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sunny side slopes | chiwaukum ski tour

14.5 mi . 5400 ft gain . 6680 ft high

The Chiwaukum is an underrated region of the Cascades. I’ll be the first to admit that I had zero desires to go when I first heard of it. I thought it was just trees and hills. But no, there’s definitely mountains, and tall ones too. Like many of my ski tours, they’re not original, but I make it my own. This one was yet inspired by my friends when they went on the trip last year. The fresh snow just seemed so inviting. Check out the photos here.

Sometimes when exploring a new place on skis, it’s nice to know that you’ve been there in the summer. The combination of cold and being far from other people can sometimes be off-putting. But when making safe choices and being well prepared, a ski adventure is sure fun to be had. I had visited the area in the fall when it was full of autumn colors. But I had not ventured much above the lakes. This time I’d go further and grab those extra views from above. 

Depths of the Chiwaukum

This tour started off in the best way possible – easy road access where you can drive your car all the way to the snow, and then you can start skinning from the cars. We had to park a little below the trailhead, but that was alright. There were some fallen trees that’ll probably need to be cleared for summer and the road was a little patchy with the snow. Even once we hit the trail, following the summer trail, the snow was in and out. We debated what our ski down would be like, because surely you don’t want to ride your skis on rock and dirt and branches. And don’t forget that it might even be icy on the way down.

The hike was just like I remembered, through some steep slopes for a short while before it mellows out and breaks out into the open. The Chiwaukum are interesting because it’s been logged so there’s a bunch of open land, which makes for some pretty great skiing once you get to it. Soon we found the old logging roads, but it looked interested since the slopes around almost seemed like a ski resort, or that our path had been groomed. Our first guess was snow mobilers, but we were later informed that a group owns this area and keeps it maintained for skiing. Snowmobile or foot access only.

And sure enough, a large group of super friendly snowmobilers came zooming/brapping by with their kids and skis in tow. What took them 5 min to ride up probably took us an hour. But we were headed further into the forest. to get as high as we could in the Chiwaukum.

I almost wanted to give up in this section because the snow became so incredibly gloppy. The sun had just warmed up the snow in such a way that it stuck firmly to our skins. Even scrapping them clean, they’d pick up snow again in no time. When that much snow is stuck to your skis, every step is heavy and difficult. There’s no gliding whatsoever. We managed to figure out a little trick by applying some stick sunscreen to keep the skins more slick. I think ideally you’d put actual skin wax for spring skiing on, but none of us thought to bring that. Next time!

With that fix, we eagerly walked further uphill. We found some more heavily used tracks, assuming they were made by the people ahead of us. We followed it up the ridge all the way till it got quite narrow and decided to boot up the rest of the way. Although it felt a bit tiring climbing this ridge, the views were such a motivator. From the rest of the Chiwaukums to Glacier Peak, it was pretty cool to say the least. And it was quite the relief once we reached the top of the Chiwaukum ridge. We’d made it up most of the uphill and had basically some easy downhill/traversing left to do. And then maybe one more uphill to get out of a lake basin.

Dakobed (Glacier Peak)
North Chiwaukum

We tried to soak in the views but it was getting windier by the minute. And this whole time Big Jim was teasing us in the background. Last year I had attempted to do a sunrise ski tour of it, but after a litany of mishaps, we only made it half way. More of that in this blog. We couldn’t quite see to the Enchantments where some of my friends were skiing that day, but the views were still wonderful. I wonder if there’s ever enough snow here when the larches are golden because that would make for some epic backdrop.

Making our way across the plateau, we had to traverse quite far to prevent ourselves from getting cliffed out. If we did go over the cliff, I’m pretty sure we would not make it out. It’s a huge several hundred foot drop into the frozen lake below. There was a lot of checking our maps to ensure we were on the right path. The skiing was pretty interesting, none I’ve had before. Maybe somewhat like styrofoam, where the snow was firm but not icy. My skis were all over the place!

Larch heaven in winter

And that was just about the end of the majority of the skiing we had because back into the trees we went. A little uphill, downhill, straight across some dense trees on skins and we found ourselves back on the ridge that we had first come up. We skied down the slopes that popped us right next to the building that the snowmobilers were chilling out at. Friendly as they were, they invited us over to chat but we had a long enough day so we headed down. And this was probably my favorite ski of the day!

The groomed hills were so perfect for that speed and thrill of skiing. But like most things, all good things must come to an end. We faced our last challenge of the day. Getting down the steeper, chunder, icy snow while weaving in between trees and roots. They’ll sneak up on you if you’re not careful and grab a hold of your skis. We ended up going straight down instead of the longer switchbacks on the trail. Which probably would have taken the same amount of time given how much bushwhacking we had to do to get out. Both hangry and just tired, I was excited to be back on the road for relatively smooth sailing skiing back to the car (and a little shuffle for the uphills). Definitely will be back for more in the Chiwaukums! I loved that there were few people and a significant amount of open slopes!

 

Notes

  • The knife edge is definitely a mental crux for this counter clockwise loop. If you’re not comfortable with it, turn around and enjoy some of the other slopes!
  • The slope between North and Middle Chiwaukum are super open and great chill skiing.
  • Really check where you are relative to the cliffs above Loch Eileen (middle lake). However, Lake Ethel can be safely accessed from the top of the Chiwaukum if you enjoy steep slopes.

Photos shot on Canon 5D Mark IV, 75-300 mm and 50 mm

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