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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Snow report May 11, 2013 N Fork Cascade River



I have visited the N Fork Cascade River each of the past three weekends for overnight campouts to enjoy avalanche viewing and to assess the snowpack.  I have been viewing avalanches for the past 25 years or so in this area, and this Spring shaped up to provide for plenty of action (see previous blog entry about this being one of the cooler Springs with temps only hitting 70 F in the past three weeks).

Only problem is, there were hardly any avalanches this year (at least that I saw/experienced)!  Depending on snowpack and temperatures, avalanche viewing takes place any time from late March through June.  This year the freezing level only overtopped the high peaks of the North Cascades in the last three weeks, so I figured my timing was good.  Indeed, the past week has seen consistently and unseasonably warm weather, with temps in the 80sF much of the time.

Don't get me wrong--there have been avalanches, and some big ones, but in each of the three 30 hour sessions I was there, the frequency of all events (my scale goes:  small, moderate, respectable, big, and THE BIG ONE) was about 17% of what I usually experience.  The waterfalls were really roaring--the big meltdown is on, and the rivers are up up up.  The Skagit looked as high as I've even seen it--all from snowmelt.




I suspect the warm weather resulted in the snowpack essentially melting/evaporating in-situ--it has basically melted faster than it could avalanche!  I am shocked at how fast the low-elevation snowpack has disappeared.  I camped seven days ago on more than one-half meter of snow covering slide alder.  Now, the slide alder is completely snow-free and leafing out--check this out--my tent was here on two feet of snow and I was skiing this section of road just last week!




The road is snow free to above Boston Basin TH, and even at the parking lot at the end of the road, the signs have all melted out and there is pavement visible.  I did see one event come off Cascade Peak last week that nearly reached the road--very nice, and a reminder to maintain situational awareness.
Oh, the bear was out last week on the other side of the valley, but other than a couple of deer on the drive this time, no animals save for one coyote in the distance, a mouse or rat trying to come in the tent, and of course plenty of birds (thrush, woodpecker, grouse).
Saw about 10 people last week, and only four this weekend, though there were about 10 vehicles at the road end/gate.  It is amazing how many more people have been getting to the backcountry over the past seven years or so--due to the profusion of high tech, light-weight ski gear and the popularity of adventure activities.



Here's a pic of camp with the Sill Glacier beyond.  The Sill, like many glaciers of the North Cascades, is avalanche fed.




If you look closely, you'll see a bit of cornice gone from the left side of the below image--I saw it avalanche, but it didn't even reach the lower valley.  This is how avalanche fed glaciers survive moderate elevations at this latitude--or how they don't survive....


Note I've now visited three National Parks in 2013, including three visits to North Cascades National Park.  Now it is time to travel to higher elevations and do some climbing and exploring on behalf of conservation efforts for USFS Wilderness (Cascades Wild) and National Park (American Alps).

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