down under circumnavigation | kangaroo wallaby (wa pass) ski tour
May 10, 2021
6.5 mi . 4300 ft gain . 8040 ft high
ISO: big ski tour
Disclaimer: these are all relative terms
Results: we found the perfect adventure
When Highway 20 opens, it’s like everyone hoots and hollers. It’s a big deal because for most of winter, the highway is closed, making it an extremely long drive to get to places like Mazama, or places like Washington Pass impossible to get to without a multi-day or snowmobile adventure. Every year, the highway opens at different times depending on the snow pack and how easily the crew can clear the road of snow and prepare it for traffic again. Like many other skiers (and climbers), we decided to flock to Washington Pass to check out the area. Wanting to avoid the heaps of people on the Birthday Tour, we decided to look at other regions, especially towards Kangaroo Ridge.
This was particularly exciting because I hadn’t really explored the area even in the summer. The closest I’ve been was Rainy/Cutthroat Pass to Black Peak and Copper Pass. Our original plan was a traverse that required a car shuttle, but without 2 cars, we ended up creating a loop with the same start, going up towards Kangaroo Ridge and over to Wallaby Peak: a Down Under Circumnavigation.
Using Caltopo, we plotted a potential route, but spoiler alert, we modified it drastically by choosing different couloirs.
Anyway, trip report! We began at the famous Washington Pass hairpin turn. A little misguided, we started following up tracks that are the end of the classic Birthday Tour, so we then cut across to the other slopes towards Kangaroo. Quickly we realized that skinning was inefficient, so we put our skis on our packs and started booting. Through some non-communication, Christie didn’t bring an ice axe or crampons, but she did amazingly, which shows how great she’s at on steep snow! A true alpinist that I aspire to be.
Just as we were about to head up, we heard Kyle’s group come up behind us. Somehow we chose a similar tour today! We were the only groups out here, so it was kind of cool to know the other group. Generally they were going quite a bit faster than us, but we were able to see them most of the way up Kangaroo Ridge and a few more times before we departed paths. Our first couloir to ascend was just to the south of Peak 8183. This was possibly the easiest way over Kangaroo Ridge, minimizing the steepness. Since the snow had started to melt out, the top hundred or so feet we had to pick our way through loose, chossy rocks. It’s especially harder with crampons since you often loose your balance and for me, it’s harder to get the same sure footing as with just booting up.
The more pictures I took, the more I’d trail behind, and this couloir was definitely on the steep end for me! At least the views up this whole way was gorgeous. The Liberty Bell group is always stunning to look at. It made the 3000 ft initial gain much more pleasant! And as we neared the col, we would get excited to see the other side. I think that’s what makes us love climbing around mountains – the eagerness to find out what’s on the other side!
And on the other side, I could hear Kyle’s group, and then watched them all ski down. They made it look so easy, so effortless. But once I transitioned into ski mode, I could really feel the ice beneath the minimal fresh powder. One of the steepest sections I’ve yet skied, I slowly made wide turns down 200 feet until we reached our first ridge. This is the one that eventually connects to Big Snagtooth to the east.
Kyle’s group was already long gone, who knows where they went. This was when we finally felt like we were blazing our own way instead of following others. The boot pack was definitely nice at times though! We started to traverse over towards Wallaby. For me the snow was difficult because ice was incredibly chattery and it’s a relatively new kind of snow for me to ski on. But slowly I made my way over too, till we rechecked our initial tracks. We saw Kyle’s group again, going up the couloir east of Half Moon. We saw a giant cornice that was maybe more than 15 feet tall and really didn’t like the sound of it. Cornices are scary to be under, and also, who knows if you can get around it without a problem?
Instead, we scouted and saw a different couloir we could go up. Just by sight, it looked like it was only steep for a shorter section and cornice-less. You could even see trees on the other side, which is promising for a flatter saddle point. Double checking with our maps, it would also be straight forward to descend, so we continued traversing over. It’s cool how much distance you can cover on skis without too much effort! The valley was awesome as a backdrop. It’s amazing to see how much the south side had melted out compared to the higher elevation and north facing slopes. We soon stopped for some food before booting up towards the couloir. A tad steep at times, but not too bad! Thanks to Colie for setting the boot pack all the way up (and every single ascent this day).
Reaccessing at the top of this east ridge of Half Moon, we saw the initial route we wanted to take to reach Wallaby Peak. Since Christie didn’t have more equipment, we decided against climbing Wallaby too. Plus we were here mostly for the adventure, not necessarily for the peak bagging. So, again by sight and checking with our maps, we found an easy way up the ridge of Wallaby Peak between The Tomb and Little Finger. We didn’t bother to ski down the 100 feet we lost since we’d have to boot up again anyway and this would be most efficient.
As we climbed up a bit more towards Wallaby’s SE ridge, we started seeing a skier and then another above us. Lo and behold, it was Kyle’s group yet again. They apparently successfully navigated the scary cornice we saw and were traversing this bowl over to a different area of the ridge. It was cool to be able to talk with them with that distance. As the flew away, we continued our switchbacks up to the ridge while stopping frequently to admire some of the big sheer walls next to us. On the south side of the Wallaby ridge, we were met with some cliffs and rock to scramble over. We opted to traverse west a bit to find more consistent snow before putting our skis on. We found a small patch of trees that offered enough protection to transition and we were on our way out.
Unfortunately for me, as a fairly beginner skier to various types of snow, the ice was terrible to ski on. So bad that I could not pull away my mental block to make a turn for some 200 feet down. So I side slipped the whole 200 feet of iciness. But survival skiing is an essential skill for backcountry skiing, because making it out is better than doing things more sketchy than you can handle. If it were a warmer day, I think it would have been a beautiful ski!
We navigated under more cliffs of Wallaby (we met 2 people scrambling it without skis in the morning too!) and finally got to our final col: Kangaroo Pass. For some, this is the way out from the classic Birthday Tour (which circumnavigates the Liberty Bell group). I was relieved to have made it here, since it would be a straightforward way out! There was some softer snow to enjoy turns on and a section that felt like a groomed run. The last bit required some luge skiing and possibly skate skiing or shuffling to get through some flat sections. But eventually, it spits you right back on that hairpin turn.
Overall, I think we cut our original plan a bit in terms of elevation, but I think we made the most of what we had and thoroughly enjoyed the adventure of it all!
Map: Merged with Colie’s because I accidentally stopped my track.
We changed plans as we watch for couloirs, but I think we generally picked the least steep ways to get over the ridges of Kangaroo and Wallaby.
We went over 5 ridges/cols with sections of continuous (albeit mostly short) 40 deg slopes:
Kangaroo Ridge: Up the couloir south of Peak 8183 (main couloir north of Big Kangaroo)
Kangaroo-Snagtooth Ridge: Hug the cliffs skier’s right to ski over the ridge
Half Moon Ridge: Up couloir at the first 6900’ col east of Half Moon
Wallaby SE Ridge: Up the wide bowl
Copper-Wallaby Ridge (Kangaroo Pass): Short boot up from where you end from Wallaby
Gear: We could have ditched the skins for our snow conditions. Ice axe and crampons were great for comfort but not necessary as proven by Christie.