting terrain features that would be challenging to most people.  There is a lot of variation in their blue runs, some were legitimate others, I thought, should have been beginner runs.

We left Discovery and headed for the house we rented in Driggs, ID.  We took a round about path going through West Yellowstone and Island Park.  I find it enjoyable to drive through mountainous terrain on this annual trip.  I really contributes to the feeling of a winter vacation.

When we got to Driggs I was pleased to find that I could put Rover in the garage without taking the Yakima Skybox off the top of the car.  The house has great views of The Grand Teton and is currently surrounded by about a foot of snow.

Dec 27

Yesterday Darren, Aaron, James and myself decided that it was the right time for a dawn patrol in the Crystal Mountain backcountry.  Christmas day gave us the first significant snowfall in a month and it was time to go.  We met at the parking lot at 6:00 AM and were making our way up toward Gold Hills by 6:30 .  Conditions were excellent with several inches of new snow well bonded to the old snowpack.  In a bit over 2 hours we were standing on the ridge of Pickhandle Basin.  The ski descent was fantastic.  The new snow skied extramly well.  Too bad there was not time for laps in the basin.

My new backcountry setup of Dynafit TLT5 Performance boots, Dynafit Speed Radical bindings and K2 Wayback skis performed extremly well.  This setup is so light I was able to break trail the entire way up the hill and still stay well in front of everyone.  Downhill performance was also outstanding.  Every AT setup has to make compromises to meet the most important objectives.  Nothing about downhill skiing performance was compromised in this new setup.  The boots climb like trail runners and ski like a high performance alpine boot.  The skis are light but torsionally stiff enough to hold a solid edge and carve on hard snow while floating through yesterday's blower powder.

 I look forward to doing a lot of backcountry skiing on the new setup this year.

Nov 11

For years I have wanted to ski every month of the year.  Much of the year presents no problem.  Lift served skiing in Washington generally begins in November and runs through at least April.  When the lifts stop running my friend, Darren, and I start doing “dawn patrols” on Fridays before work for at least May and June.  With the huge snowfall we had last winter, Crystal Mountain had the lifts running on weekends until mid-July so that got us to July without even trying.  The problem months are usually August, September and October.

Because of the huge snowpack from last winter, Crystal Mountain had enough snow for us to do an August dawn patrol and check August off the list without much effort.  Timberline, on the flanks or Oregon’s Mt Hood, opened their “Fall” ski season on September 30.  There was only a large patch of snow on the Palmer snowfield, but it was being served by a lift and we did laps on it until they would no longer let us on the lift again.  September ? Check!

I was certain that the snow would fall early and Crystal would be open, at least partially, before the end of October.  As it got later and later into the month we realized that if we were going to get some turns in October we were going to have to go to extreme measures.  We compared our, full, calendars and decided that we could do a dawn patrol to Paradise on Mt Rainier on Tuesday October 25.  Paradise sits at 5400 feet and I expected that we would have to climb to 7200 feet before we could find continuous snow.  I needed to be at work no later than 11:30 AM which dictated when I would have to start driving back (9:00 AM).  Working backwards we figured we would have to be climbing by 4:30 AM to gain enough elevation to ski and return to the car.  If we could get to 8500 feet by the time the sun came up we could have a pretty good descent and still get back to the car in time.  We decided to go for it.  In order to give us as much sleep as possible we stayed in a motel just outside the park on Monday night and were on the road to Paradise before 3:30.

We parked the car and were on the trail by 4:20 hiking in light shoes, carrying our skis and boots on our packs.  There was a light dusting of snow on the trail that got deeper as we gained elevation.  Our field of vision was limited to the small pools of light cast by our headlamps.  Above us the sky was a blaze of stars.  The waning moon had yet to rise.  There was no wind but it was cold.  The temperature at the parking lot was in the low 20s.  I was in heaven.  It just doesn’t get better than this.

