December 11, 2013

Lil' Bucky

Last weekend I returned to Whidbey Island for the second year in a row to capitalize on the deer overpopulation problem during Washington's late archery season.  Thanks to the hospitality of Ann and Ron and the hunting, tracking, and processing support of Kris, Evan, and Pat, I was able to come home with about 65 lbs of meat.  Here's the story . . .

During an intense and grueling two day hunt, I valiantly sat my post in the semi-heated barn.  With temperatures reaching a high of about 29 degrees, this was no easy task.  All day Saturday, nothing walked into the yard until about 10 minutes after it was too dark to shoot.

Sunday morning was uneventful as well.  At 10:00, with no action in the yard, I decided to walk down the street to scope the neighborhood and adjacent properties that we had permission to hunt on.  On this walk I found two does that happened to be flirting with a property line: one side I had permission to hunt on, the other I did not.  Although I was within 10 yards of one of them at one point, the opportunity to arrow it just wasn't right.  Still trying to get a safe shot at the doe, I hear Evan running down the street calling my name and saying "3-point".  I run back to the barn to find that I missed what would likely have been an easy 20 yard shot at a 3-point buck that passed through the yard.

I was disheartened with my bad luck, but more determined than ever to not miss the next opportunity.  I spent the rest of the day in the barn, even after the Seahawks-49ers game started and my support crew vacated to warmer climes with a television set.  At 4:20 pm in GMU 420, a two-point buck ventured into the yard for the last time.  At about 40 yards, the buck was facing me and wouldn't present a shot.  After taking a couple steps closer, he turned mostly broadside, quartering to me just a little.  I drew and released, determined not to make the same mistake I made earlier in the year with my elk.  I made what I thought was a good shot and heard a solid thump that sounded like a good hit, but I couldn't see where my arrow struck.  The deer walked away a few yards, at which point I took a follow up shot.  I guessed it was at 50 yards at that point, but was probably more like 45 based on the fact that my second arrow missed high.  The buck continued to slowly walk off.  At this point I decided to let it walk into the woods, lie down, and die. 


After a half hour (and after dark), Kris, Evan, Pat, and I went in search of my deer.  I found my first arrow buried solidly into the frozen ground a few yards beyond where the deer stood during my first shot, the shaft and fletching covered in blood.  We went to the point where I last saw the deer and found more blood, then the trail became very difficult to follow.  A combination of random searching and failed attempts to follow the blood trail made the search seem futile.  Pat eventually found more blood about 40 yards from the last sign.  Evan was able to continue following the sparse trail where there was typically one drop of blood every 6 to 10 feet.  Eventually Kris and I returned from our search where we attempted to follow the most likely path an injured deer would take (downhill on well-traveled trails) and we all worked to find and follow the blood trial.  The slow and tedious process got us about 200 yards by 8:30, at which point Kris and Evan needed to abandon the search and return to Seattle for work on Monday.  Pat and I opted to stay and continue the search on Monday morning.

At first light, Pat and I were again on the trail where we had flagged it the previous night.  The next blood sign would not reveal itself.  I told Pat to keep looking in the vicinity of the last blood spot while I went ahead and searched in the most likely direction of travel.  I followed a game trail into a small drainage.  About 100 yards from where we were searching, and just uphill from the bottom of the drainage, I noticed a couple of fir trees that looked like they should have deer beds under them.  I went over and found a good spot of blood in one of the beds.  I knew my deer had spent some time here and excitedly went to get Pat and tell him to move up to where I was and continue tracking.  As I returned, I noticed the deer about 10 yards past the bed I had found.  It had apparently been dead most of the night and signs of an overnight scavenger were apparent.  Thanks to the scavenger (raccoon?) going for the belly cavity and the very cold temperatures, all the meat was in fine shape.  The autopsy revealed that my arrow missed its mark by about an inch and a half, most likely enough on a quartering toward shot to result in a single lung hit.  Even so, the deer only traveled about 300 yards and likely died within 30 minutes.


In conclusion, I feel real good about the shot I made.  Each time I make an archery kill, I feel increasingly calm.  Calm is perhaps not the right word, but less uncontrollably excited at any rate.  At this stage in my hunting career, I maintain that any buck taken with a bow is a good buck!  As my first legitimate archery buck, Lil' Bucky's antlers are going on the wall.  Thanks to Lil' Bucky for my nearly overflowing freezer.

