A week of sun and high pressure brought spring to life. It was time to head into the high mountains.
In my opinion, the Enchantments feel best done in March/April…for a variety of reasons:
- More sunlight for long approaches.
- Firm snow on south’s makes for easy climbs. Powder on north’s leaves open multiple aspects.
- More time for the relatively ‘touchier’ snowpack on the eastside of the Crest to settle out.
After a fun few days up North, Nick and I wanted to spend a day on the eastside investigating conditions. Neither of us had been out in the Enchantments yet this year, so conditions felt like a ‘black box’. Weather looked good so we figured we’d at least ‘go see for ourselves’ and leave the door open to some options. Given the lack of information, Cashmere felt like the right call: mostly climbing up a firm southside in the morning, relatively short approach (as compared to others), and options on the north sides if the powder was good.
We opted to just rally for an early drive out, as opposed to sleeping at the trailhead. I bought a Red Bull the night before and we met up at Exit 34 at 4 AM. Yay…
Nick, Grant, and I planned to check out the NE Couloir and maybe the NW Face, if conditions allowed. I had skied the NE Couloir the year prior, and Nick and I had climbed the NW Face two years prior when we skied the south couloir. We were familiar with the terrain and felt that we’d at least be able to get eyes on each of them before needing to ‘commit’.
In our ‘plan’, we left open the idea of exiting out the north side via Lake Victoria, but admittedly weren’t stoked on the idea of a multi-mile road skin/walk. We parked at the lot just before the road closure to the Colchuck Lake TH and began skinning up the snow-covered road at 6 AM. Snow was pasted on the road the whole way…no melted out portions yet!
The climb up Pioneer Creek was the chillest I’ve ever had it. We switched to booting for the steeper ~500 feet until topping off at the bench around 5,000′. There was a slightly annoying solar crust that we postholed through, but it wasn’t the worst.
At 5,000′ we transitioned back to skins and were able to skin all the way to the open slope at 7,200′ beneath the saddle between the Black Pyramid and Cashmere. This open slope had already slid from wet loose activity and we opted to throw on crampons and boot straight up from 7,200′ to the saddle at 8,100′. The booting was again postholey and slightly annoying. Travel was slower than we wanted, but overall pretty easy. It was clear that there had been wet loose activity the days prior, as multiple slide paths had already slid on south aspects.
We topped out at the saddle at 8,100′ on the east flank of Cashmere, where the entrance to the NE Couloir lies. The NE side seemed slightly wind packed, but chalky powder. Seemed like great steep skiing conditions honestly! I booted down a few feet just to suss’ out snowpack; didn’t feel hollow, didn’t feel any layers digging around. A consistent, ‘chalky’ snow underfoot with a few inches of lighter powder on top. MMMMM….
We transitioned to skis, ready to ski the NE Couloir. I took it first, making jump turns down to an alcove 2/3 of the way down. I radioed back to Nick that the snow was great! I took out my camera, making sure I was out of the ‘line of fire’ of any slough coming down. ‘Go ahead Nick!’
It was pretty dang perfect steep skiing snow…grippy, not to sluffy, not feeling slabby.
We skied down to 7,000′ in the basin below the NE Couloir, taking a nice leisurely break in the sun. That was fun! We had discussed possibly skiing down to Lake Victoria from this point, then skinning back up and getting eyes on the NW Face. Given the time of day and the fact that we were more stoked on skiing the NW Face then the lower snow down to Lake Victoria, we opted to punt on that plan and just climb back up the NE Couloir and ascend to the summit. We wanted to just prioritize the NW Face and the climb back up was mostly a known quantity.
Booting back up the couloir went smoothly enough, just a little postholing here and there. We reached the saddle at 8,100′, then climbed the SE facing ridge to the summit. Overall, pretty chill and uneventful. It was really a beautiful ridge climb though! All the peaks in the Stuart Range as eye candy.
From the summit, we poked around to get eyes on the multiple possible lines down the NW Face. The snow looked a bit more wind affected/weird than the NE Couloir, and there were certainly more rocks haha. It was shark infested waters, for sure. Thankfully I had brought the rocks skis today…
There were two lines we considered: the one directly off the summit block, and one further skier’s right that required a bit more of a downclimb. The continuity of the more direct line appealed to us all more, so we opted for that. It seemed there’d be one or two ‘chokepoints’ that might be thin/rocky, but seemed manageable. Peering over, it looked relatively fine.
Having no regard for my ski bases, I volunteered to go first and find all the rocks…LOL. I made a hop turn or two before the first choke, finding some funky sun crust/winboard. Nothing reactive, just funk.
I sidestepped through the first choke, finding rocks. FOUND THEM!
After the choke, there were some reactive surface wind slabs. They broke at the tips of my skis and didn’t propagate, but they definitely started to pop a bit. I radioed this back to Nick and Grant; we were still unconcerned, however, since I was able to ski cut and clear them out.
I scooted off the face to skier’s left once I got through all the choke points, choosing the skier’s left exit that I could see ‘went’. The skier’s right variation looked like it ‘might’ go, but from the top it didn’t look certain.
The exit chute skier’s right was better snow than the face and I relayed back to Nick and Grant that they could ski it more aggressively. We regrouped at the bench around 7,600′ and sat on some rocks, ate some food, and basked in the spring sun.
Looking at our watches after all the lounging and postholing, we were glad we hadn’t dropped down to Lake Victoria. The snow on the NW Face wasn’t nearly as good as the NE Couloir, but still a fun, albeit short line.
We skinned a few hundred feet up to the saddle, west of Cashmere, and were able to ski all the way out to the road. Very simple, smooth…but our timing was pretty key. In shaded spots, the melted crust was starting to refreeze. Had we been 30 mins later, we would have had MUCH more breakable crust…hahaha. That wouldn’t have been fun.
We skied down the road to the cars, enjoyed some Heidleburger in town, and were back by nightfall. Bring on spring!