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Author Topic: June 19-22, 2008: Rainier Circumnavigation  (Read 2283 times)
Gary Womeldorff
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June 19-22, 2008: Rainier Circumnavigation
« on: 06/29/08, 08:18 AM »

The idea of circumnavigating Rainier has been in the back of my mind since reading Dee Molenaar’s book “The Challenge of Rainier” over 35 years ago.  It always seemed like it would be a big undertaking to do the route on foot, and for some reason I never considered skiing the route.  Chris and I had talked about doing an extended ski trip this spring and it finally dawned on me that we could ski around Rainier.  Skiing would allow us to do the route early season before the glaciers became too crevassed.  So I dusted off the book and mapped out Molenaar’s route.  At the same time I stumbled across Paul Russell’s description of skiing it last July which gave us added motivation. 

As stated by many others, this has been a difficult spring for finding the right combination of settled snow and weather.  We had already made a failed attempt three weeks earlier, when we turned around at St Elmo’s Pass because of rain and poor visibility.  Even though the weather forecast wasn’t the greatest, we were anxious to go, and this weekend seemed like our best chance.  We decided to take four days in case weather complicated route finding.  The weather turned out to be all right, but we were glad to have had four days.

Thursday June 19th
We left White River at 9:30AM.  The trail had melted out substantially in the three weeks since our last attempt.  This made for easier travel with the exception of having to carry skis a bit further.  Our weather was good even though the top of Rainier was covered in clouds.  The snow from two weeks earlier hadn’t completely consolidated and this made for slower travel than you would expect for late spring.  The glaciers however were in very good shape and didn’t pose any route finding problems.  We were intimidated by our first view (on the east side of the Russell Glacier) of one of the large slabs that had recently released.  Dropping lower on the Carbon we found an alternate route that didn’t look as avalanche prone.  In retrospect it would have been quicker and probably safer to have skied or booted straight up the scoured slope.  We camped next to a rock island at 7800’ on the Russell Glacier.  (10.5 hours, 5400’)


Friday June 20th
In the morning we skied to 8300’ on Ptarmigan Ridge where we could climb down rock rubble to snow slopes.  The skiing from there to the North Mowich Glacier was far from ideal, but it beat carrying the skis over loose rock.  Once on the glacier we cut across to the west of Needle Rock then south to the Edmunds Glacier.  From the south edge of the Edmunds we dropped west down sun-baked slopes to the South Mowich, then up and over to the Puyallup Glacier.  There were mountains of avalanche debris on the S Mowich that had come down from the isolated NE pocket of the S Mowich.  The avalanche had come down through the narrow gap to the main glacier, turned the corner, and run hundreds of feet down carving a giant halfpipe into the glacier’s surface.  Seeing all of the debris was unnerving even though we could rationalize that it must have come down more than a week earlier.  It added to the growing sense of isolation we were already feeling.  It was an easy ski down the Puyallup Glacier to the ridge above Tokaloo Rock.  We wanted to continue across the Tahoma Glacier, but the south facing slopes were too unstable in the late afternoon so we camped at 7700’ on the Puyallup Cleaver.  (11 hours, 3900’)

Saturday June 21st
This was the one day of the weekend that had forecast rain, and sure enough the clouds were lower and we could see rain to the southwest.  The snow was more consolidated than the previous afternoon, and the ski down to the Tahoma was enjoyable.  We crossed the glacier, skied up the pass to the north of Glacier Island, then onto the South Tahoma Glacier.  We crossed onto Success Cleaver at 8000’ then onto and across the Pyramid Glacier.  Instead of going high to the Kautz Glacier we dropped below a rock toe at 7400’, then climbed up the Kautz and across Wapowety Cleaver at 8400’.  There were some short rain showers, but overall the weather was still good.  A downward traverse across the Van Trump Glacier brought us to the Wilson Glacier which we crossed to a rock notch on the edge of the Nisqually.  It turned out to be 200’ above the correct notch, but we were still able to get onto the glacier.  There were more open crevasses here than on any of the other glaciers, but the snow was frozen and good traveling.  We stopped at Anvil Rock just as the sun set.  Luckily it was the longest day of the year because we used every bit of daylight.  (14 hours, 5300’)

Sunday June 22nd
This was the spare “bad weather” day and it was nice to know we could take our time.  The snow on the Muir Snowfield and Paradise Glacier was frozen solid even though we didn’t leave camp until 8:30AM.  Once onto the Cowlitz Glacier the clouds began flowing and ebbing around us.  They never stayed very long and just added to the experience.  After climbing Tahoma Gap between the Ingraham and Whitman Glaciers we knew it would be clear skiing to Summerland.  Indeed this was the best skiing of the entire four days.  This trip is more about climbing than turning, but the great skiing on the Fryingpan was an excellent way to finish off the weekend.  (8 hours, 2000’)

Observations:
I’ve climbed Rainier numerous times, biked around in a day (Ramrod) several times, and hiked around it in three days.  None of those compare to this trip in giving a true appreciation of the mountain’s enormity. 
As a traverse you are committing to the current weather and snow conditions.  There are limited bail-out points any of which would leave you miles from your car.  The remoteness is one of the key attractions, but also demands more respect than other out and back trips.  Since you are traveling one-way you don’t get to preview conditions ahead of time.
I can imagine doing the trip in better snow and weather conditions, but am truly happy to have completed a longstanding dream.  Now that a week has passed, I can even consider doing it again sometime.