Ninety minutes of climbing brought us to Pebble Creek at 7200 feet and continuous snow deep enough to ski.  We removed our shoes and put on our, (very) cold, ski boots.  Now we were finally skinning up the snow field.  We continued our ascent and stopped to watch the sun peek above the eastern horizon at a bit after 7:00 AM.  We had been climbing less than 3 hours, were now at 9100 feet and ready for our October turns.  As there were only a few inches of new snow on a very firm base I wasn’t sure what to expect from our descent.  I should not have worried.  The skiing was fantastic.  This was absolutely the best snow we had skied since our “guys’ only” Whistler trip in April.  The descent to Pebble Creek was altogether too quick with only a couple of stops to admire our tracks and the view in the morning alpenglow.  During one of the stops I wished I could have blown off work for the whole day and started back up the mountain for another run.

 

October? Check! I have skied at least 1000 vertical feet in each of the past 12 months. Now let the lift served skiing begin.

I wish that every day of work could begin like this. Since they don’t it makes me treasure those few days that I can begin with a climb and ski descent.

Tags:
Apr 10

My friends and I are training for a climb of Mt. Rainier in June.  When planning our training climbs, Steve wanted to take another winter attempt at McClellan Butte in the Cascades.  McClellan is a pretty short mountain for our training, only 5162 feet, but it is very asthetic and the couloir we wanted to climb is VERY steep, pitching to about 50 degrees below the summit block.  The steepness, the round trip distance and the 3300 foot elevation gain make it a great workout.

Yesterday was our planned day for McClellan Butte.  We left the trailhead at 7:00 AM under threatening skies.  The climb soon brought us to where we had to put on snowshoes to continue.  Snowshoes are cool but not as much fun as skiing.  The shoes allows us to stay on top of the snow instead of wallowing through the knee deep snow.

At about 3500 feet I stopped and dug a big hole in the snow to see if it was safe to continue.  The snow pit showed that more than three feet of snow had fallen in the last snow cycle.  There was about 6 inches of rain soaked slope below the new snow, but things seemed to be bonding well and it took three big jumps on the Rustch block to get an movement.  So we decided to to continue up.

We had wanted to climb the couloir that was a direct route to the summit.  The weather took away our visibility and we went too far west and climbed the wrong couloir leaving us no route to the summit when we got to the top of the snow chute.  It is always a reminder to me that visibility can disappear in an instant and when it does you really need to be able to make good decisions or you can get in trouble in a hurry.  

Even with the disapointment of not reaching the summit, the climb was great exercise and a lot of fun.  I love the whole process of climbing with my friends.  I am never disappointed in a day of climbing.

I had been looking for a new pair of climbing boots for a while.  My problems with climbing boots revolve around the toenails on my big toes.  I seem to bang my toes up on some descents that I lose the toenails from both feet.  Hence the constant search.  I read all the reviews and decided to check out the Mammut Mamook GTX  .  Unfortunately REI does not carry Mammut so I had to do a bit of gambling.  The Feathered Friends mail store is four blocks from my office so I tried on the boots there.  They had my regual shoe size but I wanted a bit more room for descents.  Feathered Friends ordered me a 12.5.  When the boot came in I tried it in the store and decided to purchase.  The McClellan Butte climb was my first chance to use the new boots and I very satisfied and pleased.  For the McClellan climb I was in the boots for 8 hours.  My feet were warm and dry all day and at the end of the day my feet were very happy.  No bruises, bisters and not a hinit of a banged toe on the descent.  The memory foam footbed worked really well for me I can wear this without a custom footbed.

Another new item for the McClellan climb was some new socks.  I have been wearing the Smart Wool mountaineering socks for some time and generally been please with them except that they don't stay up.  Within an hour or so of starting a climb they are always bunched up at the top of my boot, very annoying.  Feathered Friends carries a Bridgdale sock called the Summit Knee that comes to just below the knee.  These socks ROCK.  They are warm, cushey where they need to be and THEY STAY UP.  After 8 hours of climbing they were still where they were supposed to be.  Highly recommended.

Mar 27

Friday evening we began our training climbs in preparation for our planned climb out Mount Rainier in June.  Friday was a beautiful spring day and held the promise that we might be able to sneak up Mt. Ellinor with reasonably decent weather.

