Background

Inspiration takes many forms. For me in the context of skiing, it has come in the form of Sky Sjue, Jason Hummel, Dan Helmstadter, Phil Fortier, Eric Wehrly…the OGs of steep skiing in Washington. If you need to be humbled, just read Dan’s resume, Sky’s website or the laundry list of Hummel descents. It’s a dose of humble pie.

Lately I’ve been working through many emotions around skiing, specifically the ‘challenge zone’. The zone where things seem intimidating and scary but slightly expand what you thought was possible. It’s a sharp edge…razor thin between meaningful success and danger.

This ski season has been an odd one with low snow levels but lots of high pressure. Hwy 20 was scheduled to open in mid-to-late April; I fell back on some of my readings and remembered old trip reports from Goode, specifically the north couloir and the east face couloir. Goode is BACK THERE but it’s striking. I climbed it with my buddy Chris a few years back and the allure of seeing it again on snow couldn’t exit my brain.

I wanted a day to test myself, not just in a downhill, technical manner but also mentally. In short, I was looking for the challenge zone. Goode looped in my brain. It scared me, a bit. So many stages; go over Black Peak, ski through Woody Creek to Grizzly, cross Bridge Creek, climb through the rockbands…it was complex.

I discovered the peace and tranquility in solo skiing last year in the Sierras. It’s the most challenging and rewarding skiing imaginable. You own EVERY decision you make; you must be locked in from start-to-finish. There are no excuses, no shoulders to lean on…it’s all you. For me, it’s only appropriate in certain contexts, when avalanche hazard is off-the-table mostly.

I wanted to give Goode a try, solo, as long as I could get into the right headspace going into it. I headed up to Washington Pass with Erin the day before to check out conditions and see how I felt.

Trip Report

Friday Hwy 20 opened and Erin and I headed up to ski the north couloir on Big Kangaroo. I wanted a warm-up to get a sense of how snow on north faces were holding up. I also wanted to get into the right headspace for a long solo jaunt. On the drive up we bumped dance tunes and mostly checked each other’s vibes. I told myself if the snow was good and I was still stoked by the evening, I’d go for Goode Saturday.

The snow in Big Kang was nice chalk. Step 1…check. We made it to our campsite down below the pass before dark and chilled to Dua Lipa. Step 2…check! I was still psyched. Time to go for it.

I didn’t really calculate the stats for the day, partially because I didn’t really care and partially because I didn’t want to know. I knew it’d be big. I packed a liter of water (knowing I’d have creeks to refill), a good amount of food, and an extra headlamp. I had tons of tunes downloaded. I opted to just bring one Petzl Gully, not wanting to equip myself with enough weapons to get myself into real trouble. Most importantly, I checked myself…before every ski trip I write myself a ‘mental plan’ in Google Keep where I outline my headspace for the day. This is what I wrote for Goode:

“It’s okay to bail. Leave room for you to push yourself but remember every decision you make you own.”

I set my alarm for 3AM with intention to start by 4 AM. I woke up, cracked a Red Bull, put my car back together and drove up to Rainy Pass. Some hype music got me ready. Last step, my morning poop…check.

I agreed to send my mom and Erin messages via my inReach every 2-3 hours so they could monitor my progress (I also had my inReach tracking on sending points every 30 minutes). I pushed off from Rainy Pass just after 4AM and headed up towards Heather Pass. The snow was firm but grippy. I opted to don crampons for the steep slope above Ann Lake. I was able to ski traverse from Heather Pass to Lewis Lake, then skin all the way to the south shoulder of Black Peak. I had a lovely sunrise from Wing Lake.

Skinning towards Black Peak at sunrise.

By 7 AM I was skiing down the south slopes of Black down towards Woody Creek. While firm, it was planar and made for lovely carving. My Black Crows Orb Freebird absolutely ripped. What a great way to start the day. The view of Goode from the south shoulder of Black was stunning.

Looking at Goode from the south shoulder of Black. The East Face Couloir is the prominent line coming down to the right from the saddle to the looker’s left of the summit.

I opted to cross Woody Creek to get on its south side below the south slopes of Black; there was some annoying thick trees for maybe 5 minutes, specifically where the south face of Black dumps out and there’s a short waterfall section in the creek. Once I bush-bashed my way through the baby trees, though, I was able to hang a high traverse all the way down Woody and on the east side of Grizzly Creek. I stayed as high (east) as possible to stay above the constriction in Falls Creek around 4,200′ and skied all the way down to Bridge Creek. WOW! By 8:30 AM I was at Bridge Creek…crazy how far you can move on skis! The remoteness was setting in. I was beneath the HUGE face of Goode.

Looking up at Goode from Bridge Creek.

