After a day of skiing in rain/snow that had us so wet that we felt like human raisins, an odd light began to shine from the sky. The closer we got to Seattle, the brighter the light became. Could it be the sun? Definitely not, this is still the Pacific Northwest after all, rendering that impossible. Despite the odd light, we made it to the airport to pick up our friend Ronja from Germany. After navigating the Seattle airport in the bus yet again, we headed south towards Crystal Mountain where we were hoping our best shot of decent skiing would lie.
We were able to camp in the same spot where we left to ski the next morning. That night we were able to make contact with yet another friend named Tyler from school up in Vermont who has been living in the area and offered to show us the goods. Morning arrived and that meant sorting out all of Tyler and I’s, plus Ronja’s and Bolcon’s ski gear and getting ready inside of a 120 square foot-ish space. Sounds fun right? After essentially playing a round of twister more complex than Hillary Clinton’s email server, we were ready to get out on the mountain. Tyler arrived and we hit the skin track towards East Mountain, a ridge away from the Crystal Ski Area. On the way up things were looking interesting to say the least. The optimistic way to describe the snow was firm. You could kind-of-sort-of get an edge in which was enough to bring us to the ridge where we would once again be greeted by an odd sort of light. We knew we were still geographically in the PNW, but maybe the impossible had become possible? It sure seemed like it. The aspect we were looking to ski had been baking in the sun all morning, leaving for much softer and fun turns down the rolling open glades that put smiles on everyone’s face.
After getting to the bottom we decided on lapping the area we had found one more time before circling back up and over to the bus. Another run carving and arching down the still firm but fun snow in the sunshine reached the same grin producing levels as the prior two. Practically skiing back to the bus doors, we dried off in the parking lot and enjoyed a few local spirits while basking in the beautiful weather. The next day the resort was running a $37 day ticket special. We have been going all human powered skiing so far this winter due to the normally ridiculous price of lift tickets, so for $37 we figured a few lift rides would be a nice change of pace.
A change of pace is exactly what we got after we were joined by a local on the gondola. The 60ish year old skier offered to show off what he thought was the best run on the mountain that morning after telling us that any ridge, face, couloir or peak that we could see from the resort he had skied already. “There are no first descents ANYWHERE that you can see from here” were his exact words, “I’ve skied it all”. We clicked in and all struggled to keep up with him as he straight-lined it from the lift across groomers, traverses, and even through some gnarly moguls before reaching the run called Employee Housing, a super steep and exposed expert trail. After getting most of the way down and waiting for us to catch up he got a call from “The Boss” (his wife) and had to take off. We spent the rest of the day exploring the potential that Crystal had for an amazing powder day (maybe someday we will time it right).
Unfortunately this was Bolcon’s last full day with us so we found a place to sleep a little closer to the airport so that we could get him on his early morning flight. After swinging through SeaTac Airport yet again, (4th time) he was on his way back to Boston. The remaining three of us decided to take a rest day and found a nice café called Marine View Espresso. We did some research and found some less than ideal weather forecasts. Lucky for us our friend Tyler from school who lives just outside of Seattle is a meteorologist for the area and invited us over to hang out for the afternoon. Very quickly we found the three of us, plus Tyler and his ski partner Chris talking through a plan to ski on Mount Rainier the next day. And just like that, our luck had changed from getting rained on, to heading up to one of the bigger mountains in the country where we would find plenty of snow thanks to elevation.
The next morning we rose with the sun (kidding, no sun) so we could time the drive to reach the park entrance just as the gates were opening. Driving through the rain forest, turned winter wonderland was a unique experience passing beautiful streams and waterfalls on the way. In no time we were several thousand feet higher than we were that morning, turning the rain that was falling everywhere else into light fluffy snowflakes. Our goal for the day was to reach Camp Muir which sits on one of the many ridges of Rainier and serves as a shelter for climbers just before the start of the summit proper. As we made our way up the ridge we learned that Mother Nature had another plan for our day, giving us very windy and white out conditions. With the inclement weather we decided to start our ski descent from where we were. After a couple turns the visibility started to open up again and just in time as the skiing was getting better too. After warming up again in the parking lot, we went back out to ski a closer run before heading back down the road where it was still raining. Down here it would have been hard to convince anyone that we had just being skiing fresh powder.
On the way back to Tyler’s, Chris convinced us into breaking our fast food streak again and getting some Little Caesars Pizza which honestly wasn’t hard for him to do after we spent the day hiking for our ski turns. That night as we sat back at Tyler’s house with our bellies filled with regret we planned to head to Snoqualmie Pass to take advantage of the one sunny day we ended up having while in the Cascades. Unfortunately we found more dust on crust and moved on to check out the town of Leavenworth to hopefully give skiing one more shot. Leavenworth is an oddly themed Bavarian town in Washington, weird right? So now you can imagine the look on Ronja’s face (quick reminder she’s from Germany) as we drove into town. After some good laughs and a morning of more rain at just about all elevations, plus a slight change of travel plans Ronja got a bus back to Seattle leaving us to head towards Vantage, WA.
While trying to plan possible ski tours around The Cascades with our friend Tyler, he threw us a total curve ball one night suggesting that we ditch the skiing and do some climbing at Vantage in eastern WA. As he explained it to us, the Cascades force all of the water out of the storms coming off of the Pacific usually leaving the eastern slope dry (in meteorological terms this is called a rain shadow). With less than exciting snow conditions we didn’t even need a fancy scientific explanation before we found ourselves high tailing it out of the mountains. To our satisfaction we found that this rain shadow actually creates a desert in the center of Washington making for a higher chance of dry and sunny days. And our higher chances held true as we drove into The Frenchman Coulee with the sun shining brighter than we had seen in several weeks, illuminating the magnificent columnar basalt that made up the eye catching cliffs of the coulee (fancy word for deep ravine or lava flow). We made sure to take advantage of the last bit of light that we had that afternoon, running around like two dung beetles who had just found the Frenchman Coulee pit toilet (you need to experience camping in the state park to understand this one).
As we were headed back to the bus practically losing it with excitement to start climbing the next day, we crossed paths with two other climbers who had been out scaling the basaltic cliffs that day. As we continued hiking back to the parking lot together, they generously offered to give us a list of suggested climbs for the next day and we all enjoyed some tasty beers that they had brewed themselves. After swapping several more climbing stories later that night around the campfire we headed back to the bus to try and get some sleep, hoping wake up early enough to beat the weekend crowd. Unfortunately we only woke up early enough to get on two climbs we had planned to do, Party in Your Pants was one of them, before the hoards of people with the same intentions of soaking up the sun and climbing on the breathtaking hexagonal columns started to move in. We spent the rest of day popping around trying to climb anything that was open. Surprisingly we got to climb several of the routes that our new friends Ben and Bekah had suggested to us. The next day we decided to avoid the crowds by exploring a slightly separate area called The Middle East wall, which due to its position had beautiful bright green lichen growing on it, only adding to the awe of the columnar basalt formations. Our escape from the rain was only short lived though and we ended up only being able to get on one climb, Human Sacrifice, before the rock was too wet to climb and we had to head back to the bus for shelter.
Not knowing exactly when the rain was going to stop we decided to keep moving east. We are now on our way to Sun Valley, Idaho to catch up with some more friends and hopefully get some skiing in before we keep making our way to Jackson Hole. Thanks for reading!