Windy Pass

After 11 miles of snowshoeing the day before I wasn't sure I was up for a ski trip. Gary was free and I agreed to head up to Windy Pass. It's not very steep and the downhill is groomed which is good for tired legs. With high winds and snow forecast for sometime later in the afternoon we chose to get an early start. We pulled into the Sno-Park at Hyak at 8:20. I have been there earlier but I don't ever recall being the first vehicle in the lot. This time we were. The permit seller told us he arrives at 8:00 am. By 8:30 we were on our way. It was 19 degrees according to the highway thermometer. It was cold but it did not feel that cold.

The groomer had just come through and the track was in perfect condition. At the open spot near the summer boat launch there were no trees to block the wind and it was very cold. With up to 36 mph winds forecast for the mountains we hoped Windy Pass would not live up to it's name. About a mile along we reached the bridge over Mill Creek and there was a ski track on the connector trail. There is also the first of a series of blue diamonds leading you up to the ski area's Cold Creek/Mt. Catherine Trail. This trail is open at no charge to skiers who are using the trail to access the Nordic Pass Trail and other backcountry areas. The Common Corridor ends at Windy Pass. You must have a trail pass to go father on the groomed track.

The connector trail is short and a few minutes later we were on the Cold Creek Trail. That was groomed but not since the day before. We skied up the road at a steady pace. That was all I was up for. This was my sixth trip in nine days and I was just plain worn out. I had a great finish to 2008 and now a good start to the new year. When we reached the site of the yurt it was plowed but there was no yurt. I'm surprised it hasn't been put in place yet.

From the summer trailhead for Twin Lakes it's all up hill to the pass. It had been sunny on the west side of the crest but cloudy on the east. There was one big cloud at the end of the valley. I hoped it would remain clear on the west side so I could get some clear shots of the peaks around Granite Mountain from Windy Pass. A little after the second and last switchback Gary took off. I suggested earlier that he could go ahead and ski up to Nordic Pass while I slowly worked my way up to Windy Pass. Pretty soon he was out of sight. We had seen a couple of folks skiing down early on but that was all.

When I reached the pass I saw Gary's lone track heading off into the deep snow. I went a little farther to get a few photos then dropped back to the Nordic Pass junction. I reached there at 10:25 so it took me a little under two hours to ski up the five miles and 1400' of gain. While Gary was gone one skate skier came up then turned around and went down. I can't ever remember getting up to the pass on a Sunday morning and only seeing three people. Gary went fast considering the deep soft snow but it seemed a long time as he came back down just before 11:00 am. It was not very windy when I arrived at the pass but it picked up. I had on four layers trying to stay warm.

I recommended we drop down to the yurt site before lunch. Gary agreed and we started down. From Hidden Valley up the track had been groomed that morning. Only the one skater's track marred the smooth snow. It was hard packed but much more snow than ice. I haven't done much skiing the past few years and with tired legs I was glad to have the smooth track. We zipped on down and began to see the morning crowds. Still, it was not as crowded as usual.

We saw almost as many snowshoers as skiers. I love to snowshoe but I can't figure out the appeal of walking a groomed road with skiers whizzing by and skaters having to ask you to move to the edge. There is no room outside of the groomed tracks in many places. You can go to Gold Creek, Nordic Pass, Kendall Lakes, Keechelus Ridge, Lost Lake, Cabin Creek, Lake Easton, Olallie Lake, and Granite Lakes on snowshoes and have a much better time than on a groomed ski track. We even saw one guy walking up the track in boots only.

The down hill went fast and we had a leisurely lunch at the yurt site. From there it was easy skiing back to the end of the Common Corridor (The free access to the backcountry) and the connector trail. I managed to ski down the trail without falling though it was not pretty. Back on the Iron Horse Trail we found the crowds. It was a zoo but we only had a mile to go. By 12:35 we were back at the car. It only took about 1 1/2 hours coming down including a long lunch. Getting out early allowed for a surprising amount of solitude at one of the busiest areas for winter recreation. All in all, I'm glad I made the effort to get out again.

Only Car In The Lot
Freshly Groomed
Snow Sculpture
Looking Back
Heavy Snow
Open Slopes
Plastered Trees
Grade Eases
Almost To Pass
Nordic Pass Route
Clouds West Of Crest
Windy Pass
Chair Peak
Mystery Peak
Granite Mountain
Towards Silver Peak
Olallie Meadows
Gary Coming Down
Cold Creek Trail
Back On Iron Horse
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2009