September 17, 2013

The Bittersweet Archery Elk

In late September 2010, Jake took me archery elk hunting in Oregon.  We hunted the last four days of the season and he taught me an amazing amount in those four days.  We chased many elk during the rut, and I learned multiple things each time I failed.  This experience triggered a response more potent than I could have imagined.

As soon as that first hunt was over, I couldn't wait for the following September.  By 2011, I was living in Washington and took it upon myself to learn to hunt a new area.  Somewhere in there, I convinced Kris to buy a bow and hunt with me, finding myself a mentor after only four field days of tutelage.  I did a bunch of research to find an area I thought I could find elk, and off we went.  Turns out I have a knack in Washington for finding elk, but as is the nature of archery hunting, finding them is often times the easy part.  I got close to elk, heard lots of bugles, and generally had at least one amazing experience per day.  I began to think of hunting as hiking with a purpose - a potential to fill the freezer - but I never managed to get a shot.  Leaving empty handed was almost anticipated this first year of hunting without Jake, but I measured success in terms of enjoyment of hiking in the wilderness, learning, and studying elk in their natural environment.  I quickly developed an intense appreciation for how amazing these animals are.

In 2012, I was more optimistic about filling the freezer.  I had a few more close calls, but by the end of it I had still not shot an arrow at an elk.  Later that year, I shot my first big game animal with my bow, a blacktail deer on Whidbey Island.  As tasty as that deer was, the success was not the same as I had envisioned in rising to the challenge of harvesting an elk in the wilderness. . . which brings us to this year.

During the first week of September (and the fist of only two weeks of early archery season in Washington), Kris and I both took off a week of work.  On opening morning, I almost snuck up on a feeding cow elk while still hunting (moving extremely slowly and quietly through the forest in attempt to sneak up on something that you don't even know is there).  For all of this Washington hunting, we've both had a tag for cow or spike, with branch antlered bulls reserved for lucky people who draw one of the limited tags.  So, of course, on day two I find myself 25 yards from a broadside 6-point bull.  With a bull tag, I could have shot him mid-bugle.  The next day we're hunting/scouting a new area.  That night I'm sitting in what I think is a likely spot for an elk to walk by, and right before dark I hear a few of them crashing through the forest.  They're not close enough to shoot and they're moving far too fast.  Instinctively, I head in the direction they were heading, even though by this point it's too dark to shoot.  In doing this, I find a meadow which we will call "Golden Meadow".  Although there are no elk here, I assume this is where they were heading.  I immediately decide to come back to Golden Meadow (GM) tomorrow night with Kris and wait in ambush.  That night I walked back to our camp during the grandest lightening storm and hardest rain I've ever experienced.

The following evening, I station Kris at one side of the meadow and set myself up at the other.  After I'm situated, I nock an arrow . . . it's then that realize there is something wrong with my bow.  During the previous night's return to camp, my bowstring caught on a stick, slipped off the upper cam, and bent the cam in the process.  This rendered my bow about as deadly as a My Little Pony doll.  So, I wait with Kris.  A half our before dark, a cow walks into the meadow.  Kris sees it first and says, "There's an elk!  Right there!"  I can't see it from where I'm sitting, so I advise him to stop telling me about it and shoot it.  Pretty soon I can see it at the far side of the meadow, out of range at about 60 yards.  The cow feeds around and eventually is standing broadside at 48 yards.  This is pushing my comfort zone, but I feel good shooting up to 50 yards with my bow, but not with a rubber horse doll.  Kris doesn't feel he can ethically take the shot at that distance, and I fully support his decision.  This is as close as the cow got.  That whole time I was looking back and forth between the cow and my useless bow.

The following night we tried the same thing.  This time a cow walked into the meadow about 80 yards away, once again 30 minutes before dark.  This ended our first week of 2013 elk hunting.  I vowed to do everything I could get my bow fixed and return for the final weekend of the season.

