"The Nooksack Traverse"

April 2-4 2004

The Nooksack Cirque and our route during our second day out.

DAY ONE: The White Salmon Glacier...

Story By: Jason Hummel

WHO: Lowell Skoog, Sam Avaiusini, Sky Sjue, Josh and Jason Hummel

Summits: Shuksan, Icy and Ruth

Ski Descents: Shuksan Summit Pryamid, Nooksack HW, Spillway Glacier and Ruth Glacier

It was late March inching up on April and spring was determined to make a showing. In fact, I think spring had sprung a leap of faith and decided summer days were in order for the faithful "Snow God Pagans". Before I noticed it, I was sending the usual suspects e-mails to join. I was ecstatic! Every time I loaded the weather page my hope would soar then nose dive and crater into a mangled smoking heap of disappointment. Not this time. I was determined to ski the Nooksack Traverse and my invitations found like minded souls who heeded the call.

I had written Lowell Skoog a few months earlier in the hope that he would join us on a trip. This seemed the perfect opportunity. When it comes to traverses, the Skoogs have done their fair share of traipsing about the range. And I would imagine, the idea of something new was a perfect excuse to escape for a three day bash. We were blessed with spectacular weather, amazing climbs, and awesome company.

One thirty in the morning rose as early as ever and ready to rumble. Of course, it took a few rumbling beeps to budge my abominable self from my nest. Something as prophetic as, "Let's go you wussie, it's fricken' gonna be awesome!" Managed to move my brother. Josh and I were out the door in minutes.

The drive north under a mass of stars and a bright shimmering moon lifted our early morning spirits. Stars soon transformed into the lights of Seattle and Sky's apartment. By then, it was 3am. With quick greetings, people and gear piled into our cars in like fashion before we were chasing the stars again.

...And, boy, did I say chasing cause I meant racing. Sam was on a roll and keeping up wasn't always easy. He equaled out his hurry by getting his giant SUV stuck in the snow. To top it off, I'm afraid that backing up is not a Sam specialty (sorry Sam). Sticks, shovels, and weight and a light foot from Josh nudged the beast free.

On the way up to Baker, another Beast was waiting. Mount Shuksan is a beautiful mountain and if any beast comes close to matching Shuksan's stature, I would have to say a Mountain Goat comes to mind. I've also heard it said that Mount Shuksan is one of the most photographed mountains in the world. How that is measured, I am at a loss.

Today our goal was to climb the White Salmon Glacier, which it turns out, upon asking, none of us had actually climbed. How hard can it be? Well, parking turned out to be something of an issue since the gate was closed. We decided to park at a pull out but were guaranteed by a WSDOT crew that a vehicle parked there "...was guaranteed to be broken into." Having had a battery stolen (among other things) out of my car in the Dome Peak area gave me a first hand impression of the suckness that vandals could levy on the unwary. As such, with those odds, a requested ride was thankfully accepted. Sam parked in the upper lot while we waited.

By that time, seven in the morning had just turned the corner and we were putting our skis on at the lower ski area. From there, we continued to Chair 8 on softening ice. We discovered, finding our way across the traverse required a few necessary maneuvers. For example, the classic branch rappel and, of course, several tree-well ridge-crossings (sic exposure) were all encountered. No extractions were necessary, but nearly all of us stumbled once or twice.

At the valley bottom, we were dwarfed beneath the giant hanging glacier on the northwest face. It's obtrusiveness galvanized us to continue. To begin, we thought that climbing a treed plateau was the best way to access the upper glacier. As we neared, the route appeared much easier and we simply rounded a buttress. Once past, we found the glacier in full view and the way obvious.

The Hanging Glacier as seen from the base of the White Salmon Glacier.

Mount Baker as seen from Wennie's Slide. The Park Headwall is dead top center.

Lowell led the way up the glacier before deciding to rest. We were nearly to the ridge by then. During the break, he educated us about an interesting factoid he came across in his research (Alpenglow). He explained how there used to be a second crater on Mount Baker in the early 1900's. It's placement, as far as I remember him detailing, was somewhere in the center of the upper slopes of baker as seen in the above photo.

Sam skiing down the last portion of Hell's Highway. You can see the others waiting in the lower center of the photo.

Sam climbing onto the sulfide. The entrance to Hell's Highway can be seen just behind him.

The last uphill to Wennie's Slide offered more wind and deep snow. One moment your face was covered in snow, the next water and then snow again. Umm, tasty.

