Mount Stuart, Ulrich's Couloir

April 21-22, 2011

PHOTOS AND STORY by Jason Hummel

With weeks of fighting weather, it was time for a change. I pleaded with the sun gods to gaze fondly on my vitamin D deprived skin. Such a winter as we've had so far has seen snow packs swelling to 20-30 feet. It's so much snow that you have to wonder, "Is there an end?" More importantly, as a skier, why should I complain? The simple answer - it's because I'm a ski mountaineer. Moreover, I like to climb things so that I can ski back down them. In poor weather that's often ill-advised (which of course doesn't always stop us from trying).

Finding the weather enough to drive us mad or at the very least enough to send us deep into the mountains with a less than desired forecast, Kyle Miller and I saw hope arise from fields of blowing powder on a late days approach to camp. That hope was a ray of sunshine. Our day of skinning up Beverly Creek road and trail was fraught with dismay. Falling, blowing, icing, spinning, dancing snow swam outside our goggles, but beginning at dusk, stars sparkled.

Day Two - Ulrich's Couloir via Cascadian Couloir

You know that feeling you get when you open the tent. That pregnant pause when all your days hopes can be dashed? When the zipper came undone on the morning of our second day, my smile confirmed to Kyle that we were on. Quickly organized packs and a wonderful descent led us down the other side of the pass to the base of Cascadian Couloir, our ascent route.

At a stream crossing, we transition from descending to climbing. Huge avalanche piles scar the surrounding alpine as we skin above tree line. Eventually we change to booting with Kyle taking on the bottom two thirds of the route and me finishing off the remainder. Traversing over to the true summit is usually second and third class rock in the spring and summer. For us, a fresh coat of pearly-white snow covered everything---I grinned excessively.

Standing on the summit of Stuart on a sunny day provides a vista that can make a skier's heart go aflutter to the point of swooning if you don't shut your eyes for a moment to recover. There are lines enough for a lifetime out here. Routes I've yet to ski and routes I've already checked off flash by as I spin three hundred and sixty degrees. Just then, as Kyle attains the summit, our grins widen even more, soon settling into satisfied smiles.

The feeling of transitioning from climbing to skiing a 4400-ft descent is quite magical. Sticking around the summit is hard, even to eat or drink or enjoy the view. Gravity is magnetic.

My bindings creaked as I looked down Ulrich's Couloir. Even though this would be my second time skiing the route, I was even more excited than I had been the first time. As I swooped into my first turn, the creak morphed into a snap. The binding was toast. The solution: voile straps (a necessity on any trip), miscellaneous straps and faith in the entire contraption wouldn't come apart. That was the hardest part. At close to fifty degrees for a few turns near the top, I made sure to not depend on my second ski at all. After those turns, I was happy to see how much I could push my jimmy-rigged binding. The first telemark turn pulled it all apart.

From then on, my binding contraption worked spectacuarly!

Spires and tall rock walls, especially midway down, required several stops to fully appreciate. Sloppy snow had become less than desirable but Kyle and I paid no mind. Our day couldn't get any better.

All the work to return to camp melted away while reminiscing. The forests pulled me back to the present. They are something special on your climb back over the pass that drops you into Beverly Creek again. Old, withered and gnarly trees delayed my climb. Happy for each extra moment I eeked out of a vanishing day, since they are usually the ones you remember most, I took my time. Like the lengthening shadows, my skis climbed into camp.

Sleeping bags were stuffed, tent packed and gear shoved into our bags. The weather window was closing fast and the snow surface was quickly turning into a sheet of ice. With debris lining the valleys from earlier wet slides, a knee-bashing affair was awaiting us as the pink alpenglowed slopes turned to grey-blue.

Eventually we left the avi-riddled slopes for the forest, which quickly gave way to road. Flying at break neck speeds over the icy roads, Kyle and I realized the biggest adrenaline rushes of the entire trip. It all comes to sudden end at the main road where I take off my skis and look back for Kyle. My heart reverberates in the quiet. No screams are needed. Skin blushed from the days solar oven and thankfully no longer vitamin D deprived, we slapped our boards together and walked the final few hundred feet to the car. Even in those few moments, we were already planning our next adventure.

Previous Adventure: April 17th, 2011 Part II, Bonanza Peak, Northeast Face via Mary Green Glacier

Other Mt. Stuart Adventures on Cascade Crusades: Ulrich's 2007 and Ice Cliff to Sherpa Glacier 2004


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Jason Hummel