From: "Andrew McLean" <and...@bdel.com
Subject: TR - Mowich Face Revisited
Organization: Black Diamond Equipment LTD.
Lured by reports of a massive snow year, Mark Holbrook (UT), Armond Debque
(WA) and myself (UT) thought it would be a good time to try skiing the
Centr.... er, uhmmmm, a still unskied line on Mt. Rainier's Mowich face over
the July 24th weekend.
I drove up (12 hours from SLC) and met Mark at the airport. We then drove
up through Wilkerson, where we registered like good little campers at the
Red Caboose Ranger Station, then continued on and met Armond at the Mowich
Lake Trailhead. Unfortunately, this time the gate was really locked, so we
pulled out all of our gear and started to pack just as the rain really
started to come down. Not to be deterred (but having forgotten a few things
in our excited hurry to walk the extra 5 miles up the dirt road - yippy) we
started the long trudge. The road really wasn't that bad and they could
have easily opened about four miles of it. There was about 3' of snow right
around the base of Mowich Lake, but the trail all the way up to Spray Park
was fine. We ditched our tennis shoes right by Mowich Lake and regretted it
for the next 3 miles of trailwalking, which we did in our ski boots.
We camped right at the entrance to Spray Park, mainly because we had already
walked about 8-9 miles, we were soaking wet and had hardly had any sleep.
And because it was getting dark. As it was only lightly raining at that
point, I put on a down jacket and was immediately reminded of Lowell's post
on how to stay dry in the NW. Down wasn't on the recommended list. The
image of cold, wet toilet paper came to mind.
The next morning broke clear and sunny, so we aired all of our gear out
while demonstrating to Armond that coffee isn't lethal in huge quantities.
Fully wired, we cruised through the rolling hills of Spray Park, then
climbed up onto Ptarmigan Ridge where we got a full view of the Mowich Face.
"It looks like it's covered with blue ice." said Armond. "Hmmmm, yeah.
Maybe it's just the way the sun is hitting it." we countered with, then
proceeded to surf loose scree for about 1,000' all the way down to the
The crevasses were in pretty good shape - very obvious and with strong snow
bridges. We roped up and crossed over to Needle Rock, then swung around and
climbed up the North (?) Mowich Glacier to about the 9,200' level where we
found our old campsite from a couple of years ago. After a bit more
excavation, we had a nice flat platform on which we set up the deluxe Bibler
Bombshelter with the door strategically oriented to watch the sun sets over
The next morning we set out across a very broken up glacier to the base of
the Central Mowich Headwall. This went pretty quickly with only a bit of
backtracking and some skirting around the edges on loose rock, but
eventually we emerged on the central snowfields, which were, surprise (!)
blue ice. Armond decided to call it quits at the "Hole in the rock" (a very
cool natural arch located on the ridgeline), but Mark and I were more
optimistic. "I bet we're just on a patch here and it's better up higher."
So, we continued up with crampons, one ice tool and one Whippet self arrest
grip apiece. The ice was, well, quite icy, and quite continuous, which is
hard to overcome with even big doses of optimism. About 2/3rds of the way
up the wall, we traversed out underneath a huge rock sickle, then had to
wrap around a very steep little frozen drift and clamp onto the face, which
of course was solid ice. As the expose was approaching the Gob Smacking
level (just under Mind Numbing) we would drive the ice tools as hard as
possible, wiggle them loose, snuggle the self arrest pick into the hole,
then pull the tool out and place it higher. This worked pretty well, but was
We eventually made it to Sunset Ridge, where we climbed 8" tall sustrugi all
the way up to Liberty Cap. As Mark had never been to the summit of Rainier,
we dropped down, crossed the open snowfield and continued to the windy
summit for about .1432 seconds. After a brief lunch of GU and nuts, we put
our skis on, shot back across the snowfield, climbed back up to Liberty Cap
and side slipped down to the top of the Mowich, which was still blue ice.
Hmmm. We debated about downclimbing, trying to belay each other and a few
other tactics before deciding to "just try one turn." Knowing that a skier
had died a few weeks earlier on his first icy turn down the nearby Liberty
Ridge, it was a very tentative turn. "Not so good." We decided to traverse
way out towards the Edmonds Headwall and see if we could sneak down far
enough to traverse back towards the center line, but to no avail - it was
just too dicey. But, the snow over on the Edmonds seemed OK and as I'd
skied it before, I knew what to expect and where to go. We downclimbed a
bit to get off the ridge, then put our skis back on and made some turns. At
first it went pretty well. Then, within one turn, we were back in the
middle of a huge ice field. We started slowly sidestepping down, then after
a while that got too scary, so we broke out the ice axes and kind of side
stepped while placing the picks as we went down. It took an incredibly long
time to cover about 1,200' of vertical, but the photos should be worth it.
Eventually, we found that the margins right next to the rocks had some
softer snow, so we opted for hitting the occasional rock versus the patches
of ice and worked our way down. Finally setting edges on the mellow glacier
was quite a relief. Slightly shell shocked, we skied back to camp and tore
into our meager Scotch supply.
The next day was the third clear day in a row. We skied back down the
glaciers unroped, then roped up to cross a few major cracks. This deposited
us at the base of the dreaded Ptarmigan Ridge Screefest, which wasn't as bad
as we had anticipated. Once this was done, we had a nice ride all the way
through Spray Park, where we met the only and only person we saw on the
trip - a Ranger.
The trail out through the woods wasn't bad, but the dirt road seemed to go
on forever. When we finally made it home, one of the first things we did wa
s to weigh our packs - Mark came in at 80lbs and I was a measly 70.
We used TOPO! generated maps and waypoints for the entire trip and had great
success with them as you can create custom maps, GPS waypoints and lots of
annotated details on your specific route (halfway points, elevation
milestones, close up summit day maps, overall maps, driving maps, etc..)