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 Post subject: a 10,570 foot run from the summit of mount rainier
PostPosted: Tue Apr 02, 2013 4:03 pm 
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Joined: Tue Apr 14, 2009 9:31 am
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Location: a vanagon somewhere in WA
i've been too busy snowboarding and working on vans to post many of my trips this winter, but i spent some time this morning reflecting on a big mission last weekend and wrote a little more than i intended. not many pictures because i forgot my camera, but here's a story about a big old mountain....

Mar 31, 2013: Rainier summit to Nisqually bridge via Fuhrer Thumb

how improbable is it that a perfect weather window for an early spring rainier summit mission would open up... and line up perfectly with my days off? i had to blink, rub my eyes, refresh the page and look again when i saw the low wind and high temps forecast for the summit. i've been looking up at that mountain since moving to seattle 2 summers ago and knowing that one day i'd have to ride off the summit. i sent out the email mid week, "who wants to go"? turns out a lot of folks were either already up there or had other big plans, but a couple of my friends who have shared some great adventures this winter were up for a weekend trip. we all were hoping to climb and ride the fuhrer route because, well, it looks cool. none of us had ever been to the summit or in those chutes, so we would all get to share in the extra adventure of route finding.

we started out on saturday morning with a quick stop at whittaker mountaineering for some easter candy. we reached the paradise lot around 10am, where we ran into amar, who had kindly given me a bit of route beta via email the day prior. he and his party were just starting out as we began packing our gear.

we followed the muir herd up to about 6300 feet and then transitioned to drop onto the nisqually. as we transitioned back after our short descent, we saw the other parties above us who had obviously known that the shorter route was to drop in lower and not gain as much unnecessary elevation. we were glad to have a skin track to follow, and satisfied to see that it was pretty much taking the route we had agreed on before dropping in. around 8300 feet, we decided to split off and start our own track, as it appeared that the camp spots by the turtle rocks were going to be quite crowded, and a friend had told me that it was possible to camp on the ridge between the wilson and nisqually glaciers.

as we worked our way up the eastern edge of the wilson glacier, a huge wet slide, probably triggered by serac fall, came roaring off the headwall. despite that all parties on the glacier were well out of the way, it was quite an impressive and intimidating spectacle. soon we spotted a flat portion of the ridge around 9600 feet. as we traversed up to it, i began to realize the superiority of the other camp sites to our west--easier, less steep access, no early morning icy descent required to get back on the wilson, and most important of all, better views of the sunset! all that notwithstanding, it was gratifying to have found our own route through some crevasses and nice to have a campsite to ourselves, even if we had to shovel for awhile to create a truly flat sleeping platform. as we settled in to cook dinner and watch the sunset, i lamented not carrying some beers up what turned out to be a pretty easy approach. as we ate, we watched with dismay as a party of two pitched a tent in an ominous looking hollow about 200 feet from the toe of the massive fresh debris pile and directly in the fall line of the headwall.

the wind was so calm, and the sky so beautiful that we opted to sleep in the open. thus when the mostly full moon rose around midnight, it woke us all up to take in the spectacle as the southern volcanoes lit up on the horizon. we awoke again just after 3am to the sight of a line of headlamps starting up towards the chutes. our plan had been to start around 5, but we questioned our planning at the sight of other folks starting so early, and decided that we'd nap another half hour and then begin our ascent preparations. i was still awake, running through gear checklists in my head when the alarm went off at 3:45. it was go time.

sadly, one of our party decided that his elevation induced nausea from the night before had not abated enough to have confidence in the climb, so he decided to stay at camp. so saign and i downclimbed from the ridge, stashed our camping gear, and started up the chute as a pair. it had taken longer than expected to melt enough snow to fill our stomachs and water bottles, so we began climbing around 5:30, just as the headlamps over by the turtle rocks began bobbing up the trail after us.

there was an excellent bootpack up the finger, apparently established the day prior and packed in by the earlier party, so the climbing was easy and fun as we enjoyed the sunrise alpenglow. we roped up around 12,000 feet after i punched one leg into a small crevasse. we could see the faint remains of an old skin track, but decided that with the snow still quite firm and a nice bootpack already set that it would be easier to continue on foot. we finally switched over to skins and ski crampons around 12,500. the parties before us had left a mix of boot and ski tracks, so we had some options as we navigated our way through the crevasses. as unfamiliar as we were with the terrain, i think the route would have been obvious even without the tracks, but it would have been scary in low visibility conditions. as it was, we had sunny bluebird skies, and found ourselves wishing with amazement for just a hint of wind to cool us off.

the upper part of the climb was straightforward, but soon became too icy even for ski crampons, so we finished on foot. as we neared the crater rim, i could see far below that amar had taken a less steep route to our east and was able to skin all the way up. familiarity with the mountain has its benefits! we reached the crater rim at 1pm and finally i made good on the promise that i'd been reiterating to saign every hour since sunrise and got out my stove to melt us some water. rehydrated and stoked, we skinned across the crater so that we could transition on the true summit to start our run.

