July 9-11, 2017 – Mt Rainier, Fryingpan Glacier Environs

Sitting at my office in early June, I found myself browsing through some of my old trip reports, and realized it had been 8 years since I last visited Mt Rainier.  On a whim, I decided this year would be a good year for a return visit, and started looking into getting a permit.  It took a bit of doing, but I was able to secure a permit, as well as entice Joe, John and Dan to tag along for a trip to the Fryingpan Glacier.

We left the valley early on Sunday morning around 6:00 am.  John and Dan met me at my house, and we picked up Joe at the cop shop in Albany at 6:30.  Somehow we managed to get all of our gear into my Outback, and we headed north on the Interstate.  Four and a half hours later, we arrived at the White River Ranger Station to pick up our permit.  After some haggling with the ranger staffing the station about proper etiquette with respect to how to store our food in bear proof containers and getting the runaround regarding camping in the backcountry zones, we got our permit and headed up to the trailhead.

Dan & Joe at the trailhead

After unloading the gear and eating a quick lunch, we shouldered really heavy packs and started up the trail around noon.  Hiking up Fryingpan Creek in the shade of the forest was just a beautiful as I remember it being 8 years earlier, and soon the forest gave way to the alpine and views of Little Tahoma and the Fryingpan Glacier…

Dan on the hike in

Once we got to the point in the trail where the switchbacks began, the snow patches started.  After briefly losing the trail, we regained it quickly and followed it to Summerland, which always affords awesome views of the mountain…

Dan at Summerland

Although we had a permit to camp in a backcountry zone for Sunday night, we dropped our stuff at Summerland, hoping to snag a site there, since we would be there Monday night.  We’d heard that many of the folks who had reserved sites at Summerland recently weren’t showing up due to all the snow on the Wonderland trail at Panhandle Gap.  So, with luck, we could get a site and not have to move camp the following day.  With our gear stashed and out of the way, we headed out for a late afternoon tour.  Our objective was Goat Cirque, and we were able to skin from just outside of the campsites.  30 minutes out, the scenery looked pretty dang nice….

Goat Cirque

We climbed up a steep ramp to the lookers left in the bowl, eventually making it up to the ridge that separated the bowl from the Ohanapecosh drainage.  The views to the south and east didn’t suck at all…

Looking over the Ohanapecosh

The lighting was really nice, and we lounged around the summit ridge for a few minutes before heading down, taking in the views.  The turns off the top were exceptional corn, and it was a treat to ski the bowl after a long day of driving and hiking.

Joe skiing the upper section

We worked our way down to the bottom, enjoying the soft snow, and made the long traverse back towards Summerland.  As we approached, we saw a helicopter preparing to land.  Watching it, it took off, flew up the mountain a ways, and then came back.  As we got nearer, it was apparent it was some sort of rescue operation related to climbers elsewhere on the mountain.  We heard later that a climber had fallen on the Fryingpan and lacerated both his wrists and broke an ankle.

Dan and the heli at Summerland

Back at Summerland, we set about making dinner and enjoying the evening.  By 9:00 pm it was apparent that not all five of the sites would be filled, so we snagged a campsite and made ourselves cozy for the evening.  The next morning we headed out after breakfast, with the intention of skiing up to Whitman Crest and possibly Little Tahoma.  The weather was sunny at camp, but clouds started to roll in as we headed up to Goat Cirque.

John climbing below the knife ridge
Joe hiking above Ohanapecosh Park

We worked our way above Goat Cirque, and into a good spot for some lunch below the Fryingpan Glacier.  Dan and John decided to climb the small ridge above our position and get in a hundred feet of fun turns on the way down to our lunch spot…

Dan making tracks

The clouds were rolling in and out all morning, but generally stayed to the south of us.  As we continued to climb up, the views got better and better, so I snapped a few photos along the way…

Hiking below Fryingpan
Skinning above Goat Cirque

Eventually, we worked our way up onto the Fryingpan Glacier and up to Whitman Crest.  The Fryingpan was in really good shape, and we were able to skirt one crevasse on the headwall to get to a high point somewhere around 9300 feet.  The views were somewhat muted by the clouds, but they added to the overall beauty of the day…

At Whitman Crest
Looking south to Mt Adams

Although I was in favor of continuing on to Little Tahoma, which required dropping down over some rocks to the Whitman Glacier, I was outvoted so we decided to shred the Fryingpan instead — not a bad consolation prize.  I dropped in while Dan snapped a few photos, and the snow was perfect.

