Trip: West McMillan Spire - West Ridge
During an exploratory day-trip descent of Lost Marbles Couloir last Wednesday, it was hard not to notice that the Southern Picket Range was holding a lot of snow on the south side. Skiing a southern aspect near Hidden Lake Peaks later that same day, the snowpack was already in decent spring condition. The universe was coming into alignment for a weekend trip to the Pickets.
Jason and Phil had another objective, but I convinced them to come with me. The prospect of a summit ski descent in the Southern Picket Range is hard to resist. We left Seattle at 3:30 am Saturday morning.
Jason skis the trail so early in the morning. This part of the approach is much more pleasant without the all the greenery.
We were delighted to be on skis from the gravel pit near Newhalem . The road to Goodell Campground, like so many others in the North Cascades, has a new washout from the November rains. It was lovely to ski the Goodell Creek Trail, which minimized our battles with blowdown and brush.
The upper portion of the approach, making a rising traverse below the ridge, was much easier with the large snowpack. Dazzling views of T-Bone Ridge during our ascending traverse and comments from Phil had us contemplating the overwhelming sickness of a 6500 vf, 6-mile tram from Newhalem to the top of Big Devil Peak. It would be like a Washington version of Chamonix, with haute route access to Backbone Ridge and Marble Creek Cirque. Actually, I think I prefer the difficult access and its corresponding isolation and tranquility.
Jason skins toward the notch with T-Bone Ridge in the background.
Jim has been whispering in my ear about this 19 oz. bivy/down sleeping bag combo for a few months. This trip gave me the impetus to try it. I managed to squeeze everything in a tiny day pack. Somehow I didn't freeze at night, even with a breeze at 5,800'. The whiskey probably helped.
Sure that the snow would need time to soften, we started after sunrise. It felt incredible to ski up a glacier in a t-shirt, wearing neither hat nor gloves. What a wonderful dose of spring in January! Jason was so happy that he even broke some trail.
Jason skins Terror Glacier.
The exposure increased exponentially as we climbed the ridge above the 7,400' col. The snow was alternating between soft and icy, depending on aspects and rockbands. We were able to link soft sections most of the way. A small rock step posed an obstacle to the summit ridge.
Phil boots along the exposed summit ridge of West McMillan Spire.
Jason on the summit in his t-shirt. This is where we started our ski descent.
I wanted to check a possible alternate descent route. It looked like it might be easier, but it featured a much longer section of drastic exposure to the north face. Booting down it in my crampons, I found it much too rocky. The way I'd climbed would be best. I climbed my original line again. I removed my backpack to see how wide the snow was between the rocks. It was about a foot narrower than the length of my skis. Phil told me that Jason was snapping into his skis, so I returned to the summit. Phil downclimbed to just below the bulge, where the slope turned into nice corn.
Jason was ready to go and he'd had enough of the exposure, so I told him to be careful and snapped a photo.
Jason skis on the summit ridge of West McMillan Spire. Fall: 1,000' cliff on the left or 2,500' cliff on the right?
Jason's skis were just short enough for him to sidestep through the bulge on snow until he could point them into the corn. Hooray for Jason. I kept my ice ax in my upper (left) hand and sidestepped down a few rocks. Below the bulge, I stowed the ax and enjoyed the exposure.
Inspiration, Pyramid, Degenhardt, Baker, Terror, Shuksan!
Jason tele-attacks The Mt Fury.
Jason skis near the col.
The south-facing slopes down to the 5,400' outlet of the deeply-gorged lake were a sticky, creamy corn. Somehow, the snow didn't get too mushy for the skin to camp. We took a long break to ogle, hoot, holler, eat, and pack camp. How could it be so good?
I'm very happy and high on coffee and adrenaline and I can't wait to see Jason's photos. Thanks for the great times, Lefty and Fatboy. Enjoy!
Try not to take any; it helps.
Thank you maritime snow gods!