The two main couloirs on Preacher Mountain are eye-catching. You can see them from Roosevelt, Wright, and many other peaks in the Snoqualmie environs. Pete on TAY did a great write-up back in 2007 bringing attention to them. My friends Dan and Madelynn, as well as Nick, went out and skied one of them as well.
I’d been wanting to give both of the couloirs on Preacher a go, in a day, most of this season. I’d nearly pulled the trigger on giving it a shot earlier in the year, but backed off because it’s a damn long walk there and back. It had to feel ‘right’.
Finally, I felt a window had come where the ‘opportunity cost’ of walking past so much other snow wouldn’t make my FOMO hurt so badly. There was a forecast for overcast, high clouds all day long…and I’d gotten out the day before and assessed the snowpack. This time, it felt ‘right’. I rallied Porter and Michael for this long walk, explaining that yes…there’d be a lot of walking past snow.
I proposed a modified plan on the traditional route out to Preacher: adding the Cache and either Holy Diver or the Oyster (off Wright Mountain). I felt like adding some skiing on the way out there would help our psyche, both from an enjoyment standpoint, as well as making us not feel too committed to the lines if we needed to bail.
We left North Bend at 6:15 AM and started from the upper Alpy lot at 6:45 AM. We cruised through the climb up to the Thumbtack; doing missions on Sundays after all of Seattle has skinned up Source Lake really makes things easy.
The snow on the North Slopes of Chair down to the Cache was excellent, fast graupel. Naturally, we questioned “should we really be walking past all this good snow today?” I knew this would come up, so I just emphasized, “let’s take it one descent at a time.”
The Cache was great fun, with only 2-3 tracks in it before us. Perks of starting early. We quickly skied down it to Snow Lake and reconvened.
Hmmm…decisions decisions. Do we:
- Go up to the Holy Diver, which felt like more of a ‘guaranteed’ quantity?
- Go and check out the Oyster, which felt more of a potential for funkiness and possibly having to bail? The entrance into the line was giving me pause, both the funky downclimb as well as the steep convexity.
After waffling for a few minutes transitioning, we settled on going to the Oyster. It would put is in good position on our way out to Lower Wildcat Lake, PLUS if we didn’t like the entrance there were ways to ski down into the Wildcat Lake drainage without much difficulty. I knew there was a skinner in from the day before, so we continued milking skin tracks.
We were continuously pleased with the high cloud cover, keeping nearly all aspects good snow. The forecast had predicted it to hold and it certainly was holding. We reached the summit of Wright and got a perfect view of the Preacher couloirs. Neither had been skied yet. Interestingly enough, we could see a skin track from Upper Wildcat Lake towards Lake Caroline? Was someone ahead of us??
Getting down into the Oyster wasn’t the worst; it involved some downbooting of breakable crust. Thankfully, this time I had ice climbers Porter and Michael to set the booter for me. SCORE! Not going to feel guilty about that one haha. We hadn’t brought crampons nor ice axes, but we didn’t find we needed them. The downclimb probably added ~20 minutes, but we were still very efficient through the morning.
I led us into the Oyster and made a few cautious hop turns on the convexity before skiing into the line. I got a soft slab to pop on the convexity, but it didn’t propagate and was isolated to that one roll-over. I perched myself at the top of the dogleg to take pictures, feeling sufficiently out of the firing zone. Porter went next, then Michael. The couloir was in great shape! Shaded, protected powder with no funkiness in the choke, nor down below at the exit. More filled in than when Nick and I skied it a month prior.
We skied down towards the creek above Lower Wildcat Lake, enjoying our turns down both the Cache and the Oyster. We felt happy that we got some skiing in…now for the walking. We meandered alongside the creek towards Lower Wildcat Lake, then climbed along the inlet towards Upper Wildcat Lake. Around halfway up towards Upper Wildcat Lake, we met up with a skin track…surprising! I’d always envisioned the trip out to Preacher as a misery of trailbreaking and wallowing. Today, we’d be following a skinner all the way out to Lake Caroline…HA! Quite a different experience.
