ten days in April

Mt. Hardy emerges from a storm

Mt. Hardy emerges from a storm

April 16 

I cross the Columbia under the scrutiny of  ravens. The sun is out in Vantage and I walk Colin through his first lead on rock. He wriggles up a chimney, his back against one wall, his feet against the other. The hexagonal columns, thick as 700-year-old trees, have still not lost their novelty for me. He calls down to check that he has the rope work correct--he does; we climb all day. I know it's a good day when he lowers to the ground, grinning: "That was the gnarliest climb I've ever done!" I drive over Blewett Pass in the setting sun; I look up Ingalls creek valley and wonder what it's like to walk up the thing. I'll have to do that one day. 

April 17

We count 27 goats in a herd just below Snow Creek Wall. Kurt and I ran up to the base to get a look at which routes are dry; the rest of the day is a wasteland of emails, lists, tedium.  I think back two summers: I proposed to Erin halfway up the wall. I think back ten summers to climbing here with Rob, who died soon after on Mt. Kenya. I stand there for too long and get cold.  We look for ticks in the parking lot--it's that season.

Glacier Lilies in Icicle Creek

Glacier Lilies in Icicle Creek

April 18 

Meet a man named Bear in Wenatchee for a safety briefing. Bear works for Rio Tinto, a global mining company. They bought the Holden copper mine when they bought Howe Sound Company; with it they acquired the responsibility for cleaning up the mine. I'm headed there with Dave Jordan to assess some avalanche terrain near the site of their remediation work. The boat ride is lovely as ever, and I pass the time talking to  skipper Steve, who has lived and worked on the lake for a long time. He pulls over to show us some petroglyphs above the high water line: hunters and game. A guy name Matt shows us where the operation nuzzles up against a few 3,500' avalanche paths. We crack beers in our room after dinner and start mapping the slide paths.

April 19

In construction hats and orange safety vests we tour up the big slide paths coming off of Copper and Buckskin mountains. We take waypoints, measure some slope angles, and note the trim-lines. We conjecture about the business of guiding, wonder about the weather this spring. The fortress of Bonanza keeps stealing our gaze, ridges and buttresses rising and twisting toward a summit that remains hidden. We radio constantly as we walk the mine road: "Two walkers from Tailing Pile One to Tailing Pile Two." "Walkers" is what they call the undead in zombie movies. 

PGS guide Dave Jordan snaps a photo of Holden

PGS guide Dave Jordan snaps a photo of Holden

April 20 

Spend the day perusing the weather history for Holden. The weather records were taken by hand for years, and sent by mail down the lake to the National Weather Service. The avalanche forecast, too, would arrive by mail. Now the village has internet; one of the miners, still in his overalls, sat in the remediation project yurt reading the BBC on his laptop. He works 18 days on, 10 days off; it's a dry work camp--no alcohol allowed. They will move the tailing piles away from the creek, resurface them with clean earth, build a retaining wall to capture the runoff, and funnel all the water from the mine site through a treatment plant downstream. The plant will run for a hundred, maybe two hundred years. 

Marten prey on the North Cascades Highway

Marten prey on the North Cascades Highway

April 21

A marten tries to drag a snowshoe hare up the snowbank and away from Highway 20. It's snowing thickly, and he leaves the thing to watch us from the trees at the edge of the road. We watch him back. There are tracks back and forth across the snowbank, and blood on the large grains of spring snow. If he came down the highway a bit he would find an easy ramp up which to drag the hare. But he goes back to the meter-high wall, nearly making the vertical jump with the hare in his jaws. Kurt and I park our car near Lone Fir campground and get a ride from a Mazama friend back up to Easy Pass. We get soaked fighting through tight trees to timber line. Heads down, we find our col and bundle up. My skins are dying--dead--and I have to strap them down aggressively to keep going. We find the next col, where we string cord around a big horn of rock and carve a notch in the cornice. A golden pillar of granitic rock looms overhead as we rappel into the couloir on the north side of Tower Mountain. I'm shivering as I make the munter hitch. I wait for Kurt under the bulging cornice. The ski down is deep, wonderful.

Hungry

Hungry

April 22

We wake up in our snow hole and fight the cold to get out of camp. We tour up larch-studded moraines, the hallmark of dying east-side glaciers. We follow marten tracks through a burnt wood. When we reach the sun on the ridge, we can see Bonanza. Dome Peak, Forbidden, Liberty Bell, and eventually Fury, Baker, and Shuksan emerge as well. Our very small world swells to fill our view, horizon to horizon, and suddenly it doesn't seem like such a small world. We ski another long powder run under the Needles; in a few hours the heat will turn the snow to muck, but we'll be gone by then. 

Kurt Hicks shreds the NE couloir on Tower

Kurt Hicks shreds the NE couloir on Tower

April 23 

Erin comes home from her AMGA Ski Mountaineering Guide's exam in Valdez. It's been a cold, cold ten days. The wind nearly knocked them off the Berlin Wall, she says. She still has tingling in her big toe from the coldest day. She ran into Don Sharaf at Valdez Heli, and a whole slough of people who knew her brother Miles when he worked there. She is effusive, thrilled at her first visit to the Chugach. She has to wait two weeks for her results.

April 26

Drive up the Cascade River road looking for bears but see a coyote instead, bounding frantically out of my way. Snow stops us a mile short of the Eldorado lot, but we walk most of the three miles--it's just too patchy for skinning. We pass a man with both snowshoes and cross-country skis strapped to his pack. He says he has come, as he does most years, to watch avalanches on the north side of Johannesburg. We see a few with him, then continue on. We make it into Boston Basin as the western sky grows grim with high clouds. Curry chicken and brown rice for dinner. I make a note to look up the bird who keeps making that deep, booming call.

Johannesburg catches the morning light

Johannesburg catches the morning light

April 27 

Near the bergschrund on the Quien Sabe glacier we turn around. Clouds and snow have engulfed Johannesburg, and it's a choice between a summit and skiing down with some visibility. I point out Eldorado to the North, and Forbidden with its west and north ridges in profile, and Formidable to the south peering over Mixup. We rip our skins and ski straight down the glacier, weaving ramps and rolls together past bulges of blue ice. Afternoon naps, hot drinks, a little light reading. I dig out the seats in the kitchen to make a more room, and start a grocery list for my next trip. I go to sleep to the sound of the new snow avalanching down the north face of Johannesburg. 

The Kitchen

The Kitchen