Winchester Mountain, Elevation 6,521ft
March 17, 2002
Looking back at Winchester from Twin Lakes. My climb is in green and my ski descent is in red.
It's lonely up north. Especially when your friends are 2 hours away and you have no TV or telephone. I had been working in Bellingham for little over a month. I was enjoying my job but the weekends were falling apart. Normally I would jump in the car with my brother or the Hummels and hit the hills. Now we had 2 hours along I-5 before we could even talk.
We sent a few emails that week and by Friday night I realized I was on my own. The weather wasn't worth a drive in either direction so I decided to head towards Baker by myself. Saturday was windy and cloudy so I sat it out. The plan for Sunday was to head towards Twin Lakes. I'd never been there but the Hummels raved about surrounding peaks that tempted them the previous summer. My alarm was set for 3am and I was skinning up the snowed in road well before sunrise. I'm not sure why I got such an early start. Perhaps the clear sky. Perhaps a temptation to climb something beyond reach. Perhaps I was just tired of sitting on my butt.
I wasn't sure how far it was until I passed a sign that said 7 miles to Twin Lakes. The first few miles weren't a problem. Someone had broken trail through 6-12" of fluff. The tracks took a wrong turn where the road flattens out so I was forced to break trail the remaining 5 miles. Not a problem since my mind was elsewhere. Most likely in one of the numerous powder filled chutes on either side of the valley. The final switchbacks were a pain but I made it to the lakes in no time. The view was amazing. Unfortunately, I had brought my point-and-shoot camera and only had 5 or 6 photos left. I didn't really have a plan but I wasn't ready to go down. Winchester Mountain looked tempting so I decided to give it a shot. The 1.5-mile trail on the map crossed a burly slope that I wasn't willing to skin. Avalanche danger was high and I was by myself 5 miles from nowhere. The East Ridge looked safer for my air-entrained lungs. I wasn't sure that it would go but there was only one way to find out.
I skirted south of the first lake and followed the trail to the East Ridge. The cornices were impressive and the valley to the north was insanely steep and deep. I kept my distance and continued up the ridge until I could no longer skin. I packed my skis and within a few steps I could no longer hike. The vertical drifts were too soft to climb so I ended up traversing west and climbing some trees, literally.
Myself in the midst of steep trees looking south towards Twin Lakes, Goat Mountain and Mount Shuksan.
I finally made it back to the open ridge. This is the section that I wasn't sure I could climb. There were a few sections that were steeper than I imagined but the snow felt stable and I'm used to breaking trail regardless of who's behind me. Besides, I was too close to turn around and I had plenty of time and energy left. I took a photo of Mount Larrabee before finishing it off.
Myself on the East Ridge looking north towards Mount Larrabee.
The final step was scary to climb, let alone ski. I had to bury my ski poles to keep from falling backwards. However, it was short and I made it to the summit plateau in no time. I caught my first glimpse of Tomyhoi Peak and it ended up being my last. By the time I set my pack down to get the camera everything had clouded over. Well, almost everything. I could still see to the south but my reason for returning was hidden. I spent a few minutes walking in circles around the cabin waiting for it to clear. No luck.
The summit cabin under cloudy skies.
Fearing the ski down the ridge, I decided to traverse west. This route worked out pretty well as I was able to ski powder through trees most of the way. I made it back to Twin Lakes around noon. If the weather had been any better I would have taken another lap but with clouds and an empty camera, the decision to leave was easy.
I still had 7 miles of road to ski but it was mostly downhill. The flats made me wish for a snowmobile. At least a pair of nordics. I blew past a few snowshoers during the final few miles. This made me feel a little better about my heavy skis and boots.
The road from above the flats. Twin Lakes is just beyond the saddle, roughly 3 miles from where I'm standing.
Twin Lakes is a beautiful place in the winter but it's difficult to justify 14 miles of road for a day trip. Three days would be ideal. I might catch Larrabee this spring but the rest will have to wait until I can afford a helicopter. At least a day off work.
I made it back to Bellingham around 3pm. Another week of work and weekend of wonder.