Friday, November 30, 2012

Hannegan Pass/ Peak 5963 Ski Tour

Snow has started to fly in the North Cascades and I was excited to go out an explore over the holiday weekend. After a couple of days skiing just outside the Mt. Baker Ski resort to get a feel for the recent snowpack I needed a much longer tour.

On November 25, I decided that skiing Ruth Mountain would fit the bill. My ski partners confirmed it to be a bigger endeavor, with a 4 mile low angle approach before you even get to the mountain.

We left a bit late in the morning so time was not on our side but everyone was still very excited about getting out to Ruth Mountain. After arriving at the trail head a realizing we would be able to ski right from our cars the excitement level increased.

View across the basin below Hannegan Pass

The first part of the tour was a gentle 12 degree trail that lead up to Hannegan Pass. The creek crossings and overall trail could have used more snow to make the first 3.5 miles a bit more pleasant. About 4500 feet the snowpack became deep enough to make more enjoyable skinning. At the top of Hannegan Pass the snow turned to winter snow. (Less dense and more powder like) The next 1500 feet of skinning was more like a mid winter ski tour with plenty of snow and thoughts of good powder turns.

To get to Ruth Mountain we would have to traverse around Peak 5963 as the slope changed from a west to more of a Northwest aspect a wind slab become more apparent. We adjusted our original route choice to gain the ridge line of Peak 5963 to the new conditions encountered. Once we gained the ridge line we had a clear view of our objective of Ruth Mountain.

Skinning just above Hannegan Pass

I checked the time and it would be a very late day probably headlamps on the way out. I also knew that going out would be a long process cause you would have to skin out along the same trail as we skinned in, there just wasn't enough snow to ski out the trail.  The group discussed our options and ate some food at the ridge line. In the time we took to weigh our options, we notices our approach path to Ruth Mountain, that we wanted to take seemed to be wind effected. Using the information we just gained on the wind slab we just crossed we erred on the side of caution and decided on trying to ski multiple laps on Peak 5963.

After a compression test with results of CT 17 @ 30cm Q2-3 soft slab. (Compression test, 17 represents  a fracture occurred with moderate taps from the elbow, 30 cm is the depth below the snowpack that it fractured, Q2-3 represents the quality of shear that was observed and soft slab describes the nature of the slab observed) We discussed how we would ski the slope and what level of risk we thought we would be taking. Our final decision on the upper slopes was skiing with a definite plan on how to escape a probable avalanche and ski in a fashion that would limit stress on the slope. I translate this to big fast GS style turns. The turns proved glorious and our slope selection proved perfect.

View of the Nooksack ridge

The next pitch down the turns got even better a bit deeper with no wind effect. We hit the bottom of the basin and skinned back up to Hannegan Pass for another lap. Upon reaching the pass we decided on a half lap and started to ski back towards the car.

The ski out was tedious to say the least tricky skiing on a narrow somewhat melted out path with hidden obstacles everywhere. Then there was the constant jumping over the creek drainage's that took it toll on the knees and legs. and just as you became fatigued enough to not want to ski any more you had to put skins back on and start an arduous skin back to the car. I reached the car just at the light that you would need to dawn a head lamp.

In conclusion the ski was just what I was looking for a big day in the mountains with lots of walking and some great turns had. I would not recommend this tour in these conditions unless you are looking to do more walking/skinning then skiing. I will put this on a place to revisit once the snowpack gets deeper in the lower elevations.

--Mark Cionek, Alaska and Aconcagua Programs Coordinator

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