after staring up at this imposing and spectacular mountain for almost 2 years, i was finally assembling my snowboard on the summit. i looked down to the north and pointed out a few landmarks that i remembered from the traverse i had done with kyle and jason a few weeks before. even then i had wondered when i'd finally stand on the summit. the conditions were so pleasant that i was amazed not to find crowds of people spread out on picnic blankets, but these same friendly conditions soon snapped us from our reverie and reminded us that we still had a 10,600 foot descent baking in the sun below us.

the upper 1500 feet were a mix of ice and windbuff--not great conditions, but much better than the horror stories of knee high sastrugi that i have heard so many times. soon we were back on the glacier and spraying up huge rooster tails of perfect corn snow, the first i've ridden this spring. many members of the other parties had turned back below the summit, so numerous tracks entered the fuhrer finger. we opted to put our own tracks into the thumb instead.

it rode beautifully. i think we caught it near the end of the corn stability window, as we were definitely getting some wet sluff moving with each turn. we were able to traverse back to our stashed gear and stripped off our jackets and mittens for the remainder of the descent, as the weather conditions seemed more appropriate for a beach than a mountainside. the lower run was as much fun as the upper portion, even with the heavy packs, as the quality corn snow gave us the confidence to ride with speed. high fives and statements of superlatives were exchanged when we reached the nisqually bridge. neither saign nor i had ever ridden a descent of over 10,000 feet before, and i don't think i stopped grinning until my alarm went off for work the next morning.

thanks to my partners for coming along with a rainier newbie on this awesome adventure. thanks to amar for the advice and for setting the route up the lower nisqually. thanks to the weather for being amazing on my days off, and thanks to dave b for taking our picture on the summit! i somehow forgot my trusty camera on this trip, so these 12 paragraphs of logorrhea will have to stand in for my normal torrent of photos. at least the little crappy camera on my gps was able to snap a couple of images to document my gleeful first summit.

arriving at our spectacular camp spot.
Image

relaxing at 9,600 feet.
Image

roping up at 12,000 feet.
Image

summit stoke!!!!!
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 Post subject: Re: a 10,570 foot run from the summit of mount rainier
PostPosted: Tue Apr 02, 2013 4:30 pm 
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Joined: Sat Aug 13, 2011 4:27 pm
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Location: Rainier Beach
Nice write up! Looks like you guys had pretty perfect conditions for a sunshine run. Thanks for sharing the stoke!


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 Post subject: Re: a 10,570 foot run from the summit of mount rainier
PostPosted: Tue Apr 02, 2013 7:08 pm 
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Joined: Sun Jun 17, 2012 5:29 pm
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Location: Tacoma,WA
I posted a TR then noticed you already had. :scratch:

So I deleted mine, and will just add to yours


video


My version...

In the last week of March it looked like we had a weather window for a Mt. Rainier summit. Fresh snow the previous weekend had time to settle, no wind and high freezing temps had my friends amped to get on the mountain. Only one dilemma...The last week I had run a half marathon with my wife, (and I don't run) and my knee still hurt every time I bent it.

I decided to suck it up, and go for it. The plan was, Ben and Leyland wold ride together, and I would drive separately and park at the Nisqually bridge. Worst comes to worst, I bail early and get a decent bridge run. If everything works out, we all summit and ride 10,600' vertical, for the longest run any of us has ever had!

We started up towards camp muir and dropped down to the lower Nisqually glacier, and my knee was hurting with every step. The pain wasn't unbearably and we proceeded on. As we approached our camp, a large serac fell onto the Wilson glacier and created a huge dust cloud that looked like it was headed our way. (I filmed it but on the gopros wide angle lens it was pretty unimpressive so it didn't make the video) It ran for around 2500' vertical and maybe 2 miles. The debris field was 50 feet deep in some parts. If anyone was was in that path, they had no chance of survival.

This reminded us that this was a serious tour, with serious consequences. The mountain is not to be taken lightly. We made it to our destination and set up camp. It was so nice we slept under the stars.

The next morning we woke at 4am. After getting camp packed and stashed, water melted, and breakfast eaten, started our approach to the summit at around 5- 5:30. Unfortunately Leyland had gotten altitude sickness and decided it was best to not push to the summit.

Luckily a group of four had started about an hour previously, and left a well established boot pack up the finger.
As we transitioned onto the upper Nisqually glacier Ben punched through a small crevasse. Luckily he only fell in with one leg, and was still on the surface. It was time to rope up.

The rest of the climb to the summit was mostly uneventful, except I ran out of water and was feeling the effects of the altitude on the last 1000'. I pushed through and we melted some water at the crater rim. I felt much better.

We Reached the summit at around 1:30, and started our descent around 2. We wanted to get down as soon as possible because of the high temperatures, and warming snow pack. The snow from the summit was powder to wind buffed in the crater, wind buffed to ice, to around 13000', corn to around 7000' and slush below.

