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| | |-+  June 14, 2011, Little Tahoma via Fryingpan Glacier
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Author Topic: June 14, 2011, Little Tahoma via Fryingpan Glacier  (Read 3145 times)
Amar Andalkar
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June 14, 2011, Little Tahoma via Fryingpan Glacier
« on: 06/30/11, 11:52 AM »

A totally unplanned last-minute trip, on a day with a marginal forecast: partly sunny with a chance of showers, snow level 7500 feet. Juya was heading for Inter Glacier solo, I was thinking of Fryingpan Glacier solo, but we talked in the morning and decided to meet in Enumclaw, then head to Fryingpan Glacier with perhaps a bigger goal in mind if weather and time permitted. Headed up the Wonderland Trail from 3800 ft Fryingpan Creek just before 10am under mostly cloudy skies with a few sun breaks, skinning on continuous snow the whole way, 1-3 ft deep at first. A couple of snow-covered bridge or log crossings were a bit sketchy on skis, but we didn't want to take them off.


A solid snow-covered log avoids the trail bridge farther back.

By the time the forest thinned an hour later, the sun was fully out and it was a magnificent blue sky day. A trail crew of two was repairing the railing on the Fryingpan Creek bridge at 5200 ft just below Summerland, the only other people we would see all day. We continued straight up the valley instead, crossing a few hundred yards later on a thick solid snow bridge. We kept a relaxed pace all day despite the late start, since we had no real objective other than to enjoy the day fully.


Skinning across the flats near 5400 ft, with Little Tahoma and Big Tahoma rising beyond.

We felt like skinning as much of the route as possible, so we avoided the direct route up the steep slope west of Meany Crest and instead contoured around past Summerland into the lovely bowl south of Meany Crest, which still holds a small unnamed glacier. This route variation is a personal favorite of mine for the ascent to Fryingpan Glacier, an easy skin the whole way up the bowl and then along the ridge west of Panhandle Gap up towards Point 7709, with excellent expansive views to the east and south which the standard boot-up slog route misses entirely.


Skinning along the ridge route, with Cowlitz Chimneys in the background.

Lots of recent skin tracks and ski tracks along this ridge, and still continuous snow except for a 10-ft long bare patch, which could have been avoided by traversing a steeper sidehill below. An ominous-looking lenticular had built atop Big Tahoma by now after 1pm, but Little Tahoma and the Fryingpan remained in sunshine.


Moraines along the ridge east of Point 7709, with a lenticular forming atop the Mountain.

A steeper slope accesses the eastern terminus of the Fryingpan Glacier, followed by a gently rising traverse heading west across the glacier to the standard gap at 9050 ft which connects the Fryingpan and Whitman Glaciers. Clouds would occasionally swirl and build overhead, then dissipate again to clear sunshine.


Skinning across the Fryingpan Glacier towards Little Tahoma with clouds swirling overhead.

The gap was melting out fast with a ski-length bare patch at the lowest point, but still had continuous snow connecting through it just above. By now it was after 3pm, but the weather looked OK. A solid deck of clouds extended to the southeast, filling the valleys to 8500 ft and perhaps slowly rising. Anyway, we knew that we could retreat quickly on skis even if the clouds moved in, so we kept going.


The gap connecting the Fryingpan (right) and Whitman Glaciers, with the route to Little Tahoma at left.

Juya took over the trail-breaking above 9600 ft on the Whitman, as the slope steepened to 35-40 degrees, and put in a great switchbacking track. There was an older skin track visible in spots, but it was easier to put in our own track in the deeply-softened corn which gave better traction than the firmer snow of the old track. Lots of old wet-sluff avy debris on the Whitman, but the snow underfoot was very stable and not sluffing at all.


Juya puts in a steep skin track ascending the Whitman Glacier, with a bizarre arcing bootpack at left and an older frozen skin track at right.

We skinned up to 10500 ft where the slope steepened further and was now in shadow, then put the skis on our packs and booted up the existing set of steps. Crampons might have been helpful at times, but those stayed in the pack. Actually, we were wishing that we had just kept on skinning all the way up to the 10800 ft crossing off the Whitman onto the upper slopes, since the bootpack sucked, irregular crappy steps and with occasional sudden postholing into softer snow. We crossed about 30 ft of bare rock near 10800 ft to reach the upper snowfield, which then held continuous snow to nearly 11100 ft, just below the 11138 ft summit.


Climbing the upper slopes with Mount Adams in the distance.

We topped out at 6pm, still in sunshine, with winds much calmer than expected atop the pinnacle, only 10-15 mph with temps in the low 20s. I had only been up Little T once before, in July 2009 (see TR), but that time I'd found the rock to be unexpectedly solid and not loose at all, in sharp contrast to many people's reports of loose, scary, terrifying rock on the summit pinnacle. This time, the rock was once again solid and not loose or scary at all, even in ski boots (and I absolutely hate loose class-3 rock scrambling, much more than most mountaineers). Based on these two trips, I think that perhaps those who encounter loose rock near Little Tahoma's summit may simply be off-route: the correct route does not go up the steep crappy-looking gully directly towards the summit, it tops out on the summit ridge well east of the summit (100+ yards east) and then traverses west to the summit, crossing an airy gap (the only real exposure on the route), and finally climbing only 10-15 ft of the final gully to the top. This route has had no loose rock at all during either of my ascents.


