Mazama Ridge

Gary and I had each managed one cross country ski trip this winter. After no snow for weeks and weeks we had a little this week. The heaviest snowfall was near Mt. Rainier. Paradise reported about 10 inches. We chose to give it a try. A few days before the storm a friend hiked up towards Camp Muir. Up to 8600' without using snowshoes or traction devices. That is how compacted the snow had become. The gate to Paradise opens at 9:00 am. I met Gary in Kent at 7:00 am. We figured to be a little early. We cruised south through Puyallup and on to Mt. Rainier National Park. We were not alone. Three or four cars were in front of us at the pay station entering the park. We reached Longmire and the gate at about 8:36 am... to find that it was open. Not expected but it did give us a head start on the day.

Arriving at Paradise we found several dozen cars already in the lot. It was a beautiful sunny day. Still below freezing but already warming up. We started on our way at about 9:25 am. We had not settled on a route since we did not know what the snow conditions were like. We took snowshoes and skis and walked over to the start of the road down to Reflection Lakes. Just a short way along we decided to do a counter clockwise loop down Paradise Valley and up Mazama Ridge. We did a trip similar to this three years ago. that day was a sunny April day with over 200 inches of snow. This day the recent storm brought the snow level up to a dismal 72 inches.

The snow was not too bad though a bit icy where a track existed. We started down the trail to Barn Flats and Narada Falls on snowshoes. This was the first time we found a route marked with poles. The snowshoe track was quite icy though easy to walk in snowshoes. We dropped down to a spot where we could easily drop to the Paradise Valley floor. There we dropped the snowshoes and but on our skis. Though the snow was much more minimal than usual there was not a single man made track on the fresh snow. We took a tour across the meadow and then up the valley. The low snow levels made it impossible to get across the Paradise River (tiny now) with dry feet. No snow bridges at all. We took our time skiing up the valley and back. Lots of good photo opportunities in the morning light.

Our side trip ended up being over a mile. Once back at the trail we switched back to snowshoes. We soon came to a junction. Left led in a short distance to the road. Right went down to Narada Falls then up to the road. We chose to take the short cut. Very quickly we came to a bridge. A very strange sight it was. nearly bare on the left and right side and with a big hump of snow in the middle. Gary figured out what caused it. Folks crossing the bridge early in the season packed down the middle. With rain and little snow the soft snow sides melted away. The center hard packed snow compacted to near ice and remained. I managed to walk around the left side of the snow hump. Gary chose to straddle the center. Neither method was very elegant. Both worked.

Now we climbed up to the road. It had two trenches and the rest of the road was untracked snow. A short walk down the snow and we reached the trail to Mazama Ridge and Reflection Lakes. Up the trail we went. The trail had snowshoe tracks that had frozen and thawed and refrozen. Much easier to snowshoe up than ski. We have narrow touring skis with no metal edges and did not bring skins. Great for snow. Not so good for ice. Traction was good and we made good time up to the junction. It was now 1:38 and we stopped for a food break. After more than two hours on the trail we now met the first people of the day. They also were heading up Mazama Ridge.

There was only one or two sets of tracks on this route plus the couple who passed us. We followed the trail. Gary has skied this route many times and he does not need a trail to stay on track. The route split a little later. Right and into some trees. Left and through more open terrain. Since we had skis sticking up high above our packs we chose the open route. Soon it split. The one we followed ended quickly. The other one ended not long after. Now we were able to break our own trail. Since the snow was very hard under the new layer we did not sink in far. After our route met the one we were on earlier the terrain flattened a little. Here we switched to skis once again.

Skiing atop Mazama Ridge is among my favorite trips. Views out to the Tatoosh Range in one direction and Mt. Rainier in the other. Other than the one track the snow was untouched. This end of the ridge is much less used than the upper end reached quickly from Paradise. We climbed to a great viewpoint and stopped for lunch. It was now about 12:30 pm. We had a terrific view of the Tatoosh Range peaks right in front of us. We saw one group nearing the top of Pinnacle Peak then another. Just like on West Cady Ridge the day before I felt like I could spend the whole afternoon there. We still had places to go and so we were soon on our way. Gary switched to skis here. I went a little higher on snowshoes.

After a climb through trees on icy snow I also put my skis back on. Now we had the ridge to ourselves as we cut a ski track up the slope. Some mighty fine ski touring. We went up to the spot where the route drops to Paradise and a little higher. Clouds had been forming for some time and now we had some shade blotting out the sunshine. It was significantly cooler. There was also a cold wind blowing higher on the ridge. At about 2:40 pm we started down. I went back to snowshoes and Gary stayed with skis. We saw some folks higher on Mazama Ridge but not nearly as many as I expected. We had a great deal of solitude in a very popular place on a sunny winter day. Going down was pretty easy with snowshoes. It was much more difficult on skis. Though the snow had fallen only a couple days earlier, it looked like an army had come through. The hundreds of snowshoe and ski tracks had compressed and scraped much of the new snow off the icy under layer. I did some skiing on snowshoes. Gary fought the icy slope with no metal edges.

I would have given up and switched to snowshoes for the descent. Gary persevered. He managed one Telemark turn and fought the ice all the way down. It took some time but we eventually emerged down on the road. From there it was an easy climb back to Paradise. Everyone must leave the parking lot by 4:30 pm and we arrived with 45 minutes to spare. The sky was now white and the summit of Rainier was periodically in the clouds. Quite a difference from that morning.

We had a great trip. A tour around Paradise Valley on untracked snow under blue sky. A lonesome climb up Mazama Ridge. Great views along much of the way. Great touring on the open slopes of Mazama Ridge. I had fun snowshoeing down the steep slopes to the road. This has been the winter that wasn't. At least we managed to get in one more good ski/snowshoe trip. And a very good one it was.

Blue Sky Over Rainier
Starting Down Road
Paradise Lodge
On Narada Falls Trail
Skiing Paradise Valley
Gary In The Valley
Rainier From Valley
Along Paradise River
Snow Patterns
Heading Back
Straddling Ice On Bridge
Trail To Mazama Ridge
Break Time
Framed Peak
Neat Clouds
Single Track
Rainier Framed
Pinnacle Peak Climbers
Tatoosh Range Peak
More Climbers
Little Tahoma
Gary Back On Skis
Bismark & Aix?
Across Mazama Ridge
White Over Rainier
Another Tatoosh Peak
Gary & Rainier
Cloud Colors
Tatoosh Peaks
Clouds & Sunshine
Gary Skiing Down
Beat Up Snow
Skiing Up Road
Our Tracks
Cloudy Rainier
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2015