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Author Topic: Dec 9, 2011, Rainier, Muir & Nisqually Chute CORN  (Read 6344 times)
Amar Andalkar
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Dec 9, 2011, Rainier, Muir & Nisqually Chute CORN
« on: 12/10/11, 01:19 PM »

Well, I finally found the corn on Rainier that had escaped me on my last trip up to Muir 3 days earlier: on Friday late-afternoon, Nisqually Chute was covered top-to-bottom in nicely softened, smooth, stable, untracked corn. I skied the entire main Chute in a nonstop 1500 vertical-foot shot, undistracted by partners or taking photos, just me and the sun and snow and solitude. A totally breathtaking run, with an uncommon feeling of isolation and remoteness due to the absence of any other people or any previous ski tracks in the entire Nisqually Glacier basin. I was totally buzzed and stoked at the bottom. Followed by a short skin up to watch another mountain sunset from Glacier Vista, then a twilight ski back to Paradise with the full moon rising to the east. What a spectacular day!


(click for double-size version)

Two-shot panorama from beside Nisqually Moraine, with Nisqually Chute at right center and a single set of ski tracks.


Links to my other recent TRs, including three trips to Muir in the last two weeks:
Nov 28, 2011, Mt Rainier, Muir Sunset Spectacular
Dec 1, 2011, Mt Rainier, Muir and Flying Jellyfish
Dec 4, 2011, Crystal Lakes & Morse Creek CORN
Dec 5, 2011, Mt St Helens, Worm Flows, Sun & CORN
Dec 6, 2011, Mt Rainier, Muir Going Downhill Fast


An unusually strong high-pressure system has dominated Northwest weather for the first 9 days of December, making it feel more like May at times. I've taken advantage of the sunshine, and had skied 6 of the first 8 days of the month. Friday the 9th was forecast to the be the last totally sunny and calm day, before wind and clouds moved in on Saturday and Sunday. So I had to ski -- but what would have the best skiing? I even considered driving all the way back to Mount Saint Helens, since Friday looked it would again produce corn like I had enjoyed there on Monday.

Thursday the 8th had been a day for flying down groomers at warp speed at Crystal Mountain, with excellent grippy groomed snow and no ice even at 9am, along with nearly-empty lifts and runs. So it was 27 gondola rides and 27 nonstop top-to-bottom runs for me, the first 24 of them down Iceberg Gulch in the sunshine until it finally went into shadow. The Ski Tracks iPhone app (a GPS ski run tracker and mapper) showed maximum speeds of just over 70 mph on several of the runs, with many other runs reaching over 60-65 mph -- hadn't realized I was skiing quite so fast. A total blast in the warm sunshine with over 66,000 vert for the day, but by evening after driving home I was feeling quite exhausted and unsure if I would manage to ski anything at all on Friday.


Sunset view of Rainier from Crystal on Thursday, Dec 8.

And then the thought hit me: Nisqually Chute! It was so obvious: a nice 40° steep S and SW facing chute that would catch the maximum possible insolation from the low December sun, and was almost certain to be corned up. I couldn't believe that I hadn't thought of it yet, nor that I hadn't actually gone and skied it already this week, like on Tuesday when I'd been to Muir and skied frozen icy crust for much of the run -- I should have dropped down the Chute that day! I looked through my photos from Tuesday, and the few that viewed the Chute showed adequate snow coverage, a bit thin and rocky at the entrance, but totally skiable and looking quite good down the main part of the run.


View of Nisqually Chute from 7200 ft on Tuesday, Dec 6.

So that would be the plan by default for Friday: head to Paradise at a leisurely hour, and take a look at Nisqually Chute in the afternoon. The UW model predicted a period of near-calm (5-10 knots or less) winds at 10000 ft from Friday morning through late-afternoon, as the dome of high-pressure shifted east from the Pacific and directly over Oregon, along with freezing levels over 10000 ft. So that would be the window to try for corn.




An 8:30am departure from Seattle had me skinning up from Paradise just after 11am, with temps already a toasty 48 °F in the parking lot. The late start was perfect for skinning on properly softened snow instead of frozen crust. To avoid the problems of skinning up the still-firm Pan Face, I put in a skin track up the SW Ridge of Panorama Point, and found ideal skinning conditions with 3-4" of ski penetration on this south-facing slope, allowing me to set a solid track up the steep ridge with no risk of sluffing or sliding.


A nice sun-warmed skin track up the SW ridge of Panorama Point.

