Old Snowy from White Pass
February 8-9, 2003
Ben, Troy, Jason, Sky
Author: Jason Hummel
Troy, Jason and Sky relaxing in McCall Basin before heading home -- 13 miles of mostly flats.
Going from White Pass to the summit of Old Snowy sounds like an easy 30 miles. In the summer that may be the case, in winter though, all bets are off. This is a complicated tour. Even if you make the summit, it is only the halfway point. Add some trees, deep valleys, bad snow, deep snow, falling snow, wind, fog, cliffs, time, and your left with quite a challenge. This time we came prepared. We knew what to expect and even (cross your fingers) where to go. All that was left was to link it all together. At best the third time is a charm.
Beautiful weather lifted our early morning spirits while we rode the chair to the top of White Pass. The skin to Hogback was familiar. We met several groups on the way who were also familiar. Before reaching the top, we traversed towards Shoe Lake. Kurt (my old man), Steve, and his brother Sam were getting first dibs on morning powder. Still in search, they continued past the lake and up to Devils Digit with us. Under a light breeze and a bright sun the shindig began as the first soda cracked the quiet and the food bags, envious of one another, came out of stuffed packs. Under these strenuous circumstances, Ben and I decided to climb Devilís Diget. And holly diget! The climb was fun even with Scarpas on. We posed for glory shots on the tiny patch of snow draped on top.
The saddle at Hogback. Devil's Digit can be seen on the ridge, left of center.
Camp from the summit of Devil's Digit. Tieton and Gilbert Peak can be seen in the background.
We yo-yoed the slope for a second time. Ben, Troy, Sky and I headed back to set up camp while the others headed back to the resort. Since there was a light breeze I found a nice ledge to perch my tent. Troy did the same while Ben flattened a nook for his bivy. I had a extra space so Sky opted out of the bivy. We debated over when to leave and 1:30am poked its miserable head out. Weíd need a half to get ready and to eat. We hung out in the rocks past sunset.
Sky and Jason enjoying the sunset. Old Snowy is the highest peak on the right skyline.
Morning was presented under a cap of stars. A light breeze buffeted camp and the stoves hissed. Packing was pretty uneventful, except, did I mention I forgot my flashlight? I found one sock, figured I could do without the other. I did find my hat and that I would need.
Ben and I were well versed with the first part of this tour while the others were venturing into new territory. Thick crust hijacked my balance and long slopes in tight trees left me with a face full of snow and a mouthful of pine needles and wood. Reaching the flats was a mercy. The compass came in handy once or twice and managed to resolve contention. Our first goal was to reach Tieton Pass. Between valleys and creek beds, ponds and fields we made our way there. During past trips time slid by in the forest, but during this trip progress and time went hand in hand despite having to negotiate the most difficult stretch in the dark. We were right on schedule when we made it to the pass. From there, McCall Basin was 2 hours away.
Early morning greeted us in shades of shadow and sun as we entered the basin. The creek wasnít buried, so we had to take our skis off to reach the other side and a good view. Our packs came off and the food bags again came out. Troy even brought his stove and some hotdogs. We knew we had to move and up was our destination.
Early morning in McCall Basin. Old Snowy can barely be seen above the bunch.
Old Snowy slowly came into view as we rounded the basin. By this time the wind was howling. I ended up on the lee side once and had to battle my way back. On the ridge, my face dripped on one half and froze on the other. The gloves and hat cured my misery. I could see Ben and Sky each pounce on the summit before finding cover lower down. With my goal in sight, I sought cover. While I waited for Troy, I took my skins off and asked Ben if he wanted to go up and take a few photos. As Troy pulled in, I climbed the last few feet to the top. Yea, halfway!
Troy nearing the summit.
Sky on the summit.
Troy on the summit.
It was noon.
A nice shelter east of the summit. Ives Peak and Mount Adams can be seen in the background.
We split up on the way down. Ben and I went left cause I thought the bowl would be better. Sky and Troy headed right, the way we came up. The snow was fun as heck. After what mustíve been a hundred turns, we were again at the valley bottom. I pointed my skis to get across as much of the flat as I could. With a big grin and 90mph under my feet I hit icy avalanche debris and headered with elegant grace. Other than bending my new whippets and loosing all my speed at the edge of the flats only my dignity was tarnished.
Jason storms the upper basin.
Jason calms the lower basin.
Leaving the basin was hard, but there is always the upcoming spring. We backtracked through the valleys, forests, riverbeds, streams, snow, and wind until we arrived at the last big uphill. Ben and Troy followed the trail while Sky and I decided to go straight up. Nearly halfway up we began to question if we had made the best decision. Cliffs loomed above and only the possibility of escape presented itself as hope. At that point I would climb the cliffs before I would go back down. Sky agreed, and a small opening allowed us access to the ridge and freedom. Devils Diget was now within sight. Sky and I were stoked that we had beat Ben. Then Sky crushed our resulting smugness, "Dude, I think I see someone." Holly diget! Sky was on a mission to catch Ben and that was the last I saw of him until camp.
Sky crosses one of many creeks on our way back. Let the shuteye begin.
Darkness was eking away at sunlight when I reached camp. I laid in my tent while the wind tore at it. Sky helped me take it down. Packing wasnít easy in the wind and accompanying snow. Ben wouldnít admit he was tired, Sky just laughed, and Troy and I being last implied the truth.
The way down went fast. We pointed our skis and didnít even attempt to enjoy the good snow. At the lodge the restaurant was closed, so we left hungry. Our success, though, satisfied our minds. As for me, Iím glad a forth try isnít necessary.
Click Here for Sky's photos.