We reached the finger and it had gotten pretty tracked out from the other attempts and the group before us. To my knowledge 13 attempted to summit, and 9 made it. We opted for the untracked Fuhrer thumb. It was perfect corn, but starting to get a little sloppy.

We made it down to the Nisqually bridge by 3:00pm and completed our 10,600 vertical foot run!

A big thanks to Ben and Leyland for sticking to the plans, and especially Ben for setting a great pace on the upper mountain and staying solid. It was a great adventure

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 Post subject: Re: a 10,570 foot run from the summit of mount rainier
PostPosted: Tue Apr 02, 2013 7:42 pm 
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Joined: Wed Mar 23, 2005 10:05 am
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Thanks guys, and well done. A nice big descent, and ****ing totally bluebird on Rainier! You scored big time and picked a perfect couple of days.
Makes me want to make the trip, but I know it is hard to get lucky with the weather when coming from a distance and having to plan the trip in advance...

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 Post subject: Re: a 10,570 foot run from the summit of mount rainier
PostPosted: Tue Apr 02, 2013 8:34 pm 
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Joined: Wed May 27, 2009 11:01 pm
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Location: June lk, CA
Sick. Good job being there on the one day of the year the big dawg is in good condition :wink: . Looked awesome.

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 Post subject: Re: a 10,570 foot run from the summit of mount rainier
PostPosted: Tue Apr 02, 2013 10:59 pm 
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Location: Girdwood, AK!!!
10,600 vertical descent!?! Awesome!!! Did your legs burn?

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 Post subject: Re: a 10,570 foot run from the summit of mount rainier
PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2013 8:37 am 
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Well done. :thumpsup:

Looks like this may be the kick off for spring volcano season. :headbang:

Safe Travels, CR :guinness:


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 Post subject: Re: a 10,570 foot run from the summit of mount rainier
PostPosted: Wed Apr 03, 2013 6:29 pm 
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Joined: Sun Jun 17, 2012 5:29 pm
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Location: Tacoma,WA
chronicracing wrote:
Well done. :thumpsup:

Looks like this may be the kick off for spring volcano season. :headbang:

Safe Travels, CR :guinness:


I don't know they're claiming an active pattern for April...I don't know about you, but I could use a few more pow days, before the corn harvest fully kicks in.

barrows wrote:
Thanks guys, and well done. A nice big descent, and ****ing totally bluebird on Rainier! You scored big time and picked a perfect couple of days.
Makes me want to make the trip, but I know it is hard to get lucky with the weather when coming from a distance and having to plan the trip in advance...


So far this year, a few summits went down in the January thaw, and supposedly this week were the first summits since. I don't know how accurate that is but that's what we were told by a guy who works at Whiticker mountaineering.

Rainier is probably one of the hardest mountains to plan for. I was just waiting for a window, and hopefully I would be able to go, and have someone to go with. I almost didn't go because of my knee issue...I just couldn't pass on the window, especially with my friends going.

Planning from out of state would be pretty hard, unless you just take a week or two in July. But then you're not going to get the whole 10,600 bridge run. Probably 7,000 to 9,000 depending on the spring. Last year at 4th of July you could still ride to paradise which is 5,500' It can be done in worse conditions, and is pretty frequently, but it also produces a lot of failed attempts.

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 Post subject: Re: a 10,570 foot run from the summit of mount rainier
PostPosted: Thu Apr 04, 2013 5:13 pm 
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whoo hoo. :disco:

is there anything longer in the continental US? probably not.

well done guys. :bananas:


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 Post subject: Re: a 10,570 foot run from the summit of mount rainier
PostPosted: Thu Apr 04, 2013 5:23 pm 
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powderjunkie wrote:
whoo hoo. :disco:

is there anything longer in the continental US? probably not.

well done guys. :bananas:


Consider AK: It is theoretically possible to ride from the 18K summit of Mt. St. Elias to sea level.

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 Post subject: Re: a 10,570 foot run from the summit of mount rainier
PostPosted: Thu Apr 04, 2013 6:02 pm 
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AK is generally not considered part of the confusingly-named continental US.

Still, clearly they were slacking for only doing 10.6k! You guys should have turned around at the bottom and skinned back up and rode it again. Next time.

(... but seriously, nice work!)


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 Post subject: Re: a 10,570 foot run from the summit of mount rainier
PostPosted: Thu Apr 04, 2013 7:26 pm 
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jimw wrote:
AK is generally not considered part of the confusingly-named continental US.

Still, clearly they were slacking for only doing 10.6k! You guys should have turned around at the bottom and skinned back up and rode it again. Next time.

(... but seriously, nice work!)



Hahaha. JimW, I am confused? The Continent called "North America" clearly includes AK, as well as all of Canada.

If we are considering the "contiguous" United States, then AK would not be a part of it.

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 Post subject: Re: a 10,570 foot run from the summit of mount rainier
PostPosted: Sat Apr 06, 2013 9:04 pm 
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NYYYYYYYYYYYYYYCE!!!


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