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mutz

[TR] North Twin Sister - West Ridge 3/20/2017

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(Photos here, cannot be bothered with trying to upload them).

 

If I have learned anything about “winter” climbing on the west slopes of the Cascades, its that getting the conditions just right is both luck and an art. Sure if you get a big high pressure window and ice flowing down tree trunks its one thing, but for the rest of the year, finding good sports action is hard. After bailing on much grander plans that required a better weather forecast and snowpack, Eric Wehrly and I decided to do a little short day jaunt into the sisters with skis. We were stunned by the fun climbing and the great conditions we found. Great sticks into ice and snow between discontinuous gullies that hold 3, 4th, and easy mixed terrain made the West Ridge quite enjoyable.

 

Approach

 

We followed the standard approach to the west ridge of North Twin Sister. This entails driving Mosquito Lake road until you can go left on a logging road that parallels the middle fork of the Nooksack river. There is plenty of beta out there, I am not going to repeat it here. Most of the time, this is eventually blocked by a big metal gate, managed by the logging company, 5 miles in. Eric and I thought we were quite lucky to see the gate open and blasted right through it (mistake??). We followed the road via GPS coordinates he and I had put together before parking the car where snow on the road made further travel unlikely.

 

When done as a summer scramble, most folks either run the road or take bikes, depending on how light they are going. We had opted for skis to make the best of a snowpack we expected to find at about 2000’-ish. We left our tennis shoes in the car and did the approach on skis, separated by some brief sections of road walking. A GPS of some kind is quite useful for the approach as there are many spurs on the logging road you are following. The technology exists, you might as well use it.

 

We arrived at the base of the west ridge after some fun conversations and easy uphill. There were just a few sections of Cascade shenanigans, like crossing a of a small creek. Here, we were both either seasoned enough or dumb enough to not take our skis off and did a sort of stem move across rocks to regain the bank on the far side. Instead of following the approach to the ridge for the last half mile, we opted to contouring on the north side of the rib of North Twin that becomes the west ridge. This seemed necessary based on growth of the trees along the ridge that would have made pushing skis uphill difficult. I am still recovering from the amount of bush-whacking he and I did this summer, so we avoided the unknown at all costs. See track.

 

Climb

 

In summer the climb is a 3rd/4th class adventure where proper route-finding makes it a very manageable solo affair. I estimated that between the deep winter snowpack and some melt freeze cycles, we would find good snow and mixed travel conditions with just a bit of technical movement. It would only be hard if we wanted to make it that way. Thus, we left the rack at home and brought harnesses and a short rope only for any necessary rappels to drop into our descent ski.

 

Our climb was a nice argument for new school versus old school. Eric brought two straight shafted tools, each with wrist straps. I didn’t even know people used those anymore. I carried more modern weapons (pair of Grivel Matrix sticks). My curved tools didn’t plunge as well as Eric’s 90s era mountain axe’s. Conversely, I had quite a bit of fun as we tooled and swung our way to the summit, seeking out easy ice and mixed climbing where it could be found. There was a good melt-freeze neve in several of the small couloirs, and even some alpine ice in others.

 

Though we brought crampons, we stuck to boot-only climbing, probably out of laziness more than anything. There were a few crux sections where we made scared ourselves just enough to feel accomplished. At one point, Eric and I both completed a full “straddle move to beached-whale to double alpine knee” maneuver to top out on one of the lower steps. I might have even done a bit of O-dub-ing in that section to keep it real.

 

We topped out, bagged the summit, then picked a line for the descent after an assessment of the snow conditions and avalanche hazard.

 

Descent

 

Eric, a grand-master of skiing improbable lines in the Cascades, led the decision-making on the terrain we would descend. He and I dug into the layers just below the summit to find an expected dense rain crust with a well-bonded 4-5 inch, highly non-reactive layer on top. It would probably take a bomb to make anything go big, so we skied what was probably the most aggressive line possible, but not without a few ski cuts and otherwise good terrain/group management. The most dangerous aspect of the descent was probably heavy sluff on the rain crust that locked you into your turns. Our descent from the summit was probably some of the most variable skiing I have done this year, ranging from a nice, carve-able, styrofoam wind slab to the hard rain crust. Below 4500 ft, we found a fun spring corn-like texture before it got soupy. We skied our way to our original up-track on the north side of the west rib, contoured a bit, then made it through the trees back down to the road. A few free-heel pushes later, we made it back to the car, again with intermittent road walking.

 

Now for the moment of chance we had been waiting for. Would the road be open, like the arms of a loved one, beckoning us home, or closed, like the gates of Mordor, committing us to a long walk to reach humanity.

 

 

Edited by mutz

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I like it! Thanks for posting. How far up the road past the gate were you able to drive? Did you see any activity up there to account for it being open?

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We drove up the road about a mile, and that was in a mazda w/o snow tires. With good traction you could probably do two miles now.

 

There seems to be logging activity every morning on the road during which they open the gate. We passed through at ~645am (open), but it was locked when we returned (~5pm). We then had to return the next morning for the car (~630am, open again).

 

Drive through at your own risk!

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So wait, this is bullshit. You don't even write about the most interesting part of the trip. Tell us about the slog/hitchhike/phone call/wait it took to get somewhere warm and dry.

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Ha! It went something like this:

-checked the engineering of the gate locking system just to be sure Eric and I couldn't outsmart the system - no luck

-slammed two beers each

-filled out pack with the remaining food we had - 1 satsuma and a pack of shotblocks and started walking

-we saw our first car on mosquito rode, after 1.5 hours of walking down the logging road. they were going the wrong way and wouldn't stop,

-it was now dark and raining, and we still didn't have service

-finally made it to a bunch of homes, unfortunately no one would open the door for us: two sketchy males walking around at 730pm on monday night

-finally stood in-front of on-going traffic and waved our arms, forcing the next car to stop (2nd one we had seen in 3 hours now)

-convinced the guy to give us a ride to the general store, where the store manager allowed us to use his phone and sit and drink beers while he told stories of living in the country, and they were definitely good stories...

 

The end.

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Oh, and Eric's wife had to come pick us up. I don't think she must like me very much. Last time he and I went out, we missed our check-in time and she was on the verge of calling S&R

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Thanks for pointing that out Darin....that is the best part!

 

Were you along on Fallen Angel Mutz?

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Just logging in to say that Eric's wife has known him long enough to know that it's not you, it's him. He's got a tendency to be a little....optimistic about how long things will take!

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haha. yes, JasonG, I was on Fallen Angel, and yes, tanstaafl, you've got to love the optimism!

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Went up West Ridge of North Twin this past Sunday May 14 - route is mostly melted off, but ice axe very handy for a handful of steep snow sections on route (as well as for glissade off the north side.) For the most part these can be avoided by sticking to the south side of the ridge, though that sometimes mean harder (4th class) rock moves.

 

Approach roads are bikeable to about 3,100 feet at the moment.

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