Windy Pass And Beyond

The December snow was not very good. Still, Gary and I were eager to try a cross country ski trip. We rang in the new year with a trip back to Windy Pass. One thing I like about winter is that 9:00 am is early. In the summer the lot would be full by then. This time we were the third car at a little before 9:00. The Hyak sno-park had snow but not a lot of it. Even with the thin snow cover the railroad grade had been groomed. In some places the tracks were all the way down to gravel. The center had enough snow to get around those spots. In short order we reached the connector trail. The snow was too thin in the trees to ski. We walked up to the road/ski route above. The nordic center was not yet open for the year but the route was in good shape. A few rocks in the beginning but beyond the bridge over Mill Creek the route was excellent.

We followed tracks from the previous day. There were only 4 or 5 sets visible. I had not been on skis since the previous March and appreciated the gentle terrain at first. I hoped to regain some sense of balance before the downhill began. We skied on to the Twin Lakes trailhead then up the two switchbacks. It was very cold but calm and we were working hard enough to stay warm. I'm often among the first skiers up to the pass but usually there are a few coming down who took the lift up. With the nordic center closed we did not have to worry about seeing anyone coming down. The snow conditions were great as we had good grip without any snow sticking to the bottoms. Just at the second switchback the route was part snow and part dirt. Beyond the turn it was all snow again. As we neared Windy Pass the wind did indeed begin to blow.

The snow was too thin to attempt a climb up to Nordic Pass. The common corridor ends at the pass and a ski ticket is needed to proceed. Since the ski area was not yet open we took the opportunity to continue on. As we passed the intersection with the Pacific Crest Trail the snow was so thin that the short trail sign was visible. Gary had been higher up in years past and he took the lead. The sky was mostly clear but a few clouds lingered at our elevation in the valley across from us. We could see a little of Granite Mountain. It was clear that the snow on Granite was still thin. We skied up several switchbacks in a strong and very cold wind. We put on jackets at the pass and that helped. We stopped near the end of the road where the forest was about to begin again. The whole hillside below Silver Peak is one huge clearcut.

Gary liked the look of a spur road part way down. We decided to head back there and try to get out of the wind and stop for lunch. Beyond the pass there was only one set of tracks and it felt almost untracked. We quickly descended to the spur and dropped over the edge of the road. It was not wind free but it was a whole lot better than back on the road. It was interesting to be able to see the Olympics, downtown Seattle, Granite Mountain, Pratt Mountain, and also over the crest to Snoqualmie, and Kendall Peaks. The view was nice but my hands were growing numb so I hurried Gary to finish lunch and get going again. We saw one skier coming up as we descended from the high point. Two more arrived to take our lunch spot as we headed down. The drop to Windy Pass was fast and only marred by a snowmobile coming up. We saw several more skiers at the pass. It seems that even with the minimal snow at the base and the ski area not being open yet the crowds had arrived.

The descent from the pass was excellent. It was not fast and that is just what I wanted for a first trip. It was fast enough to keep us moving all the way through the swichbacks. We saw nobody on our way up but in the relatively short time we took to come down we passed over 30 people heading up. After walking through the trees we skied the last mile along the grade. The groomed track was even rockier coming back after a morning of use. There were many people sliding down the short hill below the sewage ponds. The lot was largely full. This turned out to be a good choice for my first ski trip of the year. We covered 12 miles with 1,800' gained. It was a good workout but not steep. I somehow managed to stay on my feet the whole day. I just hope the snow begins to deepen soon.