Goode Mountain

April 28 - May 3, 2011

PHOTOS AND STORY by Jason Hummel

When Bob met us at the dock in Stehekin, we'd never seen each other before. I'd only spoken to him in two brief e-mails. But there he was leaning on the front bumper of his pick-up truck. Much later he'd tell us that back in the 1970's he'd seen a National Geographic story about the town of Stehekin. The article, focusing on Stehekin in winter, told of a community that was only accessible by boat or trail, overhung by imposing mountains and blanketed by feet of snow. According to Bob, and being originally from Michigan, it was the snow that sealed the deal. He came to visit and never left. Life can be like that. A place can capture your imagination and no matter what you do, you can't escape it's allure. For me, perhaps this attraction has already taken hold? With memories of the NW Buttress of Bonanza, NE Face of Bonanza and the North Face of Fernow only day's and month's old, I was already back on Lake Chelan. Over the next week Kyle Miller, Scott McAllister and I would be attempting to ski the East Face of Goode Mountain.

Carrying all of our gear from the boat, up the dock and into the back of Bob's truck had the feel of a out-of-country adventure, not a local excursion on my home mountains. In the driver's seat Bob told us about his truck, which he was giving to us for the week. "First", he said, "there is no power steering. In fact, no power anything". "And", he stressed, "I built the brakes stay under 20 mph and, finally," he continued, "you have to disconnect the ground on the battery or you won't be able to start it later." As for windshield wipers, I could see their bones on the floor between the seats. We all grinned in unison. It was perfect. We couldn't have been more thrilled or felt better hosted.

Grabbing the steering wheel with both hands a few hours later, I muscled it to the left around the 1st corner above Bridge Creek on the Stehekin Valley Road. We had just entered North Cascades National Park on one of the few roads that do so. A few seconds later I had made it around the corner. It is then, I laughed. I've never felt so scared going five miles per hour in a vehicle! Only two turns later, we were forced to back into a small pull out. Ahead was snow and, well, adventure - I was as sure of it as snow is white and my pack too heavy. From here on out, we were on foot. Little did we know that it'd turn out to be over 50 miles before we'd return.

Snow patches followed by stream-covered patches of dirt were more enjoyable than a slap in the face by a snowmelt triggered branch or even by a stream-filled gallon of mountain-fresh water pouring down your boots, but not by much. I'd look at the dirt and just for a moment consider taking my skis off to walk it, but fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. I gave up walking and just kept right on trucking with my skis. After a few hundred feet, sometimes I'd wonder, but there'd usually be some hope. After five miles of this nonsense, we struck camp. Our day had started at 4a.m. at my house in Tacoma. Funny how we'd only made a few miles progress?

DAY TWO - Bridge Creek Campground to the Base of Goode Mountain

After packing up camp, we set off into the forest. Turning from Stehekin Valley Road, I finally felt like we were getting somewhere. After miles and miles of undulating terrain, my mountain-magnitized eyes craved some measure of satisfaction. The forest had deprived them or had they? In every stump, branch and any shaped object of any sort, I saw an animal postulating, "look at me". Of course there was nothing. There never was, but every time I convinced myself it was something. I'd hoped for it! In an instant, my eyes would light up and I'd point my skis in the suspects direction, but upon inspection, I was again duped.

Eventually, after leaving Kyle and Scott with their splitboards, I went skinless and side stepped and kick skied for a mile or two along a steep and icy traverse down to a bridge. This bridge, believe it or not (and I smirked every time), crossed Bridge Creek. It is there, while I waited on the bridge-that-crossed-Bridge-Creek that I hung my skins to dry, put on sunscreen and aired out my pungent feet. Moments later, the others did the same. In instances of laziness, someone has to break the silence and utter these words, "I think it's time to go?" There is always a question mark. Only a fool would WANT to go.

We found an amazing camp situated directly under the East and North Faces of Goode Mountain at ~3200-ft. Up valley I could see the moderate slopes of Mount Logan. To my right, a plethora of peaks as thick as the forest we'd come through. I smiled - this was going to be fantastic!