I couldn't get my bow fixed, but Kris was not planning to hunt and was gracious enough to lend me his bow for the weekend.  I drove back out on Friday, fully intending to kill an elk in GM on Friday night.  On the way over, I stopped for about an hour to sight in Kris's bow up to 50 yards.  This may not make a ton of sense if you're not familiar with compound bow sights, but Kris's sight is different than mine.  Mine has five pins, which I have set at 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60 yards.  In this way, my pins are preset and I can fairly easily interpolate the intermediate distances between them.  Kris's sight has one pin, but a cool mechanism for adjusting it to various distances by means of a dial-like mechanism.  Anyway, I got the bow sighted in and was pleased with how well I was able to shoot with it.

By 5:00 that night I had backpacked in, set up my camp, and hiked up to the meadow.  I neither saw nor heard anything that night.  I became concerned that the change in weather (from cool and rainy to hot and sunny) affected their behavior to the point that they would not be coming to the meadow.  I hunted Saturday morning up higher thinking that the elk had gone up to avoid the heat.  I spooked a couple as they detected me before I could detect them, but noted a wallow and some other promising sign for the future.  That night, I decided to give old GM another try.

I got there early and found a great spot to hide at the edge of the meadow that would also allow me to shoot in almost 180 degrees.  A half hour before dark, I hear a crashing ruckus coming from my right.  As the noise gets louder, two cows charge into the meadow as they're pushed by a 6-point bull.  One of the cows is noticeably bigger than the other, and I am determined to arrow it before it leaves the meadow.  These three elk were playing a game (I'm not sure what they call it) where the bull would charge at the cows and the cows would run several yards before stopping, then repeat.  This happened many times as they pinballed around the meadow. . . 50 yards to my right, 30 yards straight ahead but behind my cover tree, 40 yards to my left.  Each time they moved I would range find them, dial the sight pin to the appropriate distance, and prepare to shoot.  The problem was I could only make it about half way through this process before the bull would chase them again and I wouldn't have a shot.  Eventually I decided to set the pin at 30 yards and just aim high or low accordingly if the shot was anywhere near that.  Then the larger of the two cows stopped broadside at 22 yards.  I hold a couple inches low with my 30 yard pin.  Everything is perfect so far, and I've done a lot of thing right to get to this point.

Then instead of easing the trigger back and making a very easy double lung shot, I rush the shot and jerk it - partly because I'm so excited and partly because I'm afraid she's gonna bolt across the meadow again any second.  Fuck.  I hit amazingly far back for how close the shot was.  I think it's a full on gut shot.  I can see the fletching of my arrow laying in the grass right where I shot her, which I wouldn't expect if it was a gut shot as the arrow would have passed through.  I wait a half hour and go retrieve my arrow, which turns out to be only the back 8 inches of the arrow with blood suggesting I got two feet of penetration.  It's now dark and I can't find a spec of blood anywhere.  I go to the point last seen as she exited the meadow, and about 30 yards into the woods I hear something run away.  I assume this is the cow I shot and the last thing I want it to do is run so far away that I can't find it.  If I don't push her, she's likely to just bed down and die.  So, I decide not to push it further and come back to search at first light.

That night I feel sick to my stomach as I replay my shot in my head hundreds of times and imagine the cow suffering a slow and painful death, desperately wishing for a redo.  After a sleepless and awful night, I return to the meadow just before it gets light.  Even with the daylight, I only find one spot of blood on a single blade of grass, so tracking is out of the question considering all the recent elk activity/tracks in the area.  I begin a systematic search of the vicinity, and after 2 hours I find her about 200 yards from where I shot her.  I can immediately tell that she's dead and had been most of the night.  While this makes me feel better about not causing undue suffering, it's bad because it means the meat did not get cooled quickly and is well on it's way to going bad.  Turns out I hit even farther back than I thought and my arrow went through the meat of both rear legs/butt and the bladder area.  My arrow must have cut some major leg arteries and she bled out pretty fast.


For the next four hours I battled the bees and flies while I skinned, quartered, deboned, and backstrapped the stiffened cow.  Before I leave, and in my own way, I thank the elk for its life and apologize for not doing justice to it by wasting so much of the meat.  Four hours after that I had finished packing out the meat about three miles, along with my camp, back to the car.  All this time I'm thinking the meat has gone bad and it's my punishment to process and pack out the meat and not be able to eat it.

