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kitya
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PostMon Mar 09, 2020 7:27 pm 
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Sunday was very cold partially sunny day with low avy danger, so I thought it would finally be a good day to try Middle/North Chiwaukum. It was raining early in the morning and it turned into snowing near Stevens Pass. I turned into very narrow and icy, but plowed, White Pine road and parked inside the last plowed turn around right near to the gate of the church camp.

Walking the rest of the road to the trailhead was uneventful and easy, as snow was super hard and icy. Soon I reached the start of the climb in the forest. It is not hard by relentlessly steep from there with very little views. Thankfully icy snow soon turned into fresh soft unbroken powder. I finally put on snowshoes and continued up and up.

It became amazingly pretty once views started opening up - giant piles of snow on trees, deep glistening snow and rare wildlife footprints. Ridge walk to North Chiwaukum had giant cornices, but with cold weather they felt stable. The clouds were hiding the summit, but eventually they parted.

It was paradise for snowshoes between Middle and North Chiwaukum - lots of wide expanses of snow and amazing views.

The final ridge was a knife edge with steep drop offs into abyss on both sides and super soft powder. I'm actually surprised how does this happen? Usually ridges are wind scoured or corniced, but this one looks as if wind blows soft snow up from both sides to make a perfect edge. I took snowshoes off and put on crampons and took the ice axe out. It was painful to change in the windy 14F weather and also slow moving due to falling deep through the soft powdery snow, but i felt safer this way compared to trying it in snowshoes. The spine is super narrow in places.


After coming down I put snowshoes back on and walked back the same way. Past North Chiwaukum I had another adventure. At one spot the snow gave in and I fell down into a stupid hole. But not to the bottom - the hole looked suspiciously like endless abyss and I couldn't see where it ends, but thankfully I never reached the end, because I got stuck and managed to push on the edges and get out.


I got back to the car before sunset. DST is amazing. It was a great day and views up Larch and Cup lakes, Chiwaukum lake, Arrowhead and Jim Hill were all pretty.

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Tom
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PostMon Mar 09, 2020 11:44 pm 
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kitya wrote:
After coming down I put snowshoes back on and walked back the same way. Past North Chiwaukum I had another adventure. At one spot the snow gave in and I fell down into a stupid hole. But not to the bottom - the hole looked suspiciously like endless abyss and I couldn't see where it ends, but thankfully I never reached the end, because I got stuck and managed to push on the edges and get out.


eek.gif Glad you made it out OK!
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zephyr
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PostTue Mar 10, 2020 6:41 am 
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kitya wrote:
After coming down I put snowshoes back on and walked back the same way. Past North Chiwaukum I had another adventure. At one spot the snow gave in and I fell down into a stupid hole. But not to the bottom - the hole looked suspiciously like endless abyss and I couldn't see where it ends, but thankfully I never reached the end, because I got stuck and managed to push on the edges and get out.

Beautiful photos and report as usual.  You take us to some amazing vistas.  But I've been worrying about this sort of thing happening on your many solo adventures.  From your description it sounds like there was no warning at all.  On looking back did you miss any clues in terrain or snow appearance?  Saying things like "Be careful." seem useless.  But I don't want anything to happen to you out there.  Take care.  ~z
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kitya
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PostTue Mar 10, 2020 7:47 am 
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Thank you for your concern, Tom and Zephyr. I try to be very careful and this time I saw no warning signs at all - it all looked exactly the same like a pristine field of snow. I guess this is because fresh snow fell just the night before and maybe covered something that will become more visible once it starts to melt out a bit. And this is a great reminder to be super careful anywhere near the edges (cornices) even if it looks like cornice is still many feet away and everything is super stable. One just never knows how far these things in snow extend. I was lucky I could get out!
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Jake Robinson
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PostTue Mar 10, 2020 8:58 am 
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Nice! We went up there last weekend with a "mostly sunny" forecast. The day started out beautiful, but by the time we got to the North/Middle saddle the visibility was close to zero and the wind was raging. We decided to wait for better visibility but it just kept getting worse. We started up towards Middle, but ended up backing off 300' below the summit. Good call because the wind just kept getting worse. On the way back over North, it was so strong that we were getting blown off our feet. That combined with no visibility was very disorienting and kind of scary. I usually over pack on layers but ended up wearing everything I brought and still getting chilled.

