Weather

7-Day Forecast for Scenic Hot Springs Area (2,900 ft near beginning of Trail Head)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Scenic, Snow, and the Safety of Your Visit

UPDATE:  Highway 2 and Stevens Pass will be closed Tuesday night through Wednesday at MP 58 through MP 65.5 for avalanche control.
  

With the unfortunate deaths of three skiers on Cowboy Mountain (Stevens Pass) and a snowboarder at Alpental this past Sunday, I feel the need to caution while also reassuring permitted visitors to Scenic Hot Springs.  "Avalanche" is an emotional word and I hate to use it in conjunction with the situation on adjoining slopes like Scenic.  "Snow-slides" carry less a threatening tone, which I'd like to impart.

What occurred on the Tunnel Creek side of Cowboy Mountain was destined to happen at some point.  The recent heavy snowfalls, the yo-yo of warming and cooling trends creating unstable snow surfaces, and the sheer steepness of that slope was a recipe for a major slide.  The West Slopes of the Cascades in this area are known for disastrous avalanches . . . i.e., the 1910 Wellington avalanche that took out several trains and 96 souls. Those slides occurred on the other side of the valley some distance away . . . and they displayed the telltale signs for avalanche conditions.  However, not all slopes are as prone to these sorts of natural disasters.

What is the difference that makes me feel comfortable about Scenic?  Over the years of working with the owner, I have hiked just about every square inch of that slope . . . all the way to the alpine lake at the top, staking property lines and performing topographical surveys. That has made me confident that there are very few places where snow can accumulate over a large enough open area to present a slide hazard.  None of those areas is above the route to the springs. Lower elevation, thick forest cover and a lack of historical or physical evidence of slides on the property, combined, would class the Scenic slopes as not avalanche-prone.

The peak above Scenic (the portion that is capable of holding snow in threat above the hot springs), is only at 4,500 feet . . . whereas the surrounding peaks that have become notorious for avalanches all approach 6,000 feet with contiguous and unbroken slope from the peaks.  The Scenic slope does not go above an alpine treeline onto open, treeless slopes that could accumulate massive amounts of snow to cling tenaciously until a thawing event or some other trigger sets it loose to slide down the mountainside.  That reservoir of unbroken snow-pack is just not there.

Just as importantly, (with the exceptions of the BPA clearcut easement and associated access roads lower down on the property) the Scenic slopes are densely covered by mature old-growth and sixty-year old second-growth evergreens.  These mature and well-rooted trees do not show any evidence of past slides that would be prevalent upon looking at aerial images of the slopes.  In contrast, the barren area of the Wellington slide of 100 years ago is still visible on that mountainside when viewed from miles away at Scenic.  Mature trees simply will not have a chance for much growth in such a slide-prone area.

The site of the Tunnel Creek Avalanche.  Seventh Heaven access
is to the top of the image.

The avalanche chutes from the Wellington disaster.

A lack of avalanche-prone chutes on the Scenic slope.


Scenic is also on the north flank of the mountainside.  The warming from daytime sun that triggers slides in more prone areas, is not present.  The north flank is also on the windward side of the mountain, leaving the larger accumulations of snow on the far, southern side of the mountain (the lee side) out of harms way.


The BPA clear-cut.  The access road is above to the right side
of the towers, well above open snow.

Two-thirds of the route up to Scenic Hot Springs is via a Forest Service road and the maintenance road of the BPA easement that cuts through the lower area of the property.  The Forest Service road is on relatively level terrain surrounded by old-growth evergreens.

A BPA easement runs across the lower portion of the property and the maintenance roads are the route up.  The access roads run above the clearcut of the easement, so whatever snow accumulates on the clearcut represents no threat if the visitor sticks to the access roads.

On the access road above the clearcut.
In my considered opinion, the only danger zones on the way up to the springs during the winter months, would be the open slopes of the BPA clearcut below the road.  Sticking to the road above the clearcut on the way up (stay to the right of the towers, vice versa on the way back down) keeps you in good, stable snow.  Too many visitors attempt to shortcut across the clearcut on top of an open snowfield.  That snow will be deep and probably unstable.  It cannot slide far but you do not want to be caught in it.  Stay on the roads and trails.
 

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous9:43 AM

    Very nice analysis of conditions. Thanks for posting.

    ReplyDelete
  2. How does one go about asking permission to visit the hot spring?

    ReplyDelete