The meat smells a little funky, but I had Kris and Evan help clean it up last night.  We grilled up some backstrap and it tasted just fine.  We threw a bunch out, but think we have about 100 lbs of edible elk left.  Bittersweet.  I feel horrible for making a poor shot and wasting a bunch of meat because of it.  This is somewhat, but not entirely, balanced by the feeling of finally being "successful" during my fourth year of elk hunting with a bow.  Just as in previous years, I learned a lot and continue to gain confidence as an archery elk hunter.

July 15, 2013

North Twin Sister with Sister

Last Sunday, Molly and I went on a fun little adventure on North Twin Sister.  This bike/hike/scramble came highly recommend by Ava, several of our friends, and the climbing community in general.  The approach involves about 6 miles of logging roads, which gain about 3,500 feet.  Provided you make all the right turns, the logging roads dump you out at the base of the west ridge of North Twin Sister.  I ended up riding/pushing  my bike up the hill while Molly ran and walked to the base of the ridge, where we arrived about 2 hours after leaving the car.

I ditched my bike at the base of the west ridge and we continued up a trail that frequently morphed into a series of trails.  Once out of the forest, this route offers about 1,500 feet of 3rd class scrambling on surprisingly good rock.  We wandered off route a bit on the way up but ended up finding a great new route as pretty much any where you go on this rock makes for great climbing.  We ended up descending the ridge we meant to come up and decided that our up-route was at least as good as the standard west ridge.

Molly scramblin' up the ridge

On the way down with the funky balanced rock in the background

Mt. Baker in the background (Molly's in there somewhere, too)
 
With only about 2.5 miles left to go and the mountain we just climbed in the background

Once back at the bike, I took both of our packs and Molly started running down.  We leapfrogged most of the way as I coasted down and acted as a support crew every mile or so.  With about 1/2 mile left, I flatted my rear tire.  I replaced the tube in good time and promptly flatted my only spare tube about 200 yards later (note that I was using road tires and it's kind of amazing I didn't flat much sooner).  I proceeded to run back to the car with one hand on my bike saddle as I chased it down the road.

I arrived at the car to find Molly running around in circles acting crazy about fish (we had parked next to the Nooksack River).  She soon saw a trout rise and rigged up her fly rod, which she pretty much always carries in her car.  One or two casts later she was reeling in a trout!  A great finish to a great day out in the mountains.

July 08, 2013

JJAMazama

Explanation of Title
Our two good friends, Kiwi Josh and Melinda, are getting married a couple of weeks before Ava and I.  Since we all love hanging out together and have a very overlapping friend group, we decided to have a joint bachelor/bachelorette gathering in Mazama, Washington for a few days over the extended 4th of July weekend.  Josh+Josh+Ava+Melinda+Mazama=JJAMazama.

Generalities
Many friends pulled together and pitched in to make this a very successful camp out.  We stayed at a Forest Service campground near the town of Mazama, with about 20 friends showing up to camp, climb, and generally act like idiots from July 3rd through 7th.  With two kegs of homebrew, excellent weather, and amazing alpine rock climbing nearby, it was difficult not to have a good time.

Day 1: Concord Tower
We spent our first day of climbing in a relatively large group, consisting of Maiya, Shaun, Molly, Ian, Ava, and me.  After finding the Beckey Route on Liberty Bell quite crowded, the six of us climbed three different routes on the adjacent Concord tower in three rope teams of two.  Ava led Maiya on Patriot Cracks, Ian led Molly on Tunnel Route, and I led Shaun on North Face with an unintentional new route for the second pitch.  It was great to spend another day high in the Liberty Bell group with wonderful friends, rocks, and views.

The Liberty Bell Group
(Liberty Bell on the far right and Concord Tower immediately to its left)

Day 2: Cutthroat Peak
On the second day, Ava and I teamed up with Dane to climb the South Buttress of Cutthroat Peak.  This was a substantially longer day with about 16 pitches of climbing and almost as many rappels to get back down.  We moved efficiently, completing the route in about 10 hours car-to-car.  With simul-climbing, hip belays, and a few pitched out parts, this route definitely had more of a mountaineering feel than a straight up rock climb.  We were supposed to meet up with three other friends who would be climbing the same route that day, but they reportedly zigged where they should have zagged on the way up and botched the approach.