We put skis on again on the Sulfide. Sky could see Josh and Lowell hidden in the only feature on the glacier. Camp for the day? Freedom from the wind? By the time I arrived, I saw digging. Soon, five guys and over two hours created enough room for three to sleep comfortably. Josh and I decided to set up our tent outside rather than sleep in the ice cave.

After building the cave we were beat. The summit pyramid would have to wait until tomorrow. Dinner and water became the priority.

DAY TWO: Summits of Mount Shuksan and Icy peak followed by descents of the pyramid, Nooksack Cirque, and Spillway Glacier...

Sky on his way to the summit the following morning.

Mount Shuksan and our route.

A climb of the pyramid was on top of our list for the following morning. Blue skis and less wind awaited us as we crawled out of our happy abode. Lowell was the first to go and packless I might add. Sam, Josh and I (the packers) scurried to catch up. Sky meanwhile was trying to break the law of relativity in order to undo winding his camera the wrong way. The jury is still out on whether or not he succeeded (HE DID).

Climbing the pyramid was as good as ever. First up the gut and then rip the guts out (on the way down that is). And no, we're not fishing, except for powder, which we'll get to later. The summit was awesome! I've always found it spellbinding the way the summit slope melds into the Crystal Glacier. I imagine then, a momentary lapse followed by a few steps forward. As a result, I focused all my mental capabilities on not talking (See, I get my share Sam). We found a nice resting spot a few feet over the other side of the summit. The wind had returned. From there, we tried to discern where the Nooksack dropped off. All we could see, though, was a long drooping cornice.

Jagged Ridge with Cloudcap Peak. The cornice on the lower left hand corner is near where we entered the upper Nooksack Cirque.

Robin Hood on the summit of Mount Shuksan.

As for the ski, it was quick. I snagged first dibs, while Sky launched himself off of the top (commie style without the splat), then Lowell and Sam found the stash (but not enough to share), and finally Josh swept up what was left (literally).

As Sky pronounced, "What a little skiing does for morale." Way stoked and smiles pasted, we made our way back to camp for a deserved break. The Nooksack was on all our minds and so any break was interspersed with preparing to leave. A rush without a rush was on if that means anything. Unless you mean the rush we're about to get. Just wait. It gets better. Trust me.

If you wear red, they will see you!

The sun was blaring, the wind was dead (it took some doing, but Lowell scared it off), the heat was cooking, and the blue meeting white framing mountains beyond sight (I couldn't help it) left time fleeting. We had a long way to go but were in no particular hurry to get anywhere. You may be asking now, is this a traverse or a party? Well, this unhealthy balance (ice cream for breakfast?) did eventually land us on the Crystal Glacier. The time was 11am. Time for the morning Loony toons children.

The Crystal Glacier.

Also the Crystal Glacier.

The Crystal was indeed delightful. There is something about forging tracks across an untracked glacier that makes one feel that they are the first to journey there. We were like Columbus (The vikings? Ha, who do they think they are?) except, of course, the only riches we're looking for aren't material. Wait, snow is material, right?

The rarely seen South Face of Nooksack Tower. Ben and Jen's first ascent began near the snow spur in the center. Nooksack Tower TR.

So there we were, finally at the top of the Nooksack. With harnesses on, we expected a challenge. Instead, what we were given was easily managed. Or was it? Hmm, I guess you'll have to go find out for yourself. I'll let you in on a little secret though, never follow a Hummel. I don't know what I'm talking about. Ask Sky, he knows.

Lowell skiing down the Nooksack Headwall.

Sky with the headwall to his back.

Lowell below Jagged Ridge.

Sam winding his way across the glacier.

Scotty beam me up!

The traverse across the Nooksack was awesome. The photos will have to suffice. I am at a loss for words (They put some Voodoo on me, I tell ya).

The heifers taking the rear. Sam climbing up to Icy Ridge. Notice the flutings on Jagged Ridge. Very cool.

Between pictures and film it seems as if views and weather plotted with the evil, snake-haired Medusa, and turned us to stone. This was a grand place. Thoughts of, "This - is - too - good," paraded our minds like a forth of july parade instead there was mountains for floats, with snow and stuff, even some rock and sky. We were just waiting for something to go wrong, like a wheel to break and the sky to fall on us. Something? But nothing had. These thoughts then led too, "Can it get any better?" Well, maybe, if these god damn mountain floats stop so I can cross the street.

Our route down the spillway. This is Skoog the following day leaving camp.

