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| | |-+  July 11, 2003, Spray Park, Russell Gl, Mt. Rainier
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Author Topic: July 11, 2003, Spray Park, Russell Gl, Mt. Rainier  (Read 3856 times)
Charles
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July 11, 2003, Spray Park, Russell Gl, Mt. Rainier
« on: 07/14/03, 04:11 AM »

Yet another very warm day was forecast, with marine air pushing in toward evening. The gate on the Mowich Lake road had just opened, and there were no other cars in lot. I hiked the shady, cool Wonderland Trail, with all of its maddening ups and downs on a supposed traverse, up into Spray Park and stashed my shoes. The first wave of wildflowers, avalanche lillies and companions, was in full swing in the bottom half of Spray Park, and the mosquitoes were hungry. The first real snow started at the top of Spray Park, ~6200'. I followed a ribbon of snow to the eastern lobe of the Flett Glacier, and skied up it between Echo Rock and Observation Rock to a crossing onto the Russell Glacier at ~7800'. The quality of the snow was really pretty pathetic - irregular suncups on runnels on all but the steepest slopes - and the easily the worst I've seen there so early in the season. I guess summer skiers will be paying for the sins of great June skiing until new snow starts falling!

The Russell Glacier still had pretty good coverage, but the only smooth snow to be seen was on the steeper cornice rolls along the lee edge of Ptarmigan Ridge. I skied up to the top of one of these at ~8200', intending to ski down to the edge of the Carbon Glacier for views and a rest. As I skied down the smooth, but too short, steeper top part a skier appeared, so I went over and met Roy. We decided to continue up the Russell together (I had waxless skis, so it was easy to change modes), and went up to the top of another roll at ~8800'. Again nice snow on the steeper part, but too short, and then onto less-than-optimal snow on the gentle terrain which makes up a lot of the Russell. Roy decided to head back, but I continued down the Russell farther skier's right than I had been before. There was a short section of nasty snow ~8000', but as the slope steepened the turning became fairly good to the bottom of the slope at ~6600'. I walked across the Russell's morainal debris, which is perched above cliffs dropping to the Carbon Glacier, and found a rest spot with a great view of the upper Carbon, Rainier's north face, and Liberty Ridge. The variety of plant life starting to recolonize the rubble was impressive.

Rainier had been sporting a very active cloud cap all day, complete with downstream lenticulars and eddy clouds flowing "backwards" toward the north face, but the zone of active cloud formation descended while I rested. By the time I started skiing back up, the summit had come out but clouds were billowing off of Ptarmigan Ridge, providing nice relief from the sun and heat. I climbed up around the north side of Echo Rock, crossed over to the eastern Flett, and then up to the top of a steeper slope under Observation Rock. A nice little run there, then I traversed west to the section of the Flett which culminates in the steep headwall favored by fall ice climbers (the snow coverage and quality were still good for skiing there), and skied down through patches of fog past "Cat-Eye Lake" on snow that was, again, not that great. I was able to keep skis on for the traverse over to the Wonderland Trail by skiing across about 5 short sections of meadow (I reasoned that this was better for the plants than crushing them with my T3s). By the time I started hiking down the trail, a solid cloud deck had formed above 6500', making for a cool hike out. My newly acquired TOPO! program suggests that my route covered 16 miles and 7400 vf - no wonder I was tired!
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Paul_S
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Re: July 11, 2003, Spray Park, Russell Gl, Mt. Rai
« Reply #1 on: 07/14/03, 06:13 AM »

Nice report Charles! Although the Summer moves along a little too quickly for me, with the snow melt at an even brisker pace, opportunites still abound for the few who still ski. Nice to see you taking full advantage.

Paul
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Pete A
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Re: July 11, 2003, Spray Park, Russell Gl, Mt. Rai
« Reply #2 on: 07/14/03, 07:30 AM »

Thanks for the great t.r. Charles...bummer to hear that the Flett and Russell are already past their prime for the season....its always my favorite spot for late season turns.  
Haven't been out nearly enough this summer, but was thinking of skiing the Flett on Sunday the 20th...anyone got recommendations of alternative daytrip destinations  that are sporting smoother snow?
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zenom
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Re: July 11, 2003, Spray Park, Russell Gl, Mt. Rai
« Reply #3 on: 07/14/03, 05:53 PM »

