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The Ice Age Is Here

by Dave McBee

It may be summer, technically, but backpackers in western Washington anxious to escape into the high backcountry of the Cascades and Olympics are starting to feel more than a bit frustrated: the higher elevations are still buried under this past winter's record snowfall, and with the Puget Sound lowland's daytime temperatures straining to reach 60 degrees, with frequent showers, the chances of all that snow melting off any time soon, if at all, are slim. Backpackers and climbers have resigned themselves to the distinct possibility that a lot of places in the high country are not going to be accessible this summer.

1998's el Nino phenomenon was not that bad a guy that winter's light snowpack and early meltoff resulted in the back country opening up for safe travel by early June. And the spring rains stopped early: by the end of May, I had completed four trips along the west side of the Olympics (this, the rain capital of North America) and didn't get rained on even once.

La Nina on the other hand, is a bitch: all winter long, the jet stream was pointed directly at Washington, hosing us down with storm after storm. Heavy rains and mud slides in the low country, record amounts of snow up high. Skiers delighted in fresh powder daily; Mount Baker recorded a new North American record for the winter's snowfall. The jet stream is still pointed at us, and, enough with the joy of being the proud recipients of meteorological aberrations, most of us want it to go rain on somebody else's parade.

The stillhuge snowpack is wet, heavy, and unstable; avalanches will continue to be a threat all summer, in many places. Folks trying to traverse steep, snowcovered slopes to reach customary summer spots will take great risks.

What, then, must we do?

If you've got a car, drive to eastern Washington. If not, read on.

Go walk the coast! The Olympic National Park coastal strip beckons! You may well get wet, but you will not run into snow. From the Hoh River to Shishi Beach, fifty-odd miles of sand, rock, boulder, seal, whale, cedar and salal play out their endless rhythms. But if you're not damn careful, the raccoons will get your food. See Backpacking by Bus, segments for Quinault and Port Angeles...

Check out Ross Lake, pearl of the North Cascades. Though it currently looks like a halfempty (halffull?) bathtub, having been drawn down in anticipation of the huge snowmelt, the lake offers many opportunities. Due to the massif of Baker and the Picket Range, the area gets less rain than western Washington, but there's still a shitload of snow above 2000 feet or so. See Backpacking by Bus, segment for Ross Lake.

Head to the Leavenworth area and use Chelan-Douglas County's Link Transit to access lower elevation hikes in that area. The Ingalls Creek trail is snow-free for several miles. Or try the Chelan lakeshore trail (you'll need to use Lady of the Lake to reach this one.) See Backpacking by Bus for Leavenworth.

I think it was Bill Shakespeare who said that "discretion is the better part of valour". Still applies. Don't be a casualty; have fun but don't wind up smeared on some rocks a long ways downslope. Don't be afraid to back out if it starts getting more than a bit dicey. Lather up your boots, grab your gaiters and Gore Tex, and have at. Marvel at the millions of tons of water stored atop all the peaks about you, and be grateful that you live in such a universe.


 

 

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