Central Cascades

Mt. Stuart, Sherpa Glacier

The day started dark and early, leaving Seattle just after 2am and heading toward Leavenworth. Sam, Tim, and I got to the Stuart Lake trailhead around 4:30, and we were hiking by headlamp at 5. The first four miles went quickly on the Stuart Lake trail, and we watched the Stuart range turn pink as the sun came up. Shortly after passing the junction between Stuart Creek and Mountaineer Creek, at the trail’s first switchback, we cut left off the trail. The hope was to cross Stuart Creek at a point where we could jump on the climber’s path heading toward Sherpa glacier. However we kept hiking due west along the north side of the creek, and by the time we finally crossed the creek we were past the climbers trail.


The next two hours involved quite a bit of bush whacking, and limited time on the climber’s trail. We would occasionally find it, but then lose it again in the downed trees and patchy snow. At times we could peek through the trees to get views of Dragontail, Colchuck, and Argonaut peaks. By trending west we picked up the climber’s path just after a boulder field, and found ourselves at the foot of Sherpa glacier.


Until this point we hiked the whole way with skis on our backs, and here we finally stopped to switch over to ski and skins. After 4.5 hours of carrying gear over shoddy terrain, it felt great to finally be moving on snow with light packs. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t last for long. After about 600 feet the grade steepened considerably, requiring crampons and axes. The skis went back on our packs, and we started kicking steps up the glacier.

At first the steps were easy to kick, and we made decent time switching off the lead. However just below the couloir the snow got deep and our pace slowed. At times there was about an inch of icy crust on top of 18 inches of new snow – that along with the steep grade made for very slow progress. However, Tim was indefatigable setting the boot pack on that stretch, and we steadily gained the couloir.

We reached the 8400’ col below Sherpa Peak at 2pm, later than expected due to slow moving through the couloir. From there the views were stunning – to the south Rainier, St Helens, and Adams were in sight, and peeking back over the north ridge revealed Glacier, Baker, and the North Cascades. There we stopped for a quick bite to eat before pushing west toward the summit. The first stretch was mostly traversing, and then we took a sharp angle and booted straight up to the false summit. Progressing past the false summit, we became increasingly worried about loose wet slides. The south aspect was getting baked in the warm weather, and most steps sent little slides down the face of the peak. Looking up toward the summit, we couldn’t quite find a safe angle for the approach, and we were concerned about getting off the top safely. With less than 100 ft to go, we made the difficult call to turn around.

Turn around point... <100 ft to go

We dropped back to the false summit in crampons, and then took a break to switch over to ski gear. From there we entered the top of Cascadian Couloir, but skied very cautiously due to the significant wet slides we were releasing with every turn. Finally we dropped back into the couloir above Sherpa glacier. The top of the couloir yielded the exact opposite conditions – cold and icy. However, as we approached the middle of the glacier the snow turned softer, and we ended the descent with some great turns.

Once off the snow we followed the climber’s trail for about a mile, before losing it in the brush. The next two hours involved bush wacking along Mountaineer Creek, until we finally charged north across a marsh and ended back up on the Stuart Lake trail. We got back to the car around 9, making for a 16 hour trip. Burgers and beers at the Bavarian Bistro in Leavenworth gave us just the fuel we needed for the drive back to Seattle.


Touring Mt. Rainier

A Not So Humble Brag, Chinook Pass

Two peaks in one week?! What a treat.

A late winter storm hit this weekend leaving over two feet of snow in the mountains in 48 hours, remarkably Stevens Pass started spinning the lifts for a day. A few of us chose a different pass to ski on Sunday. For the second time in two weeks we set off from Chinook Pass around 10 this morning to join roughly 100 other folks on the hills around Naches Peak. The late start was no problem, as there were plenty of good turns to go around.

It seems 75% of the crowd generally clears out by 11:30 up there, so by noon we were skiing the thigh deeps turns by ourselves. The new snow was bonding to the layer below extremely well and we saw little to no activity, even in the steeper terrain. Bottomless and stable, truly hero snow today.

On the way out we skied a new route off the west side of Naches back to the car. It is ridden just as much as the east side but it was new to me, and makes the trip out much more enjoyable.

The snow is good out there right now, and it looks like there may be a bit more on the way. How nice is it that they opened the pass so early? If it keeps snowing like this they may close it down again. Get it while it’s hot cold!

Touring Mt. Rainier

Nisqually Chute, Mt. Rainier

It was a relatively quiet day at Paradise when we showed up in the parking lot. Despite the few visitors to the park on a Friday though, the skin track was well worn as far as Panorama Point. No doubt the powder starved masses trying to cash in on the most recent late season storm from last week. The new snow seemed well bonded now with the notable exception of some major movement down the Nisqually Chute. I didn’t hear when that occurred but the snow in the slide was set up pretty firm, when we eventually rode down on top of it.

The changeover

It was ultimately a fairly uneventful day riding the the Chute. We split to around 8500 and dropped in on a slightly lower aspect. Pretty windy today, especially about 6000. The snow was very blown up top but started to soften around 7000 on the way down and back to the parking lot.

With some significant snow in the forecast for tonight and through the weekend it seems it could get treacherous on some of the higher angle slopes in the next couple of days. I for one however, welcome some new snow in the mountains.

Touring Mt. Rainier Movies

Naches Peak, Chinook Pass

Our touring group got up to Chinook Pass around 9 am. We scrapped our original plan to try and attack the Sheep Lake Couloir due to very minimal coverage on southern facing slopes (not sure why we thought that might work). We had no idea how you would even begin the approach from Chinook Pass let alone even if we could expect snow after what would have likely been 1,000+ feet of hiking dirt and rocks.

We instead decided to lap the northern facing slopes off Naches Peak. Starting out from the parking lot at 9:30 am we toured in light base layers. Lots of sun screen was a must… and I did not abide by that must. I’m paying for it tonight. The snow starts right at the parking lots and no hiking was required. The snow right from the get go was surprisingly soft with a very thin, weak crust layer about 6″ below.

Naches Peak, Chinook Pass

When we got to the base of Naches it was clear Friday was a lonely day, based on the few tracks we saw. Today, Saturday, was the opposite. We saw about 50+ different people out touring near Naches Peak. Northern aspects were great for making turns in soft, light snow… something we’ve known little of this season.

Skin tracks were heavily traveled. As the day went on snow began to melt and freeze in the skin tracks making them slick. There were a lot of blowouts on the skin trail, damn splitboarders. Side hilling became challenging as the day went on and setting a solid edge was key.

Naches Peak, Chinook Pass

Coverage all around is low, but we had next to no base damage on our gear, even after 5 laps with filled with airs and power turns. Throughout the day clouds kept trying to hold, but the sun would burn it off before visibility could become a problem.

On the drive home we encountered some rain shortly after passing Crystal Mountain Resort.