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The Luxury Hut Life
As a birthday present for Kylie, I got Kylie and I reservations for two nights at the Alpine Lakes High Camp. The High Camp is a group of cabins nestled beneath a ridge in the Chiwaukum Mountains. Regardless of the skiing or weather conditions, I thought it would be a good get-away at a time we needed a vacation and a fun experience for the two of us.
One annoying thing about the High Camp is all the “hidden” fees they have when booking. One of them is transportation, which is is $80 per person. Kylie and I decided to save money and skin the 8 mile road in ourselves. Although this limited how much luxury items and food we could bring in, we still packed plenty of great food and warm clothes.
We drove over Stevens Pass Friday morning and parked our car next to US2. We got on the move right around 9 am and started skinning up the road. It was a consistent grade, which would be nice on the way out. The sun was out and it was a lovely morning. Even at this elevation, the powder felt dry. It was a good sign.
We took our time on the skin in. Higher up, we saw a skin track leading off the road so we took it, eager to see some new sights. We wandered across a bench and eventually joined what seemed to be an official nordic trail. It led back to the main road and then we arrived at High Camp.
We arrived at the main lodge around 1 pm. We were greeted by the hosts, who informed us our cabin, Bluebell was already open for us to move in! We ditched our stuff and had lunch in the nice warm lodge, talking to the hosts about our afternoon plans. They recommended some runs closer to camp.
The trees around camp were quite thick, but there were nicely marked nordic trails to follow towards McCue Ridge.
We eventually got to the top of McCue Ridge just below 6000 ft. We were right above some steep, pillowly 200-400 ft long lines that were easily visible on the approach to camp. We took one little run down. By the time we got used to our skinny skis in the bottomless, light powder, we were down the steeps and in the tight trees.
For our next run, we decided to go higher west up McCue ridge to the next 6250 ft highpoint. Up on the ridge, the clouds were slowly clearing in the late afternoon, giving us some views of the surrounding Chiwaukum.
The skin along McCue Ridge seemed to go forever, not really gaining any elevation. But if you look at a map, it is pretty long and flat. It was super peaceful, skinning with peek-a-boo views and soft light and snow. Eventually, we reached the high point. The slopes off to the right were pretty enticing. We picked a line and dropped in.
The snow was incredible! Completely bottomless and light. I was going in up to my belly button or chest on turns but it was still easy to make turns. The top half of the run was totally awesome. Then the trees got really dense it was a little bit of a brush battle before we popped out at Lake Julius.
From there, we followed an old skin track down, across the creek, and back up towards high camp. We got back to the clearcut near camp as evening was starting to fade. The colors were very calming.
Here, we ripped our skins and shot down back to camp, ready for all the comforts. We had a relaxing evening cooking some delicious food (Kylie is a backcountry master chef) next to our little fireplace in our hut. The hot tub was not open yet, but we would have to save that for the next night!
Naturally, we planned our second day to be our biggest ski day. We had grand visions of skiing Middle Chiwaukum. We left around 8 am, skinning up through the clearcut. However, at the first transition point, Kylie was not feeling good and checked her blood sugar. It was very low, so we decided to ski back to camp and recover there.
We spent most of the morning in the lodge, playing guitar, looking through books, and talking to the hosts. It was nice having a warm place to relax and spend time.
By late morning, Kylie felt back to full strength so we left once again towards Lake Julius. Beyond Lake Julius, there was a decent skin track in place to the saddle with Loch Eileen. Above that, the skin track became very faint because light snow blowing in the wind was quickly filling tracks.
When we reached the upper basin, we were still socked in by fog. We decided to forgo any plans of North Chiwaukum or Middle Chiwaukum and just ski whatever had visibility and looked good. Above and to the left, there were gentle larch glades. We felt like trees would give depth perception when skiing down, so we headed that way.
Eventually, we realized that we had turned 90 degrees away from North Chiwaukum and were nearing the 6950 ft highpoint on McCue Ridge, or “Tamarack” as the High Camp hosts called it. The last bit up to the ridge was a little steeper, but no issue to skin up.
The drop in above the trees was a little chunky from wind, but once we entered the low angle larch glades, it was a perfect 6-8 inches of dry powder and nice easy slopes. It was a dream blue run.
It was not too long of a run, so we easily decided to lap it. We went a little further skiier’s left with similar results: wind affect at the very top, but then world-class open glades and blower powder.
We decided to head up for one last run. The skier’s right side of the gully was calling us, so we wanted to check that out. Just like the day before, the clouds finally began to break late in the afternoon, offering a mix of blue skies and snow flurries.
