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Author Topic: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rainier"  (Read 9206 times)
Paul_Russell
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July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rainier"
« on: 07/11/07, 08:19 AM »

Fascinations with the High Level Orbit
I have had a fascination with circumnavigating Mt Rainier on skis for several years after being inspired by Lowell's trip in 1996 following the Molenaar route counter-clockwise from the White River campground and ending at Frying Pan Creek.  Garth Ferber and Benj Wadsworth shared this fascination with me as we scheduled and rescheduled the trip through the month of June until we got the solid weather last weekend.  Monika was to have joined us but unfortunately couldn't get away from work.

Originally planned as four days, we completed the traverse in three due to schedules.  It was a spectacular trip covering 24 miles, with over 14K of vertical gain crossing 20 glaciers mostly between the 8000’ and 9000’ contours.  We deviated at times from the Molenaar route (done on foot in 1968 over 5 days) by also following the RMI ski route.  Even with these known routes, route finding was certainly one of the challenges of the trip in addition to carrying skis more frequently than desired due the lateness of the season.


Descending from Ptarmigan Ridge onto the N Mowich Glacier, morning of Day 2

View of Liberty Ridge and Willis Wall, Curtis Ridge left skyline
Hiking across the Winthrop Gl, St Elmo Pass in background
Crossing the Carbon Gl with the Russell Gl and Ptarmigan Ridge in distance

Trip Summary
We left Seattle on Sat morning and started from the Glacier Basin TH at about 9am, went over St Elmo Pass and crossed the Winthrop, Carbon and Russell Glaciers to a beautiful high camp above Observation Rock on Ptarmigan Ridge at 8pm.  This was a long day with about 6000’ of gain.  We carried skies for a good portion of the day until reaching the Russell which was discouraging, making us question how the rest of the trip would fare.  However, we knew this would be the lowest part of the route with the least coverage.

On day two we started at 8am and descended from camp to the N Mowich Gl and proceeded across the Edmunds, S Mowich, Puyallup, Tahoma, and S. Tahoma glaciers to Success Divide.  There we decided to descend to a camp on the Pyramid Glacier to avoid a potentially icy descent in the morning from a higher camp on the cleaver.  We had hoped to make it as far as the Wilson this day, but we were happy to stop after 5000’ of gain and over 11 hours of travel.  Various route decisions were made at several points, with some deviations required on crossing the S. Mowich due to crevasses.  We decided to take the lower RMI route when crossing the Edmunds Gl, although it looked like the higher Molenaar route would have gone more directly.  The Tahoma Gl involved a short, steep ski descent above a gapping crevasse, but otherwise was very passable.  We had a beautiful ski run below Sunset ridge on the Tahoma.


Garth viewing the Upper Nisqually Glacier, afternoon Day 3

Route across the N Mowich Gl seen from Ptarmigan ridge camp, Needle Rock in middle
Looking across the Tahoma Glacier from below St. Andrew's Rock
View of the Upper Nisqually and our route, Muir snowfield in distance

Day three started at 7am and was to be “all down hill”, well not quite.  We faced a couple crux points, the first getting onto the Kautz Gl to cross over to the Wilson.  After much discussion we found a route that went easily, but was not apparent initially.  From here we found much scree and ugly boulders to cross to the Van Trump making for very slow travel.  In retrospect, we might have crossed slightly higher on the Kautz Gl to avoid some of this boulder hopping.  Beyond Van Trump, we traversed the Wilson Gl to an unlikely crossing of the cleaver at 9200’.   Some exposed steep scrambling and snow climbing ensued to a point where we could view the daunting crossing of the upper Nisqually Gl.  This was at about 1pm and we were concerned about time.  After much observation and discussion of the route, we were relieved that the crossing went quite easily and found ourselves on the Muir snowfield by about 2:30pm to the culture shock of watching a girls teenage soccer team screaming and glissading by.  From there, we knew it would go, having done the crossing from Paradise to Little Tahoma several weeks ago on a separate trip.  We made great time on the Paradise, Cowlitz, and Ingraham Glaciers, and climbed the final ugly scramble up to the Divide of the Whitman.  We had nice ski down from Whitman Crest on the Frying Pan and back to the TH by 7pm.  We had stashed a bike for the short ride back to the car at the White River campground.   


