February 26, 2013

It’s called the perfect crime. Up at 4:00am for the 4:45 park & ride meetup. Ten inches of new snow at the Pass is the cut-off to make it worth it. Okay, maybe it’s really eight. There’s just enough time to make two laps at Hyak. The first lap requires a headlamp, and at the bottom, we usually see the next wave on their way up. The second lap goes all the way back to the car, and with a quick transition, we’re headed down by 7:59. I can pull into the office by 9:00 sharp, change into work clothes – skiing accomplished, no schedules changed, hardly anyone even knows. When someone asks if you’re headed out skiing, there’s a certain satisfaction of telling them you’re already getting back.

Nick embracing the dawn approach.

January 13, 2013

The annual cold-snap, high-pressure event in early January drew Lulu, Josh, and me down to the Tatoosh Ridge in Mount Rainier National Park. It’s a running joke for Lulu and me, that it’s becoming our best place to ski the worst snow. The scenery is awe-inspiring, with dominating views of Rainier to the north, and Mt Adams, Hood, and St Helens to the south. Which makes it a frequent place for a nice walk in the woods, even when the snow’s no good.

This one looked to be different, with four inches of cold smoke sitting dormant for a couple days. Underlying the pristing surface though was the remains of a prior rain event, a hard crust with no bonding between the layers. It looked spectacular; it skied like, well, extremely loud powder with little edgeability. Anyway, still a great day and a fun adventure.

Josh and Lulu, with Mt Rainier in the background.

Josh making loud powder look good. Run #2 in the background.

Lulu making it work.

All smiles on the up-track.

Mid-winter’s steely skies.

December 5, 2012

Quick and simple, but the season is off and running. With high snow line over the last few weeks, expectations were pretty low driving to Crystal Mountain with Nick. There was almost no snow at the base, but a quick gondola ride brought us up into mid-winter. With sunshine, 9″ of new snow, and good coverage up high, it sure didn’t take long to exceed expectations.

Day 1. Check. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

October 8, 2012

Thanks to my wonderful wife for two tickets to the Seattle Sounders FC vs Portland Timbers soccer match-up for our anniversary. The Sounders (our MLS team) have been setting attendance records for a few years, and last night they set a new record – drawing a huge 66,000 fans to a regular season match-up for a regional rivalry. The Timbers fans were out in force as well, and the crowd energy was really high – standing, jumping, chants, streamers, drum section, more.

The ubiquitous Sounders FC scarves – an awesome fan piece that you see all over Seattle when the team plays. The team was handing out the Sounders gloves to fans this night too, making for a pretty complete sea of green and blue.

Green streamers launched from the upper deck of the Hawk’s Nest. Packed crowd, awesome night.

The Sounders went up pretty comfortably in the first half, and held off a few late pushes by the Timbers for a 3-0 win. On a crisp fall evening in Seattle, it was a pretty awesome sight.

September 16, 2012

Last weekend brought beautiful weather for the gathering of all of our friends and family in Vermont for my sister and Jamal’s wedding. With blue skies and a perfect setting in Kingsland Bay State Park, we were able to fully celebrate their loving relationship and new family. I managed to capture a couple shots of them at the end of the evening with the sun setting, and thought I’d share here.


Congrats to Hannah and Jamal, and wishing you a long life of health, happiness, and love! We were so happy to be there, and are very proud of you both.

With an old college friend in town a couple weeks ago, we made a desperate attempt to break out of the lethargy of a cloudy Seattle Saturday morning. With a camera at Mount Rainier showing clear skies and a clear forecast, we jumped in the car and made a dash for the Park. Jeff and Sam were in Seattle from Hong Kong, wrapping up a long roadtrip up the West Coast from San Francisco. Hiking out to Fremont Lookout would get us elevation, beautiful alpine terrain, wildflowers, and spectacular vistas of Mount Rainier with a pretty moderate intensity level… seemingly perfect.

The hike and location have a lot of meaning for Lulu and I, as we wrote our vows at the lookout before our wedding in Colorado. It’s a stunning, inspiring view, and one that we love to share with friends and family coming to town. Except that since we’ve been there, every time we take visitors out there, the views have often been left to the imagination in rolling banks of fog. Even with a beautiful forecast, the swirling clouds and winds around Mount Rainier often tease visitors, with the slightest of windows opening up to the mountain, only to close seconds later in a rush of cold air and thick cloud. At that elevation, the trail itself frequently becomes part of the clouds around it. It’s a cool, eerie sensation, but not particularly stunning of a panoramic show-off when you tell your guests, “You wouldn’t believe how awesome the view is from here, I swear.”

Nonetheless, it’s a great hike, and even the fleeting glimpses afford incredible scenery. Sometimes a constantly changing scene affords more wonder than the static vista, and hopefully we still gave Jeff and Sam some of what they were after on their trip.

