19 August 2014

Birthday Tutus on the Russell/Flett Glacier, Rainier

The Russell Glacier is on the north side of Mt. Rainier, just east of the Ptarmigan Ridge. Living in Seattle, this is the side we always see - but I've never seen it up close... until now.

Theresa (turquoise tutu) and I (pink tutu) have been talking about the Russell for more than a few months. When she posted the idea to Facebook we were super stoked to get not just a handful, but 11, backcountry enthusiasts to join us on our adventure including Lisa (yellow tutu) who was celebrating the big 3-0. I can't think of a better way to ring in your 30th than on the side of a mountain, and while she doesn't actually ski (yet), Lisa definitely knows where to go for a good time (read: Rainier)!

Nine of the crew set out from Seattle at 8am on Saturday morning to arrive with pretty marginal conditions at Mowich Lake - think muggy, foggy, damp, mosquitoey goodness. Coming from the Tom Petty concert at The Gorge, my twosome was a few hours behind the rest of the crew, and we (no exaggeration) had to park a half mile from the trail head.

Welcome to Mt. Rainier?

Nick, Josh, Kristen, Theresa, Tony, Lisa, Casey, David, Pam.

A few hours behind the rest of the crew - who were dressed completely ridiculously - Jordan and I had a great hike in chatting with nearly every party we passed. It's amazing what a little tulle around your waist can do to encourage passive Northwesterners to talk on the trail. My favorite comment of the day has to be, "Where are you taking those skis? Is there SNOW up there?" No dude. No snow. Just carrying these for fun. That white stuff you see on the mountain from afar is just really, really clean rock.

We hiked for a few hours, but eventually reached the turnoff for the Flett Glacier (on the opposite side of Ptarmigan Ridge from the Russell) and made our way south towards the white stuff. I would have absolutely missed this turnoff, so we were grateful to our friends who left the best trail marker ever:

K for Kristina. 

We continued hiking until we hit the first patch of continuous snow, just below a gorgeous mountain lake about 5600'. The bugs. Man the bugs were bad. Even on the snow theey were still vicious. Lisa counted and got fifteen mosquito bites....just on her tooshie. You don't want to know how many she got total.

Up and up and up we go!

Where to stop? We don't yet know!

Tony lathering up on that Deet.

Big group at the mountain lake. Flett glacier far right.

Once we made it to snowline the skinning was pretty easy and straightforward. Up to the obvious traverse point on the Flett glacier, then a rocky carry over the Ptarmigan Ridge to the Russell. Another long traverse and we could suddenly spot ze mountain - and shortly thereafter all of our friends! We made it!

First shot of ze mountain!

Awesome shot by Nick from the top of Echo Rock (in a speedo). Our camp lower right.

With the sun setting fast and a ski goal to reach, Theresa and Josh went to get water while the rest of us pitched our tents. Then we were off for a sunset ski. 

Camp. Happy Birthday Lisa!
Celebrating birthdays!

The sunset ski objective was originally the Russell Headwall, but seeing as time was running out on us, we opted instead just to climb about 800' and ski the obvious headwall below Observation Rock. The turns were pretty fun (steep and fast) and the views weren't bad either!

This is how you do August turns.


Stoked for a sunset ski!

Tutu twins united again!

The headwall.

Sunset over the Olympics.

Another gratuitous sunset shot.

We got back to camp happy and hungry. We ate, drank, and were generally merry. There might have even been a dance party and an (attempted) somersault contest. But I don't want to give away all of our secrets....

Having forgotten my sleeping pad (blonde moment?) and having forgotten to remind Jordon to bring his sleeping pad (because apparently boys don't remember anything - including their own freeze dried dinners...), we scrounged to borrow, beg, and steal everything we could from our companions. Turns out a thick garbage bag (brought by Lisa for glissading), an emergency blanked (thanks Nick!), and extra clothes, tutus, and backpacks (thanks everyone!) make for a decent night's sleep. Oh, and gin. Gin helps too.

Some of us woke up to watch the amazing sunrise, then promptly fell asleep on the ridge in the scree for a few hours before trudging back down to camp to begin our morning. Breakfast eaten, sunscreen applied, and tutus donned, we set out for our objective at 9,000', the Russell Headwall. 


Another awesome pano - this time on Sunday morning.

Thar' she is! What a beaut!

Again, the skinning was straightforward. From camp we had to do a few short carries over rocks, but reached the Russell to find it in fine condition. We didn't have glacier gear, but easily navigated around crevasses to reach the headwall. We were there in just over an hour.

Gorgeous August day for skiing.

We all dropped something. I think it was our dignity.

A closer look at the headwall and crevasses.

Cresting the top of the headwall we were met with simply outstanding views of Rainier. We could see far down into her flanks, including a pretty impressive 300' waterfall, and could look up toward the summit with awe at the huge hanging seracs and recent rockslides. I really love this place.

Rainier. Simply stunning.

More amazing Rainier. Check out the marine layer coming in.

We enjoyed the views, ate some food, shared a Rainier beer, took the obligatory group photo, and then were on our way back down. As with the night before, the skiing was actually quite good. Not much in the way of sun cups and not too hard, and also quite fast if you can deal with a few bumps. 

Group! I have awesome friends.

Theresa coming down the headwall.

Before we knew it the (fun - empty pack style) skiing was over and it was time to pack up and head home. The trudge out was...a slog, as expected. But totally worth the two days of turns. We may have only packed in about 3000' of skiing, but let me tell you, they were the best August turns around!

Jordan with the tutu brigade behind.

Lisa moving down into the mist. Good thing she's wearing the tutu - for safety!

Back on the road again.

An awesome weekend with awesome friends for my 34th consecutive month of Turns All Year! Thanks to my adventure buddies Lisa Bowers, David Bruce, Nick Drake, Tony Paquette, Casey Price, Theresa Sippel, Pam Spier, Jordan Tursi, Josh Vorndran, and Kristen Wangerin, whose photos I re-appropriated for this blog. Special shout out to Lisa for celebrating her 30th on Rainier, and special thanks to Jordan who tolerated me for an entire weekend. Not only did we ski, but Jordan and I also got in: 8-hours worth of road-tripping, climbing in Vantage, a Tom Petty concert, car camping, hiking (with skis), snow camping (mostly successfully), and swimming. How very Northwest of us =D

See you all in September for month 35!

I was recently called"Heidi in a tutu". I've had worse nicknames :)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Yeah, we've come to the conclusion over the years that while an August hike into Spray Pk is about 3 miles, the trip back out is actually 9 miles.

Fun trip. Looks like a fun group. You seem to have a penchant for drawing a crowd.

The "locals" call that lake "Cat Eye" Lake.

No mention of the "moonlight/night" run down the Flett before retiring. If you missed it you might consider adding it to the agenda for next time. It's a hoot.

Keep up the great work.