The plan was simple. Fly to Seattle, meet up with Peter and Maia, summit Rainer in a couple days, then spend the rest of the trip skiing the surrounding area. We picked March for the trip because we assumed we would catch the tail end of winter snow, but have the benefit of plenty of daylight. Visions of bluebird pow skiing at elevation fueled the stoke. Oh how wrong we were.
March 16th – After landing a day prior, Maia and I met Peter at the Sea-Tac Airport. Our crew got the run around at a local car rental place before racing out to Rainer for an evening start to our climb. We loaded up our huge packs with 8 days worth of food/gear and began slogging out of the parking lot as we lost the last rays of daylight. Our goal for the evening was to make it a few thousand feet into the climb, high enough to be above the forecasted rain/snow line of an incoming storm. After about an hour of wandering blindly up the mountain, we decided to avoid getting lost and made camp for the evening.
March 17th – We woke up and got our first glimpse of our intended route: Fuhrer Finger. Unfortunately, there was significant and recent debris down the route, with even more recent wind effect/loading on the slopes above. I have become more conservative in my decision making since my close call on Denali, and agreed with Maia and Pete when a change to our initial route was suggested. We decided on attempting the Ingraham Direct route instead. With a new goal in mind, we packed up camp and began moving towards Camp Muir. As we began moving, it became clear that the forecasted storm was arriving a half day ahead of schedule. We made it another hour up the hill before the winds/whiteout became so bad that we were unable to continue. We found a small rock outcropping on a ridge that provide a small wind break. As the precipitation and wind increased, we raced to complete a snow wall for our camp. After a bit more than an hour, we had a substantial wall constructed, but the rain/snow/slush had soaked the layers we had been wearing. Sitting in the tent, we realized we were caught near the rain/snow line with winds blowing 30 – 40mph. Twice we had to dig the tent of the heavy wet snow that was slowly saturating our sleep quarters. By the time we went to sleep, all of our layers were soaked, the saturated tent was “raining” on us with every gust of wind, and our sleeping bags were filled with more water then feathers.
March 18th – Our mini epic was in full swing. Conditions had worsened overnight. The winds were higher, the snow wetter, and a whiteout with 20 feet of visibility greeted us as we stepped out of the tent. Over breakfast we joked about how much humble pie this “easy” mountaineering objective was feeding us. With the forecast calling for another day of stormy conditions we discussed a retreat to dry out gear for a drier attempt as weather improved. We packed camp as quick as possible and retreated down through the whiteout via bamboo wands. Back at the car, we packed up and headed to a laundromat in Eatonville to dry out all of our gear.
March 19th – Dry gear, clear weather, and a stiff cup of coffee had us heading up to Muir Camp bright and early(ish). We were 3 out of 50 people who left the parking lot as soon as the gate opened and sweated our way up to 10k. Being the only party planning to stay the night, we had the Muir cabin to ourselves. Upon reaching Muir Camp, we slammed a dinner and headed to bed in anticipation of an alpine start and summit push in the morning.
March 20th – We were up and leaving camp by 3:30am. As we slowly made progress up the Ingraham Direct Route, we noticed a storm front moving in (12 hours earlier then we had expected). By 6am it became clear that if we continued on, we would face summiting and returning in a complete whiteout. With minimal wands and experience on this specific mountain, we jointly decided on the conservative approach and turned around. An hour later we were back at Muir camp in the middle of the whiteout. Limited visibility made the descent back to the car a vertigo inducing experience. Back at the car we checked the weather and was confronted with a week long storm cycle that would prevent us from making a safe summit bid during this trip. Slightly defeated, but content with our decision making, we started looking for places that we could ski the rest of our trip. We settled on Mt. Baker.
March 21st – We awoke in our tent just outside the Baker parking lot to an all too familiar sound. Rain. Again. We retreated to a friend’s house in Bellingham to wait out the two days of rain before temps dropped enough to make the precipitation turn to snow. The following two days was spent doing laundry and bouldering at the local rock gym.
March 23rd – The weather broke and Baker had 12″ of new snow. The day was spent touring the surrounding area. Baker had everything we wanted. Deep snow, short/stable steep pitches, and even a few cliffs to indulge my affinity for flying. After touring till dark, we raced back to Bellingham for burgers and a quick night sleep before another day of touring.
March 24th – Seven more inches overnight. That’s all Peter and I had to hear to motivate us to race back to Baker. We found a new aspect to explore and proceeded to farm 3 of the deepest laps of the year. After a half day of touring, we packed up and headed to Tacoma for the night. The following day we returned the rental car, packed our bags, and headed home.