July 22, 2002
The spectacular bivy above Price Lake.
After a heated discussion on telemarktips, I was ready to put my truth to the test. It seemed that my mogul and scree measurements somehow led me to believe that I was extreme. I considered heading to Mount Hood to ski the elusive S4 above the bergschrund, camera in one hand, inclinometer in the other. How else was I to prove myself to the masses who rate themselves by diamonds and degrees? After all, that is the point of this website, isn't it?
My first visit to the Price Lake area came the previous year when Jens and I did a first ascent on the backside of Nooksack Tower. Astounded by the solitude and terrain, I made it a point to return. What better time than the present? Unfortunately, the Hummels planned to attend a party at their dad's place and Troy wanted no part of my insanity. My goal was to ski the Price Glacier -- a ghastly chunk of snow and ice between Nooksack Tower and the North Face of Shuksan. I heard that recent climbs were difficult and that to ski it would be impossible (perhaps this was my main reason for going solo).
I had originally planned on a day trip but sans rope, harness and protection, I figured why not throw in the sleeping bag and make it an overnighter. I finished packing at the trailhead after squeezing through an endless mile of overgrown road. There was just enough light to find my way across Ruth Creek, bike in one hand, tennis shoes in the other. The bike proved helpful during the first two miles but I walked most of the third fearing a header in the rocks. Abandon your gizmos in the heavy timber and prepare for the schwack. A faint trail leads to the North Fork Nooksack and a log crossing can be found a short distance upriver. This isn't your typical crossing, especially with skis. I did what I could to shorten my pack but with branches above and raging river below, my stupidimeter was off the scale.
Log crossing on the North Fork Nooksack.
The schwack wasn't as bad as I had remembered. The trail is never more than a stone's throw away and it's pretty obvious when you're on it. I veered a few times and ended up loosing some skin along with a vest that was strapped to my pack. Oh well, I could do without.
My first break came in the moraine above Price Lake. I couldn't tell much from the glacier. There were numerous routes but they all had their faults. Most appeared impassible although my thoughts changed with every step.
Myself in the moraine above Price Lake.
The trail remains obvious until the slope steepens. From there, your guess is as good as mine. I ended up taking a left and heading straight for the ridge. Crampons are advisable unless you enjoy boot-skiing shrubs although two self-arrest grips allowed me to get by with tennis shoes and dirty knees. I began having second thoughts as I meandered my way up the ridge. By the time I reached the snow, I had all but given up. The Price showed very little opportunity for skiing and the sun was continuously tempting me to work on my tan. Nevertheless, my instinct was to keep going. Something had to give.
In need of some discouragement, I decided to call the Hummels. Cell coverage was surprisingly good and I had Josh on the horn within minutes. "Yea dude, the Price was sweet." What? "I skied the Price this morning." How was it? "By far the sketchiest thing I've ever done." Bastard.
It didn't take long for the truth to come out and Josh convinced me to wait until next year for more snow and his company.
The Price Glacier. My two highpoints are seen in red.
With sunny flat rocks, sweet views and abundant water, I was fully tempted to camp where I sat. I could have spent the entire day there but with softening corn at my feet and toasty boots to my side, who could resist making a few turns? I emptied my pack, switched from tennis shoes to boots and set off up the ridge with no particular goal besides having fun. Climbing with a light pack was a joy but my instincts were weighing me down. I didn't go up there to ski 30-degree suncups, I went up there to ski the Price Glacier. Sure it might be impossible but how was I to know without trying.
I climbed within a couple hundred feet of the spectacular bivy before deciding to turn around and retrieve my gear for an attempt on the Price. The ski down was fun but my thoughts were elsewhere. After reditching my overnight gear at the higher camp, I donned my skis and traversed to the base of Nooksack Tower. A short climb led to the bergschrund and after a glance at the snowbridge I was planning to cross, I redonned my skis and traversed right, hoping for a better crossing near the rocks.
The bergschund and chute leading to the standard route up Nooksack Tower.
A jumble of snow led to some dirty 5th class. From there you could climb straight up ~50ft and risk breaking your bones on the jumble of snow or traverse right ~20ft and risk an uncertain death in the depthless moat. Some rappel runners near the top gave me an indication of the difficulty. A sane person might have climbed it with a rope and protection but my insanity couldn't make up for the gear that I lacked.
The rock crossing. I traversed to the highest jumble of snow and considered climbing the rock.
Back to square one. Unfortunately, the snowbridge was even less inviting. Close inspection revealed an overhung sliver of snow that would give a bird nightmares. I should be punished for even considering it.
Back to square one. The snowbridge is behind me.
The snowbridge that I considered crossing.
Back at camp, I gave little thought to the ski. Reminded of my climbing rekindling with Jens the previous year, I took a walk to discover the stopper and sling that we fixed, the nauseating steeps that we climbed and the slab of life that we drank from. Mostly, I was overwhelmed by the views from this place that was as much of a home to me as any.
The slab of life. Notice the water dripping from the sunny snow.
The views. Nooksack Cirque with Icy Peak on the left and Cloudcap Peak on the right. Mount Challenger can be seen in the distant left and another part of the Picket Range in the distant center.
My time and equipment left me with little opportunity to discover so I rested. The sunset was spectacular and the stars were equally delightful. I took some photos to remind myself of the beauty. Afterwards, I slept.
Resting at camp.
Sunset. Price Lake can be seen in the valley at the base of the glacier.
The best part about going to bed in such a place is that you get to wake up and experience it all again. The sunrise and weather gave no exceptions. After a slow breakfast, I packed and headed down. The snow had yet to soften so the ski became a chore. I kept my boots on until I reached the rocky moraine where I switched to tennis shoes for the remainder of the traverse and descent.
Getting ready to leave.
A look back. My camp is near the blue dot and my descent is in red.
I managed to find my vest during the schwack and my fears of the log were put to rest after a fourth successful crossing. The ride down was awkward but it definitely saved some time versus having to walk. My only blunder came during the crossing of Ruth Creek. One of my sandals slipped off in the knee-deep current and proceeded to float away at a dizzying pace. I stumbled a few steps and ended up swimming through a downstream eddy. After loosing the other sandal, bruising my feet and taking an icy bath, I was able to retrieve them both. A minor inconvenience after a weekend of perfection.
What a dissappointment. No 60-degree moguls, 50-degree scree, rockfall, icefall… Just a tempting schrud to prevent my boast. Truth is, I felt better about the hike than the climb and I would have traded my skis and boots for a week's worth of food in a heartbeat.
So, what's the point? For those who don't already know, take another look at the photos and see if you can figure it out for yourself.