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| | |-+  May 28-30, 2005, Spray Park,Flett-Russell Glaciers
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Author Topic: May 28-30, 2005, Spray Park,Flett-Russell Glaciers  (Read 8996 times)
Charles
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May 28-30, 2005, Spray Park,Flett-Russell Glaciers
« on: 05/31/05, 05:17 PM »

Magnificent! Vince and I spent two nights camping in Spray Park and skiing the Flett and Russell Glaciers, and had the best weather and skiing conditions I've experienced in many years on a Memorial Day weekend. We left Seattle mid-afternoon on Saturday, picked up a permit in Wilkeson (no one else camping in the entire cross-country zone), and started hiking the Spray Park trail about 5:30. It was quite a bit cooler at Mowich Lake than it had been in the lowlands so the hike was pleasant, with sunlight filtering in through the nice forest and no snow until lower Spray Park. Just before we got to skinable snow we ran into Robie and gang returning from their day trip to the Russell, and got good information about coverage and water availability. We got on the ribbon of snow that Robie's group had used and skied into upper Spray Park, where we found a good spot for our camp site at about 6200 feet, with flat snow for our bivy sacks, running water, and a great view up to the Flett and Liberty Cap and out across Spray Park to the lowlands. There was an easterly wind but the sunshine and our little protected nooks in the rocks made it almost balmy until the sun set. As it was getting dark a fog layer started forming down in the North Mowich River valley.

We awoke Sunday morning to brilliant sunshine and a sea of clouds covering the lowlands, topping out around 5500 feet. For the rest of the trip this cloud layer was always present but remained well behaved, although we kept expecting the long forecasted big marine surge to cause it to envelop us at any moment. After breakfast we skied up continuous snow to the base of the eastern lobe of the Flett (between Echo and Observation Rocks), which was a treat because this route is typically already melted out by the time the Mowich Lake road opens and is an easier route up than the main Flett run. We then skied up the Flett to the cross over to the Russell Glacier at about 7800 feet, where we took a snack break and soaked up the view of Rainier's north side. The Russell looked to be in the best shape I've ever seen: smooth and pure white across its entire extent. Robie had said that the newer snow on the Russell had been somewhat mushy and grabby for their run the day before, but as we skinned up it seemed that conditions had improved overnight. For the most part there were 2-4 inches of soft snow on top of a firm base, although a couple of spots that got more direct morning sun had a thicker soft layer. The snow had not refrozen overnight but the liquid water seemed to have drained away, and the cool downslope glacier breeze was keeping the snow (and us) from heating up too much.

Here's a photo of Vince skinning up the Russell Glacier (tracks from Robie's group the day before):


We topped out at the last bump overlooking the North Mowich Glacier before the final steep slope which rises to the point of Ptarmigan Ridge. My reading of the map puts this at 9500 feet, although it is the same place Robie's group stopped and called 9200 feet. After snack and views we geared up for the run down to the base of the Russell, around noon. I had my waxless skis and joke boots (leather/fabric), but hooked on my supercharger cables for the run; Vince had real skis and boots (T3s and Super Stinx). The snow on the first steeper slope was a bit stiff, though not crusty; I believe that this is the slope that had shed giant rollers for Robie's group the day before. Below that the snow got better, but the turning didn't become great until the gradient steepened below about 8500 feet. We headed skier's right of the rock rib that has a balanced rock type formation on it, careful not to veer too far right into the broken up part of the Russell. As we skied down to the bottom of the Russell, the turning just got better and better, and the snow remained smooth and white all the way down. There was a big open crevasse at a rollover near 7600 feet, but it was easy to see. At the bottom of the Russell, about 6700 feet, we left our skis and hiked the short distance across the snow-free outwash plain to the edge of the cliffs which drop down to the Carbon Glacier. It was really warm on the rocks, and we relaxed a while and took in the awesome view of Rainier's north face. We decided that we had to ski the great snow on the lower Russell again, so we left our packs and skied up to around 8200 feet and did another run. A pretty good pile of clouds built up to the east of Mount Rainier in the afternoon, with lots of thunder, but it slowly moved south and disappeared behind the mountain, leaving us in sun all day.

