June 7, 2023 – Mt Adams, Avalanche Glacier Headwall

After watching the forecast closely for a few days, it looked like a weather window for Adams was approaching. I called up Joe, and he was thinking the same thing, so we decided to head north for a mid-week shot, with the hope of riding the Avalanche Glacier Headwall. It had been awhile since I’d been on the line, and I was pretty stoked when I left work around 4pm and headed up the freeway to meet Joe at the cop shop. We carpooled the rest of the way up, and made it to White Salmon in good time, where we stopped to get a bite to eat from the local grocery store. A few minutes later, we hit the road and got our first good look at the hill from Trout Lake, and it was looking good.

Mt Adams from near Trout Lake

From Trout Lake, we rolled up the road and soon worked our way up the gravel roads towards Cold Springs. About a mile and a half from the trailhead, we were stopped by a large snow drift blocking access to the campground. A couple of folks were working on digging out a track, so Joe and I decided to park and give them a hand. It took a couple of hours of digging, but we were able to get it in shape for a dude with a large Dodge with chains to bust through. Once he made it through, the rest of us were good to go and it was pretty nice to be able to drive all the way to the trailhead, both from the standpoint that we would be able to have a level place to sleep and since we’d be that much closer for the climb in the morning.

First truck to the trailhead for the season

As soon as we got to camp, I got the bivy setup and we hit the sack a few minutes later. I slept pretty well that evening, and the next morning we were up by 4:45 or so. After a quick breakfast, we shouldered our packs and headed up the trail. There was some snow right off the bat, but both of us were happy to be in approach shoes since we had a mile or so of walking before we were able to put on the skins…

St Helens from the trail up
Skins on and heading up

Once we hit the snow, we donned skins and it felt nice to get the skis and boots off our backs. We worked our way up the trail and towards the ridge to the west of what’s labeled as the Crescent Glacier on the maps. There was a spicy traverse just before gaining the top of the ridge that required taking the skis off for a short section, but soon we hit the ridge and continued on up.

Joe and Mt St Helens
Booting for a short stretch

Soon we started gaining altitude quickly, and followed a bit more traditional path towards the bottom of Suksdorf Ridge rather than following the current climbers path that was quite a ways further east. As we headed up, a solo skier took off with a kite to do some kite skiing, so we had to stop to get a picture of that action…

Heading towards Pikers
Kite boarding on Adams
Joe snapping a pic of the kite skier

After a short break, we continued skinning as high as we could, eventually finishing the last thousand feet to the top of Piker’s in crampons with the skis on our backs. As usual, the climb up to the top of Piker’s was a slog. The snow on the last five hundred feet to the top was in really poor shape, and both of us were happy that we wouldn’t be skiing that on our way down…

Booting through the choss
Looking down the SW Chutes

At the top of Pikers, we took another quick rest break, and enjoyed some food along with the views. Looking down into the SW Chutes, they looked to be in good shape, and we were optimistic about the conditions of the Avy Glacier headwall.

Joe arriving at Pikers
Looking south from Pikers

After catching our breath and enjoying the views, we agreed the snow on the summit slope looked worthy of our attention, so we set off on skins and worked our way to the base of the final slope to the true summit. The last few steps above 12,000 feet were a bit of work, but we topped out around 11:30 am or so if memory serves.

Heading towards the summit
Rainier from the summit of Adams

 As usual, the views off the top of Mt Adams didn’t disappoint, and it was great to see Mt Rainier’s southside staring us in the face. Looking off to the west, there were some spicy lines of the West Pinnacle, and I made mental notes to get back for something on the White Salmon in the next few years.

West Pinnacle from the summit of Adams
Crescent Harbor Citra IPA from SeaQuest Brewing

As we hung out on top, the weather was really nice. I grabbed my beer to take a picture, but given that I was feeling a bit tired, I elected to just take a picture of it and enjoy it later when we were down at a lower altitude. I do have to say, that Crescent Harbor Citra IPA from SeaQuake Brewing was one of the tastiest IPA’s I’d put on my taste buds in quite awhile!

Matt at the summit

Around noon or so, we readied to take off and head down to check out our line. As we were getting ready to leave, a single skier approached on skins, and as they got closer I could tell it was Amar. It was good to see Amar again, and we chatted for several minutes on the summit. Turns out his party was back at Piker’s waiting while he tagged the summit, and they were going to ski the headwall as well, so we agreed we’d all ski it together. After firming up that plan, we clicked into our bindings and headed down….

