Have you ever wondered what it would be like to pack up all of your belongings in your car and move to a small town on the other side of the country? Contributor Andy Jaynes tells his story of leaving Tennessee to find his new home in the town of Leavenworth. It’s a tale about snow and mountains, friends and community, and a year of change.
As the last of the snow around town melts and the flowers begin to bloom, I can’t help but reflect on my first winter season living in Leavenworth, Washington and the Pacific Northwest. I am a transplant, like many in Leavenworth. I moved over 2500 miles, from somewhere that seems like a world away: Knoxville, Tennessee. A little over twelve months ago, in March of 2011, I visited a long-time friend who had moved to Bellingham, Washington about 5 years ago and had more recently settled in Leavenworth.
I grew up in Northeastern Massachusetts in a small town called Dracut. I will always have great memories of playing in the snow, building snowmen and snow forts, sledding on the local hills, learning to ski when I was 6, and, most fondly, learning to snowboard on my fourteenth birthday. I had thought for several years about moving from the Southeastern U.S. back to the Northeast, or at least somewhere farther north with winter to speak of so I could spend more time on my snowboard. Snowboarding trips were far and few between while living in Tennessee, as the closest winter resorts were several hours away in the Appalachian Mountains in Western North Carolina. My best season was the 2010-2011 season when I managed to spend twelve days on my snowboard, more than double most previous years.
During my eight day visit to Washington in late March 2011, I snowboarded at Mount Baker and Stevens Pass, rafted the Skykomish River, played disc golf in a mossy forest, and even caught a couple concerts, most notably OCJ at Uncle Uli’s. The trip couldn’t have been better. Beyond the activities themselves, however, something struck me about Leavenworth, its people and the area that stayed with me. While I hadn’t previously considered living in the Pacific Northwest, I knew before leaving the small mountain town on the Amtrak to Seattle that I would soon be calling Leavenworth home.
Over the next few months I tied up loose ends in Knoxville, traded my Honda Civic for a Subaru Outback, and gave away or sold most of my belongings. With the help of my Leavenworth-based friend, I found a rental home just outside of downtown that sounded suitable for me and my two dogs, Guinness and Mason.
After making the 2500 mile cross-country journey and settling into my new home, I quickly familiarized myself with my immediate surroundings by hiking and summiting the closest mountains surrounding Leavenworth: Tumwater Mountain, Icicle Ridge, and Wedge Mountain. Each of these vantage points provide a great view of Leavenworth and the Wenatchee River below.
With the early arrival of snow in the mountains, my focus quickly turned to watching the snow accumulate. Of particular interest was Stevens Pass, where I had acquired a season pass for the upcoming 2011-2012 season. The early snow brought the third earliest opening in Stevens Pass’ history, November 19th. I was there opening day. And the next day. I made the most of my close proximity to the mountain by logging over a dozen late afternoon and night sessions, navigating around my Monday through Friday daytime work schedule. I was also on the mountain almost every Saturday and Sunday throughout the nearly five month long season.
It dumped snow for days on end over the holidays, bringing in over five feet of snow in a single storm in the mountains and three feet in town. This was an amazing sight for someone who had spent the last fifteen years in East Tennessee. I loved it. It snowed over and over. Every few days storms added several more inches in my yard in town and several feet up at Stevens Pass. I shot extensive footage with my GoPro Hero HD camera and put together over a dozen videos of my snowboarding adventures, which I posted to my YouTube channel to share with friends and family back East (http://www.youtube.com/immaculatehedz2).
The landscape, that had at first seemed like an overwhelming span of mountains and wilderness, soon became my second home. I loved the assorted and open terrain at Stevens Pass, and there was only one day out of the whole season where I had to wait more than a few minutes in a lift line. Unlike where I had snowboarded for the previous 15 years back East, Stevens Pass doesn’t use any snow making equipment; they don’t need to! Stevens Pass received over 555 inches of snow and kept a base of over 100 inches through early May. Bluebird days were plentiful and powder days were amazing. Face-shots and knee-deep to waist-deep runs through expansive forests were plentiful. I explored all corners of the in-bounds area and experienced a small sampling of what the out-of-bounds and backcountry areas had to offer. The peaks, chutes, bowls, and spines appeared to be endless looking out into the Cascade Mountains from the top of Big Chief Mountain (accessed via the Double Diamond Chair at Stevens Pass). No new snow? No problem. Short hikes and ridgeline traverses took me to untouched white canvases after days without new snowfall.
