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JasonG

[TR] Mount Baker - Watson's Traverse in Reverse

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Trip: Mount Baker - Watson's Traverse in Reverse

 

Date: 5/12/2012

 

Trip Report:

Growing up, I knew Dwight Watson as a curious old man (he rode the train to Monte Cristo as a boy!). Full of life, and always chattering about the things that interested him, Dwight never belied that he was one of the founding fathers of ski mountaineering in the Cascades. Very near the end of his life (he died in 1996), I had the privilege of going on a picnic with him at the Big Four trailhead where he pulled out his shoe boxes of photos and regaled us all with tales of mountain exploits from the 1930's through the 1960's. It was then I learned, belatedly, that he had been the first? person to take Fred and Helmey Beckey climbing ("The Beckey Boys" according to Dwight). Apparently Dwight was a friend of Fred's dad, and was asked to show Fred how not to kill himself in the hills. I wasn't a climber in 1995, and only in later years did I see how many times Dwight's name appeared in Fred's Books, often in the photo credits.

 

Dwight died before I could talk with him about many of his firsts ascents and descents, and before Lowell Skoog ever got to meet him. But, through extensive research, Lowell has brought Dwight to us all in remarkable detail. And, at one of Lowell's excellent slide shows several years ago, I had the good fortune of seeing the original movie Dwight shot on his 1939 traverse of Mount Baker. Since Dwight was the first to have done this trip, Lowell named the trip, Watson's Traverse. In the intervening years, the name stuck and the traverse has become somewhat popular (folks skied it the day we approached the Park).

 

It is trip I have wanted to do for years and I was fortune enough to complete it this past weekend, albeit in the reverse direction (Baker Ski area to Coleman). Although I trust that the proper Watson is best on skis, I only know how to snowboard, and thus my plan to go in the reverse direction with a bivy at the edge of the Park Gl. I know, I really should learn to ski. Regardless, we had a fantastic outing and the whole side of the mountain (and the summit) to ourselves.

 

A note to those that might do the Watson some time this year- the bergshrund is fairly open all the way from the south side of the Park Headwall to the Cockscomb. We found a way through, but it was spicy and will only get more so with time. I encourage any skiers out there to at least do this trip once, it's a classic!

 

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Although I trust that the proper Watson is best on skis, I only know how to snowboard, and thus my plan to go in the reverse direction with a bivy at the edge of the Park Gl. I know, I really should learn to ski.

 

Nah, you're too much fun to watch descending on your board. :grin:

 

Thanks for sharing about the history of the traverse, pretty interesting.

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Nice work Jason and Kit. And great pics as always Jason.

I like the idea of going up the Park and down the Coleman and rolling all the way to the car. Not sure how Lowell pulled it off, but we had a LOT of transitions doing it the standard direction last year. Either way it is a stellar trip.

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Glad that you made the trip, Jason. The first time I did it with my brother Carl, we went east to west (and camped) just like you did. It's a great way to savor the solitude of the east side.

 

I'm happy that the name "Watson's Traverse" has stuck. Dwight himself would probably be embarrassed by it, but he deserves to be remembered, and what better way to do it.

 

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Great photos and history, thanks! I definitely want to complete this traverse after skiing out towards Coleman Pinnacle a couple of times this winter. What amazing terrain to cover on skis.

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For more about Dwight Watson, including a clip from his movie of the Mt Baker traverse, look here:

 

http://written-in-the-snows.net/ski-climbers5.html

 

I'm planning another chapter in my ski history book that will include more about Dwight Watson's trips in other parts of the Cascades. It will be called "Ski Scouting" after his landmark 1937 article in the Mountaineer Annual:

 

http://alpenglow.org/ski-history/notes/period/mtneer-a/mtneer-a-1930-39.html#mtneer-a-1937-p28

 

I have papers (that I haven't really digested yet) which reveal that when Fred Beckey made his original proposal for a climbing guidebook to the Mountaineers in the 1940s, he also proposed a skiing guidebook to be written by Dwight Watson. The Mountaineers passed on Beckey's proposal and his guidebook was originally published by the AAC. Watson's book was never written. This proposal confirms for me Watson's position as the most important pioneer of backcountry skiing in Washington.

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Thanks for the extra detail Lowell! I seem to remember my dad and grandparents relating that Dwight was not fond of guidebooks. It makes sense, considering how he loved the thrill of discovery and exploration. Maybe somebody can ask Fred his recollections of why the guidebook wasn't written, but I suspect Dwight wanted others to discover the Cascades for themselves, as he had done.

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Thanks for the extra detail Lowell! I seem to remember my dad and grandparents relating that Dwight was not fond of guidebooks. It makes sense, considering how he loved the thrill of discovery and exploration. Maybe somebody can ask Fred his recollections of why the guidebook wasn't written, but I suspect Dwight wanted others to discover the Cascades for themselves, as he had done.

 

No, in later years, Dwight was not fond of guidebooks. In his scrapbook he wrote on a 1966 ad for 100 Hikes, "Much wear and tear began with this book!" and "Don't go to these. Too many people!"

 

I think the 1940s guidebook proposal was not Watson's idea. It was conceived as a combined climbing/skiing guidebook. I think Fred and others approached Dwight to contribute the skiing portion. Ultimately, the Mountaineers decided not to publish it. When the AAC decided to publish Fred's first guidebook a few years later (1949) they dropped the skiing portion. I don't have any record of why they did that.

 

If you haven't seen it, you might enjoy my notes from Watson's 600+ page scrapbook:

 

http://alpenglow.org/ski-history/notes/ms/dw-scrapbook.html

 

 

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Wow, that is quite a scrapbook! Can you look at it if you go to the Mountaineers?

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Wow, that is quite a scrapbook! Can you look at it if you go to the Mountaineers?

 

UW Special Collections, Accession 2170-004

 

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Awesome. Thanks for the story and great images too! My attempt on the Watson Traverse was ended by high winds this year. Hopefully I'll get another chance this season, but if not this is encouragement to get on it next year.

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..and I thought this was a Mt Baker to Mt Watson Traverse TR... I was scratching my head.. lol

 

Excellent TR... especially the history..

Edited by banos

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