Sunday, March 27, 2011

Red Mountain

On one of my first backcountry outings of the year we climbed Cave Ridge from where we could look across at the West face of Red Mountain, and it looked so awesome that it was clear as day that I needed to ski down it. A couple of months later I made an attempt on it with Jesse and Fras, but we turned back about 600 feet from the summit due to concerns about avalanche danger. I vowed to go back and finish the job when conditions were better, and this past weekend I finally got the chance.

Ryan and I met at my house at 6:30am on Sunday morning, wanting to get an early start in case it was sunny since sun-warming is one of the main causes of avalanche danger at this time of year. We made it to Snoqualmie in good time, and after suiting up we headed up the Commonwealth Basin towards. I was somewhat familiar with the route have just tried it a month or two earlier and we made good time initially, but at some point got turned around and had to do multiple unnecessary stream crossings with various levels of acrobatics depending on the state of the snow bridges at our chosen crossing points. We eventually got back on track, and found ourselves on the ridge leading up to the West face of Red Mountain.

It was overcast and snowing reasonably hard as we left the trees and gained the face, here is Ryan heading up:

At this point there was about 4-6 inches of pretty sticky snow on top of consolidated layers, so the going wasn't too bad. As we continued to move higher on the face the snow became drier and deeper, which made for slower progress as we were slipping a bit, particularly when doing kick turns on the steep terrain. Here is Ryan working his way across the slope:

By this time the snow had tapered off which was nice, and as we continued up we were overtaken by a group of 3 who were making good use of the track that we were setting (there was a very faint track that we had been following, but it was mostly drifted over). With about 300 feet to go to the top we decided to try our luck boot-packing to see if that was any easier (and also since we had packed in our ice axes and didn't want to do the entire trip without ever using them). We chose a suitable spot to remove our skis and I headed up:

Ryan waited and took a few pictures, and unfortunately once I was about 20 feet above him I touched off a small slough of snow which swept by him and carried away one of his gloves. We watched it proceed down the hill and come to rest about 100 feet below, and decided that we would get it on the way down (Ryan had some thin gloves that he could use in the interim). So, we kept chugging up the slope kicking steps which was a little tough since the snow was reasonably deep which made for a swimming technique when things got steep (which was most of the time). Here is Ryan cresting one of the last steep parts:

We reached the top just after the party of three who had overtaken us (they had skinned up the whole way), and chatted with them as we prepared to head down. They decided to stop for a snack before heading down so we did the same; I recently read a book on avalanche safety, and one of the main tenets of survival technique espoused by the author was to always send other people down first. With this in mind, I wanted to try and postpone our descent as long as possible so that we could have three slope testers head down in front of us.

Eventually they finished their snack and headed down, the first guy in particular was a really good skier and made the foot or so of fresh powder on the steep face look really fun:

An added bonus was that somehow the sun had just emerged from the snow and clouds that had enshrouded us during the entire climb, so we had perfect visibility and sunshine to aid us on the descent of the steep face. Here we are getting psyched for some fresh tracks in mad pow:

Before the sun could disappear we clicked into our Fritschis and dropped in, oh man was it ever awesome! It is a super consistent steep slope, and with the fresh snow it made for some really fun turns. We stopped to retrieve Ryan's glove on the way down, and then skied down the rest of the face and back into the trees where we played a great game in which the second guy has to follow the tracks of the first until the first either crashes into a snow back (usually intentionally to avoid gathering too much speed) or hits a tree at which point the second becomes the first and gets to lead the chase. Fun! After some fun with this game, a few more creek crossings and a bit of sidestepping we were back at the car at about 1:15pm. Not bad for a morning out! Here is a topo of our out-and-back journey:

And an elevation profile, we had about 3000 feet of climbing to the summit of Red Mountain which is at 5720 feet:

And finally, the Google Earth view of our exploits:

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