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+  Turns All Year Trip Reports
|-+  2004 Backcountry Trip Reports
| |-+  July-August 2004 Backcountry Trip Reports
| | |-+  July 9, 2004, Flett-Russell Glaciers, Mt. Rainier
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Author Topic: July 9, 2004, Flett-Russell Glaciers, Mt. Rainier  (Read 2181 times)

Posts: 1090

July 9, 2004, Flett-Russell Glaciers, Mt. Rainier
« on: 07/10/04, 07:14 PM »

Matt and I met Tomski (Tom Szwedko) at Mowich Lake on this marine-overcast morning. Tom was on his annual Pacific Northwest volcanoes tour, having driven out from Colorado about a week earlier and already skied on the north side of Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, and the Paradise Glacier. These July trips put Tom at 298 consecutive months of skiing (just shy of 25 years), and that's all backcountry - no lifts.

All three of us chose unusual combinations of ski gear, mostly "old school", for this tour. I decided to give my wimpy Trak Express boots, complete with fabric inserts and cool reflective highlights, another try after a two year break, combined with relatively wide Fischer Outtabounds waxless skis. Matt had his Karhu 10th Mountain waxless skis, massively driven by T2s. Tom got the "most extreme old school" award, with Trak boots one step lighter than mine, and a pair of short and narrow, no metal edge, all wood (and very light) Trak Escape waxless skis. We all had basic 3-pin bindings. Here's a photo of Tom displaying his pinky-weight skis:

The trail hike was nice and cool, featuring beargrass and avalanche lillies blooming as we got into the meadows of Spray Park. There turned out to be quite a bit more snow in the upper part of Spray Park than I had expected, and this trend continued as we got higher. This suggests that the road melted out early this year relative to the higher terrain. At the top of Spray Park, ~6100', we opted to take the "secret" eastern snow ribbon up to the Flett Glacier, instead of skiing over to and up the steeper Cat-Eye Lake run, because of the firm snow and our waxless skis, and we were soon mostly in fog. The snowpack had a firm crust of more than 2", slightly softened on top, underlain by a thicker layer of relatively loose large granules.

We got occassional glimpses of Echo Rock and Observation Rock as we were skiing up the Flett Glacier between the two, and made our way over to the edge of the Russell Glacier at ~7500', where we took a snack break and tried to decide if it was worth going higher. The flowing clouds kept giving visbility breaks, so we skied upward along the western edge of the Russell Glacier near Ptarmigan Ridge and were rewarded with better visibility, sunbreaks, and some views of Liberty Cap and its impressive glacier. The snow on the Russell was very smooth and just kept getting better as we went up, except for a couple of areas of strange grit-filled depressions. We topped out on a hump of snow at 9200' right on Ptarmigan Ridge, overlooking the North Mowich Glacier and at the base of the very dirty snow higher on the Russell.

After another break for snacks and fog watching, we started skiing down in a window of clearing. I had not been at all impressed by my wimpy boots' ability to edge while skiing up, and had real doubts about skiing down, so I first installed what I hoped would be my secret weapons: cables for my 3-pin bindings. Wow! Skiing down the steeper snow of the hump, it felt like there was nothing on my feet but skis, a huge difference from using my so-called "lightweight" plastic boots (T3s), and the skis seemed to instantly respond to my every thought. Of course it helped that the snow was nearly perfect here: a thin layer of very smooth, softened corn on a firm and fast base (same crust-over-granular-layer as seen lower). Tom and Matt were also really enjoying the turns, so we skied a nice line down to the toe of the Russell Glacier (~6600') to the east of our up tracks (not too far east, though, as the Russell gets much more broken up that way). We came upon a number of hairline crack type of crevasses, as well as two more substantial ones which were hard to see until right up to them, but would have caused some problems had we skied into them. I was hoping to show Matt and Tom the nice view of Mt. Rainier's north face from the edge of the Carbon Glacier, but we started entering fog around 7200' and it just got denser as we skied down. This lower snow was mildly suncupped but also firm from lack of sun, so it was less fun to ski.

I have skied in this area about 20 times now, and suggested that I could probably get us back to the trail by going around the north side of Echo Rock, so we started traversing up through the fog. We were aided by one short but timely clearing of the fog, but the rest was in low visibility, with landmarks appearing short distances ahead. We crossed over to the bottom of the Flett Glacier at its meltwater pond, then skied up and west to cross over (7500', just melted out) to the Cat-Eye Lake run. The snow was good here (the smoothest in several years) except for the remnants of previous turns. The hardest navigation of all was trying to follow the right course through upper Spray Park to the trail in very dense fog. We hit the trail and then skied snow patches (with a few heather traverses) down to about 5700'. Still in the fog, my thermometer showed 38 degrees.

Photos on TAY home page starting Monday, July 19.
« Last Edit: 07/11/04, 06:01 AM by admin » Logged

Posts: 35

Re: July 9, 2004, Flett-Russell Glaciers, Mt. Rain
« Reply #1 on: 07/17/04, 03:32 PM »

What a great snow day, even if the weather wasn't great!  Some of the best turns I've ever had on my touring skis.  Charles knows the area well and guided us around in a whiteout with flawless precision.

Perhaps it should be noted that Tom has skied those same skis from just below the summit of Mt. Olympus.   No, really.


Posts: 1090

Re: July 9, 2004, Flett-Russell Glaciers, Mt. Rain
« Reply #2 on: 07/19/04, 07:50 AM »

Talking to Tom about Olympus got me psyched to try it, perhaps next year. And skiing with Tom and his lightweight gear (and sb on his a couple of weeks earlier) got me to return to my lightweight boots and realize that I had been taking my plastic boots for trips where they were overkill. It is really nice to be able to comfortably hike several miles of trail in ski boots, and not have all of that weight in the pack. Olympus sounds like one of those trips perfectly suited for such lightweight gear.

A follow-up on Tom's exploits out here: After this Russell trip, he skied Ptarmigan Ridge (Baker), then the Squak Glacier, then went back to the Paradise Glacier before making his way back to Colorado. He said that he got about 40K of turns on his PNW trip. His September turns will make 25 years of skiing every month.
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