Over Valentine’s Day Weekend 2016, some of my best adventure pals and I decided to take a bromantic ski touring trip and try something extra adventurous. We ended up barely making it up a tough ascent through heavy wet powder that stuck to the bottom of our skins. A storm was rolling in and we were shut inside the Winchester Mountain Lookout for 2 days during a crazy whiteout with gale force winds. We didn’t have much else to do other than drink whiskey, play cards, clear out snow from the door that was so frozen over that it wouldn’t completely close, write stories in the guestbook, and feed each other chocolate as we cozied in our sleeping bags (even the inside of the hut was mid-twenties). But it was a true bonding experience, and we got some good powder turns on the way down.
As Valentine’s Day 2017 approached, we decided to make the bromantic ski touring adventure a tradition. We deliberated over different touring options, but in the end we wanted another hut experience. We ended up deciding on going for the Hidden Lake Lookout. I was especially stoked for this choice, because I had hiked up to the Hidden Lake Lookout this past Summer, and it was one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been (I plan on posting a belated trip report sometime soon). We were a bit worried by conditions, since a big storm had rolled through during the week – but Andy obsessed over route planning as always, and found a winter route with safe terrain up.
So we all met up Friday after work, and drove up to the North Cascades, grabbing a great dinner at the Rhodes River Ranch (recommended!). We had seen a trip report by Jason Hummel a couple weeks earlier, reporting we could drive up Cascade River Road until mile 7, or more if we had a truck. We were able to reach mile 8 before encountering a fallen tree over the road and started our tour from there – meaning an 11 mile tour with ~6000 ft of elevation gain to the lookout. We decided to try and tour 6 or so miles up that night and get some out of the way. While touring up the road, it became clear that one of our team members wasn’t feeling 100% and the going would be somewhat slow. We made it 5 or so miles and decided to get some sleep. The next day, we finished off the road and began up the winter route. It began pretty steep for about 2000 feet, but eventually evened out for a bit before getting steep again for the final push to the top of the ridge where it meets the hiking trail – at this point the snow got a lot lighter and deeper – we were stoked for pow! However, our friend was tiring out and our pace had been slowed considerably throughout the day. His condition was not extreme by any means, but we realized we were not going to make it to the hut at that pace. Unfortunately, we stashed the tents down on the road to save weight… if we had brought them with us we could have just camped and hit the hut on Sunday morning! In the end, we decided as a team to let him rest in a sleeping bag and bivy for an hour or so while we toured up higher for some powder turns before all skiing down together to the road to camp. We toured up nearly to the point of meeting the hiking trail – within 1000 ft of elevation from reaching the hut. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but it was the safer move to turn around. Snow conditions were actually better than expected where we were. We skied down through some awesome powder fields, met up with our friend, and skied back down the road where we set up camp and enjoyed the evening. In the end we didn’t achieve our goal of reaching the hut, but we achieved a more important goal: spending a rad weekend with some great friends.