Upward and onward!

A couple of weeks ago I took an AIARE (American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education) course via The Mountaineers, and taught by the good people at BC Adventure Guides.

We spent a couple lecture days in Tacoma going over the materials, watching videos and getting a handle on avalanches in general.

Questions were asked and answered, coffee was consumed and one guy had the wrong classroom.

The following weekend we met for the field portion at Snoqualmie Pass.

Witchcraft, clearly.


Checked NWAC before leaving the house.

We marched up around Silver Fir Lodge to become acquainted with our avalanche beacons and to delve into companion rescue.

It didn’t take long to realize just how screwed you are if you are buried without a beacon.

In very little time at all we went from barely knowing how to turn the things on to locating buried beacons in the snow as a team.

If we had to find the same beacons using only probes….we’d still be looking.

Life and death right there. Seriously.

“And on the first day he dugeth a test pit and saw that it was good”


Checked NWAC before leaving (there is a theme here)

Today was about putting everything we learned together into a mini tour of Mt.Hyak.

We dug a couple pits and made many field observations along the way.

Whichwaysthewinda’blowin’? Howhardisshea’howlin’? Howmuchsnosa’snowin’?

With the NW slope of Mt.Catherine as our backdrop we focused on snowpack observations and field tests.

Our Rutschblock Test was particularly amusing and insightful.

Skiers curiously eyeballed us as they occasioned by, some even asked about our findings

Oh that reminds me, our “avalanche victims” deserve a round of applause as well…Daytime Emmys for everybody!

Through the woods

As we traveled back to the parking lot some ideas started congealing in my brain:

Reluctant to part with the money for a beacon…?

Experiencing firsthand the difference an avalanche beacon makes when trying to locate an avalanche victim is stunning.

If you don’t want to buy one, you could always rent one instead. BCAdventures offered rentals, as well as a list of retailers that rented beacons as well.

Remember: Money… you can’t take it with you!

“This is some serious s#!t buddy!”

Winter time travel in the mountains is inherently dangerous and many of our familiar summer routes bear grave avalanche risk in the winter months.

Sadly, some kill year after year.

Any loaded slope of sufficient grade can slide and various terrain features can exacerbate that risk.

Knowing how to choose terrain is probably the single greatest thing you can do to save your life.

I probably could have learned this stuff on my own…

Yeah I suppose you could, in theory.

I knew a lot of things going into this class, but I left it with more than I probably would have ever learned by myself.

Also, there is no substitute for learning from an experienced guide that can answer all of your questions… well, about avalanches anyway.

Would you take this course again in hindsight?


Der Rutschblock

Do you know avalanche terrain?

Maybe you are missing out on deeper backcountry because you are too cautious?

Maybe you’ve had one foot in the grave for years without ever even knowing it?

Do you know?

I highly suggest taking an AIARE 1 course in your area if you ever intend to travel in avalanche terrain. (aka teh intir mowntens)

If you don’t, you’ll be happy the person who digs you out did.

If you get dug out…

Happy Trails!




Bitter Creek: The Finale

A lot nicer without those pesky clouds

Ok yeah, I’m starting to sound a little like a broken record.

Initially I wasn’t planning on heading back up to Bitter Creek so soon, but I gave the Greek a call and it just so happened he was looking to take some friends on a moderate snowshoe.

“You don’t say. Hmm, you know I might have just the place”…

Plus, with the weather on Friday, the views were sure to be there.

La pared de hielo

01JAN2016 New Years Day

I got to Index half hour early or so, the wind was just screaming up the US-2 corridor.

Fortunately Heybrook Ridge and the Gunn Peak Massif blocked pretty much all of the wind in the North Fork Sky valley.

The Greek and his friends showed up a little after nine and we were off.

There were fresh footprints along the track, but they fell off at the shooting range.

Really, there isn’t too much to report. The track is solid all the way up with heaping portions of peace, quiet and solitude.

By the time we got up into the cirque some of the party was running out of steam and they stopped for lunch.