On Sunday, February 19th, I received text messages from several Stevens Pass employees with the news of the massive avalanche at Tunnel Creek, just out of bounds at Stevens Pass. Reports were that up to eight people had been caught up in it, including several who were still unaccounted for. Later that morning, the news hit national airwaves and major media outlets across the country. The outcome was tragic and hit my new home at its core. Jim Jack, Chris Rudolph, and John Brenan, all experienced backcountry skiers between the ages of 30 and 45 and all residents of Leavenworth, had passed. I had only briefly met two of them since my recent move, but the news hit many of my new friends very hard. I soon came to understand why. Jim Jack was a pillar of the Leavenworth community. He was the unofficial face and personality of the town, was well-known throughout the international free-skiing community. Chris Rudolph was the Marketing Director at Stevens Pass and the voice of the area. He, too, was a transplant and often wrote online about his experiences and love for the area. John Brenan had worked for the Ski Patrol at Stevens Pass in years past and, more recently, worked on a number of construction projects in and around Leavenworth. All three had loving hearts, were mentors of many, strong leaders, and will forever be missed. Having moved well over half-a-dozen times early in my life, I never experienced such a strong sense of community as I did in Leavenworth and at Stevens Pass. The outreach and support that was, and still is, provided by these communities to the families and friends of the victims has been truly breath-taking and heart-warming. It is a true testament to the number of people whose lives the fallen had touched and how powerful these relationships had been. Multiple memorial services were held celebrating the lives of these amazing men and provided what little closure they could to this tragic event.
The snow kept falling and winter marched on. Before I knew it, the end of the season was upon us. Even though it had been one of the longest winters on record and I had spent significantly more time snowboarding this season than in previous seasons combined, I wasn’t ready for it to be over. I still had many more hikes to do, areas to explore, people to ride with, tricks to perfect, and new ones to try. You can bet I was there during the last official weekend of the 2011-2012 season. April 14th and 15thwere both gorgeous spring days with the sun shining brightly and temperatures in the mid-40’s. I participated in my first Helly Hansen Big Mountain Battle, experienced my first “first chair,” my first champagne powder face-shots, my first drive through a snow storm unable to see the road I was driving on, and my first time so close to avalanches and their unforgiving nature. By the time the winter season ended, I was able to spend a total of 40 days on my snowboard at Stevens Pass; I am thankful for every second of every day.
As the mercury rose, I began hiking again to explore more of my surroundings and get some remaining glimpses of snow-capped peaks. I snow-shoed the beginning section of the Snow Lakes Trail in early March and again several weeks later, though I didn’t need the snow-shoes the second time around. I even spotted a group of eight mountain goats on this second trip (see album Snow Lakes Trail for pics). The views were amazing and exhibited the vastness and immensity of the area. I was re-exhilarated for warm weather adventures.
I look back on my time in Leavenworth and, while it’s filled with so many great memories already, I know there are so many more to make and I’ve only scratched the surface. With warmer weather already upon us, I have again started adding to my lists of trails to hike, peaks to summit, rivers to raft and kayak, boulders to climb, and hills to longboard. It’s going to be a busy summer. I’m sure by end of it, I’ll have even longer lists for next year. That’s the thing about living in Leavenworth; no matter which season, activity or sport, element or environment, I’ll never run out of opportunities to meet new people, try new things, see new views, walk new ground, climb to new heights, and ride new currents.
Written by Andy Jaynes. Edited by Katrina Lumpkin. Dedicated to all my friends and family all around the world. Without you, I’d be a lesser me. Thanks for all your support and for being you! Stay tuned for updates on new adventures!