Ski tour departing Hood River Meadows mid-late morning via Elk Meadows Trail. Planned to explore potential of safe and feasible deep snow climb up from Newton drainage to Elk Meadows/Mtn, but aborted that effort due to risk/reward calculus of crossing the creek (twice) in deep, fresh snow with ongoing weather forecast and no emergency haul-out system (ie rope) often employed by MHM.
Next broke trail up to existing Pea Gravel Ridge skin track. Enroute to 5850’ observed localized cracking, but none shooting further out from skis. Also observed possible snow slide activity qualifying as an avy below rock outcrop, but only once and unsure so also stated No to observed avy (terrible visibility esp higher up, never saw upper mountain).
Deep snow all day was deepest on the east facing descent into Newton. Possible minor dry loose sluffs, but no other concerning indicators. That said, we were careful to stay in the trees and minimize open exposure.
Drainage exit to Elk Meadows Trail was a cautionary tale (and confirmation of NWAC’s special note about tree wells). After noting DEEP openings into the creek bed (some with associated trees, others not), I trended higher right w skins while partner preferred drainage proper w scales. Ensured we stayed within vis/comms distance. In response to a whoop call out, I heard a yell. Investigated and saw tracks higher up, but not lower and a slightly moving “small” tree(top) in between. Found partner in a DEEP tree well. Partner was upright and uninjured. With uncertainty about how much around the hole the drainage bed/treewell collapsing “snow bridge” extended, no rope, no cell service, no 3rd person to go for help (if it came to that) and my Spot device problematic if triggered wo a clear view of the sky, I provided what assistance I could (mainly gear clearing and attempts to keep situation calm/give ideas by reminding him he was uninjured and I would get us help before dark if it came to that) while partner (who’s top of head was 2-3’ below surface, but whose feet he later estimated were suspended 10’ above the creek bed/ground) calmly and carefully removed skis and backpack, cleared them and his poles to me, deployed his shovel and dug/pulled himself out.
If exploring drainages or treed areas (or anywhere in snow deep a/o light enough to make getting back on top difficult…scariest moment for me was when I almost lost balance with partner not currently in sight), have one (or better yet 2+) partners, keep at least one in communication/viewing range and - ideally - carry some sort of haul system.
All that said, enjoy this last phenomenal kick of winter!
Note: Trying to add pictures but looks like there is some glitch below going on w some message about a “fallback form” for uploading files. Tried clicking and it went to a code script so clicked back to not lose above text. Will submit this now to not lose it and try another submission for the photos