Amar making turns off the top
Joe skiing at 12,000 feet

The turns off the summit were pretty nice, especially for the summit slope on Mt Adams. I headed down first, and then setup to shoot some shots of Joe and Amar as they came down. After we worked our way down a ways, Joe grabbed the camera from me and returned the favor…

Corn turns off the summit
Matt carving turns high on Mt Adams

After descending a ways, we regrouped and Amar headed down towards the entrance to the headwall to meet up with the rest of his crew. Partway down, we met up with David, who was also with Amar, and then we continued on down.

Turns on Adams with St Helens in the background
Working down towards Avy Glacier
David enjoying some good corn
Amar checking out the entrance

Above the headwall proper, we met up with the rest of Amar’s crew, which included Khanh who is a good friend of a friend of mine at work. The entrance to the headwall was looking quite a bit spicier than the last time I was up several years back, but nevertheless it still went, so one by one we dropped in. Once we got through the choke entrance, the steep long slope of the headwall was looking really inviting…

Joe skiing below the choke
Looking small on the Avy Glacier headwall

 The turns down the upper headwall are always quite exhilarating, and are made even better when the snow is smooth. The turns down on this trip didn’t disappoint, and we worked our way down, enjoying the smooth corn and steep slope angle.

David coming down the headwall
Heading down the steep headwall

I shot a bunch of photos of the skiers as we descended, and in between taking some shots of the action I enjoyed several big, sweeping turns down the steep pitch, with a few occasional jump turns mixed in. One of the things I love about this line on Adams is the views looking off to the north as well as looking down the line on the from above with the forest sprawling out below.

Some of the skiers coming down
Joe ripping through a steep section on the headwall
One of Amar’s party coming down
Enjoying the afternoon corn on the headwall

We continued working our way down the long, steep pitch, which seems to go on forever and is several thousand vertical feet in length. On a few occasions, we had to stop to rest tired legs before continuing on down…

Working down Mt Adam’s west side
Joe making more turns
Enjoying the corn on Mt Adam’s west side
Joe enjoying a quick rest on the descent

Finally, we made our way to the bottom of the headwall and waited for the rest of the skiers to complete their descent. I snapped a few pictures showing the skiers near the bottom of the line which provides a good perspective for the scale of the lower half of the slope…

A few of the skiers looking small on the headwall
Looking up at Mt Adam’s west side

Once everyone regrouped at the bottom, we discussed exit options and decided to head further down the slope in hopes of making a lower traverse option work. This was a different exit than I was used to, but I deferred to Amar’s experience given he was fairly confident in being able to link turns on snow for most of the way out.

Khanh enjoying a break on the descent
Evaluating our exit options

The turns down the lower portion of the runout were a bit bumpy but still fun, and we slowly worked our way back towards the south side of the mountain, working down as we skied. Eventually we ended up running out of snow, and needed to throw the skins on and work our way back up to the regular exit, which didn’t require that much climbing. From there, it was (what felt like) a long slog back to our uptrack on the south side route. It’s always longer on the way out when you’re tired after climbing over 6,700 feet!

Joe on the exit

A bit weary from all of the climbing and skiing, we finally linked back up with our uptrack, and after a quick break and putting the skis/boards back into ski mode, Joe and I bid the group farewell and headed down. We were able to link turns way back down towards the trailhead, which was quite a treat, and left us with just a short hike back to the pickup/

At the end of the snow

We made a quick change back into trail shoes, and a short time later were back at the car enjoying a cold beverage and changing into comfortable clothes. Both Joe and I were pretty stoked on the ski day, and definitely happy with our choice to head north from the valley to gamble on getting some corn on Mt Adams.

Back at the truck

We wasted little time loading gear into the truck, and headed down the bumpy road back towards home. After a quick pit stop back in White Salmon to refuel, it was an easy drive back down I-84 and then I-5 home. All things considered, it was the perfect way to spend a couple of days in early June!

June 26-28,2022 – Mt Rainier, Fryingpan Glacier Environs

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.

Dan & Joe on the trail in

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…

Mark crossing Fryingpan Creek
Dan & Joe at the creek crossing

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.

On skis and heading up
Rainier from below Summerland

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.

The boys at Summerland

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.

Joe heading out in search of 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.

On the bootpack
Dan making the transition

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…

Corn harvest
Joe slashing an corn turn

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.

Dan heading down
Mark getting some action

The steep slope provided great turns and we skied to the bottom and transitioned to head back up and do it all over again.

Looking down at the skiers turns before dropping in

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…

Second lap action
Matt enjoying the cruising

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.

Dan harvesting some evening corn
Turns above 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.

Back at Summerland
The view from the shelter

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.

Camp life
Our digs for the night

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.

Heading out in the morning
Mark after climbing out of 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 view back towards the east
Looking out over the Ohanapecosh country

The views from the top of the Cirque are quite scenic, and any way that you point the camera results in a pretty picture.

