Skiing The Stoneman Couloir in Washington’s North Cascades
Elevation Gain/Loss: +/- 3500 ft.
Distance: miles: 5
USGS Quads: Shuksan Arm
Directions: Park at Mount Baker Ski Resort’s Heather Meadow Parking Area, Stoneman Couloir is visible from parking lot and ski area.
I learned about the Stoneman Couloir from Martin Volken’s ski guide book for the North Cascades. It is a superb book for anyone going on an ski mountaineering adventure in this part of the world. Check it out here:
The North Cascades get’s more snow than other places. While putting on skins and adjusting bindings, we noticed there was a solid 10 feet of snow in the parking lot of Mount Baker. The weather was warm and clouds were rolling in, but there was plenty of snow to ski on Tax Day – April 15, 2014. Our crew of 4 – Spencer, Nick, Alex, and I – were headed out for a simple day of ski touring in the North Cascades. It was a nice day for a walk in the mountains after Nick’s bachelor party.
The tour starts out nice and mellow as you follow the valley uphill. The clouds worked their way in and out, making for fun lighting and warm weather. We weaved through a wide valley that several wet loose slides had come down somewhat recently.
Eventually the weather closed in a bit and we decided to set a bootpack up to a ridge. As we approached the ridge, the sun broke out and exposed the vast zone we were exploring.
After we hit the ridgeline, we decended down a pleasant drainage. Nice low angle, fun turns all the way. At the bottom we turned around and looked up. There was the Stoneman Couloir. Up we went.
The views were stunning and the boot pack wasn’t too bad. It was steep, but the snow was bootable. And if you twist a camera right, it looks really, really steep! Overall the guidebook says the center of the couloir was no more than 38 degrees. I measured the side of the couloir at 46 – and this was not the steepest section. After about a half hour of booting, we reached the top saddle of the couloir, ate some M&Ms, and decided to go for a ski.
There is no doubt about it – in different conditions a bootpack would be a more risky approach. Volken’s book describes an approach from the top. We opted for the bootpack based on conditions. I like to see the snow I ski before I ski it when possible. In colder, firm conditions, axes, ropes, crampons, and whippets would have been mandatory.
The ski down was great – steep and edgeable. At the bottom old debris and runnel made the skiing a bit more exciting, but completely manageable.
When we got to the bottom of the Stoneman, we did a high traverse where I snapped the above shot of Stoneman and Mount Herman. Unfortunately we did not traverse far enough. We proceeded to ski down after rounding a couple of ridges and got cliffed out – all within sight of the car. While doing some simple route finding we kicked off some small, but manageable wet loose that pummelled over 50 foot+ cliffs. We wisely put our skins back on and worked our way back up hill and over to the next ridgeline – one with the safe descent we had originally intended to find.
As we cruised down the last section, the snow got a bit sticky. It was good to be out early. We cruised across the flats back to the car. The last 100 feet required a quick bootpack back up to the parking lot.
On a side note – We crashed in the Mount Baker zone for the night and left early for Seattle en-route for the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. If you are planning to do the same, I highly recommend an Alpine Start because there is way to much traffic in Seattle.