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| | |-+  September 2, 2013: Van Trump Glacier, fortune :-)s
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Author Topic: September 2, 2013: Van Trump Glacier, fortune :-)s  (Read 3421 times)
wolfs
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September 2, 2013: Van Trump Glacier, fortune :-)s
« on: 09/04/13, 01:09 AM »

As in, fortune smiles on the brave, and frowns upon the coward. Too often I am the coward, and stay at home on a day that could've turned out good. I started out with modest goals and mixed expectations, so maybe doesn't qualify as anything "brave". However, at many junctures, some kind of good fortune presented itself and the end result was a truly memorable trip into the mountains that turned out hella fun.

Stroke of fortune #1 was that Paradise webcams still showed sun in the morning even as North Cascades were clouding up, enough of a kickstarter to go for it and make the drive south. When is the forecast for Labor Day actually wrong in a GOOD way? I can't recall the last time.

Original modest goal was to hit one of the paragons of only-in-desperate-times patch skiing: the mighty Pinnacle Glacier, site of slushcuppery of yore. But as I drove past the usually perpetually overflowing  Van Trump ParkingLot slightly before noon, what ho? A vacant spot? This was a boon (stroke of fortune #2) that was  not to be cast aside! If nothing else a hike up to VTP would be much nicer and perhaps less crowded as a pure hike than Pinnacle Saddle would.

But what would I find up there above Van Trump and in vicinity of the supposed glaciers? I'd personally never been there later than mid July. The only TR I have seen for VTP after mid August painted a rather dire picture of wandering about the great heaps of rock in search of any snow. So, to keep it light, packed up my 80's vintage Bigfoot figl mini-skis rather than the usual summer kit. That way, if the snow or access to it turned out a bust, or weather went to hell, well OK. At least it would be only 2.5 pack-length pounds on my back going for a 0% JOM hike and not 10+ pounds of ankle-nipping a-framed ski. (And no, leaving the full skis in the car was not the brave decision, read on ...)

For Labor Day the forecast had been for 30% showers and even possible thunder. Exactly the kind of weather that the southside of Rainier seems to draw unto itself even when the rest of the state somehow escapes. So stroke of fortune #3 was that weather continued to hold up nicely during the hike. The miles and rather substantial elevation of the trail approach went by pleasantly.



Dare I mention that a minor fortune (#3.5) was that the inscrutability of the Bigfoots as opposed to big fat obvious skis had their usual magical cloaking effect on the many tourist-types I passed on the trail? Resulting in exactly zero of the otherwise inevitable where-you-going-skiing, are-there-lifts-up-there questions from the hoi polloi?

Another unknown that could've made this trip painful was what scrambling up the initial talus slopes above the usual end of trail would be like, could well be nasty steep and loose. But stroke of fortune #4 was that there was a decent trail up a moraine where usually should've been July snowcover (basically all of what could be seen in previous picture). Trail looks like combined engineering effort of human and goat. Saw a herd of the co-engineers not far away on the Cushman Crest side, counted about 20. Always nice to see goats, have seen them up here on most trips I think.



And now a word about figls. You win with weight and compactness for carry, but you definitely lose with versatility for conditions. Figls are rather fickle, fey things that really don't give a steady enjoyable ride  on uneven surfaces e.g. cups, wavy undulations. They don't like firm snow (they like slush). And they are hard to stay on top of for slopes more than about 30 degrees, falling is painful and much harder to stop if you do fall. Basically their weak points match the laundry list of conditions you might encounter on most snow that survives into September on a southfacing slope of Rainier. But, after clearing the crest of a moraine at 7200 feet, found a little patch that met the criteria for safe and sane figling. Only about 100 foot vert here but after 3500vf of trail and moonscape it  was finally gonna be turns, vindicating snowy turns, even if I had to lap the crap out of that sucker to get even 10% JOM.


(Emerging view up from my patch, hey what's that white stuff beyond the rockpiles?)


Fortune was not yet done smiling. As I climbed up initially and while engaged in laps, everything above my little patch was shrouded in fog, and for all I knew this was the only snow up there. 3 laps later, stroke of fortune #5. The fog lifted in a span of just minutes and The Mountain above was revealed in full glory. I saw that in fact, my little patch was just the doormat of a mostly continuous stairway of snow that went almost all the way up the usual "omega" route to below the Turtle crossover at 9200! And mostly with leftover snow blanket, not gray ice. Wow!