Joe enjoying a break atop Goat Cirque
Looking back at Dan skinning up the Goat Cirque

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.

Mark enjoying a well-earned break
Joe on the skin track

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.

Heading up high above Fryingpan Creek
The view back towards Goat Cirque and beyond

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.

Joe posing for the camera
Dan almost to our break spot

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.

Mark enjoying a break below Whitman Crest

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.

Arriving at the Crest
Joe and the two Tahoma’s from the Crest

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.

A tasty Hazy IPA from Worthy Brewing
Looking down onto the Fryingpan Glacier

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.

Rainier from the Crest
Mark soaking in the views

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…

Matt and Rainier from the crest
Joe enjoying a break on the crest

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.

Dan and Rainier
First turns off the Crest

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.

Dan dropping in on the Fryingpan
A brief pause on the way down

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…

Slashing a corn turn on the Fryingpan
Turns in front of the Tatoosh

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…

Mark enjoying June turns on Rainier
Joe skiing high above Goat Island Mountain

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.

Dan enjoying a second run off the Crest
Turns high on Rainier with the North Cascades in the background

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…

Slashing in front of Mt Adams
Matt headed down on lap 2

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 boys heading down
Joe cruising above Goat Cirque

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.

Dan working another lap on our favorite slope
Dan slashing through the steeps

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.

Mark cranking turns on Rainier
Slashing above the Ohanapecosh

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.

Small skier, big country

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…

Corn turns on Rainier
Cruising down the “favorite” slope

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…

Turns in front of Mt Adams
Late June turns on Mt Rainer

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.

Looking up at the wet debris

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.

Looking back at our turns
Dan skiing below Little Tahoma and Whitman Crest

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…

Dan working the ridge along Goat Cirque
Dropping into Goat Cirque

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.

Evening light on a dead tree at camp

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.

The crew on the morning of day 3
Joe stoked on the third day of the trip

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.

Joe at the Tahoma’s
Mark ready to drop in

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 Fryingpan Creek
Turns in front of Tahoma

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…

Mark dropping in
Joe enjoying day 3 turns

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.

Mark skiing towards the skin track

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.

Hanging out mid-run
Dan going back for seconds on Rainier, day 3

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.

Skiing down towards camp
A quick stop for a pic

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!

Skiing down from Camp
Dan on the trail out

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…

Joe on the “old” creek crossing
Crossing the creek in it’s new location

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.

Joe at the end of the sliding

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.

Perpetua Pale 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!

Enjoying beers and brats post-ski

January 24, 2022 – Mt St Helens

After a great day of turns on patrol the day before, I woke early with my alarm at 2:30 am. Since all my gear was ready to go the night before, I dressed quickly and was able to hit the road by 2:45 am and head north. The drive up the freeway through the thick fog went smoothly, and I was stoked to be heading out to visit a volcano I hadn’t been to in 9 years (could it really have been that long?). I pulled into the snowpark a few minutes before 6:00 am, and found Joe’s truck in the lot. We got our gear organized, took care of filling out the required permits, and shouldered our packs a little before 7:00 am. Skinning right from the snowpark was definitely a plus, and we worked our way through the trees. After a hour or so we got our first views of the mountain.

St Helens on the approach
Nearing Timberline

Coverage on the upper mountain was looking pretty good, and we skinned on under the firm snow as the sun rose above the horizon and created an orange glow. Looking back at Joe as we worked our way up the low angle slopes, I was definitely pretty happy about our choice to come here on this day…

Early morning light on St Helens
Sunrise over St Helens

A bit later, we caught up with a couple of guys who were on foot ahead of us. After some small chit-chat, we headed on and the slope steepened.  We were able to skin for a ways, but a couple of steep pitches caused us to switch over to booting to keep away from an unwanted slide.

Headed up
Enjoying a quick break

Soon, it was time to enjoy a deserved break, and we refueled with a bit of food and water. As we were sitting there enjoying our food and the views, a lone raven decided to pay us a visit to see if he could mooch any food off of us. I took the opportunity to snap a few photos of him, and then once he realized we didn’t have anything for him, he headed out.

A raven keeping us company
Heading up the boot track

With our break done, we headed on, and it proved to be easier to continue to boot for the time being. As we worked our way higher, the views became better and better, and I snapped a few pictures of Joe with Mt Hood in the background. A short time later, we were able to get back on the skins and get the skis off our backs…

Looking south to Mt Hood
Joe back on the skins

As we continued skinning, the views continued to improve, and we started to get good views of Mt Adams to the east. We kept skinning for as long as we could until the snow conditions became icy, and then it was time to switch to crampons for the final thousand feet or so. A few solo skiers were ahead of us and kept their skins on, but it was quite a struggle, and we quickly passed one of them.

