Skiing Mt. Baker on New Year’s Day

This blog is apparently now mostly about chronicling my experiences of skiing badly in as many places as possible. OTOH, at least it has a theme.

I grew up in the Seattle area, but had never been to Mt. Baker before (for skiing). I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that what I saw yesterday was not Mt. Baker at the peak of its powers.

Paid: $56.10 for some reason.
Quality of Random Lift Strangers: 9/10
Weather: Partly sunny very early, then high overcast most of the rest of the day.
Would Return?: I mean, I wouldn’t go out of my way *not* to return.

I went to Baker because it was the only place within three(-ish) hours of my annual holiday headquarters in Tacoma that was “fully open”. Although I think that of all ski resorts in the world, Baker is probably among those for which you can least easily gauge its openness by open trail percentages. Plus there were a couple trails that, once you were there, weren’t actually open. Snow was firm, eventually softening up on the intermediate slopes (Chair 8), but never on the steeper pitches (1 and 6). Fortunately, there were a lot of soft-enough bumps on the intermediates on Chair 8; unfortunately, there were also a lot of neophytes trying to snow plow down them.

I was also surprised by the boarders here — it reminded me of the 1990s, but not in a good way. Every off-load, I was having to take evasive action to avoid the snowboarder pile. In numerous places it seemed like a flash mob of boarders had decided to reenact The Day After the Battle of Gettysburg. I know this was during the kids’ winter vacations, but it was much worse than skiing on 12/28 at White Pass last year. Given that there were no lift lines and there were plenty of open parking spaces, the skiing felt oddly crowded.

That said, the views were great (see below) and, IMHO, the views alone make Baker worth visiting (one time anyway). The lifties were exemplary (except in getting people to clear away from the offload area). Despite the paucity of snow throughout the west, the hazards here were minimal and easily avoided. Weather and visibility were both very good. Lodge food was neither extraordinary nor expensive — a tradeoff I was more than happy with. Parking-to-lift was among the best ever (parked at White Salmon, second row, very easy access to the ticket booth and then C-7).

Had good on-lift conversations the few times chair sharing happened. It seems like I get my best perspectives on life, activity, and aging from 60+-year-old random lift strangers; good job, whatever your names are.

Some photos (all from about 9-10:30 AM):

 

 

 

 

 

 

If I ever were to get into back-country skiing or had someone willing to show me the ropes at Baker, I’d probably need to go back. The out-of-bounds you can see from the chairs looks amazing. However, given the practicality of it being 3+ hours away and the occasional oddness of the on-piste offerings (I got the impression that the lift layout may have been designed by Pittsburgh-based city planners), with decent snow and weather conditions and given my skiing preferences it would be hard for me to justify Baker over the easier access to Crystal. For the “laid-back and local” feeling, I think I preferred White Pass’s relative politeness and self-awareness (perhaps Yakima County does a better job of controlling its youth than does Whatcom).

But, whatever, it was fun.

Crystal Mountain Resort (Report from Yesterday)

Headed up skiing to Crystal Mountain with my dad yesterday. I’m guessing I hadn’t been there since some time before 2000 (the year). Um.

Crystal Mountain

Here are some facts so that I can list here in order to break up the photos:

  • It was a beautiful, sunny day.
  • Got up to maybe the mid-30′s, warm enough to soften the snow, cold enough that it never turned to slush.
  • Even though it hasn’t snowed up there in a week or whatever.
  • It was really clear, no clouds in any direction. You could see Adams, St. Helens, the Olympics, and even Rainier.

IMG_4268

It feels like the top of the world up there. It’s also a little windy.

So then I spent most of the day skiing Green Valley. There weren’t crowds anywhere on the mountain, but there were especially no crowds in Green Valley. They have an express lift there now. I don’t know how long it’s been there. I could probably find out on the Internet.

green_valley_bowl

green_valley

crystal_mtn_caution

Presumably the caution was due to the presence of snow, a slope, and good visibility.

  • It’s sort of funny what constitutes an Intermediate run here vs. Pennsylvania. A lot of Crystal’s blues are steep enough to be double-black at Seven Springs (probably just black at Blue Knob).
  • And I sort of forgot how steep Crystal was just in general. Eastern skiing has already Stockholm Syndromed me I guess.