Looking back east at my pack and skis resting on a boulder atop the summit ridge.

Little Tahoma is one of my favorite summit viewpoints, it's well worth the effort for the unique in-your-face view of the Ingraham and Emmons Glaciers plunging down from the summit dome, plus the chance to look down the awesome vertiginous drop of the north face onto the lower Emmons.


Rainier, lenticular, and setting sun.

We spent a nice 5 minutes atop Little T enjoying the view and signing the register, but realized that we had to get going given the late hour and quickly headed back to our skis. We knew that the snow would have crusted over by now, but we were both fully prepared to ski such conditions and so were not disappointed when crusty snow was indeed found. We skied from just below 11100 ft and Juya made it look easy, making nice jump turns on the upper snowfield, while I found the crust to be more breakable on my narrow 70-mm waist skis and sideslipped several sections (no better choice of skis for me today due to breakage of my 88-mm skis a week earlier on the Emmons).


Juya flying down the crusty snow near 11000 ft.

We downclimbed the short bare section at 10800 ft to reach the Whitman, seeing an awesome glory around our location on the flank of Little Tahoma's shadow on the clouds far below. Much easier to see in real life, barely visible in the several photos I quickly snapped.


The shadow of Little Tahoma on the clouds below, with a glory faintly visible and marking our location.

Then we "enjoyed" some more breakable crust until a bit lower where the slope finally became solidly frozen. Suddenly the skiing got really good, smooth supportive grippy frozen corn provided unexpectedly enjoyable skiing and almost-sweet turns the rest of the way down the Whitman Glacier to the gap, and then continuing onto the Fryingpan. Very nice.


Nice evening turns on the Fryingpan Glacier.

Then we dropped back into the cloud deck near 8600 ft, following the postholes of the bootpack back towards the slopes of Meany Crest, since we planned to ski down that steeper more-direct route instead of our longer ski-ascent route. Visibility was miserable, under 30 ft at times, but the dark postholes made the track easy to follow (older ski tracks were almost invisibile in such light).


Contemplating the whiteout near Meany Crest.

We thankfully dropped out below the cloud deck near 7200 ft after about 15 minutes of very slow whiteout skiing. A few more nice turns in the re-firming mush of evening, then basically pointing them straight downhill the rest of the way as the slope flattened.


Nice to be skiing below the cloud deck.

We figured that the ski out to the car would be very quick since it was all snow, but that turned out to be overly optimistic and it took well over an hour to go the 3.5 miles from the slopes near Summerland back to the trailhead. The snow surface in some areas was very densely covered with conifer needles, twigs, and other forest debris, making good speed impossible. A couple of the bridge crossings were equally sketchy on bare skis as they had been on skins in the morning, they would have actually been much easier to ski across with no snow on them.


A sketchy snow-covered bridge crossing.

We were back to the car before 9pm with plenty of daylight to spare, about 11 hours roundtrip. Another unexpectedly magnificent day on the Mountain despite a marginal forecast, great to get an evening summit of its most prominent satellite peak while enjoying the company of a very impressive new ski partner, strong and skilled. That was an amazing first ski trip together, Juya! About 7600 ft of total ascent for the day, 6800 ft of that on skins, and a ski descent of almost 7300 ft from just below the summit all the way back to the road.



MOUNT RAINIER RECREATIONAL FORECAST
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SEATTLE WA
412 AM PDT TUE JUN 14 2011

SYNOPSIS...SURFACE HIGH PRESSURE OFFSHORE OVER THE NORTHEAST PACIFIC WILL MAINTAIN ONSHORE FLOW ACROSS WESTERN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK. AN UPPER LEVEL TROUGH MOVING INTO BRITISH COLUMBIA WILL BRING A CHANCE OF SHOWERS TO THE REGION TONIGHT AND WEDNESDAY. WEAK RIDGING ALOFT WILL BRING DRIER AND SLIGHTLY WARMER CONDITIONS FOR THURSDAY AND FRIDAY. ANOTHER TROUGH COULD ARRIVE THIS WEEKEND.

TUESDAY...PARTLY SUNNY WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 7500 FEET.
TUESDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 7000 FEET.
WEDNESDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 5000 FEET.
WEDNESDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY. A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 5500 FEET.
THURSDAY...PARTLY SUNNY WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 7000 FEET.
THURSDAY NIGHT...PARTLY CLOUDY. FREEZING LEVEL 9000 FEET.
FRIDAY THROUGH SUNDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 8500 FEET.
SUNDAY NIGHT AND MONDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SHOWERS. SNOW LEVEL 10000 FEET.

TEMPERATURE AND WIND FORECASTS FOR SELECTED LOCATIONS.

                       TUE    TUE    WED    WED    THU 
                            NIGHT         NIGHT       

SUMMIT   (14411 FT)     16     13      7      7     13
                      W 40   W 56  NW 40   N 21   N 19

CAMP MUIR(10188 FT)     29     21     19     26     29
                      W 25   W 35  NW 25   N 15  NW 17

PARADISE  (5420 FT)     50     31     43     31     53
                      W  8   W 11   W  9  NW  8   N  3

LONGMIRE  (2700 FT)     58     38     51     37     60
                      W  7   W 11   W  9  NW  8  NE  3


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