After a five-year hiatus, it was past time to head back to Mt Rainier for a backcountry skiing visit to one of the northwest’s most iconic national parks. After some last minute shuffling, this year’s crew ended up consisting of Mark, Joe, Dan and myself. We left the valley early Sunday morning, and Mark was kind enough to chauffeur us and our gear up to the Park in his truck. We made it to ranger station a little after 10:00 am, with plenty of time to pick up our permit and get to camp.
After chatting with the rangers for a few minutes (and learning that the creek washed out a portion of the trail), we headed up to the trailhead, loaded our heavy packs laden with overnight gear, and headed out. The hike up Fryingpan Creek is always beautiful, and this time was no exception. After a few miles, we made it to the creek and it indeed had washed out part of the trail since our last visit. Crossing was pretty easy, but we had to get wet up to the knees. I went barefoot, and the water was cold, but refreshing. I snapped a few pics of the guys coming across…
After the creek crossing, we donned ski/snowboard boots and were able to start skinning on continuous snow. Mark led the way, and we worked our way up the drainage towards the spot where the trail diverges from the creek. The views of Big and Little Tahoma from this point on the trail are quite scenic.
The gully near the trail proved to be an easy, open slope to skin up, and it didn’t take long to reach Summerland, and it was nice to be back. It looked a little different than my past trips to the area (which occurred in mid-July) and was pretty much completely snow-covered.
With the amount of snow in the area limiting the thru-hikers on the round-the-mountain trail, we were told by one of the rangers that we’d be able to snag the group shelter for the night, and potentially the following night pending any reservations. All of us were pretty stoked to be able to stow our gear in the shelter, and after a half hour or so of organizing overnight gear, we headed out for some evening turns.
The goal for the evening was to find some smooth snow and also be able to ski right back to camp, so we headed towards the direction of Goat Cirque. Just before we got there, we found a pretty nice, steep slope that looked like it met our criteria, so we started up. As the slope steepened, we switched to booting, and before long we reached a high point with commanding views of the surrounding area.
We enjoyed the views and a quick break up top, and then it was time to do what we’d come for and harvest some corn. I dropped in and setup to snap a few pics of the skiers coming down. The snow was consistent, smooth and pretty much perfect corn. Below are a couple of shots of Joe enjoying the harvest…
We worked our way down the slope and to the rollover halfway down, and I paused to take some photos while the skiers continued down.
The steep slope provided great turns and we skied to the bottom and transitioned to head back up and do it all over again.
Being able to reuse the boot pack was pretty nice, and it didn’t take long to make it back up. After another transition, Dan grabbed the camera and snapped a few photos of me working turns on the ridge line…
Once at the bottom, we took a high traverse and worked our way back across the slopes above from camp, before eventually letting gravity take completely over and turning our way back down to camp.
The evening turns were really nice, and surpassed our expectations. It also felt pretty good to get back to camp, get out of ski boots, and settle in for the evening.
After getting our ski gear taken care of, it was time for a freeze dried dinner and a margarita. Dan fixed the margarita’s up nicely (and even had salt), and I enjoyed mine with a a shot and a half of tequila I’d packed in just for the occasion. Dinner definitely hit the spot, and after some good bs it was time to hit the sack in anticipation of a big day in the morning.
Having the shelter proved to be pretty awesome, and we got a pretty cozy night’s sleep. The next morning dawned early, and after a quick breakfast and coffee, we headed out, with the goal of making some turns on the snow fields around the Whitman Crest. Mark set a nice skin track out from camp, and found a good line up to the top of the ridge on Goat Cirque.
I arrived to the top of the Cirque shortly after Mark, and while waiting just a few minutes for Dan and Joe to arrive, I was able to take a few pics of the surrounding landscape, mostly looking off into the Ohanapecosh drainage.
The views from the top of the Cirque are quite scenic, and any way that you point the camera results in a pretty picture.
The top of the Cirque proved to be a good spot to take a break and enjoy a snack, and we enjoyed the views, which included Goat Rocks and Mt Adams to the south.
A bit later, we stepped back into the skis and started on up, skinning up the ridge for awhile before it was time to make a few turns down and across the snowfields below one of our favorite ski slopes. Mark led the way, followed by Joe, and Dan and I came down after.
We continued working our way up, and after another hour or so, found a spot with running water coming out of the rocks protruding from the snow, which proved to be a good spot to refill the water bottles and enjoy another break.
The view were really starting to open up; I especially like the views back to the east of the Fryingpan drainage and beyond. From this vantage point, we could also see our objective of Whitman Crest as well, still looming quite a ways above us.
The final skin to Whitman Crest from our break spot took another hour or so, but we didn’t mind as the views were excellent, and getting high on the mountain always provides a of stoke to keep going up. As usual, the views from the Crest were exceptional.
One of the first orders of business upon reaching the crest was getting my beer on ice. I’d packed a Terpilicious Hazy IPA from Worthy Brewing just for the occasion, and this spot was definitely worthy.
Little Tahoma was looming large directly across the Whitman Glacier, and I was really wishing we had secured a permit to climb it since the snowpack was looking fat— next time for sure! While we were looking at it, we noticed a couple of skiers working their way up. Eventually they descended, and although they got a wet slough to run, overall the turns looked pretty dang nice.
Mark was game to climb up to the high point on the crest, which required a bit of rock scrambling, but the views from up top were definitely worth it. The Emmons Glacier was looming large to the north, and Little Tahoma was also commanding our attention…
Eventually it was time to head back down to the skis and get ready to drop in. I finished my beer and as we were strapping in a skier (who we had seen lower down on the Fryingpan) worked her way up to the Crest. We chatted her up a bit, and then it was time to enjoy the turns.
