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Author Topic: July 10-11, 2009, Little Tahoma via Fryingpan  (Read 6580 times)
Amar Andalkar
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July 10-11, 2009, Little Tahoma via Fryingpan
« on: 07/17/09, 11:41 AM »

Summary: Dave Brown and I took full advantage of a brief weather window in a week-long mostly-cloudy pattern and skied Little Tahoma via the Fryingpan Glacier, finding the route in decent condition for skiing despite being perhaps a month past its prime. We skied from about 10750 ft on the Whitman Glacier, heavily suncupped and somewhat dusty but still quite skiable, and luckily we experienced no rockfall at all during either ascent or descent. The rock scramble to the summit did not seem as loose or as exposed to us as its reputation had suggested. The Fryingpan Glacier remains in fine condition for skiing (given that it is mid-July), very well consolidated snow which is still fairly smooth with minimal suncups (except the last bit above 9000 ft) and no real crevasse issues yet. Continuous snow still extends down to about 7000 ft below Meany Crest on its steep northern slope, with skiable snow down to about 5900 ft with 3 short carries. The Fryingpan probably offers some of the smoothest snow right now anywhere on Mount Rainier.

(Click on any image for a larger version.)


Looking back at Little Tahoma and our ski tracks on the upper Whitman Glacier and the Fryingpan Glacier.


Details: Little Tahoma, the crumbling 11138 ft erosional remnant of a once-much-larger Mount Rainier, had been on my ski agenda for a dozen years. The Whitman Glacier on its southeast flank offers skiable terrain up to 10800 ft with a nice pitch of 35-40 degrees and was first skied in 1933, with an easy class-3 scramble above that to the summit. The peak and scramble have a reputation for exposure, chossy rock, and significant rockfall hazard, but also for being a fine ski descent and a truly exceptional viewpoint looking across the Emmons and Ingraham Glaciers towards Big Tahoma. I'd almost gone on a ski trip there in June 1997 (see old TR here on Brent's TR archives), but skipped out at the last minute to ski something else instead. A dozen springtimes had come and gone since, and still no Little Tahoma for me. I'd been planning to get up there all spring this year, but so many other ski priorities had intervened to gobble up the various weather windows. Rainier multiple times, Shasta and Shastina and Lassen each twice, a bunch of Oregon volcanoes, Baker, etc, etc.

The ideal time to ski Little Tahoma is probably May to early June, late enough that the summit rocks are not rimed or wet, but early enough to find good continuous snow coverage all the way from near the Fryingpan Creek trailhead or from Paradise via a crossing of the Cowlitz and Ingraham Glaciers (see this nice TR from earlier this spring, May 30-31, Little Tahoma, MRNP, and these from 2007, June 2, 2007, Little Tahoma from Paradise and June 3, 2007 Little Tahoma from Paradise variation). It was definitely getting very late in the season to do this trip, but a recent report on CC (Little Tahoma - Fryingpan-Whitman glaciers 7/1/2009) showed that the route was still in decent shape for climbing. We figured that we might as well take skis, especially since the Fryingpan was likely to offer very good turns. We decided to leave the rope and glacier gear behind, a good decision since crevasses turned out to be a non-issue.

Left Seattle around 1pm Friday, registered at White River entrance, and then hiked up the trail at 4pm. A few snowpatches on the switchbacks below Summerland, but no really continuous-looking snow anywhere in the vicinity. Luckily almost no bugs yet either. We continued up on foot above Summerland, trying to follow bits of a faint climbers' trail, staying mostly on bare rock and scree with occasional forays up snow patches, all the way to the empty campsites atop the bare and dry 7573 ft plateau of Meany Crest just after 7pm. Dumped our packs and skinned up the Fryingpan Glacier fast and free, initially on nicely softened corn which was quickly refreezing in the setting sun. Lots of ice worms on the snow surface above 8000 ft, dozens in every square foot. A quick calculation in my head as I skinned brought this surprising realization: assuming there were 3 dozen ice worms visible in every square foot of the glacier (a reasonable estimate), a single square mile of glacier could have over 1 billion ice worms (52802 x 36 > 1 billion)! Here's some interesting info about a creature apparently found only on glaciers in the Pacific Northwest: Wikipedia article, North Cascades Glacier Ice Worm research, and Seattle Times article.

   
Innumerable ice worms on the snow surface of the Fryingpan Glacier.

We managed to continue skinning up to about 9200 ft, then booted up the last bit of steeper, dirtier, and deeply suncupped snow to the ridge just east of Point 9323 on Whitman Crest. We got a decent view of the route up the Whitman Glacier to Little Tahoma. Looked a bit dirty, and the snow was almost discontinuous near 10K on the Whitman, but it seemed doable. Skied back down the Fryingpan around 8:30pm, shaded and well-refrozen snow at first but still-soft corn a little ways down, perfect for arcing big turns all the way back to camp, catching the last near-horizontal rays of sunlight. Enjoyed a nice sunset and comfy temps overnight, with only a light SE breeze.

