Red Mountain
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Climbing is dangerous! Every year many climbers are broken, maimed, and killed. Don't be so foolish as to trust your life to what you see here. I'm not a guide and neither is this web site. If you don't know what you are doing or where you are going, please take a course or hire a guide!

Red Mountain climb and Ski Descent

March 4, 2001

Jens and I had been talking about a low-stress ski tour for a few weeks. We were ready for a break from the mental hijinks associated with ice climbing. With some recent snow over a firm base, and a good weather forecast, we thought Red Mountain would make for a fun, short day. Plus, since it is so close, we wouldn't have to make a "stupid early" start.

Red Mountain from the Commonwealth Basin. The west ridge route climbs to the shoulder on the left, then ascends the left skyline.

Jens met me at my house at 6:00 AM. We threw my gear into his car and, after a coffee stop, headed up to Snoqualmie Pass. At 7:30 we walked away from the car, poaching our way up the groomed slopes beneath the rope tows of the Sahale Ski Club. Their plethora of "Private Property" signs is reminiscent of Northern Michigan, where landowners futilely try to protect there carefully maintained "private" deer herds from the hordes of gun-toting, deer-crazed city-folk during hunting season.

But I digress. Thanks to the low-precip winter and the hordes of people who regularly invade the Commonwealth Basin, we enjoyed a well packed-out trail. At 8:30 AM we were on that distinct flat area just below the business on the west ridge of Red. At this point I stopped to take a picture and dropped my Marmot X-Trainer gloves. Of course I didn't realize this until much later. If you find them I'd really like to get them back. All black, size medium.

Jens skinning near the west ridge shoulder. I dropped my gloves when I took this picture.

Above us the snow was swirling and blowing all over, like some scene from an Everest show. Meanwhile, Jens was really loving life on his 3/4 length skins- he just didn't have the traction that I did. Then the trail we had been following stopped. Whoever put it in the day before decided not to venture all the way up. So we had to start breaking ourselves, just as the slope steepened and the trees began to fade. We skinned for a while longer, then gave up the skis in favor of boot-packing. Twelve inches of two-day old snow over a very firm base made for strenuous, but much easier than usual postholing. After several hundred yards, the firm base prompted us to don crampons.

Loren making the dreaded bootpack before we opted for crampons.

We continued up, staying as close to the ridge (and its firm snow) as possible. At times the wind temporarily whipped the snow into a near white-out. But those bursts were short lived and interrupted by occassional sunshine.

Jens on the west ridge with the slopes of Kendall Mountain behind.

At times there was a lot of spindrift.

Loren cramponing high on the west ridge.

We took turns in the lead, breaking trail and fighting the wind. At 10:30 we reached the top and were rewarded with a brief windless spell and a very nice view of the west ridge of Mt. Thompson, which we climbed last summer. It was 10:30 AM. Three hours from the car, which is not bad considering that we did have to break some trail on the steepest part of the climb.

Jens on the summit in bizarre weather.

Loren looking fat on the summit. The west ridge of Mt. Thompson is directly below my left arm.

Jens preparing to ski amidst a spindrift rainbow on the summit. Oh, and my finger, of course.

We sat for a while, drank some coffee and reflected on the contrast between a moderate winter scramble and leading ice. As we talked we swapped from climbing mode to ski mode: Off with crampons, on with spoilers, and crank down the buckles. We'd both been evaluating the snow pack on the way up. It seemed remarkably stable given the 12-18 inches of fresh and the wind loading. There had been no spontaneous slides in the entire basin (that we could see) and we hadn't kicked off anything either. Still, our first few turns were tentative as we left the top. We took turns skiing, taking pictures, and cutting the slopes. No avalanche activity, none. Not even a surface sluff. Satisfied, we skied down together.

The skiing was really spectacular, I got multiple face shots even with my deliberate style. About 750 vertical feet below the summit we traversed off the west face onto the southwest slopes, to maximize our skiing. We found some of the steepest slopes here, just above the treeline. 

Loren managing a face shot on the way down. I am holding my cafeteria tray, I am holding my cafeteria tray...

The snow got a little heavy, but Jens was able to pick a route through the trees that allowed us to keep our skis on and we ended up on the "highway" near the last creek crossing. We met up with a group of three here, the first people we'd seen all day. We exchanged pleasantries while Jens and I removed some clothing. It was surprisingly windy this far into the valley. We put our skins back on and headed back along the trail. Just above the waterfall we stripped them back off and enjoyed a few more turns through the trees and then back down through the Sahale Ski area. The rope tow was running, but they didn't say anything to us about poaching their courduroy. We were back at the car at 12:15, only 75 minutes after we left the summit.

We capped the day by watching the lift skiers while we enjoyed a couple beers. Red is a sweet tour, just wait for good, safe conditions.


This page was last edited on Thursday, January 01, 2004
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