June 5, 2010
Chair Peak Ski Circumnavigation: Bryant Col to Sno-Chair Pass
——————– Trip Report Summary ——————–
Region: Central Cascades
Starting & Ending Point: Alpental Ski Area Parking Lot
Way Points: Alpental Valley & Pineapple/Great-Scott Basin & Bryant Col & Melakwa Couloir & Melakwa Valley & Melakwa Pass & Chair Peak Lake & Snow Lake & Sno-Chair Pass & Source Lake & Alpental Valley (ski tour)
Approximate Stats: 8 miles traveled; 4200 feet gained & lost; 10.6 hours elapsed.
——————– Full Trip Report ——————–
I had been trying since April to do a ski circumnavigation of Chair Peak but was repeatedly thwarted by bad weather, unstable snow, and other issues. When favorable conditions suddenly presented themselves last Friday night, Doug, Peter, and Mark pounced on the opportunity for a Saturday attempt. This circumnavigation has become a true classic Cascadian ski tour due to a wonderful combination of varied terrain (including three passes and four lakes), rugged alpine scenery, delicate route-finding, healthy elevation gains, skiable couloirs, and a few white-knucle problem areas. Last year, I did it as a “girl’s trip” with Beth, Fay, Jenny, and Eileen. Naturally, that meant the gauntlet had been thrown down for this year’s “boy’s trip”!
We left from the main Alpental parking lot and walked up to the upper parking lot (access road closed), then started skinning from there. Snowcover was skimpy in the forest but increased quickly as we neared Source Lake. To reach Bryant Col, the high point of our loop, we ascended to Pineapple Basin on skis, traversed right at 4800 feet, booted up a steep chute (gingerly crossing a crux moat near the top), traversed right again, then skinned or booted up the final couloir. The sky had been partly cloudy all morning, but the air was becoming warm and the snow soft. This made us quite wary of wet-snow sloughs and slab releases.
We enjoyed a 700-foot ski descent from Bryant Col to the Melakwa Lake basin, then cut sharply right to begin a long rising traverse northward to Melakwa Pass. It was now early afternoon and very warm. As we dropped over the other side of the pass, the sun-broiled surficial snow layer readily peeled away and slid several hundred feet downslope. Yikes! These slides were shallow but still somewhat unnerving, so we created a stable slide swath by making ski cuts across the head of the couloir. This did the trick, leaving us with a fun descent to Chair Peak Lake. A series of traverses and descents provided more skiing thrills down to Snow Lake.
I was surprised to see that Snow Lake was still fully iced over, except for a narrow band along the northern shoreline. There had been much less melting than I’d seen last year at this time, probably because of the cold April and May this year. Tempting as it was to cross the lake directly, we didn’t want to risk a break-through incident; instead, we opted to skirt the northern shoreline.
This was scenic and only mildly tedious, but it required us to deal with another terrain problem: the lake outlet. Here, the challenge involved surmounting an undercut snowbank at the far end of the foot log. If we’d had ice axes and light packs, it would have been difficult enough; the fact that we were armed only with ski poles and were wielding floppy skis on our packs made this all the more sporting. Doug teased out the crux move, then kicked in some steps leading up the steep snowbank and between two rock outcrops. The rest of us followed, knowing that a slip or broken footstep would likely result in an icy plunge!
The remainder of our traverse around the lake, up to Sno-Chair Pass, down to Source Lake, and out to Alpental was relatively uneventful. The descent portion featured some very forgettable skiing through old avalanche debris and across icky melt-out patches. After a full day of adventure skiing, we were happy to finally reach our car in the Alpental parking lot. A kind stranger there offered us tasty lemon cake, which perfectly capped off our tour. Oh, are you wondering how the boys did this year compared to the girls last year? Amazingly, it was a dead heat!
Approximate Total Stats (car to car): 8 miles, 4400 feet gained and lost, 10.6 hours.
——————— Photo Gallery (click to enlarge) ————————-