Frying Pan Glacier, May 10, 2005
Both Kevin and I were inspired by trip reports from the Frying Pan Glacier the weekend before, and though Tuesday the 10th was marginal for projected weather, it was the only day we could ski midweek, so we decided to go for it. When I got home from work that morning at around 2:00 AM, it didn't look promising - rain was coming down in sheets!
Waking at 6:30, though, the skies had cleared, so I prepped some food and fought the traffic through town to the Four Corners McDonald's, where Kevin prefers to eat breakfast (I guess because of the rock n' roll motif). For some reason I-5, I-90, and even the 169 were all slow as molasses, but I pulled in about 10 minutes late and switched the gear over to his Subaru.
Once past Enumclaw it was easy sailing, the only obstacles being the crew of branch trimmers working the White River Road in preparation for the upcoming RV season. We found the Frying Pan Creek bridge, pulled over and parked with one other vehicle in the "lot" - they looked like skiers, but we never saw them.
The trail is a highway, built for the onslaught of large numbers of tourists (at least for the first couple of miles), about four feet wide and flat as a pancake. The sign said 4.2 miles to Summerland, which seemed about right. Further up, the trail narrowed and got a bit muddy due to the rain the past two days, but at least the sporadic snow patches were well consolidated and held our weight fairly well.
Skinnable snow started just past the log bridge with the baling wire rail, where we headed up following the tracks of Kam and Co. from the weekend. There was about half an inch of wet fresh on top, offering good traction until the steep ridgeline where there was a clear boot track left by the weekend group. Unfortunately a wet snow slide had wiped out the bottom hundred feet of the track, making for some gloppy post-holing until we passed it, but from then on it was no problem - thanks to the Saturday crew!
Skinning up the upper snowfield was a treat - the weather had turned to summer and Kevin clocked 86º on his watch in the sun! We were perspiring like the proverbial pigs, and unfortunately my kids hadn't left me any Gatorade mix in the jar so I just went with water (and melted snow).
The hot weather, however, was not destined to last - nearing the top of Whitman Knob, at around 8,500 ft., the clouds rolled in and it started to snow. By the time we reached the top of the knob, the visibility was at about 30 ft. and worsening - kind of a bummer not to be able to see the majestic views of Rainier and Little T. By this time it was snowing hard on the upper slopes which turned to pouring rain below about 7,000 ft.
No ski pictures, you say? We were lucky enough to find out way back down by following our skintracks and GPS's! The four inches or so of fresh over corn mush (polenta, in Italy) made for some very interesting ski conditions, to say the least. The top snowfield with its mild pitch gave up some decent turns which would have been really fun in good visibility. Each steep pitch (anything over about 30º) required a special technique of doing a wide, sliding ski cut at the top, then watching a huge slow motion slough hiss down the hill (they actually got moving pretty fast by the bottom) and following it down on clean corn. Kind of entertaining, especially when you got to the bottom and realized that the stuff was still moving!
When we hit the bottom of the skiable snow and went to switch to trail shoes, my lack of Gatorade combined with a huge amount of lost fluid threw my body into kind of an electrolyte shock - both legs cramping big time and forcing me to lie down with legs elevated. Kevin brought me around with a ClifShot and some water, and I hobbled out, getting to the car around 6:00 PM. We were bummed when the Naches Tavern was closed, forcing us to fuel up at the Golden Arches in Four Corners, but there was no feeling of disappointment at all in the Frying Pan!