I postholed up to my waist on the ridge about 500' north the North summit. Probably the same spot you went in. That kind of stuff is why I'm usually too chicken to hike solo in winter. Nice effort as a solo trip, that must have been a lot of work!
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kitya
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PostTue Mar 10, 2020 9:58 am 
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Jake Robinson wrote:
Nice! We went up there last weekend with a "mostly sunny" forecast. The day started out beautiful, but by the time we got to the North/Middle saddle the visibility was close to zero and the wind was raging. We decided to wait for better visibility but it just kept getting worse. We started up towards Middle, but ended up backing off 300' below the summit. Good call because the wind just kept getting worse. On the way back over North, it was so strong that we were getting blown off our feet. That combined with no visibility was very disorienting and kind of scary. I usually over pack on layers but ended up wearing everything I brought and still getting chilled.

I postholed up to my waist on the ridge about 500' north the North summit. Probably the same spot you went in. That kind of stuff is why I'm usually too chicken to hike solo in winter. Nice effort as a solo trip, that must have been a lot of work!

I was lucky to have the opposite situation - the summit was in the clouds when I first saw it, but by the time I started getting closer the clouds moved more west. It was still super cold and windy and I used all my layers too.

It could have been the same spot! I fell just about same distance from the North summit too. And not just to my waist, I went all the way with my head under the snow and still never reached the bottom. This is such a weird hole! Still lucky I could get out. I'm never really solo, because I have Cookie. She was attached to the other end of the rope still outside the hole waiting for me to get out! But she doesn't like breaking the trail smile.gif
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Jeff
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PostTue Mar 10, 2020 12:29 pm 
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That is one of my favorite trips. I think it's especially nice this time of the year when it's all snow, but the day is slightly longer (and later) because that is a tough one when you have to break trail the entire way. It used to be very popular but then the trip reports stopped for a few years. I am not sure if less people went or if they just stopped with reports.

I had a firm ice crust on the saddle and wind slab on middle when I did it. It's amazing how the wind, sun, and precipitation can influence the snowpack.

I also found a few dangerous postholes coming back down, but those involved punching through hollow snow near a hidden branch. Still very scary. I've been very lucky not to have more injuries when put alone in winter.

Did you see any wildlife or just tracks?
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kitya
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PostTue Mar 10, 2020 1:48 pm 
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Jeff wrote:
That is one of my favorite trips. I think it's especially nice this time of the year when it's all snow, but the day is slightly longer (and later) because that is a tough one when you have to break trail the entire way. It used to be very popular but then the trip reports stopped for a few years. I am not sure if less people went or if they just stopped with reports.

I had a firm ice crust on the saddle and wind slab on middle when I did it. It's amazing how the wind, sun, and precipitation can influence the snowpack.

I also found a few dangerous postholes coming back down, but those involved punching through hollow snow near a hidden branch. Still very scary. I've been very lucky not to have more injuries when put alone in winter.

Did you see any wildlife or just tracks?

Glad you are safe too!

It is hard to say how many people go this way, I didn't see any other people (or tracks of people), but I was going right after a fresh snowfall. I know Jake and his friends went a week before me. This trip was on my radar for a long time and I also noticed that a few years back Mountaineers organized several trips each winter to Middle Chiwaukum. Originally I was thinking of cheating and just find the date when Mountaineers will go there and follow their tracks, but this winter so far there was no single trip they announced, so I gave up on that idea smile.gif

Looking at the trip reports it looks like there is new popular route via Lake Ethel trail too. I snowshoed to Lake Ethel trail before and it is actually more scenic in winter and probably nicer (less steep overall) route to Middle Chiwaukum.

Sadly I didn't actually see any wildlife, but several bird tracks and some snowshoe hare tracks. I even seen some snowshoe hare poop, but no hares this time.
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yukon222
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PostTue Mar 10, 2020 1:55 pm 
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Some very close calls there!  Great pictures; it really is a beautiful area.

Here's a pic of the north side of the ridge at North Chiwaukum from March 2010; some pretty zesty cornices overhanging the edge.  We angled below that summit on our way to Middle Chiwaukum and then tagged North Chiwaukum on the way back out.

DSD_8066 - Pt 7132
DSD_8066 - Pt 7132
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kitya
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PostTue Mar 10, 2020 4:10 pm 
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yukon222 wrote:
Here's a pic of the north side of the ridge at North Chiwaukum from March 2010; some pretty zesty cornices overhanging the edge.  We angled below that summit on our way to Middle Chiwaukum and then tagged North Chiwaukum on the way back out.

Nice to see that 10 years March view of the North Chiwaukum didn't change much. Yeah, these cornices were giant 10 years ago and still giant now!
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