Now I unfortunately faced the payback for my earlier cowardice when I did not saddle up the "real" skis: I knew those higher slopes eventually steepened to 35 degrees or so, and I didn't think I could figl them even if I made it before turnaround. But no matter, there was still fun to be had here. I went to about 8200 feet where angle was mellow but about to increase. Here made a couple laps on much larger and cleaner patches that appear to be remnants of Van Trump Glacier as seen on the old topos. This was great snow and terrain for figling, about 20 degree angle and inch plus softened slush, small  cups, only mild occasional surface ice ridges.



With laps and run down managed about 1600 feet vertical up here, 30% JOM, not bad for September with no new snow.



Great evening light then for hike off the moraine and thru lovely Van Trump Park with weather STILL improving even with the sun starting to lower. Beautiful flowers in upper meadows still hanging on, the pensive whistles of marmots echoing off the moraines, warm temps, no bugs.



It was like paradise, the kind with the non-capital P and the kind without endless throngs of tourists trampling everything. Hadn't seen anyone in fact for hours since leaving trail, Van Trump Glaciers are not exactly most people's go-to destination.



Takeaway is that this year at least Van Trump is far from the craziest place you could take skis in September, it was actually really good and well worth it. Potential here for an almost 2K run down the omega-shaped snowfields that lead onto Turtle and then the patches below. Plus now that I know there's a reasonable amount of permanent snow, this could also be a cool place to be for later September or October. Like when a mid-elevation dusting freshens snow surfaces but there's not enough to cover the rocks between, yet trails still possible to follow on approaches.
« Last Edit: 09/04/13, 01:45 AM by wolfs » Logged
mikerolfs
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Re: September 2, 2013: Van Trump Glacier, fortune :-)s
« Reply #1 on: 09/04/13, 06:09 AM »

Awesome awesome awesome!  Great report and noble exploration!  I enjoyed every word.

...Resulting in exactly zero of the otherwise inevitable where-you-going-skiing, are-there-lifts-up-there questions from the hoi polloi?

Funny about that;  on my last trip, I think I was so out of place and time that my skis just didn't register to most people as I also got no questions or double takes over my skis (which were visible above my pack, unlike yours).  It was odd.  The people who did ask were the ones that looked comfortable in the woods. 
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r1de
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Re: September 2, 2013: Van Trump Glacier, fortune :-)s
« Reply #2 on: 09/04/13, 09:27 AM »

Awesome report and awesome pics - thanks for the creativity and taking the time to share it.

Nice work on September!
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-bp
WhiteyWhite
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Re: September 2, 2013: Van Trump Glacier, fortune :-)s
« Reply #3 on: 09/07/13, 09:51 AM »

SWEET! My new inspiration for later this month. Thanks and well done. And even more well written!
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danpeck
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Re: September 2, 2013: Van Trump Glacier, fortune :-)s
« Reply #4 on: 09/07/13, 10:08 PM »

Love the write up.  This is an area I'll have to scope out.  I'm not much motivated to go to Rainier due to crowds and this seems like a lesser known location.  (Perhaps?)
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WhiteyWhite
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Re: September 2, 2013: Van Trump Glacier, fortune :-)s
« Reply #5 on: 09/21/13, 10:39 AM »

Skied the area on the 19th, and there is less snow than in these pics. Probably from all of the rain. But still super fun and much more of a remote feel than the Muir Highway!
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ND
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Re: September 2, 2013: Van Trump Glacier, fortune :-)s
« Reply #6 on: 09/23/13, 09:50 AM »

Thanks for the idea Wolfs, was nice to get something new in.

Skied the area on the 19th, and there is less snow than in these pics. Probably from all of the rain. But still super fun and much more of a remote feel than the Muir Highway!

I found some of your boot prints in the dirt between scree piles on Friday, kept wondering where the other skiers were at Smiley

It has definitely melted a bit since earlier this month, upper snow field was still a decent ski.  For the upper snowfield I would bring boot crampons or microspikes.  It was too firm to easily kick steps with my mountaineering boots, far to firm for my friends trail runners.  The rocks up there are all ready to fall when you look at them, one carefully placed step and a rock 4' away from you goes rolling off down slope.


* van_trump.JPG (172.97 KB, 480x640 - viewed 494 times.)
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ND
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Re: September 2, 2013: Van Trump Glacier, fortune :-)s
« Reply #7 on: 09/23/13, 01:28 PM »

I also snagged a pic of the ski lines on the lowest snowfield.


* van_trump_ski_lines.JPG (162.56 KB, 480x640 - viewed 463 times.)
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