Categories
Climbing Washington Touring Mt. Rainier

Lane Peak, Zipper Couloir

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, if it wasn’t directly in the shadow of Mount Rainier, the Tatoosh range would be it’s own National Park.

The gate into the park was a little late, opening at about 9:30am. We drove from Longmire up to Narada Falls under a nearly cloudless sky. Crossing the Nisqually bridge we considered skiing the Nisqually Chute but instead stuck with our original plan to head towards Lane Peak.

From the parking lot there was obvious debris on the apron below the Fly and Zipper couloirs from what was likely loose-wet activity the day prior. Considering the northern facing aspect, it looked like there was potential for crusty conditions but the trees were holding good snow and skinning up to Stevens Canyon Road from the falls we found light powdery snow that we were hoping for reassuring us on the conditions.

At this point in the season Stevens Canyon Road has been plowed so we threw the skis over our shoulder for the short walk to the bend were we transitioned and rode the trees down to Tatoosh Creek trending west toward the base of Lane Peak.

Now the clouds came in on what had been blue sky all morning and it began snowing heavily. Crossing the creek we passed a group who was bailing due to avalanche concern. We continued on, following the skin track of an another group who appeared to be heading for the adjacent Fly Couloir.

Up until this point we had not committed to a specific objective, instead keeping an option open to ski either the Fly or the Zipper Couloir. At the tree stand that sits where the base of the two couloirs meet we decided to boot up the Zipper, being the steeper and narrower of the two as the group ahead of us was going for the Fly.

The climbing started out in thigh deep snow making for slow going, however as we ascended the booting eased up. As we climbed the snow began to warm and drop off the tree branches on the walls above. As the trees bombed the couloir the snow would pick up speed and mass flushing the slope we were on and creating significant loose-wet slides that could easily take you off your feet. We picked up our pace to minimize our time in this hazard zone and finally finished the remaining 500ft of the couloir by 1:30pm with no major incidents.

This time of year the gate is closing at 4pm and not wanting to get stuck in the park we hurried our transition to drop in. The day was still warming as well and the wet slides in the couloir were increasing in their frequency and volume. We skied the length of the couloir one at a time to reduce our exposure.

The turns in the couloir itself were incredible. The snow was soft and loose. A little too loose as sluff mitigation was critical after almost every turn. The apron had a lot of debris on it and made for some chunky skiing in spots. After this the snow warmed significantly slowing us to a crawl by the time we returned to the creek.

From here it was back up to the road and then a ski down to the car. We hit the gate at 3:50pm just before close.

We got lucky with the conditions. The skiing was great but the avalanche activity due to late spring sun on a northern aspect was much more than we anticipated. As is often the case it became a matter of timing. We got up and down without issue but any later in the day and we would have surely experienced significant hazard. Either way, another amazing ski line in Mount Rainer National Park.

Categories
Washington Touring Mt. Rainier Central Cascades

Mt Rainier, Fuhrer Finger

It’s Friday evening, and Zach and I had just been set up by our mutual friend Whitney to climb and ski Mt. Rainier together over the weekend.  We had both been looking for partners to attempt the Fuhrer Finger route, and had both approached Whitney about skiing the Finger.   The Fuhrer Finger is an extraordinary ski mountaineering line; it takes a direct line up a south aspect of Mt. Rainier, and gets its name from the 3000 vertical foot, 40 degree chute located about two thirds of the way up the route, called ‘the finger.’  Some sources cite it as the biggest ski descent in the lower forty eight, but I’m skeptical of anything with a ‘biggest’ quantifier in front of it.   It’s definitely up there, a rad line, for sure.  In good conditions, the entire 9000 vertical feet of the route is ski-able on the descent, with the option to extend that even further by skiing to the Nisqually bridge.

