The group was
set to do the winter route up Norse Peak. I was a little concerned
about the conditions. We had only 42" of snow at Crystal Mountain ski
area and freezing rain fell much of the preceding week. Thin icy snow
and a very steep climb to the ridge top. To top it off the forecast had
changed overnight and was now calling for 13-14 mph wind. Thin icy snow
and a cold wind. Now we're talking. Suzanne and I picked up Bark. Bob
and Kolleen came with Elle. David brought Lauren and Beth. Add in three
dogs and we had a full crew. We planned to meet at Crystal Mountain
around 9:00 am. As we pulled into the lot Elle called. Turns out they
were four cars ahead of us. David was just ahead of them. It was a
fluke that among the hundreds of cars pouring in we were all parked
The wind was already blowing strong. As we headed away from the teeming
crowds we found the ski slope was icy. I slipped and slid before
stopping to but on microspikes. That made a big difference and staying
upright was much easier. We were early enough that there were no skiers
and only a few snowmobiles on the groomed road. We soon came to the
Bullion Basin Trail. The trail sign was in dirt. No snow at all around
the post. The summer trail had snowshoe prints that packed it down.
We could see the big open slope that would be our route to the ridge
top. It only goes when avalanche danger is low. Despite the limit snow,
ice, and high winds the avalanche danger was very low. We came to a
short steep slope were I tried with microspikes and everyone else
stopped to put on snowshoes. The snowshoe track was hard enough to
allow me to walk right up. I soon had to switch to snowshoes as the
main track continued up to Bullion Basin and we headed for the steep
The lower part of the slope is the steepest. The snow was very hard and
provided good grip with the snowshoe crampons. Those of us with
televators clipped them up to greatly lesses the calf strain on the
climb. It is a long way up and they really saved my calves from
screaming. As we climbed above the forest the wind really began to pick
up. It was time for a jacket fully zipped up with hood and a watch cap
instead of the ball cap. Some went all the way to a balaclava. Not a
bad idea. It was just above freezing but the wind made it feel much
colder. Part way up our party split. Bob and Kolleen had their
chihuahuas and the wind was just too much for them. Lauren too had had
enough. They headed down and the rest of us continued up.
The grade remained steep but lessened after the first 400' of gain. We
found a few trees to take breaks out of the worst of the wind. Higher
there are more trees and more wind breaks. We were spread out but came
back together abut 100' below the ridge top. Clouds were coming in. We
could now see the summit though it came in and out of the clouds. Now
it was time for some decisions. The summit was about 1 1/2 miles down
the ridge. The ridge has two big ups and downs. The thin snow might
cause some problems where the ridge is narrow. The other three were
going to have to wait for us to return. What to do?
There was time to go for the summit but good reasons to turn around. We
turned left and reached the ridge top at the place where the first
descent starts. A short discussion led to the decision to turn around.
We decided to go back and then continue south to a few more
high spots on the ridge. The view of Mt. Rainier from the open slope
and the ridge are among the best. The summit was mostly in a big cloud
but much of the view was clear.
We trudged along the ridge and admired views in all directions. Partly
cloud blocked but not all that bad. At one point we could even see Mt.
Adams. The high point was actually less than 100' lower than the summit
of Norse Peak. We missed the long fun ridge walk but under these
conditions I don't know how much fun it would have been. At the high
point we found a cross. Apparently it has been there for a few decades
and is a memorial to someones dog.
There was wind on the ridge but it was much less than down lower. We
soon turned around and headed back to where we first reached the ridge.
With the hard icy snow I figured to hike down with microspikes instead
of snowshoes. The snow was so thin in places that heather and grass was
where deep snow usually sits this time of year. David and Beth took off
their snowshoes but the rest of us decided to see how far we could go
with the snowshoes.
We soon found that the snow had softened dramatically in the past hour.
I even post holed a number of times with the snowshoes. It was slow and
hard on my ankles but we made it down much faster than we ascended. In
the open the wind blew hard but not as hard as in the morning. I was a
little nervous about the last steep part. I chose to take off my
snowshoes and plunge step down. It was quite a bit easier even with
some deep post holes. For the last part I took out my ice axe and
glissaded. It was slow but much faster than walking. That's my first
glissade of the season.
The rest of the way down was just an easy walk with snowshoes. At the
bottom we met up with the other three and packed up to leave. I have
summited Norse three times in the winter and this was the first time I
didn't make the summit. On the other hand, we did reach the ridge top
and had most all the views that the summit provides. I will be back in
the future as the ridge walk is one of the best. I hope the conditions
are a little better next time.
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
Open Slope Above
Bullion Basin Trail
Near Bottom Of Slope
Trail Pair Ascending
Higher And Higher
Crystal Mt. Ski Area
Mt. Rainier In Clouds
Flats Near Ridge
Rainier From Near Ridge
Trio On The Ridge
Low Clouds To The East
High Point Memorial
Trips - 2010