Mount Stuart - Ulrich's Couloir Ski Descent

Photos and story by Jason

My two good friends Troy and Hannah needed to go skiing. They just didn't know it yet. It was my job to convince them. First I dangled the carrot and then I went in for the kill. First plan of attack: the call. I open with, "Let's go skiing, the weather is perfect and you don't have anything better to do."While, of course, they counterattack with an excuse, my personal specialty, "Well, I want to go rock climbing." This is where I pull out the carrot, "Ulrich's Couloir is a going to be perfect and it is going to be 80 degrees! There isn't that much road and we can take two days to climb Stuart. Plus, it will be too nice for rock climbing. This is an easy ski - perfect for you!" I hear silence for a few moments before hearing, "Okay, I'll go." And, just like that I've tricked them. Remember, it's for their own good because they needed to go skiing.  It was imperative for their long-term health. Didn't you know skiing is healthy for the soul?

****push on photos to enlarge.

Now that we are at the trailhead, I think that it is time to get started. Hannah preparing to traverse to the head of Beverly Creek.

Another good friend of mine; Mount Stuart wasn't going to play any tricks. I shouted to him in the middle of the night, "The weather is going to be good and the snow is going to be great. Isn't that right, Mr. Stuart sir? No funny business!" He agreed and I left with Hannah early Friday morning, meeting Troy at the Teanaway Cutoff just out of the city of Cle Elum.  

My excitement led me too far up the road. It is always, always, ALWAYS a bad idea. Once I committed, I had to continue. I scolded myself but it did no good. Hannah reached for the "Oh Shit" handle, long since torn from the ceiling. Her look of horror as I floored the accelerator and shot over a bridge, explained it all. This was crazy. There was snow nearly to the bridge rails! If it wasn't for hard snow I would've never made it. I was stoked!

There were 3 miles of road to Beverly Creek, and another mile beyond there to the end of the road.  The climbing up past Bean Creek was very pleasant. I could get used to these wide open-forested eastern Washington slopes. This is so much better than the North Cascades!

Troy then thought it was a good idea to climb up to the wrong pass. I yelled, "Troy that's the wrong pass!" But he didn't hear me. No matter, we had all day, so I took photos and enjoyed it. We eventually traversed from the wrong pass and climbed up to the correct one. We were happy to see more open trees and a long downward traverse to camp, and I'm telling you, the weather was incredible. Several times on the traverse down, we would just stop and simply marvel. It was difficult to loose altitude into the dark valley, but we were tired and needed to make camp next to Turnpike Creek.

Troy skiing on nice sunny slopes. The wonderful traverse over to Stuart.
That night was pleasant. Troy and Hannah bivied while I slept in my small summer tent (I had faith!). Clouds sauntered in over the night and in the morning none of us were in a hurry. Breaks in the clouds did offer hope and convinced us our efforts would bear fruit. We further convinced ourselves that the wonderful sun like the day before would make the snow too soft. So, like fools we said, "Go away sun. We don't want you." But, like a faithful dog, it would return and we would be thankful.
  The morning glow greeting us on our way up Cascadian.
Filtered light between clouds. Troy and Hannah doing the hard work.
Troy and his shadow. Troy and Hannah still doing the hard work.
To get to Ulrich's you have to traverse a long way. Looking directly up at Cascadian, we asked ourselves, "Why don't we just climb Cascadian and ski Ulrich's." I know that Hannah and I were both thinking of suggesting it, but it was Troy who did. The climb up went fast. We booted all the way to the false summit, only taking two breaks along the way. Snow and blue sky intermediately graced us working like a thermostat. It wasn't until we were climbing steeper slopes over toward the true summit that the sun made a longer showing. We were thrilled. Here we were, just before the top with a unbelievable ski descent ahead, and here's the sun to send us off. Fantastic!
  Our break before crossing over to the true summit.
Troy looking for a way to go. Hannah looking at the view.
The traverse. Climbing to the summit.
These two just can't keep a straight face. The peaks beyond and Troy and Hannah preparing to ski.

"Let's go get your couloir on guys!" Troy and Hannah hiked back to the top and skied down to me. I had been waiting lower, and found the wonderfully tilted slope I had seen so many times before and yearned to ski waiting for me. I bounced turn after turn and hollered like a fool until I was just above the gut of Ulrich's Couloir. I set up the camera for Troy and had him take photos of me before catching him lower and taking the camera back.

This couloir was great and the snow perfectly softened. I really liked the rocky walls and how you jumped in and out of narrow sections to wide open. I skied down to a dead end couloir and was forced to climb back up and traverse. We down climbed a few feet before getting back on snow. These turns were great and I again skied myself to a dead end. This time I climbed back out and traversed back toward camp. It was a long way, but fast snow and just enough vertical helped us coast all the way there.

  Troy waiting to ski.
Jason skiing Ulrich's just the way he wanted too. Troy making fast work of perfect conditions.

We hurried to sort gear. None of us were looking forward to the hike back up to the pass. It turned out to be quite a pleasant hike, much like the day before. Several times when we had gotten higher up and could look back and see Mount Stuart, I'm sure we were all feeling the same thing - satisfied.

We stormed down from the pass all the way to the road. From there we put on wax that didn't seem to help anyone but Hannah. I passed her by where the road flattened and eventually met up with my brother who had climb up Earl Peak that day. He was bummed that he couldn"t get the day before off, but said he had fun. He also said, "I was bored waiting for you guys, so I was hiking back up the road. All of a sudden a Cougar is coming toward me! I backed up and started my back! (laughing)"  At least he wasn't hungry.

  Looking down the couloir.

Looking down the couloir.  

Finally we were back at our cars. It was dark. On my hood were chains. My brother had parked further down. Shaking his head he pointed, "I brought the chains. What the hell were you thinking driving this far?"The snow was soft and I knew I was in for a challenge. Hannah decided to walk the rest of the way rather than ride with me. I put on my seat belt, chains, and fired up the car. "Let's get it on!" I floored it and didn't let up. You could see between the bridge pavement and the top of the snow. It was waste high and I was smiling.

I reached safety and waited for Hannah, Troy and Josh. We were all tired as we had each had a long day, but that's good! Ski mountaineering should be about work and effort. That's how you earn the payoffs. Even when the effort entails a grimace, we all had smiles. This trip was perfectly balanced. Not too steep, long or burly and it had all the classic characteristics any ski mountaineer looks for: big peak, great scenery and nice line. My advice, check up on your friends. Make sure that they are getting their weekly requirements of skiing in. It's up to you to keep their souls healthy. If you must, dangle a carrot in front of them. Tell them the weather is going to be perfect. Tell them the powder is going to be deep. Tell them and they'll appreciate it. I know Hannah and Troy did.

Thanks for coming guys!!!


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