I could see the east face couloir and it looked to be in good(e) shape (the only Goode pun I’ll make). I couldn’t really make out the north couloir and I was starting to question which line made more sense. I had read up on both of them and had initially dreamt of maybe skiing both in a day if I had the energy and stoke. I wouldn’t have to make that decision for a while, however.

I was able to find a good log to cross Grizzly Creek and made my way up valley to the west beneath Goode.

Nice log!

There was one final creek crossing: getting across Bridge Creek to begin climbing up the slopes to the Goode Glacier. Thankfully there was a huge debris pile that spanned the entire creek; I got quite lucky here. No portages, wet boots, or weird jumps across rocks.

Thankful for this huge avalanche coming down before I got there! Made for a nice crossing.

Going into the day I had broken up the day into a few stages to make it seem more manageable. I got this mindset from my friends Kaytlyn and Jenny who talked about their North Cascades High Route feeling like a series of levels they ‘unlocked’. I liked that.

Level 1 was getting to the south shoulder of Black.

Level 2 was getting down to Bridge Creek.

Levels 1 and 2…completed. Level 3 was getting through the rockbands guarding the snow slopes beneath Goode. On the topo it looked like the easiest ‘weakness’ was a small gully more directly beneath the north couloir. In Skye and Phil’s trip report they talk about gaining the glacier further to the east, closer to where the rock route approach (through all the caterpillars). I was able to easily find a sneak through the rockbands further to the west than the rock approach and with that Level 3 was unlocked! Bite size chunks made it feel more manageable.

Looking up at the rockbands that guard the snow slopes below Goode. I snuck through on the looker’s right side of the photo. Later in the year this is definitely a crux of accessing the upper reaches of Goode.

By this time in the late morning the snow on the lower glacier was beginning to soften. I had a long climb ahead of me, approximately 5500’ from valley bottom to the top of my line. I committed to going up the East Face Couloir first; if I still had stoke there was an easy ramp beneath the face above seracs that I could take to the base of the north couloir. I put on ski crampons and skinned my way up. Dance tunes rang loudly from my pocket; vibes were checked.

The next major step was getting to the base of the couloir. From afar I could see there was some debris and what looked to be a small bergschrund.

Looking up at the couloir.

Once I got up close and personal to it, it wasn’t too bad. There seemed to be a good bridge to cross on. And no mandatory air on the exit. On the entire climb up I reminded myself that anything I climbed I’d have to ski. A good reminder back to my mental note for the day: “it’s okay to bail…you own every decision you make.”

Looking at the right hand side of the schrund. I didn’t cross on this bridge, but rather the connected panel to the right side of the pic, slightly out of frame.

Until the couloir, all the slopes were low angle and would be fine to ski even in very firm hardpack. Once I crossed the schrund and began to climb the couloir, the pitch steepened significantly. It felt like the Ellingwood Couloir in the Tetons, consistently steep for thousands of feet. I think the line is ~1500-2000’ of 45-50 (maybe 55 at spots) degrees. It’s pure, plumb, and steep.

Looking down the booter.

Closer to the face (climber’s right) the snow was quite bad. There was much more melt-freeze and debris that littered the surface. It was chunky, hard, and pretty unforgiving. Further on climber’s left in the shade, however, was great chalk. I felt comfortable continuing up knowing that on the descent I could avoid the shitfuck snow on the skier’s left side. I never needed to frontpoint, either, so I felt that worst case scenario I could downclimb.

I turned my music off at times as I climbed the couloir to remain attentive to debris coming down. There’s a huge cornice at the top of the line that looms large. I tried to climb slightly out of the fall-line to be out of the dumpster fire. Nothing major rained down while I climbed, although there were occasional bits and pieces.

I opted to stop my ascent approximately 50’ from the top. I was pretty bummed, not gonna lie, but it made sense.

Garmin MapShare capture of where I turned around.
Right where I turned around. For scale, the choke is barely ski width and the top is ~50 vertical feet above me.

There is one final constriction near the tippy tippy top that pinches the couloir before it actually mellows out to a lower angle panel right beneath the giant cornice. In this pinch there was verglas, snice, rock, and generally un-skiable conditions. I could have front-pointed it with my one Petzl Gully, but I reminded myself of my mental plan and why I had only brought one tool: “you own every decision you make.” Here’s what was rattling around in my head:

  1. If I was with someone else, we probably would have turned around because it wasn’t going to be ‘skiing’, if anything sidestepping.
  2. The cornice above me was pretty big and there was a nice cave to transition just to my climber’s right, out of the fall-line of the cornice.
  3. Trying to ski down shitfuck snow, solo, above thousands of feet of exposure felt like pushing it too far for my risk tolerance. Maybe Sky or Phil or Dan would do that final bit in those conditions…but I’m not them. I’m just a kid from Florida.

