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Sunday, May 29, 2011

N. Fork Cascade River, late May

Okay, don't want to get too long winded here. There are many things to blog about right now--Suiattle issues, Memorial Day and what it means to be a patriot and exercise true homeland security, and of course snowpack and avalanches. Let's start with something heavy like a sub-tropical rainstorm (note, broke several regional precip records). Later I'll blog a(nother) article about Joseph W Miller and Memorial Day...

May 15, 2011
You know the story: N Fork Cascade River makes for big avalanches. That's why I go back every nice weekend in the Spring (given snowpack/timing). As usual, the weather played a big role--temps on Friday the 13th almost made 70F, and in direct sunlight it was even warmer.
It was wonderful to have Athena along on this trip--the sun was there, my wife was there, but no bears, and very few small avalanches. Huh?
Oh well, it was a lovely day and we enjoyed the incredible scenery. Forecast called for Tstorms to show up Saturday, but as we left town, updated forecasts showed chance of showers in the North Cascades Friday evening...
"Showers" in the North Cascades usually means trouble.
Turns out the weather was about 12 hours faster than thought just 24 hours earlier.

Friday afternoon/evening, the winds really picked up, and high clouds streamed in. By dark, we were in the tent debating deploying the fly. Fly in wind equals LOUD NOISE, not too conducive to sleep. Then again, pouring rain on head doesn't make for good sleep either. The muted moonlight was a nice indicator of cloud thickness, so we got in some nice early zzzs. The sound of light rain tapping the tent woke us up, but moonlight could still be seen on the summits of Mount Torment a mile above us, so I figured this shower was tiny and we'd be okay.
Then flickers of lightning appeared. Hmmm.
Time to deploy the fly.
This meant the end of good sleep, which we found hard to come by an hour later anyway, when torrential sub-tropical rains showed up. Whoa, huge drops, and plenty of them. That was about 01:00. Athena and I agreed there would be avalanches now...
[At least I'm now sleep-shifted to watch the final launch of shuttle Endeavour on her final mission]

It rained for the next four hours. And yes, then the avalanches showed up. Rain from 1 to 6, Avalanches from 5 til after we left, and wind the whole time.

It was great to see Athena experience the North Cascades as she's never seen, and why most of us in the know try to avoid these mountains in stormy conditions. The rains returned as we hiked out at 10AM. Within 30 minutes, we we soaked to the bone--no rain gear matters when one is swimming across and through blowdown, struggling with a full pack that branches grab on to and won't release. Then came the avalanche crossings and stream crossings. We'd seen one big event on our side of the valley at about 9AM (see photo captions). Made it through the big ones in a warm rain that ate through the snowpack and swelled creeks and waterfalls by the minute. Indeed, a brook flowing across the road due to a blocked culvert below Midas Creek had turned in to a ground-trembling torrent a meter deep and a meter wide. Care to jump that with a full pack on? Oh, but stand around very long trying to figure a way across, and one can be sure ANOTHER blast of boulders, trees and snow WILL BE coming through!

It was really the rain and wind that caused Athena to soberly declare when we made it back to the car: "I will NEVER hike in conditions like this again". Smart girl, she is.

The North Cascades just being who we thought they were!

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