Monday, April 1, 2013

Mt Baker Backcountry Tour-O-Rama

On March 22-24, Mike and I went to the Mount Baker Tour-o-Rama event with the ACC for a weekend of ski touring. 50 of us from the Alpine Club spent the weekend skiing, split boarding or snowshoeing and exploring the Mt Baker backcountry.

On the first day, 22 of us met up in Vancouver to carpool down to Mt Baker.  After traveling, border crossing and gas stops we reconvened in the Mt Baker Ski Resort parking area shortly after 10 am. The plan for the day was to ski up towards Lake Ann, gain the Shuksan Arm and then ski down the back side of the ridge into the ski resort and back to the waiting cars. The catch being that the parking lot gates would be locked around 5pm. We started up the cat track to the backcountry gates and then headed towards the Swift Creek Drainage. At this point the weather had been partly clear, but was quickly socking in. Once we reached the slopes that dropped into the Creek the group had differing opinions on what they were comfortable skiing, so we split into 3 groups and picked our poison. Our group opted to dig a test pit and see what was going on in the snow before heading down the slope. We got reasonable results and headed down, but unfortunately once we reached the bottom the rest of the group had disappeared. We opted to stay put, have some lunch and turn on our radio in hopes of contacting the rest of the team. After about half an hour we gained contact with the group and determined that they were about 15min further along, also having a lunch break while they waited for us. We geared up and caught up to them to carry on with our journey.

 From this point there is a long traverse through the drainage until you hit the slopes of Mt Ann. The snow started falling as we traversed and once we were on the side slopes it was really coming down. We climbed the slopes of Mt Ann to the col between Mt Ann and Shuksan Arm where the group reconvened. We arrived at the col in a complete white out and decided that it was best to retrace our steps instead of continuing into the unknowns of Shuksan Arm. 

We skied back down in some fabulous powder but horrendous visibility, then we skied back along the traverse through the swift creek drainage and back to the waiting cars. We finished our tour at around 5 pm and then headed back to Glacier for some dinner at “Chair 9”. After a couple hours of burgers and beers we made our way to the Mountaineers Lodge where we, selected our chores and out bunks and settled in for the weekend.

On Saturday Mike led a group of 7 of us into the Mt Baker backcountry for a day of yoyo skiing.  We woke up at 7 am for a tasty pancake breakfast at the Lodge and got ready for a day in the fabulous sunshine. Once our group was ready, Mike, Catherine, Steven, Jill, Dave, Cheryl and I put on our skis and skied right to our destination from the front door of the lodge. The first run we did was a short run into the swift creek drainage.  From there we realized that the avalanche conditions were quite stable so we thought we’d try something bigger.  We headed up to the ridge in Austin Pass and did a couple runs from the top of ridge across a flat section and then straight down into Swift creek.  

We ended up doing a few laps in that general area, with breaks in between to watch the hardcore skiers and splitboarders throw themselves off of the backcountry jumps that they had built. The snow was surprisingly light and untouched which was surprising given the large number of people in the backcountry and the warm sun.  After a leisurely lunch  in the sun we headed back up to Austin Pass for one last run and then we skied down to the Bagley lakes area. The run into Bagley lakes was pretty chewed up and heavy and definitely not the best run of the day, but it was still nice to check it out and see the area instead of skiing back on a cat track. We arrived back at the lodge at 3:30 pm for Apres Ski and relaxed until it was time for our tasty dinner and dessert provided by the lodge.
On Sunday, the last day of Tour-O-Rama, Mike lead a small group of us on the Table Mountain Circuit. Catherine, Steven, Mike and I headed out directly from the lodge after breakfast for a tour under the blue-bird skies. We started with a leisurely climb up to Austin Pass and Artist point and then did our first descent onto the side slopes of Table Mountain.  From there we spread out to traverse under the south face of Table Mountain and limit our exposure to the avalanche danger from above. 

Another short climb and some fabulous view of both Mt Baker and Mt Shuksan and we were dropping down onto the west face face of Table Mountain.  The slopes on the west side of the mountain had excellent snow and we thoroughly enjoyed the skiing on this short run. after another short traverse we came to the Iceberg lake drainage. We stayed low here and dropped through the trees and then out onto the lake.  We took our time crossing the lake and enjoying the sun before beginning the big climb of the day up to Herman's Saddle. Once we gained Herman's Saddle we took  half-hour break and enjoyed our lunch in the sun up on the Saddle.  The day was warm, clear and calm and we could have easily spent all afternoon relaxing and enjoying the surrounding view.  After lunch we enjoyed a nice, long run down from the Saddle onto Bagley lakes and made quick work of the short traverse back to the waiting cars. The full tour, including breaks, took us 5 hours and made  for an early start on the uneventful journey back home to Vancouver. 

Thanks Rob Brusse for organizing a wonderful event.  We had a blast and are looking forward to joining you again next year. 

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