On the rolls above Pan Point and above Pebble Creek, portions of my skin track from Tuesday were still easily recognizable (wherever the snow had been soft enough to actually leave a track!) -- clearly not much skier traffic up here this week. There was an occasional easterly breeze at Paradise and as high as Pan Point (due to easterly pass flow), but above Pebble Creek the air became very still and quiet with only the lightest wisp of wind every so often. The lack of wind, strong sunshine, and warm temps were finally allowing much of the Muir Snowfield to soften slightly. It wasn't corn, but the icy crust was semi-softened and skinnable, as were the large areas of windpack -- all noticeably softer than the solidly frozen state on Tuesday, despite Tuesday's higher 11000 ft freezing level.


My skin track from 3 days earlier on one of the rolls above Pebble Creek, no one else had skinned up here since then.

I skinned up along the west edge of the Snowfield, to stay on areas with the most southwesterly exposure and thus maximum afternoon sun. These aspects had actually softened somewhat all the way up to 10000 ft this day, right to Camp Muir. However, there were still many icy patches with clear water ice, and I put the ski crampons on above 8700 ft for greater efficiency, but someone with mad skinning skills could have have probably made it without them.



I never intended to go all the way to Muir today, because of the icy crust I had encountered on Tuesday above 8500 ft. But as I passed the elevation of the entrance to Nisqually Chute at 8400 ft, I realized that I had to keep going up. It was only 1:15pm, and the weather was just too nice to not continue on to Muir, even if the skiing above was poor. I figured I'd be back to the Chute by around 3pm, which would be the ideal time to get the maximum softening of the snow. Saw 4 other skiers descending the Snowfield (including one carrying their skis down) as I continued skinning up, but no one was heading for the Chute.


Shadow self-portrait at Camp Muir, with Cathedral Gap and Little Tahoma in the distance, both looking very bare.

Reached Muir at 2:30pm, all other skiers and hikers and last night's summit attempters (who turned around near 12000 ft on DC/ID) were long gone, leaving behind only quiet and solitude. Since the winds were nearly calm, I made a quick check of the Muir webcam and NWAC instrument tower (it was too gusty to want to do so the previous 3 times I'd been to Muir in the last 11 days). As expected, the webcam and the instrument tower are entirely free of ice and rime. The webcam appears to be undamaged externally, and all cabling appears to be intact, so it is unclear why it has been offline since shortly after 3:17pm on November 20 -- this 20-day outage is the longest since the camera was installed in May.


The NWAC instrument tower and webcam at Camp Muir, with the Goat Rocks and Mount Adams in the background.

Skied down just before 3pm, finding the ski conditions to still be quite poor above 9500 ft, still very firm and chattery despite the slight softening. Below 9500 ft, followed fingers of windpacked powder atop the crust as on previous days, all the way to the entrance of the Chute.


Large fingers of windpacked powder atop the icy crust, with Mounts Adams, Hood, and Saint Helens in the distance.

And there it finally was, on the open slope just above the entrance: real smooth CORN! This entire south-facing slope at 8500 ft had corned up, and that erased my doubts: the Chute just had to be good corn too.


Looking down from the rocky entrance to Nisqually Chute at 8400 ft, with the Nisqually Glacier and its moraine far below.

Traversed into the Chute carefully through the numerous exposed and partially-hidden rocks at the 8400 ft entrance, made a couple of test turns, and then knew for sure that it was golden: 3-4" of softened corn on a firmer base, actually softened way more than necessary, but well-bonded and not sluffing at all. An old avalanche crown about 1-2 ft high crossed most of the width of the Chute just below the entrance, but stability was not an issue now given the recent weather and very low avalanche hazard.


My ski tracks crossing the old avalanche crown just below the entrance to Nisqually Chute.


Looking down the clean smooth corn of the Chute from just below the avalanche crown, with a lobe of old avalanche debris visible far below deposited onto the Nisqually Glacier.

So it was time to let loose and ski the whole Chute in a single shot -- a minute later I was at 6800 ft where the chute becomes a half-pipe, and where the number of fallen rocks studding the snow increases to the point of annoyance, so I popped out onto the shoulder to skier's left. More nice corn turns down the sunny shoulder to where it flattens near 6400 ft, and the corn disappeared to be replaced by heavy windpacked powder, but luckily not crusty at all. I was totally stoked to have enjoyed an awesome run, in sweet May-like corn conditions but with the total solitude of December.


Looking back at my ski tracks in Nisqually Chute and the shoulder below it, a zoomed view from atop Nisqually Moraine.

A quick schuss down the trough beside the moraine brought me to the base of the 200 ft reascent back out to Glacier Vista. No need to rush this, as I wanted to watch the sunset from atop Glacier Vista. A leisurely skin back up, breaking trail up through a foot of heavy powder on this westerly aspect, then thinning to exposed icy crust for the last 50 ft at the top, which convinced me to put the ski crampons back on. Arrived atop the Vista at 4pm, and enjoyed watching the sunset for the next half-hour.





