I’ve been dreaming of traversing the entire Stuart Range on skis for years. Over a period of five days last week, Erin Smart and I threaded a fantastic line across the range from east to west.
Everyone who has been into the Enchantments knows that getting there takes some motivation and a decent amount of effort. We spent most of our first day hiking up the Snow Creek trail, until we were able to start skinning near Nada Lake. That night ended at Leprechaun Lake without making a single turn.
The second day dawned with calm, cloudy conditions and we were soon on our way for the first turns of the trip. A mellow skin up Little Annapurna had us at our first summit. Firm and fast turns took us down to the Snow Creek Glacier under the east side of Dragontail. From here, we booted to the summit and hoped for it to clear. It didn’t.
We ended up booting over to the top of the Pandora Couloir, which is what we recommend calling the sw-facing gully that drops down from Pandora’s Box to Colchuck Col. Conditions were edgeable, but engaging, while dropping into the milk with 50’ visibility. Another quick boot took us to the summit of Colchuck and more time spent waiting for it to clear. Then it was down the south face of Colchuck and around a sub-ridge at 7400’ and a glide towards Argonaut.
The east gully of Argonaut was a bit unknown for us, but it ended up providing a quick climb to a tiny col. We had hoped to climb to the summit, but visibility was still nil and we bagged the idea. From the col, a fantastic SW couloir took us down to snowline around 5400’ in Ingalls Creek. That night we camped at the base of the Cascadian and slept serenely on dirt. What a luxury for April!
Day three began sunny and warm for our ascent of the Cascadian. We carried skis once again for a while to gain the snow. After tagging the summit (in the whiteout again), we skied from the false summit down the Sherpa Glacier into Mountaineer Creek basin. I’ve never tired of the fantastic camping under the north side of Stuart. We lounged about, pondering what the second half of the traverse entailed, over many afternoon coffees.
We knew that the fourth day was going to be long. Up we went to the Stuart Glacier, then did a quick ski of a mini-Slot Couloir down towards Stuart Lake. Our next climb took us to Jack Lake and up over the ridge just west of Point 7492 (Dudley Spire). The following east facing descent and glide into the head of Eightmile Creek was a nice surprise. The next few hours were the slowest going of the tour as we climbed up and over Point 7793. The descent off this summit towards Eightmile Mountain may be the technical crux of the entire route. We were able to downclimb some exposed snow on the north face, but others may want a rope here. Another climb had us atop Eightmile Mountain in short order, pondering which line we should take—we decided on the NE Face since we couldn’t see the North Couloir. Camp at Little Caroline Lake was a welcome site after the biggest day of the tour. Steady winds and blowing snow tempered any remaining psyche we had for good weather.
Cashmere Mountain stands alone from the rest of the Stuart Range, but its dominance over the Icicle Valley is undeniable. Finally after four full days in mostly whiteout conditions, we were overjoyed to awake to sun. With just daypacks, we cruised over to Cashmere, finding just enough snow to make it go on the south slopes. We soaked up the warm rays of the sun and took in the view while waiting for the South Couloir to soften. Of all of the summits I’ve been to in the Cascades, this has to be one of the most spectacular vistas. It was a special moment and we savored it.
We exited the traverse via the trail from Lake Caroline and walked down the closed road to our second car at Icicle Creek.
This traverse is highly recommended. After skiing the Spearhead, Haute Route, and Chiwaukum Traverses in the past month, this tour is better than all of those. Excellent fall-line skiing, varied terrain, and incredible views make it a classic.
Stats: 46 miles, 23,000’ gain
Summits: Little Annapurna, Dragontail, Colchuck, Stuart, Pt. 7793, Eightmile Mountain, Cashmere Mountain. (And almost Argonaut)