XC skiing at Hurley Creek, east Cascades, WA; February 2017

Lance Young took us east for the second Thursday group day-trip of the One World Outing Club‘s season.  He wanted to avoid the unusual cold and high winds in Snoqualmie pass.  The bus drove north from I-5 up SR-97 and parked at the entrance to the Old Blewett Pass road.  The shoulder was icy.  The driver spread a long rubber mat next to the bus to keep us from slipping while we got our skis out of the baggage holds.  Lance shoveled fresh snow over the rest of the ice.

We had our choice of three routes from here, all snow-covered logging roads; Old Blewett Pass, Iron Creek and Hurley Creek.  I picked Hurley Creek because it had the most hills.  A sucker for punishment!

I crossed the two-line highway to its start and got started, noting that it was downhill and would slow down my return.  Under-ski was a couple of inches of feathery fresh snow on an annoying thin crust with more loose snow underneath.  The new snow kept things moving smoothly, but the old crust kept crackling and breaking unpredictably.  Days ago a lone snowmobile had driven up this road, compressing the snow; then fresh snow had fallen on its track.  This turned out to be the best snow for skiing.  Thanks for the grooming job, snowmobiler!

I’m easily distracted from a trail, particularly if it’s uphill.  Creekside meadows and wooded hollows opened up on each side of the road, so I didn’t get far.  The first meadow I explored was a fascinating little world of its own, billed with billows of immaculate snow and silent other than the gurgling of the buried stream.  Animal tracks criss-crossed like a model train layout from the surrounding forest to holes in the snow covering the stream.  While I was skiing from one mound to another, one of my tips dove into the snow and got caught in the buried crust.  My upper body continued moving ahead as long as it could, then hinged forward from the ankles to bury its face in snow.

img_2630One lens of my glasses was covered with snow.  I ignored it; it melted.  I returned to the road and moved up to another clearing.  Here I picked a sunny hillside for a lunch camp, unrolling a square of sealed-cell foam on top of my skis to make a snow-raft to sit on.

When I was done I found out that it’s harder to get out of this kind of situation that it is to get into it.  I couldn’t figure out how to stand up, put away the foam and get my boots back into the bindings without briefly stepping off my skis.  The moment I did, I sank in snow up to my hips.  I guess the snow had drifted up against the hill.  My right boot went into its binding okay.  But my left ski wanted nothing to do with me.  I scraped out the binding with a ski pole point, and cleaned out the toe of my boot as well as I could without taking it off.  I tried patience.  Finally, trusting that nobody would hear me, I threatened my skis in the most dire terms.  This worked.

I continued up the quiet, pretty valley.  My half-way timer went off.  I treated myself to one last explore and turned around.  Immediately I got cold; I’d been skiing downwind all this time, and now I was going upwind.  I put on my heavy fleece, and switched from gloves to mittens with chemical warming pads.  Still, a long downhill glide made my face ache.  I pulled a balaclava over my head (a baklava wouldn’t do at all in this situation) and a fleece-lined knitted cap over that.  Problem solved, except that my breath steamed up my glasses.

I’d been climbing most of the way; so my return was swift.  And the bit of uphill near the road didn’t amount to much after all.  I got back to the bus an hour early, but I’d had enough fun for the day.  Friends, hot water, drink mixes and cookies were waiting inside the warm bus.


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