Written September 9, 2019
Skied June 22, 2019
This was definitely one of my Summer 2019 highlights. It was a true fitness test for myself, plus left me aching to climb Rainier – possibly via the Emmons Glacier some day. We decided to cut the climb short because of worsening snow conditions. Nikki and Cory were celebrating their 13th wedding anniversary, so why would we want a crappy ski down?!
Stats for the day:
Highest Point: 9500 feet (146 feet shy of Steamboat Prow)
Ascent: 5,135 feet
Distance: 12.09 miles
Time: 9.5 hours
Moving Time = 6:54:50, Stopped Time = 2:57:08
Max Speed: 16.5 mph on the ski down!
Erin and I camped in her & Todd’s van along the road to White River Campground, which had a pretty spectacular morning view of Rainier. I’ve really come to love the East side of Mount Rainier as its glaciers are far more complex than at views from Paradise.
We started our hike at 8am and only had to backtrack once because Erin realized her sunglasses fell off her hat at one point. Thank goodness it only took us back a little while. We knew the hike in was going to be a slog and we had skis on our back. Fun, fun. We opted to hike in our boots, then stash them at the basin.
We got to the Glacier Basin Camp at around 9:30am and stopped for the bathroom in at the pit toilets. Pretty nice facilities for a poop. We were both satisfied with the pit stop hehe.
We continued on the slog until we hit Inter Fork river and noticed how run out Inter Glacier was already! Yet, there were still some beautiful lines to carve, so we stashed our boots, had a quick snack, and transitioned into skis, skins, and boots.
I felt my kick turns getting more fluid as we skinned up Inter Glacier with Mount Ruth at our side (skiers left, which at around 7300 feet is almost directly south of the path for Inter Glacier).
Erin is ridiculously talented and balanced on her skis. She fixed her tail without taking her ski off. I would’ve easily toppled down the entire mountain if I tried a move like this.
Nikki and Cory were planning to ski Inter Glacier for their 13th wedding anniversary, so we kept our eyes out for them. Erin and I got an earlier start than the couple, but they still caught up! We saw Nikki and Cory when we were at Glacier Basin, but decided to start climbing as we expected them to catch up to us. And catch up they did. Nikki is an absolute tank and she went from a dot behind us to our leader in what felt like 5 minutes, haha.
We were blessed with blue skies and sunshine, but as we kept climbing, the clouds started to surround us.
Soon enough, we were inside a golfball and climbing on the most disgusting snow. As we approached Steamboat Prow, the snow changed into these penitentes:
Want some fun facts about penitentes?! They’re actually named after the appearance of a crowd of kneeling people doing penance. The hats of penitents in Procession of Penance during Spanish Holy Week are pointy and white (below). They form at high altitudes in the direction of the sun. They range from a few inches high to a few feet and were first described by Charles Darwin in 1839!
How they form goes beyond my knowledge of snow science, but they basically form when the dew point ois below freezing and the dry air cause the snow to sublimate (transition directly from the solid to gas phase without needing to pass through liquid phase). The troughs between the peaks become deeper via ablation (vaporization).
Eventually, we decided that we wouldn’t be making it all the way to Steamboat Prow because going up further meant skiing down on that stuff and we didn’t want to do that for too many feet. We made it to 9500 feet, which is 146 feet shy of Steamboat Prow (which is located at 9646 feet). We weren’t the only ones with this idea, as others behind us were stopping as well.
We threw off our skis and packs to have lunch & Rainier beers as we watched the Emmons Glacier fade in and out of view. Every few seconds, we’d catch a glimpse of the glacier, Little Tahoma, and other climbers below us.
Our way down was pretty EPIC once we made it past the first 200 feet. The corn harvest was buttery and SWEET. From the penitentes, we traversed skiers left to avoid most of the yuck, then traversed right at around 8700 feet to get the good lines. We linked turns and had some wildly awesome skiing. One might have called ourselves Corn Huskers… hehehe. SLAYIN’ CORN ALL DAY!
Once back in the basin, I made an attempt to cross the creek, but the ground collapsed under my feet and we aborted mission cross creek. We decided to walk further down along Glacier Basin, which was CLEARLY the right idea because we had a seamless transition from snow to trail.
Tourist questions on the way out:
(Compliments of Nikki, inspired by Kristina)
Did you find powder?
Where did you find snow?
How do you get up to ski down?
Did you ski the face? (That’s a new one…What face?)
100% would ski this again. 150% would have (and hope to one day) continued on to summit Rainier via this route some day, or at a MINIMUM sleep at Camp Schurman. Those sunset/sunrise views must be unreal.
With love and gratitude,