Then a twilight cruise down the crusty snow back to Paradise, enhanced by the full moon rising in the east as I neared the parking lot -- remarkably it was still 49 °F at Paradise a half-hour after sunset as 5pm neared. A perfect end to an exceptional day, with an unexpectedly great run down one of the best ski descent lines in the Paradise vicinity. I've skied Nisqually Chute numerous times before, but this late-afternoon December descent on untracked corn in total solitude has to be among the most memorable.





MOUNT RAINIER RECREATIONAL FORECAST
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SEATTLE WA
421 AM PST FRI DEC 9 2011

SYNOPSIS...HIGH PRESSURE WILL GIVE WESTERN WASHINGTON COOL DRY WEATHER THROUGH SATURDAY MORNING. LOW CLOUDS AND FOG WILL PERSIST OVER PARTS OF THE INTERIOR LOWLANDS...WITH CLEAR SKIES IN THE MOUNTAINS. A WEATHER SYSTEM WILL BRING A CHANCE OF RAIN TO THE AREA THIS WEEKEND. HIGH PRESSURE WILL REBUILD MONDAY. A STRONGER WEATHER SYSTEM WILL LIKELY REACH THE AREA BY THE MIDDLE OF NEXT WEEK.

FRIDAY...SUNNY. FREEZING LEVEL 9500 FEET.
FRIDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLEAR. FREEZING LEVEL 9000 FEET.
SATURDAY...PARTLY SUNNY. FREEZING LEVEL 6000 FEET.
SATURDAY NIGHT...CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SNOW AND RAIN. SNOW LEVEL 3000 FEET.
SUNDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY. A CHANCE OF SNOW AND RAIN IN THE MORNING...THEN A CHANCE OF SHOWERS IN THE AFTERNOON. SNOW LEVEL 2500 FEET.
SUNDAY NIGHT AND MONDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY. FREEZING LEVEL 3500 FEET.
MONDAY NIGHT...MOSTLY CLOUDY. FREEZING LEVEL 5000 FEET.
TUESDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SNOW AND RAIN. SNOW LEVEL 4500 FEET.
TUESDAY NIGHT...SNOW AND RAIN LIKELY. SNOW LEVEL 3000 FEET.
WEDNESDAY...CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SNOW AND RAIN. SNOW LEVEL 2500 FEET.
WEDNESDAY NIGHT AND THURSDAY...MOSTLY CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF SNOW AND RAIN. SNOW LEVEL 3000 FEET.

TEMPERATURE AND WIND FORECASTS FOR SELECTED LOCATIONS.

                       FRI    FRI    SAT    SAT    SUN 
                            NIGHT         NIGHT       

SUMMIT   (14411 FT)     12     10      6     -2     -6
                      W  9  SW 31   W 38  SW 19  SE  4

CAMP MUIR(10188 FT)     32     28     20     12     10
                     SW  8  SW 22   W 26   W 10   E  6

PARADISE  (5420 FT)     35     29     29     17     28
                     NE  6   W  5  SW  9  SW  5   S  1

LONGMIRE  (2700 FT)     40     29     33     25     33
                      CALM   CALM   CALM   CALM   CALM


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Amar Andalkar
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Posts: 1200


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Re: Dec 9, 2011, Rainier, Muir & Nisqually Chute CORN
« Reply #1 on: 12/10/11, 01:19 PM »

Postscript: Looking at the telemetry from Paradise and Muir pasted below, it is clear that the window for skiing nice corn was very short this time. Increasing SW winds hit Muir by 4pm Friday, becoming strong in the evening and overnight, and temperatures fell by several degrees. If these strong winds and falling temps had arrived 4-6 hours earlier, Nisqually Chute might have stayed frozen and crusty all day.

As for Thursday Dec 8, the temps were about 3-5 degrees cooler at Muir and 6-8 degrees cooler at Paradise than on Friday, with winds at Muir during the critical 10am-3pm period being slightly stronger too. Not certain if the Chute would have softened under those conditions, but based on how soft it was at 3pm Friday, I think it would have been nicely skiable on Thursday too.


Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center                                      Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center
Paradise, Mt Rainier National Park, Washington                              Camp Muir, Mt Rainier National Park, Washington
                                                                           
                                                                            Wind gages unheated and may rime
                                                                           
 MM/DD  Hour  Temp    RH  Wind  Wind  Wind  Hour Total 24 Hr Total Solar      MM/DD   Hour   Temp     RH   Wind   Wind   Wind   Wind  Solar
         PST     F     %   Avg   Max   Dir Prec. Prec.  Snow  Snow  W/m2               PST      F      %    Min    Avg    Max    Dir   W/m2
             5400' 5400' 5380' 5380' 5380' 5400' 5400' 5400' 5400' 5400'                   10110' 10110' 10110' 10110' 10110' 10110' 10110'
------------------------------------------------------------------------    ---------------------------------------------------------------
  12 8   500    34    21     0     0    29     0     0    -0    51     0       12 8    500     29     20      3      8     15    314      0
  12 8   600    34    18     0     0    27     0     0    -0    51     0       12 8    600     29     24      3      9     15    333      0
  12 8   700    36    17     0     0    22     0     0    -0    51     0       12 8    700     31     21      4     10     19    324      0
  12 8   800    36    17     0     0    20     0     0     1    51     8       12 8    800     31     22      2      7     13    343     12
  12 8   900    40    14     0     0   346     0     0     1    51   106       12 8    900     28     24      2      6     15    254    112
  12 8  1000    41    15     0     0   279     0     0    -0    51   239       12 8   1000     29     24      3      9     14    263    243
  12 8  1100    44    16     2     6   112     0     0    -0    51   339       12 8   1100     31     25      0      8     15    260    344
  12 8  1200    43    16     1     5   199     0     0    -0    51   370       12 8   1200     34     31      1      6     18    242    376
  12 8  1300    46    16     0     3   237     0     0    -0    51   371       12 8   1300     34     31      3     10     19    283    361
  12 8  1400    50    18     0     3   246     0     0    -1    50   334       12 8   1400     33     30      4     10     18    353    334
  12 8  1500    52    15     0     0   157     0     0    -1    50   228       12 8   1500     34     26      7     12     18    305    226
  12 8  1600    43    22     0     0   272     0     0    -0    51    99       12 8   1600     32     26      3     11     25    304     98
  12 8  1700    40    23     0     0    38     0     0    -0    51     6       12 8   1700     29     35      2      5     11     28      7
  12 8  1800    42    20     0     0    31     0     0    -1    51     0       12 8   1800     30     41      0      6     15    246      0
  12 8  1900    42    23     0     0    17     0     0    -0    51     0       12 8   1900     30     46      3     12     26    212      0
  12 8  2000    43    24     0     0    39     0     0    -1    51     0       12 8   2000     29     46      4     10     22    242      0
  12 8  2100    44    22     0     2    38     0     0    -0    51     0       12 8   2100     30     38      5     10     19    263      0
  12 8  2200    45    24     0     3    39     0     0    -1    51     0       12 8   2200     31     27      5      9     15    350      0
  12 8  2300    45    25     0     1    18     0     0    -0    51     0       12 8   2300     31     28      4      7     13    281      0
  12 9     0    46    25     0     0     9     0     0    -0    51     0       12 9      0     31     21      3      7     12    291      0
  12 9   100    45    26     0     0   352     0     0    -0    51     0       12 9    100     30     29      2      4      7    271      0
  12 9   200    45    24     0     0   351     0     0     1    51     0       12 9    200     31     25      2      6     10    255      0
  12 9   300    44    27     0     0    11     0     0     1    51     0       12 9    300     31     15      0      4      9    261      0
  12 9   400    44    29     0     3    33     0     0    -0    51     0       12 9    400     34     12      2      7     16     31      0
------------------------------------------------------------------------    ---------------------------------------------------------------
  12 9   500    43    30     1     3    37     0     0    -0    51     0       12 9    500     33     14      4     11     22     53      0
  12 9   600    43    31     1     2    44     0     0    -0    51     0       12 9    600     33     11      8     15     21     37      0
  12 9   700    44    34     2     9    47     0     0    -0    51     0       12 9    700     32     17      6     13     21     32      0
  12 9   800    43    35     2     6    48     0     0    -0    51     8       12 9    800     32     17      7     11     14     41     14
  12 9   900    46    31     3    11    49     0     0    -0    51   105       12 9    900     33     19      5     10     14     17    113
  12 9  1000    49    29     4    14    75     0     0    -1    51   235       12 9   1000     35     15      2      6     12     17    243
  12 9  1100    50    29     7    16    94     0     0    -1    51   348       12 9   1100     37     10      0      3      6      9    342
  12 9  1200    50    28     6    13   101     0     0    -0    50   402       12 9   1200     40     12      0      1      6    352    414
  12 9  1300    53    22     2     9    94     0     0    -0    50   394       12 9   1300     39     18      0      3      7    332    391
  12 9  1400    55    20     2    10    97     0     0    -1    50   338       12 9   1400     38     15      0      3     10    265    341
  12 9  1500    60    17     1     6   136     0     0    -1    49   235       12 9   1500     35     16      1      7     14    260    234
  12 9  1600    49    24     0     3   112     0     0    -1    50   106       12 9   1600     32     24      4     13     21    257    105
  12 9  1700    49    23     2     8    22     0     0    -1    51     8       12 9   1700     29     25     15     21     26    260     10
  12 9  1800    46    25     1     6   352     0     0    -1    50     0       12 9   1800     29     27     20     30     37    252      0
  12 9  1900    45    28     1     9   348     0     0    -1    50     0       12 9   1900     29     28     21     31     39    255      0
  12 9  2000    44    24     3    13   157     0     0    -1    51     0       12 9   2000     28     33     30     36     47    248      0
  12 9  2100    43    26     1     4   335     0     0    -1    51     0       12 9   2100     27     38     32     42     49    252      0
  12 9  2200    42    26     0     2   319     0     0    -0    51     0       12 9   2200     27     38     32     39     47    243      0
  12 9  2300    42    24     0     1   309     0     0    -0    51     0       12 9   2300     28     33     21     37     45    255      0
 12 10     0    45    25     2     6   315     0     0    -0    51     0      12 10      0     26     43     35     42     48    249      0
 12 10   100    43    28     6    13   273     0     0    -0    51     0      12 10    100     26     35     38     46     54    251      0
 12 10   200    43    31    10    15   283     0     0    -0    51     0      12 10    200     25     30     23     44     57    251      0
 12 10   300    42    31    10    16   279     0     0    -0    50     0      12 10    300     24     19     36     45     51    252      0
 12 10   400    39    33     8    15   273     0     0    -1    50     0      12 10    400     25     15     35     43     51    250      0
------------------------------------------------------------------------    ---------------------------------------------------------------
 12 10   500    40    38    12    18   278     0     0    -0    51     0      12 10    500     26      9     29     48     60    249      0
 12 10   600    36    45    11    19   274     0     0    -1    50     0      12 10    600     26     10     32     49     62    251      0
 12 10   700    36    50    14    22   277     0     0    -1    50     0      12 10    700     26      8     34     48     58    255      0
 12 10   800    35    59    16    23   273     0     0    -0    50     7      12 10    800     27      9     25     40     55    249     12
 12 10   900    35    58    15    22   277     0     0     0    50   100      12 10    900     26     19     15     36     57    252    110
 12 10  1000    36    57    15    22   274     0     0    -1    50   231      12 10   1000     26     15     25     40     56    244    240


