Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Ode to the Shoulder Season on MSR Summit Register

I recently published a somewhat lyrical piece of writing on MSR's Summit Register about a recent skiing and rock climbing trip to Washington Pass. The article is titled "Ode to the Shoulder Season." I think all you Northwesterners will appreciate it. Some great photos as well! http://thesummitregister.com/ode-shoulder-season-skiing-rock-climbing-washington-pass/#more-2747

Friday, March 28, 2014

Wapta Traverse Photos at Pacific Alpine Guides Blog

From March 15th to March 20th, Freya Fennwood and I accompanied Tyler Reid of Pacific Alpine Guides on a ski tour of the Wapta Traverse in the Canadian Rockies. Commonly known as the "Haute Route of North America," the Wapta is a legendary hut-to-hut traverse that follows the Continental Divide for approximately 45km. We had challenging weather and dangerous avalanche conditions for most of the trip, but we managed to pull it off nonetheless thanks to some excellent guidance on Tyler's part. Along the way, we reached the summit of Mount Gordon, had some beautiful powder turns on the Diableret Glacier, and crossed the Balfour High Col in a whiteout. A brief writeup and some excellent photographs are available on the Pacific Alpine Guides blog: http://www.pacificalpineguides.com/winter-wapta-traverse

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sign the Petition for 7-day Acess to Hurricane Ridge

Hurricane Ridge is where I learned to ski powder with local enthusiasts who have devoted many years of their lives to this wonderful place. In recent years, road access to Hurricane Ridge has been reduced to weekends only, limiting the number of people that are able to visit this diverse alpine zone. Hurricane Ridge is literally the only place to ski on the Olympic Peninsula and it is extremely important to the local citizens, as well as anyone visiting the region. I helped to draft a petition in support of seven-day access to the Ridge. Follow this link to learn more about Hurricane Ridge and to sign the petition: http://www.change.org/petitions/sarah-creachbaum-keep-the-hurricane-ridge-road-in-olympic-national-park-open-7-days-a-week-throughout-the-winter 

Thank you! 

Monday, March 10, 2014

New Blog Posts on the MSR Summit Register

I recently wrote a few articles for the MSR Summit Register and published some great photographs there.

In the first piece I was asked if climbing is a right or a privilege. This is how I responded: http://thesummitregister.com/leif-whittaker-privilege-climbing-mountains/

The second piece is about dog etiquette while backcountry skiing. It includes some entertaining shots of a friend and his puppy: http://thesummitregister.com/backcountry-dog-etiquette/

I hope to be posting more blogs on the Summit Register in the future. Enjoy!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Waste Management on Mount Baker

I recently helped to produce a short video segment for the USFS about proper waste management on Mount Baker. There are a few cool shots from the National Forest and some good information for visitors. Thanks to Ian Couch and Brandon Helmstetter for their work on this.

Waste Management on Mt. Baker from Ian Couch on Vimeo.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Summer Job as a Climbing Ranger in Mount Baker National Forest

Story and photos by Leif Whittaker

At the beginning of June I began my second season of work as a Climbing Ranger for the United States Forest Service on Mount Baker. My climbing partner, Brandon Helmstetter, and I performed a variety of duties in order to keep the mountain clean, safe, and fun. We spent four days a week camped near the most commonly used routes and we climbed to the summit at least twice a month. We evaluated guide services, wrote conditions reports, removed litter, inventoried campsites, and occasionally rescued fallen climbers. We climbed up and down over and over again, which might have grown boring were it not for the fact that I got to observe each subtle change the mountain experienced. I got to know the landscape like it was a close friend.

The season began on skis. A dense snowpack covered the trails and glaciers until at least the beginning of July. On the south side of the mountain, the skin track followed Rocky Creek over steep rolls and around outcrops of umber rock to Sandy Camp. On the north side of the mountain, the quickest early-season approach was to contour along Grouse Creek, eventually gaining the ridge where campsites could be found on a jagged precipice called the Eagle’s Nest. On both sides, the skiing was phenomenal and hundreds of people visited the glaciers hoping to cut S-shaped marks in the soft corn. However, some visitors forgot they were skiing over crevasses and beneath seracs.
Fresh turns on the "Lightning Rod."
Brandon traversing a snowfield below Eagle's Nest.
Brandon skinning with Chowder Ridge in the background.
On our first weekend of work Brandon and I rescued a skier who had fallen into a crevasse in whiteout conditions. We reached the summit (10,781 feet) at about noon in broken cloud cover, but as we skied towards Sherman Crater the visibility deteriorated until we were forced to stop between every turn in order to look for crevasses ahead. Partway down the Easton Glacier, we encountered a group of three men from Vancouver, BC who were attempting to extract their fallen teammate from an icy hole. Unable to see, the young man had launched over a 60-foot-deep crevasse and, miraculously, landed on a narrow plug of snow about 15 feet below the surface. Brandon and I quickly deployed our climbing rope and hauled the man out of the crevasse. He was able to ski down the rest of the way without assistance. After he and his teammates departed, Brandon and I wondered out loud if he knew just how lucky he was.
Moonrise over North Cascades.
Campsite on the edge of the Easton Glacier.
Sunset silhouette
By the middle of July we had shelved our skis and added crampons to our packs. The trailheads were melted out and wildflowers were beginning to bloom. Heliotrope, Indian paintbrush, lupine, pink heather, and flox decorated Schriebers Meadow, Railroad Grade, and Hogsback. Marmots, mountain goats, chipmunks, and ravens patrolled camps, searching for scraps of food. The mountain was vastly different than it was a few months earlier. It was coming alive, moving in recognizable patterns like the hot sun.