Ava belaying Dane on the final pitch of the South Buttress

Cutthroat Peak from the approach basin

Happy to be back on terra firma

Day 3: Fun Rock / River Time
After a long-ish day on Cutthroat the previous day, we were ready to relax.  After a very lazy hour or two at the local sport crag of Fun Rock, we all admitted to ourselves that we were more interested in spending time by the river than climbing.  We grabbed some picnic/lunch stuff and proceeded to spend the rest of the day in and adjacent to the icy waters of the Methow River.

Day 4: Le Petit Cheval
With everyone else heading home on Sunday, Ava and I got an early start on the Spontaneity Arete of Le Petit Cheval (the little goat, as I'm told).  Simply put, this a very fun moderate route with frequent steps of great climbing intermixed with a fair bit of 3rd and 4th class scrambling.  We encountered no other parties on the route and were able to climb and descend the route in about 6 hours.  We heard thunder on our way back to the car and had rain drops hitting the windshield within about 1 minute of beginning our drive down the east side of Washington Pass.

Ava leading up one of the many great pitches of Spontaneity Arete

Me on top of the Little Goat

Summary
We climbed a total of about 28 pitches in 4 days of climbing, all but one of which were on alpine routes.  While moderately ambitious, this left plenty of time for regular visits to the always-wonderful Mazama General Store and hanging with friends around the campfire.  While no traditional explosives were involved, this may still go down as my favorite 4th of July to date.

Riding the summit of Cutthroat Peak

June 30, 2013

Elk Scouting + Bonus Goats!

Due to changing hunting regulations in the state of Washington, I will need to learn to hunt a new unit.  Consequently, I'll be trying to get out a few times prior to September to learn a few new areas and try to up my chances of being successful during the all-too-short Washington archery season.

I left work last Friday on my first of such scouting trips.  I selected a location based published maps and Google Earth images.  While driving there, I saw a cow elk crossing the road as well as two deer: a good sign that the elk I was looking for had already migrated up into the mountains where they should be in September.  I started hiking up a sizable, steep slope at about 8pm, with the intent of setting up camp when it got dark at around 9:30.  At about 9:00, I came over a small rise to see a 5-point bull elk about 10 yards off the trail and only about 20 yards from me.  I froze in my tracks and was surprised to learn that the bull had not yet noticed me.  I watched him feed for several minutes.  At one point, he was as close as 15 yards from me.  This time of year, their antlers are covered in velvet, making them appear much bigger than they are.  By the time I managed to retrieve the camera from my pack, it was too dark to capture a reasonable picture.  About 10 minutes later, the bull fed away from me and I moved on, remaining undetected.

I awoke the next morning as soon as it was light enough to see and continued up the slope to gain a prominent ridge.  When I reached the ridge, I began glassing the basin on the other side.  After finding no life with my binoculars that didn't classify as vegetative matter, I set up my new spotting scope for the first time.  I was amazed at the clarity and ease of use of my new scope/tripod setup.  I soon spotted a cow elk lying in the grass on the shady edge of a meadow.  I watched her for quite a while before moving along the ridge to gain a new vantage point.

A short while later, I spotted a bull in the same basin, a few hundred yards from the cow, with my binoculars.  I quickly set up my spotting scope and watched him feed for about 30 minutes.

Photo taken through the spotting scope

Photo taken with 18x optical zoom camera

Another one with the 18x zoom

This was a nice 6-point bull and the largest one I saw on my scouting trip.  I'm not sure how much more his antlers will grow, if any, but there's a chance he was pretty big for the area.  Alas, I will be hunting cows and spikes, so he's safe from me for at least another year.

As I continued across the ridge, I was heading down a slight snow slope when I saw the top of a goat's head moving toward me over a small rise.  I quickly ducked back out of sight, tucked in next to some trees and rocks, and got my camera back out.  The next several minutes consisted of a herd of goats (about a dozen in total), slowly moved toward me.  With goats as close as about 8 yards, I was able to get some great shots.  At their closest, I grew slightly nervous as I remembered stories of a man gored to death by a goat recently in Olympic National Park.  Once I moved to give away my position (I thought this would make them run away), the goats seemed to become very curious and got even closer before growing nervous themselves.


