Sheep Lake Couloir

Trading Rock for Sheep

On the day after Thanksgiving, Madelynn, Dan, Sam, Zach and I set off for Sheep Lake Couloir in the Crystal Backcountry. We had a great time skiing one of the Lake Basin Couloirs the weekend before on my first day in the Crystal Backcountry. Another week, more powder, and another bluebird day.

We got Zach an uphill card and skinned up through the resort, heading towards Silver Basin. Some steep kick turns brought us to the notch just east of Threeway Peak.

Daniel and Madelynn in their favorite place.

The first south facing run was sun affected, but once we got in the shady meadows, the powder was light and playful. We put skins on again and climbed to the next col.

Daniel crossing into the sunlight.

At the col, we got our first view of the Sheep Lake Couloir. It is a beautiful line, splitting Chinook Peak. Not the steepest or narrowest, but very aesthetic.

Our first view of Sheep Lake Couloir.

Traversing over to the base of the couloir, we got a splendid view up the gut. Two skiers had poached the line before us. In a way, we were thankful, because they likely exposed the rocks.

Looking up the gut.

The guidebook says to boot up to the left of the couloir, but Dan said we could skin around the backside. So we began a very long, scenic tour around to the backside of Chinook Peak. On the south facing slopes, snow clung to our skins, making our feet feel heavy. But the endless views of the Southern Cascades gave me that feeling of a true wilderness experience that I always lust for.

Naches Peak and Adams behind.
A pretty place for a walk.
Obligatory shot.
Layers of the Southern Cascades, all the way to St. Helens.
All smiles despite the heavy skins.

We reached the top of the couloir and peered down in. The initial drop looked steep, but after that it looked pretty chill.

Here we go…
View north from Chinook Peak.

Sam took the first few turns and set up to take some photos.

Sam entering Sheep Lake Couloir.

Next, it was my turn. The snow was soft and fun. Compared to the Lake Basin Chutes, this line was much wider and a bit less steep. Overall, the skiing was a lot more relaxed and fun.

Me skiing the upper slopes. Sam’s photo.
Skiing through the constriction. Sam’s photo.
Dan enjoying good powder in the apron.
Zach having a good time.

We were all very satisfied as we ate our lunches in the sun at the base of the run. It was only my second weekend in the Crystal Backcountry, but I was already sold. The access is easy, there’s every type of skiing, and the Rainier Rainshadow seems to bless this area with many sunny days.

We started to work our way back to the resort, skiing a few fun north facing runs. As we skied down towards Crystal Lake, we passed the first party we had seen all day, and it turned out to be Cherlyn and her friends! Somehow, on a bluebird pow day, the only souls we see in this beautiful place are our friends. Many people have been expressing concern about how crowded the backcountry will be this season because of Covid, but if November is any indication, I’m not worried.

Shadows on Crystal Lake.
An unnamed peak looms large over the Crystal Lakes.

We had an easy skin back to the col west of Threeway Peak. From here, we entered the resort and skied back down to the base. After a serene day in the quiet backcountry, it felt weird to zip down groomers with hundreds of others, but I always appreciate the ease of a resort exit.

Days like these bring me a quiet peace. Nothing about it was hard or scary – just fun shredding in a wonderful place with quality company. It feels like an opportunity to gives thanks to the people who play with me and the mountains that are our playground.

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