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Author Topic: June 26th, 2006, Whitman Crest (9,364'), MRNP  (Read 4029 times)
MW88888888
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June 26th, 2006, Whitman Crest (9,364'), MRNP
« on: 07/08/06, 02:37 PM »

Day 73
6-26-06
Whitman Crest (9,364’), via the Fryingpan Glacier
Vertical skied: 4,100 VF



It was the dead bird.  That should have been the tip-off.

Or maybe the three mountain goats.  Certainly the four distant mountaineers beating us to our intended route.  Add them together, well, “three mountain goats, a dead bird and a quad of mountaineers” – witches brew, I tell you, witches brew.

All these omens and I still found myself sliding along in the midst of a slush avalanche, snowboard facing down hill, unable to stand up and nervous to go under, bumping along down the snowfield like a giant slushy slip ‘n slide. 

That damn dead bird. 

We had come upon it as we crossed the Fryingpan Glacier, a sad sight on the pristine white snow.  It was hard to tell what kind of bird it was, certainly nothing I recognized off-hand.  In the snow it appeared to be a colorful green sparrow-like bird.  Probably lost in a storm and marooned. 
 
It was a strange sight, definitely an omen.

Now, my own black speck in a white river of snow, a million thoughts ran through my head, and at the same time I focused on only one. Could my lack of concentration result in dire consequences?  My resolve began to crumble even as the slide began to slow.

--- 

Wayne and I had arrived at the Summerland TH 9:30 pm the night before.  We crashed in the back of the truck and woke at 1:30 am.  The high pressure system that provided delightful weather for our Mt Baker summit over the weekend persisted and also meant the temperatures were destined to be high.  We needed to be on the summit early if we wanted to enjoy the best snow.  We left the TH at 2 am, in the pitch dark that created wild hallucinations in my semi sleep and racing mind.  I was glad to be in my own headspace for the 4.1 miles to Summerland, it allowed me to zone out the troubles of common life.  In the starlight Wayne and I ogled the lines coming down from the Banshee Mountain plateau, the darkness masking the ugliness of the lower scree fields.  But in the delusional march of deep, dark night, one could imagine a terrific descent.

We entered the expanse of the Summerland gorge as dawn illuminated the Mountains around us.  Well, lit up Rainier like a fireworks display, all eyes gravitating toward the behemoth, Little Tahoma, Mt Ruth and other lesser peaks merely providing a backdrop for the main event. 

We dropped our packs and enjoyed the light show of Alpine glow, ate, drank and planned our ascent.  We intended to conduct a covert ski of Little Tahoma as we were unable to swing the ridiculous cut off time of 5:30 pm at the Ranger Station to obtain a permit the night before. 

“Look,“ Wayne said, pointing up toward the route “Mountain Goats!”.  Sure enough, three mountain goats traversed the bowl above us, across our intended route, making their way toward Goat Mountain.  A black cat crossing your path is bad luck, so what about three mountain goats?
We switched into glacier travel gear, mostly to even out the pack weights, and made our way up the Fryingpan Glacier headwall roped up.  Above us, to our surprise, four mountaineers appeared just below Meany crest.  It was obvious they had come from the Summerland shelter, and as they traversed the slope above us, we could only surmise they were heading toward Little Tahoma. 

Rats.  We hadn’t any qualms about climbing the peak without a permit (if the park want wanted the 24/7 revenue, they needed to install 24/7 permit stations), but we also had a low tolerance for being hassled by The Man.  Even if it was only a guide, we really didn’t need the  headache.  Anyway, they appeared to have a jump start on our line, and we would be subject to their rock fall up on the route.  No, we needed a change of plans. 

Plan B was floated and accepted, and our new destination was Whitman Crest, closer and lower than LT, and right along the way.  I assured Wayne that the ski of the Fryingpan Glacier from Whitman Crest was a classic in its own right and would allow us a perfectly legal destination, free from any hassle from The Man.  Course set, we headed up the steep headwall.



