Backcountry Skiing on Washington’s MTTA (Pre-Pandemic)
Written March 15, 2021
Experienced March 15-16, 2020
It’s pretty incredible to think one year ago, I was sitting with my friends, enjoying a Reuben with a gorgeous view of Mount Rainier. We had been nervous our trip would be canceled with the pending pandemic, as we began hearing about things closing and changing in the world we knew. Yet, our reservation persevered and were amongst last groups to stay in the Mount Tahoma Trails Association hut system for 2020 (…and 2021 thus far, as they are still closed!).
Waking up to the sun rising on Mount Rainier, we didn’t know what would be in store when we returned to the city and cell phone service. Our innocence and sense of presence was slowly washed away in the coming weeks, yet these moments of mountain respite carried us into an incredibly tumultuous 2020. I will always reflect back on our trip to MTTA’s High Hut as the moment of calm before the storm. For this, I am incredibly grateful.
Our trip to High Hut on the MTTA was our second annual hut trip along the MTTA with my crew from Seattle Children’s Hospital! Steve again pulled together a wonderful trip with his incredible planning ahead skills. We had a solid group to head to the hut, with all of us choosing to travel on our skis (skinning in and skiing down is THE BEST), except for one woman who joined our group at last minute (she was on snowshoes). Our choice to stay at High Hut this year (versus Copper Creek Hut in 2019) was based on the better skiing out the door at High Hut, plus unobstructed views of Mount Rainier.
Skiing to High Hut
We started at the Lower Sno Park, meaning we had about 4 miles and 2,400 feet of elevation gain to High Hut. The path to the hut is on wide open trails, which are made for cross country skiing, snowshoeing, or skinning. It is requested individuals who are booting/snowshoeing stay on the outside borders of the trail though! We began our day by getting coffee and breakfast at Whittaker’s Bunkhouse, right outside of Mount Rainier National Park. We were on the road and parked to begin our ascent by 9AM. Our stats for the day totaled a climb of 2,456 feet for a total of 3.76 miles in 2.5 hours, arriving at High Hut by 11:45AM.
After we settled in, our crew went for a little backcountry skiing adventure around High Hut. We traveled southwest from the hut, completing a 3.5-mile trip with 835 feet of gain in about 2.5 hours. There are options for tours posted in the hut, as pictured below. As always, make sure you are prepared with proper gear and knowledge to navigate any terrain you adventure on! Our entire group has a level of avalanche training and discussed our preferences, boundaries, and functional limitations. *Yes, THREE of us are physical therapists, so YES we discussed our “functional limitations”… haha*
Of note, it only took us 30 minutes to ski down from High Hut to the car. Ohhhh, the GLORY of backcountry skiing!!!
By the time we toured around and soaked in the views of Mount Rainier, we had worked up an appetite! For dinner, we honored St. Patrick’s Day with all the fixin’s for Reubens! I prepped a corned beef (seasoned and marinated from trusty Trader Joe’s) beforehand and packed it in tupperware, in addition to bringing:
- Irish porter cheese for snackin’
- onions for carmelizing
- an entire loaf of rye bread
- Kerrygold butter (basically real gold)
- sauerkraut from Trader Joe’s (edible by the spoonfuls)
- Swiss cheese
- Russian dressing
We got an assembly line of cooking and preparation going. All the meanwhile, I contemplated if we were making an Irish meal or not. Turns out, Reubens are not reeeeeally Irish. In fact, they’re pretty American and it’s debated whether it was ‘invented’ in New York City or Omaha, Nebraska. A reuben actually derives much of its flavor profile from Jewish cooking practices. The story of the Reuben dates back to around the 19th century when Irish and Jewish immigrants settled in New York City. The Irish would buy salt-cured beef brisket from kosher delis, which often included cabbage and potatoes. Thus, the beautiful Reuben is born. In Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day meals more traditionally include lamb stew, Irish bacon, Shepherd’s pie, or anything cooked with Guinness. Oh, and they don’t usually have green beer. Surprise.
Either way, we were stoked on our Reubens. Whether or not it was the view, the crew, or the food… it was the best Reuben I’ve had to date.
The accommodations in High Hut were quite comfortable, as we each had our own sleeping cot/pad. We had to bring sleeping bags and pillows, of course. We also learned our lesson after staying at Copper Creek, recognizing the huts can be QUITE warm at night. We managed the temperature far better this time.
Sunrise on Mount Rainier
Of all the sunsets and sunrises I’ve seen, the sunrise over Mount Rainier on the morning of March 16, 2020 was amongst the most beautiful. Waking up in my cot, cozy in our hut, and seeing the sun begin to filter through our windows, I sneaked out of bed to join my friends to soak in the views. There are some moments words could never fully capture, as the beauty is beyond the physical and tangible.
I wrote a bunch of information on my 2019 trip report from Copper Creek Hut, but here is a review of the pointers if you’re intending to travel along the Mount Tahoma Trail Association (MTTA)!
- Click here for the MTTA Trail and Hut User Information!
- Reservations for the huts are needed to spend the night. Winter weekend reservations for December through March can be made at the Reservation Gala, which takes place at REI in the fall. Because of the high demand for winter weekend reservations, ALL weekends are booked at the gala. Lottery tickets are drawn in groups of 12. A few days after the Gala, reservations for mid-week dates were available via online registration.
- Parking permits in winter season (~November 1 to April 30) require a Washington State Parks Sno-Park Permit. You can purchase a $40 annual non-motorized sno-park permit, OR daily $20 sno-park permits, with the caveat that the daily sno-park permits can only be used with a WA State Discover Pass.
- Trail/road conditions can be found on the Facebook and Twitter pages.
- All hut facilities are open to the public from 7am – 7pm. After hours, it’s for people with reservations only.
- DOGS are allowed on the South District trails (High Hut, Bruni’s Snow Bowl Hut and Yurt side), but NO DOGS at the Copper Creek Hut. Yet… the dogs are still not allowed inside of the huts/in the vestibules.
Leave No Trace
As a reminder, when traveling in the backcountry and vising MTTA’s huts, it’s important to observe the Leave No Trace principles. For brief review, those seven principles are:
- Plan ahead & prepare
- Travel & camp on durable surfaces
- Dispose of waste properly
- Leave what you find
- Minimize campfire impacts
- Respect wildlife
- Be considerate of other visitors
Additionally, please read Hut and Yurt Etiquette if you plan to visit the MTTA!
A Note from MTTA
As a huge fan of the MTTA and the trails, I encourage you to read this message from their site and consider donating to this volunteer organization (every little bit helps!!).
We need your help. Please. If you are able, please consider making a donation to MTTA using the link below, and/or adding us as the recipient of your AmazonSmile contributions.
Our 100% volunteer organization relies heavily on the contributions of individuals like you and even more so on the revenue from hut reservations made at the MTTA Gala each year in November. With the Gala cancelled and all huts being closed this year due to COVID, we’re depending more than ever on the kindness of people like you.
We pride ourselves on the free and low cost winter recreation opportunities we’re able to provide to the public each year. It’s a winter playground for everyone to enjoy and we’re proud to be the ones that maintain it for the public. Please, if you can, donate to the Mt. Tahoma Trails and help us continue to offer the same magical experience to everyone that joins us on the trail system.
We can’t do it without you. Thank you!
DONATE TO MTTA!
I will donate $2 additional for every person who comments on this post AND donates… even if it’s $1!! THANK YOU for your support!