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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Location
    Highyak
    Posts
    592

    TR: One Heli of a Monday in the North Cascades

    Every year for the past several years I've been invited along on a heli-ski trip to the North Cascades by my buddy Luke who I went to school with and his dad Brad who's been hooked on heli-skiing ever since his co-worker Rick twisted his arm into doing it a dozen years ago. Brad & Rick are retired Microsofties who've worked on all kinds of incredible things which we're still relying on today. Luke was my referral for my first gig at Microsoft and even though he works at a startup now and is more or less flying on equity, we still manage to squirrel away enough cash to make a trip happen each spring when the snow is good and the days are long.

    This year's trip was supposed to be a 2-day foray, but high winds and incoming weather shut us down after a single attempt on the 2nd day. That's okay because we're just going to roll that single day of credit forward for next year and come back and try to do it again. Well, unless the coronavirus wipes us out, in which case I should probably update my living will to pass my credit along to someone else

    After two "days" of scraping the sloped ice in the 'yakyard, I packed-up on Sunday afternoon after lunch and headed out, making sure to only bring the essentials:

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    Thanks to the transition to DST and forgetting to set the clocks in the kitchen & living room forward, I blew my timing by an hour and was going to be cutting it close for dinner in Mazama. Fortunately, the restaurant at the end of the road where we planned to eat was closed and they headed back into Winthrop to grab dinner & drinks at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery so I was only about a half-hour late to dinner. The drive over Blewett and north along the Columbia River was uneventful - I set my FM radio dial to 102.1, Central WA's classic rock station and jammed out for the 3 hour drive, one of the most scenic in all of Washington:

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    The remainder of the evening was uneventful - after enjoying a few great brews and a demolishing a reuben sandwich, we headed back to our cabin next to the heli barn at the eastern end of the winter closure of Hwy 20. The moon was almost full and the jagged, snow-capped peaks were well-illuminated. We finished off a growler of IPA and tucked ourselves into bed. The morning dawned cold and clear (subzero digits at pass-level in Washington Pass and in the upper teens down in Mazama), we cooked up a good breakfast of eggs, bacon & toast, got dressed and headed over the the barn for the typical helicopter and avalanche safety briefings. The barn was buzzing with activity - two touring loads were preparing to head out for the day then it would be us followed by two more alpine loads.

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    We loaded-up around 9:30 and fifteen minutes later we were standing on top of our first zone of the day, the north flanks of Silver Star Mountain from the "top" - a saddle between the peak's two high points that tops-out around 8500'. Having a little time to soak-up the views in both directions while the next load was flown-out, we grabbed some photos, enjoyed the cold sunshine and then strapped-in for the day's first descent. The snow was cold and somewhat wind-affected, but it rode acceptably and we ended-up going a whopping 2400' to the lowest landing zone on the basin. The wind-packed powder turned into proper powder roughly boot-to-knee deep once we got below the top of the Burgundy Col and it was simply amazing.

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    With big smiles on our faces, we loaded-up and were whisked over the ridge line and across the highway to a zone north of Cutthroat Pass called "Stairstep", which has a pretty hair-raising landing point right atop a heavily-corniced ridgeline and a steep entrance into the heavily knolled terrain which breaks over into a series of steep drainages to the valley floor (it's basically the same as the near back bowls of Alpental). We laid first tracks again, whooping it up as the terrain is perfect for shredding.

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    After a single lap on Stairstep, we again changed locations - this time heading back across the highway to the saddle immediately north of Fisher Peak which is the southern high point of terrain referred to as Ragged Ridge which separates the national park from the FS land where NCH is permitted to operate. Again with some time to spare, we soaked-up the stellar views in all directions and took some group photos before dropping a cornice back into the ESE-facing bowls from the saddle. Those turns may have been the best of my season, perfect depth, blower light density, and just the perfect terrain for popping and slashing. We did a second lap in this zone while the heli went back to the barn to refuel - the two other alpine groups only did one and "leapfrogged" us to the next zone, Easy Pass.

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    Easy Pass is almost as far west as NCH is permitted to fly and they hadn't been in there much at all this season. In fact, nobody had skied the "around the back" line yet this season, which takes you into the national park for a few turns before you rip down a pure north-facing drainage to treeline. So without much ado, we dropped-in and ripped it while the loads in front of us hit various shorter, but steeper lines on the frontside. From the time we hit the drainage to the bottom was pure powder bliss. On our next lap we switched with the two other groups - they went around the back and we hit the shorter, steeper zone on the frontside. With our day nearing its end, the decision was made to do one last stop on the north side of Tower Mountain. We scored a nice, long 2000' run before heading back to the barn to kick off our boots, shed our winter gear and enjoy some cold ones in the afternoon sun.