Problems started to happen even before we left Port Orchard.  Steve, my most frequent climbing partner for the past 4 years, had a late afternoon fire drill at work which delayed our departure until 5:30.

We could actually see Mt Ellinor a number of times on the drive around Hood Canal and were cautiously hopeful that we would be able to at least 2,000 feet before having to park the car.  All was going well until we rounded a corner at about 1850 feet and were confronted with impassable snow (even for a Range Rover).  So we parked Rover and started our climb from there. 

There had been a few inches of snowfall on Thursday night and the during the week resulting in slushy onconsolidated snow on the road.  Walking without snowshoes or skis was gruling.  Those of us prepared with skis or snowshoes put them on and were able to make great progress.  Two members of our group were left to post hole up the road as best they could.  Our goal was the mountain's shoulder at about 4500 feet.  But at almost 9:00 PM, those with snow travel aids, arrived at the lower Mt Ellinor trailhead.  The loft elevation of 2,700 feet.  We could easily have pused on but I knew that the other two, without snow travel aids, were probably already more than an hour behind us.

We made camp and waited for them.  Almost an hour and a half later they struggled into our camp just about totally wasted.

This is the time of year for the REI dividend and 20% off coupon.  On Monday I had used both to purchase an Exped Downmat 7 sleeping pad.  I had usually been "mostly" comfortable when sleeping on the snow, but since I wind up doing it so often, I wanted to be really comfortable.  The new Exped downmat pad totally delivers.  I slept extremly well on Friday night, no hint of a cold spot even when I slept on my side. 

During the night we had a number of rain showers and when we got up in the morning it was beginning to snow.  We had a quick breakfast and started up the trail.  I was again using my skis and skins.  Climbing to the upper trailhead the snow continued to deepen and I could see that the new snow was not bonding well to the snowpack.  What was supposed to be "snow showers" for weather was instead continuous heavy snow.  When we arrived at the upper trailhead we held a pow wow to discuss the snow conditions.  I wanted no part of the steep upper portion of the mountain with several inches of snow prone to sliding all around us.  We pulled the plug and started down.

I picked a fairly low angel slope to ski with small trees that left spacing for turning.  At every turn there was a substantial slide of the new snow off the old.  I was reassured that we made the right choice in turning back when we did.

There is a maintained toilet at the Mt. Ellinor uppe trailhead.  I have been there many times in March and April (and even once in February) and the toilet was always accessible.  Meaning you could open the door and use it.  Saturday morning the depth of the snow had so completely covered the toilet that there was no evidence that it was even there. 

We slept in the snow.  Got rained and snowed on.  We had to abandon our desired destination and came home with a lot of really wet gear.  But it was great.  I loved every minute of it and sleeping in the snow was the highlight of the trip.

Now I sure hope we have better weather for our climb of McClellan Butte in two weeks. 

Tags: | |
Mar 24

As Becky and I have been able to spend quite a few ski days together each year, I have constantly been looking for opportunities to give here good powder experiences.  Last spring on our Whistler trip, we stumbled onto 7th Heaven as it opened after a couple of days of closure because of a big snow dump.  We got to make a couple of runs in knee deep snow together and she started to get the hang of skiing pow.  In many ways it was a seminal moment for her and she saw that a pow day could be really special.

From that day I thought that she was ready for a more rigerous powder experience.  Last Fall when it came time to buy new skiing toys I special ordered her a pair of Line Pandoras, the absolute fattest woman's specific ski on the market.  (The pandora has the same geometry as Sir Francis Bacon. I have been skiing on Sir Francis for a couple of seasons and totally love it.  Becky had demoed Pandora at the WWSRA demo and she liked it.)  I thought if she coould have a good, not threatening full day of powder skiing that she would be hooked.  It kind of works on the same principle as a drug pusher; give away the product until you get em hooked.

My plan was simple.  Brundage Mountian in McCall ID offers daily private snowcat rentals for $1600.  Sounds like a lot I know, but....  $1600 is only slightly more that a day of heliskiing would cost with Canadian Mountain Holidays.  By renting the whole cat I could be sure that the day was tailored just for her and nobody could ruin it for her. 

