Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Glen Lakes - proper tour

I finally made out to Glen lakes for an exploratory tour on New Year's day observed.  This zone has been a ski haunt for years, but without a snowmobile, I had never devoted a day to skiing around the lakes.  With a cold bitter forecast, we set the start time an hour late and headed out layered to the hilt.  Morning motivation was low. In fact, I kind of just wished I could spend the day on the couch with Sam.
Good times on the skin track.
The approach was fast enough.  We parked at a turnout at the end of the plowing (about a half mile past the Big Creek road junction) and skinned up the road a few miles before setting a skin track directly to the broad saddle east of the lakes. To our delight, there was not a breath of wind in the air, and snow conditions were good.  Motivation spiked to normal levels, and would stay high for the remainder of the day.  We more or less followed the summer trail to the upper lake and climbed to the ridge north of the lake. Short tree runs above both lakes are the obvious ski lines, but we instead skied the 2,000 vertical foot northeast cirque below the lakes, which drops toward Big Creek.  We lucked out by nosing our way into perhaps the best moderate line in the cirque, and were pleased to find boot top powder top to bottom.  After a frosty lunch break, we swapped trail breaking leads on the climb back out, and put a track in to the top of the obvious high point west of the lake.  A quick and enjoyable run, followed by a quick skin on our old track had us poised to ski the 2,000' shot again for our third run.  Our line was not so good this time, but I was happy with just skiing another big run with good powder on what we had all expected would be a cold, bitter, generally unpleasant day.
Climbing toward the sun after our first run.
Cold snow, crisp light, fatigue from a day on the move.
Backcountry skiing at its finest.
Andrew starting down the second run.
From the bottom of the run, we decided to climb directly south back to the summer trail (instead of returning to the lakes).  Fortunately, we spent very little time bushwacking, and the climb was quick and efficient.  We did kind of screw up the egress, but never got hopelessly stuck or lost, and were back at the car just an hour after ripping skins. About 7,500 vertical feet, done in a hair over 8 hours at a respectable pace with stops to deal with the cold.

Thoughts:  I was pleased about the relatively good low to mid-elevation coverage and reasonable stability.  Not a bad early season snowpack.  This was also my third day on new powder skis (Black Diamond Carbon Converts), mounted by the good folks at LB snow.  So far the skis are superior to the Huascarans in almost every way.
Runs in red, Approach/Egress in green.
Ski terrain was about what I had expected.  Although I don't think we took the best route, no matter how you do it, the approach to Glen lakes is long, about an hour longer than Gash, and the egress is fairly complex.  The obvious ski runs above the lake are all good, but short.  I think adding the big run into the day, however, makes the tour a lot more satisfying without a lot more effort.  A basic "proper" tour would be to snag a run just past the saddle on the way in (instead of traversing along the summer trail), ski the normal run above the upper lake, make a short climb back north, and ski the skier's left line on the bowl below the lakes, then exit straight back up to your uptrack at the saddle east of the lakes.  Done in this manner, a fit party should be able to spend a long day skiing good and relatively safe runs without too much approaching and egressing.  There are good options to extend the tour into steeper and deeper terrain.  Hidden peak, chutes south into Sweathouse, and chutes north into Big Creek.  With adequate stability and good fitness, look at a map and get creative.  A snowmobile, used efficiently, would save about two hours of approach/egress.
Looking across Big creek to the Heavenly twins.

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