The Greek and I continued up towards the ice wall, but the pull of cheese and sausage was too much for him and he fell off and descended back to the feast.

Sausage eaters

Wind slab from high above was a slight concern and we’d seen a couple small releases on the way up, mostly powder rivulets. In the cirque itself, surface hoar was abundant. (Always check NWAC)

Alongside Bitter Creek, a gully had run out, and high on Jump-Off Ridge the crisp lines of recently released slabs were visibly glinting in the sunlight.

Views were fantastic. The wall and other ice features seemed to glow dimly in the shade of the cirque. High above, the ridge lines were laced with golden light.

The North Fork Sky valley was framed perfectly by the walls of the cirque, and approximately in the middle were three human shapes, bonding over sausage.

The trip down rewarded us with warming sun and rapidly evolving views of the jagged visage of the Index-Persis complex across the way.

I placed a quarter near the bottom for a size comparison.


All in all I think it took our group 3 hours up and 1.5 or so down.

Now that the route has been brushed and a trail well stomped in, it’s golden, just waiting there for you.

Lots of animal sign, but I think our group of four probably scared off anything within earshot because we didn’t see any critters this time.

Oh, and just my two cents:

Shooters, I like to shoot a gun as much as the next guy. I am not “anti-gun” or “anti-shooting”. What I am “anti” is you people leaving a giant f&%#ing mess wherever you go.

Clean up your $#!t and maybe the Forest Service and outdoor enthusiasts will be a little more sympathetic to your outdoor usage needs.

Frankly, you should be your brother’s keeper out there and pack out the crap your less considerate fellows left behind.

I do it, I’m always picking up candy wrappers and water bottles that jackass hikers left behind.

Love it or leave it, bruh… and I don’t mean leave your $#!t.

Happy Trails!



Copper Lake 3961′

Heaven ain't got nothin' on this place!
Heaven ain’t got nothin’ on this place!

Copper Lake is typically the second lake one will reach on the West Fork Foss Lakes Trail #1064, the first being Trout Lake.

Comparing the two though is like night and day.


As previously mentioned, you can get there by way of the Foss Lakes trail. You could feasibly get there all kinds of ways, but the trail is by far the easiest.


Copper Lake is one of the more popular destinations along the Foss trail, and being more or less the middle point, provides a decent base to explore the surrounding peaks, lakes and “whathaveyas”.

A lake in the sky

There is a collapsed adit at the south end of the lake, in fact the trail utilizes the tailings pile as it heads to Little Heart Lake.

According to DWHM#1 there may exist a claim “1 mile south of Malachite Lake on a ridge west of Copper Lake”.  It is described as a “Caved pit and caved adit”.

I’ve heard speculation that these may be the same claim.


I’ve caught both Cutthroats and Brook Trout out of Copper Lake. The most convenient fishing access is at the north end of the lake, but the intrepid may be able to find access to less accessible shoreline.

If you are so inclined, you could hike up an inflatable raft and ply the azure waters until your heart is content.

“Point 5890”


Copper Lake is pretty big, and the trail ambles along it’s eastern shore for it’s entirety. This affords many campsites to choose from.

The north end of the lake hold the lion’s share of campsites, but others exist along the trail, and between Copper and Little Heart Lakes.

There is a backcountry toilet available for use here, so please, if nature calls, use it rather than a cathole.

Campfires are prohibited at Copper Lake and any point over 4000’ft in the Alpine Lakes wilderness (west).

Other regulations may apply.

Malachite Peak

Lennox Mountain (North Fork Approach)

That's Lennox
That’s Lennox

This journey begins at the Bare Mountain trailhead, approx. 20 miles out of North Bend down the North Fork road.


Elevation gain: 4000’±

Mileage: 10mi RT±

Ice cold lakes mocking you on a blazing hot day: 4

(fortunately Bear Lake is along the way, and pleasantly swimmable!)


