Trip stats and gear
Elevation Gain: 3890 feet
Miles: 3 miles up and down
Total Time: 5 1/2 hours (3 1/2 up, 45 minute on summit, 1 1/4 going down
Conditions: Mostly pack snow with some postholing
Gear needed (or very highly recommended as of 2/23/08)
Ice axe, crampons, (absolutely no snowshoes), essential winter gear
Details of trip: 3000' of glissade runs, 360 view, climb up avalanche gully (danger lowest all season)
In all the years that have gone hiking, rock climbing, repelling, scrambling, and ice climbing I have had little experience with my ice axe and never done one thing glissading. It has saddened me that all these years I had never experienced this thrill of glissading of a mountain. BOY WAS I MISSING LIFE.
My friend Curt offered to change all that with a trip up the avalanche gully up Granite Mountain in Snoqualmie Pass. He loves this mountain just as much as I love Mt. Lafayette in New Hampshire. Yes, if you have seen me write on this mountain before it was because his five year old son beat me to the summit of the mountain. The conditions were not supposed to be bad. The day outside of one or two morning showers was supposed to be partly cloudy and the avalanche danger which has been so high this year was suppose to be very low.
As we reached the trailhead Curt was shocked to see how much snow was at the parking area. It was clear that the whole trip up was going to be a snowclimb. We began on the Pratt Lake Trailhead and went up the trail a mile or so. This was nothing special but Curt had a major spark of energy and he was at times running up this occasionally slick trail. I tried the yaktrax but they were having a hard time staying on. This was clearly slowing me down so I decided to ditch the yaktrax for the crampons and after a little tweaking with the crampons I was back in business. Curt continued to fly up the trail all the way up to the avalanche gully.
This is where a clear reversal of fortune accrued. Once we hit the avalanche gully I saw a slick partly eroded glissade route and decided to take it up. With my crampons this route was very easy for me, but for Curt who did not bring crampons it was clearly way too slippery and he had to trek to the side as I climbed up the glassade trax. The snow in the gully was clearly compact due to the fact that it hasn't snow heavily here in well over a week. Still we carefully went up this section and took a combination of track to treeline. When we hit treeline we decided to go left of the gully and head for a ridge of exposed rocks. We went up the snow section where the summit came into the view. Curt hung around the rocks where I stayed in the snow to the left. It was almost agonizing looking at the Granite Mountain tower because it looked so close yet was so far.
I got very close to the summit where my final wind kicked in and I started to fly. Poor Curt, who would roast me on any other trail any other day of week, was getting tired on this one. At this point Curt came in a little behind due to being extremely tired due to the ice and packed snow.
As we both stood on top of the mountain we ran into two really nice people from OSAT (Matt and Dave). I was happy I made the summit but getting down was clearly going to be the hard part. I was either going to glissade down this mountain or take a really hard downclimb down. I talked to the three of them about the trip down and they gave me great advise. They reminded me that going glissading with crampons would be very bad (broken ankle, leg). Oh no, my secret weapon up the packed snow and sometimes ice is taken.
After about forty-five minutes Curt and I went down. Curt went down and it was clear that without the crampons I was having a hard time going down at first. I was staring 4000 feet down a steep slope and was scared ####less about going down this fully exposed slope. I struggle for about twenty minutes trying to get the confidence to go down this mountain. It was at this time when the other two guys came behind and the more experienced OSAT member showed me the basics of glissading and included showing me some self arrest moves to break the fall if I lost control. I own him a VERY SPECIAL THANKS for this because the fifteen minutes he spent showing me the basics clearly made my trip down from a nightmare to an amazing enjoyment.
I quickly caught on to the self arrest and though I was very timid at first with the glissade (doing continuous self arrest the minute I got any speed) it was starting to come to me and after a couple more small glissades (yes they were very slow because I wanted to stay in control) I became more comfortable. By the time I hit the avalanche gully my confidence had reached high enough that I became less timid. All the sudden that 4000 steep slope became less and less steep and once I hitting treeline I was starting to go a little quicker. When we reached the gully the slope was much easier. I started getting the same rush that pulled me to one of my other hobbies which is riding rollercoasters. Glissading to me reminds me of a combination of sledding, whitewater rafting, and rollercoaster riding with the thrill that I believe goes beyond all three.
Both Curt and I flew in the avalache gully making great time on the mountain. We made it most of the way down the gully but had to stop roughly 800 feet from the base because there was a open waterfall about fifty feet below us. After postholing much of way down Curt and I decided to tree glissade down an established route to the trail where we decided to take the trail the rest of way back.
Will I do this again? HELL YEAH! But I know that it would not have been as easy if it was not for that guy helping me out in the glissade. It really meant a lot and it made all the difference in this trip. Clearly it is very great to see the mountaineering alive and well in the mountains. Hopefully I will get a chance to repay the world by helping another fellow mountaineer. I'd also like to thank Curt well for inviting me on this trip and showing me the beauty of this mountain.