Mount Kent-SE Slope (Ski Descent)

It looked like it was going to be another typical winter day, but it was Wednesday and I was off. The forecast was for mostly cloudy skies and avalanche conditions were moderate. That sounded like a recipe for Mt. Kent to me. I had been wanting to get back on a sunny day, but I would have to settle for mostly cloudy, or so I was led to believe. I left home later than planned and it was 10 AM when I parked my car on Tinkham Road (I-90, Exit 42). The road was barricaded by a large pile of snow just beyond the state maintenance facility so a lower than expected start had to be made. After a brief conversation with three US Forest Service surveyors (one telling me I was f###ing crazy), I began the trudge up the road to the McClellan Butte Trailhead and continued up the trail. About a mile and a half from my car I reached FSR 9020 which I followed a short distance to the Alice Creek crossing. I was on skis by now, following the slopes just west of Alice Creek. The weather was much better than forecast and soon I found myself negotiating avalanche debris below the North Face of Mt. Kent. Thanks to a good snow pack, the approach had been much better than my two previous excursions to this area  last spring.

The North Face of Mount Kent

 I stopped to check out the line climbed by Phil Fortier and Dave Burdick (the left branch of the gully left of center) and "Dawn Couloir" (not visible in the photo above) that Michael Stanton and Peter Chapman had taken to the false summit. Mt Kent seemed to be getting popular for no other reason than it was not already popular. I had no intention of  climbing anything on the north face. My objective was to climb to the summit via Eric's Couloir then ski the SE slope. I began the ascending traverse toward the east side and noticed snowshoe tracks on the East side of Alice Creek. They followed a logging spur to its end before disappearing  into the Alice Creek drainage. As I made my way toward the bottom of Eric's Couloir, I was surprised to find the snowshoe tracks coming up from the drainage and heading to the bottom of the couloir.  The tracks vanished in the debris field, but I couldn't help but wonder who had made them and if they had continued up.

At the bottom of the couloir, I found that it had not slid after the last snowfall. There was only two inches of fresh snow at 3600 ft, but the sun was shining higher up and a near continuous trickle of snow, ice chunks and tree parts ran down the gully. Having a background in math, I was able to quickly calculate 1000ft x 50ft x 2in was a lot of snow that I didn't want to have anything to do with if the sun turned the upper gully  into a slurpie. I decided to continue traversing around the east side and make an ascent on or near the slope I was planning to descend. The going was a bit steep and icy under the trees and I soon gave up trying to skin up. A combination of telemark boot step kicking and post holing soon brought me to a rocky buttress that I recognized. I skirted around it on the left and gained the summit ridge near the top of the couloir. A few hundred feet later I was working on my sunburn and taking in the views from the summit.

Self portrait form the summit with a distant Glacier Peak on the right


McClellan Butte with Baker and Shuksan in the distance

The view to the north was great. To the East the summits of Snoqualmie pass stood out, but try as they might they could not keep me from gazing to Mt. Stuart.  To the south Mt Rainier stood cloud free but visibility didn't allow a view Mt. Adams. Damn, I was planning a recon to that area for today recon points for me.

The snow near the summit consisted of a 6 inch slab that was well bonded to a crust. The SE aspect has some nice open 30 to 35 degree slopes mixed with large patches of trees. My plan was to descend to 3200 feet then traverse under Eric's couloir and back around to the North Face. As I began my descent I made a couple of ski cuts across a shallow gully just below the summit. Satisfied, I skied down about a thousand feet where the sun was shining and the snow became slushy. I kicked off a small sluff and ski cutting resumed.  Five hundred feet lower, I was in the shade and an annoying melt/freeze crust tested my skiing ability (I failed for the most part). An wide opening led toward the east side of the mountain and I reached my target with no difficulties.  

The bottom of Eric's Couloir (steeper than it looks)

 A quick descent below the N. Face led to an easy exit back to the road. This is my first ski trip report and one of my first backcountry ski trips (I've promised not to reveal the locations of my previous backcountry trips to some pretty nice powder stashes). Expect more trips reports of this nature in the future.