We got off to a shaky start. Heck we were trying to be good husbands, dads, whatever. So we left a day later. The forecast sounded pretty brutal, so one day less of being wet did not seem so bad. We left on Monday morning and drove up to Paradise at 5400 feet. The drive through the lower environs of the park were pretty impressive. The fall floods of '06 really did a number on roads, creek beds and campgrounds.
Scott Kushino, trusty friend and client finally fessed up about his stomach condition, so he decided to stay behind. Hattrup and I thought - jeez, a day late, in the rain with only 2 clients left....
So we left in the fog with moisture laden clouds and made it to our camp at around 8100 feet on the edge of the Paradise Glacier just before the weather starting explaining who is boss around here.
The next morning under freezing rain and sleet, we left for our first objective - Little Tahoma. Well, we could not see much for the first couple of hours and M and M were working for a living. We traversed the Cowlitz and Ingraham glacier and low and behold the weather started to get a bit better. Our confidence increased and pretty soon we were on the Whitman Glacier. The summit slopes of Little Tahoma are quite steep. There is certainly rockfall hazard, some crevasse fall hazard, and all the things that make ski mountaineering objectives just that. Visibility came and went, but we kept on keeping on, since our "clients" Peter Avolio and Ron Pettet are machines. To our surprise, we topped out on a narrow and exposed summit ridge (11113 feet).
All things considered one of the cooler ski mountaineering objectives of the area. People say that the views are incredible from up there. We would not have known....
We reversed our tracks and found our tents on the Paradise Glacier thanks to GPS. This tour would have been very serious without the GPS.
The next day we transferred to a little bivy spot on the Wilson Cleaver at about 9500 feet. This entailed crossing the Nisqually Glacier at 9000 feet in another whiteout. Dang.... Mount Rainier produces some big crevasses....
We could see some blue sky now from time to time. Just enough to see that there was clear blue sky right above us. Sure enough by the time we made it to camp, we were above the clouds.
The next morning at 3am the alarm went off and I expressed doubts about the skiability of our intended route - the Fuhrer Finger. Mike told me to shut up and have a cup of coffee before I open my mouth and say stupid things again.
It was amazing how that worked.
From our camp we were in perfect position to the "Finger". The snow was hard and frozen. Perfect climbing conditions. The ascent went off without a hitch, but we were concerned about the skiability. The snow was frozen, very rough and starting to be sun cupped. Well, we made it to the summit in about 5 hours from camp, told ourselves that we were very cool (which is true...) and started our ski descent.
It turned out perfect. The skiing was actually very good. The sun had warmed it all up nicely, the weather was perfect and the scenery was spectacular. Rockfall in the Finger is certainly something to watch out for and the crevasses on the upper Nisqually really present more of a technical challenge than the Finger itself. The whole tour is really more of a mountaineering outing. You just happen to have skis with you.
Oh, one other thing; the descent is huge. 10000 feet of turns, have a nice day!
At around 1 pm, we were back in camp in brilliant sunshine. We decided to stay up there for the rest of the day, do some bragging, caffeinating and general hanging out. Maybe some of the most productive nothing-doing I have done in a while...
What a sunset... what a place to spend the night - especially if you have nothing better to do than drink a cup of coffee "slacktrain style" when you wake up because you already completed your objective. That is what we did, right before we skied the "leftover" 4000 feet of perfect corn to Paradise.