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    After too many minutes and too many beverages in the hot tub, we decided not driving for dinner was our best option so we hit Jack's Hut for pizza and another pitcher before stumbling back to the cabin on the freshly groomed and rapidly firming nordic trail system. The skies were still clear and we were optimistic for another good day the next morning but it was not to be. Incoming weather was quickly deteriorating visibility and the winds at 9000' (where the heli is mostly flying), were just too gusty to safely land in the alpine. As the first alpine load, we did actually go out and came back after a quick trip to Washington Pass where it was obvious it wasn't going to happen as the bird was going sideways almost as much as forward. After a bumpy ride back to the barn which made us all reconsider that last cup of coffee we'd had before takeoff, we split ways and headed-out. I made lunch plans to see the progress a former neighbor is making on his new bar & restaurant business venture in Chelan and then swung-out wide to Ellensburg to hit the pot shop, drop-off my ballot, make a grocery run and visit another old friend who's now slinging his Korean fusion food at Whipsaw Brewing. Driving back up the pass as the sun was setting I reflected on just how much I really needed this trip.

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    EDIT: Fixed the images, I think
    Last edited by pipedream; 03-12-2020 at 05:21 PM.
    "Pay your nickel and take your chances"
    "they don't groom Alpental, they just move shit around."

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    vernon
    Posts
    2,589

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Seattle
    Posts
    445
    Yeah, no photos for me either (desktop using chrome).

    Good words though and your teaser photo made me jealous.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Posts
    170
    That's a sick hit list!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Location
    Highyak
    Posts
    592
    I really wanted to hit a line in that last pic from Easy Pass called "Ramen Noodles" but the cornice was too big for the older members of our group. So I'll just have to settle for dreaming about it instead
    "Pay your nickel and take your chances"
    "they don't groom Alpental, they just move shit around."

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Location
    Seattle
    Posts
    31,469
    Looks awesome.

    Who was your guide? Looks kinda like Jeff in left seat?
    Quote Originally Posted by Downbound Train View Post
    And there will come a day when our ancestors look back...........

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Location
    PNW
    Posts
    5,654
    Looks great, dood
    life ain't guaranteed, love your people while you can

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Location
    PNW
    Posts
    475
    Looks like you nailed weather and snow conditions, thanks for sharing!

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    tree OH TREE!!!!!
    Posts
    3,564
    nice trip, thanks for sharing.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    In a parallel universe
    Posts
    4,794

  11. #11
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Location
    inpdx
    Posts
    13,764
    Phuk yeah, thanks for sharing!
    Wow that looks amazing!

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Sep 2018
    Posts
    1,238
    Im jealous..

    Sent from my I3123 using Tapatalk

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Location
    Between a rock and a soft place. Aberdare and The Brecon Beacons, Wales
    Posts
    2,783
    Top of the Notch

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    vernon
    Posts
    2,589
    Looks rad. Thanks for sharing. Chelan sure reminds me of around here (Okanagan) except our good mtns are to the east.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Feb 2013
    Location
    Highyak
    Posts
    592
    Quote Originally Posted by PNWbrit View Post
    Looks awesome.

    Who was your guide? Looks kinda like Jeff in left seat?
    Ken. So we were the first load both days. Ken grew-up at Alpental so we have quite a bit in common and I've had a few laps with him in previous Decembers before the heli season has started.

    What I've learned is that the group with the overall lightest weight flies last. So, you know, it's okay to have dessert the night before you fly
    "Pay your nickel and take your chances"
    "they don't groom Alpental, they just move shit around."

  16. #16
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Posts
    657
    Link to the heli operator? Would love to pull that off someday and finally getting close enough to do it.

    Thanks

  17. #17
    Join Date
    Dec 2003
    Location
    Seattle
    Posts
    31,469
    North Cascade Heli
    Quote Originally Posted by Downbound Train View Post
    And there will come a day when our ancestors look back...........

  18. #18
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Posts
    657
    Thank you

  19. #19
    Join Date
    Feb 2009
    Location
    Eastern WA
    Posts
    507
    Great pictures!!
    Mazama was my very first heliski trip, 1986, when it was Eric Sanfords Heli skiing and only his 2nd or 3rd year if I remember right. Great place!!

  20. #20
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Posts
    139
    Great photo trip report, pipedream!

  21. #21
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    SLC burbs
    Posts
    2,120
    Spectacular mountains out there! Keyboard not working from all the drool...

  22. #22
    Join Date
    Aug 2007
    Location
    Bottom feeding
    Posts
    8,395
    Quote Originally Posted by farmguy View Post
    Great pictures!!
    Mazama was my very first heliski trip, 1986, when it was Eric Sanfords Heli skiing and only his 2nd or 3rd year if I remember right. Great place!!
    Same for my wife. Right around '89 I had a drink with him at Sun Mountain, and he was trying to get me to do a spring corn trip w/him, and I kinda laughed. It's quite a different operation now.
    Well maybe I'm the faggot America
    I'm not a part of a redneck agenda

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