BLEWETT PASS IN EAST CASCADESby Paul de Anguera
Last Saturday we bussed up to Blewett Pass in the east Cascades with the Outing Club for a day of spring skiing. Rain was forecast, and with the snow level going up to 9,000 feet it didn't look good. But Lance had a plan; he figured that the rain was drifting slowly eastward and wouldn't reach Blewett Pass until late in the afternoon.
Uh-oh, Pat's ski boots were gone! We realized right away that they were on the floor of the back seat of our car, back in Seattle. But she was wearing her hiking boots, and Lance came up with a pair of snowshoes for her to use. Vern dropped a load of us off at the top of the pass; we would ski down to the bus' next stop. He took Pat and te rest of the group down to a campground on the north side of the pass to ski and explore the valleys upward from there and get ready for a pot-luck party at the end of the day.
I had selected the Scotty Creek Road near the top of the pass. The first few hundred feet were a discouraging struggle up frozen snowmobile tracks. But, near the top of the first hill, these gave way to decent snow, so I put on my skis. A Chinese woman was putting on hers next to me. She was nervous about getting lost." Just don't make any left turns, and you'll be fine," I told her. She thought she might just follow me, but I didn't encourage this idea because like to make a lot of side trips; so she surged ahead and was soon over the hill.
I did make a left turn, to follow a spur road west along the crest of the ridge around the top of the valley. The snow got better and better -- not flaky or powdery, of course, because it had been raining the day before; but a sort of stiff gel that gave good control and wasn't too fast. I was hoping to find some open bowl-shaped valleys that I remembered. Also I kept an eye out for the Chinese girl in case she'd gotten on the wrong track. I never saw her, so she either stayed on the right track or she skis really fast.
The way turned downward, and I didn't want to get too far off course. I stopped, blew up a little sit pad I'd brought for sitting on snow, and put on sun screen. I had almost left the tube at home after hearing the weather forecast, but thanks to Lance's weather-witching the gray ceiling had thinned to the point where misty white sunlight was punching through it. I ate a snack and took the arch supports out of my boots (skiing downhill makes my feet cramp up if I leave them in). Then I packed up my gear, turned about and skied down to the start of Scotty Creek Road.
The first part of this road is pretty steep and twisty. It was a lot of fun to swoosh down it, but I didn't get to do much sightseeing. A few skiers had been down it, but no walkers or snowmobiles, so the snow was in fine shape. Here and there, orange-brown cliffs and gray boulders protruded from the white blanket, harbingers of spring. I stopped to ski between some widely spaced trees, and again to push through a stand of saplings to explore the verge of little snowmelt stream, and again to make my way up onto a round-topped knoll on the side of the valley with a view through the trees of the opposite ridge.
Finally I decided I'd better get down to business and find that bus, or I would miss the party! Regretfully I passed up more tempting meadows. I worked up so much heat that I had to take my coat off and cram it into my pack. Then I had to stop again and put my arch supports back in. After I reached the valley floor, I did not slide triumphantly up to the potluck party. I had several more miles of nearly flat terrain to cover, at about trotting speed. Now I had reached the range of snowmobiles and walkers coming up the road from the far end, and their tracks forced me to slow down and take more care. Each roadside tree had a circle of thin, dirty ice around it. Then came stretches of road from which the snow had melted entirely. I was afraid I'd have to take my skis off and walk across these "deserts;" but there was always a little ridge or mound of snow to the side, and the tracks of my predecessors (including, presumably, the Chinese woman) showed what I had to do. At one point I was reduced to my left ski and a hard shove with my right pole to get around a mud hole. After a few hundred feet, the snow cover resumed.
The sky darkened; the white spot in the cloud cover went away, and I could feel raindrops. I had to stop and put my jacket back on. I crossed a couple of one-lane bridges, and the bus came into view. In front of the bus, Vern the singing bus-driver had set up his awning and several folding tables, and the party was on. Pat kindly put my skis in our ski bag while I assaulted the tables. I managed to consume a fair amount of goodies during the next few minutes before they were put away. One woman arrived even later than I did, and I don't think she got anything!
While I was having all these adventures, Pat went snowshoeing in the woods along the side of the old Blewett Pass highway. She became intrigued with the macro setting on the camera, and emerged with quite a collection of wonderfully detailed "tiny landscapes".
We piled into the bus, backed out on to Highway 97, and headed back up over the pass to Seattle. At this point the clouds let loose a volley of rain, but nobody cared -- we were good!
Well, that was our adventure last Saturday. Next weekend we get to do it again! Best wishes.