Crossing the Ingraham Whitman Divide below Little Tahoma, early evening Day 3

My Thanks
Thanks to Garth and Benj for being great partners on a very satisfying trip, especially to Garth for his detailed research and mapping of the routes and route finding skills.  After many years of climbing and skiing on Rainier, this was a really rewarding way to see the entire mountain, to connect all the pieces, and to experience the different viewpoints through the entire traverse.  There was also something satisfying about encircling the mountain and ending where we began. 



upper left, crossing the Ingraham Gl, upper right, on the N Mowich Gl under the Mowich Face,
lower left, on the Kautz Gl, lower right, climbing onto the Russell Gl, Liberty Ridge in background


Notes
1. details of the original Molenaar route are described in "The Challenge of Rainier" with information about distance and gain/loss.  Even after many years, it remains a great resource for doing this trip.

2. I carried a Blackberry device with me on the trip.  I don't normally do that and have some objections to carrying communication devices in the backcountry at all, let alone using them.  But surprisingly, I was able to send MMS messages and emails with pics as we travelled which I found to be fun.  Well, at least for the first day until I accidently left it behind after a break ) :  I think my partners were actually glad for that...  But I can imagine someone posting live TR's in the future with these things.

3. This was my first extended trip with my new camera, a Richo GX100.  I debated taking my heavier Cannon SLR, but was pretty happy with the results of this smaller wide angle camera.

Reflections


Sunset at Ptarmigan Ridge camp, Day 1; Sunset at Pyramid Gl camp, Mt Adams in distance, Day 2

The still and solemn power of many sights,
And many sounds, and much of life and death.
In the calm darkness of the moonless nights,
In the lone glare of day, the snows descend
Upon the Mountain; none beholds them there,
Nor when the flakes burn in the sinking sun,
Or the star-beams dart through them -- Winds contend
Silently there, and heap the snow with breath
Rapid and strong, but silently!  Its home
The voiceless lightning in these solitudes
Keeps innocently, and like vapour broods
Over the snow, The secret Strength of things...


~Shelly

[Edit: testing photo display problem. TR left unchanged after testing. --Charles]
« Last Edit: 07/02/08, 09:19 PM by Paul_Russell » Logged
ron j
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation
« Reply #1 on: 07/11/07, 08:27 AM »

Wow.
Nice one, Paul.
I don't know that anyone else has ever done it in three days, have they?
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Paul_Russell
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rainier"
« Reply #2 on: 07/11/07, 09:35 AM »

Thanks Ron.  Lowell and Carl with Bruce Goodson did it in 3 days back in 1996.  Lowell wrote a nice article that got published in Backcountry magazine in Nov 2002.  I believe Lowell also attempted it with Gordy in a day (of course) some time later, but got turned around.   Lowell also mentions a couple of other parties who did it in 1986 and 1990, both in 5 days.  The Boulton Gang also did it on foot in 1969 in 6 days. 

http://www.alpenglow.org/ski-history/subjects/R.html

The 24 mi and 14000' of gain was deceiving.  It felt like more...supposedly it can be done with something closer to 12,000' of gain, so we may have added some by taking a couple lower route options.  I think it would also be done more easily early in the season with better coverage if you can get a solid weather window.  I could see the potential for doing it in 2 days going lighter early in the season, but not sure about 1 day.  I'll leave that to Lowell  Wink
« Last Edit: 07/11/07, 11:43 AM by Paul_Russell » Logged
Marcus
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rainier"
« Reply #3 on: 07/11/07, 09:51 AM »

Great job -- I love reading about all the other folks, doing other things on the same mountain while we were up there.  Nice work!
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Jason_H.
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rainier"
« Reply #4 on: 07/11/07, 01:32 PM »

Awesome, I really wanted to do this trip last week, but didn't want to go solo. It's cool to see that you guys got out there and were able to do it. That's exciting to see and inspires me to make a more conscious effort to plan better for it next year.
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korup
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rain
« Reply #5 on: 07/11/07, 01:40 PM »

damn!  That's an amazing trip- it has been on my list for awhile!  Well done, for sure.
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Merk
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rainier"
« Reply #6 on: 07/11/07, 02:51 PM »

Well that sure is a round-a-bout way to go! Grin  That's a great TR and awesome trip you guys had, nice work.  Can't wait to see more pics!  Is it feasible to circumnav at a higher elev on the mtn (not counting the crater)?  It would be interesting to see how the trip time changes according to altitude.
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philfort
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rainier"
« Reply #7 on: 07/11/07, 02:56 PM »

We should have a race, with different teams restricted to different elevation zones.
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Paul_Russell
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rain
« Reply #8 on: 07/11/07, 11:07 PM »

Marcus, I think we may have seen you guys heading up to Ptarmigan ridge.  Nice work and good decisions there .  I gazed frequently on the Mowich face wondering what it would be like to try skiing, and glad to be where I was. 

