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teanaway spring fling | navaho pass ski tour

11 mi . 3350 ft gain . 6380 ft high

Most weekends, I’ve had to ask people to go out to ski with me. Slowly I’ve been building up my list of potential ski partners that I can rotate through. Everyone has different strengths and it’s nice to balance it out each time I’m out in the mountains. But for whatever reason, everyone decided to ask me about skiing this one weekend. As someone who now only plans out maybe 3 days in advance (cause I play it by ear with weather, etc…), it was hard to make decisions as more people started coming aboard this ship. And of course, I couldn’t just turn people away!

Basically 5 different chats were pulling me everywhere, and eventually between Baker and Teanaway, we were convinced to go to the Teanaway. I was extra excited about the sunshine and warm weather we got! And stoked about the open slopes that we could explore off Navaho Peak and its basin. Last year was my first time in the Teanaway doing a somewhat long scramble traverse by Jolly Mountain and we were definitely eyeing some of the terrain for potential ski tours.

But amidst the excitement, I was quite nervous about having 8 people on the same ski tour. I’ve heard stories how decision in large groups isn’t the best, so that was on the forefront of my mind for the entire trip – what is the safe thing to do?

The large group

Large groups move slow no matter the skill, so I set the bar pretty low, with options to go further if somehow we managed to have that energy and time. But for starters, we began almost an hour later than expected! One car got high centered and another had to park a little bit away from the main trailhead. And pulling 8 people together to A-frame their skis somehow took a real long time too. This is why I like to stick to 2-4 people in general. But, regardless, this was going to be a fun social day!

During the whole drive and even to the Navaho Pass Trailhead, we wondered how far we’d have to hike before we reached consistent snow. There were patches of snow on the road, but essentially none off the side, and definitely none above too. I made the poor choice of bringing my hiking day pack, which has no capabilities for typical ski carry. So I had to use the Houdini method to carry it. It’s usually used for quick transitions since it goes directly between your back and pack in a diagonal carry. The issue is that the bindings like to dig into your neck/shoulder and side. Everyone else could A-frame or do a strapped diagonal carry, which was probably way more comfy.

Inviting snow

Leading the group, I probably walked faster than I would normally because I just wanted to get out of carrying my skis. We took quite the number of breaks and also waiting for people to cross logs took longer just because our snake line was so long! And then we took even more awkward breaks for some people to change out from hiking shoes to ski boots and then from boots to skinning.

About 2.5 miles in at 4100 ft, we started seeing consistent snow, enough to make it worth skinning! Prior to that it the patch snow was so much higher than the bare ground that it would be inefficient to skin. I think all of us enjoyed the lightened load! And boy was it also getting warm. We joked that we really should have worn shorts and ski naked, but neither thing happened. We continued onwards till we saw more snow on the slopes, more hope for actual skiing! For the longest time, we thought that Freedom Peak was Navaho and were quite concerned with the lack of snow.

Once we got out into the clearing, our moral was boosted again with the views of luscious snow. The slow-moving large group would make it at least somewhere! We stopped to reconsider our route. Our original extended plan was to hit both Earl and Navaho, thinking it’d be cool to meet our friends who were skiing the other basin. They were going to ski Earl and Bean. For a moment, we thought that we might ski Earl instead of Navaho because it seemed more heavily snow covered. But the cornices were pretty uninviting, so we stuck to Navaho Pass. 

I kind of wished we had come out here a couple weeks earlier, although the roads may not have been as clear. Just imagining how much open slope skiing there is – perfect for a beginner like me! And the booting was getting close to not being worth it for the amount you’d ski. As we approached the Pass, we got better views of the basin, but I was anxious to see the other side. A peak bagger at heart, I love seeing 360 views, and once I crested the ridge, I was behold by the majesty of the Enchantments. We decided to go up the ridge towards Navaho a bit more before descending (people had time constraints to get home) and the more we could see Stuart, the more it surpassed Dragontail and McClellan in stature. It was magnificent and I neglected to take any pictures other than this one.

McClellan
Ready to descend

Our transition was quicker than I expected for a large group! I guess everyone was pretty comfortable with their set up! At this point, our giant groups split into two and the first half raced down to get home in time, while the rest of us picked our way. A bit of traversing and excited corn skiing, but we soon hit patches of dirt. 

By the way, I learned that corn is a type of snow that usually occurs in the spring when isothermal snow/ice melts a bit with the sun. It’s not quite slush, but sort of a Slurpee or Icee consistency. It skis quite well, doesn’t feel too slippery and isn’t dense.

 

Also the Houdini method of ski carrying does not work going downhill. There is too much bounce, so I ended up doing the horizontal version where the skis go into the shoulder straps of my pack and rest on my lower back. The bindings didn’t gauge my sides at least!Kylie was great and lead us to the most connecting patches of snow. We may have traversed a bit too far, but we got more angled downhill skiing in! The way up to the pass was a bit flatter but full coverage, so take your pick. One of the trickiest parts of the exit was finding a way across a steeply banked creek where most of the snow bridges had melted away. But after a bit of surveying, we found a narrow patch to cross. You had to be accurate about the skiing. A turn and you’d end up in water. Not enough speed and you’ll slide back down to the bridge. No casualties here and we soon found our way back to the main trail and quickly transitioned back to booting. Next time I’ll remember my trail shoes!

A new ski carry: horizontal lower back**
The horizontal ski carry**

Back at the trailhead, we got one of our cars unstuck. Thankfully the snow was already soft, so it wasn’t too difficult to dig out the snow from under the car. The last shovel of snow, the car sank probably 6-8 inches, which we were able to back out! So cool to know you can unstuck a car with just a shovel, and who needs a man to help? It was empowering to know that 4 ladies can do it! Anyway, the Teanaway is a blast and the skiing is so good out there!

notes

  • We started at the Navaho Pass Trailhead. Patches of snow can be avoided by driving around. Low clearance made it 0.3 miles from TH.
  • 2.5 miles to reach snow at snow line of 4100 ft
  • West facing slopes are melting out fast (east side of bowl).  Anything south of the Navaho Peak fall line (or east of Stafford Creek from the peak) was fairly spotty snow
  • Skiing in a large group is inherently slow, be prepared to split the group
  • Views of the Enchantments are sublime from the ridge and higher up

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

*   Photo Credit: Colie

** Photo Credit: Sally

 

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