Sometimes I have what I think is a great idea for a blog theme and title. But as soon as I start writing the reality of weaving a random thought into a real-world experience sets in. More often than not I scrap the entire idea and either go with the tried and true, albeit moderately boring diary method, or hit the delete button.

While scrambling Bearscout Peak our group passed this amazing remnant of a broken tree, which left a stump about 15′ high. Piled on top of this tree stump was a bunch of snow – built up like a bunch of sand that had been poured from a bucket. White crayon instantly came to mind. Seeing these miracles of nature is one of the things I love about the backcountry – nature’s art!

The White Crayon – Least used and sharpest in the set

Before diving into writing this blog post, I first did some quick googling of white crayon. Intent on using the title – In Search of the Elusive White Crayon, I quickly discovered the white crayon is actually a thing. I should know that, but hey, it’s been a few decades since I last played with crayons. Anyway, I decided to just go with White Crayon.

A little about the white crayon. It allows one to soften and hide the other colors in the box. For example, a touch of white on black makes for shades of gray, or on red, it turns pink, and so on. The white crayon is the least used and sharpest in the box. But it’s there in support, and at times, invaluable – it aids the progression of color through blending. It gives us bright spots and highlights. Of course, if you’re coloring on white paper, the white crayon is pretty much invisible. Hmm. I also came across the meaning of white crayon in the ‘urban dictionary’ – which states a ‘white crayon’ is referring to a useless person. Yikes! This is not the theme I’m seeking. I found another reference to the white crayon which is the person who makes everyone else shine. They sit back and revel in knowing they made others look good. Is that a sort of passive aggressive way to throw “shade-ing”? With black paper, the white crayon stands out. I also found this blog article about the white crayon. Interesting stuff.

In scrambling, especially winter snow scrambles, it’s definitely a team effort. In a way, each person on the trip is a white crayon in their own right. Not useless, but each one helps the rest shine as a member of a team.

Bearscout Trip Report

The trip was posted by a leader in Mountaineers and it looked like a good one to continue testing the ankle I rolled back in January during avalanche level one training (AIRRE-1). According to the leader it is a good scramble for avoiding risky terrain for all but the final summit push. So with the avalanche risk forecast as considerable above tree line, and moderate near and below, it’s a good fallback. You can follow the Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC) for reports in the Washington Cascades, Olympic Mountains, and Mount Hood.

Getting there

  • 4:30AM – Rise and shine – Even though I’m always packed and ready to go the night before, I need that hour for a cup of coffee, some food, and other morning rituals. 😴
  • 5:40AM – Leave the house – a little late as usual. I like to leave a few minutes to spare. It’s a 90 minute drive to the trailhead.
  • On the road. It’s pouring rain! ☔️ Okay, let’s hope that forecast holds up and it’s only light snow. Once I got over Tiger Mountain the rain subsided.

Trailhead and Group Meeting

I got off I-90 at exit 47 per the instructions. I should have looked at the leader’s email again. I knew the trailhead was on the south side and I thought we were meeting on that side – either in the snow park or parking alongside the road. There are two snow parks, one on each side of the freeway. It just seemed I should go toward the designated starting point on the south side. I parked on the south side in the snow park and met one of the members, Dave, who slept at the trailhead and walked to the meet area back toward the junction just south of the exit.

Dave and I talked for a bit at the trailhead. Quite a few minutes passed. We saw the rest of the group walking across the freeway overpass. As they walked up, Drew, the leader, looks at me and say’s/asks – you’re Ron? For which I respond “yes.” Drew goes on to explain he’s been calling and texting me. Oops. I usually put my phone to airplane mode unless I’m expecting to make or receive a call. Many trailheads lack reception so it’s almost automatic when I arrive. I felt really bad and moderately embarrassed. 🤦‍♂️ Drew was very understanding. We were a group of nine. We took care of introductions and Drew laid out the plan for the day.

We’re off

We had expected to walk a road that was closed to vehicles. However, quite a few had been driving up the road a couple miles. Easier walking than snowshoes or booting a foot of snow, but slippery!

Time for snowshoes! ~ Mile 1.5

More road walking, but at least it’s in fresh snow.

At mile 2.5 we turn south and then around mile 3.5 we leave the road we are on for a less obvious old road bed. Then continue to mile 4.5 (based on garmin track) and then the adventure begins as we leave the trail. And adventure we get!

Leaving the Trail – and the FUN begins!

We each take turns breaking trail, step aside and take up the rear.

At times progress is nearly stalled as we “swim” in snow. This reminded me of Dave Morgan’s Blowdown/Dixie trip back in December, which I discovered I have a partially written blog post. Some photos video clips of that trip here.

As we ascended, we veered a bit too far right, west into the small trees. The image below was taken on our decent. Shortly after leaving the old road bed into the trees, stay left and avoid being sucked into the seemingly easier route. Stay in bigger trees. We really struggled going through the thin and tall evergreen’s well beyond this.

The images below show our track (light blue), and a track from a previous attempt by another scrambler (red). The close up view from onX shows the fine line between big tress and skinnier new growth. We stayed in the bigger tress on the descent.

No good photos from skinny tree area. This one is just before getting back to a better area. We were often plowing thigh deep snow on narrow and deep snow ridges between tress.

We ultimately called the trip at 4,000′ elevation. It was 1:40pm and we’d yet to actually stop for a real break. Although, progress was sometimes so slow that we were effectively getting plenty of break time. We bundled up, ate lunch, hydrated and started down shortly after 2PM.

Just before lunch, while breaking trail, I snapped the lower section of my lightweight hiking pole. It took a bit to find it.

What took us almost 6 hours to ascend, took 3 hours to descend. Some of us carried all traction devices – snowshoes, microspikes and crampons. The only real necessity was snowshoes. For those of us who brought microspikes, they came in handy on the long road walk back. Which was a lot different with the warming weather and melting in the tire tracks. We traveled well together. After getting back to the old road bed, one member took the opportunity to make a snow angel (or rest in disguise of a snow angel!)

My Garmin watch gave me 9 hours 40 minutes total time, between 11 and 12 miles (depending whether choosing to correct the data or not), and just shy of 2,500′ gain. It was a good temperature at the start with about 6″ new on a good base. The winds gusted strong periodically, dropping snow out of the trees. We all bundled up while ascending the ridge. It was cold if not moving. Only occasionally did we have very light snow flurries.

Winter is a time for the white crayon to shine, painting our landscape with fresh snow and the opportunity for wonderful adventures.