Matt and Mt Adams
Joe nearing the top

One of the things about climbing St Helens is that it always seems like the top is just within reach, but it’s kind of like a mirage on the horizon —- always just a bit out of reach and a bit further out there. Finally, after working our way through some wind blown sastrugi near the summit ridge, we made our way to the top and were greeted with one of my favorite views in the cascades. Looking down onto Spirit Lake with Mt Rainier in the background is always such a visual treat…

First views into the crater
Fisheye view of St Helens

We made the top somewhere a bit before 12:30 pm, making for an overall approach time of just under 5 hours and 30 minutes. I pulled out the fisheye lens and snapped several photos, taking extra caution not to get too close to the edge of the cornices overhanging the caldera. In the below photo, Joe is visible hanging out at the rim on the far right…

Crater view
The view from St Helens

After snapping several photos with the fisheye, it was time to get my beer out and put it on ice, and we sat around and enjoyed the views for a bit. Joe offered to snap a picture of me in my usual pose with my board, and I returned the favor by shooting a pic of him on the rim as well….

Summit shot
Joe on the summit ridge

We hung out on top for about an hour, enjoying the views, waiting for the snow below to hopefully soften some and turn to creamy corn, and enjoying the beautiful weather. Eventually, we figured it was time to make turns, and it was also time to pull out our beers and enjoy them before our long run down. My beer of choice for the day was an excellent Overland Amber Ale from Yachats Brewing. It definitely hit the spot, and by the time I had downed it I was ready to shred.

Mt Adams from the Crater Rim
Overland Amber by Yachats Brewing

Taking off the crampons and putting on the board and skis was the crux of the trip, and once we had our sliding gear on we felt quite a bit better. I shoved off from the crater rim first, and the turns were a bit spicy for the first 800 feet or so through the sastrugi wind polished ice/snow mix. I caught a few pics of Joe coming down, and we were able to work slope for some pretty decent turns.

Joe dropping off the top
Skiing down through the sastrugi

Once we were through the marginal snow, conditions improved significantly, and we headed over to the line Joe, Ron and I skied several years ago. Our timing was perfect, and we were stoked to be in for a really nice corn harvest!

Joe harvesting some ripe corn
Matt heading down

Continuing down, we worked the slope for hundreds of turns. Joe grabbed the camera and fired off a sequence of shots of me harvesting the corn, including the ones below….

January turns down St Helens
Heading down the south side of St Helens

The benefit of climbing over 5500 feet on the approach meant that it would be a big run on the down, and we were definitely in the middle of it and it wasn’t disappointing. Above the worm flows, we spotted some good snow on skiers left, and worked our way over to ride it. Joe kept the camera, and snapped some photos as I rode through the lunar landscape…

Initiating a heelside turn on St Helens
Cruising above the worm flows

More turns followed, and eventually we had to stop to rest our legs from all the action. Needless to say, both Joe and I were pretty stoked to score such nice corn in January.

Joe working the corn
Carving through the corn

As we continued down, we started to run out of real estate and eventually had to drop into the canyon below. After scouting the ridge line, we found a spot that looked like it would go and it did…

Joe ripping
Dropping into the canyon

The ski out of the canyon was fun, and the snow stayed nice. We worked the natural quarter pipe down to the flats below, and retraced our uptrack from the morning back towards the treeline.

Joe working the canyon wall
Headed for the flats below

Once at treeline, we were able to cruise out the trail on the mostly flat slope really easily. The gliding was fast, and we needed to stop a couple of times to rest tired legs. I was able to ride the whole trail with poles out, and it was a remarkably easy glide right back to the pavement’s edge, where the first order of business was to get out of the ski boots and get the brats on the grill. While waiting for the brats to cook, we enjoyed one of Joe’s Sierra Nevada IPA’s along with the exhilaration that comes with an awesome day in the mountains.

Enjoying a beer after a great ski
The brats on the grill

Within a few minutes, the brats were done, and as usual they hit the spot after a great day of turns. It didn’t take long to scarf them down, and they were gone in no time. We hung out for a bit discussing Joe’s plans for the next few days, and then it was time for me to head out for the long drive home. I bid Joe farewell and headed down the road, but had to stop after a couple of miles to shoot one more shot of the mountain bathing in the afternoon sunshine.

St Helens from the road home

The drive home went super smoothly, and I made it through Portland without a hitch in rush hour traffic, which is unheard of. All in all, it was an excellent day of January corn, and completely worth the early morning start and long day. I’d do it again in a heartbeat, but really hope a return to winter comes soon. Winter corn great, but I’m definitely ready for some more pow turns! Until then, here’s a parting shot from the day…

Parting Shot from the Crater Rim

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