Old Snowy from White Pass
December 29-31, 2001
Jason, Ben, Josh
Author: Jason Hummel
Jason returning from a 1-day attempt to climb and ski Old Snowy from White Pass inWinter 00. Old Snowy is the highest peak in the background above the three large trees.
I was looking forward to a relatively relaxing trip to Hogback. Maybe a little yo-yoing up and down the bowls, possibly a short tour to burn off the large quantities of food that I had in my backpack. If I had known what was to come I would of ran and lifted weights the week before rather than watching TV. Needless to say, I had plenty of working out ahead. Jenny Craig's (aka Ben’s) weight-loss plan, hikeyourbuttoff, was guaranteed to shed off any extra pounds I may have gained during the holidays.
Leaving White Pass proved to be a challenge unto itself. Finding a parking spot was nearly impossible yet we managed to squeeze the Jeep and Mazda in behind some motor homes, feeling very lucky we weren’t parked a mile down the road. Ben knocked on the door of one motor home to ask if it was ok to park there. It was. This had been the most people any of us had seen at White Pass. We were glad we left the resort skiing to everyone else and their dog, cat, hamster, bird, rat, and their fifteen children. The backcountry beckons those who find crowds suffocating.
As usual we hiked up the back of the resort, trying to avoid the hordes of skiers and snowboarders, awe-struck by these people who skied uphill. Some understood but most didn’t.
Jason skinning the grooms above Chair 4.
Josh in the flats below Hogback.
Continuing off the resort, past the Doughnut and up Hogback was familiar enough. The clouds started to break when we reached the ridge but the sun was setting so we neglected to rest.
Jason and Josh heading south from the north summit of Hogback towards camp.
Ben on the south summit of Hogback.
We camped in the same place we had 2 years before, nestled in one of the bowls, protected by the outermost trees. A perfect camp. Our sanctuary.
Our camp during a 2-day trip in Winter 99. The previous photo was taken on the highest point seen above.
Josh and I flattened out a space and Ben did the same for his bivi. I know of no one else who voluntarily bivi’s in the winter. Personally I think the weight of a tent is worth the comfort. Then again, I do have Josh to carry half. It was getting dark when we arrived around 4pm but the lantern and a full moon kept us busy until 8pm.
Later that evening, under the cover of darkness, we hear a voice and saw a light. As it turns out, Troy had decided to join the fun. Soon his tent was set up too. I found it funny that Troy’s tent had room for two or even three people and yet Ben still slept in his bivi.
When the lantern ran out of fuel we went to bed.
Darkness at camp.
Next thing I know it was three in the morning. I was rolling over for the 100th time and just then Ben asks, "Are you ready?" Believe me, I could’ve gladly remained nestled in my bag, but I couldn’t be lazy. Zipping the tent open I could see the stars were out. I smiled; maybe it would be a good trip after all. By four in the morning I managed to drag my lazy butt out of bed. One cup of hot chocolate warmed me up enough to start. One cold breath reminded me that it would be a long finish. So much for an easy day of skiing the bowls.
Let the pilgrimage begin.
From White Pass to the summit of Old Snowy and back is only 26 miles. Heck, no problem, we’d done far more. Already, even that early, I was putting this trek in perspective. At 5pm it would be dark out. There was plenty of deep snow on flat terrain, which would slow our progress. However, there is a trail (the PCT) through the forest. Yet, directions become obscure in a fog-covered snow-laden old growth forest where everything looks the same. Worst of all, I knew there was uphill both ways.
Okay, so we were already at Hogback making the trek only 20 miles. This should be cake. And yet during the next 15 hours we never sat down.
In short order we left camp. We became worried about avi danger on the first uphill slope. We all walked lightly and very fast. Wind slab had buried us once in each of the last two years. We were in no mood for an encore. Once at the top of that ridge we coasted down to the saddle where we had found the PCT the year before. Below us, Shoe Lake lay covered in snow. We found the trail and traversed across the backside. This was a pain without skins as there were huge drifts on a steep slope.
On the next saddle we decided to drop down. Last time we were here we dropped in too early and ended up winding our way through cliffs. This time we wanted to avoid all of that. We went east along the same ridge down to approximately 6000ft. From there we headed back west creating a giant switchback down to 4800ft. At that point we had to find the trail. We spread out in all directions. Everything looked like a trail. After a half an hour or so I came across what struck me as the trail. I called the others and continued along just to make sure. It was. I couldn’t believe our luck.
Jason and Josh near some ponds on the PCT between Shoe Lake and Tieton Pass. This is where we put our skins on.
Finding the trail and following the trail created constant havoc. Once, for example, Ben veered up. I knew he was making a mistake, but he was gone before I could say anything. As usual he was on a mission. I followed because staying together is the most important rule on any adventure. I expect we wasted a good thirty minutes. Ben’s tracks made a U. He thought we should backtrack east, I thought we should go south, and Josh just wanted to go. We headed southeast and soon we were standing on Tieton Pass. Only after a few minutes of detective work did we prove this fact, thus refreshing our confidence to continue.
Jason crosses Lutz Lake. Familiar terrain in a foggy forest.
Lutz Lake came and went. Ben was off in the lead and I was behind. At that point I knew we weren’t going to make the top because there just wasn’t enough time. We wasted too many precious moments discovering the forest. I hiked on anyway knowing full well that we’d be hiking back in the dark. Fortyfive minutes passed before I caught up with Ben. Just then I was presented with my only view of Old snowy, albeit a fleeing glimpse, but my only one since we descended into the fog-covered forest. The climb from there would take us another two hours. We didn’t have that much time unless we wanted to chance spending the night. I melted some water on my MSR Pocket Rocket. As soon as my bottle was full we were off. Now that we knew the way we hoped to summit this spring, maybe this winter if we got bored. For now we had to contend with getting back. We were on a race against darkness.
A glimpse of Old Snowy from our highpoint.
The snow was nice, with 5 inches of powder. We all enjoyed the turns, but they were few. For those who wish to ski they had better go elsewhere. This is a tour, not a ski. I usually climb for the turns and so touring isn’t something that I am especially fond of. Once in awhile I can stomach it. Mentally, I feel far better when I get to the top, knowing I am just a ski away from the bottom. This trip doesn’t afford that luxury and so psychologically I was a mess.
Jason making use of the fun few.
On the way back we avoided our detours, attaching more efficient and expedient passages through the daunting forest. What seemed hard on the way in became easy on the way out, that is until we reached the end of the flats and continued up our earlier switchback from 4800ft to 6500ft. My power gave out soon after I reached the top. By that time darkness had descended. My reserves were on low and as soon as my skins fell off the needle was below empty and I had an hour before the next fill station. I tried walking, but the snow was too deep. I tried to traverse without skins, but the slope was too irregular and steep. Impossible! I ended up walking. From there to camp I followed Ben and Josh's tracks. The thought of hot chocolate and a warm sleeping bag is all that kept me going.
I arrived at camp around 7pm and went straight to the sleeping bag. Josh brought me some food and hot chocolate. What are brothers for?
The following morning we awoke to a rain/snow mix. We packed fast and were soon headed back to White Pass and the cars. The ski down was as you can rightly imagine given the rain and mild temperature. Soon enough we were at the parking lot.
Finally, the pilgrimage was at an end. I guess now it is back to watching TV. Working out can wait until our next adventure. As for Ben's weight-loss plan hikeyourbuttoff, it turns out he lost the most weight, 10 lbs.