My friend Gary Dubya had a day free from family obligations and wanted to get out for a ski trip. I wanted to ski but I also hoped to get to another winter summit and backcountry skiing is not my strength. Gary came up with a great compromise. The weather conditions seemed a little iffy for the crest so we headed to the east. This trip started at the Pipe Creek Sno-park, a few miles to the south of Swauk/Blewett Pass. The Sno-park is at 3600' We left early enough to be skiing by 9:15 am. Only one car was in the lot and the skier was returning as we arrived. The conditions were nearly perfect. The snow was hard packed with about 3-6" of fresh on top. We started by losing 100' quickly then began to gain elevation. At about 1 1/2 miles the road ended and the fun began. We followed a ridge and then climbed in forest to intersect a major road. We then skied below the road through open meadows and forest that was great for even a medium ability skier like me. We reconnected with the road at about 5000' after 1500' of climbing. This was at the high point of the skiing part of the loop trip.
Now the real fun began. We skied a
short distance up a main road and headed off on a narrower road. A short
ways up a log crossed the road/trail about 4' off the ground. This was the
end of the skiing for awhile. Now we put on our snowshoes and headed up the
trail. We soon came out of the forest and could get our bearings on the route
up Table Mountain. The snow was great as we ascended a thinly forested slope.
The forest grew thicker and the routefinding became a bit more difficult.
I left my skis down at the log crossing but Gary carried his hoping for
some telemark opportunities farther up. The skis stood far above his head
and made finding a route with 7'+ of headroom a challenge. Each time the
route seemed to dead-end in thick forest a small opening would present itself
and we continued higher. We exited the forest onto a large flat open area
with a very steep climb to the summit ahead. By now snow was falling steadily
and the wind was picking up. The last 300' was up steep crusty ice with no
snow cover to our right and 3-12" of wind transported snow to our left. We
headed straight up. At the summit the wind was howling and my thermometer
read 25 degrees. Gusts must have been 25 mph+. Unfortunately we realized
that we were on top of Point 5969 and not Table Mountain. It was clearly
visible down the ridge. This summit seemed far more alpine than the real
summit of snowmobile blitzed Table. After a short summit break I ran down
the slope and Gary skied it. The conditions were not ideal for telemarking.
After lunch back in the trees we quickly backtracked to my skis.
With our snowshoes back on our packs we were set for the skiing descent. The road down is heavily used by snowmobiles. Fortunately there was fresh snow on the road to soften the ruts. The road down was generally not steep. We soon were passed by a group/horde of nine snowmobiles. After they left we were back alone. After about 30 minutes on the road we turned off for the descent through Swauk Meadows. We followed snowmobile tracks right along side a sign banning motorized vehicles from the meadows. I was disappointed to see (and bounce through) the tracks up and down the meadow. Still, it is a great open descent. At the bottom of the meadows we picked up a road which brought us back to the Sno-park and the end of the loop. All in all, we covered about 9 miles and gained 2500'. The trip included skiing up a ridge, cross country through meadows, on roads, and a great snowshoe summit. This was my first winter trip in the Swauk Pass area and a very memorable one.