This winter, I continually hear about the East Coast and how their snow is stacking up as fast as cars on their freeways. But here in Washington State, it has been thus far, "The winter that wasn’t". There are a few of us who scoff at that statement, though – it has been a winter of premonition, the one we dream of, but can’t achieve without sacrifices. An old pair of gloves burnt on the flaming stake, a lock of hair stolen from your girlfriend's head and used in ritual rites to the Snow God Ullr – anything at all to gain favoritism. It certainly hasn’t been a winter to forget! It has been a winter that dreams are made of.
Don’t get me wrong. Like all faithful brethren, I’m a fan of blower powder sweeping over my knees. I'd do anything for Ullr. But when he sends his love and attention to other regions of the planet, I make the best of what's at my feet. In the Pacific Northwest, that’s ready access to high country and beautiful weather - two traits this frosty time of year generally lacks.
Take a late February trip I took into the Picket Range, long considered one of the most wild and remote sets of mountains anywhere in the lower 48. Who could have imagined when the season began that there’d be an entire week of clear weather without so much as a solitary cloud marring the sky! Not me. My knees still buckle whenever I recall memories of this fantastic journey.
Take another trip a week before the Pickets. There, chalky snow breaks over my knees and each wallowing step lead me higher up Mount Rainier’s Fuhrer Thumb. It was so cold that morning that I could barely stay warm. Every scrap of clothing I had was wrapped around my shivering core; even my sluggish thoughts of warmth eluded me. Then, hours later, I was knee deep in powder at 12,000-ft with no gloves and a tee shirt, shading my eyes from a glaring sun, stoked and dripping with sweat. Below me waited shaded fields of powder full of hoar frost that scattered at my every turn! According to Ullr, I was in heaven descending to Earth.
So great has February weather been, that even my summertime scouting trip of the Three Fingers area east of Everett, Washington proved unnecessary. This year in mid-winter the 17 miles of gravel road was dry to the trailhead! I was aghast. These secluded mountains are normally reserved for spring tours, not for those in the midst of winter. And, yet, as I chased my brother to the summit in the middle of the night, I couldn’t help but wonder if those city lights dancing below weren’t those of some massive spaceship about to lift off. As if to comfort me, fog and cloud soon sheltered them from view and the next day would be full of intermittent snow flurries.
Even though a few malcontents poke fun at the lackluster winter of 2010 here in Washington State, you now know that there are a few who celebrate it. We will look back at this past year with a twinkle in our eyes, so delighted that come next winter, we will pull out all the stops and double the sacrifices. We devotees of winter adhere to the wills and whims of a petulant god. You never know what will appease him. One thing’s for sure, come powder or sun next year – I’ll make fine use of either!