Mount Larrabee, Elevation 7,861ft
West Face, 45+ degrees
April 12-13, 2003
Mount Larrabee from near the summit of Winchester. Our climb is in red and our ski is in blue. American Border Peak can be seen on the left.
If you had said I would summit anything, Iíd have said, "No way." With a marginal forecast and an even more marginal desire to inundate ourselves in the storm, Ben and I set our sights once again on Mount Larrabee. Our goal this time was far from guaranteed, but with nearby powder stashes and a cabin to boot, we were up for an attempt. What the heck, forecasts are never right anyhow. And if it is, who cares, more snow will only make skiing down low that much better.
I left the house early, and met Ben right on time. I made my way up the Baker Highway like a madman until Ben told me to slow down. Turning up the Twin Lakes road my only concern (Benís was still my speed) was, "How far will we get." Merely a half a mile up we stopped to look at the Price Glacier. I was interested in giving it a go, but Ben thought the avi danger would be too much to risk even bothering. He figured, "If I go, I will climb. Since it's stupid to climb, why go?" I reluctantly agreed.
Right before the flats, snow blocked the way. I didnít even think about it. Ben jokingly prodded, "Go for it!" I laughed and we talked about those numerous times where we did try and the resulting excavations and wasted hours.
With 6 miles of road ahead, Ben took the lead and I followed. Snow flurries attacked us with giant wet flakes that as soon as they landed melted. My favorite, by the way. Faster than I expected, we were at Twin Lakes. The sun even decided to make a cameo and we could see the top of Winchester, or destination for the day.
Jason with his Capri Sun and Lunchables. What grade are you in? The summit of Winchester is barely visible in the background.
We crossed the lake and proceeded up and to the left, which leads into a large couloir allowing easy access to the upper mountain. At the top in a col we caught sight of Larrabee and sketched our imaginary route before the clouds again covered it.
At the Bellingham Hiking Clubís cabin or at least the top of it (that is all we could see), we hoped our shoveling efforts would be kept to a minimum. On the far side a wind drift left the door clear of nearly all snow. To enter, we merely had to brush away the snow. There were a few cots, a stove, pots, pans, and most importantly an abode from the storm. If you decide to go to the cabin, respect it and if you stay send a donation to the Club or even help lug a few propane containers to the top (5 gallon containers, by the way).
Jason standing on top of our home for the night.
Outside the wind and snow had stopped. We decided to ski down the north side of Winchester in order to discover the easiest way down. The snow was good, fun as heck in fact. I soon found myself faced with steeper and steeper terrain. Below felt to be a bonafide cliff. "Figures," I thought disgustingly. I traversed west until I saw a route that looked like it would go. I pointed it out to Ben when he showed up and we both agreed we would head there in the morning. Yes, we are optimistic. Itís the mindset that sets you up for success. We are always willing to try.
That night the grub was on: sausage, top ramen, canned pears (the best), and much more. Before bed the wind picked up and the snow came down. Freshezz!
In the morning, before light, we looked outside and had a glimmer of hope. "Itíll go!"
Jason nearing the West Face of Larrabee. Winchester is the second peak above and behind him (the cabin, our camp).
We skied down the ridge and then headed north and up to another ridge. We followed this ridge until it faded. From there, we skinned across the basin beneath the South Face and struggled up deep snow until we were on the West Face. This was Josh and my high point several years ago. I was feeling it now. All we have to do is go up, attain the upper face, and summit. Yea! "Youíre going down!" We climbed up several couloirs to reach the upper face, now two black dots in a world of white. We stopped and put on more cloths. Good thing because the weather only got worse.
It was a bit windy on the South Face but visibility sufficed.
All heck broke loose on the West Face but we were too close to turn around now.
Somehow, there we were with no mountain above and one heck of a slope below. We looked off the North Face and we both grumbled, "Steep." A cliff usually is I guess. I had Ben stay put while I snapped a photo. The summit endured our presence only as long as our skis took to get on our feet and cameras at our sides before we were off and running.
Jason on the summit of Mount Larrabee. I guess you'll have to take our word on this.
The top wasnít bad and we were enjoying the ride. Small slabs broke off and our concern was mainly focused on avoiding each other while summarily keeping within sight. Looking back, I can now see our focus shouldíve been partially concentrated on our tracks. It seems, before we knew it, we were a world away with 3000 feet of alien slopes below. The wind and snow howled at us while we stood on a very steep slope waiting for a glimmer of light to show us the way. After 15 minutes I told Ben we should move. He mumbled, "Go ahead." Swallowing my own fear, I ventured down into the unknown and picked a couloir I thought would go. Below me the slope only steepened. Now I was worried. I knew there were big cliffs and dead ends but the wind and fog didnít relinquish. My commitment was made; the slope was too icy for any other option. When Ben pulled up above me, I didnít need to explain my concerns. The reality was plain to see. He sideslipped by me and I followed down the tight chute. Just as it seemed we were doomed an exit into another chute opened the way to freedom. A good chunk of my base was left on the rocks as I exited.
Jason making some turns just below the summit.
Jason dropping into the unknown.
There was still a good deal of skiing below us. Going down and traversing north, with the fear now gone, we appreciated the terrain with each turn bounced. This is what it is all about. I took more pics since much of the way we took only a few.
Down at the valley bottom, we climbed back up to the ridge then traversed back to the saddle. The cliff on the back of Winchester seemed to have a plausible route. Ben took charge while I finished packing my stuff. Next I saw Ben, he was just below a very steep and tight ravine. "Will it go?" I shouted and Benís optimistic answer was of course yes. I gave him the benefit of doubt. As I neared the top Ben said, "Stop, I need a photo." Snap.
Jason climbing a steep chute on our way back to camp.
Back at the cabin, our stuff flew into our packs in random disorder. I wasnít bummed that I was leaving because I knew Iíd be back. On the way down all I could think was, "No way." Sometimes weather just adds to the challenge and this weekend we had a satisfying journey into its clutches.