Flett & Russell Glaciers, MRNP, July 17, 2005
I really wanted to experience the Flett and Russell Glaciers with decent visibility, so when Michael Trommsdorff called and wanted to do something on the weekend, I suggested a return trip. Michael and his wife Corinne are new parents of just over a week, and their son Luca is cute as a bug, BTW!
I met Michael and his friend Fabien Mandrillon at Michael's house around 5:15 AM and loaded the gear into his Jetta. Fabien had unfortunately forgotten his skis . . . in Toulouse, France - so even though he's an enthusiastic randonnée skier he basically just came along for the hike with an ice axe and crampons.
The drive was a breeze, even though we took the scenic turn around the Rainier School AGAIN going through Buckley. As we pulled into Wilkeson to gas up, the French guys were blown away by the sign on the gas pump saying "8 piece chicken, $5.99" (freshly fried in 10-40 weight, no doubt) - seems they thought this would never happen in Europe . . .
Arriving at the Mowich Lake trailhead about 7:35 AM, we found plenty of cars but no sign of hikers or skiers. Seems everyone was still in their tents, or up on the mountain already.
The hike up went quickly and painlessly, though it took a little longer to get to skinable snow than in June and the carries were proportionately longer, too. Fabien, who had only been in Seattle for 4 months and had never been to Rainier, was impressed with the scenery. We saw one lone telemarker descend to near the shelter in the "cross country" zone, and noticed two other parties higher up on the Flett, but saw no other hikers or climbers on the way in. Pretty impressive for a perfect weekend day in July.
About the only downside was the abundance of bugs due to the unusual lack of snow and lots of standing water in the basins above Spray Park - as Fabien so succinctly put it, "zees fucking moss-kwit-toes are loving me"!
All the scenery I missed on the last trip was out in full glory - great views to the Mowich Glacier on one side and the Carbon on the other, as well as the Liberty Cap "end cap" hanging right over us as we topped out at point 10,013 (that's what my altimeter said, anyway).
We actually skied from about 100 ft. lower on the mountain, though I mistakenly thought Michael meant to drop in from the top on a super steep ridge that rolled off at about a 65º angle and traverse over to the top of the regular NNW facing run. I thought about reminding him that he was now a father before figuring out where he intended to ski.
Skiing was actually excellent, just enough soft stuff on top of some hard snow and runnels to make the turns fun, and we set a nice pair of tracks down all five pitches on the Russell. Traversing over onto the Flett required manuevering through a minefield of rockfall-on-snow, then a few more decent sets of turns before booting over to the lower part of the Observation Rock Headwall (sorry, we didn't climb back up and ski it from the top).
By mining this sand-infested finger of snow as far down as it would go, we managed to get in something over 3,700 vf of skiing (OK, some of the vertical was booting over rocks). Unfortunately this left us quite a bit west of the trail, and a bit of time-consuming heather-whacking ensued. Around this time all three of us ran out of water, even though Michael and I had both commented that perhaps we were overloaded with three liters each in the morning. We were able to refill in some glacial ponds overlooking Spray Park, and continue to hydrate in the 80+ degree heat.
The hike out seemed even longer than the last time, but this time there were other people on the trail for our amusement. Most were appalled that someone would take the trouble to hike up to 10,000 ft. with their skis, but politely inquired about the snow quality and were quite sympathetic with our level of fatigue.
All told, a great trip with good turns and perfect weather, and a chance to pick up some key French sayings like "I like steep skiing" and "this Camelbak is a piece of shit." Coincidentally, speaking of steep skiing, Sky Sjue was above us and around the corner at approximately the same time, skiing the real deal (see Phil Fortier's pic), the Mowich Face - http://www.turns-all-year.com/cgi-bin/yabb/YaBB.pl?board=tr0507;action=display;num=1121791302 - his party was able to see our tracks from Ptarmigan Ridge after their descent; I would have given anything to see his!