Bullion Basin, Mount Baker - Snoqualmie National Forest
February 17-18, 2007

It was dark and cold when Wayne, Peter, and I rolled up to Upper Parking Lot C at Crystal Mountain forty five minutes early. The sun was just beginning to light up the surrounding peaks and ridgelines at this popular ski resort area just outside of Mount Rainier National Park, ridgelines that I had hiked along toward the end of my PCT thruhike back in 2003. From here it was only a day and a half by trail to Snoqualmie Pass on foot, through a heart breaking landscape of broken trees and clear cut forests. But the alpinglow was nice this morning and I didn't ponder such things for long.

The weather was clearly going to cooperate for the next few hours, which made everyone happy. We had a large group from the Tacoma Mountaineers heading out to practice building snow shelters of various sorts and to test different types of snow anchors. Tomorrow would be avalanche training. Practice, practice, practice. While I'd rather have tried to make another run at St. Helens, any time you have good weather in the winter in the Cascades, fun times are bound to be had.

After an hours hike up and away from the ski runs, we entered into Bullion Basin and found some nice slopes off the trail where we could dig shelters for the night. The snow was hard and compacted, but we had three hours to see what we could do. Given that one can dig out a spot for a tent and rig it in less than 30 minutes, the time required for a snow cave made it a base-camp only technique. The idea for a cave is easy. Locate a snowy slope. Dig directly into the slope, making a sort of tunnel or walk way, until your chin is about at snow level.

Next, start digging a smaller tunnel from ground level up to about mid-thigh. Once you've gone in a few feet, dig up to about where your waist would be. This is the floor level. Now, dig out, up, and around until you have a snow cave. The fact that the floor is higher than the opening means that warm air will stay in the cave. Keep a two feet of snow above you, dome your roof, and poke a few air holes.

This, however, is long, sweaty, cold, wet, work. Wayne and I built a palatial snow cave in about two and a half hours, rotating positions, with one digging and the other moving the dug snow out of the tunnel. The warm sun shine meant that our clothes dried quickly and by the time came to practice snow anchors everyone was quite comfortable. Building an anchor in snow is easy and quick to do, and can be done with almost anything. Once an anchor is built, you attach a rope to it and rappel down a mountain side, perhaps. The idea is basic: Put something, anything, into the snow, put a sling on it, and clip the rope into the sling. A long snow picket works alright driven straight into the snow, but Wayne and I were able to pull ours out without too much effort. However, taking 32 seconds to dig a trench in the snow and bury the picket horizontally (a so-called deadman) results in an anchor that you could hang a car off of. After an hour of playing with other anchors, including big bollards (dig circular trench in the snow, wrap the rope around it) we called things done and retreated to the snow caves for dinner. The weather had held, and when I crawled into the cave at 8 pm the skies were still clear.

The morning was a different story altogether. Eight inches of light, dry snow had fallen over night and more was coming down. Kevin looked about as happy as I was to come out of the warm, dry cave. Indeed, inside the caves we had no idea it was snowing or that the wind was blowing hard.

As the morning progressed, we knocked down our caves before avalanche training, drank tea, and made fun of Peter's pig tail hat. Snow and more snow fell as we waited for the rest of the avalanche trainees to arrive so that we could practice searching for buried skiers or climbers. As this is one of the most boring trip reports I've ever written, I will spare the reader further boredom and simply say that playing in the snow is great fun, but beacon searching repeatedly, then standing around for long periods of time doing nothing, while it is snowing and the wind is blowing, is considerably less entertaining.


From Lakewood, drive I-5 north to SR 512 and follow that road east toward Puyallup. Take SR410 west through the towns of Sumner, Buckley, and Enumclaw to the hamlet of Greenwater. Continue past Greenwater to where 410 is closed in the winter and make a left toward Crystal Mountain. Drive up the road to upper parking lot C. You do not need a pass of any sort. Park and pick up the big, obvious, groomed snow trail (snow covered road). You'll need a map to locate Bullion Basin, but if you just hike up the road and diverge onto any of the local trails, you'll have good time.