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ron j
Moderator
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Posts: 2580


Re: Dec 9, 2011, Rainier, Muir & Nisqually Chute CORN
« Reply #2 on: 12/10/11, 01:48 PM »

Good info.
Thanks, Amar.
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"When I stop having fun I'm turnin' around"
"Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future." - Niels Bohr
"If a given person makes it a priority not to die in an avalanche, he or she stands a very good chance of living a long, happy life in the mountains." - Jill Fredston
rlsg
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Posts: 516


Re: Dec 9, 2011, Rainier, Muir & Nisqually Chute CORN
« Reply #3 on: 12/10/11, 02:12 PM »

Fantastic report..way to dial it all in.
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Zap
Member
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Posts: 2155


Re: Dec 9, 2011, Rainier, Muir & Nisqually Chute CORN
« Reply #4 on: 12/10/11, 02:23 PM »

Great TR and route selection. Wink
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vogtski
Member
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Posts: 708


Re: Dec 9, 2011, Rainier, Muir & Nisqually Chute CORN
« Reply #5 on: 12/10/11, 04:43 PM »

Not sure how accurate this is, but sounds like the Muir cam is fogged internally?
"...don't expect anyone to go up and defog the camera lens until spring..."
http://rainiervolunteers.blogspot.com/2011/11/new-webcam-at-longmire.html

Thanks for the outstanding report, as usual, Amar!
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I feel like I'm diagonally parked in a parallel universe.
Pete_H
Member
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Posts: 263


Re: Dec 9, 2011, Rainier, Muir & Nisqually Chute CORN
« Reply #6 on: 12/11/11, 09:49 AM »

Nice job Amar. Looks like a memorable ski!
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JibberD
Member
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Posts: 610


Re: Dec 9, 2011, Rainier, Muir & Nisqually Chute CORN
« Reply #7 on: 12/11/11, 01:46 PM »

Looks and sounds like an amazing day Amar. Thanks for sharing the report and photos!
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-Doug O
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