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Flett Glacier Ski Descent

Spray Park, Mt Rainier National Park

July 28, 2013

It was late July and while I had logged 20 days of skiing in May and June I was sitting on goose eggs for July. My calendar in July was especially full and I only had Sunday available to keep my streak of 11 straight months of skiing or snowboarding going! So I asked around and learned that I needed at least 1000' and if I skied the Muir Snowfield then there would be an * next to my streak. I think it was Ryan White who suggested we ski the Flett or Russell Glaciers on the NW flank of Mt Rainier. We made plans for this trip while climbing the Tooth the morning of Todd Kilcup's wedding. Skiing is always more fun with more people so we invited the usual suspects but only Andy King was available or interested. Things were looking up for a great day of summer skiing!

But lo and behold! a few days before our trip Andy stabbed me in the back by telling Ryan about the possibility of climbing something around Snoqualmie Pass and then return to Ryan's new house at Alpental to enjoy a few barley pops and to watch the US National Men's Soccer team play for the Gold Cup and to watch the Seattle Sounders match. So climbing and soccer won out over hiking 5 miles to ski 1200' of corn snow. Thanks Andy. Fatherhood is making you soft! Kidding!

I suppose I shouldn't bash on Andy too bad considering that he was the main reason I was bringing my tele skis for this trip. He gave me a pair of Black Diamond O1 touring bindings to replace the limited movement G3 Targa bindings that I had been using Thank you, Andy! (You really aren't THAT soft)

My Sunday morning came early and I was on the road by 5am. I cruised down to Enumclaw and almost turned the wrong way on Highway 410. I've been skiing Crystal Mt for over 30 years and hiking at Sunrise for longer so it felt like I was in another state as I drove south to Wilkeson and followed my phone's directions to the Carbon River Entrance to the park. I hadn't been to this part of the park for probably 30 years. The last time I was here I was with my family and my sister, Nan, and my nephew, Joel, hiked up to Ipsut Pass. I remember crossing what seemed at the time a very exposed snowfield to get up to the pass. Now the road is washed out and there aren't any plans to restore it so I had to drive back out of the park, and then loop back to the Mowich Lake road. The gravel road wasn't too washboarded but all the dust made me wish I hadn't washed my car earlier in the week. I was suprised to come around a hairpin turn and see a car in the ditch so I decided to slow down a little.

I reached the parking lot next to the lake and was amazed to see 50 cars there. This is still only a fraction of the cars at Sunrise or Paradise. I changed into my tennis shoes, strapped my skis to my pack and made my way through the parking lot to the restrooms where the trail began. The trail dropped for the first 50 yards or so and I thought to myself that this will be fun at the end of the hike when I am tired and just want to reach the car. (and I called Andy soft!) The trail was good and my pack was light so I decided to jog the flats. I passed a large party of 8 or so with large packs. I kept up a steady pace and continued passing people as the trial started to switchback up the ridge to the meadows which I gathered was Spray Park. I had seen the name on maps and heard folks talk about it but I had never been here, so I was excited to see a new part of the park!

As I gained elevation the wildflowers got increasingly more abundant! First it was a whole field of Shooting Stars, then a whole field of Avalanche Lilies. Then I came upon a stream and saw more Paintbrush in one place than I ever had before! I reasoned that the name "Spray Park" was because of the spray of colors that the elegant wildflowers provided. I rich mantle of color bestowed on the flanks of this majestic mountain!

Several hikers that I passed commented on my skis. "There's skiing up here?" or "You must really like skiing to haul your skis way up here!" It was fun to field the questions and explain what randonee, backcountry telemark, and split boarding was. One man I passed was from Florida and he asked if he could take a picture of me with my skis. A half mile later I came across a man, Jim, who asked if he could take a picture and post it on his website. (Now there's a novel idea!)

I caught up to group of three veteran hikers who were wearing older style clothes but had uber light ice axes on their high tech back packs. I immediate recognized one man as an instructor from Kim and my Basic Climbing Course with the Mountaineers back in 1997-1998. Max and his two partners were on their way up to climb Observation Rock. I chatted with them while I was skinning and thought about joining them on their climb but when we got to the backside of the peak, where the route begins I realized that I needed to keep moving to be back in Seattle in time to pick up my nephew Blake at the airport. So I waved goodbye to them and skiied down the steep north face of the Flett Glacier. I made fairly wide turns down the firm slope, hoping it would soften up as I got lower. It did soften up and I had a great ski back down to the meadows.

I followed a path from the end of the glacier back to the main trail, took of my tele boots, put my tennies back on and jogged back out to the trail head. Thanks for a great day in the mountains, Peter!