Amabalis Ski Loop
Gary was free for the day and we chose to ski an old favorite. Amabilis provides a nice 10 miles partial loop with great views on a sunny day. The 2300' of gain makes for a nice long downhill run. Two days earlier I scrambled up Pratt Mountain and was surprised to find a few inches of snow over a rock hard base. I was fearful that a bumpy, icy track on Amabilis might leave me battered and bruised. Gary did a short family ski at Cabin Creek the day before and met Jay heading up Amabilis. An evening call to Jay confirmed that ski conditions were good on the loop. With that in mind I agreed to Amabilis.
It was bitterly cold everywhere in Washington so we chose to get a little later start. Hopefully there would be sunshine even with a low temperature. We met in Issaquah at 8:30 and with a short detour we reached Cabin Creek at 9:40. There were very strong winds all the way from North Bend to the pass. We also noticed low clouds over the east side of the crest. We went from sunshine to dark low overcast as we crossed the pass. The pass gauge read 11 degrees.
There were already at least a dozen cars in the lot. We headed across the overpass and got started at 9:48. It was very cold but there was no wind at least. The route is groomed up to the intersection at about 2 1/2 miles. The snow proved to be pretty good. Hard packed by the groomer but not icy. It was snowing lightly as we headed uphill. The climbing went quickly as we strove to go fast enough to keep warm without sweating.
At the intersection we met three other skiers. We went out ahead taking the right fork for our ascent. From this point around the loop we had snowmobile tracks on the road. It was a bit lumpy but the ruts had not frozen. As we climbed we both knew that there is a place where the usual wind blows through. There was no doubt about when we reached it. The strong wind was debilitating. Gary took a look at the thermometer on my pack and it read 7 degrees. With the wind it was well below zero. My face was flash frozen.
It was bad enough to consider turning around. Gary pointed to some trees ahead and picked up the pace. Thankfully he was right and we were back out of the wind. The other times I have taken the the right fork route we have left the road to climb open and forested slopes to the ridge top. With the likelihood of wind up there we chose to stay with the road this time. After a leftward switchback any wind would at least be at our backs. Above us in places we saw blue sky. Perhaps we would get above the gloom after all.
The snow was fine for climbing and we trudged along until the ridge top was in sight. About then we moved above the clouds. Mt. Rainier was at least partially in view now. The trees here were plastered with snow and brightened by rime ice. Things were really looking up now. At the ridge top we chose to go right and along the ridge on a road. We continued until near the old tower site. There was some wind here but we found an open area in the sun with little wind. A perfect spot for lunch.
It took us 2 1/2 hours to ascend. Most all my clothes went on and it was warm enough that we spent over half and hour there. By 1:00 PM we were ready to head on. Along the road there were several gently sloped meadows. Gary took the opportunity to carve a few turns in the powdery snow. The snow was as dry as I have seen near the Cascade crest. Once back at the place where we first reached the ridge we plotted our route.
There is no road all the way around but making the connection is not hard. Before we headed out I stopped for photos. This is a very good spot for shots of the Cascade crest from Silver Peak to Mt. Daniel. Daniel and Hinman were much closer than I would have expected. We followed ski tracks a short way then skied untouched snow across to the other main road. The road descends then cuts around the ridge at a point where the snow is often blown away and the road is an icy sloping mess to go down. This time it was not too bad. A short steep mogully section took us down to the more gentle part of the ridge top road.
This was only my second ski trip of the year and I'm not a great downhill skier to begin with. The 2300' of descent can be slow or wickedly fast. This day it was somewhere in the middle. Although the road had snowmobile ruts and some moguls it was in pretty good shape. I could actually snowplow in most places and keep my speed under control. Gary has no such problems with speed and would speed down then look back to make sure I was still coming.
The ungroomed road went fast. We only passed two groups of skiers and a pair of snowshoers who were coming up. I had one fall which is not bad for me. The groomed section was lots of fun. It was faster but smooth enough to easily maneuver and control speed. In no time at all we were back at the bottom.
Although I had some reservations about 2300' of gain and descent on hard snow the conditions proved to be much better than I expected. It was hard but it was snow and not ice. The powder snow on the summit ridge was fantastic. We started in dark gloom and rose above it to have an afternoon of blue sky and bright white snow. The descent was fast but not death defying. With Saturday's crampon ascent of Pratt Mountain plus this fun ski trip it turned out to be a great three day weekend.
See all 30 photos at: Amabalis Ski Photos
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