Alaska Mountain Powder Fest

With relentless storms battering the North Cascades--and a wounded Cascade River Road--I relocated a recent Forbidden Tour further south. With Mike, Andy, and Erin I headed north from Snoqualmie Pass toward the Chikamin High Route.

A very sunny first day saw us up Commonwealth creek and over the Kendall Catwalk. Powder lay cold and thick over our route, and we made sure to get a few turns in on the way to camp at Gravel Lake.

The following day we awoke to howling winds. On the ridge above, huge plumes of snow whipped like pennants. With steep ground and crucial stability calls guarding the way northward, we were stuck. We wiled away the hours with chocolate, whiskey, and vigorous shoveling. A few salvos of infectious song quoting escalated, culminating in my ruthless rendition of Def Leperd's "Le's get Rocked." All parties involved quickly agreed that we should quit, as someone could get hurt. At nightfall the wind fell and the snow began to fall intensely. We picked up 6 inches in about two hours before we were finally able to take a rest from shoveling and get some sleep. The crowns were plentiful come morning!

Day three we re-organized: without enough time to finish our planned arc behind Chikamin and around to Alta, we headed for Alaska Lake. On the way we found great snow on a broad, 1,200 foot north-facing ridge. We dropped overnight gear at the lake's outlet and headed up the steep south side of Alaska mountain.

Alaska is great ski peak. Its committing southeast face is very alluring from Gold Creek, but few ever make it up to try (I think the majority of ski visitors to Alaska are participants in AMGA ski guide's courses). We skied back down our line of ascent, connecting cruddy pow in the big trees. We avoided rope work where in the past I have been cliffed out. Satisfied with a long, fine day of skiing, we made camp and enjoyed the free running water at the lake's outlet.

Our final day we headed back toward the Catwalk, where a fun, skis-on rappel lead back to the Commonwealth drainage. Here we claimed the sweet powder through which we had climbed on day. Amazingly unaltered by three days of weather, it provided a fine finish to a great trip.

On the run back to the highway, I found myself daydreaming of a certain long, steep couloir we had spied...