Added by Nick Lake
Few places are as remote as the heart of the North Cascades in winter, but for those willing to get creative and work for fresh lines, snowmobiling to, and then skiing Washington Pass basically guarantees first tracks all day in some of the most epic mountains in the Pacific Northwest.
Because the North Cascades highway usually closes from November to May due to heavy snow and huge slides that bury the road, few people expend the energy to get there, meaning it's one of the only places where fresh tracks are almost guaranteed through the winter and early spring.
To start, you'll need to snowmobile in to the pass. Approach either from the West where the road closes near Ross Lake and snowmobile about 30 miles to the pass, or begin from the east near Early Winters Campground and snowmobile ten miles in. From there, strap on the skins and start making your way up the flanks of the Liberty Bell Group on the south side of the road, or towards Cutthroat Pass on the north. Once in the pass, the world is your winter playground. Head down the road into Rainy Pass and tour up to Maple Pass, completing the loop through the forest, or skin up any peak you desire and bomb back down.
Be sure to bring plenty of food and water as well as emergency supplies and avalanche safety gear as the incredibly steep slopes in this area are VERY prone to slides, even in the best of conditions. Since you're snowmobiling in, consider bringing camping equipment and set up anywhere off trails, roads, and away from water sources on snow to make it a multi-day trip.
On your way home, if you're returning west to you car, stop at The Train Wreck in Burlington for brews and burgers (including fantastic Gluten-Free options) or, if you're going east, stop in Winthrop at the Old Schoolhouse Brewery for a pint of their Imperial IPA, one of the best in the northwest.
Author's note: Washington Pass closes in the winter for a reason: major avalanche danger. The mountains are very steep, the snow very unstable, and services, including emergency help, basically non-existent. If you're going to venture into this area, be very well versed in avalanche safety, research the terrain and know where the most slide-prone areas are, carry shovels, beacons, probes, airbags, and first-aid supplies, and check the NWAC forecast before considering a trip here. One of the safest, and therefore most enjoyable, ways to experience the Pass is through a guide company. Consider North Cascades Mountain Guides out of Mazama.
- Alpine Touring Ski Setup
- Ten Essentials
- Avalanche Beacon
- Avalanche Probe
- Winter Camping Gear
- Camera and Tripod
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