Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Adventures in ski touring: part I

You know how sometimes an event or milestone seems so far off you kind of subconsciously assume that it's never going to happen? That's how I have felt about graduating from UW with my PhD. I haven't taken classes for about three years now, so I settled into the mindset that my research is my (extremely poorly paid) job, and that getting a 'real' job was something that I'd worry about much later.

Turns out I'm going to graduate this May (insert-your-deity willing). If you follow my exploits at all, you know that I do an inordinate amount of traveling for my research: Tennesee, California, Maryland, Washington. This was a mixed blessing in that it has taken longer than I would have liked to finish my degree, but afforded opportunities to meet and network with many different people at different places of potential future employment.

First on the list was the lab in eastern Washington state. Well, I take that back--I always thought my best prospects would be the lab in eastern Tennessee, but a serendipitous job posting in WA (basically my thesis in job format) changed the game. This had the unplanned side-benefit of making the relatively remote Tri-Cities area look like prime real estate to the copilot in comparison to the dirrrty south. I went out for an interview last week, and the copilot joined me for the weekend. He did a project in Seattle for a couple of years, but this was his first trip to the eastern region. Just to provide some perspective, imagine your stereotype of Washington state--lush green trees, mountains, the overcast weather at a constant drizzle--now imagine the complete opposite. That's eastern Wash, arid and sunny, rolling hills, ideal for growing grapes. Hooray for Wine Country!

Another enticement for the copilot (and me, I suppose): drive as little as 80 miles, and you're in snow capped, ski-able mountains. We decided to go backcountry skiing, meaning find our own route and climb up the slopes instead of using lifts at a resort, near Alpental in Snoqualmie Pass. For Saturday, the copilot and I chose an alternate route from the one we had discussed earlier in the week based on the avalanche danger conditions. On the map, it looked like a short hike up to the treeline, then more hiking (with the skis on, called 'skinning') up to the summit, Granite Mountain.

We met a friend who lives in Seattle in the parking area at the foot of the mountain. Optimism was high.

Gearing up with our buddy in the parking lot

With no snow visible, we strapped our skis to our packs and hiked.

This doesn't look like enough snow to ski on...

Fording one of several streams

And hiked, and hiked, and hiked.

The false dawn.

Hey, some snow! We must be getting close...about an hour later, more hiking, and closer examination of the map indicated we were about halfway to the start of the real snow line. Carrying skis and walking in ski boots is worse than listening to Rick Santorum talk about his version of 'family values'. It was too late in the day to start another route, and by the time we got back to the car we gave up and bought a couple of lift tickets at Alptenal.

When the copilot and I got married a couple of years ago, we honeymooned in New Zealand during what was their winter. One of our many adventures was a trip to the one of the club ski fields called Craigieburn. The concept of the club fields is a good one: cheap operating costs and little overhead make for affordable skiing in a small area--but in reality it ended up being a miserable time. The unplowed one-lane gravel road turned into a sheet of ice near the top and we almost slid off into a ravine (they don't believe in guard rails in NZ), the snow was shit, and the lift was difficult to operate. Long story short, my day ended after the 40th or so unsuccessful attempt to ride the upper lift with me laying in the snow and quietly sobbing.

Post-Craigieburn, circa 2009

After that, the word 'Craigieburn' became synonymous with 'fiasco'. Granite Mountain = the next Craigieburn?

Post-Granite Mountain, circa 2012-hey, same jacket!

We managed to get some good turns in after all:

Alpental 'side-country' saves the day

Over some apres-ski drinks, our Seattle friend happened to mention that the nearby town of North Bend was home to the real-life site of the 'Double R Diner' used in the filming of the show Twin Peaks. Netflix had really been pushing Twin Peaks on me (we predict five stars for AC!), so I gave in and watched the whole series about six months ago (20 years after everyone else I was asking with anticipation, "Who killed Laura Palmer?") and became an instant fangirl. I may have clapped my hands in glee and made a little high pitched noise. The copilot took the hint and drove the 15 miles to North Bend.

ZOMG best day ever!!!

I tried reeeeally hard not to make a total ass out of myself despite the almost irresistible urge to immediately order some cherry pie and a damn fine cup of coffee. I played it cool. If you're ever in North Bend, I'd recommend Twede's Cafe (its actual name) not just for the novelty, but for an excellent selection of burgers and homemade fries.

We also planned on ski touring the next day...


  1. Glad you saved the day from the ski-crapper! North Bend is ok - I've been walking there a fair bit. And yes, the pie is great. :)

  2. I love that not only is your jacket matching, so is your facial expression. I hope you managed to redeem a bit of the NZ trip with yarn.

  3. Ok! Not only do you deserve R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the PhD, by you should get a Purple Heart for hiking in ski boots!!!!!! Wow, I am not a fan of the hike in ski boots :I ....Despite having custom boots, my feet and calves get knackered and I walk like I have a third leg... You guys must be veteran boot wearers :)
    Looking at your photos, I really miss the snow and that mountain silence...Gerry was telling me last night that we need to start making plans to book a ski trip this SA we only get a lick and spit of pretend snow every 20 years or may last half a day, if that...
    I remember the Twin Peaks Saga...I was at 'varsity at the time and working like a dog, and didn't have time to watch, but remember the frenzy around a character called "Laura Palmer" :) maybe I'll get the series after all and veg on the couch this weekend...
    Love the photos :)

  4. The waterfall from the opening credits is near there too!