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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Little Tahoma - Frying Pan Glacier, June 2011



I’ve had unfinished business with Little Tahoma for quite some time now. Every May through June since my previous attempt back in June 2008, Little T’ has manifested in my consciousness as THE thing to do. So it finally came to pass this spring that I would heed the call and revisit Mt. Rainier National Park’s east-side, making the long trudge along Frying Pan Creek late on a Saturday afternoon to a comfortable camp in Summer Land. Well, to be honest it wasn’t so much a trudge considering that John and I were able to skin directly from the parking area. In any case, it’s been said many times before but this year’s heavy snowpack is nothing short of amazing!

Booting up firm snow the following morning, I resumed skinning once atop Meany Crest rapidly closing in on a party of 5 who had camped near us that night. Now six-strong, we started up a boot track leading away from the 9000-ft col between the Frying Pan and Whitman Glaciers. The softening snow forced us all back on skis in no time, with me reverting again to knee deep postholing shortly thereafter. I didn’t think it was possible to skin up the steep south-facing slope below the summit crags, but was soon proven otherwise. If nothing else, I made faster progress than my two-planking counterparts albeit with much more energy expenditure I'd venture to guess. A long last, a short but enjoyably airy scramble led to the best vantage point from which to view the mighty Tahoma - Little T’s tippy top!

Clouds moved in well in advance of the next forecasted frontal system and made for a rather murky ride back down the peak’s South Slope to the 9k saddle. Similar to our previous attempt, John and I found ourselves below the cloud deck at this point and proceeded to make endless turns in hero corn down the Frying Pan Glacier. I set off a rather large sluff slide on a steep pitch below Meany Crest which John somehow got caught up in but nevertheless managed to escape without injury. If nothing else, seeing all the snow I had just set free catapult over a cliff just skier’s right of where John got taken down gave me an appreciation for not following so closely behind another skier/boarder. Ya hear me John?

We packed-up camp and made our way back to the parking area in record time thanks in large part to being able to ride out most of the way. Yes, using poles and skill in the art of one-footing greatly helps in “descents” such as these. Seeing as it only took us 3 hours from our initial drop-in point high on Little T’ to the car, I take pity on those that climb the peak entirely on foot. I was certainly happy to have made it back when we did, for the first drops of rain had already begun falling as we were changing at the car. It was absolutely pouring by the time we reached hwy410 and well, I think the higher elevations must have picked-up yet more snow!






Monday, June 20, 2011

Gibraltar Chute ski/board (via DC), June 2011



Steve and I skinned up to Muir Friday evening and secured the last two remaining spots in the hut. Up at O-dark-thirty and departing Muir at a rather tardy 4 am with a third (Mike) we picked up the previous night. The Ingraham Direct was reportedly already out of shape, but the Disappointment Cleaver had only just been put in. Sure it’s the “dog route” but experiencing it in relatively un-crowded and pristine early-season conditions gave the ascent an aesthetic quality that I wasn’t expecting.

It was steady but slow going thanks to some slippin’ and slidin' on the icy skin track followed by technical issues with crampons and topped with a bout of cramps and bonking. A 20 min rest atop the cleaver and we were all well again and ready to continue. From here the DC route now makes a LONG and tedious end-run out onto the Emmons, then some switchbacks before cutting back onto the Ingraham-Nisqually.

We finally reached the crater rim around 11:30 where we encountered some wind (is it ever not windy at 14,409ft?) Steve and I proceeded across the crater to tag the summit. Back at the rim, we acquainted another party of two (Jeff & ?) who had climbed the Fuhrer Finger in a one-day push but decided not to ski the Finger on account of unexpectedly steep snow and/or firm conditions. They would join us down the Gibraltar Chute instead.

We began our descent from the crater rim around 12:30. Down the Ingraham-Nisqually, negotiating crevasses and bridges as necessary. Some survival skiing was endured up top with firm snow and intermittent pockets of pow. Snow conditions began changing to creamed corn below the last band of crevasses making for a nice long shredable pitch down to the saddle atop the chute.

A party of three ski-mountaineers who climbed up the Gib Ledges to the saddle earlier that day had already put tracks down the chute, and so we were spared the guesswork of how to negotiate the crevasses towards the bottom of the apron. Dropping first down the blind roll into the gut of the chute, I rode down through the hourglass and onto the apron below. Endless turns, epic corn and a dramatic setting with huge ice cliffs and seracs looming overhead! Words do not do this line justice.

Jeff and I were first across a large snow bridge towards the bottom to reach the relative security of the glacier flats. Stopping for a moment to look back up at the other three skiing the chute, we decided to high-tail it out of there seeing as this was no place to linger with so much ice perched overhead. We then skied smooth lower angled corn down the Nisqually Glacier to finally reach the edge of the Muir Snowfield. The conga line up to Camp Muir was in full swing by that point ~1:00pm.

Everyone got down safely and Steve, Mike and I parted ways with the duo we had met at the summit. The three of us then made the short skin back up to Muir to grab our gear before descending to Paradise. I can't recall the last time I enjoyed such nice, smooth corn on the Snowfield and savored the fast cruiser turns down to Panorama Point, whereupon the snow got a little sticky for the remaining ski down to the lower lot.

Arguably a better ski descent than the Fuhrer Finger, I’m surprised this line doesn’t get more attention considering the relatively easy access starting from Camp Muir.





Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Freund Canyon MTB, May 2011

Another miserable Seattle weekend…another escapade east-of-the-crest in search of dry singletrack. I guess I shouldn’t bitch considering an unseasonably late dump that graced the only operating ski resort in WA the morning of 5/28; but I digress. Credit goes to Eric for suggesting this ride and salvaging Memorial Day. Being short on sleep and motivation, I didn’t make it out of town until noon – yes a wee bit late for a Leavenworth ride, but days are long this time of year.

The ~9 mile Freund Canyon loop is a Leavenworth classic that also happens to be the site of the Bavarian Bike & Brew Festival held every June. A relatively easy ascent on a dirt road and singletrack leads to a well manicured downhill trail that is an absolute blast to ride. To quote the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance: “…the downhill is a fast, brakeless, water bar (read: jump!) & berm-laden joyride.“ True, true!! We’d have cheated ourselves leaving it at just one lap and so put the cameras away and went up for seconds. A requisite stop at Gustav’s for eats and a pitcher of Bitburger made for a fitting finale to this final day in May.


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