Glissading Buck-Deer

My dad’s been a mountaineer in Washington State for about fifty years.  During that time he’s done and seen some things that are worthy of sharing.  This is one of my favorite stories of his, from 1974.  He was in his early forties.

He and four of his friends were doing what’s called the Ptarmigan Traverse in the North Cascade Mountains.  From, here’s a brief description and a map:

“The Ptarmigan Traverse is perhaps unique in Washington: a week-long, off-trail high route weaving between the glaciated peaks of the North Cascades, never straying far from the crest. This is not the Pacific Crest Trail; that’s miles away to the East. The Ptarmigan is not for hikers, so much as for climbers, and experienced ones at that. Essentially a mini-expedition, it requires off-trail wilderness navigation, extensive glacier travel, self-reliance, and commitment. The rewards are the views, the climbs of peaks so remote that this traverse is their most common approach, and the adventure of it all.”


Map of the Mountain Peaks Climbed on the Ptarmigan Traverse

Map of the Mountain Peaks Climbed on the Ptarmigan Traverse

And that describes a lot about my dad:  “for the adventure of it all.”

The first day’s camp is made at Kool-Aid Lake, down in a deep bowl surrounded by peaks covered in long slopes of very deep snow.  Dad couldn’t sleep too well, so he got up just before daylight and walked down to the lake to get some water to boil for the morning coffee.  He looked to the right and saw, in his words “two fellows glissading down the hill, from about a thousand feet up.”  He thought to himself “My goodness, what did these guys do, camp up there?”  It didn’t make any sense that there should be people that high up that early in the morning.  But, mountaineers, the ones that survive to be old mountaineers like my dad, tend to be observant people, so he watched these “fellows” slide down the hill.

At this point, I have to assume that not everyone has had the pleasure of glissading, and may not understand what it is.  A glissade is a “controlled slide down a snow slope.”  It’s usually done sitting down, though some of the old pros would use their ice-axes to steady themselves and could slide standing up.  This is foolish because you have farther to fall when, not if, you begin to slide “uncontrollably.”  But I digress.

Apparently these two were quite skilled, making small turns as they descended in order to slow themselves and stay in control.  They were going about half again as fast as you’d expect, though, so dad continued to watch until it became apparent that it wasn’t two fellows sliding down the hill on their backsides, it was two buck deer!  Their antlers still in velvet, a two-point and a four-point buck, were steering with their front legs and using their haunches as brakes.  Dad yelled for his friends to get out of their tents to see the show.  No one had a camera available.

The bucks slid down to the bottom of the bowl, stood up, and walked to the lake for a morning drink.  Dad says if he’d had a video camera he could have made a million bucks.


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