A three day weekend resulting from Christmas being on a Friday this year=3 day xc backpack! High avalanche danger again in the forecast due to heavy and constant snow accumulation over the past week, but the weekend showed promise of some sun on the west side. Thus, our destination was Sunrise Point via the closed road from the White River Entrance of Mt Rainier National park. The point is 17 miles away from the entrance and the plan was to xc ski for two days to Sunrise Point and then all the way down on day 3. We expected that snowmobiles had broken track at least to the Sunrise Turnoff at the the White River Campground Junction.

As per every winter excursion things didn’t exactly pan out as expected, but this didn’t change the fun of our adventure! The snowmobile tracks ended about .25 miles into our journey and we were left to cut track through 3 feet of untouched powder on our own. This slowed us down rather significantly and tested our endurance. We used elk tracks when available, but mostly we just cut through the powder own taking turns in the lead every 30-45 minutes. We did well considering. A big hurdle proved to be climbing over some large trees that had fallen completely across the rd. These trees required some finesse to scamper over with our long skis. I didn’t want to take my skis off at all costs for fear of sinking waist deep into the soft powder… Damien decided to take his skis off when crossing a particularly branchy large tree and that is exactly what happened to him! Another hazard was that the trees were so heavy with snow many were leaning very precariously over the trail looking like they might topple at any moment.

We made it past the Ranger Station and continued to push on in hopes of reaching the White River Campground Junction. Darkness fell and we turned out our new Petzl NAO headlamps (Christmas gift from Damien to us). We reached Shaw Creek and looked at a map to see how far were were from the Junction. At least two miles which translated to about 3 more hours of skiing (we were beginning to slow down)… we’d get there at 8:00. We looked around at the trees and decided to set up camp on the road out the the fall-line of some leaning trees. It was a beautiful camp. The snow twinkled in the moonlight and the air grew bitter cold as we sat outside eating our Christmas meals. A beautiful night to end an endurance test of a day.

We broke camp at about 8:30am the next morning. No new snow had fallen overnight, but there was a nice layer of hoarfrost. We reached the White River Bridge and Junction with the road to Sunrise a little before noon as predicted. We stopped about .25 into the rd to filter water from a running drainage as we were getting concerned about our low fuel. The cold night had sapped more of it than we expected when making dinner and water. As it turned out our filter frozen so we ended up using iodine tablets.

We continued up the steepening road. The slopes on the right side opened up revealing small cliffs. Snow had fallen down these cliffs in small avalanches. They did now spill beyond the side of the road. But we still leap-frogged our travel here watching each other cross under the slopes just in case. We kept thinking this section of avy slopes would go away, but the slopes and cliffs get taller and bigger the higher we traveled. We reached a high slope that had not yet avalanched and stopped there to have a discussion. We decided we would cross under this slope and look around the corner one last time to and make a decision. We crossed leap-frog style. The next slope was taller and partially avalanched. At 2:30 our chances of reaching Sunrise Point were not very good with all this uphill trail breaking and the avalanche danger seemed to be increasing with turn around the corner. We opted to turn back at camp on the White River Bridge.

Getting down took much less time on the downhill broken trail. We were able to glide easily and made it to the bridge at about 3:30. We passed a group of snowshoers just before the bridge. They had started the previous afternoon. But they were camping down the White River Campground Rd about another mile away. We began putting up out tent on the bridge as the temperature dropped. A large male elk plunged through snow up to his chest near the river giving the evening a true wilderness feel. He paused by the river for a few minutes and looked at us as though deciding if it was a good idea to cross the icy water. He ended up turning around bounding into the forest. Darkness settled as we cooked dinner and made water. We had just enough fuel. That night it was colder and it snowed.

We awoke to 2 more inches of snow. The going was extremely faster ont he way down. We reached snowmobile tracks about 1.5 miles into our trip and the trees has massive holds sawed into them providing less precarious passage. The winds picked up at one point blowing down massive amount of snow from the treetops. This created momentary whiteouts on the trails. Damien would be there and then suddenly vanish! We stayed in the middle of the road as best we could to avoid a direct hit of falling powder! The closer we got to the White River Entrance the more folks we ran into and the easier the track became. We made it out in 4.5 hours! Cutting trail definitely takes up a a lot of time, but it tested our endurance and persistence in the backcountry… and the solitude of the winter wonderland was more than worth the effort.

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