And each weekend was unique in some small way. One night there was a full moon rising over a purple sky. Another evening we discovered that Brandon had forgotten our stove and we were forced to eat energy bars for dinner. Maybe we heard a towering serac cleave off the Deming Glacier one morning. Perhaps the sulfur smell coming from the fumarole was particularly strong one afternoon. The sky may have been hazy with smoke from forest fires, and the thunderheads may have swept over Grant Peak, striking the summit with lightning. I began to comprehend the mountain’s complexities more deeply than I ever could have after a single climb. I touched on a type of understanding that took many years and adventures to gain.
Brandon climbs a short rock step below Boulder Ridge.
Climbers on top of Sherman Peak.
Sunset with wildflowers at Hogsback Camps.
The Deming Glacier.
Some nights, as the rich sunset painted nearby peaks and distant tarns, I wondered about adventure. Mount Baker was not new or unfamiliar to me, but I still felt a sense of adventure every time I visited its slopes. Is it adventurous to form a personal and intimate relationship with a single place? I am still not sure, but every time I climb to a high pass or summit—whether I have already been there or not—it reminds me of how lucky I am to be on this planet.
Clouds over Lincoln Peak.
Mount Baker from Hogsback Camps.
A dark red sunset.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Powder Season Recap - Mount Baker

Story by Leif Whittaker
Photos by Freya Fennwood 

Skiers and snowboarders from across the globe know about Mount Baker Ski Area for one reason: lots of snow. In 1999 Mount Baker received 1,140 inches of snow, setting the single-season world record for snowfall. Baker averages 643 inches of snowfall per year, more than any other lift-serviced ski area in North America. In other words, Baker gets deep. In the fall of 2012 my girlfriend Freya and I moved to Bellingham, Washington in search of the bottomless white fluff. What we found was a mountain replete with possibilities, a continually replenished canvas begging to be painted with imaginative lines.
Mount Baker
Leif Whittaker throwing up a powder cloud.
Adam U slashes a steep face.
Powder stash in Swift Creek.
Mount Baker is not called a “resort” because it does not offer much in the way of apr├Ęs ski venues, on-mountain housing, or expensive boutiques. It has slow lifts, short runs, and a small overall area, at least inside the boundaries. Grooming is a low priority and visibility is often nil. A local’s hill through and through, I experienced a vibe tinged with resentfulness the first time I skied there, as if the longtime pass-holders hated any newcomers. It was intimidating and I didn’t understand this attitude because, it seemed to me, there was plenty of snow for everyone. However, after skiing for a full season on Mount Baker’s steep and forgiving slopes, I have learned to ignore its detractors. To truly appreciate Mount Baker, one needs to embrace the downsides.

Low visibility equates to massive snowfall. The runs may be short, but they are steep and challenging. The in-bounds area is small, but the sidecountry and backcountry terrain is truly limitless. Most importantly, never in my life have I skied deeper or more playful snow.
Jennica Lowell on Shuksan Arm.
Lily Hickenbottom rides a ridge.
Tess Golling blows it up.
Tess Golling splashes the camera.
Leif Whittaker laying down on the slope.
Admittedly, I am not the most skilled or aggressive skier in the world, but as the old saying goes, the best skier is the one who is having the most fun. Between November and April, Freya and I got to know hidden powder pockets, narrow chutes, and wide-open fields. One day, we waited in line for an hour to get the tenth chair on a lift that had been closed for two days and had received more than 38 inches of fresh powder. Another day, we hiked the famous Shuksan Arm an hour before sunset and skied an untouched bowl in golden light. When we returned to the lodge we discovered that our car was the last in the parking lot. Freya and I even planned a three-day tour to Mount Ann, but when my binding snapped in half 20-minutes outside camp, we cut the trip short. However, we got a glimpse of the potential and, next year, we’ll make the same trip count.
Snowfall from tree branches.
Skinning towards Lake Ann.
Trying to fix bindings and taking a few turns at night.
One more powder cloud.
I often hear friends complain about the dark and rainy winters in Washington State. When I look out the window of my apartment in Bellingham and see the heavy drops pounding the ground all I can think about is how much snow is falling on Mount Baker. Winters are not only bearable; they are something to look forward to. Even in the hot and sunny summer I often imagine myself floating through powder. It is a feeling unlike anything else—clean, expressive, and fun.