At first I became anxious and a bit miffed that the ‘remote’ nature of the Preacher couloirs would be ruined by a party ahead of us. After a few minutes of self-pity, I got over it and focused on the benefits of not having to break trail. The skin track perfectly led us towards Lake Caroline, gaining the ridge above Upper Wildcat Lake, then dropping down to Lake Caroline. Mindless…no navigation required. Not what I expected going into the day…but sometimes you have to adapt.
To our amazement, the skin track ended once we got to Lake Caroline! The group ahead appeared to have been skiing the north facing slopes above Upper Wildcat and Lake Caroline. No tracks went out to Preacher. We had a carpet rolled out for us nearly all the way to Preacher, but we’d been left the couloirs just for ourselves. This felt like a stroke of luck. We crossed Lake Caroline and made our way to the saddle above Hatchet Lake. We skied down from the saddle to the base of the looker’s left couloir (the more E Facing one).
Our initial plan of attack was to boot up and ski the looker’s left (E Facing) couloir, then ski down and towards the looker’s right (SE Facing) couloir and boot up that one. We hadn’t brought ascent plates but figured the spring snowpack would make booting manageable enough. We skinned up to the base of the looker’s left (E Facing) couloir, then transitioned to booting at the constriction. Booting, for the most part, was manageable…although there were a few sections of wallow. The snow still felt powdery and the clouds were keeping any warming at bay. No roller balls…no rocks shedding…honestly quite lovely.
The climb up the looker’s left (E Facing) couloir took us ~1 hour. As we were climbing up, Porter threw out the idea that it ~might~ be possible to gain the broad ridge/face from the top of the couloir. We figured we’d give it a looksie. Michael proposed that instead of setting another booter, we curl around onto the ridge/face, traverse over to the looker’s right (SE Facing) couloir, then come back and re-use our booter for the looker’s left couloir. We’d have to assess and manage the broad, exposed face, but if we felt comfortable with it, it’d be MUCH more efficient than setting another booter.
Porter snuck around the corner and found an easy way onto the ridge/south face. This traverse was only feasible/reasonable because the clouds were high and thick at this point. The face is a very large panel of snow that in any other condition would be a very bad idea. We poked carefully out onto the face and found a easy traverse that we could make with skins on to get to the other couloir. There wasn’t any wind affect on the south face, so we continued on and spaced out as we made our traverse. It felt spooky because of all the snow above and below us, but nothing in the snowpack was moving. We managed to traverse all the way across to the E shoulder of Preacher, opting to stop around 5,600′ where we knew we could ski into the looker’s right (SE Facing) couloir.
I dropped us into the chute above the looker’s right (SE Facing) couloir and radioed back up to Porter and Michael that it felt good. The couloir itself was surprisingly low angle, but had cool vertical relief with rock walls lining both sides. I snapped a few pictures as Michael skied first…then Porter. You could ski the couloir top to bottom with no need for jump turns…it was honestly very mellow and fun.
We transitioned above Hatchet Lake and set a skin track back to our original skin track/bootpack up the looker’s left (E Facing) couloir. Michael’s genius idea made the second climb SUPER easy; this time, it barely took us 30 minutes to climb up, saving a lot of energy. The looker’s left (E Facing) line was steeper and more interesting with the vertical rock wall on skier’s left.
I made a few awkward jump turns at the top, jumping in and out of our bootpack tunnel, then stopped for some pictures of Michael and Porter.
Just like the other couloir, the looker’s left couloir skied great! Gluey, spring powder made for awesome spongy turns. I’ll re-iterate…the high clouds were perfect for the day. We skied down to the top of the basin and ate some food before our long walk back towards the car.
The exit was largely uneventful. We only had to break trail back to Lake Caroline; once there, we met back up with the skin track from the group before, which then led us to the return skin track to the Holy Diver. We were glad to have downloaded some music from the Gorillaz, Tame Impala, and Glass Animals to make the zombie-mode walking less zombie-ish.
There was honestly still good skiing on the return runs too. The ski down to Upper Wildcat Lake was breakable crust (not good), but the ski down to Snow Lake from the Gem Lake divide was still powder.
We made it back to the car by 6:15PM, capping off the day in 11.5 hours. We skied the Cache–>Oyster–>Preacher SE–>Preacher E. It was a great day with a lot of walking; adding in the skiing at the beginning of the day really helped make it feel ‘well rounded’.