After reviewing our 2-person crevasse rescue skills, we talk about details on the route.  There’s a risk of rockfall within the finger, which is heightened later in the day as things heat up.  There’s also the risk of loose-wet slides later in the day.  Timing on ascent day will be critical, as you want to be descending after the snow has softened up enough to be ski-able, yet before the rocks start firing down from above, or before the snow beneath you becomes warm and unstable.  Based on the predicted warm weather, we set a turnaround time of 11AM for summit day

Saturday, 12:00PM: We arrive at the Paradise Parking lot. We gather our permits and gear, and hit the trail at 1PM

The weather for our ascent was warm and sunny.  Just before dropping down to the Lower Nisqually Glacier, we got a nice view of our planned route.  We chose to hook low and left around the Wilson glacier and gain the ridge to camp, rather than picking our way up through the middle as some do.

Both the Lower Nisqually and the Wilson were in great shape – neither ourselves nor the other two parties we ran into opted to rope up for these glacier crossings.

Saturday, 6:00PM: Arrive at camp .  If you camp by the castle, there’s currently nice, clean, running water by the upper sites.  We skipped the water boiling routine, and haven’t gotten giardia, yet.

Sunday, 2:30AM:  Summit day!  We hit the trail and cross the Wilson glacier to begin the bootpack up the finger. 

Around 4AM, despite it being the coldest portion of the day, a softball size rock came flying down the finger between Zach and myself.  Although jarring, that rock was the only rockfall we witnessed throughout the day.

6:00 AM: Sunrise. After 9000 french steps, we reach the top of the finger.

At the top of the finger we went high and left above a serac before hooking right onto the Upper Nisqually Glacier.

We roped up here. The upper Nisqually was still in great shape – only a couple of snow bridges to cross on the way to the summit.

Slow going on the last couple thousand feet. We chose to continue booting, however, skinning with ski crampons would have been an equally reasonable choice. A group of Canadians did so, and we played rope team leapfrog for a while.

11AM: Summit! We snacked and transitioned quickly, as we had just barely made our turnaround goal. Just enough time for a ski guitar summit picture :).

Conditions were perfect corn on the way back to camp. The terrain was fantastic, and the scenery unbeatable.

We took a leisurely pace packing up camp, and ended up getting back to the car around 4PM.

What a fantastic weekend on the mountain. The Fuhrer finger delivered everything that was expected, and more – absolutely worthy of it’s reputation as one of the best ski mountaineering descents in North America.


Categories
Crystal Mountain Touring

Crystal Mountain, Silver Basin

Just a quick update on early season conditions so far. We went out in Silver Basin at Crystal on Saturday. There were probably about 50 cars in the parking lot when we arrived a little after 9am. It was wanting to snow so badly while we geared up but it was coming down mostly as mixed precip.

Our group of 10 split up the Quicksilver chair line more or less in some very heavy snow that didn’t really soften until we entered the basin proper at 5600 ft. From there we followed the skin track of 5-10 other groups who were already out there attacking Three Way Peak, the King and everything in between.

We took about three runs and several core shots before we turned around at 2pm and rode back to the parking lot. Good snow up high, still a little wet, but that will help to cover some of the sharks that are still lurking up there.

More snow this week. Fingers crossed for an early opening.

Categories
Climbing Washington Touring Mt. Rainier

Mt Rainier, Success Couloir

Success Glacier Couloir on Mount Rainier. A friend of a friend had heard about it.

Finding information on the route wasn’t easy; a google search pulled up a couple dated trip reports with helpful beta but very little to cross-reference against. Skiing down the south-facing couloir seemed straight-forward (and fun!) but climbing up was more like choose your own adventure. We chose the Kautz Cleaver for the ascent with two goals in mind: 1) ski the couloir, and 2) summit rainier via a traverse onto the Kautz Headwall.

We (David, Sam, myself) started Saturday morning from Paradise at 9:30 AM. Day One was largely a traverse taking us across the Nisqually, Wilson, Van Trump, and Kautz Glaciers. The route steepened when we got to the cleaver (35 to 45 degrees) and we ascended to 10,200 feet before taking up camp at a lovely bivy spot. For some reason this route just isn’t popular with the rainier masses, so we had the entire cleaver to ourselves Saturday. Party! A couple flasks were downed and the three of us retreated to the tent to rest up for summit day.