Myself and two other telemarkers skied the Russell and Fleet on July 11th too. We skied from the top of the Russell (about 9990 ft) to the bottom of the Flett. I thought it was great. Smooth snow could be found on portions of the Russell (between about 9,000 ft to 8,000 ft). Of course other areas had suncups and runnels, but they weren't severe enough to hamper our skiing. All in all, very nice skiing for July in my opinion.
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Charles
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Re: July 11, 2003, Spray Park, Russell Gl, Mt. Rai
« Reply #4 on: 07/15/03, 06:13 AM »

I guess that reinforces that it is always good to take the info reported in a TR with a few grains of salt. Everyone forms their own perceptions about the skiing based on expectations and recent experience. Based on my prior experiences, I was very disappointed in the snow, but others enjoyed the very same conditions. Bud, maybe you should reconsider your abandonment of the Flett as your destination.

zenom, I'm surprised that I didn't see you or your tracks. The only turns I saw traversing the eastern and central Flett lobes were Roy's single set, just where I expected them. Maybe you were still up on the Russell when I crossed the Flett (that would have been about 5:30 pm)?

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zenom
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Re: July 11, 2003, Spray Park, Russell Gl, Mt. Rai
« Reply #5 on: 07/15/03, 07:22 AM »

Charles, I think we were above you, in other words behind your tracks. When we were descending (by the way we did yo-yo a few sections on the Russell that we liked) we came across two fresh tracks at about 8300-ft (your's and Roy's?). By this time we were in the clouds and visibility was poor. We also followed some tracks out on the lower Flett.

I've noticed too the recent posts from Adams have been about split between "it sucked" and "it was great". Perhaps expectations...? I personally keep them low, especially in July, and I had never skiied the Russell or Flett before.
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Pete A
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Re: July 11, 2003, Spray Park, Russell Gl, Mt. Rai
« Reply #6 on: 07/15/03, 09:34 AM »

Probably still gonna head up to the russell/flett on sunday and give them a go...I've skied them when the conditions have been truly awful and still had a good time, hopefully the forecasted 14,000ft freezing level will help soften those suncups.
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wolfs
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Re: July 11, 2003, Spray Park, Russell Gl, Mt. Rai
« Reply #7 on: 07/16/03, 05:23 AM »

On my last two trips on various aspects of Rainier I've seen pretty remarkable variations in snow quality all on the same snowfield and often on the same facing. Even the Nisqually Chute for all of its sub 100 foot width for much of the distance had markedly better snow on one side vs the other. I've skied the Flett in September, and even if the turns aren't so great at least you get a pleasant hike out of the deal, plus some worthwhile minisummit targets in Echo and Observation Rocks. I personally like to take the alternate trail that goes over Knapsack Pass to get into the Park. It's a lot steeper and has probably even more up and down than the main trail. But you get more of an adventure approach (the initial valley is especially pretty, and then views of Seattle Park are nice), sometimes less bugs, and you can spare yourself about 200 of those ever so appreciated "going skiing?" "forgot your lift ticket?" "where's the snow?" witticisms from passers by and the resulting temptations to graze them with freshly sharpened edges or a pole.
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Charles
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Re: July 11, 2003, Spray Park, Russell Gl, Mt. Rai
« Reply #8 on: 07/16/03, 06:50 AM »

Maybe in my pessimistic assessment of the snow this didn't come through: it was a great trip! I've skied up there about 15 times now in the last 7 years, and I always have a great time, whatever the snow conditions - that's why I keep going back. Wolfs is right that the hiking and exploration possibilities alone are worth the trip. I've used the Knapsack route before (TOPO! says it is about 1 mile shorter than the Wonderland trail, but about the same total amount of vertical), and it is especially fun when there is enough snow to ski most of it (typically June). For a hot sunny day, I have come to prefer the Wonderland trail because it is shady and cool in the morning, and it is a mindless cruise on the tired way back. The area is amazingly well suited to waxless skis since most of the terrain is not steep, most of the little steeper runs are accessible by moderate slopes, and the possibilities for exploring on snow are almost endless.

I started the "year-round skiing thing" because I kept finding great snow all through the summer and into fall, and had so much fun skiing it, and Spray Park/Flett/Russell was a mainstay. It has been more difficult to find great snow the last couple of summers, so maybe my earlier experiences were an anomaly and I have come to expect too much from summer skiing. But, to paraphrase "someone": When I stop having fun, I'll quit.
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