North Twin Sister, Elevation 6,570ft
March 21, 2003
Ben and I decided to ski North Twin Sister late Thursday evening. I spoiled his easy-going Friday off by calling him to suggest we make a ski descent, and he in turn spoiled my nightís rest by suggesting a characteristically early start time. I left Seattle before four in the morning.
We were hiking up the road from the closed gate around six thirty. It was drizzling lightly for the first several miles. There were patches of snow on the road before the barrier boulders, and we switched to skins when the snow became continuous shortly thereafter. The rain had thankfully changed to snow.
Sky switching from tennis shoes to skins.
Another mile or so and we turned off the road onto the trail. We were treated to copious creek crossings along with a few switchbacks. We broke away from the trail/logging road and skinned cross-country into a basin. Our skins were starting to carry a lot of snow. After a stop to scrape the skins, I tried skinning up some avalanche debris to obviate the scrape stops. Finally, we gave up and switched to plunge-stepping.
Sky climbing in the basin. It's difficult to tell but nearly everything had slid except the route that we were about to climb.
Ben led the way as we traversed to the next basin, below the North Face. The visibility was about ten feet. Ben was concerned about avalanche danger and unknown terrain in the whiteout, especially with the deep, unconsolidated snow. I took the lead, and after a short traverse we found more avalanche debris to follow. When my pace settled into a slow, steady rhythm, Ben took over in his typical gung-ho fashion.
The clouds actually broke, and I could see Ben working his way up a ridge to the right. Mt Baker looked spectacular above a sea of clouds, with a striking rime-iced gendarme framing it in the foreground. I dropped my camera case while taking a picture, and watched it slide out of sight. The ridgeís surface consisted of several inches of fresh snow above a hard, icy base, demanding cautious steps.
Sky making his way towards the summit ridge during one of the few breaks from poor visibility.
When I caught Ben he was taking shelter from the wind next to a large rock. He mentioned how the climb really wasnít worth it with the avalanche danger. Here we were, though, so we traversed the icy ridge to the summit. The sunny summit was shining spectacularly, and I scrambled the last bit while Ben snapped a photo. He was nice enough to carry both of our skis when we decided the ice looked like we could ski it, and I enjoyed the jump turns off the true summit. I took a photo of Ben making a beautifully-exposed jump turn off the summit, but unfortunately I lost my camera before developing the film. Sorry again, Ben.
Sky climbing the summit ridge, which we ended up skiing. The North Face is to his left and Mount Baker can be seen in the background.
The visibility was decreasing. We didnít want to ski the ridge, so we opted for the North Face just below the summit. I asked, "What do you think about the avy danger on this slope?" Ben said something like, "Oh, itís totally unsafe, but so is the rest."
Ben got ready with the camera, and I made a fateful jump turn. As I landed, the impact caused a six-inch slab about twenty feet wide to release. I watched it slide into the void. We picked our way down, each making a few turns at a time. I lost my hat and watched it slide into the fog, too.
Sky dropping into the void. This turn released one of two slabs that we were fortunate to be on top of.
In search of safer ground, I made my way to where I could see an eighteen-inch slab had already released. I made a jump turn, and whoompf, a six-inch slab that might have been the width of a football field released. "OK Ben, I think itís safe over here now." When he reached me he asked, "Did you just do that?" Then he added, "I donít think weíll be finding your hat or camera case."
We followed debris the rest of the way. I found my hat and camera case. At least there werenít any terrain traps below us. We felt better after the traverse. We even found some decent snow in the trees.
Tree skiing below the basin. Part of the West Ridge can be seen in the background.
No, they're not rentals. We actually skied another mile before switching to tennis shoes.
The skin down the road went quickly. The rain returned about a quarter mile from Benís truck. We finished at three thirty, for a total time of nine hours, not too bad for eighteen miles in less-than-ideal conditions. The rain really started coming down as we drove away. When I got home I checked the avalanche forecast, and it had called for high danger. Next time I think I may put a little more thought into the impromptu trip. Lady luck was truly with us, but we might do better not to rely on her so heavily.