Sunday, December 17, 2006

"Backcountry" Skiing at Mt Baker!

My climbing buddy Dorian and I drove up to the Mt Baker Ski Area this weekend -- about 2.5 hours north of Seattle. We intended to get out into the backcountry to get in some turns on fresh powder, but we deemed the avalanche danger too high to venture out of a controlled area. Instead, we took our backcountry skis up the lifts on Saturday. On Sunday, we did end up using the climbing skins on our skis and took a few turns just out of bounds.

The snow conditions, weather, and scenery were spectacular!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Day Hike on Mt Si

Mt Si is a local hike that is too crowded in the summer to be much fun (owing largely to its proximity to the metro area), but is a great place in the off-season for mountaineers to stay in shape. It's about 3,700 vertical feet and four miles to the top. One of my scrambling guidebooks indicates that it is often used as a benchmark for determining preparedness for other scrambles in the area. It cites 2.5 hours from the bottom to the top in fair weather and conditions as a sign that you are fit enough to pursue other, more challenging scrambles. Though I was concerned that I was a bit out of shape after not really getting out hiking for the past several weeks, I made it up AND back down again in just over three hours.

It was a bit grey and misting when I started just before 9:00 AM, but the cover of the forest prevented moisture from falling on the trail. Within a mile, the clouds opened up a bit and the bright sun rays penetrated the thick canopy above. A few vistas revealed far-off snowy peaks and the Snoqualmie Valley below. I saw two people already on their way down, and near the half-way mark, two others passed me on the way up. Otherwise, I saw no one until my way down. The final quarter mile or so was mostly snow covered and was a bit slick in places. I was grateful I had brought my trekking poles with me, because they kept me from slipping on more than one occasion.

I opted not to climb to the true summit -- the top of the "Haystack" -- largely due to the fact that I was hiking alone. I've heard the scramble to the top described anywhere from class 2 to class 4 climbing, which is certainly within my realm of comfort. However... alone, with the route potentially icy or wet and slippery, I felt better leaving that for another time.

The view from the top of the trail was remarkable in that the west face of the mountain drops off seemingly vertically for several thousand feet. It is almost as if you can step to the edge of the cliff and see the streets of North Bend directly below you as if looking at a map from above. The skyline of Seattle was visible some thirty miles away on the edge of Puget Sound. After several minutes soaking in the view, the cold wind prompted me to start my descent.

The momentum of the downhill slope kept me moving quickly on the way back to the car. I passed several people out for a weekend hike, but the trail was still far from being crowded. The most noteworthy incident on my descent was crossing paths with one of the individuals I saw jogging down when I was still climbing up. "Twice?" I queried, with a tone of astonishment. "Yeeaah..." was his exasperated drawn out reply that left me no doubt that he was training for something, but wishing that he wasn't at the moment.

All in all, a good hike. Car to car in 3:20, after spending a total of about 20 minutes at the top, re-tying boots, or stopping for a quick drink of water.