Yesterday Eric and I awake at 4:00am and drove South to Mt Rainier National Park for a N4 XC Ski Field Trip run by the Mountaineers. The focus of the trip/class was to work on off-track Nordic skiing. Eric and I met with the rest of our group in Longmire just as the gate to Paradise opened at 9:00am. By the time we reach Paradise it was about 9:45am. The sun was shinning the Mt Rainier towered above us, completely visible except for one low cloud hanging below the summit. After a brief discussion of the days plans for clicked into our skinny skis and headed up the track. The plan was to do the Skyline Loop which heads with Edith Creek to the base of Panorama Point and then ski back down the regular trail to Panorama back to the Visitor Center.

The beginning of the route was on a freshly plowed cat-track, but it quickly converted to a narrow trail cut by snowshoers with steep snow banks. This was easy when the ground was level but there were, of course, some rolling ups and downs that were steep… with the high walls getting a decent herringbone was challenging. The side walls grew shallower after some time and we reached a steep broad slope. After discussing avalanche potential  and route selection,  Henry, our leader, had us get off trail at this point and create switch backs up the slope using the kick turn technique. It’s awkward of course, but after repeating it all the way up the hill we were all rather proficient… and jealous of the AT skiier with climbing skins!

Clouds began to roll in around this time and the sun vanished. Thick mist now covered the lower portion of the Tatoosh Range, but all the summits were still visible. We gathered up the remains of our energy and headed for the final steep slope to the base pf Panorama Point. The ground was well trodden by snowshoers and some members of the group opted to walk up. I herringboned up the slope. I didn’t find it too tiring if you managed your energy and took rests every few yards. At the top we took a quick lunch break before descending.

Our decent must have been hillarious to watch. It involved the entire group falling as we tried to keep balance on a steep powdery slope, with free heels, in skinny skis. We all got very good at getting up efficiently! The usually, Rocky Mountain type, powder concealed large chunks of ice beneath that our skis got hung up on causing us to topple even when the terrain wasn’t as steep. Winds had been picking up and snow stung our faces in near white out conditions. We made it back to the Jackson Visitor Center in decent time though considering how much falling we did.

The rest of the group headed back home. Eric and I hung out in the VC as the winds continued to pick up and howling outside. We could see heavy snow swirling through the windows… we we could see the heavy snow for about 5 meters, beyond that was a whiteout! We moved our car to overnight parking at 4:30 when the VC closed and slide clumsily into our sleeping bags. It didn’t take long for a crust of ice to form on the inside of the windows and for the outside to get covered in snow and ice. The wind whipped around us all night.

We awoke to 2mm of frost on the inside of the winders and perhaps 3/4cm of ice on the outside. Plus some snow cover as well! The wind had died down though snow still fell. Eric and I headed to a nearby hill to practice two person crevasse rescue and avalanche beacon searching. We arrived back to the parking lot just in time to catch a convoy of vehicles lined up to be escorted to Longmire by LE Rangers. The gate had not been opened that morning… and when we left Longmire at 12:30pm it was still closed!

 

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