June 07, 2014

G.N.A.R-ly Jim Hill

Last weekend, the weather forecast in the Pacific Northwest didn't suck for the first weekend in a very long time.  Ava and I decided to ski Jim Hill, a peak off of Steven's Pass, which we had previously skied in the winter time.  We knew it would be a little different later in the year, but we underestimated the challenges we were about to face.

The route as typically done in winter involves skiing up the Lanham Creek drainage, gaining and ascending a ridge to climbers left, and ultimately descending the valley on the other side of the ridge (Henry Creek drainage).  Doing this leaves about a 1.5 to 2 mile trek back up Highway 2 to the parking area at the Steven's Pass Nordic Center.  We ended up applying this same strategy to a spring ski of Jim Hill.

We made the entire ascent in running/approach shoes, with less than an hour of that in snow at the top.  A good trail lead from the Nordic center to Lanham Lake, where the bushwhacking began.  From Lanham lake we ascended more or less straight up the ridge to the east, encountering ample devil's club, a bit of slide alder, and generally dense vegetation on a relentlessly steep slope with the occasional cliffed out zone.

'Shwackin' with skis

We made it to the ridge top in due time, convinced we did not want to descend what we had just come up.  We continued up the ridge to a somewhat arbitrary spot near the top of the good skiing slope (the north facing bowl at the top of the Henry Creek drainage).  We were relieved to see this bowl filled with snow after ascending a mostly snow-free slope.  We opted not to put skins on for this stretch due to the firm snow and relatively short stretch to where we would begin skiing.

Hiking up the ridge between the Henry and Lanham Creek drainages with the 'goods' to the left

When we were putting our skis on at the top, Ava threw out the idea of skiing naked.  For those who are not familiar with the Gaffney Numerical Assessment of Radness, or G.N.A.R., one can get serious points for skiing sans clothing.  I highly recommend watching the entire 1 hour and 10 minute documentary film here: http://unofficialnetworks.com/gnar/.  Anyway, that was all the encouragement I needed for the honor of making my late hero, Shane McConkey, proud.

Free the heel, free the . . .

First we noticed the beautiful views of Glacier Peak, then I saw something to jump off of.  Putting two and two together, we set up for this fine shot.  We both feel the following photograph made the entire trip worth it.

Perhaps Ava's proudest moment as a photographer - Glacier Peak in the background

The snow in the bowl was a bit sticky due to the 60 degree temperatures, but otherwise pretty awesome with minimal sun cupping and plenty of open terrain.  Toward the end of the snow, slide-debris covered snow quickly turned to steep, 6-ft wide snow and fir limb covered chutes lined with slide alder walls of death on both sides.  The snow ended as our chute turned into a creek that then cascaded over a waterfall of undetermined height.  Committed to the descent via the Henry Creek drainage, we put the skis back on our backs and prepared for battle.

Near the end of the line, shortly before entering the chutes

We could see a row of mature fir trees about 150 yards to our left, usually an easily surmountable distance.  However, with dense slide alder (is there any other kind?), almost as much devil's club, and skis sticking up well above our heads, every inch was hard-earned.

About to finish the final round of battle

After a 45-minute, grueling, full-body workout, we made it to the edge of the forest and much easier ground.  Over the next couple of miles, we would have to cross a few other patches of similar stubbornness, but this first one took the cake.

It ended up being a 9-hour day, and we never really took a break.  Aside from two people camped at Lanham Lake, we didn't see anyone else the entire day, which is now abundantly clear why.  Despite the difficulties, we both had a great time and enjoyed a much needed day out in the mountains.