Last year’s ski season started with an unusually early storm. I’d been talking to my
friend Allen only a few days earlier about skiing during a full moon and, as luck would have it, the moon was going to be full on the evening following the storm.
The full moon also coincided with the clearest break in the weather for the next week, so we had to hatch a plan quickly. Because only a few inches of snow were forecasted to fall, we had to find a spot where there was still some snow from the previous season. Almost without thinking, we decided to head up to Heliotrope Ridge after I got off work, hike up the several miles of trail, ski a run or two by moonlight to ring in the new ski season, and then make it back to Bellingham and sleep a few hours before we had to be at work the next day.
Allen picked me up at 9:30 p.m., an odd hour to start a ski trip, and we made our way toward Mt. Baker under dark skies. We were seriously questioning our judgment as we drove up the Mt. Baker Highway. There was no sign of the moon, stars or even the mountain – a thick blanket of clouds seemed to be conspiring to ruin our night.
We parked at the Heliotrope parking lot as the skies began to clear. While success was far from assured, things were looking better. As we hiked up the trail, skis on our backs and dirt under our feet, the fatigue of the day and the suspect nature of our plan began to sink in. What were we doing here? Was there any possible way that this could be worth missing an entire night’s sleep? We plodded along, focusing only on the spot that our headlamps illuminated. As we climbed, the air started getting colder and before long we began to see evidence of recent snowfall. It wasn’t enough to ski, but enough to encourage us to keep hiking.
Around 1 a.m. we reached the tree line under totally clear skies. The moon bathed the entire mountain in a surreal light. Half of our plan had worked out. Now we just needed to find snow deep enough to ski, so we continued upward. Before long we were encountering discontinuous patches of old snow covered with several inches of fresh powder. A few hundred feet higher and we were finally on the toe of the glacier, and the largest, smoothest patch of skiable snow we could find.
By 2 a.m., we were starting to get tired and our enthusiasm was waning, so when we encountered our first crevasse, we turned around and skied down. Everything with snow on itseemed to glow under the light, while the snow-free valleys swallowed up the moonlight, creating islands of white in a sea of blackness.
We took a few photos, and made some slow turns down our thousand-foot run. The snow was better than we’d hoped for, half a foot or so of light, fresh snow over the solid base from the year before. In addition to being the first turns of a new season, we were forced to accept that these might be the best turns of the entire year. Skiing the first fresh powder of the season by moonlight, on a glacier, high on Mt. Baker in the middle of the night was an experience I’ll never forget, though the drive home is something I’d like to. Struggling to stay awake, we clipped a deer and almost drove off the road. We got back to Bellingham well after sunrise and were only able to nab a few hours of sleep before heading back to work for another shift.X