Ski Season Finale
After a chill spring tour to Hidden Lake Peak, the Crab Crew recruited Cricky to join for another scenic tour up Vesper Peak. I have skied Vesper once before and was very impressed with the quality ski terrain and great spring access. I think Vesper is one of the best spring ski tours in the state, and sports possibly the best ski-to-reward ratio of any spring tour not on a volcano.
Just as expected, the trail was dry into Wirtz Basin, where we found good snow coverage starting around 3300 ft. Clouds floated around us as we blasted into the sun and morning light.
We encountered a few other parties as we booted up to Headlee Pass, which still had plenty of snow. The traverse on the other side to Vesper Lake was getting a bit rocky, but fine.
There was a beautiful marine layer just below us to the west, breaking up in the morning sun. It made an already steep, rugged area even more dramatic. The Mountain Loop may not be the highest part of the Cascades, but it certainly has a ruggedness that belies its low elevation.
We all hung out at the summit for a while as the clouds swirled around us. I’m pretty sure that the one other guy on the summit thought we were pretty odd, as Matt frequently referred to Anthony as “Lord Antoine” in his best peasant voice.
We said goodbye to Liz, since she was planning on just hiking down. The rest of us headed over to “Sunset Couloir”, the west facing line. It was only 11 am, but the west facing snow had softened perfectly, making for fun tubular turns despite the suncups.
The line ends abruptly at 5100 ft with the sound of running water beneath. So we booted back up to the top of the line, where Anthony and Matt decided to ski out. I convinced Danny and Will to check out the Vesper Glacier with me.
The Vesper Glacier sits in a deep NW facing chasm between Big Four, Wolf, and Vesper. It has obviously receded massively in recent years, but is likely still one of the lowest glaciers in the Cascades, extending down to around 4000 ft. There is a fresh terminal moraine at 3600 ft, and maps indicate ice extending down to this point!
The skier’s left entrance is higher and steeper. We peered down it but it appeared to have bergschrund problems, so we opted for the easier right entrance.
We dropped in at noon and found pretty good snow! The setting was beautiful and wild, with Vesper’s giant north face towering above and steep rock walls on both sides. Three Fingers floated in and out of the clouds at the head of the valley beyond Copper Lake. It was not the raddest or most remote line, but it was wonderful.
The gut of the glacier is covered in mounds of avalanche debris, which explain this glacier’s shockingly low elevation. But it had smoothed and softened enough for good skiing, so we took it all the way down to 3700 ft! I had not even realized we had skied so far down until I checked my watch.
It took about an hour to boot back out of the line. There was a narrow strip of snow from the saddle down to Vesper Lake, allowing us to ski directly out.
Back near Headlee Pass, I convinced them to follow me down the skier’s left chute. It was basically “out”, but we side slipped the narrow crux and rejoined the other tracks down in Wirtz Basin. Somehow the snow was still pleasant all the way to the bottom. I guess that is the perk of “summer” skiing: while suncups may limit the upper bounds of ski quality, it never really gets too mushy. Every run was decent, but none were extraordinary (or perhaps I have just been spoiled by Sierra corn).
Vesper was a fun way to end the season. While it lacked the drama and epic nature of last year’s finale skiing Little T and Big T in a day, I feel like this day epitomized my season – a chill tour with friends and a little adventure to keep things interesting. I think it is time to shift gears and get in shape for the summer season, which is rapidly approaching. Time to hang up the skis!