Installment 6 from Kyle Miller’s 08-09 touring season:
John and I pulled up to the deserted parking lot. In 24 hours, it would be bustling with activity as avid skiers and boarders squeezed a final weekend of turns out of the Alpental Ski Resort. But for the moment, on this Friday morning, it was merely quiet and cold. My coffee had gotten cold, too. John and I lingered momentarily in the warm car, taking a final look at the map and reluctant to step out into the early morning frigidity. We were about to embark upon what would be a true test of my endurance– 8000 vertical feet over 12 miles of cliffs, peaks, lakes, and now-raging creeks.
Our first little pitch of skinning was a frequently-trafficked traverse that alpine skiers often use to exit the backcountry and return to the lifts. We skinned up this mellow-angled slope until we reached Source Lake Basin, at the base of a large, open bowl area. As we began to climb the steep, cliff-riddled, exposed face of the bowl, we opted to cease skinning and switch over to ice axe and crampons. I carefully packed down the snow on a cliff-ledge to make a safe place to adjust the straps on my crampons, stow my splitboard, and pull out the ice axe.
With an ice axe in hand, it’s amazing what you can climb comfortably. We kickstepped up the rest of the forty degree face until we found ourselves at the first pass of the day, a spot known as the Chair Peak Col. Here, John and I opted for a quick rest as we marveled at our new perspective on the Alpental backcountry. I’d skied in this area many times but had never seen it from this vantage point. Consuming cliff bars, we relished the early-morning sun on our faces.
Kicksteping up the Chair Peak Col photo by John Cocci
From here, we dropped down to Melaqua lake, where we filled our nalgenes in a small unfrozen section near the shore. We found that the availability of water was to be a pleasantly reoccurring theme throughout our tour.
After a push up the next valley, our first objective came into view– the steep southern ramp of Kaleetan Peak and its particular aesthetic chute that we’d come to ride. Kickstepping across the steep face to minimize avalanche exposure, we moved up toward the peak one foot at a time. Finally, all that remained between us and the summit was the steepest terrain of the day. I climbed up the final pitch by carefully placing my feet into John’s bootpack, until arriving at the summit– a spot three feet square, with cliffs on all but one side.
Acquiring the summit ridge with Chair Peak in the background photo by John Cocci
The final pitch to the Summit of Kaleetan photo by John Cocci
On that little speck on top, I gingerly reconstructed my snowboard from its two parts, looking over the 2000′ cliff face that was less than a foot from my own. A part of me was still sluggish and dreaming about my once-warm coffee back at the car, but I knew that this was not a smart place to relax. On our way up, we’d observed some rocks lurking only a few inches below the snowpack. So with this and the health of my board’s base in mind, I inhaled deeply before dropping straight in.
Dropping down Kaleetans Southern face photo by John Cocci
After the first hundred feet or so, I began to relax, turn, and take in the scenery. It was clear enough to see the endless foothills of the Cascades. We rode as far down as possible, following the path of a snowed-in creek until we reached its source, raging with seasonal snowmelt.
John rippping down the face
From here, we climbed through old growth forest by a number of ponds ’til we reached Tuscohatchie Lake. Tuscohatchie was a mere 1000 verts from our final destination, Granite Peak, so we celebrated not only its aquatic offerings but its demarkation of our proximity to more powder turns:
A moment of rest at Tuscohatchie Lake photo by John Cocci
By now, the sky had changed from high clouds to brilliant sunshine, which we gladly consumed alongside some much-needed calories. Warm and refueled, we began skinning up our final section of forest. As we climbed, the view soon began opening up, limelighting our route to the north and our last few steps to the Granite summit.
Our route with Kaleetan to the left and Chair Peak to the right
At the summit we were greeted by an old lookout tower. It was earliy beaten down by the decades of cruel weather. Transitioning back to fully-constructed snowboards, we left this lonely shelter behind, dropping into perfect descent conditions. Three inches of dust on top of slightly melted crust yielded beautiful arc turns down the south face of Granite Peak.
John at Granite Mountains look out tower
We ripped down the slopes, hooting and hollering the whole way down.
A brief stretch of bushwhacking, we reached another desolate parking lot, where we’d stashed John’s car. We looked back at the terrain as if to reconfirm that all the trekking had been worth it. Which it was, without a doubt. Dry clothes on my back, and our gear stashed in the car, John drove me back to the nearly empty Alpy parking lot, where the end of my cold coffee and car awaited me.