Paradise Glacier, MRNP, August 2, 2005
Kam Leang's pen-penultimate day as a Seattle resident dawned clear and warm, and we decided to get some August turns before he left for Virginia at the most convenient place, the south side of Rainier.
I picked Kam up around 7:00 AM at his friend Kelvin's house on Crown Hill - Kelvin's garage serves as the "factory" for the home-made skis they make - and loaded up the Audi. We cruised the drive over Cayuse (for the scenery) and got slightly tangled in the one-lane road repair on the Steven's Canyon Road (glad we weren't there when the outside lane collapsed), but made it up to Paradise by around 9:45.
Kam's plan called for a quick hop over to the Paradise Glacier from the bend in the exit road, but it was blocked because of "fresh oil on road," so we parked near the Paradise Inn and headed out in a north-northeasterly direction on one of the paved tourist walkways. At the top of the first set of switchbacks we headed off-trail through an expanse of barren glacial debris, cresting several rolling knolls before seeing the first sign of snow. The bleakness of the terrain with no snow reminded us of a vista from Outer Mongolia rather than Washington State. Kam suppressed an urge to immediately shoot a "patches-all-year" shot at the first lonely 200 ft. snowfield, and we continued up toward the glacier.
Speak of receding glaciers . . . as we crested the final rise and looked over into the valley, we were dismayed to find a nearly barren stone wasteland where the Paradise Glacier had been a few years ago. The long run down from the upper glacier and the shell of the Williwakas Glacier that had existed until recently are now gone, with only a crumpled orange sign proclaiming the "presence" of the Paradise Ice Caves left to tell the story.
We hiked a bit further and picked out a face with decent snow cover and a northeasterly exposure to ski, before sitting down to lunch. Midway through the meal, we looked up at the sound of a rather large rockfall and saw a huge mountain goat nonchalantly traversing the steep slope in front of us, and dislodging rocks as he walked (look directly over Kam's head in photo at far left, above row). The goat came within about 300 yards of us, gazing at us curiously, before wandering off.
Skiing conditions were somewhat marginal, with a thin coating of dirty corn covering old nevé, flowing water, and large patches of rockfall debris. It wasn't exactly smooth either, but we were already there. After the first run, Kam told me to climb back up and ski a fresh patch directly in front of him, but my left ski took off down the hill as I was trying to put it on and shot down to the rocks (fortunately only slight cosmetic damage), so I was forced to do the descent on one ski - pretty humorous.
After several runs and numerous photos, we traversed over to look at a promising chute a few hundred yards to the north, but found upon arrival that it didn't continue up to the higher snowfield we had been looking at, and decided to call it a day. On the descent, we stopped at the first bit of snow we had seen coming in, and Kam persuaded me to "patch" it for his upcoming calendar . . .