Mount Rainier starting out on the Fremont Lookout trail from Sunrise.

Wildflowers starting to develop a thick coat over the alpine.

Jeff, Lulu, and Sam as the fog starts to roll in.

The trail remains pretty incredible, even if the bigger views are obscured.

Great to reunite with Jeff and meet Sam as they neared the end of their roadtrip.

Glacier Basin and Frozen Lake with the Wonderland Trail as we re-emerge from the fog.

Ominous clouds, beautiful sunlight, and wildflowers lend to the eerie and constantly changing feel of the landscape at Rainier.

Just to prove to family and friends that yes, there really is a view there, here’s the view from our original hike out to Fremont Lookout. Maybe next time we’ll bring printouts of those shots for guests to bring along just in case we wind up in the fog again ;-)


July 23, 2012

Just as the winter was slow to start for Seattle, it seems the summer is feeling the same way. After a month of June Gloom and extended skiing, the the skies went clear right on cue for July 4th. Since we ended the ski season on July 8th, it’s been nothing but biking, bbqing, and hanging with friends. The fishing will start to pick up soon, and soon the snow will be melted enough for high alpine backpacking. But for now, nothing signals the start of the summer like this pick…

Nick soaking in the summer slackline on Greenlake. BBQ and summer chill time in full effect.

July 22, 2012

All seasons rightfully must come to a close, and winter in the Pacific Northwest stretched out considerably long this year, particularly given its slow start. With a lot of travel this year, it was especially slow starting for me, shocking one ski partner when I revealed only 4 or 5 days on snow just after New Year. I insisted I’d catch up with him eventually this season, and while it took a while, I finally did. Looking back on a respectable 55-day season, it was the quality of days skied that really stuck out.

For the second year in a row, weather, conditions, and willing companions all came together to close out the season with a climb and ski of Mt Adams, Washington’s second highest peak. A spectacular Cascade volcano, Adams is also a pretty legendary slog. Last summer, Darrin and I blasted out the iconic SW Chutes in a 18-mile, 7500′ day (report here). With a Friday-Sunday weather forecast of blue skies and warm weather, Lulu and I opted to split it up into a longer adventure and do some late spring/early summer camping too.

I’ll let the photos tell the story below, but the weekend couldn’t have been nicer… A dusky evening climb on Friday to a perfect campsite, leisurely but steady climbing on Saturday all the way to the true summit, perfect corn skiing for several thousand feet on the SW Chutes, a lazy afternoon and second evening camping out in solitude on Adams, an easy exit on Sunday down to Hood River for beers and burgers at Full Sail, and an impromptu roadtrip up the eastern side of the Cascades through The Dalles, Yakima, Ellensberg, and back to Seattle.

Mt Adams from Trout Lake, with our line on the SW Chutes seen dead center.

Skinning in to the campsite on Friday evening in the alpenglow.

Climbing high on the South Face, the green fields of summer below and Mount Hood off in the distance. Temperatures were soaring, but the snow stayed great.

Lulu and I on our second Cascade volcano of the year, with Mount Rainier in the distance.

Perfect skiing conditions for July, with St Helens in the distance.

Lulu napping after a successful climb and ski of Adams.

Taken from camp on Saturday night, the sun sets over the Cascade Mountains and the 2011-2012 ski season for Lulu and me. From powder days at Alpental to Jackson Hole with the Lozners, France, Switzerland and Italy on our April vacation, long-admired routes close to home in the Cascades, and several firsts on Mount Baker and Mount Adams for both Lulu and me, it’s been a fantastic season. Time for summer…

June 15, 2012

Friday afternoon, and the weather couldn’t be better today… blue skies, clear mountain views, and late-season snow begging to be skied. Ever since Mount Baker, Lulu and I have been plotting and scheming to tackle another volcano before the ski season faded into a distant memory. We’ve been dreaming of the early morning push, of moving from the lush green landscape to high alpine glaciers, of the smoothest spring corn, and of lounging on a wind-less summit in brilliant sunshine, relaxing on a high-alpine lawn chair made of skis and packs.

We had big plans for the weekend, but the forecast closes out tonight with a stormy front, high winds, and strong chance of rain/snow. Every day it’s degraded a little more, until finally there were too many warning signs to plug on. The dreams will stay dreams, at least for this weekend, but soon enough they’ll become real again.

Looking out from the high-alpine lawn chair on Pizzo Tresero (11,791′) in the Ortler Alps, Italy.