IMG_0864

We continued up the cleaver Sunday morning at 5 and by 7 the sun was hitting most of the route. This proved to be a big problem; around 12,000 feet we started getting hit by ice pellets, which turned to ice balls, which turned to rock, one of which flew right over my head. Good karma? Bad karma? Damnit. The reality had sunk in. Our timing was off, conditions weren’t right. The good news was we were nearing the top of the couloir. The bad news was if we wanted to summit, we still had an exposed traverse over the Kautz underneath a rimy, rocky, ridge that was also likely unloading its contents onto the slopes below. A fall would be “a bummer” in the words of David Kiker. Agreed, David.

We made the safe call to fold our hand on the summit bid and focus on the ski/board down. After a quick nap at 12,800 feet, we headed down. Snow was firm up high, with some packed powder turns, turning to corned snow between 12,000 and 9,000. We did not observe any loose wet avalanches on the way down, although the snow got very rotten around 7,000 as we descended via the Van Trump, down through comet falls and eventually onto the hikers trail. This is a fun tour that is highly recommended over two days; great steep skiing and an isolated feeling.

IMG_0916

Categories
Mt. Rainier

First Turns of the Season

The forecast was looking promising going into the weekend with a cooling trend moving into Saturday afternoon and lots of precipitation. But we showed up in the parking lot at Chinook Pass a little before 10am on Sunday and it seemed most of that weather didn’t come through. Despite the absence of new snow, we are just excited to be back snowboarding in the mountains again.

There is enough snow to cover most of the major obstacles and make for a fairly non confrontational skin out to the east facing bowl below Naches Peak. It is still pretty low tide with some tricky turns to navigate down both the east and west facing slopes. Most turns result in a dirt slash or worse when there are rocks under foot but there’s enough snow to get down the mountain and even get a few fun blasts in when you find that good pocket.

It needs another foot to really get going out there, but with a big storm forecasted to come in this week it could be nice real soon. Fingers crossed we don’t get stood up again.

Categories
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.

Categories
Mt. Rainier

Nisqually Chute, Mt. Rainier

On Saturday we joined the mass-exodus from the lowlands up at Rainier and set our sites on Camp Muir. Anticipating an icy snowpack that would need some help from the sun in order to become enjoyable, we took our time through Puyallup, going as far as driving several exits in the wrong direction all in the interest of getting the best turns possible.

We pulled in to the parking lot at Paradise around 10:30 which was just about at capacity. The sky was blue and the snow was cold so we set off toward Panorama Point opting to boot last 500 ft or so, while the stubborn struggled with the skin track nearing the top.

DSC_1516

From there it was a straight shot and about 2000 ft to Moon Rocks where we decided on our turn around. The snow was consistently icy for the entire duration of the trip, making it difficult to hold and edge while side hilling along what I believe is referred to as The Sugarloaf, as well as extremely jarring on the ride down.

DSC_1677

Heading back toward the car around 3:30 we skied the Nisqually Chute, which despite sitting in sun all day, was no exception the hard snow conditions experienced everywhere else. A quick hike out of the chute and a bumpy ride back to the parking lot put us back at the car around 4:20 where we took our time packing up until the rangers came around and warned us that the Longmire gate closes at 5:00. I’m not sure how strict they are on that time but we drove through at 4:59.

It was a nice day at the mountain that can be summed up like this; Great weather, very poor snow conditions. The coverage up there is fine right now but it was horribly icy. I guess it just depends on what you are in it for.

DSC_1683

Photos courtesy of Charlie Coultas

Categories
Mt. Rainier

Nisqually Chute, Mt. Rainier

brian-behrens-mt-rainier

walking-out-of-nisqually chutes

Photos courtesy of Vertical Junkie