This 17 mile traverse was originally done on a day in 1939 by Dwight Watson, Erik Larson and Andy Hennig (http://alpenglow.org/skiing/baker-2004/index.html). When they pioneered this route they started low in the valley near Glacier Washington. Now we have the privilege of driving 8 miles up Glacier Creek Road to the trailhead at 3,600’.
Soft swooshing grains of snow and crisp ice crystals pattered against the tent as they tumbled south across Komo's vast ice cap. The wall of snow on the windward side of the tent deflected prevailing winds creating fluted drifts and small piles under the vestibule. The immense brisk alpine darkness fell away to broken scattered islands of pulsing artificial light far below. Bellingham, Everett, Seattle, Vancouver indistinctly melt away into the lowlands as warm rosy and orange hues spread across the cool black, blue, and violet pre dawn sky. A night spent high above the Pacific Coast overlooking the Puget Sound, Straight of Juan De Fuca, Straight of Georgia, the Salish sea gazing upon the Olympic Peninsula, Vancouver and the San Juan Islands felt like observing a newly discovered civilization while in orbit.
The forecast for our descent was a bit warmer than the day before. Since we anticipated snow conditions to soften our camp was packed, harnesses were racked, splitters assembled and we were strapped in ready to descend off the 10781’ summit by 10 a.m. Embarking down the most reasonable entrance onto the Park, we found enough softened snow on the upper Boulder Glacier to slide a turn, to edge, to maintain control during our onsight of the Watson Traverse. Down the summit cone with ice axes in hand, following along the summit cliffs we slowly slid turns on sun kissed snow south east for 600' until a passage north would grant us access through crumbling volcanic scoria. Along the rock ridge separating the Boulder from the Park, across the first snow bridge, over a concealed crevasse at about 9,900’, the snow varied from sun softened to wind buffed dust to coarser hard packed melt freeze crust. Even though traversing further left would have linked in directly below the dirty right line on the Park Headwall we aligned above our next landmark simply dubbed "the bulge." This next section of ridge divided the glaciers and lead us down a moderate ramp for the next 700’. Next we continued on the south side margin avoiding a series of big holes. Then far above the Park Cliffs and lower ice falls we previously identified snow bridges at 9,200’ that would lead left and take us across the dished out center of the Park Glacier towards our next landmark the blue ice block. Traversing mid glacier, below the headwall, under hanging seracs, across ramps, bridges, and slopes we ended up slightly lower than anticipated. So we boot packed 25 yards above the blue ice block as we were soaked with an overwhelmed feeling of admittance into this colossal landscape.
An alternative in great conditions would be to stop where the Park, Rainbow and Mazama Glaciers intersect and climb over Portal South to Portal West then descend the Sholes glacier for a 1300’ run. This adds a fair amount of ascent but the reward is another great run.
A buzz of activity at the parking lot greeted us. Daniel and I traded our heightened mountain senses for relaxation accompanied by cold Washington ciders and beers. The Watson Traverse took us 2 moderate days covering approximately 17 miles with one of our runs descending nearly 5,200'. This is truly a classic repeatable ski traverse over a legendary Cascade Volcano in one of the best split boarding zones anywhere.
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