Thursday, January 15, 2009

Grab Your Ice Axe and Head for the Hills!

All right folks, this is it! You can ski 7,500 feet of vertical this weekend at Paradise!

First the hype.

Rarely during the winter does the weather turn so nice for so long! I made a run from just above Ingraham Flats (11,500') to Longmire (2,700'), and that's almost 9,000 feet in one run. As you'll read later in this post, I wouldn't particularly recommend skiing the lower 1,500 feet, but 7,500' isn't too bad, is it? With this intense temperature inversion in effect, it may be warmer at 5,500' than at 2,700'. In fact, at Camp Muir on Thursday morning, the temperature was 46 degrees! I could almost smell this coming weekend's barbeques in the Paradise lot, the sun tan oil, and the kids having a great time in the newly groomed snowplay area.

Now the beta.

The snow is setting up and developing into good corn. On the way up from Paradise this morning for a patrol to Camp Muir, the snow was set up enough to walk on with just boots (around 10:00 a.m.). The skinning was great, until I got to just below Pan Point. It was set up enough that it took two tries to get up a particular pitch I was trying to ascend. If you're going up early, I'd recommend a pair of crampons and an ice axe.

Just about everything was skiable in the Paradise area today. The snow is nice and smooth, but BEWARE! This afternoon's heat was bringing down small wet loose avalanches in steeper gulleys. Read the latest avalanche report from the NWAC:

Edith Creek Basin looked awesome and smooth. Mazama Ridge really looked nice. Once through the gauntlet at Pan Point, the rest was just a beautiful skin up to Camp Muir! The ski penetration eventually got to around 1-2 inches. That's nothing compared to slogging up in waist deep snow.

Once up to around 9,000 feet, the snowfield becomes badly pocked with sastrugi, and we're talking BIG sastrugi features. Not fun to ski through. If you're up on the Muir Snowfield, remember, it's always a good idea to have the "bearing sheet" for the compass bearing, if the weather should turn bad.

Camp Muir is open and ready for business. The toilets are shoveled out. The public shelter is accessible. Would someone please shovel the snow out that's drifted inside? Be aware that I tested the public radio, and it seems to be dead. I shoveled snow off of the solar panels on the roof. This may solve the problem. Bring a Verizon cell phone just in case of an emergency. Remember you need a backcountry permit (free) if you are just staying at Camp Muir and not going above.

I made it up to Ingraham Flats in a turtleneck T-shirt. Now that's rare for January! I was able to skin right up to the top of Cathedral Gap, but on the traverse past the Gap, just to be safe, I took the skis off and put the crampons on. But I could've walked with my crampons all the way from Paradise. Once I was back out on the glacier, the skis went back on and I was able to skin up to about 11,500' before it was time to turn around. The snow was nice styrofoam. If you're interested in heading up above Camp Muir, remember you need a climbing permit and a climbing pass whether your purposes are just skiing or climbing.

The ski down was great through Cathedral Gap. In 10 minutes I was back at Camp Muir. I left Muir at about 3:00 p.m. I skied through this terrible sastrugi that I described above, but then I dove off down the Nisqually Glacier. It goes! For those of you interested in skiing down the glacier, remember to bring along a friend and some extrication gear. The snow was getting soft in the afternoon making crevasse falls more likely. Since you're on a glacier, technically you need a climbing permit and a climbing pass.

I hit it at about 3:30, when it was a little on the soft side. Who knows how things will be this weekend, but I would try to stick it a little earlier. The slopes above on the Nisqually Cliffs were getting some warm sun. Be weary of avalanches coming down, and especially rockfall! Beware of a lot of little rocks and pebbles in the snow.

Once down on the flat part of the Nisqually (around 6,400 feet), I was surprised at how fast I was able to cruise. I crossed over to the west side of the glacier, and skied down the nose of the glacier to the terminus. It was very soft, a little too soft. I had my first biff. From there it was a cruise to the bridge. Bring a friend with another car for the ride back up to Paradise!

I continued skiing the Nisqually River bed down to Cougar Rock Campground where I caught the Wonderland Trail for the rest of the push to Longmire. All in all, I skied just about 9,000 feet of vert. But I wouldn't recommend this last bit from the bridge on down. With a few creek crossings and some wet feet, it was a bit of a jungle boogie.

In a nutshell, the skiing, the climbing, the sledding and/or just suntanning at Paradise looks great this weekend and if you're from Washington, you'll know that we need to take advantage of this!