High Camp to Leavenworth Ski

March 23rd, 2015 in Trips, Trails, & Tours

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Is it possible to ski from High Camp to Leavenworth to grab a beer? Yes, yes it is.  I’ve dreamed of traveling from High Camp to Leavenworth for years either by foot or ski and last week I finally made that trip a reality.

After finishing a busy day of transport I returned to High Camp a little before 6pm with only a couple hours of daylight left in the day.  I jetted up Wild Bill Hill where I caught a glimpse of Big Jim with alpine glow.

My destination for the night

My destination for the night

At this point I put my skis on my back and swacked my way down to Chiwaukum Creek through last summer’s big burn. I could have stayed on snow if I’d traveled down to Chiwaukum Lake via the summer hiking trail but I didn’t want to add miles or waste daylight.  I didn’t know what to expect dropping into the burn, except for minimal snow on the initial open south facing slope.  What I found was mostly dry and dusty ash with occasional stands of intact slide alder and snow brush.

Much of the burned snow brush had living roots and had attempted to send up new shoots, only to have them wither away due to the dry conditions.  Near the creek I started to see signs of spring in the form of shoots of yarrow and waterleaf.  In the rapidly approaching dark I found a log to cross Chiwaukum Creek and gain the trail on the far side.  With skis back on my feet I followed the North Fork Chiwaukum Creek trail past many waterfalls and through groves of giant cedar, many of which had burned last summer.

No skiing here...

No skiing here…

When I reached the junction with the Painter Creek trail I remembered that the creek crossing here doesn’t have a bridge and the knee deep water at the usual ford did not look warm.  Determined to find a better crossing I took my skis off again and swacked upstream.  No spot looked good but I found a crossing that looked like if I were nimble at rock hopping could keep me dry.  The water spilling over the rocks was deeper than I thought and one boot got thoroughly soaked but I was thrilled to get safely to the far side without a swim. From here the trail climbs steeply for 1,200’ before gaining the flat and broad Painter Creek Valley below the steep flank of Big Jim. It was here that I decided to bed down for the night, a couple hours short of my goal of sleeping on the summit of Big Jim but still a considerable distance from camp, especially considering my tardy departure.

I woke to another beautiful day and was so excited to keep moving I ate one of my premade peanut butter and jelly burritos instead of taking the time to make oats.  As I climbed through the headwaters of Painter Creek I was graced with spectacular views of Mt Rainier, the Cascades and even the Olympics, looking distinctly brown on the far horizon.  Once I gained the pass above Lake Augusta the channeled scab-lands of Eastern Washington lay before me.  I ripped my skins off and skied perfect corn down to Cabin Creek for a fabulous run.  I had to pull myself away from this spot as I saw countless other divine skiing options.  From Cabin Creek I gained the Icicle Ridge which would take me all the way to Leavenworth.

Big Lou (left) and Icicle ridge

Big Lou (left) and Icicle ridge

Icicle Ridge, perched above one of the deepest valleys in the Cascades affords dramatic views of the Enchantment Peaks.  A seemingly endless series of high points on the ridge foiled my misguided thought that I would be able to take my skins off and leave them off all the way to the final descent into town.  But the “soul” turns skiing down each of them kept me motivated to climb the next rise and see where I was going.  Finally town appeared far below me.  I maneuvered through increasingly interesting skiing with lots of downed trees and decreasing quantities of snow until I was forced into taking my skis off and hiking the final 2,000’ down to town.  As I descended I saw my first wildflower blooms of the season, saw a wonderful sunset, met my girlfriend, Brianna, who hiked up to meet me, and made it to town just as the lights started to twinkle.  It was a grand adventure and the post trip pizza and beer were delicious.