They're coming right for me!

This little guy just couldn't get enough of the snow

The most adorable kind of kid and its mother

Oh, hi.  Didn't see you there.  May I help you with something?

The basin where I'd been watching the elk is in the background

Shortly after continuing on, I spotted another herd of goats on the same ridge moving in the opposite direction.  I ignored them as I was on a mission to learn as much as I could about elk in the area.  I began an off-trail descent of the steep, forested slope a couple of miles from where I had come up.  Shortly after leaving the main ridge and getting back into the forested zone, I jumped another bull.  He saw me first, at about 25 yards, and only stuck around for a few seconds.

I had no idea how much it would work me by the end, but the 3,500 vertical foot bushwhack descent with plenty of dead fall and pretty much no flat ground to stand on, even for a short rest, left me exhausted by the time I returned to the car. . . a terrific end to a successful scouting mission!

June 23, 2013

Mt. Baker Ski

Back in early June, Ava, Kris, Evan and I set off to climb and ski Mt. Baker.  For those familiar with the ski area named Mt. Baker, take note that this is not the same place.  The ski area is several miles from the mountain, between Mt. Shuksan and Mt. Baker at about 4,000 to 5,000 ft in elevation.  Mt. Baker proper is a 10,781 ft, heavily glaciated volcano.

On our way up to camp on the first day

We opted for the Easton Glacier route as I was familiar with it and knew it would make a fantastic ski descent.  We parked at about 3,100 ft, shortly before reaching the Schriebers Meadows parking area as the road was still impassible due to snow.  Great news!  We'd get to ski from the car and not have to haul our skis up to the snowline.  We took our time ascending to treeline where we set up camp and proceeded to ponder the unstable mountain weather.  A questionable weather forecast, occasional rain, and rapidly morphing clouds kept us guessing.

Camp - at about 5,250 ft

Suspect weather makes for great scenery

We woke the next morning to clear skies and set off from camp at about 0500.  We attempted to time it so that we would be descending the upper part of the mountain at corn-o-clock, the time when the the sun has melted the surficial snow perfectly (not too icy, not too slushy).

Mt. Baker - a mere 5,000 ft above us with absolutely no sense of scale

We made good time skiing up the mountain.  Finding the glacier very well filled in with only occasional crevasses visible and following a heavily trodden path (we weren't the only ones on the mountain), we found it reasonable to continue on skis without roping up.

Snack break part way up the glacier

We made it all the way to the base of the Roman Wall (9,800 ft) before we decided to stop skinning and rope up.  After making good, steady time up this steeper section, we put the skis back on and continued.

Roped up for the slightly steeper Roman Wall section of the climb

Sharing a sandwich on the summit plateau

After topping out on the Roman Wall section, you're on the summit plateau.  To reach the true summit, you must cross about 1/4 mile of nearly flat terrain.  With whiteout conditions (a lenticular cloud had set in on the upper 500 ft of the mountain) and feeling the altitude a bit, Ava decided to wait for the rest of us to tag the summit and return.

Three Amigos Summit Shot - the wind must have been blowing from our left side based on the frost buildup

It didn't take us long to ski over to the summit and back, find Ava in the whiteout, and descend out of the wind and cloud.

More balanced frost action after descending off the summit plateau

To make a long ski story short, we nailed corn-o-clock and had an amazing ski down with permanent grins and frequent giggles.  We stopped at 5,250 ft to pick up our camp and effectively had a 7,650 ft ski run back to the car.

June 19, 2013

Deschutes River Rainbow Trout

I'm going to try and play a bit of catch up here.  Back in May, Molly and I traveled down to Oregon to join our dad on a Deschutes River fly fishing trip during the stone fly hatch.  The trip was in honor of Dad's recent 60th birthday!  We went with Helfrich Guides (Drake and Rob) who had an excellent reputation and still managed to exceed expectations.  I'll admit it was weird to to be catered to, but it was scary how easy it was to get used to.

The trip involved floating in drift boats for three days and spending two nights on the river, taking out in Maupin, OR where most people put in for the classic raft run.  This was my first time fly fishing for "real".  By this I mean that I've caught dumb alpine lake brook trout in lakes that never get fished, but never even attempted something like this.