We chose our separate drop-in lines. It was more directly north facing here, so the powder was deeper and less wind affected. The first few turns were simply sublime, some of the best we have ever had.
We followed the gully all the way down to the frozen waterfall, making for some fun halfpipe skiing.
The rest of the ski down to Lake Julius was not quite as great, but still pretty fun in places. We got a close look at a big ice flow above Lake Julius.
Back at the lake, it was the same finish to the ski day as the day before.
We started the evening out this time by hitting the sauna and then the wood-fired hot tub. It was super hot actually and we had to throw snow in to cool things down a bit. Snowflakes were falling lightly from the sky, creating beautiful ambiance. It was quite the way to end a perfect day of skiing!
Every Saturday, they have a potluck at the high camp. Luckily for us, most people brought in way more fancy food than us because they came in on vehicle! The potluck was delicious and filling, and we got to meet some awesome people from elsewhere in Washington and even Alaska!
With the best weather forecast of the three days, we were determined to make it to North Chiwaukum. After a difficult morning trying to cook pancakes with no cooking oil, we vacated our cozy cabin. The high camp hosts snapped a picture of us before heading out.
The clouds were brighter with little patches of blue sky above, so we were hopeful the forecast would finally come through for us.
Now very familiar with the approach, we efficiently made our way to Lake Julius, keeping our skins on the entire time. Unfortunately, as we climbed the ridge above Lake Julius and Loch Eileen, we once again entered thick fog. The weather gods would just not play nice!
We decided to visit Tamarack once again since it was still cloudy and just descend towards North Chiwaukum. We skinned on the ridge for a while to the true high point this time. We had to do some tricky skinning to get past rocks and firm wind slabs.
It was windy and cold at the top, but the clouds definitely seemed higher than the day before, giving us some visibility down low. The top of the run was very wind affected and bumpy, but the lower half in the larch glades was just a foot of incredibly dry, perfect powder.
Down in the basin between North Chiwaukum and Tamarack, we took a break on a nice bench made of skis.
Suddenly, the clouds lifted and we were given a clear line of sight to North Chiwaukum. It felt so close! We put skins on and headed up through the virgin snow.
The skinning was easy as we gained the right shoulder of the peak. Once above treeline, the snow got very firm and then straight icy. Luckily, it was so low angle at this point that we did not need ski crampons.
At the top, the wind was whipping like crazy, with sustained 40+ mph winds. Combined with already cold temperatures, wind chill was likely -10 to -30 F! Unfortunately, we were in the very bottom of a lenticular cloud that was sweeping over the summit, so we never got clear summit views! The weather gods had tricked us once again.
We quickly made our transition but were very careful not to let go of anything, as it surely would have blown away over a cliff and been gone forever. The first few hundred feet down was low angle ice, but then we got to the steepest point in the headwall and the good snow started to return.
The headwall was a little over 30 degrees for a few hundred feet. It had a few inches of fresh snow on top of a firm surface, perfect for skiing hard.
We decided to do another quick shorter lap on the right shoulder, reusing our skin track. This way, we got only the good snow!
We made another nice ski bench and finished our lunch. At this point, it was time to start heading back to high camp, but not before one last run! We skinned upwards to the base of the steeper north face of Tamarack. It was fun to look back at North Chiwaukum, where we had laid tracks all over!
After a few minutes, we arrived at the top of a beautiful open slope. It was a few hundred feet wide, about 20 degrees in angle, not a single tree, and not a single track. We knew this was going to be an amazing run.
It was easily one of the best runs of our lives.
Below that, we rejoined our skin track and began the descent to Lake Julius.
We got back to high camp around 4 pm and decided we had just enough time for one more “lap” in the hot tub. It was insanely hot, but we lasted for a few minutes before drying off in the sauna. Then we finally departed for the 8 mile ski out.
We cut the road, skiing some fun bumpy powder through a steep burn zone, but our legs were very tired with a full pack. After that, it was about a mile of skinning slightly uphill. Finally, we ripped skins for the very last time. The sun had set and the sky was very pretty. We were racing against the impending darkness, but it felt so peaceful.
We flew through the final 3 miles of downhill, reaching the car just in time. A short drive led us to 59 Diner at Coles Corner for some much needed food after another long ski day!
Overall, the Alpine Lakes High Camp was an incredible experience. The camp was very hospitable and it was so nice to have a dry cabin and luxurious hot tub to relax in after skiing. Although the immediate terrain around camp is not too impressive, the alpine terrain around North Chiwaukum is a dream for the moderate skier. And we both agreed that it was the highest quality, driest powder we have ever skied for three days. It really doesn’t get much better than this. Happy 23rd, Kylie!