I made the reservation and set the adventure up for the first week of February when we would be on our anual ski trip.  While we were skiing in north Idaho, on the first weekend of our trip, Brundage custome service called me and suggested we reschedule because of the current snow conditions and the weather forecast.  So we rescheduled for March 14,


Becky and the snowcat.  There were two guides and a cat driver for just the two of us.

 In mid February the La Nina snow machine turned back on so we were very hopeful that our day with the cat would be fantastic. 

We showed up on March 14 ready to have a great time in fresh powder.  Conditions were generally good, but not great and a long way from epic.  The weather on the 13th managed to put a bit of a crust on the snow.  Not bad and still skiable, especially with a wide rockered ski, but not precisely what I was hoping for.


Becky starting to get comfortable on the Pandora in fresh pow.

 Even with a bit of a crust the guides managed to find very skiable snow in protected areas.  Initially Becky was very much out of her comfort zone, but by the end of the day she was skiing well and had a big smile on her face.  The grin on my face when I am backcountry skiing, is as permenant as the on on Joker's face in "The Dark Knight".  Needless to say I had a fantastic time.

The entire experience at Brundage was outstanding. Out guide, Niki, went the extra mile to make sure that Becky was comfortable and having a great time.  I would strongly recommend Brundage's snowcat operation for nearly any level of skier.  The variety of terrain ranges from very mellow and open to moderately steep.  Lots of gladed skiing and fantastic views.  The price is reasonable and the staff is very friendly.  Brundage is only a few miles outside McCall and we have found the McCall Winter Festival a delight every time we have been there. 

 

Mar 21

For the past few years, Backy and I have gone on a two week ski/road trip at the end of January and the first week or two of February.  This has generally been planned around the WWSRA on snow demonstration at Snow Basin Utah.  (We go to the show to test skis for our local shop, Kitsap Sports.)  Over the years as we have driven, many times, from our home to Utah, we have noticed signs on the interstate pointing to a number of ski hills that we had never bothered to visit.  A couple of years ago I decided that we needed to alter our trip so we could visit as many small hills as possible.

Driving to Utah we spend a bunch of time in Idaho so we decided to pick off as many Idaho ski hills as we could.  To date we have skied every resort, that has a chair lift, except Kelly Canyon.  There are a couple without a chairlift that we probably will not visit.  Last year we started adding Montana resorts to our list.

Some of these hills are a stretch of the imagination to be called a mountain.  We visited Majic Mountain this winter.  It is south of Twin Falls has a single charilift, two handfulls of runs and 700 vertical feet.  At Magic we skied all the runs before lunch and had to create games to entertain ourselves.  OK, guess how many chairs are on the lift.  Becky came the closest without going over.  OK, let's race the chair to the bottom.  What chair are we on?  Well that was easy.  Maybe we can get down the hill before our chair makes it halfway down.  We came, we saw, ws skied, we probably won't come again.

But not everywhere is like that.  Last year we visited Soldier Mountain (north of Fairfield ID) on an awesome bluebird powder day.  It was cold but the sun was shining and the snow was teriffic.  Lots of very fun terrain and even some untracked easy to get to powder.  The side country at Soldier looked incredible and easy to reach.  I'm dying to go back there.

My favorite small hill from this year absolutely has to be Mavrick Mountain near Dillon Montana.  One double chair, 2000 feet of vertical.  The chair is in the perfect location to take advantage of the great variety of terrain.  Mavrick has very enjoyable groomers, challenging bump runs and some teriffic tree skiing.  There was untracked powder on the side of many of the groomed runs.  One of the real joys was the price.  On a Friday, two adult lift tickets and lunch for both of us came to a grand total of $57.  Add in the amazing scenery on the drive, and from the lift, of the Pioneer and Beaver Head Mountains and the incredible Big Hole valley.  Who wouldn't want to ski there.  It definetly is on the list of places to return to.