To get back to camp we did a climbing traverse across the bottom of the Russell and around the north side of Echo Rock, crossed over rocks to the base of the eastern lobe of the Flett, and then did a climbing traverse to the 7500 foot crossover point to the main Flett run. There we ran into Scott, and followed him down the run past Flett (Cat-Eye) Lake. The snow here was also good, especially below the top roll, and not yet too tracked up. The Flett headwall looked somewhat dangerous. It appeared to have been loaded with newer snow and had a substantial cornice overhanging most of it. The previous evening we had seen a piece of cornice break off and trigger an avalanche which made a hefty pile of debris at the base of the headwall. Back at camp we enjoyed a leisurely dinner watching the sun set over the sea of lowland clouds.

Sunday night seemed a little cooler than the previous night, but still there was no refreezing, the wind stayed out of the east, and the cloud layer remained about where it had been on Sunday. There was intermittent lenticular activity over Rainier's summit, but it didn't ever seem to get very organized and we were optimistic that we would have another good day of skiing, so after breakfast we headed back to the Russell via our Sunday route. We skied up to about 8500 feet on the Russell and repeated our run of the previous day. The skiing was still excellent. To get back toward camp this time we did a climbing traverse up the Russell along the east side of Echo Rock and continued to the 8200 foot saddle immediately SE of Observation Rock. After lunch and lounging on the hot rocks, we skied the somewhat mushy small slope (thin hissers) down to the top of the eastern Flett, then traversed to the crossover to the main Flett run. The skiing here was even better than the previous day, and we met Mike and Brenda part way down. Some clouds had begun to form around Echo and Observation, but they never amounted to much and largely backed off a little later. After packing up we followed a ribbon of snow back to the Spray Park trail, hitting it at around 5700 feet with a few small heather traverses and one short carry. The hike out was very pleasant as we entered the cloud layer in lower Spray Park and had cool misty conditions for the rest of the way. The cloud layer had done a great job of keeping away the hikers. We saw only two people on the hike out, and they just laughed knowingly when I said, "If you keep hiking you will get to brilliant sunshine." Crazy skiers!
« Last Edit: 05/31/05, 05:20 PM by admin » Logged
Robie
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Re: May 28-30, 2005, Spray Park,Flett-Russell Glac
« Reply #1 on: 05/31/05, 06:59 PM »

Damn good report.
I kept wondering all weekend if you were above the clouds.  It might be 9500' I'm not sure as KEN's altimeter was reading 9300 and mine was low at 9200.
Whichever it is one fine lookout.
The snow coverage was about the same when I was up there on july 6th of last year. Funny ,everybody I was with noticed your "Joke Boots " and light looking pack!
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md2020
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Re: May 28-30, 2005, Spray Park,Flett-Russell Glac
« Reply #2 on: 06/01/05, 04:14 AM »

hey Charles, what are the rules for camping in the Spray Park area? Is it only allowed above treeline?
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Mike Metz
Charles
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Re: May 28-30, 2005, Spray Park,Flett-Russell Glac
« Reply #3 on: 06/01/05, 07:28 AM »

For camping that is not along a trail (in designated sites) the park is divided up into zones, with a limited number of parties camping in each zone. There are "cross country" zones (just above treeline) and "alpine" zones higher. It seems like the zones have recently been rearranged, but there is a pdf file on the park web site that shows the zones (though not much else, so it can be hard to read the map). There is a big xc zone covering the place we camped, and there seems to be a small xc zone in lower Spray Park. There is also an alpine zone higher up (mostly Russell Gl and Ptarmigan Ridge). The permit is free if you have a Rainier pass.
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Mad_Dog
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Re: May 28-30, 2005, Spray Park,Flett-Russell Glac
« Reply #4 on: 06/01/05, 10:23 AM »

Charles, sounds like you had a great overnight at the Flett, Cheesy thanks for sharing.

Quote
what are the rules for camping in the Spray Park area? Is it only allowed above treeline?

Ron and I have always said that camping in that area is like trying to figure out the "Rosetta Stone", it's always a puzzle.  Wink
« Last Edit: 06/01/05, 10:29 AM by Mad_Dog » Logged

There is nothing worse than refusing to learn: this is where old age begins.

