North Face of North Twin
I see the Twin Sisters range every clear day that I drive to work, it’s captivated my attention since I first moved to Washington. The Twins have a pretty horrible ski to approach ratio though, so Allen and I have always hesitated to go until we were sure that conditions would be good.
Last week I noticed that the weather for Friday looked good, it also looked like we might get a brief window of stability on Friday morning before the forecasted heat wave rolled in and started weakening the snowpack. Complicating the plans, I had to be at work by noon. For this to work, and alpine start would be required.
Earlier this winter, I met Braden. Braden was new to both Washington and skiing. After crossing paths a few times, including meeting up at the YMCA climbing wall, Braden expressed an interest in tagging along on a bigger ski day. With that in mind, I sent him the following email.
The other day at the wall you mentioned that you might be interested in going along on some slogs in the mountains. I’m still thinking about whether it’s a good idea or not, but I’ve been toying with getting up really early Friday morning, climbing north twin, skiing down and trying to make it into work on Friday by noon.
This definitely has the potential to be a highly stupid failure, and i wouldn’t think less of you if you decide this isn’t for you, but it could also be a cool place to watch the sun rise over baker in the AM. I’d be looking to ski the north face of North Twin.
anyway, let me know if you’d be interested in hearing more,
With some trepidation, Braden signed on for our little adventure.
Fast forward to 3:30 AM, we parked at the locked forest service gate and began pushing our mountain bikes up the dirt logging road. After only about 2 miles, we encountered snow-line where we were able to ditch our bikes and get our ski boots and skis off our packs.
As we entered the first clear-cut, we were blown away by how bright the stars were. With little moonlight to speak of, we were able to hike without headlamps. The faint glow of the milky-way was reflecting off of Baker creating the strange sensation that there was a glowing ice cream cone poking over the ridge just ahead of us.
Clearly somewhat delirious from our 2am wake-up, we were relieved when the sun finally poked over the ridge and revealed that we were on the right track. The logging road approach is not unlike a maze, and taking a wrong turn can ruin your whole day, so we were glad to see the north side of north twin rising up in front of us (photo at the top).
The sun hadn’t yet reached us as we reached the alpine. As the forecast was for heat and high avalanche danger we were just fine with that.
The top was in sight, but surprisingly deep snow was slowing our progress.
There was a spooky 3-ish foot thick slab layer over an ice crust that covered this entire slope. Though totally unresponsive to shear and compression tests, it was still disconcerting as there is no safe position the entire way up the north face.
Still going up… and getting much steeper.
Near the top it was getting difficult for me to break trail any longer so I transitioned to boot-packing. As soon as I stepped off my skis, I fell chest deep into the snow. After wallowing up the slope for a few minutes, it became abundantly clear that bootpacking was not going to work. We switched back to skis and continued to increasingly steep skin-track up the hill. About 30 feet from the top, we encountered the ice crust near the surface. We were finally able to transition to bootpacking up the final slope. As I neared the top, I began to wonder what was at the top of the ridge… was it the top, the edge of a cornice, or merely an abrupt transition to a lower angle slope that would lead us to the actual summit? Turns out it was just the top..
Allen and Braden nearing the top.
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