Last Wednesday I couldn’t find a ski partner so, with a late start out of the house, I decided to head up to Baker to see if I could find anyone to ski with. As I entered Maple Falls, I was informed that the road to the resort was closed. “No problem” I thought to myself, I’ll just head up towards Heliotrope. Sadly, the road to Heliotrope was snow covered for more distance then my motivation would compensate for, so I turned back down the road and headed for the house. Then I saw it:
South Facing: Check (will melt soon)
Close to the house: Check
I had a mission for the following day.
After a big breakfast, I packed up the car and headed up past Glacier to where the creek that drains the chute crosses the road.
My plan consisted of: “find creek, go up”, however after a thousand feet of steep creek-climbing I found myself encountering increasingly steep and tall waterfalls. “No problem” I thought to myself, “I’ll just cut into the woods, hook up with that old logging road that’s on the map and cut back into the chute higher up.” I had, however, failed to account for the fact that where there is a road, there is always a clear-cut. Slow progress was suddenly even slower. To complicate the issue, the 2 inches of snow that had fallen overnight was falling off the trees as I ‘schwacked through them. Before long my teeth were chattering and I was soaked to the bone. Determined to break my losing streak for the day, I stopped, ate some food, and changed out of my wet clothes. Reflecting on my plan, I decided that hooking up with the road was bound to be the fastest way up the mountain, so I pushed hard to the right and found it about 10 minutes after my little break.
The road took my quickly to the base of the chute. By this point, I was contemplating just hiking home and calling the day a failure, but the memory of my quasi hypothermia was fading and there was some snow in the chute where it crossed the road. Summoning all the stupid mantras of my high-school track coach (Pain is weakness leaving the body!), I started making my way uphill. 1000 vertical feet of slush, gravel, old avi-debris, and ice passed relatively quickly as I pondered the wonders that lay ahead in spectacular chute I was heading towards.
Upon reaching the base of the little sliver of a chute, the snow changed dramatically. A well bonded wind-buffed layer of wildly varying thickness was overlying an ice crust. By sticking to the sections with little overlying snow, I was able to make my way up the chute with minimal wallowing. As I got to the top, the wind began to howl, the snow began to fall, and the chute got both narrower and icier.
I’m pretty sure I was having fun when I took that self portrait
20 feet from the top, where the chute was only about 6 feet wide, I encountered an ice bulge. It looked climbable, but not down-climbable, so I called off the ascent and switched over to ski mode.
The fun part was, well, fun. A couple hundred feet of very steep committing turns. In places the powdery top layer made for easy turns, while in other places the underlying ice crust proved to be less than helpful. Before I knew it I was done with the chute and was forced to down-climb the apron all the way back to the road (too many rocks in the snow). At the road, I decided that it would be safer and smarter to take the road back to civilization rather than bushwhack again. Miles of mindless road walking later, I was back at the car, no longer wondering why I’d never heard of anyone skiing that little chute before.
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