Behr Gap from Bear Lake
Behr Gap from Bear Lake

The Bare Mountain trail begins upon a very unpleasant substrate of grapefruit sized rocks, which are just a pain in the butt to walk on, especially on the way down, and especially when wet.

The second obstacle of note is the Bear Creek crossing which can be very treacherous during the melt or other high water.


The trail continues along, passing over Bear creek once again, but this time across a steadily deteriorating bridge.

After the bridge, the trail surface turns to dirt and is much more agreeable to walk upon.

J Viejo ascending the ridge
J Viejo ascending the ridge

Forest gives way to open slopes of Bracken Fern and shrubbery. At about 2 miles you will reach an intersection consisting of a switchback sharply heading left at a 20˚ angle, or a rough hewn trail heading straight ahead.

Heading straight leads to Bear Basin, while the switchback leads to Bare Mountain. Go straight.

Behr Gap
Behr Gap

The trail leads over a few old bridges in varying states of decay, proceeds to pass some mining debris and aircraft wreckage before reaching another intersection. This time take a left.

This leads to a small open area with scattered debris. Look for a trail heading uphill into the woods. (At the time of this writing it’s marked by a purple dog poop bag)

Keep heading up, over a small bridge made of old pipe, then passing an established camp along the creek.

The slabs
The slabs

The trail continues uphill, becoming more rough hewn the higher you get.

The Greek using the helper rope
The Greek using the helper rope

You’ll break out of the woods and onto alpine shrubs and talus. Here you might notice the light colored tailing piles of a couple of mines above you. You’ll want to work your way up towards the one on the right.

Climbing the tailings pile will put you in front of an open adit. To the right of it follow the boot path heading up the hill.

Lots and lots of talus
Lots and lots of talus

Things begin to steepen up here, and in wetter years or during the melt, this area is more or less a waterfall. There is one section that has a helper rope. It comes in handy, but the user agreement clearly states that the rope accepts no responsibility should it break.

The next stop is Bear Lake.

If you intend to overnight, this isn’t a bad place to bivouac for the night.

Leaving the lake, climb up the talus toward the gap to the NW. Here you’ll get your first view of Mt.Phelps, as well as the Paradise Lakes.

Last chance for water area
Last chance for water area

Let’s call this Paradise Gap. No wait, I got a better idea! Let’s call it Behr Gap! Gotta stick with the naming consistency!

Anyway, from here gain the ridge to the east. This is the western ridge of Canoe Peak.

Standing atop the ridge will reveal Lennox Mountain, as well as the long traverse you’ll have to surmount to get there. If you keep a good pace, the average hiker can expect to get to the summit in about 2-3 hours from here.

Descend the ridge until it’s more level and head east across boulder sized talus, traversing your way towards Lennox.

Soon you’ll come to a flat meadow area, which is also your last chance for water for some time. This is also a good place to assess the terrain and make your plan.

Approx. Map
Approx. Map

Gaining the ridge is obvious, but where?

Much of the ridge wall is sheer cliff as you’ll see. Stay low, but on the talus. There will be a treed portion which hides a gap after you ascend loose talus and steep heather.

Steep heather to the gap
Steep heather to the gap

This will put you on the ridge, looking down upon Coney Basin.

Now head NE, staying below the ridgeline itself.

For the most part this is just more talus travel, but there is a short section in which you’ll make use of narrow meadow ledges to cross some short cliffs.

Coney Lake (Wolverine fire in background)
Coney Lake (Wolverine fire in background)

Eventually you’ll run into a deep gully. Parallel it up the talus, looking for another heather gap.

This will put you on top of the ridge, as well as give you a look at lovely Coney Lake and your quarry; Lennox Summit.

At this point just aim yourself toward the summit and enjoy a walk on top of the world through alpine meadows, heather and world class views.

Lennox Summit
Lennox Summit

You made it!

If your legs aren’t noodles by now, the hike back will seal the deal.

Good Luck and Happy trails!

Summit Panorama
Summit Panorama