Part of my job as climbing instructor is organize and teach an overnight field trip where would-be climbers learn how to travel on a rope, use their ice axes, and test their ability to survive in the cold. Normally, I would have held this field trip at Stephens Pass ski area, but because of an unusually snowy spring, they stayed open longer than I anticipated.
The other confounding problem with the field trip was snow. There was WAY too much of it! You wouldn’t think that this would be much of a problem, except that the avalanche danger was through the roof for this time of year. And skiers, boarders, and snowshoers all over the Cascades were getting buried every other day. Not good.
On to Plan B…except that there was no Plan B. Dratz!
Not quite sure where to go, another instructor, Glenn, and I decided that we ought to go for a mid-week scoping trip. We reviewed the avalanche forecast, powered up our avy beacons, and packed shovels and probes. The avalanche conditions were marginal, but we felt prepared for risk. (Nick called dibs on my Rodriguez bike.)
The going was pretty tough. Two people carving a path in thigh deep snow get very tired very quickly. Fortunately, we found a suitable spot. But not before two random skiers ran into us, asking what the heck we were doing out there.
“Didn’t you read the avalanche forecast?”
“Yes, we did. Thank you.”
“And you decided to come anyway?”
Thinking in my head: “Well, so did you!”
Out loud: “Thank you for your concern. We have beacons, shovels, and probes. It is a risk we were willing to take.”
Thinking in my head: “And where are YOUR shovel, beacon and probe?”
“But you’re traveling so close together.”
Thinking in my head: “So are you and who the heck are you anyway?”
Out loud: “Thank you. We evaluated the slope and felt comfortable with our traveling distance.”
Then we got a lecture on the avalanche terrain of the basin, a warning to stay out of the way of skiers (because Alpental just opened the backcountry and they’d be coming through here pretty fast), and some general comments that gave me the impression that they were pretty much assholes who didn’t want anyone messing up their fresh snow.
It was one of the weirdest encounters I’ve ever had with someone in the backcountry who wasn’t a ranger or ski patrol or some other appropriate authority.
Glenn and I shook our heads and wandered downslope toward the valley where we ultimately found the perfect camping and practice spot.