Jeanette
Robie
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Re: May 28-30, 2005, Spray Park,Flett-Russell Glac
« Reply #5 on: 06/01/05, 01:01 PM »

The Park Rangers as nice as they are won't offer that info on the XC zones. You have to know about it and ask. At least that has been my experience. Some zones have a bigger quota than others.
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Joedabaker
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Re: May 28-30, 2005, Spray Park,Flett-Russell Glac
« Reply #6 on: 06/01/05, 04:16 PM »

When I spoke to the Park Ranger today I asked him about official camping above Spray and he stated that the snow season camping, unless in designated areas such as Sherman, Curtis and Muir is done for the season. I am unclear on the designations other than the issues that I found out about in our fight against the Park allowing skiers from Crystal Mountain to ski in the Park. Which is where they designate areas for uses based on the amount of users of the park area and risk to the enviroment.

Anyhow-Great trip report!!
I really wanted to do that trip last weekend including the overnights.
Still on the list!
Joe
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ron j
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Re: May 28-30, 2005, Spray Park,Flett-Russell Glac
« Reply #7 on: 06/01/05, 05:31 PM »

There was a time just a few years ago when it seemed like "the map" was always kept under the counter and the general public didn't even get to see it except in unusual circumstances an only then after you told the ranger where you intended to camp.  Back then scoring a copy of the "rosetta stone", as we used to call it, was a major help in planning overnight camping trips in the park... the info on the NPS web site was sometimes unreliable and seldom update.
Not so any more... the "rosetta stone" is actually now published on the MORA web site albiet a bit clumsy to work with and read due to it's size, it is nonetheless a great tool to figure out where you can camp anywhere on the mountain.
General wilderness camping info can be found HERE.
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Robie
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Re: May 28-30, 2005, Spray Park,Flett-Russell Glac
« Reply #8 on: 06/02/05, 02:50 PM »

Jodabaker ,
I don't doubt your word but there is
something fishy about this "Snow season camping " I'm of the opinion that you can still go up there and legally camp this year.
I've always been issued permits to camp in the "crosscountry zone".
I could see where they might close down lower Spray Park Zone but hell, there's snow up on the Flett and Russell year round and on top of blue Ice I might add.  Climbers get permits to camp up on the frying pan to access little Tahoma.
J,Were you on the phone with this ranger?
trying to be helpful
Robie
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Robie
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Re: May 28-30, 2005, Spray Park,Flett-Russell Glac
« Reply #9 on: 06/02/05, 03:45 PM »

Ok back again and did a little homework.
Jodabaker
The area you would want to ask for is called the Ptarmagin Ridge alpine zone.it appears Spray park is split into a couple of XC zones Also Seattle park has a xc zone  
Backcountry zone map (Rosetta Stone)
[url]http://www.nps.gov/mora/general/maps/wildzones.pdf
[/url]
Regs and permits
http://www.nps.gov/mora/recreation/wildcamp.htm#permits

The way the regs are written implies year round use!
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Joedabaker
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Re: May 28-30, 2005, Spray Park,Flett-Russell Glac
« Reply #10 on: 06/02/05, 05:04 PM »

Thanks for the input Robie-I will put the info to use!
Joe
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Charles
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Re: May 28-30, 2005, Spray Park,Flett-Russell Glac
« Reply #11 on: 06/03/05, 05:36 AM »

From looking at the good map at the Wilkeson RS, if you choose the Ptarmigan Ridge alpine zone I think you are committed to camping on the Russell itself or above the Flett on Ptarmigan Ridge. If you want to camp in the upper reaches of Spray Park (where we camped) or farther east between Echo and Seattle Park, then you want the Ptarmigan Ridge cross country zone.

The Spray Park cross country zone looks very small and confined to lower Spray Park, south of the Spray Park trail - won't be long before it is a ways to any snow from there and the bugs are abundant. Same is true for the Seattle Park cross country zone.
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Robie
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Re: May 28-30, 2005, Spray Park,Flett-Russell Glac
« Reply #12 on: 06/03/05, 12:55 PM »

I defer to Charles's experience
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Joedabaker
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Re: May 28-30, 2005, Spray Park,Flett-Russell Glac
« Reply #13 on: 06/06/05, 04:32 AM »

Great Pictures of your trip Charles and Vince. Thanks for posting them.
« Last Edit: 06/06/05, 04:39 AM by Joedabaker » Logged
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