The Chiwaukums are a small range in the Central Cascades that run South from US Hwy 2 about 18 miles to connect with the upper portions of Icicle Creek Canyon. This is the beautiful and remote mountain range seen to the East of Stevens Pass Ski area. In January of 2006 John Race and NMS guide Ben Mitchell traversed the Chiwaukums from Chatter Creek in Icicle Canyon to the White Pine drainage and then out to Cascade Meadows along US highway 2. While many people had ventured deep into the Chiwaukums in winter, we could find no evidence that anyone had made the crossing on skis during winter months. What we found during our traverse was a high, beautiful mountain range worthy of an extended ski adventure.
Unlike most NMS ski programs, this requires participants to carry some camping gear as there are no mountain huts in the Chiwaukums, which are partially located in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. You need to be a proficient backcountry skier to participate in an Chiwaukums Ski Traverse, and this would be excellent training for programs such as the Forbidden Tour or the Spearhead Traverse, both which might be a touch easier than this trip.
Due to the requirement that we have decent stability for this tour, we do not currently offer a set-date program for the traverse, but rather organize custom tours where we have the ability to adjust our departure date as needed to find the right window that balance the current weather forecast and snowpack requirements.
Note: This tour skis better if you reverse what is listed below and ski from South (Icicle Road) to North (Cascade Meadows). It is, however, a bit easier to access from the North, so we leave the direction of travel up to the guide and the group for each trip. With good North facing stability and the right south facing snow surface it skis well North to South, but there are advantages to running this South to North, not limited to an easier pickup at the end.
Chiwaukums Traverse Day 1: Cascade Meadows to 6400' Camp
We start near the Cascade Meadows Church Camp and climb one of our favorite local objectives, the Swauth." Basically just a 4000' avalanche chute, the Swauth provides the a majestic entry into the Chiwaukums and allows us to quickly climb above tree line using a combination of logging roads and the slide path itself. Once atop the Swauth (6602') we head to the Southwest and our first camp at around 6400' just above Loch Eileen and Lake Donald, two of the Scottish Lakes on the East side of the Chiwaukums. Skiers will have the option of resting for the afternoon at camp or taking an extra lap in either White Pine Cirque or the upper 1800' of the Swauth, both excellent ski runs.
Chiwaukums Traverse Day 2: 6400' Camp to Big Chiwaukum
There are a variety of ways we can run this day, each depending on the group's goals and the current snow conditions. Directly above camp, easy slopes lead to the wide Col between peaks 7132' and 7423' for a moderate 1700' descent, or we can take a more aggressive line, tackling a ski mountaineering objective and the summit of Peak 7423' before skiing the steeper slopes to the NE. Once on the West side of the Chiwaukums Range, we make our way south and get into position for the major objective of the trip, the climb and ski of Big Chiwaukum (8081'), the highest peak in the Chiwaukum Range. This night is generally spent at Lake Grace (6242') to the South of Big Chiwaukum.
Chiwaukums Traverse Day 3: Big Chiwaukum to Lake Edna (6760')
If we were able to ski Big Chiwaukum on Day 2, then this day provides a leisurely trip through somewhat more relaxed terrain enroute to Lake Edna, our final camp. Along the way we have the opportunity to ski some of the 3000 foot runs that drop into the South Fork of Chiwaukum Creek, or to tackle more modest objectives such as Cape Horn (7316). It is possible that we can climb Snowgrass Mountain (7993') the second highest peak in the Chiwaukum Range and ski the huge slopes that make up its East Flank. If we use this day to climb Big Chiwaukum, then the day is a bit busier and we have less time to wander enroute to camp.
Chiwaukums Traverse Day 4: Exit to Icicle Creek
There are several ways to get out of the Chiwaukums, we have been using Chatter Creek and skiing the beautiful basin under Grindstone Mountain. Once down to the floor of Icicle Valley we will have friends pick us up by snowmobile for the 5-mile trip along closed Icicle Road to the Bridge Creek Parking area and the end of our Chiwaukums Ski Traverse. If we play our cards right, we can drive less than a mile and stick our heads into Rob Newsom's Boudreaux Winery for a taste of one of his award winning wines before retiring to Leavenworth for a hot shower and a much deserved dinner.
- Able to ski fall line in most snow conditions (powder to wind affected snow).
- Able to make parallel or stem-christie turns on 35° groomed or firm snow.
- Able to side-slip on firm slopes up to 35°.
- Able to ski moguls in soft snow.
- Able to do kick turns facing in or facing out on 30° slopes.
- Able to skate on level terrain.
- Able to ski fall-line in tight radius turns in good conditions.
- Able to ski black diamond runs at ski areas efficiently and in most snow conditions.