Jason, definitely do this trip, but not solo!

Merk, more pics posted.  We often commented on how savy Molenaar was with the route choices based on obvious knowledge of the Mountain and terrain.  I think he nailed it.  Going higher might shorten the circumference, but I expect it would get more technically difficult.  I wonder what is the optimal altitude for ski touring on a mountain?

« Last Edit: 07/11/07, 11:13 PM by Paul_Russell » Logged
Marcus
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rainier"
« Reply #9 on: 07/12/07, 07:12 AM »

Heh -- thanks, but we were with some friends over on the Emmons (the one glacier you didn't touch!).  The Ptarmigan ridge crew was Skye and Dan, I believe.  Out of my league Smiley
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gregL
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rainier"
« Reply #10 on: 07/12/07, 09:28 AM »

Good job, Paul! Glad you finally got this one done!
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jd
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rainier"
« Reply #11 on: 07/12/07, 07:27 PM »

Very cool.

I've also always wanted to do this (for the views) since first reading about Dee's trip, but never got around to it. I'd want to take my time for photos though.

Did your uphill leg get more tired with all that traversing in the same direction?
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Lowell_Skoog
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rainier"
« Reply #12 on: 07/13/07, 08:27 AM »

Congratulations on completing this project Paul! You were really persistent. I'm glad we had a chance to ski the Paradise to White River traverse together last year. It's cool to have circled the whole glacier system.

With the warm spring we've had, it looks like the glaciers were more icy for you guys than when Carl, Bruce and I did it (July 5-7, 1996). But it's still a beautiful trip. Carl was the one who wrote the story for Backcountry magazine, not me. It was one of the few times he complemented his lens with his pen.
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Lowell_Skoog
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rainier"
« Reply #13 on: 07/13/07, 08:40 AM »

Is it feasible to circumnav at a higher elev on the mtn (not counting the crater)?  It would be interesting to see how the trip time changes according to altitude.

It's not really feasible to circle the mountain higher, or at least not practical. Mt Rainier is shaped like a bell. It has a rounded top, steep sides and then it flares out at the bottom. The high level orbit runs roughly at the level where the mountain flares out. Higher there are a lot of icefalls and rock cleavers and they would provide many obstacles to traversing.

Dee Molenaar's book was the first to popularize the high level orbit. But credit for pioneering the route goes to Hal Foss, who was a member of the Cascadians club of Yakima. He did the route in 1967 and repeated it a year later with Molenaar and others.
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Monika
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rainier"
« Reply #14 on: 07/13/07, 09:32 AM »

really nice pics and a great adventure !   kickasskitty missed out  Wink


Did your uphill leg get more tired with all that traversing in the same direction?

...interesting thought.  how about doing it clockwise?
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Mad_Dog
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rainier"
« Reply #15 on: 07/13/07, 11:01 AM »

Very nice Paul and group, great TR and photos, congrats to all for achieving your goal . 

It's always fun to live vicariously through someone's fascinating TR  Smiley
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Michael
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rainier"
« Reply #16 on: 07/13/07, 01:48 PM »

Wow - what a nice trip! Congrats - I am glad you were finally able to do it. Great pictures!!
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JW
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rainier"
« Reply #17 on: 07/15/07, 10:41 AM »

Great acomplishment!... congratulations to you all...Jerry
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allyson
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rain
« Reply #18 on: 07/16/07, 08:06 AM »

paul and gang--wow, nice report and photos!!  so impressive!   Smiley
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snowshoe?? why would you??
ryanl
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rainier"
« Reply #19 on: 07/16/07, 08:27 PM »

That's a beautiful, inspiring trip. thanks for the write-up and pics.
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cathyedavidson
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Re: July 7-9, Rainier circumnavigation "Round Rainier"
« Reply #20 on: 07/17/07, 11:11 AM »

Commendable effort Paul and gang!  Sounds like an amazing trip you had.  Very inspirational - would love to do the same some time.  Congratulations.
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