For years I have wanted to ski every month of the year. Much of the year presents no problem. Lift served skiing in Washington generally begins in November and runs through at least April. When the lifts stop running my friend, Darren, and I start doing “dawn patrols” on Fridays before work for at least May and June. With the huge snowfall we had last winter, Crystal Mountain had the lifts running on weekends until mid-July so that got us to July without even trying. The problem months are usually August, September and October.
Because of the huge snowpack from last winter, Crystal Mountain had enough snow for us to do an August dawn patrol and check August off the list without much effort. Timberline, on the flanks or Oregon’s Mt Hood, opened their “Fall” ski season on September 30. There was only a large patch of snow on the Palmer snowfield, but it was being served by a lift and we did laps on it until they would no longer let us on the lift again. September ? Check!
I was certain that the snow would fall early and Crystal would be open, at least partially, before the end of October. As it got later and later into the month we realized that if we were going to get some turns in October we were going to have to go to extreme measures. We compared our, full, calendars and decided that we could do a dawn patrol to Paradise on Mt Rainier on Tuesday October 25. Paradise sits at 5400 feet and I expected that we would have to climb to 7200 feet before we could find continuous snow. I needed to be at work no later than 11:30 AM which dictated when I would have to start driving back (9:00 AM). Working backwards we figured we would have to be climbing by 4:30 AM to gain enough elevation to ski and return to the car. If we could get to 8500 feet by the time the sun came up we could have a pretty good descent and still get back to the car in time. We decided to go for it. In order to give us as much sleep as possible we stayed in a motel just outside the park on Monday night and were on the road to Paradise before 3:30.
We parked the car and were on the trail by 4:20 hiking in light shoes, carrying our skis and boots on our packs. There was a light dusting of snow on the trail that got deeper as we gained elevation. Our field of vision was limited to the small pools of light cast by our headlamps. Above us the sky was a blaze of stars. The waning moon had yet to rise. There was no wind but it was cold. The temperature at the parking lot was in the low 20s. I was in heaven. It just doesn’t get better than this.
Ninety minutes of climbing brought us to Pebble Creek at 7200 feet and continuous snow deep enough to ski. We removed our shoes and put on our, (very) cold, ski boots. Now we were finally skinning up the snow field. We continued our ascent and stopped to watch the sun peek above the eastern horizon at a bit after 7:00 AM. We had been climbing less than 3 hours, were now at 9100 feet and ready for our October turns. As there were only a few inches of new snow on a very firm base I wasn’t sure what to expect from our descent. I should not have worried. The skiing was fantastic. This was absolutely the best snow we had skied since our “guys’ only” Whistler trip in April. The descent to Pebble Creek was altogether too quick with only a couple of stops to admire our tracks and the view in the morning alpenglow. During one of the stops I wished I could have blown off work for the whole day and started back up the mountain for another run.
October? Check! I have skied at least 1000 vertical feet in each of the past 12 months. Now let the lift served skiing begin.
I wish that every day of work could begin like this. Since they don’t it makes me treasure those few days that I can begin with a climb and ski descent.