After a short scramble on exposed rocks at the top of the headwall, we set out across the Glacier proper.  Ski conditions on the Glacier were ideal: Flat, with few sun cups, almost no crevasses to go around or over, and a steady line of descent from the Crest.  Awesome!  As we crossed the glacier we also plotted out a line of descent and were jazzed to see a direct steep chute from the summit.  Something interesting to spice up the descent. 

At 11 am we reached the summit ridge, eyeing the summit chute along the way.  The peak was very rewarding with views over to the Whitman Glacier and beyond to Camp Muir.  We also had a great view over to LT, and could see the party of four mid way up the summit slope.  Indeed, it would have been a footrace if we kept to our first goal, and having a summit to ourselves was reward alone. 

After a leisurely rest we geared up for the descent.  As Wayne kicked out a platform to put on his snowboard, he released a slough slide that propogated into the 45 degree chute below.  Quickly enough, the avalanche scoured out the narrow chute and then began work on the lower snowfield.  The slow moving ooze flowed and bubbled over ripples in the snow, crashing a raging river over a rock outcrop near the bottom and then gradually settled to a stop on the flat glacier below.

Wayne looked at me with a blank stare.   

“That makes me concerned” Wayne said gravely.

“Happens all the time.” I assured him, ”I don’t think you’re afraid of the avalanche conditions, I think you just don’t have the sack to ski the chute (a provocative prodding only a brother could deliver).”

“Ok, then you go first.” He said with a smile. 

The snow slide did a number of positive things, I considered, including clearing the wet corn off the slope, ensuring there were no crevasses lurking at the bottom of the snowfield and last but not least, that the snowfield below the chute was somewhat flat and would prevent a long slide for life.  Hopefully.

I cut my own platform and donned the 162. 

The chute began a few steps from the ultimate rocky top of the Crest, and was steep right away.  There was room enough to cut a few turns in the somewhat wide funnel before entering the business of the chute.  Below the chute, there appeared to be no bergschrund crack typical of the wider bowl separating from the narrow chute, and this was good.  I cut right below Wayne, who was taking pics from the summit rocks, and stopped, plotting the turns in the narrows. 

I jumped up and down and let a loose snow slide tear down the right side of the chute, where Wayne’s slough hadn’t touched.  When  the tongue of the slide stopped at the base I skied down into the throat a scant board wide and was pleased with the corn and the firmness of the base.  My plan was to turn right below the bottleneck and traverse back over to the up track, where the slope angle mellowed.  As I skied right, the new sloughs leaving from the untouched snowfield began to create a massive wave from right behind my board.  I was through the crux, the sun was shining and a first descent was complete – delirium!  I ignored the crashing wave I created behind me.

I looked back over my shoulder as something caught my eye, and I saw my fleece which I had tied to the outside of my pack, waving in the breeze, hanging by an arm and about ready to come off.

I cut back left so I could stop on my heel side and retrieve the errant fleece.

Mistake.

The wave of slough moving down the snowfield behind my board took me right off my feet.  Oops.  I was on my ass and sliding along with the building avalanche. 

Avalanche?  Holy Christ, here I was now IN an avalanche!  The mountaineers worst dream.  Take stock of our situation before it gets out of hand.  The slide wasn’t propagating down into the pack, and this was good but the 4” that did slide added up as we descended, and the sensation of sitting in the raging Ocean could not be overlooked.  I tried to stand up with the hope to ride to the edge, but the current was too strong and I worried about loosing what little control I had keeping my face turned away from the snow.  I focused on keeping the board below me, in case there were any rocks ahead, and waited for the slide to slow.  It had to slow soon.  Right?

Panic bubbled below my consciousness but I had no room for it in my current situation.  The sound of the avalanche rushed around me and painted my reality with a surreal undercurrent, and I waited for the avalanche to slow. 

After a hundred vertical that seemed like an eternity, the slope angle began to ease and the slide began to come to a stop.  I took my opportunity and stood up, leaving the shallow slide with little effort.  I skied out to the flattening glacier and looked back at the fan of slough I had created.  It looked impressive, and there in the middle was my wayward black fleece.

“Holy Shit!” Wayne called down. 

“That was exciting!” I called up, “Would you mind getting my jacket?”


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