Preacher mountain SE couloir
January 28, 2021
Dan skinning on Snow Lake up towards the Roosevelt - Wright col in the fog.
With conditions still...
marginally bad in most of Washington, but relatively stable, Dan and I were itching to explore a new (to us) zone. We landed on trying to go out and ski the SE couloir on Preacher Mountain. This mountain has much lore in the Washington ski community, as there are at least two prominent couloirs that strike down the South side of the mountain, taunting everyone who looks over at it. However, the cost of entry is high, and that keeps many a skier from setting foot on the mountain. The cost of entry for this mountain is about 7 miles and about 4,000ft of gain just to get to the base of the couloir. With the avalanche forecast being stable, particularly for S-SE slopes, and with the skiing not being anything necessarily special, we decided to go for the long haul and see how far we could get.
We got to the Alpental trailhead at 7 and were skinning by 7:30. With 2-4 inches of new snow along the approach, and with Dan and I being the first skinners out there, we made quick work up to Snow Lake Divide, getting there in an hour and 20 minutes, and found ourselves quickly ripping skins and skiing down to Snow lake. We knew that we'd have to rip skins 7 times during our tour today, so we made sure to fold the skins carefully and not let them get too wet. We shot down to the lake, transitioned again and glided in the mist across the lake and up to the Roosevelt - Wright col. The stability was mostly good, with the occasional wind slab present primarily on N-NW slopes. We found a bit of wind skin here on the col, but nothing propagated to the point of us being concerned. Once we made our way up and over the col, we found ourselves in territory that we hadn't been in before. We had been on this col about a year ago, when we skied Holy Diver, but once we got much further below it, we were exploring something new. The main unknowns for our travel today consisted primarily of: the number of creek crossings that we would encounter, and the amount of tricky tree skinning we would have to do.
Dan skiing down towards Lower Wildcat Lake
One of the "skis-on" creek crossings
Luckily, we found that the tree skinning, while icy at some points, wasn't too hard, and we only encountered two creek crossings where we had to carry skis. The first ski-carry creek crossing was right above Lower Wildcat lake, at about 4,000ft, and the second one was above Derrick Lake at about 3,900ft. Neither required too much fussing, and we didn't have to get our feet wet - score! Finally, we found ourselves at the bottom of the couloir, looking up in excitement. We skinned as much of the old loose wet debris at the apron of the couloir as we could, and eventually switched to booting. We had arrived at the base of the couloir in 5.5 hours. A bit longer than we'd like to have taken to do the approach, but the skinning wasn't ideal, and the creek crossings took us a bit more time than we thought. Oh well. We took about an hour-ish to get to the top, taking our time to make sure that everything felt stable. The conditions ranged from wallowy powder, to solid neve, to hard packed ice. Not necessarily ideal, but we were confident we could get down it and felt confident about the stability. We got to the top, grabbed a bite to eat as well as some water, and took off down the couloir.
Me booting up the couloir. Don't worry, I've got a whippet buried in the snow! Definitely need something for protection.
Me making turns at the top. Whee!
(Thanks Dan for the awesome shot - somehow I get lucky with having ski partners who are also great photographers!)
The skiing itself had some okay turns, nothing special but still fun! We got to the base, grabbed some snacks and started making our way up and out of the basin. We knew it was going to get dark on us on our way back, but luckily we were prepared with headlamps. We were hoping that we could make it into our "known" territory by the time it got dark. Skiing by headlamp is not necessarily dangerous, but there are a lot of factors that can add up really quickly if you don't pay attention to them. Skiing in a place that you are familiar with really takes down the risk of going off route, so we were happy to not have to pull out headlamps until we were back at the Roosevelt - Wright col. We skied the best snow of the day down the col to Snow Lake, and began the long skin across the lake. I've found that when there is absolutely nothing to look at and occupy your mind, often I get into a zone where I can just focus on my thoughts. I love it, but not as much as I love being able to see ;) C'est la vie.
We made it up the last 500ft. climb that we had to do to get to the Snow Lake Divide, and blasted on down to Source lake. As you may know if you've ever been in to the Source Lake basin after a cycle of loose wet avalanches, the refrozen rollerballs are SO HARD to ski! We very slowly petered down to the lake with our headlamps, and exited out the luge track. What a day! We were ecstatic to have explored a new zone, and even more ecstatic to have made it on time to get some grub from Pie for the People, and beer from Dru Bru. So. Good. All in all, we saw zero skiers out today, and saw no tracks North of the Snow Lake Divide. Where are all y'all?! Oh yea, probably avoiding the cruddy snow. Fair.
Dan skinning across Snow Lake in the dark. Oops! Good thing we had headlamps.
Total mileage of the day - Around 14 miles - Strava reeealy over estimated the mileage...
Total elevation gain - Around 7,200 - 7,400 - Strava again overestimated gain a bit.
Total time - 11:56
Max slope angle of the day - Around 45 degrees on the couloir itself
GPS via Strava - https://www.strava.com/activities/4698173759
Song that was stuck in my head all day - "Tomorrow" from Annie the musical - This was frankly a horrible song to have stuck in my head, and was happy that it left when I got the song "Sweatpants" by Childish Gambino stuck in my head halfway through the day. That I can work with ;)