All Photography by Brad Andrew
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The Eastern Washington forest has a serene, yet powerful presence in mid-February. Dense moss covered trees are transformed into a series of heavy snow-laden pillars, their branches all but lost under the thick crust of snow and ice. There is a penetrating stillness to the scene. A dampening element to the snow covered trees that forces a quiet so profound that the lack of audible noise itself is startlingly obvious. In the distance the murmuring hum of a two-stroke engine breaks through the tranquil landscape. A small bird flees its perch atop a snow-covered road sign.
Highway 20 has been closed since the first real snow hit back in early November. The snow covered strip of road stretches through the forest like a white ribbon, extending and turning amongst 50-miles of untouched mountain wilderness. The hum of the motor grows louder, and it becomes clear that there are in fact a group of machines drawing near. Another moment or two and they will appear around the bend, eight snowmobiles in tandem, their headlights piercing through the morning light, the sweet smell of two-stroke gasoline chasing them through the forest.
"No one was in a rush and we had good teamwork, everybody was getting shots," - Matt Wainhouse
It hasn’t snowed in nearly five days, yet this particular pass of road stretches through Washington state’s coldest territory, and at this elevation the snow has remained light and pristine. A stark contrast to the wet and heavy precipitation that the region is known for. Pillow lines, cliff bands, and open snowfields extend up into the mountains right from the road on either side.
The group is led by Patrick McCarthy, team manager of 686 and a Pacific Northwest local who knows the Washington backcountry better than most. Following close behind him is Freeride World Tour champion, Sammy Luebke, who has just returned from competing in the final stop of tour in Andora, Italy. Mary Rand is new to the backcountry and eagerly falls in behind Sammy on the sled she purchased only two weeks prior. Washington local, Matt Wainhouse, splitboard enthusiast, Frankie Devlin, photographer, Brad Andrew, videographer, Ian Post, and the most recent addition to the 686 team and skier, Parker White make up the remainder of this exceptionally diverse team. Together, this group proves that a collection of diverse backgrounds and experience levels form the strongest team identity. Having reached their destination, the sleds come to a shuddering stop and a stillness returns to the landscape.
Every great adventure begins with a simple idea, and this trip in particular capitalizes on that fundamental construction. Led by the simple desire to escape the cityscape and to immerse oneself in the wild, this varied group of mountain enthusiasts is here to film 686’s latest project, “Rabbit Hole”. High-fives amongst the crew are exchanged, and the stillness of the scene is quickly replaced with an excited buzz as riders scramble to scope out their lines.
While everyone is excited to strap in and ride, it is important to note that a relaxed vibe exists among the group as well. A collaborative agreement seems to have been reached between all participants, and riders assist each other and lend words of encouragement as one after the other clambers through the deep snow. The true diversity of the crew becomes even more apparent as soon as the cameras are switched on and the riding begins.
"No part of me wants to leave the mountains," - Mary Rand
"686 trips are always the best, regardless of conditions and who's there," - Sammy Luebke
Sammy Luebke takes an extended and calculated path through a heaping pile of pillows, blasting through one cloud of snow after the next, all the while maintaining speed and control. Matt Wainhouse is next and showcases his technical prowess in the backcountry, popping spins off of every lip and drop in front of him. Mary Rand watches Frankie Devlin lace up a line between the trees before stepping up to drop in on a hefty pillow stack – her first ever. Her first attempt leaves her buried in a bomb hole, but calls of encouragement from the others spur her back to the top, and on her next attempt she stomps it with ease and rides out to the bottom. Brad Andrew’s shutter clicks away and Ian Post quietly pans his camera across the snowy face, the tail end of a Washington Rick smoking between his fingers.
Hours seem to slide away with ease and it isn’t until the diminishing sunlight reaches a certain point before everyone realizes just how far down the Rabbit Hole they have slipped. Immersed in the moment and connected to the mountains, the small group of riders scream out hoots of joy, wipe chunks of snow from their goggles, and float weightlessly through the deep snow. All of them realizing at this point that their GLCR outerwear had greatly extended the day, as not a single murmur of being cold or wet had escaped anyone’s lips. A truly rare reality in the Pacific Northwest.
Back at the cabin the sun has all but vanished from the sky. Days are shorter at this time of year and in these mountains. The group has turned instead to encircle the large fire, which snaps and crackles in the wild air of the backcountry. McCarthy can be heard off in the distance smoking up a rack of ribs for the team, Parker is writing a poem by firelight and Sammy is keeping spirits high with one joke after the next. Everyone is excited to do it all again tomorrow. It is at this moment that the diversity of each team member slips away, and a cohesive 686 Team identity emerges.
This collective experience can be best described as a trip down the Rabbit Hole. A group decision to unplug from all external distractions, and to immerse oneself in the mountains. A connection bound between each participant with the common goal to experience the wild and untapped adventures found only deep in the snow-laden forests of the backcountry.