New Back Yard

The day after Christmas I went out for a day in my new back yard. Snoqualmie Pass deceives with its scant 3,000' of elevation: complex mountain terrain abounds here, and the winter brings it to life in a special way.

I recently moved to North Bend, Washington to work with Martin Volken and his fine team at Pro Guiding Service. Martin promised to make me rich and famous, but what really sold me was the espresso machine in his shop. I firmly believe that quality alkaloids and caffeine help weather-proof a mountain guide.

I frequented Alpental valley in college. My grades typically flagged as high pressure settled in, and I would tromp around looking for ice to climb. One day last week while teaching a course I spied some distinctly white runnels on  Chair Peak, and couldn't resist the allure of our uniquely cascadian alpinism.

The approaching front managed to follow me up the valley, and I reached the north slope of Chair in a tempest. I wallowed over to the start of the North face route, and turned around at the very dry look of the opening chimney, which happened also to appear incompatible with the skis on my back. So I wallowed back around to the toe of the Northeast buttress, and there I found some good ice. I won't dwell overlong on the aesthetic gratification of that special auditory and tactile 'thunk,' but let's say that today it was especially reassuring in the gale and pouring spindrift.

On top I got to feel sheepish. Just to enter the south side gully, which I had hoped to maybe ski, required some thoughtful downclimbing; it remained rocky and scoured for its whole length. Maybe next time. At the col, rather than rappel, I stepped around the cornice and downclimbed, eager to get out of the wind. I shook snow out of all my pockets and hoods and then clicked into my skis. I took a look around at my great new back yard, then headed down. My car, just a half hour away, was waiting to take me by Pro Ski for nice cup of espresso.