   
Evening view of the Whitman Glacier from the ridge just east of Point 9323 on Whitman Crest.

   
A lenticular cloud shrouds the summit of Mount Rainier at sunrise, with Little Tahoma and Fryingpan Glacier at left.

Awoke at 5am the next morning to find (somewhat surprisingly) a lenticular draping itself over the summit of the Mountain. Not a smoothly-shaped flying-saucer-type cloud, instead somewhat ragged and puffy, but clearly a lenticular nonetheless. It only extended down to perhaps 13K, and Little Tahoma remained well in the clear. Might as well head on up and see what the weather would do. We had a leisurely breakfast and started out at 6:30am, me on skins and Dave booting with crampons. Skinned almost all the way to the standard 9060 ft gap west of Whitman Crest, climbed about 50 ft of crumbling muddy rock to the gap, and found snow only about 20 ft below on the south side. Crampons now for both of us, and we traversed all the way across the Whitman, then headed up the left side of the glacier which looked safer since it had much less rock fallen onto the surface than the right side. As we climbed above 9500 ft, the snow surface became dustier and heavily textured, not really like normal suncups but more like "sunstairs", with a staircase of large flat shelves separated by near-vertical walls about 1-2 ft high, making for numerous awkwardly high steps during the ascent. We had doubts about how skiable this surface would be on the way down, but no doubt that we would ski it anyway.

   
Climbing the "sunstairs" on the upper Whitman Glacier.

Reached the top of the snow near 10750 ft at 9:30am, relieved to have seen no rockfall save for a single golf-ball-size pebble rolling gently down the slope. Took a brief break to switch into hiking boots for me and running shoes for Dave, then set out up the obvious gully angling leftward from the snow. A few steep moves at the head of the gully, the hardest part of the whole route, brought us out on the broad and not-very-steep upper south slope. Traces of a climbers trail, including a few cairns, and still a couple of sizeable snow patches near 10900 ft, then another steeper section with easy climbing onto the east ridge. This traversed directly towards the summit, albeit with a dizzying drop on the right (north) side of perhaps 2000 ft almost vertically downward towards the Emmons Glacier far below. A gap just before the true summit requires about 10 ft of downclimbing into a notch, with some exposure but lots of good handholds and sizeable shelves for the feet, followed by 20 ft of gully up to the top. The rock seemed solid enough to us, nothing pulled off on this day, and we were on top at 10:10am within 20 minutes of starting the scramble.


View of Big Tahoma from the summit of Little Tahoma, with the Ingraham and Emmons Glaciers separated by Disappointment Cleaver at center.

Enjoyed the stunning view from the small summit, Rainier in your face in a spectacular way, and the earlier lenticular had now faded away to only a few wispy puffs. Nice weather, above freezing, with light winds of 5-10 mph. Not very frequent entries in the summit register, the previous ones were from July 5 and July 1. Hung out for a while, took lots of photos, and then headed down to the skis. By 11am, we were ready to tackle the Whitman staircase. Luckily, the strong sunshine had nicely softened this steep SE aspect, making for tolerable sideslipping on the worst parts interspersed with occasional jump turns, followed by decent linked turns on slightly gentler parts of the staircase. The gully through the cliff band near 10K was still continuous snow, but the route is pretty much done for the summer as a ski descent. Linked smoother sections of snow below that, finding a good corn snow surface which allowed nice turns, and then traversed back to the Fryingpan-Whitman gap.


Dave taming the staircase with a nice jump turn on the upper Whitman Glacier with Mount Adams in the distance (digitally composited from 3 photos).

   
Sweet turns in the corn on the Fryingpan Glacier, just below the Fryingpan-Whitman gap.

The best turns of the day were on the Fryingpan below the gap, a smooth corn surface perfect for opening up the throttle, and ski conditions remained very good all the way back to camp by noon. A brief rest in the warm sunshine, and then packed for the descent down the north side of Meany Crest just after 1pm, the snow here somewhat rougher and mushier. Had to take the skis off three times to cross sections of bare rock, the first of them quite steep and requiring some caution to avoid injury, but in each case we could traverse across to other snow with little loss of vertical. Skied out a creek gully down to about 5900 ft, undercut with water rushing just below, but the surface held firm under skis. A quick half-mile traverse on foot across open slopes brought us back to Summerland and the trail home, as clouds built overhead and largely obscured the Mountain. Pretty good timing I guess, the clouds helped ease the pain of a very warm hike out, as temps in the lowlands had unexpectedly spiked to about 90 degrees this day.

   
Looking back at Little and Big Tahoma from Summerland, as the clouds start moving in.

