Having made multiple, unsuccessful attempts to ski some of the bigger peaks in the Olympics during the past month, it felt great to ski from the second-highest summit on the peninsula.
As our newfound interest in the Olympic Mountains blooms across the Puget Sound in the metropoles, it is nice for little worker bees to harvest some nectar now and then. Instead of crabbing about previous misfortunes, I clawed for my next opportunity to explore above the Dungeness River. "Olympic Peninsula" may trigger images of lush rainforests and terrible weather in the minds of most, but the peninsula hosts enough mountains to create a rainshadow, too. Sequim's paltry annual average of 16 inches of rain is significantly less than Leavenworth's 25. Phil and I left Seattle in the wee hours of the morning for a circuitous drive over Tacoma Narrows, north to Sequim, then south above the Dungeness.
The weather was beautiful. We donned our packs with glee, ecstatic for the eight-mile hike to Royal Basin. The gorgeous moss-carpeted old-growth forest along the Dungeness reminds me of similar sylvan scenery along Fisher Creek in the North Cascades.
Royal Basin had a consistent snowpack. Navigation to the head of the basin required a few redirects due to a gauntlet of benches, moraines, and minidrainages. Our first views of Deception were delightful; its snowpack was fat. We were also delighted to ogle myriad magnificent terrain with all aspects available at the head of the basin.
Dust over crust in the basin became boot-top blower en route on the northeast chute. What is this? Light, fluffy powder on the Olympic Peninsula in the middle of April!? As giddy as school boys we booted up the route as quickly as our approach-taxed legs could kick. There was an icy spot where the route became more steep and exposed, then a steep section at the top of the chute. The ridge to the summit held copious snow.
The views were fleeting. Clouds were building from the west. Any disappointment was amply stifled by a successful summit and lovely line to ski. I've been expending big efforts with little success lately. Phil was expressing similar sentiments that prompted me to respond, "Let's get the descent under our belts before we celebrate too much."
A quick schuss down the ridge put us at the notch. Phil peered over it first. I joined him, noting that I didn't like the way the powdery inch on top uniformly slid from under the skis. I took a turn and my feelings about it didn't change. I wasn't concerned so much about avalanches as the slightly unpredictable snow surface. I sidestepped the first bit until I felt better about the snow, then made some steep turns on lovely edge-holding chalky snow. Phil followed.
And on my first ski descent from a summit in the Olympics, Zeus said, "Let there be powder!"
We returned on the ferry, but my mind is still floating in the clouds, tangled in a wicked web of Deceit. Saltwater-rainforests-sunshine-April-POWDER???