Sunday, July 3, 2011

Deep Snows and Microclimates of the Cascades

I've been on the road and sampling the snows and weather of the Pacific Northwest.  Much thanks to Jeff for posting efforts in my absence.

My son and I spent the past four days hiking and skiing in Mount Rainier National Park, where the snowpack is simply incredible.  A display at the Paradise Visitor Center tells the tale with the hexagon snowflake showing this years snowfall (more than 900 inches) relative to their all-time low (bottom arrow), average (middle arrow) and all-time high (top arrow).  This was not the biggest year ever, but 900" is nothing to be ashamed of.

Our first day (June 29) we got a first-hand look at the incredible weather transition that occurs frequently near the Cascade crest.  The day dawned clear and beautiful east of the Cascades in Yakima, but we noticed an ominous cloud hanging over the Cascades as we moved west into the eastern foothills. 

This is typical of the Cascades when there is strong onshore flow, which enables marine stratus, which may be accompanied by drizzle and light rain, to penetrate to and just over the Cascade crest.  Subsidence to the lee of the crest, however, leads to clear skies on the eastern slopes.  Sure enough, by the time we got to Chinook Pass, we were enveloped in fog and drizzle, although the snowbanks were mind bogglingly huge.

We axed plans for skiing and instead went for a rainforest hike.

The next day (June 30) dawned with a slightly higher cloud base, raising the possibility of finding some skiing down low.  Further, as clearly shown by the classic sculpture below, Mount Rainier is a BIG mountain, so we spent some time looking for an area where there might be a bit of rain and cloud shadowing.

Sure enough, downslope flow into upper Stevens Canyon just just east of Paradise produced a few breaks in the clouds and the opportunity to ski in the Tatoosh range.  We skinned up and went for it.

The sun didn't last for long, but it was drier here which enabled us to climb and route find with decent visibility.

Despite some light dust loading (far less than in the Wasatch) and sun cupping, the turns were decent and certainly much better than anything we've skied in Utah the past few weeks.  It's hard to beat the Cascades (and Sierra) for spring skiing. 

The most difficult part of the tour was getting up and down the ridiculously high snowbanks at the side of the road.  It is simply incredible to have so much snow on June 30th at just under 5000 feet.

But the best was yet to come.  Stay tuned...

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