It’s been a few weeks since Dan, Eric and I tripped together up in the North Cascades. 22 ½ hours of rotting snow, corn, powder, steep trees, steep slopes, mellow slopes, stunning scenery, collapsing bridges, avalanches, side hilling, stars, medicinally aided route finding, and an improbably beautiful line cemented my mancrushes on these boys. Thanks you two for one I'll remember.
I have a friend who lives high above Lake Whatcom, near Bellingham. He likes bears so much that he’s constructed a feeding station out back of his place, comprised of a steel barrel filled with molasses, corn, oats, and other goodies. Overhead of the barrel he’s built a stand for a camera with an infra red motion sensor. I spent the night at his home a few days ago, and over home made apple infused moonshine, he told me about how the other night he went up there to check things out, and got chased by a big and beautiful mother sow. Said it scared the hell out of him. He told me this story while laughing infectiously. Then we swapped photos. He showed me pics of fat bears. I showed him this:
We each said the other was crazy.I bring this up because I’ve been thinking about bears recently. Black bears are squat and have thick fur. They can eat as much as 30 pounds of food per week in preparation for hibernation, and can hibernate between four and seven months. I feel like a bear ready for hibernation.
When Eric pulled into my driveway at 1 am on Sunday the 10th, my belly felt distended. NWAC had stalled our departure for three days with unfavorable forecasts, but I'd been eating as I though I'd be leaving in a few hours since Thursday. I felt like we needed a bit of luck on this one, so I offered to drive Drew’s car (which I’ve had the pleasure of car sitting while he gallivants around conquering the world. Thanks Drew!) Shortly after 4 we were on our way up Colonial Creek with Dan in winter temps and clear skies . Colonial creek proved only mildly tedious, probably because we were all so amped from having been ready to go for 3 days. At dawn we cracked the tree barrier beneath the supreme radness that is Colonial’s North Face. Wow.
Professor $ provides a visual of our approach:
A slight tingling made its way through my bloodstream when some tricky skinning across frozen avi debris demanded my attention. "Gonna be a good day" I thought to myself. Contrary to what some people may say, body English DOES make a difference.
For the majority of our trip we traveled on north facing slopes. The blue clarity of north winter light painted the landscape in colors befitting a Picasso.
When we hit the sun the world exploded in orange rock, blue ice, cobalt sky and Eric.
I feel obligated to post pictures of Eric whenever I get them. He’s just so damn good lookin’. Here’s one for you ladies out there:
Dan's not so bad himself. Check out the grin- like a kid being told he has to try all the rides at an amusement park before he can go home :
Hmmmmmmm, wonder what they're thinking?
With sun all around we made for an obvious col, excited, apparently, to remotely trigger crack crossings. Dan smelled blood and made a bee line for a soon to be discovered weaknesses. I was behind him as the length of a glide crack suddenly collapsed when he got to within a few feet. After that I followed my wisdom, otherwise known as fear, up a slightly different way. We met above the cracks for a lovely plateau crossing to Col 7200’.
At the col, E$ made sure I knew where we were headed:
Here, we had a moment. The Distal Couloir looked frighteningly steep, impossibly far away, and in the wrong direction from our car. We’d climbed 6500’ at this point and it was already pushing 12:30. An interesting route up Colonial began from where we sat, which prompted numerous utterings of the words “plan B”. But Dan got us back on track with “I’m not feeling very strong, but I don’t mind skiing out in the middle of the night. I know you guys need to work tomorrow so I’m happy to come back another day too.” Dr E$, true to his profession, began an analysis of probabilities and payoffs. “I’d rather get up Colonial than not make it up the couloir, but I’d rather make it up the colouir than ski Colonial.” On my end, I was doing everything I could to simply manage my fear. Neither Colonial nor the couloir looked like fun at this point. I’d look at the couloir and think to myself, “F**k that. I could hurt myself over there.” Then I’d look more closely at Colonial and feel something akin to despair well up when I realized that it only looked closer, not easier. I complicated matters by declaring my final desire every few minutes. Not a good strategy. The clock ticked. I strolled away from the boys to look more closely at the return trip. A gently rolling glacier wound its way upward from the bottom of the couloir to a different, lower col leading back to our car. We could return via a different way. See some new terrain. Might be kind of fun to traverse that glacier under stars. In the past few years, whenever I’ve moved in the direction of greater uncertainty I’ve had a positive experience. Across the valley stood a treasure chest of uncertainty. I took a swig from my now half full bottle that up until then had been half empty, and swallowed my anxieties.
My mind decided in the right kind of way, I strolled back to Lebron and Dwayne and said as much. It’s a testament to how flexible and partner oriented these dudes are that they hardly blinked before ripping their skins. I said it before but it bears repeating: I have serious mancrushes on these boys.
Our venture immediately paid dividends with perfect sun warmed corn:
We opted to forego a fun looking couloir in favor of preserving elevation. An added perk was a nice little traverse above an icecliff to get us where we needed to be.
Staring up at goodness:
Dan started us up an entry chute that until then had been hidden from view. Snow was knee deep at times. Difficult to kick steps, but great for following. We swapped leads periodically and made decent time. At some point Leslie’s cooking kicked in and Eric took over. Leslie, if you read this, whatever you feed that boy is working.
If anyone ever asks what it's like to be 9k into a 12k day, at sunset, with the bulk of a steep descent and long deproach ahead, show them this picture:
Near the top Dan took over and punched us up onto a magnificent col just as the sun began to set.
Quick transitions were made, and I fortunately drew the lucky straw:
I made some billy goat turns to a safe zone behind a rock. Eric leapfrogged me to another safe spot a few hundred feet below. Then Dan dropped in and skied a bit to the skiers right. Next thing I know I'm yelling down to Eric to get out the way. Dan cut a small but legitimate slide that ripped past me and roared past Eric. Probably about 15 ft wide and a foot or so deep (Dan probably knows better). I'd have taken a photo but I was a bit spooked. And the light sucked. A few deep breaths and we were on our way.
Dr E$ in the last of the light:
We pulled headlamps about a third of the way down and skied nice powder by braille to the bottom of the couloir. Phew. Time to relax.
We melted snow and let the night envelope us. After a bit we set off up the Neve Glacier beneath one of the more spectacular starlight nights that I can remember. Minus a slight detour down a wrong valley, we regained our tracks on the north side of Colonial in not too long and skied super fun powder down to the creek.
Unfortunately, somewhere in the trees above a steep ravine and on icy slopes my boot punched through, the skis on my pack knocked me forward, and I spun around backwards for a potentially nasty fall. I grabbed whatever was in front of me -- a branch I think-- and POP! I stopped my fall but felt a huge cramp in my bicep. It wouldn't go away. When I massaged my arm something didn't feel right. Turns out I ruptured my Distal Bicep Tendon.
Which is why I feel like a bear ready for hibernation. Surgery is tomorrow. Rehab anywhere from 3-6 months I'm told. At least my belly is full.