It’s always a bit of a gamble to plan an ambitious trip to the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. The fickle, if not downright lousy weather has dealt more than it’s share of disappointment to locals and visitors alike. So we knew when we got the invite to join Chris Davenport on the Spyder Volcano Tour, there was a very good chance that we wouldn’t get to ski all of the peaks that were on the list for the week.
If I could take the glass-is-half-full perspective though, it’s amazing what you can do in the Northwest when the weather co-operates, and thankfully, it did. After hooking up with Dav and nailing three classic volcanoes (Hood, Adams, St. Helens) in as many days, the forecast remained perfect, and we set our sights on Rainier.
Of the 15 or so volcanoes Dav had picked to try to ski along this two week trip, Rainier was his biggest objective, and in more ways than one. At 14,411 feet it was taller than the others on the list, in many cases by thousands of feet. Plus, the trailhead at Paradise measures in at 5,400 feet in elevation, so the 9,000 vertical foot climb was also more than the other volcanoes, in some cases by more than double. It’s for those reasons that Rainier is almost always a two-day climb.
But the forecast from Joel Gratz continued to look good, and since everyone was feeling strong after logging so many long days already, we decided we should try to take this one on in a style we hadn’t yet done– we wanted to climb and ski it in one day.
This was my fourth time to Rainier. For a bit of historical perspective, in 2002, Christy, Jann Stoeckl, Chris Carmichael, and I climbed a route (no skis) called the Fuhrer Finger. It took us three days, required camping for two nights at 9,200 feet, and the 5,200 vertical foot climb from the high camp and back in high winds took us a whopping 18 hours. I don’t like to hype things up, but this was a true epic for us, against which all of our future climbing trips have been compared. We summited, but left humbled.
In 2007, Dav and I had quite a different day. With skiing in mind, we set up camp near the same spot in ’02 and then went to sleep. High winds in the morning unfortunately forced the decision to postpone our summit attempt until the following day. Later that morning though, the winds stopped, so we got out ski stuff together and went up for a few turns in a nearby couloir, the Fuhrer Thumb. It was mid-day, and the weather seemed to just get nicer and nicer, so we just kept going and before long we were on top, clicking in our skis and descending the Wilson Headwall around 5pm. It’s a great example of how the weather can dictate your day.
And back in 2010, Christy and I joined a group of friends from Aspen to do a summer climb (no skis) of the Disappointment Cleaver Route. The two-day trip was really pretty hard and despite being August, was very cold. It made me appreciate the size and scale of Rainier even more than I already did (see photos here).
So as we got ready in the RV the afternoon before, I knew this was far from a sure thing. But to spin the popular climbing cliche, it’s hard sayin’ not going. In other words, we would only know how it would go after we went and tried. It would be a huge effort on behalf of our group of seven, but it would also afford us a huge reward if we pulled it off. Eleven hours after leaving the RV at Paradise, we had tagged the summit and skied all the way back down. What a day. Check out some photos below and read Dav’s report on the Spyder site here.