After catching many trout on dry flies in three days, I developed some opinions of the sport that I never had before.  Mainly, I was stoked at how "athletic" it was.  No, I wasn't breathing hard, but the requisite hand eye coordination and reaction time required to set the hook before the trout realizes it's a lip-ripping trap is pretty rad.  Also, chest waders make everyone look really awesome.

Drake and Me with a nice Rainbow! (Photo by Molly)

Josh - Molly - Dad

Molly with one of her first fish caught on a fly rod

Drake coaching Molly

March 10, 2013

Snoqualmie Mountain

It appears Spring is here, or at least doing a brief cameo appearance.  Taking advantage of the beautiful weather, Molly, Evan, Ava, and I went up to Snoqualmie Pass to attempt, yet again, a ski descent of Snoqualmie Mountain.

Clothing accessories can be a dead giveaway that it's springtime

 We found the skinning to be fairly technical on steep, icy terrain.  I'm generally not an advocate of ski crampons, but there's no doubt that they would have been useful today.

Skinning up the west side of Snoqualmie Mountain

The views of Rainier didn't suck

. . . neither did the views of Chair Peak
At the top, we considered making a lap off the backside or skiing the Slot Couloir, but the tracks made by previous skiers revealed about 3 inches of powder snow over a sheet of ice, making these steeper lines less appealing.

Everyone loves summit ski descents

We ended up skiing back down the way we had ascended and hit the snow just about right: earlier, and it would have been too icy; later, and it would have been too softened by the sun and warm temperatures.  On the way home we stopped at Seattle Bouldering Project to top the day off with a bit of gym climbing - good times.

Real Ski Photos

In lieu of an engagement shoot, part of the standard package with our friend and photographer, Matt Pool, we opted for a backcountry ski day.  We suggested the idea to Matt a while back, and managed to convince him it was a good idea for him to haul his not-so-light camera equipment and follow us around for a photo-documented day of skiing.  We scheduled the day far in advance, so the fact that we had over a foot of fresh snow and were rapidly accumulating more was luck of the draw.

Matt with all the gear we made him carry
When all was said and done, Matt did an incredible job of both capturing the day and getting some amazing action shots.  The photos can be viewed at: http://mattpoolphotography.smugmug.com/Clien/Ava-and-Josh/Engagement.  Matt also put together his own blog post with a paired down selection of the photos at: http://www.mattpoolblog.com/ava-josh-backcountry-engagement-session/.

Montana!

For about the last year or more, Ava and I have had a bit of an obsession with Montana.  This manifests itself in many diverse ways.  One example of this is that after battling through Seattle traffic for an hour in order to travel about 5 miles, we'll state matter-of-factly that this would never happen in Montana.  At any rate, we finally committed to a road trip in which we would spend 4 days skiing in the wonderfully underpopulated state of Montana.

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Our first stop was Missoula, where we headed toward Lolo Pass in search of snow cover.  While most of the Rockies were suffering even more than usual for a solid snowpack, the situation seemed particularly wanting in the Missoula area.  We drove the Impreza up a snowy Forest Service road slightly farther than we reasonably should have.  Unfortunately the road was the only part of the hillside with snow on it, but we managed to have a good day out anyway.

Aerial Snow Starfish
Then we were off to Bozeman, where we had booked a place on Air BnB for the duration of our trip.  Over the next three days, we encountered nuking snow storms, blue skies, and came a long way in terms of figuring out the backcountry ski scene in the Bozeman vicinity.

First Peek at Deer Creek Peak

Deer Creek Peak Summit (me sporting a front rat tail)

Shreddin' Hella

Backside at Lick Creek
The snowpack was pretty consistent, with one to three feet of snow over about 6 inches of facets making for predictably unstable conditions everywhere.  Relatively cool air temperatures were great for powder preservation, so even when it wasn't snowing we had plenty of powder snow to ski on.  In four days of Montana backcountry skiing, we saw only one other backcountry skier, and that was in the parking area.  For the most part, it was hard to even find tracks from previous visitors, and this was on a holiday weekend. It's safe to say that Montana was everything we'd hoped it would be.