Dropping in on the Fryingpan
The skiers feeling small on the Fryingpan

We continued down, working our way back in the general direction of our uptrack.  There was a steep headwall that we wanted to ski adjacent to our uptrack, so we made it a point to do just that.  The sun was perfect as we dropped in, and I snapped pictures of Dan as he skied by…

Kissing the sky on Rainier
Skiing above the Ohanapecosh drainage

The snow on the headwall was so good that we decided to hike back up and ski it again.  This time, Dan took photos of me as I ripped the steep, perfect snow.

Matt enjoying primo corn

In fact the snow was so good, that we all elected to climb back up and ski it a third time.  This time, at the top of the headwall, John and I decided to go all the way back up to Whitman Crest to ski one more line that we had eyed earlier in the day.  By now it was around 4:00 pm, so by the time we made it back to Whitman it was nearing 5:30 and the lighting was getting pretty nice…

John climbing back to Whitman Crest
Looking out to Little Tahoma

The skiing down from Whitman was equally as good as it was several hours earlier, and we ripped the corn back down the glacier and to the headwall for a great third ski of the steep slope.  Our line this time was a bit to the south from our previous line, and we found snow that was a little bit better and slightly steeper…

2nd run off Whitman Crest

The weather was the best we’d had all day, so naturally I had my camera out trying to snap a few pictures of John.  That is easier said than done, as John rarely stops when he starts skiing….he just goes down the hill!

John harvesting some Rainier Corn
Enjoying more July turns

At the bottom of the headwall, I had to look back and admire our work from three separate runs of excellent fun.  We pretty much tracked up the place, but it didn’t really matter as we were pretty much the only ones around to enjoy it.

Looking back at the headwall

We skied down to the top of the Goat Cirque and met back up with Joe and Dan.  After a bit of discussion, we found the appropriate place to drop in via a steep line of snow above a large crevasse like glide crack.  The snow was perfect, and we dropped in one by one down the steep pitch….

Joe skiing the Goat Cirque gut
Heading back to camp

After the exhilarating turns down the gut, we skied the rest of the bowl out and made the traverse back to our camp at Summerland.  Back at camp, everyone was tired, but satisfied with the day.  We celebrated with backcountry margaritas and a well deserved dinner.  That evening, while at camp, we met and chatted with a park ranger named Bud.  Turns out Bud was also a backcountry skier, and we exchanged stories about various ski trips for nearly an hour.  After Bud left, we hit the sack, in preparation for a final morning of skiing on day three prior to the hike and long drive home.

Day three dawned sunny and clear, and after a quick breakfast we left camp around 8:00 to ski the lower Fryingpan.  The snow was a bit firm, and crampons and ice axes were necessary, and for the first time on the trip I was glad to have brought them along.  As we climbed, the views to the north became better and better.  Eventually, Glacier Peak to the north poked out.  Another objective to put on the list for a future trip!

Looking out to Glacier Peak

From this side of the Fryingpan, the Emmons Glacier looms large.  Looking out onto the glacial mass, I could see the climbing route up the Emmons and made a mental note that sometime in the near future I needed to snowboard from the summit of Mt Rainier.  Around 11:00, we reached what would be our high point for the day.  Before strapping in, we snapped a few photos of the surrounding scenery and then dropped…

Our day 3 high point
Riding on the Fryingpan with the Emmons as a backdrop

The turns were sweet, smooth corn, and we worked our way down the slope to the rollover where it steepened.  Then, a long heelside traverse followed, to make an end run around a huge glide crack mid-slope that would have spelled trouble if one of us fell.  After that, the slope opened up again to excellent corn snow….

More July corn

We milked the turns all the way down to an elevation that was a few hundred feet below our campsite at Summerland.  Looking around, the beauty of Mt Rainier was obvious.  Big, large glaciers were punctuated by blue skies and wildflower lined canyons.  It’s easy to see why this place was designated national park status…

The Emmons
Looking down Fryingpan Creek from our low point
Tracks in the bowl

After the short hike back to camp, we set about breaking down our camp and getting gear packed for the hike out.  A round of backcountry margaritas were in order to celebrate a great trip, and then we hit the trail for the wildflower filled hike out.

The trail out

A few hours later we were drinking cold Rainier at the car, feeling blessed to have had such a great trip on a great mountain.  Sitting there enjoying a fresh garden salad and cold beer, I’d have to say that July in the Pacific Northwest has got to be the best!  Here’s a parting shot from the trip…

Matt & the Emmons