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  1. #1

    Laps on Jim Hill - 12.30.15

    A ski of Jim Hill has been on my tick list for awhile now - not a huge objective by a lot of tick list standards, but this is the first year I didn’t buy a season pass to Mission and opted to make the switch to touring full time. There’s a lot I’ve been eager to get done.

    One of my good friends and mountain adventure partners, Austin, and I were inspired by a trip report on Turns-All-Year the weekend before. It hadn’t really snowed in the two days since, which meant the skin track was in and the hard work was done for us. The report threw around phrases like “100 kick turns”, “turns above tree wells”, and “we feel sorry for whoever decides to follow our skin track”. Always ones to maximize suffering per hour, we took no heed.

    We swung into the Stevens Pass Nordic Center around 7:30 AM to fill the role of lone car in the parking lot, bracketed by crisp air, an empty highway, and light still in pre-dawn mode. The trail to Lanham Lake had obviously seen much more snowshoe than ski traffic, but the going was fast and easy, and within 45 minutes we were gliding onto the frozen lake as the alpenglow just began to touch the peaks above us. A single skin track pointed us the right direction across the lake, with 1500 feet of steep, thick forest looming above. I’d heard the moniker “Jim Hell” more than a couple times, always referring to battles with trees and brush primarily in the Henry Creek drainage, but also on this ascent as well. Time to see what that was all about.

    Fortunately, the going wasn’t too bad. The track was packed down to the point of being a little slippery, and numerous desperate stabs into the ground with our poles or blindly groping for veggie belays were needed to avoid the backsliding abyss. For my amateur skinning skills, it was a challenge, but not nearly as challenging as we expected. Any skin track was better than breaking trail, and we owe a thanks to those who did the breaking. We crested the ridge about 10:30, and the full scope of Jim Hill’s north facing powder bowl came into perspective - Jim Hell this was not. With low clouds filtering the sun, the landscape gained a pearly glow - no hell could have such a heavenly ambience.

    A little trail breaking was required was requiring criss-crossing up the basin, but not much. We merged with previous skin tracks and by noon we found a sunny pocket on the ridge just below the false summit to call our highpoint. To the north, hundreds of peaks pierced the low cloud layer, dazzling white in the sun. To the south was the familiar Stuart Range, and just below was 1000 feet of powder just asking to be tracked up. Heaven indeed. Surprisingly, there was only isolated cross loading in the basin and even then, not enough to form a cohesive slab or propagate in any way. The snow couldn’t be any more consolidated. A few tests failed to find any weak layers or form any kind of fracture. The light turned green, the heels were locked in. Game time.

    Downhill was a slow-motion, dream-like rhythm. Quiet except for the occasional “yeehaw!”, bobbing like a falling leaf through the light-side-up snowpack. It was only 12:45 when were at the bottom, which meant it was time for lap number two. This time around it paid to be a little more creative, bouncing down mini pillow lines through the trees and letting momentum take one airborne off the numerous rollers before landing quietly back into the surreal powder turn rhythm. By 2:30 we were deskinning at 6100 feet for a slightly shorter lap number three, taking a line more skier’s left and gaining the notch to descend back to Lanham. The trees around us turned from white to yellow to gold as the sun sank deeper and we drifted through the labyrinth of thick forest and occasional open areas to link turns - part survival sideslipping, part surprisingly enjoyable glade-hopping mini golf. 3:30 PM and we were back in the middle of frozen Lanham, Jim Hill above sporting the same amount of alpenglow as when we arrived that morning. Bobsledding back down to the trailhead was done in an instant. “5800 feet,” Austin declared, checking the total vertical on his altimeter. Nice. We high fived over the successful day, topped off by the fact we were back to the car before dark. There’s definitely something spiritual about a day in the mountains skiing powder with friends, and we both agreed that this was no Jim Hell - more like Jim Heaven.

    Here's to many more days like these in 2016.
    Last edited by mtangeman; 12-31-2015 at 03:33 PM.

  2. #2
    Administrator raybirks's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    Wenatchee, WA
    Nicely done, MT! I think you're writing prowess is starting to outdo your photographic skills, taking nothing away from the camera.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jun 2012
    This is really well-written Matthew. With your permission, I'd like to add parts of it to the guidebook post for the WenatcheeOutdoors Jim Hill entry.

    It's also really well-photographed and I particularly like the B&W shots.

    You should consider being a journalist.

  4. #4
    Thanks for the comments Ray and Andy - I appreciate it!

    Andy, feel free to use it for the guidebook. I'm happy to contribute!



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