* chris_below_mowich_face.JPG (64.04 KB, 614x460 - viewed 751 times.)

* chris_on_tahoma_glacier_6_1.JPG (54.49 KB, 614x460 - viewed 750 times.)

* chris_skiing_the_fryignpan.JPG (42.55 KB, 614x460 - viewed 747 times.)
« Last Edit: 06/29/08, 03:13 PM by Gary Womeldorff » Logged
Lowell_Skoog
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Re: June 19-22, 2008: Rainier Cirvumnavigation
« Reply #1 on: 06/29/08, 09:06 AM »

Great report and congratulations on your trip! That is a grand outing.

Here is a link to Paul Russell's 2007 trip report, for what it's worth.
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Stugie
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Re: June 19-22, 2008: Rainier Cirvumnavigation
« Reply #2 on: 06/29/08, 09:33 AM »

Wow, what a trip!  Nice work!
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"The mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals; the houses where I practice my religion." - Anatoli Boukreev
Jim Oker
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Re: June 19-22, 2008: Rainier Cirvumnavigation
« Reply #3 on: 06/29/08, 10:58 AM »

Being up on one vertical slice across your route yesterday had me thinking about what a wild tour that would be. We saw a beautifully braided set of corn-8s as we looked across toward Paradise from our choss-rock-perch at 9.2-9.3K on the Whitman Crest yesterday - you or someone else traversing toward White River getting a nice payoff just before crossing by Little Tahoma. I bet that trip will be well-branded in your memory forever.
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skierlyles
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Re: June 19-22, 2008: Rainier Cirvumnavigation
« Reply #4 on: 06/29/08, 11:20 AM »

Gary- your trip is inspiring and I am glad that you all completed it successfully without any hair- raising  occurrences. We were up on the lower Fryingpan Glacier above Meany Crest and noticed your beautiful tracks arcing down the slope. We mentioned that would probably be the best corn slope around but did not get up there as we had another objective in mind. TR to come soon.

Thanks for the inspiration and nice tracks.

Chris
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rnbfish
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Re: June 19-22, 2008: Rainier Circumnavigation
« Reply #5 on: 06/29/08, 03:21 PM »

bravo!
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JKordel
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Re: June 19-22, 2008: Rainier Circumnavigation
« Reply #6 on: 06/29/08, 06:18 PM »

Great trip report and photos Gary. I'm glad you were able to find a suitable weather window. I see your new AT skis are serving you very well given those nice looking turns on the Fryingpan!

JK
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Gary Womeldorff
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Re: June 19-22, 2008: Rainier Cirvumnavigation
« Reply #7 on: 06/29/08, 09:15 PM »

you or someone else traversing toward White River getting a nice payoff just before crossing by Little Tahoma

Those were probably our tracks although they would have been a week old.  It was really fun to get some easy turns after all of the travel.


* gw_skiing_on_whitman.JPG (72.4 KB, 844x633 - viewed 583 times.)
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Jim Oker
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Re: June 19-22, 2008: Rainier Circumnavigation
« Reply #8 on: 06/29/08, 10:21 PM »

From my memory, looks like that may be them.
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Chris Cosgriff
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Re: June 19-22, 2008: Rainier Circumnavigation
« Reply #9 on: 07/02/08, 12:53 PM »

Gary and I were very lucky with the weather window and truly enjoyed all that went with such a trip; fatigue, discomfort, adrenaline, route finding, skiing, laughing, adventure,
breath taking beauty....


* gary_blazing_trail.JPG (78.04 KB, 640x480 - viewed 374 times.)

* gary_sunset_ampitheatre.JPG (48.11 KB, 640x480 - viewed 371 times.)

* gary_8tin_it_up.JPG (34.88 KB, 640x480 - viewed 377 times.)
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chris cosgriff
Paul_Russell
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Re: June 19-22, 2008: Rainier Circumnavigation
« Reply #10 on: 07/02/08, 09:12 PM »

Congratulations on completing the circumnav Gary!  That's a great and inspiring trip. Sounds like you made some really good route choices and had a good weather window.  I share your respect for the mountain and its enormity that comes with the remoteness of this traverse.  Well done.
« Last Edit: 07/02/08, 09:18 PM by Paul_Russell » Logged
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