Monday, April 16, 2012

Sin or Salvation? Skiing Mt. Rainier National Park - The Nisqually and the Tatoosh

The Mighty Mt. Rainier
Home from Bhutan just over a week, I drove down Interstate 5 on Friday morning after a mid-week meeting in Seattle.  Following a month of constant travel, I silently debated whether I should go skiing or simply stay at home and tend to the every day details that had fallen by the wayside.  Laundry, unpacking, work, even processing the 5,000 photos from my trip - I had plenty of excuses to remain in town and slow down.

For a few minutes, the classic debate between the angel and devil, both perched on opposing shoulders, played out in my mind.  But then I turned a corner on the highway and saw the mighty Mt. Rainier rising up off the horizon in clear, morning skies.  The mountain was covered in a deep blanket of snow that had fallen almost constantly since I left for Asia in March.  I couldn't deny the strong temptation presented by a weekend of chores, the lure of yard work and organizing the basement.  But having assumed the form of a majestic mountain temple, the angel on my shoulder reminded me that these sinful pleasures just lead to further moral degradation.  In a split second, she squashed that puny devil and illuminated the path.  Let's go skiing!

Unicorn Peak Basin and the Tatoosh

Thankfully, Jaime and Guy both signed up for a weekend of backcountry skiing in Mt. Rainier National Park.  With an early Saturday morning start from Portland, we hit the Tatoosh first, headed towards Unicorn Peak at the east end of the range.
Guy in the basin below the ridge that connects Castle and Unicorn Peaks
Unicorn Peak
Once we got up into the basin underneath Unicorn, we found pretty good spring conditions on a stable snow pack.  The snow was starting to soften up from the warm sun, and so we decided to shed the skins and enjoy the silky turns back down towards Snow Lake.  The turns in the upper basin were pretty nice but the chute down to the lake was a little crusty with a bunch of debris - but the setting was excellent!

Guy harvesting corn
Jaime dropping down towards Snow Lake
Jaime and Guy enjoying lunch by Snow Lake
  On the walk out, we gawked at Mt. Rainier, enjoying the anticipation of our plans for the next day.

Jaime contemplating tomorrow

Guy and the Big R

The Nisqually - Camp Muir to the Bridge

Sunday morning, we left Paradise under brilliant sun and rolled into Camp Muir around noon, enjoying an incredible morning on the mountain.

Guy on the way up from Paradise

Bohle mid-slog

Guy rolling into Camp Muir
Skiers bootpacking above Camp Muir for extra turns
After lounging around in the sun at Camp Muir, we finally motivated for the 6000' run down to the Nisqually Bridge.  The first 500' or so was crusty corn, pretty grabby, which required careful GS turns.  But pretty soon, the snow turned into perfect corn under beautiful, calm skies.
Jaime and the ice fall
Before dropping onto the Nisqually

'nuff said
None of us had skied the route before, so we had a little difficulty finding the entrance.  We missed the main slot and came in from just a bit further down the moraine.   We found a nice, steep shot down into the canyon that held really good snow.
Jaime towards the bottom of the chute
From there we enjoyed incredible silky smooth turns through the Nisqually canyon all the way out to the bridge.  

Amazing corn for 6000'

Jaime in the Nisqually canyon
I almost gave into the temptation of sin but the angel on my shoulder steered me through the valley of darkness.  Thank you Mt. Rainier!

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