The first ski day is always hard on the body. Generally you try to make it into the afternoon before the screaming pain in your thighs finally does you in. This is only amplified as you get older so I thought I would reflect on how my 62-year-old body with 2 artificial hips handled this awesome first day of skiing here at Mt. Baker Ski Area which is really on Mt. Shuksan. The most critical requirement for skiing at my age is believing that I can. Then I think it is critical to insure that you choose a day with optimal conditions. So when the snow began piling up on the North Cascades I started watching for that perfect ski day. Bang, Tuesday had no important meetings, it was supposed to be sunny and only 20 degrees on the mountain. The fact that there was not any wind was a pure bonus. So you commit and then float some suggestions to your friends that you plan on doing this. However, you have to balance skiing with someone who might hold you back with the advantage of someone who knows the mountain. I was totally prepared to ski it alone, but if you do that it is likely that your actual skiing experience will suffer. Luckily I scored a ski companion (one of my employees) who was also a local ski instructor which translated into the ultimate ski experience.
It is about an hour and half drive from Bellingham to the Mt. Baker Ski area and we arrived near opening which gained us an excellent parking spot and confirmation that skiing on a Tuesday was not going to be crowded. I have skied most of my life but I have never been a die-hard skier. Yes, I lived in Steamboat Springs for many years, but even then I only skied when conditions were perfect, maybe 5-6 times a year. That is partly because I devoted equal time to cross-country skiing. Skiing for me is not about a commitment to the craft but instead about the glorious experience of gliding on snow while observing some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Dealing with cold and fatigue is just part of the price for the chance to experience yet another epic day in God’s glorious kingdom.
How about that view, wow, you come off the lift and take this in before every run. This was so cool because I had a tour guide who could tell the names of all those mountains and help me understand where I have been hiking through my many outings up here at the Mt Baker Wilderness earlier this Fall.
I want to call attention to the photo on the right showing Mt Herman and the saddle over to Table Mountain, location of my first hikes in this area. Now, back to the skiing. Conditions were perfect and I did feel comfortable cruising along on blue runs. I did try to hit some bumps and powder, but age does create limitations. I have mentioned that I have 2 artificial hips which are wonderful, however, the muscles around those hips have never been as strong probably due to being filleted open for the surgery. Combine weaker muscles with the reality that you do not want to crash and dislocate one of those hips and I wisely avoided straying to far from the safe cruising runs. Overall, I was very pleased with my body on this first day out. My transition to hiking and backpacking and raising a dog with incredible amount of energy has prepared me well for this ski day. I really felt great and was able to push myself almost to closing. The beer in the lodge at the end of the day was perfect as well.
Brook and I took in our first North Cascades backpacking trip this last weekend from our new home in Bellingham, WA. I have received a lot of suggestions for my first outing but I ended up choosing a trip that looked like it would be below the snow line and give me a good challenge. The choice was the Scott Paul Trail and I am very pleased with the outcome. I also want to mention that the Forest Service facilities were impressive and the gravel road to the trailhead was actually pretty smooth. I’m definitely looking forward to a season of backpacking in the North Cascades.
I took the advice of one of the trip reports to take on the loop counter-clockwise and I can confirm that is the way to take on the Scott Paul. The 2000 ft climb to 5200 ft is much easier on the western approach. The descent via the eastern side was a more effective route to navigate the more prominent mud patches. The first bridge was temporary aluminum ladder style that worked well for Brook and I.
However, the second wood plank suspension bridge was impossible for my 9 month old pup. This was a bit scary as I could not find an effective location for her to cross at the stream so I ended up carrying her. This was a bit of a risk with the swaying bridge which if it started swinging I could have lost Brook. We went very slow and she was extremely trusting, but I was definitely nervous.
The weather had cooperated and it was time to find a campsite which turned out to be a bit of a challenge.
Above treeline on the slopes below Mt. Baker there were no level pieces of ground. Finally I spotted some patches below trail that might support a tent as well as offer the ultimate view of the Cascade range to the south. I would recommend this campsite option as it was the only place I found at Coordinates 48.72, -121.82. The campsite was fabulous with the ultimate bedroom window.
Brook was loving this but was also a bit intimidated by real wilderness. In fact she did not know what to make of the Marmots whistling.
After a quick nap,
she had to give in to her Aussie instinct to protect her master by sitting in front of the tent panning the terrain around in all directions. She was grateful that I let her sleep in the tent so she could retire from lookout duty. It was a great evening taking in the view and staying just warm enough for a good night sleep.
Mt. Baker’s presence was felt but we never got a great look at it. The morning brought beautiful fog and another difficult stream crossing where I ended up carrying Brook over. All in all it was an extremely successful introduction to the North Cascades.