On a recent trip to the lower forty-eight I took a couple days to do a backcountry ski traverse and winter camping trip with Aaron, a fellow commercial fishing crew member in Bristol Bay. As if we didn’t spend enough time confined to a small 32′ boat we decided it best to test the capacity of a Black Diamond Bibler tent with two guys and a dog for two nights in Washington’s winter wilds.
We were greeted at the trail head by a late eighties two-tone suburban to start the trip off with a 3 mile ride up a winding logging road and then transferred to a snow machine and sled. Yours truly got to ride the runners on the sled another 3-4 miles up to the Scottish Lakes High Camp. The camp is composed of a series of A-frame cabins, lodge, and most importantly a snorkel hot tub and sauna. After a quick skin up the McCue ridge to gain our bearings and more importantly down one of our limited supply of canned 211 Steel Reserves, so good they have to export it three times, we descended back to our warm A-frame and the aforementioned hot tub and sauna.
The next morning we packed up our gear and headed out into the surrounding sub-alpine and numerous lakes. We were greeted by low viz and warmer temps, which resulted in dodging tree bombs and a sweaty skin up to 5,508 ft. Loch Eileen. On arriving at the lake’s edge we decided to take advantage of the ever decreasing cloud cover and dug our tent in and created a little kitchen area, table, and benches out of the snow pack. With our base camp setup, the adjacent ridge line was almost begging us to test its slopes to try and get some turns. The snow pack was soft on the way up and decreased in moisture and temperature the further we skinned up in elevation. Once reaching our goal of a nearby peak that overlooked an awesome drainage circumscribed by a few 7,000 foot peaks and what looked to be some great descents, we dropped in to avoid an incoming front of clouds. The turns on the way down started with a couple inch dry crust that transitioned to a stiff styrofoam all the way back to camp. Nighttime fell on our little campsite and as we prepped dinner and warm water bottles for our feet, one of the blessed joys of winter camping, the clouds dissipated to reveal a curtain of stars. With the night’s tapestry hung and a long day ahead of us we settled into our sleeping bags.
After a restless night of sleep, thanks to a wind filled night, caused by what we surmised to be the trailing edge of the front that passed over us the day/night before. We lay in our sleeping bags enjoying what little warmth our water bottles retained and waited for the sun to hit the tent walls before heading out into the cold. With the warmth of the morning sun, we rose to make our breakfast of instant oatmeal and strike camp to move up to 6,000 feet for the next night.
Upon finding our final campsite we dug in the tent on the off chance that the winds would return. Once we were satisfied with our excavation and new abode, we decided to head out and get some turns. We reached our first summit only to see two skiers on their own hunt for some earned turns. They were approaching from the direction we were planning on descending from the next day, so we decided to wait until they reached us to get some recon on the trail conditions and the avalanche chute called the Swath. After sitting through one of the skiers’ resume on his skiing exploits in the area, we got the gist of what we would encounter the next day and dropped into the alpine bowl. The snow on the west facing slope was slightly wind buffed, but proved itself carve worthy and was dispatched with a few surfy turns that led to our next uptrack.
Once the splitboard was disassembled and re-skinned the final ascent of the day was on. Picking our way through deciduous conifers we climbed a different aspect of the ridge from the day before. We were greeted by a slightly less cloudy vista of the valley that showed even grander peaks hidden by the previous day’s clouds. Satisfied with our day’s work, we began the final descent to our new campsite and the chore of building a fire. The fire proved useful as a means of warding of the distinct drop in the mercury as the sun fell beyond the horizon of distant snow capped peaks.
Once the final campsite was struck and the remains of our fire were covered, we donned our packs and made our final ascent towards our nearly 4,000 foot ski out. After a quick pit and a few ski cuts Aaron decreed the chute safe and we dropped into the aptly named Swath. A wide avalanche chute with decent turns greeted us for the first thousand feet or so that gave way to a consistent gradient of harder and harder snow as we descended toward a road and our ultimate goal. The road could only be described as a series of switchbacks laden with what looked like a choppy sea frozen in snowy-ice, compliments of snow machiners. I swore and chattered my way down the mile long road. Once the road flattened out to the final stretch of flats, Aaron convinced me to switch my splitboard back to ski mode; which quickly cured me of any desire to learn how to ski in the near future. I guess some of us are just meant to ride on one plank. At the end of the road Aaron’s wife Keegan and his cherubic little boy Elon greeted us with cold PBRs and a fresh set of clothes. Not a bad way to end a trip or any day of skiing really.