Favorites to date:

  • Idaho
    • Soldier Mountain
    • Pebble Creek
  • Montana
    • Mavrick Mountain
    • Lost Trail Powder Mountain (Should count for Idaho too as it sits on the border)
  • Oregon
    • Anthony Lakes
Mar 20

It took far too long, but I now have a new look to my web site and the content has been updated.  The new site is based on blogengine.net and Gallery Server Pro. 

More blogging to follow soon.

Tags:
Mar 20

This is a story my daughter Rosien wrote about her first ski run beyond the backcountry gate.

by Rosien McKee

“Breathe, just breathe.”

That’s what I kept telling myself. That’s all I could tell myself. I couldn’t believe that I’d let my dad drag me up here. I suppose that things weren’t really as bad as they seemed, but it’s often hard to see the end reward while in the thick of getting to it. Still, my Dad was lucky I was being such a good sport.

Was I really a good sport? Well, not if you asked my Dad. He would be quick to tell you that I complained every step of the way up the mountain. I just wanted to turn around, but we were out of the ski area on a narrow traverse. Turning back was not an option. 

It was a rare ski day in Washington. They didn’t get much better than this. The snow was perfect: light, powdery and shimmering like diamond dust when a quick turn of my skis sent it airborne. The sun, burning a bright lemon yellow, had been steadily rising out of the eastern horizon all morning. Now, in the early afternoon, it was a smoldering winter sun. I followed my dad’s lead, unzipping my bulky ski jacket and discarding my heavy sweater. The crisp winter air enveloped my torso and for the first time since leaving my inviting bed all too early that morning, I was comfortable.

We spent the morning hours on warm up runs. I was on new skis, and Dad wanted to be sure that I was comfortable on them before we tried anything really challenging. I couldn’t believe the conditions that day. My silver skis were razor sharp blades, carving up the glistening snow as if it were soft clay. Turning was a nearly effortless task as the powdered sugar snow moved at my every command. We couldn’t have been there on a better day, and Dad knew it. Today was the day he would take me into the backcountry to ski Silver Basin.

I’d heard Dad talk about Silver Basin before. He had wanted to take me up there since I started skiing the expert terrain with him last season. The only catch was that I wasn’t quite sure how to get there. He had shown me the run on a trail map earlier in the season. It was deep in the South Back Country, a wide-open bowl on the east slope of Silver King Peak. It didn’t look like a very difficult run, nothing at all like the steep slopes of choppy snow and ice mixtures I was beginning to conquer. If I could handle the high alpine chair, this should be no problem. It was just a matter of getting to the bowl on the right day. Today was that day.

“Do you think you’re up for a run in the back country, Posie? Silver Basin has got to be amazing today.”

“Absolutely!” I naively returned, my face brightening at the idea. “I’d love to.” Little did I know what those four words had in store for me.

Dad and I were anxious to get up the mountain as we hurried into the lift area. Unfortunately, on such a beautiful Saturday, the lines at Midway Station were long. Ten minutes passed and we finally came to the front of the line. The huge flying couch of a ski lift came in and touched the back of my legs. We sat down and were whisked away, high into the air. A few short minutes and a quick cat-track would take us to the high alpine chair. From there, we were only minutes from the beginning of the trail to Silver Basin.

Dad and I got off Midway and made our way down to Chair Six, which would take us to the alpine zone. It wasn’t until half way up that chair that I realized how amazing the ski conditions were this winter. Last season, the snow level had been a good six feet below the chair. This winter, however, the grooming crews, who never visit the alpine area, had been up to dig out the snow from underneath the chair. Dad and I were a mere eighteen inches off the snow as the chair lift sped up the mountain.

We quickly hopped off the chair and made a sharp left turn into the bowl below. I followed Dad across an expansive snowfield dotted with solid ice moguls, each covered with soft white snow. Dad stopped at the base of a small incline and started to pop out of his bindings.

I pulled up beside him with a puzzled look on my face.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“This is the way up to the run. Get your skis off and follow me,” he answered as he started up the trail.

