The snow just hasn’t stopped. So of course, neither have the turns. Or cell phones.
I was asleep when my phone lit up with a message early one morning from a buddy down a few hours south in Leavenworth. “The group has a weekend booked at High Camp - you want in? We leave tomorrow at 9.” No one in their right mind says no to that offer, especially this season. Fortunately for me, waking up to check my phone rather than sleeping through it was the right call, because after some last minute schedule switching, I found myself on a couch in Leavenworth with a pile of food and beer in the middle of the living room. If I was happy then, words can’t describe the feeling of the next two days.
High Camp at Scottish Lakes, just west of Leavenworth, is nestled snug and hidden between a few classic North Cascade mountain ridgelines. The camp is a collection of A-frame cabins, with a large central lodge and a wood-burning hot tub and sauna. Deep in the backcountry, the skin tracks start from the cabin doors in all directions, and often you can look in the snow and find your human tracks outnumbered by critter tracks.
After our snow mobile up into the huts, the group powered down a quick lunch and beer and then wasted no time in switching the ski bindings to tour mode and hitting the skin track. With it almost being noon, and daylight a concern, we opted for a shorter, casual day: quick laps for more turns.
Pushing up and over a ridgeline from camp, we found a heavily-treed section with a steep and fun looking zone of turns. We dug a quick pit at the top to assess the avalanche terrain and then, happy with our findings, dropped in. And then kept dropping in.
The pillowed sections (we kept working sideways along the ridgeline for fresh turns) were fast descents, but worth every floating turn. With High Camp resting just east of the crest of the pass, the snow is a bit lighter than the normal snow over on the west side, and at times I felt like I was skiing the cold smoke over in Montana. Exhausted from our day, we finally said “enough” and skinned back to the camp - only to slam a quick refuel of food and step back into the skis.
The sun was setting and we dragged our tired legs up the opposite ridgeline to catch a last lap. Moving slowly, we missed the bright colors, but enjoyed a beer as darkness set. Then we clicked on our headlamps and party-skied together down through the trees, only able to see the what was in our beam of light, and went straight to the hot tub. Day 1 in the books, with the wakeup call for Day 2 rapidly approaching.
After the sunset skiing the night before, we were up at 5am for a hurried breakfast before skinning back up the same ridge to catch the day’s first light. Breaking out the thermos for the all-important second coffee, the sun rose over the valley and the bluebird day began as all days should: with rowdy turns. But rather than skiing the same hippy turns as the night before, we pushed further out on the ridge, picking steep shots to drop down, then buckled in for the long ride.
The next few hours were spent skinning through the trees, up and over small ascents into rolling valleys, each higher than the next, until we crossed over a large frozen Lake Julius and saw our final ridgeline, a dagger in the Chiwaukum Mountain skyline. It took another hour, but such a long ascent is usually worth it for the views alone.
The turns weren’t too bad either.
Three laps later, tired and happy, we slogged back to High Camp just in time to finish off the last of the beer supply and hitch a tow behind the nightly sled down the first mile of the track out. As the sun set, and our stomachs ached for dinner, we stepped in for our last turns of the brief trip. Dropping down to the cars below, two things were clear: this winter is unlike any others in recent memory, and always, always, always wake up to check your phone when the snow is falling.