Variable cloud cover, with bands of high, indistinct clouds blocking out the sun at times and allowing plenty of sunshine through at others. Temperatures remained cool throughout the day. Light winds blowing out of the SW/W at upper elevations, calm otherwise.
We observed plenty of old avalanche debris, most appeared to be from the 12/11 avalanche cycle. We also observed some more recent debris from small wind slabs and rain-driven activity, nothing larger than D1.5.
Primary goals were to do a general survey of snow conditions in this area and continue to inventory our mid-pack weak layers (12/8 and 12/19), and see how much recent snow+wind was affecting stability.
We found an impressively deep snowpack, even at lower and middle elevations. The Dollarhide snotel is recording 61 inches of snow on the ground, which seems like an accurate reflection. There have been over 3 feet of snow on the ground here for the entire month of December.
7600', ESE: HS=120-130cm, 11/27 down 100cm, we were unable to impact this with standard snowpack tests, though this layer still looks fairly ugly, with dry 2-3mm cupped and striated facets at the top of the interval, just below a 2-3cm thick crust. These facets are gradually starting to round. Further down this snow is moist and more rounded (heading in the right direction, not there yet). 12/19 down 60cm under a slab that grades from F quickly to 4F, with a good interval of 1F at the base. This produced ECTP 25, 26, ECTN 25. There are small FCsf here with some shards of SH, but not really a SH problem. On steeper slopes and more direct solars I'd expect to find a crust+facet combo here. 12/26 is down 50cm, this is the surface from the Christmas heat-wave, and the base of the snow that fell in the past 5 days. There is a mid-storm rain-crust down 28cm here from a spike of rain that fell towards the tail end of the story, before the cold front passed.
8000', N: HS=160-170 cm (!): Deepest pit of the year for me thus fa. Received variable results on 12/19, which is down 65-70cm here, ECTP25, ECTN25, 26. There are 3-4mm thick, stacked crusts here, separated by 4cm of faceted snow with some SH. I was unable to impact deeper weak layers with standard snowpack tests. 11/27 snow was denser than I've seen anywhere else, 4F, even at the top of the interval. Grains are showing signs of rounding, but are still dry, with plenty of cups with striations to be found amidst the grains with rounded edges. This interface is buried down 120-130cm in this location.
Both of these pits were in largely sheltered terrain. As we continued climbing we entered more wind affected terrain, where recent snow had seen a fair bit of transport. Along ridgelines, wind had scoured down to a subtle razor rain crust from a spike in temps at the tail end of the atmospheric river on 12/27. We found this all the way up to our high point at 9,300'! Wow, weird year. One dense slab along the ridgeline produced a small, localized collapse.
Mid-pack weak layers (12/8 and 12/19) and basal weak layer (11/27) were on our problem list, along with wind slabs. Variable test scores on 12/19 were encouraging, but not anywhere near enough to have us wanting to enter large avalanche terrain. 11/27 is presenting as a deep slab problem here, I think you'd need to find a thin spot to get it to do anything. However, these are the types of weak layers (both midpack and basal) that tend to catch even very experienced users (public and pro alike) by surprise, and I'm not interested in being caught with my pants down.