This is a two-fold, interwoven exposé of a wild idea to find alpenglow on a ski tour. It is kind of the best of both worlds, ski touring and an engagement photoshoot session. A combination of epic mountains, wilderness, solitude, and joy. I had first met Preeta through a mutual friend and we started trail running together.During the runs, we’ve talked about wanting to tour together this winter, but somehow we could never coordinate it. And so despite not having ever toured together, Preeta contacted me about doing an engagement ski tour. I was so stoked, until I remembered the time I bonked hard when I tried to do a sunrise ski tour at Big Jim. But this time, I was prepared and learned from all the things that went wrong at Big Jim. And now this was a few months in the making since Preeta and David got engaged in the fall and we wanted to plan around weather (something I wouldn’t typically do for clients).
Finally a perfect weekend weather window came for us to try this out! We had many mountains in contention, including Ruby, which I had recently done. It would have been amazing to go back to Ruby, but I knew we’d have to start much earlier and the views would be more obscured by trees for the same distance and gain you would for Green Mountain. Thankfully we took the truck which helped through passing some of the down branches and slightly rough road. You can take a 2wd in the summer, but winter is a different beast. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the Suiattle Road is since I was last on it. It’s no longer a washboard!
beat the sun part 1: alpenglow expedition
Based on our individual mountain trips recently, weather forecasts, and other trip reports of nearby areas, we gaged that snow line would start around 2500 ft. We drove the truck a decent way, about 2 miles up the Green Mountain Road until 2300 ft when we hit an impedance. There was a somewhat land/snow slide (later determined to be avalanche debris). It’s a good wake up call that snow can carry further than the snow line. We parked the car and gather or things to get going, knowing that we had a set back from being parked further than expected. At least we could enjoy the crystal clear skies and the stars! The whole time on the road, Preeta and I would stare out the windows star gazing.
Hiking at 2:30am without much sleep prior is always difficult. I was thankful I didn’t have to drive, but honestly I think that driving straight to hike is the way to go for a sunrise adventure since waking up and getting your body moving is hard enough when you’re breaking your sleep cycle. It was kind of a cruiser slog up to the trailhead, if that even is a thing. Cruiser because road skinning is straightforward. But slog because the snow started getting deep and I let Preeta and David take turns breaking trail. And also slog because 4 miles of road can get to you. And our only slight difficulties were navigating over the snow block and around a couple of downed trees. 2 hours later, we found ourselves at the trailhead, just as we began to see the silhouette of the neighboring mountains.
We followed the summer trail part way, which can get difficult to follow without GPS. And soon instead of sidehilling and traversing the steep slopes, we decided to go straight up the ridge where the trail would meet up eventually. This way, we were protected in the trees, away from the steeper slopes. Another hour and the sky started to light up.
“The sky’s awake, so I’m awake!” – Anna from Frozen
It’s so true for me, I source much of my energy and motivation to how bright the sky is. So when the sky brightened, the slog felt so much lighter, I got excited, I could finally start taking some decent pictures even if the ISO was super high. I took the rear again so I could get more pictures. I think ideally, I’d get photos from in front, but I am not speedy enough to do that yet! Plus, we were on a mission to beat the sun. Morning alpenglow happens right before sunrise, so we hustled as best we could further on the ridge where it was nice and open (a couple hundred feet above the true trail).
Turning around, we were completely amazed, jaws dropped at the views we were presented with. We soaked in the mountains, the glory of it all. And I quickly ran around like a clumsy maniac trying to get photos from all angles – definitely a different experience than I’ve had before! The alpenglow came and went just as quickly and soon it was daylight. Still beautiful, but the colorful hues had dissipated into a bright blue sky. Determined to reach the summit of Green Mountain, we marched forth. Preeta and David had brought a change of clothes for a fancier setting and we thought top of Green would be appropriate.
beat the sun part 2: wet loose avalanche
We started traversing along the contour line (maintaining constant elevation) all the way towards the saddle of Green Mountain. It was surely less effort in terms of uphill, but quite slow going. Breaking trail on fairly flat was at least not so bad. We started to walk under some steeper terrain and slowly rollerballs started forming as we traversed. A little adventure through the trees of the ridge line and we made it out to the open again. Reassessing our situation, we decided it would take probably another hour and a half to go 1000 ft to the summit, over some very wind-effected snow. You could see the waves on the open slopes that were created by wind over the couple days and even though it was in the shade, it’d soon be under the hot sun. Getting a little nervous about the conditions, we decided to play it conservative and safe and descend, much to our dismay of not bagging that peak. But safety first always! We couldn’t beat the sun to the top of Green, but at least we could escape the side effects of the direct sunlight on snow.
After a few more pictures, we skied down to the basin and then skinned up and over the ridge back to our skin tracks. David had broken trail most of the morning so I took my turn here, and it was pretty difficult! It really made me appreciate all the other times my friends have broken trail for me, even if they were more fit. It’s not the easiest but a great workout for sure. Little by little, we reached our skin track and it was glorious to be back where the rest of the way would hopefully be skiing!
Unfortunately the sun had already warmed up the snow so much it started to get heavy. I was a bit excited on the uphill with how light the snow was. But nonetheless, it was good enough snow for me to enjoy making turns as I got a few more shots of Preeta and David carving lines in the snow.
beat the sun part 3: escape the heat
This unusual April sun (not to complain) was very warm. The morning started below freezing but by mid morning, I thought it must have been 70 F in the sun! Skiing down, we made it back to the trees where it was much cooler. Surprisingly, we found a way down that avoided most of our skin track, making it easier to to ski between the trees instead of a wild ride down a steep, almost-luge track. Back at the trailhead, we debated putting on skins since the walk up felt so flat. We were determined to try skiing it and it was a great choice. Breezy wind on my face, we casually zoomed down the forest road, only having to shuffle along a couple short sections. I think our tracks made it much easier to ski down with it slick already.
In all honestly, the road ski was somehow one of the highlights to the day! Maybe its a side effect of being a fairly novice backcountry skier or maybe simple pleasures are just a wondrous thing. Back at the car, we took our time to decompress from the long morning. Indeed we accomplished our mission of finding alpenglow with open views. I knew it wouldn’t be easy and possibly improbable that we’d reach the summit in 4 hours (it was 8 miles and just under 4000 feet of gain) while skinning. But having been to Green in dry conditions, I knew that the views would open up and I was so happy we found it at the exact right time!
On the way home, we even stopped to get some more photos with White Horse in the background. It was a lovely way to end the day. And even though we were all a little wrecked from the early morning, I so loved Preeta and David’s cute smiles. It was just the best reminder that even through the rough things in life (i.e. hiking at 2:30am), having someone you love there makes life just so much more pleasant and happier. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to capturing love – it doesn’t matter where you are, if that person makes you smile regardless, that’s a pretty amazing thing!
Thank you Preeta and David for letting me join this adventure!
Green Mountain Road is drivable about 2 miles from the Suiattle, currently best with 4WD/high clearance.
We started skinning at 2400 ft but consistent snow didn’t start till 2600 ft
Turned around because of wind loaded west face of Green and fast warming snow, despite starting so early
The whole trip we were the only ones out there! Pretty cool to have the mountain to yourself