Another amazing trip in what's been a very fine spring and summer of ski mountaineering for me. A total of about 9200 ft of gain for 6500 vert of skiing (counting the evening ski run), with conditions covering a broad range from dirty sunstairs to smooth creamy corn. It's great to have a trip work out so well when the skiability of the route was anything but certain beforehand due to the lateness of the season. Nice to finally ski a peak that's been on my agenda for a dozen years, and to see a new perspective of the Mountain after so many climbs and ski descents on it. Next spring, I've gotta ski Little Tahoma from Paradise!



MOUNT RAINIER RECREATIONAL FORECAST
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SEATTLE WA
413 AM PDT FRI JUL 10 2009

SYNOPSIS...AN UPPER LOW WILL REMAIN OFF THE OREGON COAST THROUGH SATURDAY WITH UPPER LEVEL RIDGING OVER WASHINGTON STATE. SOUTHERLY FLOW ALOFT WILL LEAD TO AN INCREASING CHANCE OF AFTERNOON AND EVENING SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS OVER THE MOUNTAINS. THE UPPER LOW WILL MOVE ACROSS THE REGION ON SUNDAY FOR MORE WIDESPREAD SHOWERS. DRY WEATHER IS EXPECTED EARLY NEXT WEEK AS AN UPPER LEVEL RIDGE REBUILDS INTO THE REGION.


FRIDAY...MOSTLY SUNNY THIS MORNING. BECOMING PARTLY CLOUDY THIS AFTERNOON WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS. SNOW LEVEL 9500 FEET.
FRIDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY IN THE EVENING THEN BECOMING PARTLY CLOUDY. A CHANCE OF SHOWERS AND THUNDERSTORMS IN THE EVENING...THEN A CHANCE OF SHOWERS AFTER MIDNIGHT. SNOW LEVEL 10000 FEET.
SATURDAY...PARTLY SUNNY WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. A CHANCE OF THUNDERSTORMS IN THE AFTERNOON. SNOW LEVEL 10500 FEET.
SATURDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS AND EVENING THUNDERSTORMS. SNOW LEVEL 10500 FEET.
SUNDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. A CHANCE OF THUNDERSTORMS IN THE AFTERNOON. SNOW LEVEL 10000 FEET.
SUNDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 9500 FEET.
MONDAY AND MONDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY. A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 10500 FEET.
TUESDAY...PARTLY SUNNY. FREEZING LEVEL 12500 FEET.
TUESDAY NIGHT...PARTLY CLOUDY IN THE EVENING THEN BECOMING MOSTLY CLOUDY. FREEZING LEVEL 13000 FEET.
WEDNESDAY THROUGH THURSDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 12000 FEET.

TEMPERATURE AND WIND FORECASTS FOR SELECTED LOCATIONS.

                       FRI    FRI    SAT    SAT    SUN 
                            NIGHT         NIGHT       

SUMMIT   (14411 FT)     16     16     18     19     18
                      S 16   S 20  SE 21   S 17  SE 26

CAMP MUIR(10188 FT)     35     40     42     44     37
                     SE 11  SE  5   E 11  SE 12   E 17

PARADISE  (5420 FT)     67     50     76     55     60
                      S  6  NE 11   E 12  NE 12   S 10

LONGMIRE  (2700 FT)     76     48     84     48     68
                      S  6  NE 10   E 11  NE 11   S  9


« Last Edit: 07/17/09, 11:46 AM by Amar Andalkar » Logged

stoudema
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Posts: 477


Re: July 10-11, 2009, Little Tahoma via Fryingpan
« Reply #1 on: 07/17/09, 01:00 PM »

Nice Amar!  We skied the Fryingpan on the 13th and 14th and saw your tracks on Little Tahoma from Whitman Crest.  That line looks nice, congrats on skiing your goal!  Your tracks were still plainly visible from Whitman Crest on Tuesday morning....


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There is nothing more practical in the end than the preservation of beauty." - Theodore Roosevelt
AndyMartin
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Re: July 10-11, 2009, Little Tahoma via Fryingpan
« Reply #2 on: 07/18/09, 10:12 AM »

Great report as usual - thanks!
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freightrainer
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Posts: 61


Re: July 10-11, 2009, Little Tahoma via Fryingpan
« Reply #3 on: 07/18/09, 05:35 PM »

We were on Little Tahoma Friday (17th) - without skis unfortunately. We were envious of the skiers who left the great tracks from the top of he snow ramp to just above summerland.
Nice line!
Photo attached of tracks still visible (but raised) loking down from about 10,500.


* 30_IMG_3075_ski_tracks_at_10400.JPG (198.18 KB, 1000x750 - viewed 1780 times.)
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Monika
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Re: July 10-11, 2009, Little Tahoma via Fryingpan
« Reply #4 on: 07/19/09, 08:07 PM »



super cool pic of Dave in sequence -- thanks for sharing and look'n good Dave!
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