Thursday, March 24, 2011

Adventure Skiing In Wells Creek
Tana Beus (mountain goat biologist) wanted to put in another remote wildlife camera in the Mount Baker area.  She had placed one camera beyond Herman Saddle, so we needed to check the memory card and batteries on that one,  then descend 2500 feet into Wells Creek and install a second camera.  I looked at the map and noticed that the contour lines were awfully close together in upper Wells Creek, and as usual these past years the low elevation snowpack was not very good.  A good snowpack is handy thing for hiding a myriad of pesky obstacles that make traveling with skis difficult.
Once over Herman Saddle with Shuksan glowing brilliant on a clear spring day, we descended to the Chain Lakes and beyond.  The snow was heavy and crusted a bit in the sun, but nice powder still on the shaded north slopes.
Using a Nikon D90 and a 12 - 24 Nikkor zoom in high speed burst mode, with the bracketing turned off; captured Tana's turns leaving Herman Saddle.  No one else out skiing on a March Wednesday.

Once we made adjustments to the first remote camera, we headed westerly looking for a narrow drainage leading down into Wells Creek.  Weaving in and out of trees, sideslipping steep hard terrain, dropping off overhanging snow blobs and carving an actual turn or two deposited us above the creek.
Up to this point we could kinda see a route down, but traversing the ultra steep slopes of upper wells creek to reach the road looked grim.  Snow mushrooms draping boulders about to collapse, small nasty side streams running just beneath the snow and a tight mesh of wiry little hemlocks and firs barred progress.
Two miles and four hours later we did reach the road.  Until this trip I hadn't fallen while skiing all winter, but there was no predicting what the skis would do in the sunny mush with many cavities, pockets and lurking hazards beneath.  Photos not included in this little tale (because there aren't any thankfully) are Alan upside down in a soggy mossy trickle of a stream festooned with leafless Devil's Club.  The spiny stems sprouting up through the thin snow like miniature maces wielded by equally small warriors.  At 5 pm the road at last, where even Tana (youth though she is) flopped on her pack for a sunny breather.  The toe of Lasiocarpa Ridge and the distant northeast wall of Mount Baker provided us a view better than dense dark woods.
Then it was simply a matter of placing the second remote camera somewhere in the valley, and skiing the five mile road down to Nooksack Falls just minutes before dark.  As we looked back at Koma Kulshan in the evening, wintry mists swirled across the Mazama Glacier and Cockscomb Ridge.  Early spring was here, and other journeys beckoned.

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