May 21, 2012

For Lulu and me, our volcano interest began in 2010 on a climb and ski of Washington’s Mt Shuksan. Though technically not a volcano. Shuksan’s rugged approach and big vertical (almost 7500′ by our route up the White Salmon Glacier) has all the feel of the Pacific Northwest’s volcanic peaks… usually requiring the willingness to sleep at a trailhead, wake up for a headlamp-powered alpine start, slog extra miles on access roads, do a little bushwhacking, climb 6000-8000′ in a day, bring some technical gear (sometimes), and plan it all on a pretty narrow spring weather window. What sealed it for Lulu, though, was the fact that you can see the volcanoes from just about anywhere in the state. It’s always cool to look up, and know that you’ve been on top of a dominating peak and skied an interesting line off it of.

In spring 2011, Lulu was sidelined with a torn ACL, ending her season in April. My own chances at volcano skiing were hampered by work travels and a winter that never really quit, until July came around. With spring snow just coming into season in July and a weather window following a K2 ski test in Oregon, Darrin Haugen and I decided to quick-hit the southern volcanoes, skiing Mt Hood (11,250′) and Mt Adams (12,280′) back to back in a big end of season push.

Feeling strong coming off our Europe tour, we’ve felt pretty motivated this spring as the snowpack has steadily started consolidating into a smooth corn cycle. High temperatures last weekend forced us to pull the plug on plans to ski El Dorado, so the energy was running pretty high to try and ski Mt Baker (10,781′) when the forecast looked good for Saturday. Frequent ski partner Charlie Lozner joined Lulu and me, and former coworker Joe Erfle joined us as the plan came together.

It seemed pretty straight forward. After a relatively comfortable couple hours’ sleep in Charlie’s Eurovan on the access road, we quickly ate a 3:30am breakfast and geared up, skinning up the unplowed access road a couple miles below the Heliotrope Ridge trailhead by headlamp. The map shows our climb on the right line, up the summer trail to the Coleman Glacier, then up through a col to the Deming Glacier and the Roman Headwall, finally putting us on the summit after 8,000′ of climbing over almost 7 miles.

Clear, starry skies gave way to warming sunlight, but the temperatures stayed low throughout the morning. Breaking out of the trees, we found very firm conditions on the Coleman Glacier. Above, Joe Erfle starts up the Coleman, with the Roosevelt Glacier in the background. Our pace felt good, and we took our time knowing that we wouldn’t be racing rising temperatures for good skiing conditions on the descent.

Charlie Lozner with Mt Baker rising high above the glacier. It seemed like miles and miles away (and it was), but we were headed for the col between Baker and Colfax Peak on the right, then up the ridgeline to the summit of Baker.

Navigating some icefall off Colfax Peak, with the Roman Wall finally starting to get closer… and bigger. Not a day of solitary backcountry skiing, but just ahead of us were a couple other parties, including Chris Davenport’s Ring of Fire group that was trying to summit 14 of the California, Oregon, and Washington volcanoes over 18 days. It was pretty cool to hear a little about their journey as he wrapped up the final climb.

Hitting the col around 11am, we took a little longer to rest and refuel, with the last push of the climb, the steep Roman Wall looming above us. The sun was getting stronger, but the snow was still firm, and we were in no rush. Now up at 9,000′, the pace slowed down a bit as we put on crampons and started up, one step at a time, to the summit plateau.

Joe Erfle approaching the summit plateau, with the vast Deming Glacier spread out below him.

A quick skin across the plateau put us on top of the summit knob, and with brilliant sunshine and only the slightest breeze, we took a while to rest up and soak in the sunshine. Joe and I both napped for a short stretch, then we melted some snow to replenish our water supplies and prepped gear for the descent. The feeling of sitting up on top is hard to describe… like climbing to the top of the tallest tree around and looking down on everything else. Even looking over at Shuksan, which had felt so big two years ago, now felt somewhat small off a few ridges away. And being able to share this climb and ski with Lulu, back so strongly this year after her knee surgery, was an incredible joy.

Kicking off the top just after 3pm, the upper pitches of the Roman Wall were just starting to soften up, making for fun skiing. Looking down below, our route stretched out forever, with miles and miles of turns all the way back to the car.

Lulu with the huge expanses of the Coleman Glacier and Heliotrope Ridge extending below her turns on the Roman Wall. We would ski all the way over the ridge to the upper right, then drop almost 3,000′ down a canyon to Grouse Creek and the trailhead exit.

A lasting memory of the day, the ski from Heliotrope Ridge down to Grouse Creek included some of the best corn snow I’ve ever skied. Perfectly smooth, steep, and filled with fun, undulating rollovers, the expansive bowls and canyons made for an exhilarating and effortless descent. With a direct shot back to the trailhead that avoided our 5am sketchy creek crossing, all that remained was a short glide out the snowy road, linking together patches until the snow finally ran out only 500′ from the car. It’s hard to match the feeling of elation, accomplishment, and exhaustion that comes with the close of day like this, when you finally splash a little water on your face, crack open a beer, trade ski boots for flip flops, and hang around in the woods with good friends reminiscing on the day that just was.