Whitehorse Mountain, Avalanche Gulch
February 25, 2008

~As if our birth had at first sundered things, and we had been thrust up through into nature like a wedge, and not till the wound heals and the scar disappears, do we begin to discover where we are, and that nature is one and continuous everywhere.

Henry David Thoreau

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Photos and story by Jason Hummel

On a Saturday morning well before light, I found myself in a dark forest. What rain was expected had fallen as drizzle and hadn't added up to much. Fog drooled through tangled tree branches laden with snow and frozen moss. The snow still lingered in Darrington from storms earlier this Winter making for a deeper low level snow pack than I've ever seen, allowing us to skin from the car at 600-700-ft elevation all the way to the base of our tormentor and soon to be mistress, Whitehorse Mountain.

With our packs on we began weaving our way up the road. It is easy to worry about the climb and what shenanigans there will be. Instead I thought about my previous weekend’s sunny turns and of the similar forests I had hiked through. What I couldn't figure out and still can't fathom is this, "Why is the forest so loud?" Animals and snow bombs began to sweep through the trees as light awakened them, serving us with hope that it would be a nice day. When Whitehorse Glacier came into full view, no clouds or fog obscuring her, our surprise couldn’t be masked.

This was to be Sky's fourth venture up Whitehorse. After three failures, he was praying for success. As soon as leaving the road, we headed slightly down to cross a creek, which left Sky slipping off a rock, obscenities flying through the air like missiles that surely couldn't obliterate our primary opponent. It laid directly above us, covering the creek-entire. This massive pile of avalanche debris whose frozen carcass laid piled as high and as wide as an air force hanger looked like dunes! Although, however bad this appeared the climbing was easy. Although, thinking ahead, I could only imagine the skiing as horrendously ego-dashing.

But it is best not to think about those things.

Ahead of us was the crux of the route. Throughout the lower basin is a cliff band that wraps around its gut and this anus of places required a lot of shit-climbing before we would reach higher slopes. Sky had tried the left-hand side, but Ryan thought the right-hand side looked better. We all agreed and climbed up out of the debris toward a steep wall of snow. This led us to slopes we traversed across by climbing in and out of icy slough paths full of even more frozen debris.

By the time we had climbed above 3k the snow began to hint at improvements ahead, but I could never have imagined what lay in store for us. It was like reading the numbers for the lotto, and thinking, "Boy those are a bit like mine?" Then upon looking you discover they are! Instead of money our winnings were won in fields of powder blanketed by a halo of wild, feral light racing through a few lingering clouds. The tiny crystallized balls of snow were what I imagined a combination of warm weather followed by very cold nights could produce. Earlier in the week it was warm and then it became much chillier, sucking the moisture back out of the snow, leaving the most peculiar kind of powder.

Beyond the great snow and wondrous views were chances to capture it all with a picture. I was in heaven and couldn't help but take dozens of shots of every feature of rock, valley and mountain. When I was younger I was a decent artist, but the desire fled with age and now, with a camera, I am able to rescue those long lost feelings and this has been a great joy for me. Nature is like a great painting but unlike one made of paint; this one is made ever changing. With season and hour this tapestry continually fascinates and inspires me.

Near the col that brings us off the North Face, we feared the stability, but were able to find wind-scoured slopes to bring us over it. Sky charged into the sunlight as we climbed one at a time. The temperature had risen from freezing to blazing hot and the angelic curves of light and shadow were formidable and frightening on such a white canvas. I felt immeasurable joy to be allowed to walk there and as much effort as the day had already taken, walking now was effortless. It felt akin to being in an angels world with abilities to fly and ghost through Earth's ether. Our shadows were burnt into the slopes. Every aspect of this place was without flaw except for our tracks.

Sky decided to take some turns before going to the summit. I shot several pictures of him from my resting place. His thrill could be felt vibrating through the snow. Wow, what a set of turns! As he climbed back up Ryan started for the summit and I took even more photos. Glacier Peak was preening and her scions were stretched to either side of her like a marching army.

Sky passed me as I pulled out an axe and put on crampons. The climb was steep but not terribly exposed with this amount of snow. There was a little rock at the very top that I had to pull myself over. Here the sunlit rocks warmed my freezing hands. Sights of the airy drop down to the lower slopes of Three Fingers weakened my knees, but couldn't flatten the smile on my face. I love to summit! And better yet when I get to ski all the way back down.

Ryan and Sky posed for a few summit shots where you will notice smiles. I don't think I've ever seen Sky so pleased to reach a summit.

Skiing off the top was interesting but as soon as we dropped onto the face, we cruised down wondrously inclined slopes down to soul-stroking powder. By then my mind was humming rock ballads and feasting such gluttony upon these snowy granules, I must’a been half-crazed and high from their sway.

From the pass, we dropped into the North Face where I got Sky to jump a small crevasse for me. After that photos were secondary priorities, as the powder was good and the light was behind us. I think this choice was preferred in either case, because I wanted some turns.

And TURNS I got. They were good! Great!! Spectacular!!!

And then they weren't.


Over five thousand feet of goodness left at least fifteen hundred feet of hell. Icy slopes led to icier slopes ridden with avalanche paths that were even harder still. I felt like a teenager groping my way into a girlfriends skirt and being slapped hard for my miscreant ways. Copious sidestepping and dripping sweat caught me up to Sky and Ryan after as much as a half an hour. Some softer turns led us to the steep chute through the cliffs. More side-stepping and tree-rappelling led from the side-and-slay slopes above to flatter land, happily in one piece. I was very relieved, but much too early. The avalanche debris was frozen like bowling balls by the thousands. Not to forget of course the interspersed slip and slays. I definitely can't dance, but this surely showed I can't ski worth a damn either. "Why you ask, am I skiing?" Well, because I could and the challenge is mine to meet. But god damn, I was getting my ass handed to me.

And then there was relief again. Sky had a cheat route that would avoid further avi debris. Unfortunately of  no glory or easy-skating for the non-initiated, we flailed along more slip and slays until the snow softened to rotten mush full of logs and moats. Nearly cliffed out we took our skis off and climbed down through moss and mud to put our skis on in deeper muck and make our way down to the valley with a hoot and holler.


After crossing the creek, we continued along the up and down road to the car. Along the way Sky threw obscenities like tinsel at a party. The forest echoed with all our screams and the loudness of it all made us yell all the more louder. We were thrilled and looks later from the gas station just down from where we parked, made us feel like we were in Europe. Now when we drove along the Mountain Loop Highway through Darrington, we could tell ourselves, "Look at that! I’ve been there, done that."  This mistress and tormentor was just what I needed.

If you have read this far, you deserve the PHOTO ONSLAUGHT!!!

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