July 13-14, 2009, Fryingpan Glacier, Mt Rainier

Looking back on the turns I made on the Fryingpan Glacier in July of 2009, I have to say they definitely rate up there as some of the best backcountry turns I’ve ever experienced……perfect texture, perfect weather & perfect scenery!

Lower Fryingpan Glacier, Mt Rainier

I had been dreaming of snowboarding on Mt Rainier for several seasons when I finally decided to make it happen.  I met my old ski buddy Andrew at PDX mid-Sunday morning and we headed north on I-5 after a brief stop at REI and the Mountainshop in Portland.  Andrew hadn’t been on skis in 5 years, but not to worry –  he didn’t miss a beat.  We camped near the mountain Sunday night after terrible traffic in Olympia.  Early Monday morning, we headed into Mount Rainier National Park, got our permits from the White River Ranger Station, and parked at the Fryingpan trailhead at approximately 3900 feet. The weather was cloudy and misting, which made the 4 mile hike very pleasant.  Our load was heavy carrying our boards and overnight gear, but we saw lots of wildlife and flowers in the 4 miles to Summerland, including a bull Elk and a coyote.

We made it to Summerland and pitched our bivy and tent.  That afternoon, we set out to harvest some of the corn east of camp to get Andrew’s legs under him. A 35 degree pitch in the fog isn’t exactly a warm up run after not skiing for 5 years.  We hiked about 500 vertical feet up the nice snowfield, dug a pit at the top of the moat to enable us to get skis and boards on, then made nice creamy turns down to the trail.  I held my breath for the first few turns Andrew made, but after that I knew he would be all right, as he appeared to not miss a beat from 5 years ago.  We made a couple more laps to round out the afternoon.  There were several Marmots out along the trail on the way back to camp, and we lounged on our bivies for awhile before the weather finally cleared.  Here’s a shot of our turns from our camp….

July turns above Summerland

The forecast for Tuesday was mostly sunny, so we hit the bivy sack shortly after dark to prepare for the next days adventure. Tuesday morning dawned clear and we left camp at about 6 am. The views of the mountain were excellent.

Andrew booting towards Goat Bowl

Hiking up through the first bowl outside of camp we saw a bunch of mountain goats.  I counted 35.  They happened to be near our line of ascent, so we hiked somewhat close to a few of them, including this one behind me……..

A mountain goat in goat bowl!

We spend considerable time pondering how to get out of the bowl and up onto the glacier above.  The only good route appeared to be a steep snow chute directly in front of us, which we were able to climb with crampons and ice axes.  Once through the chute, we traversed over to the  bottom of a big snow finger coming down off the Fryingpan Glacier.  From this vantage point, we could see Adams, Hood & St Helens to the south.

Hiking on the lower Fryingpan

We stopped for a rest to soak in the views and power up with some gatorade and Gu.  There weren’t any crevasses showing on the Fryingpan Glacier, and the snow was surprisingly smooth.  We topped out at Whitman Crest at an elevation of approximately 9150 feet, after scrambling the last 50 feet over bare loose rock.

Little Tahoma from Whitman Crest

The views were well worth the effort, and  we soaked them in for a bit before heading down for the corn harvest.  Here’s a shot looking down canyon over the Fryingpan Glacier to the east and ultimately to the trailhead way below.

Fryingpan Glacier from Whitman Crest

The turns down the Fryingpan were fast and smooth, and we shot quite a bit of video.  Andrew was racing along like he’d never stopped skiing and it was pure fun.  Rolling over to rider’s right, we descended the way we climbed, carving every inch of the perfect corn.  Here’s several shots of the good stuff below the rollover off the main Fryingpan proper……

Andrew carving turns
Corn turns on the Fryingpan

We were able to connect snowfields all the way down through the Goat Bowl to within 1/4 mile of the trail.  Overall, this was one of the finest rides of the year, and definitely one of the most scenic.

Turns in the lower Goat Bowl
Creek crossing on the return to Summerland

Back at camp, we packed up after some freeze dried lunch, and hit the trail out so we could try the Muir snowfield on Wednesday.  The slog out was brutal with the heavy packs, but very scenic.

Headin’ out
Andrew with Mt Rainier & Little Tahoma

We were definitely happy to be back at the truck to some fresh food and ice cold beer.

Overall, the snow quality rocked, and the trip exceeded my expectations. I can’t wait to check out a different aspect of the mountain soon – the potential for late season splitting is endless.

Our packs at the trailhead