Ski Touring Red Mountain (5890 ft)
with Team Mastadon
January 17, 2009
Loren Miller, Andy King, and I skied the west face of Red Mountain today under beautiful blue-bird skies! Andy and Loren are avid tele-skiers so I was tempted to bring my tele set up, but when we decided on the steep west face of Red Mountain as our destination I opted for my randonee skis. Loren recently picked up some sweet Garmont Axon alpine touring boots which he was taking on their first tour. So I wasn't alone with my fixed heel!
We got a rather late start and left the Summit West parking lot a little after 9am. There were many snowshoers and skiers heading up Commonwealth Basin with us. At the Commonwealth Creek Basin we met several other skiers and splitboarders fording the creek. Since I had been here a little over a month earlier with Andrew Marvel, I knew where we needed to go so I lead across.
At the head of the basin where we were impeded on the left by a steep hillside and on the right by the creek, we made steep switchbacks up the hillside to gain the ridge to take us to the base of Red Mountain. As we skinned up the ridge we could see pockets of blue sky through the clouds. The snow was very hard in the trees so we were hopeful that the sunshine would soften up the slopes above.
As we made our way up the slopes the voices of the other skiers who had been following us dissapated as they found other routes to take. After crossing one small stream bed, we soon found ourselves at the bottom of a gulley where avalanche debris could be seen further up. With no recent snow and still firm conditions, we cautiously boot packed our way up the side of the debris field to gain the south ridge. Near base of the ridge we stopped for a bite to eat and to enjoy the view. We were now well above the cloud layer and could look down on the ski areas still covered in the clouds. To the south Mt Rainier was dominating the skyline and Mt Adams summit could been seen.
After our break we thought the snow had softened enough to but the skis back on to try skinning up, but after a few kick turns we realized it was still too hard. So off came the skis to be put back on our packs and we returned to kicking steps up the ridge. Andy led the way breaking trail up the varied snow. Sometimes we would punch through and posthole, and a few feet later we would have to kick multiple times to make a step. I mistakenly forgot to bring my ice axe so I was relying heavily on Andy and Loren to put in good steps for me to utilize.
After navigating a few sketchy rock out croppings we reached easier terrain and found ourselves standing on the summit. About 50 yards from the summit, a lone skier caught up to Loren and I and cruised on up to the top. At the summit I complimented him on his speedy ascent as no one was behind us for sometime before and he caught and passed us quickly. "Nice work, man! You were running up that slope", I said to him. "Thanks, I just got into a groove there", he replied. He was with two other friends who were still climbing up the west face. While we chatted I noticed he had "REI Staff" poles so I said "Nice poles! Where do you work?", as I showed him my staff poles. Taylor works in the rentals department and I recognized him from earlier in the season when I helped him try on some boots.
We all took in the views from Mt Baker to the north, Mt Stuart to the east, Mt Adams to the south, and some of the Olympics to the west. I took a short 360 degree video of the amazing terrain we beheld. I apologize for the quickness, but I only had so much space left on my flash card and I still had to take pictures of the descent!
As I was taking pictures, Andy and Loren were removing their climbing skins and loading up their packs for the descent. Taylor's friends and two other skiers were making their way up the middle of the west face, so we waited until they were up before we dropped in for the ski back down.
In Martin Volken's book, Backcountry Skiing Snoqualmie Pass he describes this west face of Red Mountain as offering "one of the most consistent steeper slopes in the area." And I would have to agree! I had to resort to old school jump turns for much of the upper slope as it was difficult for me to get my 191cm Atomic R:EX skis to make short radius turns. I took some shots of Loren and Andy as they made their first few turns down the slope. The afternoon sun had warmed the snow to a nice corn-snow consistency, but not too warm to make us concerned about sloughing.
We stayed to the skier's left of the face and soon met up with our tracks from our approach. Near the bottom of the avalanche debris in the gully, we pulled over to the side and took one more break to shed some layers and take a breather. Loren noticed earlier that we all were wearing our Mammut Champ Pants so we finagled a way to get a "group" portrait of our Mastadons! Maybe we can get our next trip sponsored...
Once back in the trees the snow was back to being very firm so we all had trouble maintaining control through some of the narrow and icy parts of the trail. But we all agreed that the turns we were able to make on the upper face were well worth the effort! Thanks Andy and Loren for some great turns in the mountains!