I was (and am) at peace with this decision. If that makes this an asterisk I don’t give a fuck. Today was about challenging myself, reaching that knife edge between pushing yourself and being confident. I was on the line; going further would have toed it. No thanks; no me gusta.

I booted down around 15-20 feet to the nice cave, dug out a platform with the adze on my Petzl Gully, and transitioned into my skis. The snow below me was still going to be challenging, nevermind the steep pitch. I took a picture, looking down at my neon skis, and took a deep breath. I placed my axe behind my shoulder strap and readied for business time.

Business time…

With repetition any practice can feel smooth; this year, steep skiing feels like flow state. The first turn was unnerving but after laying it down I locked back in. I took my time, making sure every turn I made counted. It was proper steep but not overly scary. There were a few sections of shitfuck that weren’t the most fun. There was a LOVELY panel of snow out skier’s right in the shade, though, that was proper fun. It kind of felt like the pitch of the Park Headwall, planar and steep. Wow. What a setting for it too, looking over at Logan and down at the Goode Glacier.

I skied down through the shaded parts to the sunny, shitfuck snow where I started and found my bootpack where I had crossed the schrund. The snow was slightly softer than when I had started and actually made for good turns! I shushed my way across the schrund and let out a hoot. FUCK YEAH!! I’d done it…I’d skied the East Face Couloir, albeit from 50’ below the top.

My cup was filled. I was behind my schedule. It was 2 PM at this point and I knew I still had 5k’ of exit vert to put in, with many miles as well. I was already 10k’ into my day too. North couloir would have to wait. I was ready to be out of objective hazard. I’d been saving a Red Bull in my pack for when I was off Goode. I was looking forward to it.

Looking back up at Goode from the creek.

The turns down the Goode Glacier to Bridge Creek were soul filling corn. I ripped them solo, me myself and I. That was definitely my happiest moment all day. I veered slightly off my ascent route and got into a small gully that terminated in a waterfall but was easily able to climb out of it and back to my ascent route. Then back across the debris pile over Bridge Creek. I stopped by the river, took my skis off, and cracked my Red Bull while looking up at what’d I’d just come down. Dance music boomed. Fuck ya.

I texted Erin and my Mom: “Level 5 unlocked…SKIED THE EAST FACE COULOIR!” Happy Sam.

Now off the mountain, the zombie march would begin. Many miles and elevation left to get out, I was now just determined to get out before dark, not wanting to make it a double headlamp day. After some pizza and Red Bull by the creek I began the march. Climbing up Falls Creek was quite annoying, with many dry sections and TONS of pine needles across the snow. I kinda hated the 2500’ or so up from Bridge Creek through Falls Creek. No me gusta. Once I got to Last Chance Pass, though, I was realizing I could make it out before dark. I started to drop the hammer. After following tracks down from Last Chance Pass towards Maple Pass I transitioned, slammed two GU gels, and started to blast. I’m not quite sure how my legs felt so good at the end of a long day, but they did. I hammered. My mom sent me an inReach message asking “how much long is this gonna take?” I interpreted this as “go faster Sam.” I tried to respectfully respond with “I’m trying my best, Mom.” Sorry Mom…I’m not fast enough for you I guess. The last 1,600’ went by in 40 minutes. Can’t make my Mom proud I guess.

Looking back at Goode as I climb up to Last Chance Pass. Moody clouds building…

On top of Maple Pass I was stoked out of my mind. DONE! I sent Erin and my Mom a text that it was all down to the car from here. I was a little too stoked, though, and took a wrong turn and began to ski traverse back towards Lewis Lake. Before long I realized my mistake, transitioned AGAIN, got some unintentional bonus vert, and returned to Heather Pass. From there, I followed the reverse corn luge track back to the car, WITHOUT a headlamp. Fuck ya.

Big thanks to Dua Lipa, The Life of Pablo, and my sweet dance playlist. They accompanied me for the 14 hours I was out and about. And my Mom, and Erin. This trip wasn’t truly solo…they were along with me.

A few final thoughts:

  1. The north couloir looks freaking sick. Need to go back.
  2. If WA Pass opens early, like this year in April, Goode should be a sweet option. The trick is timing it such that the passage through the rockbands is manageable.
  3. The glaciers are pretty filled in on Goode. I never felt concerned about crevasses, aside from the schrund at the base of the couloir.
  4. The exit via Last Chance Pass was Hedonaut’s idea on TAY. Very good one. Highly recommend.
  5. Skiing over Black Peak makes getting to Goode quite easy and fun. The south face of Black is great, even in not corn.