A Week at "Home"
Words by: Kat Parks
Photos by: Cayman Waughtel
Our avalanche conditions and forecasted problems finally lessened enough that we felt comfortable entering steeper terrain again which happened to line up perfectly with a gorgeous weather week and a planned 5 days off.
We hadn’t been to the Crystal backcountry since late January due to the persistent slab plague so our trip to the burn zone was both welcoming and humbling. We always talk about the snow but it’s different when talking about the snow in terrain that isn’t steep enough to slide versus talking about it in terrain that is. Through areas that felt more wind effected, we skinned one at a time and although nothing came of the small wind slabs that cracked under our skis, we adjusted our skin track accordingly. We deployed our ski crampons for yet another time this season and had the entire zone and Upper C lot completely to ourselves.
Using radios, we leap frogged down our runs and paused occasionally to watch the surrounding peaks and bowls fill with light as the clouds lifted. The weather was even more varied than the snow conditions and we experienced light flurries, full-on nuking, less than a minute of freezing rain, graupel, and ended with blue skies. The snow was perfect and we skied beautiful powder, dust on crust, and ice before the sun came out making the snow heavy and cueing us to leave.
The bummer for the day was when Pippy had a run-in with a resort rat snowboarder in the parking lot that left him with two slices: one on his front right paw and one on his rear left lower leg. I used my best WFR skills to clean the wounds and patch him up in the lot and redressed everything once we got home. Our boy is just fine and the wounds are healing incredibly well.
As beautiful as Tahoma is to look at, I often find myself staring out at the Tatoosh instead when touring near Paradise and it was a goal of mine to tour the Tatoosh this season now that I am more confident in my ski skills. I don’t think that we could have picked a better day to get out and enjoy this new-to-us zone as the skies were mostly clear, the temps were warm, and N aspect skiing meant near perfect snow.
The skin in was straight forward with no one in front of us and only one group behind and the sounds of spring were everywhere. The sounds of spring were so loud at one point that I thought a bird was stalking me and chirping incessantly until I realized that what I was hearing were my ski boots rhythmically squeaking with every skin stride and I took note that a drop of lube on each pivot was necessary before my next tour.
Our final push to the ridge above the bowl was easy enough with a couple final kick turns to get us to the top. Pahto, Loowit, Tahoma, and the surrounding Tatoosh peaks kept us company as we snacked and watched the following group of 4 make their way to the ridge. We hung out a bit at the top before dropping in and making turns through the most beautifully supportive and playful snow of the season.
I was definitely self-conscious because it turned out that the other group was Dallas Glass and his entourage and I thanked my body for putting in symmetrical quick turns the entire way down the bowl while they watched.
A second lap was necessary so we quickly transitioned and shot back up to the ridge for a full run down to Reflection. The final pitch to the lot was probably the hardest because it is near 40° and happened to also be sun baked. I watched roller balls form as I made my turns and was relieved to make it down with my pride intact and happy that I didn’t crash and burn on that final pitch as a group of the MRNP road crew stood at the bottom and watched my descent. Several seasons ago when I led snowshoe trips for REI I remember watching people ski down that pitch and thought I’d never be able to ski (or want to ski) something that steep. I have a long way to go in my backcountry skiing ability in relation to the objectives I’d like to attempt but thinking back to that time was a good reminder of how far I’ve come in only 3 years of having skis on my feet.
At this point, I’m going to stop writing and go ride my bike because it’s the time of year where ski touring and mountain biking can easily happen within 24 hours of one another.