Stone Man

On Thursday I set out with the inimitable Erin Smart to explore the friendly and enigmatic Mt. Herman and perhaps ski the notorious Stone Man couloir. Herman is the complex, treed peak rising immediately to the west as you park in the winter Heather Meadows parking lot. Riddled with gullies, ribs and cliffs, it cries out to be skied; Stone Man is the big, obvious couloir staring at you as you make the curve around Picture Lake. As backcountry destinations in Washington go, it's hard to beat: 2000' of fun skiing with almost no flat, character building approach. Our tour took about 5 hours, but it seemed to take place in another world.

We scooted up the Bagley Creek drainage and up the popular approach toward Herman Saddle. Then we veered right to the subtle col just North of said saddle. Here a steep bootpack brought us to the rim of Mazama bowl. This charming little refrigerator of a basin deserves a trip all by itself. I first skied here with Alan Kearney some years ago, and I am always eager to return.

From the lake we headed northeast up a gentle draw. Another steep boot gained us a high col with a beautiful view of Mt. Shuksan. A hard left here is the sneaky key to finding the Stone Man--rather than ski down the inviting fall line, you have to skin up to another col, this one at 6000'. After some sussing and fussing, we figured out that we needed to drop onto the north side via a little chute, then climb another short steep slope to gain the Stone Man (in fatter times, one could likely billy goat steeply in to the couloir directly from the peak immediately south of the 'a' in "Mount Herman" on the USGS quad).

If you have ever been frustrated by Pacific northwest snow, by mashed potatoes or sinister breakable crust, take heart: the day before this tour, I was drowning in heavy muck, carvable where undisturbed and downright mean amongst the tracks. I hadn't been tossed around like that in some time. On our Herman tour we enjoyed the overnight magic of faceting. One cold, clear night had transformed the surface snow to sugar, and every turn of the day brought pure joy. Amazing!

The Stone Man turned out to be really gentle. It's a big, commanding feature from the ski area, but it's fairly wide and not too steep (this is, of course, excluding the steep entry from the adjacent peak). We could barely contain ourselves as we floated down the thing.

A big, recent lateral moraine dominates the big trough in the center of Mount Herman. We skinned up and out of this strangely barren bowl and gained the traditional top-out of the mountain. From there we swooped down the east face, back to Bagley Creek and the quick skin back to the car.

I love skiing.