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| | |-+  Feb 29, 2016: Leap Year Muir
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Author Topic: Feb 29, 2016: Leap Year Muir  (Read 1015 times)
gscruggs
5Member
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Posts: 51


Feb 29, 2016: Leap Year Muir
« on: 03/01/16, 02:11 PM »

Yesterday’s tour was set in motion back in November, when my girlfriend scored a prime Saturday night reservation at the Yurt during the MTTA gala. With the weekend already bringing us to Ashford, toph and myself decided a few weeks back to tack on an extra night and head up to Paradise to see what the weather gods would throw at us.

Following a moist weekend on the MTTA trails (woe be the Tour de Huts skiers/snowshoers on their first foray), we bid our fellow yurtians adieu on Sunday afternoon and settled in as the only guests at Whittaker’s Bunkhouse. The setup to a horror movie or a sign we would have all the first tracks we wanted?

After dinner at the Copper Creek and a careful read of the forecast, it looked like the weekend dump up at Paradise would yield a short weather window on Monday with wind and storm slabs keeping us off the steeper slopes.

With over a foot reported in the morning, the NPS delayed the Longmire gate opening until “at least 11 am” but we wandered up around 10:30 am and found, to our pleasant surprise, the gates to Paradise wide open (St. Peter was nowhere to be found, however). As only the second car in the lot, it was a far cry from our busy but memorable powderfest at Paradise on Saturday a week and a half ago (Feb 20). That day, we ogled Pan Point and Camp Muir, both destinations unknown to us, and resolved to make an upward trek as soon as we could.

Despite the compressed schedule – the delayed gate opening and the looming specter of the 5 pm gate closure – we decided to make a go at Muir with an 11:15 am departure from the lot. I was testing out a new extra-light AT setup and toph was, as usual, slogging away on his splitboard. We found ourselves breaking trail in fairly dense snow and I immediately had skin globbing issues that required repeated waxing. A lone mountaineer followed on snowshoes and we occasionally traded trailbreaking.

On Pan Face we noticed some storm slab activity, but on the whole nothing alarming like the big slab observed on Feb 24. We reached Pan Point some time between noon and 1 pm. As the lone travelers in that zone yesterday, we asked the mountaineer if he was carrying a beacon – he was not, despite carrying the other requisite gear. He seemed nonplussed at the avalanche risk, unstrapped his 'shoes, and proceeded on foot.

The combination of wind and cold above Pan Point did wonders for my skin (both the kind under my feet and on my face) with no more globbing issues. There was some wind scouring but variable conditions with powder on anything even slightly leeward. During our final rendezvous with the mountaineer around 2 pm, he suggested that we only had another hour before the next front rolled in although the forecast said not until nighttime. Despite clear views of the valley and out to Adams and St. Helen’s, as well as regular intervals of summit views, we continuously eyed the western horizon for signs of the impending storm. (The mountaineer proved totally off-base – it didn’t even start raining in Seattle until I was finished dinner at 9:30 pm.)

Roughly 1,500 feet below Camp Muir, the mountaineer signaled that he was turning around – good riddance – and we continued to climb. The Muir Wx forecast was for steady winds at 25 mph and gusts easily topped 40 mph on the final 1,000 feet. We struggled a little with tired legs from the yurt trip (we opted for a gourmet yurt outing so our packs had been quite heavy) and altitude reared its dizzy head around 9,000 feet. toph debuted his splitboard crampons while I soldiered on with just skins – quite happy with the uphill performance on my new RMU La Cabras from Feathered Friends (FYI winter sale started on Friday.)

Camp Muir beckoned in and out of the clouds as we hoofed it slowly up the final 600 feet, battling gusts that weren’t destabilizing so much as demoralizing. It was the coldest I’ve been since last winter in the alpine zone of the Adirondack High Peaks (I moved to the PNW on Dec 31). We reached Camp Muir just three minutes shy of our 3:45 pm alarm for turnaround time. With barely any time to admire the stone masonry in the year of the guide shelter centennial, we gasped for air, gobbled down food, guzzled fluids, and transitioned for a white-knuckle ride down starting at 4:05 pm with the vain hopes of reaching the Longmire gate before the witching hour, now worried far more about the wrath of the rangers than the wrath of the weather as visibility more than held up.

Snowfield conditions were variable – with good luck we linked pow turns, but all too often were interrupted by wind scour chatter. The La Cabras do not float, I discovered, making for a jerky ride down. Our quads burned from the get-go, but we tried to keep a regular downhill pace. We were making good time until toph was afflicted by a fate worse than AMS: Splitboard Traverse Malfunction (STM). Following the contours above the Nisqually Chutes in order to retrace our steps to Pan Point proved effortless on my skis – no poling required – so I assumed toph would have no trouble. Wrong. In the throes of STM, he unstrapped twice to climb over small ridges that I ascended on pure momentum, costing us at least 10 minutes.

Following a ski cut of Pan Face that showed no signs of instability, we ripped down for the best turns of the day before riding the uptrack back to the lot. We hit the road at 4:53 pm while I was still in my ski boots – pro tip: walk mode helps a lot when working the pedals – and passed another laggard on the way down.

The gate, unsurprisingly, was closed when we pulled into Longmire at 5:15 pm. We flagged down a ranger, fearing the worst, but he seemed more concerned about the scofflaw behind us. It was her third offense in as many weeks, he said, and all she was doing was walking her dog. After reprimanding her – and politely explaining that there are plenty of places to walk the dog at Longmire before the gate – he respectfully reminded us of the rules but seemed more interested in a conditions report before sending us on our way with a warning. Inside scoop: Weather permitting, the gate will stay open until 8 pm starting on March 12.

At the National Park Inn for a bathroom break, it seemed we were the talk of the town as several guests said they watched the altercation from the window and were anxious to know if we were fined. We shrugged it off with tales of our alpine exploits and made one more stop at Copper Creek for a caffeine fix before the return trip. With the espresso machine on the fritz, our coffee was comped – a cherry on top for late afternoon freebies.

On the way home, we debated whether we were the highest two people in the PNW that day – Uncle Ike’s best customers notwithstanding – so we throw it out there: Does anyone know of skiers or climbers who tagged Hood, Baker, or Adams yesterday in the brief weather window? Unless proven otherwise, we’re holding on to the day’s elevation record until we have to defend our title on February 29, 2020.

[I am a writer by trade, so heavy on the narration and light on quality photography... what you see is what you get.]


* leapdayrainier1.jpg (132.99 KB, 600x800 - viewed 533 times.)

* leapdayrainier2.JPG (132.39 KB, 800x600 - viewed 528 times.)

* leapdayrainier3.JPG (158.57 KB, 800x600 - viewed 529 times.)
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toph
5Member
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Posts: 15


Re: Feb 29, 2016: Leap Year Muir
« Reply #1 on: 03/01/16, 02:44 PM »

Great trip! Looking forward to a repeat in 4 years. With any luck, STM will be cured by then  Cool
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