Bluebird and Backcountry: A prelude to the 09/10 season

Until mid-May, I had primarily focused on peak-bagging, but as the days got longer and warmer, we began to head into what I like to call, the “Volcano Season,” since it’s the best time of year for climbing and sliding down stratovolcanoes. So at that time, I made the switch from primarily pow-seeking touring to really working on my volcanic goals.

But before I rehash my Volcano season, I’d like to take a brief intermission from recounting last season to bring “What Up” a trip report from more recently… since October Pow is more along the lines of what’s up with me right now.

Recently we had a front rip through the Pacific Northwest and drop over a foot of fresh new snow, which wasn’t bad for October if you ask me. With negligible snowpack lower down, there is really only one type of terrain you can depend upon for taking advantage of early season pow conditions– the high glaciers of the volcanoes.

Since volcanic glaciers are my forte, and powder, my calling, I had to head out as much as possible for the weekend. On Friday, October 2nd, I met up with my good friend Scott and we drove up to the North side of Mt. Rainier with the intention of tracking out the now deserted Flett Glacier.

With little hope of the front clearing, we knew we’d be some of the few people out there, but the snow, wind, sleet, and whiteouts did little to deter us from a six mile hike that dropped us at the base of the Flett. Nonetheless, when all hopes of visibility seemed dashed to the wind, the clouds miraculously parted for a few moments of glorious sunshine. Bathed in momentary sun and upon a glacier covered in a smooth surface of freshly-fallen snow, it was inevitable that we would lap the area until our legs could take no more. While it wasn’t epic powder, it was damn fine conditions since a few inches of wind-buffeted pow covered the glacial ice and left a smooth riding surface.


On our way to the Flett Glacier (Photo by Scott Stugelmeyer)


The Flett Glacier looking rather good for October (Photo by Scott Stugelmeyer)

Our last lap we made it all the way down to the glacier’s toe, where we noticed an ice cave that we decided to check out. We spent an hour exploring the ice cave and its deep shades of blue and the complex frozen shapes that had been sculpted by mother nature. Feeling sated by the pow and the ice, we hiked back down to the car with brilliant red alpenglow limelighting Rainier’s Northwest face.


Causing some spray on the Flett (Photo by Scott Stugelmeyer)


Exploring the Ice cave (Photo by Scott Stugelmeyer)

It seems that one fix just wasn’t enough, so I packed much of my still-soaked gear into a pack the next day. My objective was to head north for an overnight trip on Mt. Baker’s Coleman Glacier with Jason and Josh Hummel. I sprinted up to our camp at the base of Heliotrope ridge and watched the sun fade to a dark sky with a full moon reflected on ice. After a brutal night of little sleep in sustained 50 mph winds, we trekked up the glacier to Heliotrope’s high point.


A long nights sleep on Heliotrope ridge (Photo by Jason Hummel)

Early morning winds on Mt Baker (Photo by Jason Hummel)

I was amazed by the conditions, since well over 6 inches of wind-deposited pow and blue skies greeted us. Josh did a nice rock drop while I basked in the sun. We dropped about 700 vert in calf-deep pow with perfect fall line riding, quite a difference from what I’d been riding the past five months. The conditions were so phenomenal that we couldn’t help but go right back up for seconds, heading for terrain that was untouched and wind-loaded.


Josh getting airborn (Photo by Jason Hummel)

While the first run had been good, it paled in comparison to the second. This subsequent lap delivered my first face shots of the 2009/2010 season, and served as an exceptional prelude to what I hope will be an excellent season to come.


First face shot of the season (Photo by Jason Hummel)

Stay tuned for more updates…and for more on my the 2009 Classic Cascade Volcanoes Cirque!


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