The Fryingpan Loop: Banshee, Cowlitz and Tamanos

The Fryingpan Loop: Banshee, Cowlitz and Tamanos

It’s amazing how the mountains can bring people together from all different walks of life. People from different social classes, religions and beliefs share the mountains with one another. Many years ago I met a guy who goes by the name of Don and posted on TAY as Boot, we were in the Crystal Parking lot, both getting some preseason turns. We quickly realized that we shared the same love for topography and remote corners of the Cascades, we became touring partners from that day on.

Sunset alpenglow on the Liberty Cap from Old Desolate

At the beginning of this season we had brief chats over emails and he was stating a lack of enthusiasm to get back into the mountains. It took some motivation and promises of the Interglacier in Powder conditions, but two days before new years he was back on Rainier. He created a tick list of peaks and conditions he wanted to ride in and so his season began.

Midwinter skin track on the Emmons glacier
Skin track stoke on the Emmons

One of those lines was the Cowlitz Chimney.

We came up with a plan to skin up the Frying Pan Creek and make our way up to the eastern shoulder of Rainier and slowly traverse NE. With around 2 feet of new snow and a tad bit of time for the slopes to stabilize we made our way into the White River. In the end it would be 11 miles and 7300 vert broken down to 3 couloir, 1 avi path and 1 treed run, all of which were NW to NE facing.

11 Miles and 7,300 Vert

The sled ride in was fast. It had been a while sense I was solo on one and it was nice to rally it. Once arriving at Fryingpan Creek Boot checked his watch. It had taken us 30 minutes which was a new record for us. Within minutes we were skinning up the Frying Pan Creek trail. This valley is one of my favorite in the Cascades. There is not much old growth left in the Evergreen state after over a century of logging but this place remains preserved, not to mention there the massive volcano that feeds it.

Fresh snow and sunshine in the Old Growth of Fryingpan Creek

A huge chunk of Water Ice that slid into the Old Growth from the mountain above

We skinned up the creek for a few miles before cutting up towards the shoulder and ultimately Fryingpan gap. The drainage was direct and quickly became a canyon with numerous waterfalls along the way. The creek was filled in but had some exposed moves to 10 feet deep holes of raging currents. The crux was a 20 foot tall waterfall with a steep snow ramp on the side. Being stubborn I attempted to skin it via veggie belay and some careful footwork but in the end had to boot it.

Two minutes later it was official we had made it into the alpine.

In typical Cascadian fasion it is cloudy again

North facing slopes in Fryingpan Creek

Boot skinning along Fryingpan Creek with Tamanos West face in the distance

Skinning up into a snow filled canyon

I will try to skin up anything

The only bootpack of the trip

Rainier and the Emmons Glacier from Fryingan creek

The year prior both Jason Hummel and myself had done a traverse from Paradise to Crystal this would be a similar route but with three differences. The exit, the amount of daylight and the snow conditions. This time there was more than a foot of powder.

The Paradise to Crystal Traverse

What was at first bluebird slowly turned into white out conditions but with familiarity of the terrain I was able to navigate our way up onto Banshee peak and before long we were standing on top of the Banshee Couloir. Visibility come and go so we waited for a window and made our descent down onto the Sarvant Glacier. It was epic April pow, faceshots in the choke and wide open pow turns after that.

Whiteout on Banshee Peak

About to descend into the Banshee Couloir

Boot riding the apron of the Banshee Couloir

By the time we had transitioned to skinning the clouds had moved it thicker as we were navigating in a white out. Normally I would get out but I felt confident in the terrain. I made a slowly rising traverse up towards a rock ban I could barely see we made our way to the mellow col and navigated around the southern slopes to the Cowlitz Chimney col. Clouds came in and out the whole time.

Skinning up the Sarvant Glacier

We sat on top in a white out and patiently waited for visibility. We ate our lunches and chatted about our history with this run. Two years prior we had sat at this same col twice and had been skunked on weather. Third times the charm right? It turns out it is as the clouds lifted and one at a time we dropped into the Cowlitz Chimney with Boot going first.

Eating a calorie bomb (Bacon, turkey and Avacados) and waiting for visability to clear up

I have rode the Cowlitz Chimney twice before but not in conditions like that. It was deep, stable, open faceshot top to bottom for 2000 feet, It was like Iceburg gulch at Crystal on steroids. Boots plan delivered big time and we were stoked.

The Cowlitz Chimney in stable powder conditions

Needle Canyons dramatic eastern slopes

We skinned up a steep section of ridge occasionally looking back at our line. As always the visibility started improving and we heckled the mountain wishing we had been more patient. With a quick descent down the best snow and visibility so far in the trip we started making our way towards Tamanos and the Owyhigh Valley.

By far the best turns of the trip

Mid afternoon sunshine in the Owyhigh valley

Attempting to find water in a 15 foot deep trench

With a mellow and well placed skin track we made our way onto the ridge of Tamanos. Once upon the ridge the world opened up around and below us. From our vantage point we could see Rainier to the west and a panorama of mountains in every other direction.

Looking towards the Cowlitz Chimney to the Right and Double Peak to the left

A closer look to the ridge we rode and Double Peak radness

Boot skinning up with Governors Ridge in the background

Tamanos south ridge, Rainier and Little Tahoma

Tamanos has always been Boots and my go to run when heading out to the White River. With a little bit of creativity and love of the suffer it is one of the quickest big mountain tours in the park.

Fryingpan Creek and Rainier with the Banshee couloir on the left

From the summit ridge we dropped into the couloir one at a time with Boot once again being the guinea pig. When riding we are always aware for potential slides and slabs so when Boot rode in he made his way over to a safe zone. He had caused a 5 foot wide foot deep slab that ran the entirety of the 700 foot chute. While it was small it would have been a sucky ride. Once he was at the bottom I carefully cut into the slope. My cut caused the rest of the slope to go so I waited for it to run and had an amazing ride down firm at first but bottomless pow in the apron.

Looking down the northeast chute of Tamanos witht the White River in the distance

We smiled and shared our experiences before putting on our skins for the final ascent up to the NW ridge of Tamanos. I made a scenic route up to the top of the old scared avi path.

Looking at the NE chutes of Tamanos

I've become a skittle skier

The NW face of Tamanos

From the ridge there is a 2500 foot direct slide path that runs directly to Fryingpan creek and within a mile of the sleds. We said our goodbyes to Rainier and made our descents in stable pow for the first 2000 feet and smooth slush corn the rest of the way to the creek. It was the best conditions I have ever had that line in, finally it wasn’t littered in debris.

The White River valley

The NE chutes of Tamanos

Our exit was via Fryingpan creek which is always a pain. there is never a snow bridge and it is almost guaranteed to get you soaking wet but this time it wasn’t the case. We immediately found a log jam and made our way across on foot before putting our skis on. From here on out I was able to skin the whole way back to the sleds, stubbornly skinning on rocks across a few creeks but still skinning.

Boot getting over Fryingpan Creek

Literally skinning on Fryingpan Creek

The ride back was a blast until we got to the Mathers Y. It turns out while we were up at the White River the plow driver for WSDOT cleared both lanes of the road. Long story short I don’t recommend EVER sledding on 6 miles of bare pavement. It was weak!

A hudge Thank you goes to my friend Boot for putting together this great trip. It has been an honor to be your friend and I look forward to many more years.

Thanks for a great time Boot!

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