Photo: On Lake Valhalla
Words and Photos by Drew Gaylord
Chester Marler recently suggested that Cathy and I join him on a ski tour to Lake Valhalla and then up Mount McCausland. He said it was a fun tour -- not too long – that offered some good turning.
We parked across from Yodelin, skied down along the cabins on the north side of the highway, put on the skins by the mouth of the old Cascade tunnel, and followed the road to the last house. Here we cut into the woods where we encountered the hardest part of the trip -- trying to avoid trees and trees wells.
Before long we broke out into open slopes and had a very pleasant climb to Lake Valhalla. The snow was firm (we started early) and after a break at the edge of the lake, we skied across the lake (how cool is that?) toward a steep shoulder we’d climb to reach a bench on McCausland.
This looked like it was going to be very difficult, but Chester expertly picked a great route up that wasn't too steep and didn't require too many of those difficult uphill kick turns - when will we master these? There were several spots that seemed exposed, but we're learning to trust our edges and skins.
After reaching the bench, the climb to the summit was easy. The views on top were amazing – between the bookends of Stuart and Baker were a hundred jagged peaks.
Chester had timed things so that the snow on the descent had softened just enough to be fun. Cathy and I had never done a ski ascent of a named peak, so this was pretty exciting. And for our first ski descent, even though the slopes weren't any harder than anything we do off-piste at Mission, seeing the lake and trees far below added to the "pucker" factor. But after a few turns we fell into a more relaxed rhythm and loved it all.
Once across the lake, the skiing was even more fun. There were trees, snow-covered boulders, dips, and all kinds of obstacle to ski in and around. The snow was ideal at this point, soft but not sloppy.
As newcomers to backcountry skiing, Cathy and I weren’t sure exactly how much we would enjoy the Alpine Touring (AT) gear and experience. Interestingly, we have skied on this gear more often than we’ve skied downhill at Mission this year – so I guess that tells us something. We have always loved climbing, hiking, and being in the mountains. AT skiing adds to the amount of time that we can be in the mountains.
Before getting into this, we had wondered if all the climbing for just one run would be worth it. We got an answer of sorts: the run we had Saturday was far better than a whole day of lift skiing.
Details, Details: McCausland via Valhalla
Difficulty:2 (intermediate). Fitness: 2 (intermediate).
Access: Drive Highway 2 toward Stevens Pass. A few miles east of Stevens Pass (at milepost 66.25) park on the north side of the highway along Yodelin Place South ( a small road where residents of the local cabins park).
This map is used to describe what WenatcheeOutdoors has pegged as the Dementia Tour that goes from Stevens Pass to the Smithbrook Road. It accesses Lake Valhalla in a different way but climbs McCausland in the same way.
The way we reached Lake Valhalla took us up Nason Creek and then up south-facing slopes that lead to the south end of the lake. McCausland is not named on the map but is the main peak (elevation 5,747') rising above the north end of the lake.
A small part of the view from McCausland.