My First Wild Ski
After many years of slugging my feet left and right up the major volcanos here in this state, I decided it was time to make a big change to my mountaineering game. I was going to ski down these volcanos and be able to cut the time spent up there by about half. For the past two winter seasons, I'd practiced my turns at the White Pass ski resort and was cruising down blues. I would call myself a novice skier, but one who could handle herself on the slopes and certainly down the snowfields on Rainier. Or so I thought..
The morning started early last Saturday, June 3rd, as I trekked out towards Paradise by way of Highway-12 to Packwood, and then over through Forest Road 52 along the Nisqually River. It was just me in The Panda and breathtaking glimpses of the ice blue water cutting through the forest.
I met Jason and Derek at Whittaker Mountaineering to carpool into Paradise. We had ambitious plans today - to skin up to Camp Muir and practice some ice arrests and safety techniques and then finish the day skiing down. On occasion, these outdoor excursions we set out to do don't follow through and today would be one of those days. Derek didn't come with skis or a split board so he set off by foot about 30 minutes before Jason and I. Spoiler Alert - Derek ended up beating us up to Camp Muir by about 45 minutes and even tied Jason back down to the car. (I don't think Derek even used crampons?)
Jason and I were left at the car attaching our skins and getting things set up. We hit the snow right at the trailhead around 11am and I got my first feel of skinning. It was great! Who knew that adding carpet to the bottom of skis would allow them to grip so well? I popped in my tunes and skinned toward Paradise Point. This ridge (I think) is the steepest grade of the whole hike to Camp Muir. About 3/4 the way up, I was tired of my sketchy switchbacks and took my skis off to haul up the rest. It was tiresome, but once we hit the snowfields, I was dreaming of those turns I would soon by making as I watched other skiers cruising down the slopes and having the time of their lives.
By around 4pm we'd hit 9,100', roughly 1000' from Muir, when I got a text from Derek saying he'd been up there for a while and was coming down because the winds were treacherous. We had expected to make it to Camp Muir by 2 or 3pm and were off schedule. At that point, Jason and I decided to grab a snack and within ten minutes, Derek came into view. He set off quickly to minimize his trip walking down while Jason and I set up our skis for the best part of the day. We had earned these turns.
I was extremely nervous to ski, but stoked at the same time. Jason set off first and was a little wobbly. I watched him for a few moments before I straighten out my skis and headed down nose first. The first turn was great, the second was legit, and then BOOM, all of a sudden I turned too hard and flung myself over my skies headfirst down the mountain. I ate it hard and it spooked me. I couldn't see Jason or anyone and sat in the snow for a brief moment to collect myself. I was instantly disappointed in my skiing ability. I was better than that. The Muir snowfields are a moderate blue run at best. The snow was in real good condition, this should be easy! I got back up and tried to make another turn and my body just wouldn't let me. At this point I knew I had to do something because my friends were advancing down the mountain while I stayed immobile. I took of my skis and fashioned them to my pack and literally galloped down the mountain.
About 1000' down, Jason was waiting for me and I told him I couldn't ski. He understood and I mentioned I'd try to catch up with Derek. The day was sunny and the views were clear so walking down wasn't a complete loss. But I was disappointed and almost ashamed. I learned a lesson that day, that I can't be too ambitious with myself. I need more practice on skis before I attempt more back country skiing in general. I'm used to groomed routes on slopes that 1000's of people ski on every week. Mount Rainier is wild. And while I had conquered the summit in 2013, the mountain put me back in my place. I will get better at skiing this winter and will be back next season with a whole new set of skills. You just wait, Rainier. I ain't done with you yet.
What's Next: Our whole trip to Camp Muir was to practice ice safety techniques because Jason, Derek and I are planning on summiting the mountain in July. We're going to take the Libery Ridge route this time, the north face route, which involves more technical climbing. I will also be heading up Mt. Baker at the end of June with a group of friends for their first summit. Can't wait!