There’s also a gondola there now. It starts at the bottom (by the ticket booths, kind of below the lodge) and ends essentially next to the old #2 (Rainier Express to those living in the now). Here are three photos that include the gondola:

crystal_mountain_gondola

crystal_gondola_high

I’ve always been fond of those photos that make the gondola look like it’s flying at 30,000 feet.

middle_ferks

The view looking up Middle Ferks.

The gondola seems kind of under-utilized from a skiing perspective. It makes for a very long run, though, going top-to-bottom. Plus it costs an extra $8 on the lift ticket. I dunno. Neither Stowe nor Whiteface charged extra for their gondola. It doesn’t seem like the resorts’ cost-benefit analyses should actually be different.

  • I remembered Crystal having a lot more signs telling you what run you were getting on. There aren’t very many of them, which is probably fine, just that there are a few places where a person might get himself in trouble through lack of knowledge.
  • It was fun re-visiting sites of childhood trauma (top of 2, middle of Deerfly).
  • The walk in from the parking lot is still punishing.
  • Not to say that Crystal is some sort of great vlue or anything, but it’s kind of surprising that this place costs so much less than Stowe ($74 w/ gondola vs. $92).
  • The pizza slice was pretty small for $4.50 and $6.50 for a cup of chili seemed exorbitant. The $3 fries were a relatively good value though.

That’s probably good enough.

bkd

Skiing White Pass

Went to White Pass for the first time in my life on Thursday. Snow was PNW-great, visibility was interesting and variable, with a freezing fog making Couloir Basin kind of useless and about a 60-second sun break in the early afternoon. I didn’t take many photos, but among them were these…

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Chair 4

 

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Mach V to the right, Chair straight ahead.

 

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Hourglass, I think.

  • Mach V was probably my favorite run of the day.
  • Locals were very nice, lifties were politely ambivalent.
  • Arrived a little after 9 and the ticket line was a half-hour long.
  • The day lodge at the base was way too small, but their chili was excellent.
  • The best visibility was on the two middle lifts, which is probably not the optimal place for the best visibility.
  • Fresh snow available on or near every run until some time in the afternoon.
  • There are some HARDCORE 6-year-olds that ski this place. Absolutely fearless.
  • Impressed by how many people apparently own cabins in Packwood.

Really enjoyable day, though. I was envious of the folks from Yakima for whom this is a convenient drive (I’m staying at my parents’ house in NE Tacoma, from where it took 2:40 to get there). Would like to get back some time when conditions were better on Couloir, which looked like it had a lot of potential.

bkd

Snow on Snoqualmie and Mt. Rainier (and Mt. Adams I Guess)

One good thing about being a student is that you get a holiday break and you can take it for granted and no one’s gonna think you’re ungrateful. Except I was still working on my one paper, but whatever. By the time I turned the paper in, the weather was sunny, cold, and clear, so I took some pictures and stuff.

From Snoqualmie Pass (my dad and I went skiing there New Year’s Eve; I’d never been there before when the skies were clear AND the snow was decent):

My dad’s lift ticket cost $12. Mine was somewhat more than that.

Drove up to Mt. Rainier. The Guardians of the Nanny State wouldn’t let us past Longmire without chains in the Jeep (not on, just *in*), but the area from the Park Entrance to Longmire was pretty nice.

Then because it got mentioned in the title, here’s Mt. Adams (from Hwy 12):

I guess that’s it.

bkd

A Big Day at the Naval Undersea Museum

Probably *every* day is a big day there though.

The Naval Undersea Museum is a museum located in Keyport, Wash., which is pretty close to the big ol’ Navy base in Bremerton as well as the unknown-sized Navy submarine base in Bangor. Even though the website says they’re closed every Tuesday during the winter months, it turns out they’re open the Tuesday between Christmas and New Year’s. Or at least they were in 2009. YMMV, but it seems improbable that anyone who reads this blog will ever test it out in future years to see if the policy was a one-off or, like, a real policy.

Submarine Periscope (and Bridge)

The periscope actually works! You can scan the entire parking lot from inside the building!

Diving Suit

I didn't really get into BioShock. Maybe I'll like 2 better.

Imperial Japan's most effective naval weapon: the man-guided suicide torpedo.

