I had an amazing day today in my local alpine backyard of Snoqualmie Pass.  It was apparent a few days ago that Wednesday was going to be a clear (or mostly so) sunny day in the Cascades…and one that happens to fall at the end of a long dry spell–meaning that conditions for alpine climbing were going to be good, if not excellent.  I schemed up a plan with my guiding buddy Lyle for a late-start day mission objective, given his inability to leave Seattle until about 7:30am.  There aren’t that many options for winter routes that meet our criteria (late start and a shaded aspect), so we chose to have a go on the North Face of Chair Peak.  I woke at the very sane hour of 7am and rendezvoused with Lyle in North Bend shortly thereafter.

Approaching Chair Peak

The approach is a familiar one after spending a good bit of time here this winter and in years past.  We set a nice moderate pace and found ourselves skinning up to the base of the route about two hours after leaving the car, just shy of eleven in the morning.

The north side of Chair Peak

We climbed the route in three pitches, after Lyle opted to not build a belay atop the first pitch.  Conditions were icy on the face and, as such, I didn’t mind a bit of simul-climbing in lieu of pitched climbing given the solid conditions.

Finishing up pitch two

Starting pitch 3

Arriving at the belay on pitch 3

The remaining pitches went smoothly and soon we were basking in the sun near the summit.  I hadn’t climbed the route in almost a decade, so it was quite fun to take in the view, soak up some rays from the windless sky, and enjoy our ascent of a true Cascade classic.  Since we had carried our skis up the route, we decided that we may as well make use of them on the descent.  After a short false start (in the wrong gully…it had been a decade after all), we found ourselves making jump turns down the descent route towards the rap station.

False Start!

The alternate couloir

…and the real descent gully!

Lyle skiing down to the rappel station

A  short rappel and some downclimbing positioned us for a 2500′ ski back to the car.  What a great day in my backyard!

Autumn is a dynamic season in the Cascades.  With finicky weather that is rapidly transitioning—from the perfect rock climbing days of late summer to the rainy-ness of fall—all types of mountain activities are possible.  The key is to watch the weather and match the activity with the forecast.  Last week my friend, and guide extraordinaire, Forest McBrian and I went on a backcountry ski mission to Mount Baker after seeing two days of precipitation accompanied by low snow levels in the forecast.  We were not disappointed!

After a really reasonable start from Seattle (6AM!), we found ourselves at the Hogsback Camp on the north side of Mount Baker around 9:30AM.  Approach conditions were perfect and we hiked to the bottom of the glacier in tennis shoes under cloudless and windless skies.

There were about eight other skiers in front of us and various skin tracks criss-crossed up Heliotrope Ridge.  They made our 1000 vertical foot laps quick and efficient.

The conditions were good; no, wait, they were excellent.  We skied a few laps, chasing the last shaded north-facing aspects to harvest the best snow into the mid-afternoon.

Let’s hope that it was the first of many great days this coming ski season!

I just have time for a quick photo journey up the Fisher Chimney route on Mt. Shuksan that I did with Adrian and Juan a couple weeks ago.  The Fisher Chimneys is a beautiful line, with a very reasonable approach, that offers varied and interesting climbing throughout the year.  From a beautiful valley approach, to fun and easy climbing in the Chimneys, then a bit of steep ice, glacier walking, and a fine summit rock ridge, it’s the definition of a well-rounded alpine route.  On our trip, we found excellent conditions on the route itself, although we did spend a couple days near Lake Anne waiting for the rain to cease before we started up.  A highly recommended trip!

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Last week I made a short trip to the Canadian Rockies–home to the best ice climbing in the world–to take the AMGA Ice Instructor Assessment.  This is a relatively new requirement for guides pursuing the AMGA Alpine Guides Certification, which I am.  Highlights of the trip included climbing some routes that I hadn’t been on in a long time, tying in with co-worker Andrew Yasso (a man who’s impersonations are second to none!), driving on the Icefields Parkway on a bluebird winter day, and getting to work with my friend (and AMGA examiner) Dale Remsberg.  I’ll let photos tell the rest of the story.

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I spent last weekend shadowing an AIARE Level 2 avalanche course run by the American Alpine Institute.  We spent the first day in the classroom, then the next three were split up between the Mt. Baker Ski Area and a classroom in Glacier, WA.  Just a couple of quick shots for the moment.  More to come later.

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