During my time at Gonzaga University, I really wanted to explore the northeastern corner of Washington more. Although the mountains are not as rugged, they are very beautiful, often lonely and empty. The roads, cities, and mountains of this region are much less “tracked” than the areas closer to Seattle. Sherman Pass in the Kettle River Range had enticed me for a while because of its high elevation (5500 ft) and moderate slopes. In fact, I think it is the highest paved road throughout winter in Washington. With a decent weather window allowing for easier driving conditions, I decided to go for it.
I arrived after sunrise at the pass, the first car there for the day. I had done a little research on the skin route up Sherman Peak and was glad that I did because pretty quickly I was breaking trail through 4-6 inches of fresh, cold powder. The route up stays mostly in the trees and avoids avalanche terrain, which was critical considering I was solo. At the top, it was windy and cold, but the foggy morning clouds were breaking up all around. Fresh snow stretched down to the rolling valleys on either side of the Kettle River Range. I felt completely alone.
My first run of the day was straight towards Snow Peak through perfect 20 degree slopes with a soft 4 inches of powder on a strong base. It was silky smooth.
Going down further, there was a very sudden transition to super dense mini trees! These trees were maybe 4-6 feet tall and incredibly tight; I struggled to pick my way through and I could not really see over them. They must be growing back in a burn zone after a big fire a few decades ago in the area. After some dodging and sidestepping, I made it into the clear and began a transition to skin up Snow Peak. The ridge to Snow Peak was magnificent. At the top I ran into a party coming back from the Snow Peak Hut, where they had spent a few nights.
I enjoyed a few nice runs off to the southeast from Snow Peak before returning to some runs on the north side. I stopped at one point and dug a pit to do a compression test.
I went back to the summit of Sherman Peak a few more times in the afternoon. With the exception of my last run on the south side of Sherman Peak where the snow had been sun affected in the afternoon and then refrozen, every run was incredible. All in all, I did probably 6 or 7 runs, accumulating close to 6000 ft of vertical and leaving my tracks all over Snow and Sherman Peaks! Except for the restriction to stay off steep slopes, I felt complete freedom, roaming around and skiing whatever looked good. I love that freedom ski touring can give you, and Sherman Pass is a perfect place for that sort of attitude. It is these types of places I will miss when I leave Spokane. Calm, lonely, untracked.