I glanced up at the incline he was expecting me to hike. It wasn’t that bad for just a hike. It was only 1500 feet or so. But in snow and full ski gear, with a pair of skis as long as I was tall, 1500 feet might as well have been a mile. However, I had no choice. Dad was already 50 feet up the trail. All I could do was pop out of my bindings, throw my skis on my shoulder and follow him up. Dad would stop along the trail, waiting as patiently as he could for me, but it didn’t make the going any easier. At fourteen, I didn’t have the strength to carry my own skis very far. The sharp edges dug into the muscles at my shoulders, leaving tense and painful knots behind. While the soft snow made for amazing skiing conditions, my heavy boots frequently sunk deep into the snowdrifts, making the going even more difficult.

Ten minutes later, I reached the top of the ridge, crimson-faced and breathing heavily. Sweat dripped off my face in spite of the freezing temperature. I was ready for a rest. However, resting was not an option. If I stopped now, it would hold up the line of skiers behind me on the trail. I had to keep going. I kicked the packed snow off the bottom of my boots and stepped into my bindings. A loud ‘click’ muffled by the heavy snow assured me that I was once again anchored to my skis and ready to get moving.

The trail we took seemed no more than six inches wide. Looking to my left, I could see the beautiful expanse of the Cascade Range. The snow covered peaks resembled mounds of soft down feathers against the crystal blue sky. The deep green of the trees provided a startling contrast to the pure white snow, outlining the mountain’s most popular trails. To my right were the same green trees and a beautiful white glacial river. However, it was a far less inviting scene than the one I had just taken in. Only inches from the track on which my skis were running, the mountain gave way to a sheer drop. Looking down, I could almost feel myself falling and complete fear nearly overtook me. I snapped my head forward and focused on the trail.

“Breathe. Just breathe,” I told myself. It was all that I could tell myself. After and eternity of sidestepping, slipping, ducking under small trees and around big rocks on the traverse across the back of the mountain, we finally arrived at the top of Silver Basin. I looked down the run. The entire face of a wide bowl, covered in fresh snow and completely devoid of tracks from yesterday’s skiers, opened before me. The run sloped gently down for a short distance, fell away more steeply in the middle and then leveled out into a cat track leading skiers back to the main resort. It was not at all what I had expected it to be. I had taken a forty-five minute hike, risking body and soul, for a ski run that seemed shorter and easier than the bunny slopes I had conquered years ago. Forty-five minutes of pain and frustration for what looked like a thirty-second run.

“This is it?” I exclaimed. “This is why you made me hike all the way up here? For THIS?”

Dad’s face fell, and his look said it all: ‘Just give it a chance.’ I rolled my eyes. Dad let out a loud, exasperated sigh.

“I’ll meet you at the bottom.” He pushed off, ready to start down the ski hill. I surveyed the run and decided that it didn’t really matter where I went down. I was just getting ready to shove off, when all of the sudden I heard a whoop and a yell. My head jerked up to see what the commotion was.

“Yes!” screamed my dad. “Yes, yes, yes!”

He sounded like a cheap movie. I ducked my head as my ears began to burn, embarrassed by his reaction even though no one else was around to witness his lack of decorum. My only escape from this humiliation was down the hill. Poised at the top of the slope, I bent my knees, leaned forward and shoved off with my poles.

All at once, I went from being on top of the snow to being in the snow. It was the same diamond dust as on all the rest of the runs we had done that day, but now, it was knee deep. I suddenly had an energy that I’d never experienced before. I turned. First left, then right and left again. Each turn sent a plume of powder fine snow high into the crisp air. A light wind whistled by and my ears were filled with the soft ‘swoosh’ of my skis turning and the tinkling of the airborne powder lightly settling back to earth. No more than twenty turns and ninety seconds later, I was standing at the beginning of the cat track leading back to the lodge, staring up at the not so perfect tracks that I had left behind. I heard a light swish, and looking down, I saw that my skis and boots were covered with a light dusting of snow. Dad had just skied up beside me.

“So?” he asked.

“I bet if we hurry, we’ll have enough time to make another run here before they kick us off the mountain. Are you up for it?”

“Are you sure that you’re up for it Posie?” he asked. “After all, it would mean making that long trek again.”

“Absolutely, Dad. It’s more than worth it