|Lowell Skoog traverses Mount Arriva with Mount Logan in the distance, June 1996. (Map, 780kb. Click photos to enlarge.)|
In the spring of 1986,
I skied from Rainy Pass to Mesahchie Pass, near the North
Cascades Highway, with my brothers Gordy and Carl.
From the summit of Mount Arriva, I was captivated by the high
undulating ridge leading west toward Mount Logan. Traversed
on foot in 1970, the divide between Mount Arriva and Fisher
Pass was named “Spectacular Ridge” by the original
mountaineering party. In Fred Beckey's guidebook, the complete
route from Silent Lakes to Logan is called the Mount Logan High
The following year, with Jens Kieler and Dan Nordstrom, I skied an extended version of this route, continuing over Mount Logan to the Boston Glacier, Forbidden Cirque, and Eldorado Peak. Since this route traversed the headwaters of Thunder Creek, we called it the Thunder High Route. I had wanted to include Gordy and Carl on this trip, but Carl tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) skiing that winter and Gordy was occupied by other business.
In 1991, Carl and I skied from Fisher Peak to Mount Logan during an abortive attempt on “The American Alps Traverse,” a continuous 100-mile route from the North Cascades Highway to Glacier Peak. Poor weather ended that trip. We never reached the summit of Mount Logan and we retreated to the highway via the Easy Pass trail.
For several years after that I did relatively little ski mountaineering, having taken up paragliding in 1991 with several climbing friends. But the North Cascades continued to beckon, and I nursed a desire to ski a variation of the Thunder High Route, this time going around Mount Buckner on the south side and ending at Cascade Pass. This route would be one day shorter than my 1987 trip and it would avoid the subalpine section in Thunder Creek. To distinguish it from the Thunder High Route, I extended the name “Logan High Route” to refer to this entire variation.
On June 1, 1996, Carl and I launched an attempt on this route. It was the first big high pressure system of the spring, and a special avalanche advisory was in effect. We struggled through poorly consolidated snow from the North Cascades Highway to Silent Lakes then decided to abandon the trip. The weatheradio forecast seemed iffy and the snow clearly needed more time to settle.
Twelve days later, we returned. There had been little new snow in the meantime and the forecast called for fair weather without too much heat. After shuttling a car to the Cascade River Road we drove to our traditional access point for Silent Lakes. We parked about three miles northwest of Rainy Pass on the North Cascades Highway near a boulder which in those days was painted like a lizard head.
The approach to Silent Lakes was easier this time. The section near Granite Creek had bare ground and higher the snow was well consolidated. We skied to the lakes in five hours and decided to continue to a more scenic camping spot. Carl and I both wanted to photograph the scenic traverse across Mount Arriva. Since we were in no hurry, we spent the next couple hours waiting for the clouds to break and taking pictures. (See opening photo above.)
We camped at the saddle southwest of Mount Arriva. The site was wonderfully scenic, but a stiff wind made setting up our tent a challenge. Once in the tent we got our stove running to melt snow. The night was clear and cold with diminishing wind. Morning brought ice in our water bottles and a hard crust on the snow. My summer sleeping bag was inadequate, and we waited for the sun to hit the tent before stirring.
After packing up, we donned crampons and carried our skis down the steep gully west of our campsite. We switched to skis in the basin below Indecision Peak. A thousand feet of sun-warmed snow led us to the crest of Spectacular Ridge. Here we could survey some of the grandest peaks of the North Cascades. To the west rose the 9000-foot-plus summits of Mounts Logan and Goode. To the east stood Black Peak, only slightly less lofty. To the north extended the long crest of Ragged Ridge.
By contrast, Spectacular Ridge was gentle and rounded—a delightful, relaxed setting amid magnificent surroundings. We contoured along the ridge to the northwest and climbed over the next rounded bump. Then we removed skins and skied the main south-facing gully that descends from the ridge toward Fisher Pass.
Fisher Pass is a cartographic oddity. The streams on both sides of the pass are named Fisher Creek. From the pass we ascended a zig-zag ramp system to the north shoulder of Point 7910, nicknamed “Dream Peak” during my 1987 trip. We traversed onto the northwest slope of the peak and dropped our overnight packs. We skinned to the summit and took pictures skiing with Mount Goode in the background. Since this was before digital cameras became available, we wouldn't know for a couple weeks, at least, how the pictures turned out.
As we were preparing to descend to our packs, I noticed that the front screws of my ski bindings had worked loose, allowing my heels to wiggle from side to side. Uncertain of whether my bindings would hold, we decided not to spend any time taking pictures on the descent. Due to the overnight freeze, Dream Peak was blanketed with perfect corn snow. As I skied down, I made relaxed turns to avoid stressing my bindings. The snow was so good that I felt as solid in my climbing boots and loose bindings as I would have with the best alpine ski gear. It was just an ecstatic run. Upon returning to our packs, I dug out tools to re-tighten my bindings before doing anything else.
The next morning, from a camp at the head of North Fork Bridge Creek, we roped up to ascend Mount Logan's Douglas Glacier. In a few hours we reached the summit of Mount Logan. Since the traverse over Logan is the crux of this trip, I was eager to get it behind us. We secured our skis to our packs and scrambled along the ridge south of the summit, then crossed to the west side and began traversing and descending south toward the Fremont Glacier. We'd come prepared to rappel off the summit rocks, but found it unnecessary. We felt comfortable downclimbing, even with full packs and skis on our back.
On the Fremont Glacier I made an autopatch phone call to my wife Steph, using my ham radio. Steph was six-months pregnant with our son Tom and I wanted her to know that the trip was going well. On the glacier we encountered a lone skier, Steve Holm from Bellingham, who had approached the mountain from Thunder Creek. Steve said he was expecting to see us, having noticed our sign-out at the Marblemount Ranger Station on the day he left.
After a lunch break we made a descending traverse to Park Creek Pass, a deep gap in the Cascade Crest bounded by towering rock walls. Skiing south through the pass, we traversed lovely alpine benches at the head of Park Creek. From the benches we descended into the Buckner Glacier cirque, the “big hole” of this traverse. Booker and Buckner Mountains tower above this hole. We climbed westward, threading a line up the center of the basin toward the Buckner Glacier to avoid recent avalanche debris. We skinned to within a few hundred feet of the top of the left (south) gully leading to the Booker-Buckner divide. We packed our skis and punched steps up the final steep slope. The snow was rotten and I was very glad we hadn't tried this route two weeks earlier. From Booker-Buckner col we descended about 1000 feet down a gully to the west, then traversed north into Horseshoe Basin to camp.
On the morning of the fourth day (Sunday, June 16), the weather radio predicted a major change the following day, with snow in the Cascades down to 5000 feet. We'd hoped to ski Mount Buckner on our final day, but unfavorable snow conditions deterred us. Instead, I cramponed to the summit and walked back down. Three years later, Garth Ferber and I would make the first ski descent of Buckner on a day-trip from the Cascade River.
Carl and I traversed Horseshoe Basin and climbed mushy snow to the Sahale Glacier moraines. Under thickening clouds, we followed Sahale Arm to Cascade Pass and skied nearly to the parking lot below the pass. We hiked the road several miles to our car, then motored back to civilization. The following day brought rain, hail and thunderstorms to Western Washington. Our timing couldn't have been better.
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