Heliotrope Ridge Ski, Grouse Creek

Cascadian Ditch Skiing

After a big day on the Forbidden Tour, Kelly and Barrett drove up to Anthony’s house to meet me for a chill tour the next day. We ended up on deciding to check out Heliotrope Ridge on the north side of Mt. Baker so that we could ski mostly on higher elevation north aspects. I knew the Grouse Creek Approach was still (barely) in, which made for a very simple and direct tour!

We got a leisurely start and parked about 1.5 miles from the Heliotrope Trailhead where snow started. Just as we began, some splitboarders arrived back at the car. They reported strong winds overnight and seemed generally in a bad mood. The skiing sounded awful. But we were already here, so we decided to at least go for a walk.

The road was mostly snow covered, but the few sections that were not still held some snow in the shaded ditch, so we never had to take our skis off.

Skinning the ditch!

Once at the trailhead, we followed a skintrack that went into the woods behind the bathroom. Coverage was sad for late March (we are at about 60% typical snowpack in this area), but it was still “in” and we were able to skin up the gentle forest to where Grouse Creek opened up around 4000 ft. After only 10-15 minutes of forest skinning, we were at the base of some large avalanche paths with great snow coverage! Instead of post holing up the summer trail, we were in the clear. I could see why the Grouse Creek Approach is so good!

Out into the open flats of Grouse Creek!

Higher up the drainage, there are a few different gullies you can ascend. We took the left one. Sometimes it was easier to skin straight up the slope rather than make a ton of short kick turns. We tested the limits of our grip.

It’s like skinning straight up the Hyak Face.

Above the gullies, we ascended wonderful nice open slopes. The snow had a slight zipper crust in certain places, but was nice windblown “packed powder” in others. With such low expectations, we were pleasantly surprised with how things were shaping up.

Higher in Grouse Creek.

We crossed a divide around 6400 ft to get onto the proper north facing slopes of Heliotrope Ridge, getting our first view of Baker and the insane winds up high. The entire Coleman Glacier was textured from wind, with ripples like a sand dune.

Crazy winds!

I heard a voice shout “Oh my god, it’s Climber Kyle!” It was Jon, who I just did the Forbidden Tour with the day before!

Barrett took this photo of me and Kelly!

Kelly decided to chill on some nice dry rocks while Barrett and I joined Jon and his friends to skin up to the top of Heliotrope Ridge for the views.

Barrett with the Twin Sisters range behind.
Colfax and the Black Buttes looking gnarly.

Barrett had to make it back for an Easter dinner, so we quickly transitioned at the top and skied down to Kelly. Although the snow looked bad, it was actually chalky and pretty decent!

Barrett nails the turn for the camera!

We met up with Kelly and skied back down Grouse Creek together. The skiing was decent and definitely enjoyable. It was not hero powder, but it was still great to see Kelly enjoying backcountry skiing and handling the snow well!

Kelly links nice easy turns in upper Grouse Creek.
Barrett was just happy to be out!
Nice, scenic skiing.

After the pleasant open skiing of Grouse Creek, we had some comical “skiing” through the forest, carefully dodging exposed stumps and downed trees. It wasn’t quick, but we never had to take off our skis in the forest! We then enjoyed some nice road corn and hilarious “Cascadian ditch skiing” to get back to our car!

This was a really pleasant day with Kelly and Barrett. I enjoyed the Grouse Creek Approach and it will be hard to convince me to hike the Heliotrope Trail again with skis on my back!

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