The snow was perfectly smooth and although a bit on the soft side (due to a fresh snowfall a week or so earlier), it skied really nicely. I snapped a few pictures of the skiers as they descended the upper Fryingpan, then headed down to enjoy the turns myself.
We worked our way down the snowfields about halfway to our favorite slope, and shot multiple pictures along the way. A few pictures of me making turns through the virgin corn snow turned out well, including the two below…
Around the mid-point, where the slope angle lessened, we decided to stop and head back up to the Crest to do another lap on the higher elevation snow since it was skiing really nicely. I captured the below shots of Mark and Joe skiing above the Fryingpan drainage before we switched back over to skins and headed up…
The skin back up went quickly, and soon we were back at the Crest enjoying views out over the Whitman Glacier again. For our second run, we headed out further along the Crest to the south, where the slope was a bit steeper, and it did not disappoint.
We worked our way down, enjoying the perfectly smooth snow. Partway down, I handed the camera off to Dan and he took several shots of me shredding with Mt Adams making for a perfect backdrop…
This time we headed down as before, then worked our way through the mellower snow below and over to our break spot from earlier in the morning, before enjoying the snow on our favorite slope in the area.
The snow was really tasty, and we ripped it to near the bottom of our favorite slope before donning the skins and heading back up for another lap. It didn’t take too long to work our way back up, and though it was getting warm and we were getting tired, it was pretty nice to be able to refill water bottles at the drinking fountain atop our favorite slope at our break spot.
For our second run on our favorite slope, we worked further skier’s right where the slope steepened considerably. The turns were absolutely perfect, and the snow forgiving, and it was easily the best turns of the trip.
Back down at the bottom, we all agree that one more lap was in order. Even though we were tired, the snow was too perfect and the scenery too spectacular to leave just yet, so we threw the skins back on and headed up one last time.
On the third lap, we worked even further to skier’s right, and this time Dan grabbed the camera and took shots of me working the slope. The steep turns were so good, and I enjoyed the chance to be out from behind the camera and let ‘er rip…
I worked my way down, ripping big, fast turns while Dan fired away. As I figured might happen, I cut loose a really slow, wet slough that moved super slow, and was easily able to work down in front of it…
Dan came down after me with the camera, and even jumped on my slow moving slide for a few turns for some novelty skiing. We met up at the bottom, and both of us were stoked on how good the snow was. Mark and Joe came down shortly thereafter, and we regrouped again to continue on down.
After some more sliding and then a little skinning up a steep slope to regain the ridge above the Goat Cirque, we gained a good vantage point to look back at our work from the previous few hours. A little more sliding and then a really short carry brought us back to the top of Goat Cirque, where I found my hat that had fallen off my pack earlier in the day, and from there it was home free for turns back to camp.
We worked our way down the ridge atop Goat Cirque, looking for a suitable place to drop in, and ended up dropping pretty much along our skin track from earlier in the morning, which was the place that offered the best turns without cliffing out…
Back at camp after a long day, we were all pretty satisfied. Topping off our excellent day was the fact that we were able to score the shelter again for the night, since another party hadn’t reserved it. My freeze dried dinner really hit the spot after a long day on the skintrack, and we enjoyed another margarita as well. Before long, daylight turned to dusk and then to dark, and we hit the sack, capping off another memorable day on Mt Rainier.
Day three dawned early, and we woke to clear sunny skies. The plan for the day was to check out the slopes beneath the Fryingpan Glacier, further looker’s right than we had skied on the previous two days of our trip. After a quick breakfast, we headed out, and Mark led the way, setting a grueling sidehill skin track off towards our objective. An hour or so later, we reached our high point for the morning, and started the transition in between gusts of wind.
Looking off to the west of our position, both Little and Big Tahoma were looming large, with the Fryingpan and Emmons Glaciers stealing the show.
The snow here was a little less smooth than we’d found on the previous day, but it was still in pretty good shape, and we enjoyed the harvest. I dropped in first, and shot a few pictures of the skiers as they headed down…
Looking down into the Fryingpan from this vantage point, I felt like I was in the North Cascades or somewhere in Europe; it definitely had the feel of big mountain skiing as opposed to the typical volcano riding we’re used to in Oregon…
We skied down to our skin track below, and decided it was definitely worth one more run before heading back to break camp for the day.
The skin back up on the sidehill track Mark set was just as grueling on the second lap as it was on the first, but we eventually made it back to our high point and readied for another run.
Lap 2 was pretty sweet, and we worked a slightly different line down the ridge and bowl than on lap 1. The turns were damn fine, and we miked them back down to our skin track before traversing back to camp. Sitting there in Summerland, it was nice to look up and see our artwork on the canvas above camp.
A few minutes later while breaking camp, reality set in that our trip was ending, but what a trip it was — some of the best turns of the season in a great spot with a great crew. And, we still had more turns remaining below us! Soon, we had our packs stuffed to the brim with our overnight gear, and shoved off from Summerland, working our way back down to the creek below. Being able to ski to the creek was a definite treat!
We slid without issue back down to the creek crossing, and then it was another “boots off” crossing to get to the north side of the trail. I captured a few more photos to document the adventure…
We ended up being able to slide about a mile or so of the trail on the various patches, with several spots of walking in between, but eventually the snow gave way to dirt and we put the skis and boots back on our packs.
Another hour or so of hiking along the creek brought us back to the trailhead, and to the end of our trip. One more important part of the trip was still to be enjoyed however — brews and brats at the truck. I fired up the grill, and we got the brats going, and the beer on ice. My beer for the afternoon was a great tasting Perpetua Pale Ale from Yachats Brewing.
A few minutes later, the brats were done, and we enjoyed them with all the fixin’s. Sitting there, enjoying our beers and brats after 3 days of great turns, we all agreed it’s hard to beat summer turns on Mt Rainier!