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
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.
Click on thumbnails to get
Blue Sky Over Rainier
Starting Down Road
On Narada Falls Trail
Skiing Paradise Valley
Gary In The Valley
Rainier From Valley
Along Paradise River
Straddling Ice On Bridge
Trail To Mazama Ridge
Pinnacle Peak Climbers
Tatoosh Range Peak
Gary Back On Skis
Bismark & Aix?
Across Mazama Ridge
White Over Rainier
Another Tatoosh Peak
Gary & Rainier
Clouds & Sunshine
Gary Skiing Down
Beat Up Snow
Skiing Up Road