Many in our group had seen the spillway glacier and our recollected memories had a few problems with it (See pictures below).

The Spillway Glacier as seen later in the year.

Photograph: Ben Manfredi

So, yea, things were looking up. Let's just say, we were having a good time. We had strong thermals to push us forward and keep us cool and switches from tee shirts to coats and hats were becoming commonplace.

Lowell Skoog on a sub-summit of Icy Peak.

After climbing up to the shoulder of Icy Peak, we continued to a col between several highpoints. Lowell had a feeling that we'd be able to climb up the backside, but he wasn't sure. What we found surprised all of us - a clean slope to the summit. By clean, I mean snow covered, which is good for skis which is good for cleaning (our dirty minds. Stop looking at that powder and don't forget about that breasted...ed snow mound. You sickos!).

There isn't much room on top but we were all able to squeeze in. Mount Blum looked tasty and the Pickets looked as wild as ever. Somehow the view never gets familiar. I guess all that is familiar of men and mountains is the men who cross them (hardy souls). The mountains have a million different faces. Today all we saw was big shitty grins in every direction.

Yea, that's powder.

We skied off of the true summit down to our packs at the col. The snow was very acceptable. Ankle to calf deep powder left the spillway a cacophony of hoots and hollers.

Josh finding the goods on the Spillway Glacier. Yep, he's lovin' it.

After the Spillway we were pretty tired and looking forward to a great camp. It was an easy climb to the ridge (another better than expected). In fact skins weren't even necessary and from there we glided off the other side of the ridge in search of less wind. Skoog put up his zarsky tent (an emergency shelter that he read about and built) and the rest of us put up our (Hummel and Avaiusini) tents. The remainder of the evening was spent eating and watching the sun fall down and the moon float up. With the clouds coasting by the moon looked like a ship at full sail on rolling seas.

The whole crew content and satisfied.

Dinner was served up and plenty of sleep followed. Next stop: morning and another nice day? We'll see. Don't get too hopeful yet. You sicko!

Day Three: A summit of Ruth Mountain and a ski descent out Ruth Cirque to the car.

Morning at the Icy-Ruth Col.

Yep. Another nice day. Or is it? I see a cloud.

Thinking of the future.

Nope. It's gone. My bad.

Another morning shot of camp.

Today Ruth was on the menu. Another late morning, plenty of gawking, and food was the entree. Lowell enjoyed dried milk and his secret power drug (I was sworn to secrecy. It's a man's, man's meal).

Eventually a small hill led us to a ridge. When the ridge ended, we dropped over to an obvious snow chute. Due to Lowell's ski crampons he was able to skin to the top (Hey, Lowell, Mount Baker's erupting!). The rest of us hobbled up from various points of failure. The heat of the day and the lack of wind created an oven in the couloir (I'm not kidding, an oven). Thus, the hiking was a pleasant misery and the random post holes Sky left behind a convenient respite from the heat (thanks Sky).

Once done, a short rest on another ridge was followed by a wonderful exposed skin to the summit of Ruth Mountain. A step forward, a look behind, another step forward, and a look to the other side. Yea, it was that cool and the 2nd best part of the trip behind crossing the Nooksack. I attempted to place names on every mountain I could see. Shuksan, Icy, Fury, Luna, Challenger, Mineral...ah Maaaaaaa, Giiiiiiiii. "Hey Lowell, what's that?"

Sky appreciating.

We are only visitors.

The summit of Ruth.

We enjoyed another break before deciding to head out. It was a hard good bye.

It's all downhill from here.

Sky turning on the laid back slopes that first attracted me six years ago.

Josh enjoying spring turns near the bottom of the Ruth Cirque.

All of us were able to find good turns and even a few bad ones (forgiven and forgotten). The cirque was filled in much more than expected. Sky, Josh and I led the way along the valley bottom while making a rising traverse around trees and stream beds. We found the way obvious and, throughout, only a few carries were necessary.

The conclusion was almost sad (Sorry, I'm crying now). In the end, to have a trip go so well leaves the foolish to think that every trip is equally blessed. Not so. The people, the weather, the route, and all the views made this trip a three-day celebration of everything that is great about ski mountaineering. Steep skiing, glaciers, cliffs, and summits galore. The "Nooksack Traverse" was a journey filled with all of these. My advice to you, get out there and enjoy it before it's too late.


Alpine State OF Mind. Or CONTACT ME. If you enjoyed your visit, tell us about it, go to the GUESTBOOK.

>>>>Go to Chronological