Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mt Rainier Skiing

Mt. Rainier, WA
Skiing On or Near the Muir Snowfield
October 21, 2007

Ah, it's great to stretch out the ol' skinning legs! Kirsten just had her cast removed after five weeks of healing from her freak collision with a bicyclist in which she broke her wrist and sprained her sterno-clavicular joint. On top of that, it had been well over three months since we had done any skiing at all. As we were packing our gear Saturday night, we found it much as we had last left it early in the summer -- some of it dirty, some of it badly in need of wax -- a nostalgic reminder of those days when it isn't necessary for your vertical feet of skiing on snow to surpass your vertical feet of hiking to the snow on dirt.

Sunday morning we caravanned down to Rainier with a group of about a dozen. We pulled in to the Park around 9:30 and got the news that the gate wouldn't open until 11 o'clock while they finished the snow plowing. We speculated they were trying to force feed business to the Longmire restaurant. Nonetheless, we met up with dozens of other skiers and wiled away the time, and retold the story of our harrowing coffee mission. A lactose emergency emerged as they are prone to do, and our car needed to find a coffee stand in Spanaway. As fate would have it, we repeatedly approached several stands from the wrong lane and couldn't get over in time. Until finally there was one. As we pulled in, the barista standing outside in an oversized sweatshirt put out her cigarette and went inside to serve us. As we pondered the sign that said, "Come check out Scarf Thursday," the barista took off the sweatshirt revealing her approved barista uniform: a scanty police shirt. Then when we finally looked at the name of the place that we were at, the light bulb flickered on. It was deftly named, "Hot Chick-A-Latte."

When the gate opened early, sometime before 10:30, there was a mad dash up the road to paradise. We started skinning behind a long queue of skiers at 11:15. The line snaked up from the visitors center and on up past Panorama Point. Here the wind picked up and snow occasionally blew across the slopes. The degrading weather thinned out the crowd. We climbed up a ways, before venturing over to a slope above Edith Creek. We dug a test pit and found an easily released 5 inch wind slab on top, and a moderately releasable layer about 18 inches down. We started toward a lower-angled slope and Becky paused to jump on the snow just above the test pit and made the deeper layer slide. This caused us enough concern that we headed to safer terrain.

At around 8,000 feet our carpool turned around. The snow on the ski down was variable, from breakable crust to wind-packed powder to thinly covered rocks to mashed potatoes. But Kirsten was able to ski through it all without reinjuring herself, which was the primary goal for the day. It was nice to be back on the skis and out in the mountains, and a nice little adventure to hopefully signify the kickoff of the ski season.

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