Howling winds, cold air and heavy rains in Bellingham is a sure sign of winter’s approach. Some students trade in their tennis shoes for boots and others begin to crank up thweir thermostats. However, for some these changes indicate nothing more than a need to head to the mountains and explore a true winter wonderland: the North Cascades.
For Western students Jasper Gibson, Andrew Eckels and Patrick Longley, the first sign of snow on Mount Baker was their calling. Without hesitation they dug up their winter gear from months ago, tuned their skis and then drove west to the Mount Baker.
“We left Bellingham at 6:15 a.m. and drove as close as we could to Hadley Glacier,” Gibson said.
In route, the crew joined up with Bellingham local Tim Black, and Mount Baker ski-bum legend, “Woods.” Now complete, the group drove up the Mount Baker Highway. Turning off towards Hadley Glacier, they rallied uphill over the snow-covered road for as long as they could manage. Once they could drive no further, the team geared up for the adventure ahead.
“We hiked for about four miles into the glacier with all of our gear on our backs. From there, two of the guys I was with skinned up the face and three of us boot packed our way up,” Gibson said.
Once at the top of the glacier, they each stepped into their bindings and let gravity take over.
“We got in two laps. We didn’t even touch the glacier at all; it was all fresh powder. It was a sick first day of skiing,” Gibson said with a smile on his face.
For Gibson, this was only his second time on a backcountry skiing trip. With his new skiing set up he knew he had to take advantage of this opportunity.
“I knew Eckels and Patrick did some gnarly backcountry stuff. I just wanted to go out with them, get my toes wet,” Gibson said. “They were a little bit better in shape, but I kept up with them okay.”
For Gibson who grew up in Northern Idaho, being outside and in the mountains is what he knows best.
“I do a bunch of backpacking and biking and I just started getting into fly fishing this summer. Hopefully I’ll start kayaking here soon as well,” he said. “Just being outdoors grounds me, I guess. It keeps me centered, makes all my problems go away,” he said.
Anyone who has ever skied with Woods before knows they won’t go home without a new story and fresh outlook on life.
“Woods was a pretty influential character,” Gibson said. “He had a lot of good philosophies about life.”
“Woods has been living in Glacier, Wash. for a long time. I’ve been lucky enough to ski with him a few times,” Eckels said. “He was telling us about how back in the day he decided that if he was going to be a ski-bum he was going to be the best damn ski-bum out there. He told us how he lived for a few years with only 53 cents in his pocket, but still managed to ski 200 plus days each season.”