Epic Turns on the Interglacier

If you have ever been to the summit of Crystal Mountain on a blue sky day the view of Rainier is dominating. A world of wide open glaciers, tight couloirs and all in-between with enough terrain to keep a mountaineer busy for decades. The northeast side is a popular summertime area but once winter comes they shut down the road, leaving 16 miles of road between you and the White River campground.

A partial view of the northeast side of Rainier from Crystal Mountain, the Interglacier is the prominent pyramid on the right.

Rainier from Crystal A hour and a half after leaving the Crystal Mountain snow park we were skinning up the Glacier Basin trail. Hiking along the faint path was slow and tedious in well over a foot of freshly accumulated snow from the day before.

The view of Rainier, Tahoma and the Emmons glacier in the background. 2011_0225Interglacier 001 We weaved through and traversed along the White River passing numerous avalanche paths along the way. Two miles into the trek we reached a clearing in the old growth and got our first glimpse of Glacier Basin. From our view point we could see the east ridge of Mt. Ruth and her NE facing couloirs a area we had visited a few weeks prior.

Mt. Ruth to the left and the Interglacier to the right. Interglacier After 3 miles of following the trail we found a small snow bridge and crossed the White River, still raging from a constant melt cycle. From the south side we were able to traverse the banks until finally reaching our goal, the basin.

Crossing the White River 2011_0225Interglacier 004 It was our third trip into Glacier basin and we were excited to see that we would be skinning in sunshine, a first of the season. Everything felt so still, so quiet, so isolated yet we would occasionally look over our shoulders, hoping for a brief second that someone was there to help break tail.

A lone skin track heading up Glacier Basin 2011_0225Interglacier 008 To our north the Third Burrough stood prominent and proud baking in the sun. Five years prior I had rode one of the couloirs in late May, I remembered it being steep and narrow. From our vantage point we could see that it looked mellow and wide open, still healthy from a mid season snowpack.

The south face of the Third Burrough 2011_0225Interglacier 009 By the time we reached the base of the Interglacier our bodies were exhausted but we were happy to see we would be riding it in prime conditions. The temperature was below zero, the winds were light and the snow was shin deep with nothing firm lurking underneath, I had dreamed of this day for years.

The Interglacier looking perfect 2011_0225Interglacier 011 The three thousand feet was climbed in a series of switchbacks navigating around convex slopes and steering towards mellower slopes along the way. What was at first sunshine dwindled away as the sun fell behind Rainier dramatically lowering the temperatures. Skinning on the upper slopes was easy and deep with no wind effect, come to find later that they would deliver the best turns of the trip.

Looking across the Emmons Glacier toward Mt. Tahoma 2011_0225Interglacier 014 Our highpoint of the day was Steamboat Prow a 9700 foot notch just above camp Sherman the base for summit bids on the NE side. I have been forced to hunker down while transitioning so many times on the prow but this time was different.To the northwest we could see the Puget Sound glistening with the high rises of Seattle surrounding it to the east I could see the avalanche scars on the backside of Crystal Mountain. We were alone without any wind and below us was going to be some of the best turns of our life.

Transitioning on the Prow 2011_0225Interglacier 015 Boot rode down first making effortless turns on the main face, hooting and hollering along the way. I was next up and after a quick traditional check for any left behind gear I was ripping down the slopes. The snow stayed consistently soft for the entirety of the run, riding 4600 feet to the White River crossing before stopping. We followed our skin track back to the snowmobiles just after the sunset, (a new tradition) and rode back to the snowpark just after 8 p.m. In total we hiked over ten miles, 5400 feet and 13 hours for a single run. I don't know whether its the scenery of the North Cascades or the great fall line but that line will always be a classic of the Cascades. Special thanks to Boot for the photos.

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