Pipe Creek Loop

     I first did this trip two years earlier. It was overcast and we had no views. Also, I did not have a camera that day. With the weather looking lousy near the crest we decided to go back to this area near Blewett (Swauk) Pass. Gary, Mark, and I met in Issaquah at 7:45 and headed east. Brian was coming from Cheney, near Spokane, and had a longer drive. It rained hard from North Bend to Denny Creek and remained overcast to Easton. The phenomenon I call "The Easton LIne" was in full force. From there east the sky was clear and blue. We arrived at the Pipe Creek Sno-Park at 9:15. The lot is just a mile or so south of the pass. The temperature had been near 40 degrees the previous few days with cold nights. No snow had fallen the last few days. I was prepared for crusty, icy crud. I was very surprised to find the snow was decent. Brian arrived after a long drive at 9:45 and we were soon on our way.

     Brian had wide backcountry skis with skins. Mark, Gary, and I had narrower touring skis and carried snowshoes. We did our loop counter clockwise. It began with a quick 100' descent then a long climb up a road. We were the first to arrive but about 4 more cars came in within 15 minutes. Our wait for Brian was not all bad as the other groups set tracks for us. The tracks sank 3-5 inches in the snow. Following was definitely easier than leading. It was very cold at the start but warmed quickly as we climbed. When the road ended we took a break, still in bright sunshine. Our route then became more interesting. We continued on in mostly sparse forest. The route had a few steeper spots. Brian with skins went straight up while Gary and I made short swithbacks up the slope. Mark seemed to be able to go straight up with his waxed skis. At one point we reached an old road and followed it a short way. Then it was back cross country up the slope. At that point we had our first view out to the Teanaway area. Clouds were coming in but we could see the summit of Mt. Stuart.

     After a whole lot of sweating we reached the major snowmobile road. Gary was doing fine but the other three of us had major ice build up on the bottom of our skis. Brian's big wide skis seemed to have an extra 5 lbs. of ice on them. After a short stay on the road Gary led us onto his bypass route. This is one of the best parts of the trip. We skied through several open meadows along the way. After leaving the last meadow we had another steep climb. The snow was soft but fine for climbing. At one point we were hemmed in by small trees. Everyone took a different route and I took the worst one. One ski went under a branch where the branch tip was buried under snow. I couldn't go forward and I couldn't go back. Instead I slid down a tree well. My long 215 skis were jammed in. I had a heck of a time crawling out as the soft snow gave me no purchase. It just kept sliding down further burying me. After much cussing I managed to fight my way out. I didn't catch up until we reached the snowmobile road again. By now the blue sky was all gone. It was gray and darkening by the minute.

     We came out by an intersection. We took the right most of the two roads going to our left. After a very short distance on this road we turned off onto a very narrow road climbing to our right. When Gary and I were here in 2002 there was a tree down across the route which blocked snowmobiles. With the tree gone the road was freshly packed down by the machines. We climbed the road for less than 10 minutes to a wide flat area and turned into the forest. By now it was 12:30 and we needed to stop for lunch. The trailhead is at 3600' and our lunch spot was at about 5000'. With the sun gone it was cold again as we sat down for lunch. I knew this was as far as I could ski so on went my snowshoes. I left my skis there. Gary also put on snowshoes but he carried his skis on up. Mark and Brian remained on skis. I was amazed at the depth of fresh snow. I sank 4-6 inches even with snowshoes on. I did not see any online record of significant snowfall in this area the previous week. Brian went out ahead and made a wide enough track to make it much easier for Gary and I. Mark did not have skis but doggedly managed to climb the steep slope with his touring skis. The route was heavily forested. It was amazing to continually find small openings that allowed us to move forward. Several times Gary and I saw spots we remembered from our earlier trip. We were reasonably sure that we were on virtually the same route. At about 5500' we traversed along the top of an open slope. Thick forest was just above us and this was the easiest place to proceed. As we tromped along a long crack appeared in the snow. We were quickly beyond it but it gave me a good deal of concern about reaching the ridge top up the final steep open slope.

     We went through an opening in the trees and reached the big flat meadow that Gary and I remembered well from our previous trip. From this 5600' flat area it is one last climb to the summit of Point 5969. We made it last time but were concerned about the possibility of an avalanche this time. Last time we summited and had no views and strong sub freezing winds. I had hoped to get back on a sunny day. It started out that way but by now it was so cloudy that there would be no great views from the top. With all that in mind we decided to go up a short way to a bench to see what views there were and then head down. Gary switched to skis, Brian took off his skins, and Mark applied glide wax. When all that was done it was time to descend. For the most part I had a great time tromping down in the soft snow. For the most part. Half way down I fell into a deep hole. The snow gave way and I was nearly shoulder deep. Snow cascaded into the hole and buried me to my waist. With the weight of the snow I couldn't get my snowshoes out. Much more cursing ensued. Brian and Gary were ahead of me and Mark was still out of sight behind. I managed to pull one foot part way up but the other one would not budge. As I bailed snow out of the hole it just flowed right back in. One final big tug and my foot came out without the snowshoe. Oh sh*!@t. Now I had to bend over and go fishing for my shoe. After much more cursing I found a corner of it and yanked it out. I managed to swim out of the hole on my stomach as I had nothing firm to step on. I thought the binding was broken (it wasn't) so I just waited for Mark. When he arrived I took one of the snowshoes he was carrying and was back on my way. I immediately fell back into my waist again. Much more cursing ensued. After getting out of that one it was an easy trek back to my skis.

     The last leg was all downhill on skis. It began with 3 miles of wide road. The road is gently graded and the snow was soft and slow. Just my type of conditions. In less than 30 minutes we were exiting the road and dropping into Swauk Meadows. On my previous trip there were snowmobile tracks right next to the sign which stated "skiers only". The meadow was a mess of deep snowmobile tracks. This time there were no tracks. The meadow slopes down for a good distance. It is not very steep. I'm sure Brian found it to be way too slow. I was glad to see it. At the end of the meadow is a road leading back to the sno-park. It was longer and steeper than I recalled. It was not really steep but I was so tired that my balance was about shot. After a few falls we made it back to the start.

     The trip was lots of fun. I really enjoy ski/snowshoe combo trips. They allow me to go places I could not ski alone. They also allow much greater distance than snowshoe trips as the descent is much faster. The sunny morning turned to clouds much too early for me to get the photos I hoped for. Still, I did get some nice shots. After taking no camera on my first trip there I really wanted to come back with one. Within a few months I will be back in the Teanaway area for spring snow scrambles This trip will serve to tide me over until then.

Pipe Ck Sno-Park
Route Beginning
Road End
Mt. Stuart
Meadow Skiing
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Photo Page 2