DAY THREE - Ascent of the East Face, Descent via the South

At 3:30a.m. with moonlight just barely smearing the sky, we crawled out of our warm bags, melted pine needle carpeted snow and feasted on Top Ramen, the breakfast of mountaineers. Did I mention it was early? Well, of course I did, but perhaps what I didn't mention is that I HATE to wake up before the sun does. But today it was necessary to get up the mountain before the heat of the day and it never hurts to have extra time. There are always unexpected challenges be it too much snow, difficult route finding or bad weather.

In a few hours after leaving, just as alpenglow nipped the tallest peaks, we were nearing the Goode Glacier. Looking upward, the entire mountain was visually compressed. Our continuous movement seemed to have gotten us nowhere as fast as it should have. Like a scroll being rolled out, the terrain kept going and going our eyes reading between every roll and serac, cliff and shadow. Looking, it was hard to imagine a vertical mile of snow and rock above us, but there it was - naked and unabashed.

There it was, finally, deep snow. We'd theorized it's existence the day before by predicting in our awe-infected brew-brah voices, "There will be powder up there, man!" Beneath the East Face, we put on our skis and began skinning. Our fortune seemed invincible.

As with anything invincible, there is always an achilles heel. Sunny skies were covered in clouds and our good snow became a sheet of sluff-scoured ice. When I was halfway up the climb, near a bend, my brain's control panel was flashing red. "This isn't skiable," the warnings said. I hung by the front points on my crampons for half an hour, considering. When I saw the others crest a roll several hundred feet below me, I began down climbing to them. At a point they could hear me easily, we discussed our options. We ran through different scenarios. If it warms, the snow will soften, but the overhead clouds convinced us that wasn't likely. We could climb to the top and if it didn't soften, we could down climb, but we really didn't come here to just climb, but neither did we want to give up. Craziest of all the plans was that we could climb to the top and drop off the opposite side of the mountain and then ski all the way back around to camp. Even though it was unsaid, we knew this would mean a night out before we would return to our warm sleeping bags and tents. I crowed, "So, do we GO for it?" Yes, they cawed.

There are few challenges more body-destroying than 50-55 degree waist deep, exposed powder mixed with rock and ice. At one point I let Scott take over trail breaking. I'd watched him throw his hips into the snow, then use his knees to remove snow, before finally attempting a first kick that wouldn't hold worth a damn. Several more and he'd find purchase. Then - STEP. Over and over he'd repeat. Our progress slowed to a crawl, probably the slowest I've ever gone before. This was quantified later by Kyle's spot locator beacon, according to which, we were down to a few hundred feet an hour!

My lungs were like helium balloons. Every time I would breath in, I would feel as if I were floating. Whenever I would breath out, gravity would take hold and I'd feel like I were sinking. Looking down a fluted slope, my heart stuck in my throat, I swallowed and let out a breath. Hip, knee, kick - step. That's all I need to do.

Taking the lead from Scott, I traversed the top of the couloir below a cornice to a col. With a wave of my axe, I'd brush away the snow over and again until, at last, I was done. Dropping gear on the ridge top, I turned to watch Scott cross and to look for Kyle. He was a few hundred feet below. To the horizon, my eyes couldn't help but be attracted by the surrounding mountains. My fears became distant and I danced around the ridge snapping every photo I could think of.

After a break, Scott and I continued up to the SE Peak of Goode or as close as we could get to it. Because of a short section of rock, we stopped on a point that appeared a few feet lower than the SE Peak's true summit. As we descended back to the col, we could see Kyle nearing the top of the East Face. It was 6p.m. Somehow 13.5 hours had elapsed!!!

The time of decision had come. Down climb back to camp or spend a cold night in the woods and the next day and a half working our way 14 miles through river valley's back to our tents. Coin toss...heads. "Let's drop the south face!" Taking one last look at the way we'd come, I wondered if I'd ever come back to ski it? Whenever I say never, I somehow end up breaking those promises. Years progress and visions change.

