Frisco Mountain Solstice Skiing
They are intrigued about spending the summer solstice circumnavigating Mt. Baker on skis. In concept, I’m with them but the drive is ugly long and the forecast for that great white molehill is ugly wet. “What about skiing Frisco Mountain?” I suggest. I know Frisco will provide adequate snow for solstice skiing, the drive will be beautifully short, and the forecast, while not exactly resplendent,
is beautifully better than Baker’s. They agree beautiful is better than ugly and to Frisco we go.I’m not exactly favored company when a light rain and thin cloud cover grace Rainy Pass at 6:00 a.m. as we launch, but the sky is lightening to the West and hope springs eternal as we ski away from the car on a carpet that is more pine needles than snow. The snowpack grows and the clouds thin as we climb, and even though we must carry skis across a south-facing slope near Heather Pass, we find ourselves to be happy summer skiers.
We ski on to Maple Pass entirely on snow, carve turns down Maple Creek, and then traverse and climb toward a notch in the southwest ridge of Frisco. Again, skis are carried for a few minutes where the summer sun has overpowered the winter snow, but walking through fields of glacier lilies is beautiful consolation for shouldering skis.
By late morning we have skied to the rock pyramid capping Frisco Mountain. We enjoy lunch at snow’s end and debate whether we should brave the exposed third-class scrambling ahead in ski boots. We decide to give the scramble a look and, after the heart palpation of edging along trashy rock in clunky boots, find ourselves on top.
On the return to Rainy Pass we look for route options that completely avoid shouldering the skis. We are, after all, skiers. We climb over a notch in the North Ridge of Frisco and enjoy a dreamy run down the vanilla slopes paralleling the Lyall Glacier.
The skeptic amongst us thinks we’re about to get sucker punched with the need to hike skis up to the divide between Lake Ann and Rainy Lake. The map, however, indicates we’ll find an east-facing ramp upward that the optimists among us believe will be snow-covered. The optimists are right. We climb on skinned skis back to the scenic divide where our heads spin on swiveled necks taking in the craggy sentinels of the area.
The sky is blue now and Black and Corteo peaks, in particular, rise above us flexing their muscular profiles. We can see that the white blanket covering all of this, like an elder’s hair, is thinning, but there are still enough ski lines out there to keep us busy for several more days.
It’s a moment when the benefits of solstice skiing are blatantly obvious. The summer sun is warm and one of my ski companions stands beside me in a T-shirt. Our packs are smaller and decidedly lighter because we carry fewer layers of clothing and the avalanche rescue tools that are standard equipment for winter tours are unnecessary on slopes of moderate angle given the consolidated snow conditions. And, of course, there are the nearly endless hours of daylight available to complete long tours.
From our divide we decide to ski the steep north-facing slopes dropping directly into Lake Ann. We know the line will go if we hit it right but it’s easy to get cliffed-out as well. “What time is it?” one of my companions asks.
“3:30,” we tell him.
“Not a big deal if the route doesn’t go,” he replies. “If we get skunked, we still have six hours to climb out and find a mellower way down.”
I take a last look over the cirque confining Lake Ann and can’t find a single ski track indicating others have visited this easily accessed area over the past few days. It’s one of those imponderables: The benefits of solstice skiing may be large, but the crowd enjoying it is not.
Details, Details: Skiing Rainy Pass (South)
(Heather Pass, Maple Pass, Frisco Peak and Black Peak)
Skill: 2 (intermediate) to 3 (advanced) depending on the objective chosen.
Fitness: 2 (intermediate) to 3 (advanced) depending on the objective chosen.
Access. From Winthrop, drive State Highway 20 about 36 miles west to Rainy Pass (Milepost 157.5) and park in one of the pullouts on either side of the highway. A Northwest Forest Pass is required during hiking season once the main parking areas are snow-free.
Map: Use this topo map for Frisco Mountain. This map covers Black Peak and Last Chance Pass.
GPS: A GPX file with the waypoints noted on these maps can be downloaded to smartphones or GPS units from this thread at the WenatcheeOutdoorsForum.
- From Rainy Pass follow a southwesterly bearing (229 degrees) to the stream flowing out of Lake Ann (waypoint a1) and then a bearing of 258 degrees to Lake Ann.
- Before Lake Ann melts out or becomes too slushy to cross safely, cross to the far (west) end of the lake (a2) and then climb steep slopes to Heather Pass (hp). If the lake is not safe to cross, climb due north from the east end of the lake up to the 5800-foot level where you’ll intersect the trail that traverses west to Heather Pass. Follow the trail. Heather Pass is a nice place to camp if spending a few days in the area. From the pass you can ski Frisco Mountain, Black Peak, or peaks around Last Chance Pass.
- Frisco Mountain. From Heather Pass, climb in a southwesterly direction to Maple Pass (mp), follow the Maple Creek drainage downward in a southwesterly and then a southerly direction to 5,700-feet, and then then start traversing south without losing much elevation. Next, climb to the pass at 7,150 feet (f3) forming the gap in the southwest ridge of Frisco Mountain, and climb in a northeasterly direction toward the summit. The final three hundred vertical feet are rocky and require some third-class scrambling. Consider returning to Rainy Pass by passing through the notch (fa) in the north ridge of the mountain and skiing down toward Rainy Lake following a bearing of 70 degrees. At the elevation of 5900 feet, follow a northeasterly bearing upward to the divide between Rainy Lake and Lake Ann (mp3). From here, you can ski north and slightly east down steep, treed slopes leading to the east end of Lake Ann or drop a few hundred vertical feet and then make a climbing traverse heading west to northwest back to Maple Pass (mp).
- Black Peak. From Heather Pass (hp), traverse downhill in a westerly direction to Lewis Lake (L). Contour around the lake to its northwest side and then follow a bearing of 284 degrees to Wing Lake (wl). From the northwest end of Wing Lake follow a bearing of 267 degrees up to the pass in the south ridge (b1) of Black Peak. Staying slightly to climber’s left of the ridge, work up steep slopes to the rocky cap of the peak (b2). The last four to five hundred feet of the ascent require some third or fourth class climbing, depending on whether you find the easiest line.
- Last Chance Pass Peaks. From Maple Pass (mp), ski southwest and then west down to the 5,000-foot level (lp) of Maple Creek (the trees in the main draw start to thicken at about the 5,700-foot level). Now climb on a bearing of 288 degrees to the pass (lp2). The 7,200-foot summit immediately north of the pass gives a spectacular view. The 7,700 foot peak just south of the pass makes a worthy destination as well and can be reached by contouring onto its east ridge at the 7,100 foot level. Next, use a combination of the ridge and easier slopes to either side of the ridge to zig-zag up to the summit.
Reporter (and date). First posted 6/27/2014 by Andy Dappen.
More Ski Tours. See the Skiing-Backcountry guidebook for more ski trip options around Okanogan county.
Leave It Better than You Found It. This should be every user’s goal. Do no damage and pick up trash left by others.
Disclaimer. Treat this information as recommendations, not gospel. Conditions change and those contributing these reports are volunteers–they may make mistakes or not know all the issues affecting a route. You are responsible for yourself, your actions, and your safety. If you won’t accept that responsibility, you are prohibited from using our information.