Some bullet-pointed thoughts:

  • I learned that I don’t know very much about torpedoes or mines.
  • About half the museum is about torpedoes and mines.
  • It seems like a rich field — but narrow.
  • The museum is free.
  • They have a submarine there, the Trieste II iirc, that dove to 22,000 feet — which isn’t a record. The record is 35,000 feet that was set using a similar submarine.
  • But they don’t call it a “submarine”, they call it a “bathyscaphe”.
  • For some reason the museum merely glosses over the involvement of US submarines in World War II, even though they’re already probably pretty under-heralded.

Interesting enough museum, worth the price of admission. Heck, it’s probably even worth the toll to get back over that stupid new bridge.

And in Bremerton, they had four reserve fleet aircraft carriers each at some stage in the dilapidation process. Hard to get a good photo, plus it’s cloudy all the time there, but anyway:

Bremerton Naval Yard Aircraft Carriers

They're getting parted out.

Two of the four there were Ranger and Kitty Hawk. You could probably look up the names of the other two if you need to.

Endut.

bkd

Elwha Valley, Humes Ranch Loop, and Goblins Gate (A Six-Mile Hike)

It may have been less than six miles. Part of the route was washed out. I think. It was hard to tell. There were signs, there were counter-signs. Anything was possible and therefore nothing mattered.

It’s inside Olympic National Park, in the Elwha Valley area-thing.

Here’s the picture that I’ve decided I want to have show up at the top of the homepage (until I post another article at which point it will be replaced by that article’s picture):

Goblins Gate - Elwha River

You can almost *smell* the goblin!

Right, so that’s the Goblins Gate. Or Goblin Gate or Goblin’s Gate. I’m guessing the Parks Service doesn’t really know either, so I’m not gonna worry about it. Point being, it’s the best part of the hike and the only real Sehenswürdigkeit there. IMHO. Basically there’s this river and then it makes a sudden right turn and immediately after making this right turn, it has to go through this narrow part where the goblin is. But about half the river misses the turn altogether and has to seethe in fury, churning anti-clockwise in desperate agony just because it ended up in the wrong lane a half-mile back and there weren’t any signs saying that it was going to have to make a right turn eventually.

It’s like driving on the east coast.

Here’s a picture of the seething. It may not look angry, but, trust me, if you could *see* the undercurrents here…

Elwha River at Goblins Gate

It's like trying to get out of the Qualcomm Stadium parking lot.

So the part on the top of the photo is the raging vortex.The main river is coming from the left. That little stream pouring into the vortex is just a little stream that pours into the vortex. It’s not a good photo.

Here’s another picture of the gate, which I liked, and in particular a rock that makes up the gate, which I liked.

A rock at Goblins Gate on the Humes Ranch Loop Hike

Already pictured.

Other than that, though, the hike was like a well-written eulogy: gloomy but coherent.

There are trees and moss and clouds. It’s dark. In most places, yes, I’d call it a tree prison. Here are some trees with moss.

Humes Ranch Trail

But mostly the hike's not this pretty.

Just didn’t want you to get the wrong impression there. Mostly there are trees on either side of you and nothing to see but trees. When you’re down on the river, all there is is a river and then some mountains covered in clouds.

I suppose it might look different with better weather.

When I got off this trail, I decided to go down the nearby Mills Lake access trail. The lake will disappear soon as it was created by a dam that’s getting busted in the near future, though probably not by Lancaster bombers. The parks service isn’t that cool. The hike down to the lake was short but strenuous (read: steep). At the bottom, you mostly saw a river (the lake is further down as it turns out) and mountains covered in clouds.

There’s also this little fellow:

Waterfall at mills lake.

It's 15 feet tall!

IMHO: the only remarkable thing about this waterfall is that you have to walk through a knee-deep creek to get to it. The water there is cold in the winter. It had probably been snow a couple hours before I stood in it. I probably should have taken a photo of me standing in it. Battery was low though. Barely even got this shot off. And now you get all the benefit of being there without the hassle of having to later chip ice off your boots just so you can get your feet out.

And then I left there and ate at Wendys in Port Angeles on the way home. Am still amazed that you have to pay $4 to get over the stupid new Narrows bridge. Man. Seems like renting a private helicopter to airlift you over the Sound would be about the same price and, if you scheduled it in advance, potentially more convenient.

Nice to get outside though.

bkd