Instead of thinking about the descent, I was cataloging everything I had in my pack. The only item I really regretted not having was food, at least more of it. What I had was a handful of trail mix and one piece of chocolate. Given normal circumstances that would've been fine, but when you have climbed for 17 hours, will shiver bivied for 10 and ski for another 10, you would want for more to keep your motivation high. Eating my last piece of candy, a saying was on the inside. It caused me to laugh. It said (or perhaps prophesied), "Renew your sense of discovery." It's the little extras you get in life that make it so amazing. It is stuff like this that makes me laugh even when I am not in the mood.

The lines on the SE side of Goode looked splendid, but unfortunately our time was limited. The wet snow was quickly icing over and we had thousands of feet of skiing below us. There was a short discussion about escape options. One consisted of dropping between Storm King and Goode. I still think this route would've been best, but my heart wasn't into pushing for it.

Between cliffs and amphitheaters of rock we descended ridges and rollers, chutes and trees to the valley bottom, at which point we continued to traverse frozen avalanche debris and streams. A half an hour before it was pitch black, I pointed out a good place to camp. There was nearby wood crushed by slides and an old tree to hunker under. Kyle and Scott gathered wood and I dug a place to sleep, filled it with pine boughs and then built a place for the fire, which would keep us warm. We could hike through the night if we needed too, but it's much smarter to rest and get an early start in the morning. While I've had a few bivi's without sleeping gear, this one really felt like my first bona fide unplanned bivy. Not that I was worried about it because there was no concern. We had fire. What more do you need to survive? Before long, the Jet Boil licked flames over the bits of moss and wood and filled the darkness with flickering lights and warmth. Throughout the night, we'd have to start the fire twice more when it burned through our platform into the snow or we neglected to stoke it.

DAY FOUR - Park Creek returning to North Side of Goode

Smelling of smoke and sticky with pitch, we left our bivi site and began the long battle back to the North Side of Goode Mountain. There weren't many sights along the way to speak of besides Park Creek, which had carved an impressive river canyon. The best part of the day was a long break at Bridge Creek. When I raised my head up from the sun-warmed boards, I realized we had slept for 3 hours. Steam was still curling from our skins and socks.

Back at camp, exhausted and hungry as a horse, I ate what I could muster and then took a long nap. The others started calling me 'Sleeping Beauty'. I wish I had woken up for night images of the North Face of Goode, but I was fast asleep for the next 12 hours.

DAY FIVE and SIX - Exit and Boat Ride down Lake Chelan

The forest surrounded me that next morning through the afternoon. I had left Kyle and Scott at camp. Ahead of me the snow was perfect for pushing myself across. Not only was it a sheet of ice, but it was mostly flat. A little kick skiing, side hilling and pushing would get me a long way fast. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to do all 14 miles without putting skins on, but I was sure gonna try. The two splitboarders would skin the entire way out. Bummer.

Somewhere in the midst, I'm following bear tracks. They are freshly laid. So often I use any animal tracks I find because they usually follow paths of least resistance. This one most certainly fit the bill until I realized that these are FRESH tracks and my speed could put me right on the tail of their maker which was"...a bear," I reminded myself. A quick detour led me away from them. Even though they were only tracks. In this big, lonely forest it was nice to think of a companion out here with me.

At the truck, sweat dripped off my face. It would be three hours before the others would arrive. My skinless travel had worked perfectly! While snowboards rule the powder, I guess my kingdom is the flat forest. I don't know who's getting the better deal?

As in every adventure, the best of them come full circle. While Bob's truck faithfully brought us back to Stehekin where we enjoyed a wonderful dinner hosted by him, his wife and son, there was also time to reflect and read. Somewhere along the line, Bob had told us to browse his copy of the April 1974 National Geographic article that had brought him to Stehekin. It wasn't until the following day that I was able to get my hands on a copy. As I flipped to the last pages of the magazine, the story called Winter in Stehekin and images that had inspired him were staring back at me. Even being in the very place this story was about, I was still inspired, even more so since I had traveled the valleys to the mountains ensnared in their own epic winter. That moment was the culmination of my 3 separate adventures and nearly 3 weeks on Lake Chelan this year. Closing the magazine, I looked out on the lake and the dust blowing across. With my hands shielding the sun, I concluded, "It sure is a beautiful place."

Previous Adventure: NE Face of Bonanza


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Jason Hummel