Cross-country skiing at Lake Wenatchee, Washington Cascades; February 2014

On Thursday, February 20, I boarded the Outing Club bus for my third ski trip of the year; destination, Lake Wenatchee.  Our “snow drought” seemed to be over.  At last we could zoom across the snow with no need to worry about rocks and bushes and thin spots. Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 9.12.51 PM

We followed Highway 2 toward Stevens Pass, beyond which our lake was waiting.  Highway 2 dwindles to two lanes as it enters the Cascade foothills and threads through a chain of little towns.  (One of them, Gold Bar, was nearly driven into disincorporation by legal troubles in 2012.)  Shortly after gaining open countryside, our way swung back and forth between forested mountains, crossing rivers and piercing a shoulder of mountain with a short tunnel.  Scraps of snow started to appear.  A few miles west of the pass, the snow became so heavy that the driver pulled over to put on tire chains.

We rejoined the stream of traffic.  Minutes later, we stopped again.  This time it was because we’d reached the tail of a line of idling cars.  The air was full of snow and rumors.  There had been an accident?  A three-car collision?  An alien attack?  Zombies shuffling out of the woods?

Lance walked ahead to investigate and brought back bad news.  An avalanche had covered the highway and buried a car.  A snowplow driver had estimated it would take two hours to reopen the highway.  We decided to use the time to go skiing along the Tyee River, which was a mile behind us.  The bus parked across the highway from the start of the Tyee River Road.  But that was okay; the cars were at a standstill.

I carried my skis across the highway, found an orange pole, and kicked steps in the snowplow-mounded ice and grit.  Wet snow was splattering from the sky; the woods resounded with whumping noises as tree branches unburdened themselves of the heavy white stuff.  I put my skis on and started down the road.  The snow was copious and billowy, but faintly gray; waterlogged.  Ski and snowshoe prints were bright white because we’d squeezed the water out of those places.

The road curved downhill and the river emerged from a bridge over the highway above us.  It was picturesque in black and white, like an Ansel Adams print; each boulder and log wearing a thick white cap of snow, stark against the black water, framed by tall snowy firs, all disappearing into a misty distance.  I found a perfect spot for a picture on the riverbank, framed by evergreen bows; took off my pack; and rummaged in it for my camera.  As A. A. Milne wrote, the more I looked, the more it wasn’t there.  WHUMP a tree branch spilled its load over my back, and I remembered I’d put my camera on the seat next to me on the ski bus so I wouldn’t forget it.

Happily the snow didn’t go into the pack.  I closed it up and put it back on.  Wondering how much longer I had before I needed to turn around, I checked my wrist for the time.  No watch.  I checked my phone for the time; SEARCHING FOR SERVICE.  Whoever has been packing my equipment has been falling down on the job; maybe I should fire him.  I resolved to turn around as soon as I met people from the bus coming the other way.

Further down the river trail I met Lance, taking pictures for a group of ladies posed in front of a cliff covered with immense icicles.  A nice little hill followed; then I skied around some toboggans abandoned by a group of kids who’d gone for a scramble amid the trees.  The wet snow changed to heavy rain.  Not long afterward I met some returning skiers and turned around.  I stopped at the giant icicles for a snack.  WHUMP!  The trees got me again.

We recrossed the highway, which was still a parking lot.  The word from the snowplows was that reopening the pass would take another two hours.  Lance suggested we could go to Tonga Ridge on our side of the pass and ski some more.  But a show of hands determined that most of us were ready to call it a day.  We’d enjoyed ourselves and we knew when to stop.  We returned to Seattle several hours earlier than planned.

* * *

I had a day of skiing to make up for one I’d skipped, so I requested a seat on the Saturday bus.  Lance couldn’t assure me of one, but said that if I went to the Overlake stop I could be on  standby.  As it turned out there were several vacant seats; I waved to Pat as the bus pulled out.  Our destination; Lake Wenatchee!

The bus parked on the edge of the Nason Ridge golf course.  In winter it’s a wide-open meadow with gentle slopes, with nicely-groomed ski tracks gracefully looping across them.  I followed a series of trails through the woods beyond; here the drippings from sun-warmed treetops had made an icy crust.  It didn’t seem particularly impressed with the steel edges of my skis, making even a gentle hill with a curve in it a challenge.  I emerged from the trees into good snow again on shore.  The long, mountain-guarded lake faded into a distance fogged by falling snow.  Now was a good time to take off a layer and rummage in my pack.  This time I’d made sure to bring my watch and camera.

Lake WenatcheeI took pictures for a young couple on a ski date, reached the end of the ski trail and decided to try to get to the Nason Creek outlet.  I found a snowshoe trail headed that way but it was too steep for me.  So I looped inland, picked up the creek further up and followed it back to the lake.  A tiny tree-studded island stood off the inlet, reflecting in patches of still water surrounded by thin ice.  (Click any picture to enlarge it.)

By now the sun had burned through the mist and was heating up the valley.  When I started skiing back up the creek I found white bricks of snow sticking to the bottoms of my skis.  I took the skis off, laid them upside-down across the handrails of a dock and got out the Maxi-Glide.  It was a partly-empty bottle from last year.  The sponge applicator had dried up, and the wax wasn’t penetrating it.  I squeezed the plastic bottle, trying to get it started.  The side of the bottle cracked and wax started oozing out.

Now I had more than enough wax on my hands, literally.  I dribbled it over the skis, spread it with the dead applicator, and wondered what to do with the bottle.  I detest littering, but I didn’t want to wreck my pack and everything in it either.  I found a zip-lock bag, removed its contents and put the bottle in that.  Happily, it didn’t leak.  Hooray for plastic bags, the outdoors-man’s friend!

It was too soon to go back to the bus, so rather than get back on the trail I made my way up into the open woods.  Here and there, long berms revealed logs on the ground; but the snow was so deep that I was able to crash through them.  The untouched snow in the woods was a lot better than the groomed trails, and it was hillier too; so I skied in the woods as much as I could.  I met Ken and Jean. Ken companionably took a downhill run in the rough with me, but I suspect they thought leaving the trail was too unconventional.

I came upon a lone black glove on the trail.  Always a sad sight, and a dilemma; take it to the bus, or leave it for the owner to return and find?  I figured most of the skiers were from the bus, so I took it.  Over the next hill I met an old man who was walking on the edge of the ski track.  “Have you seen a glove?”

“You’re the man I’m looking for!”

Nason CreekI came to an overlook framing the pretty creek dotted with snow-capped boulders.  I wanted to go down there and get a close-up, and I flailed about a bit; but I never did find a way.  I grumbled about it to another skier, who said he’d also tried and failed.

The clouds returned and drizzle set in; time to quit.  I had lunch and a nap on the bus before it started for home.

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