Old Snowy, Elevation 7,930ft
Winter 1999, December 29
Old Snowy from Lutz Lake. Ski descent from the summit is in red and continues down the basin to where the snow meets the thick trees. Mount Gilbert is seen on the far left. Note this photo was taken duringSpring 99.
One thing I like about going to school in western Washington is the lack of sun. I don't mind wind, rain and snow but when it's sunny out and I'm stuck in the city I tend to get sick. I feel like I should be doing something besides work, study, sleep, eat, etc. I've thought about seeing a doctor but I'm afraid that mountains are the only medication for this kind of illness. This trip was part of my medication during winter break of Y2K. It turned out to be a heavy dose.
I wasn't sure whether we could ski Old Snowy in a day, especially this time of year when the days are short and cold. I'd driven to the trailhead a few days earlier so I knew we wouldn't have to ski the road. Everything made sense on paper -- 20 miles round trip with 10 hours of light. A 2mph average seemed reasonable. We decided to start around 5am just in case.
The weather was unusual for this time of year. We were in the midst of a dry spell that seemed to last weeks. The timing was great as we were about to ring in a new millennium and I had a couple weeks off from school. I was in the midst of a healing spell. I called Doctor Hummel and we made plans to meet at a turnoff on Highway 12. I got there at 4am and Josh showed up shortly after. We drove down the road a ways and stopped where it was no longer plowed. Josh left his truck there and we both pilled in the Mazda. The remaining 5 miles of road tested my ability to stay in the foot deep ruts. We managed to spin our way there without having to put on chains.
We were hiking by 6am in a mix of dirt and snow. I was glad to have a headlamp. Josh settled for leftovers until the sun took over. We made it to the PCT after several hours of mishap. Josh's camelback sprung a leak and one of his skins ripped in two. I was a little annoyed until a screw in my binding came loose and I became the putz. Problems like this are usually reserved for the Hummels. It seems I had a kink in my ski. Anyway, it left a kink in my ego but we decided to keep going even though we were losing precious time.
We continued on the PCT before traversing to the basin. The relatively low snowpack allowed us to follow the trail without getting lost. Being familiar with the area also helped. There was almost a foot of fresh powder in the trees so we weren't worried about getting lost on the way out, as our tracks would be easy to follow. We eventually made it to the foot of the basin. The view was spectacular. It was obviously winter and we were in the middle of nowhere but neither of us seemed to mind.
Entering the basin. The summit can be seen on the skyline directly above Josh.
It was just past noon and we knew what we had to do -- one and a half hours to the top. Getting back was not a concern at this point. All we wanted to do was make it to the top and go from there. I stopped to take a few photos as we made our way up the basin. The light was spectacular and the shadows made it even more unreal.
Almost there. The final step to the summit is seen on the left with the north side of Mount Adams in the background.
Josh making his way to the top. The trailhead is near the furthest snow that can be seen in the forested valley below.
We were on top by 2pm. It's a strange feeling being on top of a mountain in the middle of winter with three hours of light and 10 miles of skiing left. This would be a great place to do a sales pitch for cellular phones although I despised the thought of being heard. Solitude was part of the reason for going and I'd hate to see this aspect destroyed by mindless technology.
Our 5-minute summit break turned into a 30-minute lounge. We found some shelter from the wind, which helped to trap what little heat the sun had to offer. I spent most of my time wandering back and forth looking for the best photo opportunity. Meanwhile I managed to eat some food and drink some water. The rest of the time was spent digging. It was two days before Y2K so we had hoped to at least sign the summit register but it was buried somewhere beneath the snow where it remained. We were more than content to share the glory amongst ourselves.
On top. Josh removes hisskins for the ski down. Mount Rainier dominates the background.
Looking west towards Goat Lake from the summit. The lake is covered in snow and ice and remains that way through much of the summer.
At 2:30pm we decided it was time to go so we left. Josh skied with his usual aggression. I ended up paralleling (versus telemark) most of the way down because I didn't want to risk having my binding come loose again. The snow was icy until we reached the trees where it turned from powder to mush and eventually to dirt as we made our way from nearly 8000ft (summit) to 3000ft (trailhead).
Josh catches some air during the first few turns.
The snow wasn't exactly what we had hoped for but it did provide a quick and painless descent. We made it back around 5pm with a little light to spare. The timing worked out and we couldn't have asked for better weather. It's amazing how skis combine an 8-hour ascent into a less than 3-hour descent making a trip like this worthwhile. I'd like to make this a part of every winter break. Unfortunately, the snowplows often work against us -- blocking the road and adding another 10 miles to the journey. I hope I'm never that sick.