XC skiing on the Teanaway River, WA; February 2017

Lance led The Outing Club’s third Thursday trip to the eastern foothills of the Cascades to get as far away as possible from forecast rain.  Our road took us past sweet little farms on open, gently rolling land that looked perfect for skiing.  The area is noted for wild turkeys, but we didn’t see any this time.  One farm had some goats.

I was looking forward to trying my new ski poles, a sturdy set by Rossignol with length adjustment clamps like a tripod has, buckles on the straps and removable back-country snow baskets.  Quickly I felt my right pole going way too far into the snow.  I looked at it; the basket was gone!  I turned around and skied toward the trailhead, peering into ski-pole holes.  A voice said “Did you lose something?”  I looked up.  A woman who’d skied up to me offered me my basket.  I screwed it on as hard as I could while still respecting the plastic; stripped threads would be the end of that pole.  I checked my baskets occasionally during the day; they stayed tight.  I must have done a lousy job of setting up the poles at home.

I went looking for Stafford Creek (route 4).  There were lots of meadows to explore.  I made a right turn that I thought was Stafford Creek that led me up the side of a lovely meadow.  The way was steeper than Lance had described it, and I saw only two pairs of tracks, indicating only one person had gone up and then left.  But these were plusses as far as I was concerned.  Not far up the road, I saw that my predecessor had gone off-trail to mess around in the meadow before leaving.  Someone else after my own tastes; I wonder who?  I climbed on in immaculate snow.

The snow was heavy, with a shave-ice consistency.  Under trees it was icy, from melting snow dripping onto it, and covered with pine-needles and cones.  My tracks were pure white, proving the snow to be a slightly darker shade of white, if there is such a thing.  Maybe I was squeezing water out of it.  The sky cleared beautifully, contrary to the weather report, and I was soon roasting from climbing the snowy road in the sun.  I like to work up a sweat; it just needs to go somewhere.  I stripped down to my polypropylene long johns, and unzipped the side-zippers of my ski pants so they were just held up by the velcro at the top.  I saw little danger of getting pantsed by middle-schoolers up here.  Now my backpack was bulging with layers I didn’t need.  My zipper-pull thermometer read 44 F. (7 C.).  Spring skiing!

I reached the end of the road in about a mile.  It was much shorter than shown on my map.  Lance said he’d found a hiking trail at the end of the road and followed it for a ways.  So I crossed a furrow in the snow that marked a buried stream and followed a meadow alongside it further uphill.  A mound stood at the top of the meadow, probably a buried stump.  I put my foam pad on it for a rest and a snack.  I had no trouble with sinking into this heavy snow.  When it was time to leave, my skis clicked back on easily; I must have intimidated them yelling at them last time.

This was really too steep a meadow for me to ski down comfortably, and too narrow for me to traverse.  I side-stepped down it for a ways and thought it was getting gentler.  So I tried a run toward a more level-looking patch at the edge of the forest that didn’t look too difficult.  I picked up speed way too fast, and I couldn’t push my ski tails out against the heavy snow to slow down.  So I used my “emergency brake” and sat down.  I had to cross my poles to push myself up, so still pretty loose snow.  I shortened my poles and immediately fell in love with them.  All these years I’ve endured long poles optimized for resort skiing no matter what the conditions were.  Everybody should get adjustable poles!

Now the meadow was wide enough for me to ski back and forth with kick-turns at each extreme.  (I don’t know how to telemark; I just blunder along.) I crossed the buried creek and followed my tracks back to the main road to look for the real Stafford Creek.  It was easy to find; I just hadn’t gone far enough.  I looped down from the road to look at the creek.  It was full, undermining its snowy banks and best not approached too closely.

img_2661On the way back, I fell in with Krista, a very mature lady who was still scooting gamely along.  She gave me hope.  She told me that she had three pair of skis; two were touring skis, and she was using her track skis.  Why?  Because they were lighter.  They were probably a good choice for one staying on the main route.  The snow had been compressed by snowmobiles, but they’d been well-behaved; it wasn’t torn up or rutted, and in this heat not frozen either.  I could kick and glide on this stiff yet malleable surface with long strides at a wonderful rate.  It made me want to ski forever.

I hadn’t imagined I would be skiing so fast.  Despite more detours into the meadows, I got back to the bus long before it would leave.  So I headed back out on Rye Creek (route 5).  This route had also been “groomed” by snowmobiles.  It was hillier and had more annoying trees with their skirts of messy ice.  But still worth doing!  Coming back, I decided to avoid a sharp turn at the bottom of a hill and just ski straight ahead into the fresh snow to slow down.  Wham!  Did I slow down.  I lurched forward and almost did a face-plant.  But I saved that maneuver for when I was within sight of the bus for maximum humiliation.

The driver had set up our hot drinks and cookies on a banquet table on the road in front of the bus. A friendly bunch soon gathered around it.  I did some stretches against the side of the bus with one lady.  She told me that Norwegians call sitting down in the snow to stop a “Danish Stop,” implying that Danes don’t know how to ski in hills (maybe Denmark doesn’t have many?).

“What do the Danes call it?” I wondered.


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