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Skiing the American Alps


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June 2002 has been the best month for ski mountaineering in the North Cascades in twenty years. The combination of a solid snowpack and successive, multi-day windows of fine weather was unprecedented in recent memory. Several parties took advantage of these conditions.


The highlight of the season was a continuous ski traverse from Diablo Lake to Holden Village by Matt Firth of Twisp and Bob Nielsen of Stehekin. They started with Ed Cupp at the Pyramid Lake trailhead on the North Cascades Highway on June 19 and skied the Isolation Traverse to Cascade Pass in 3-1/2 days. According to Matt, the technical crux of the trip was getting from Torment Basin to Boston Basin with just a 120 foot 7mm rope. Cupp exited at the Cascade River and the other two skiers continued along the Extended Ptarmigan Traverse, over Dome Peak and across the Hanging Gardens to Image Lake, arriving at Cloudy Pass on June 26. There Nielsen exited to Holden Village.


Firth continued by himself to a food cache near Spider Gap. His original plan had been to continue to the Dakobed Range and Glacier Peak. But after considering the sketchy route around Fortress Mountain and the fact that he was now alone, he decided that the natural ending for the tour was near Lyman Lake. So he exited to Holden on June 27. It rained hard the day after Matt got home, and he was sure he would have been pinned down by the weather had he continued on the trip.


This is the fullest realization so far of the "American Alps Traverse," a long-discussed linkup along the backbone of the North Cascades. During most years, fickle weather would not allow a continuous push like this and a party might well run out of food before completing the trip. Having day-dreamed about this trip for many years (placing caches and attempting it in 1991) I congratulate Matt and Bob on their excellent adventure.




Following on the heels of this party, Alan Kearney and my brother Carl skied the Ptarmigan Traverse over June 23-27. In addition to completing the traverse, they made several steep descents along the way. On day two (June 24), Carl skied Spider Mountain by the south gully. The following day (June 25) both Alan and Carl skied the north face of Sentinel Peak. Due to poor snow conditions, they did not ski from the exact summit, but began their descent at the top of the ridge just east of the summit about 100 feet from the top. The next day they skied the north flank of Hoch Joch Spitz, the pretty snow peak west of the South Cascade Glacier. Scientists at the USGS glacier survey station may have skied this peak earlier, but nothing is known about it.




These trips follow descents earlier in the month of Mt Baker's Coleman headwall, Mt Buckner's north face, and Sahale Mountain's NW face, previously discussed in TelemarkTalk.com and CascadeClimbers.com. It has been a great season for ambitious ski mountaineers in the North Cascades as well as those who enjoy established classics. I'm betting the season isn't over yet.

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Yeah, or [big Drink][big Drink] and a [chubit][big Grin]


Lowell, when will you publish your book? After reading this post I wanted to find out more about the Isolation Traverse and the other routes that were linked together - I had only heard of the Ptarmigan Traverse (silly me...).


I found some information in the subject index section of the Alpenglow site, but not very much. Can you point to more reading material outside of old club journals and the like?

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I spoke to Matt Firth on his way out while on the boat from Lucerne to Chelan. He offhandedly mentioned the route when I asked. It wasn't until I pulled the map out that the magnitude of the accomplishment sunk home. He seemed to have a certain serenity about him that comes with both the fatigue and satisfaction of such an accomplishment, not to mention that look of trying to adjust to the flatlands and flatlanders on the boat!


Nice work!

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Believe me, I'm working on it, but it'll take a while. I've put a summary of my status on my web site:




I just finished a five-month contract engineering job, and I'm back to work full time on my history project, probably through the summer. I could probably get the book done a lot faster if I quit working on the website, but they are both important to me. The website will improve the quality of the book and will live on as a source reference after the book is published.


For more information on the Isolation and Ptarmigan traverses, see the Subject index of my website. There are a few other sources on these trips that I haven't written notes for, but not a lot has been written about them as ski trips.

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Brown Kool-Aid.

Another party seems to have skied at least the classic Ptarmigan traverse from south to north just before the solstice.

Matt and I made it to Kool aid lake on June 22nd. We had a big day starting with getting down the Torment/Boston Basin col, playing cat and mouse with the climbing ranger in boston basin, saying good by to buddy Ed at Cascade Pass, passing the worrisome objective dangers under Mix-up peak, and finally sliding into Kool-aid lake on a saturday nite about 6:30, just in time for a bath and some laundry chores in the open outlet, while the western sky did it's thing.

We noticed the ski tracks the next morning on our way to deal with the red ledge, right after I saw a pile of human waste, complete with toilet paper, that had been deposited right on the edge of where kool aid lake will make an appearance soon. There was plenty of open brush and rock bands below the lake bench in which to bury a pile.

I was feeling great about being on skis along the traverse, and not adding to the impact on the heather that happens later in the year.

If we all can't go out of our way to bury, hide, deposit in remote bushes, we'll be carrying heavy packs in, and heavy packs out, to say nothing of the water quailty at Kool-aid lake.

What flavor is brown?

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