Mazama Ridge Snowshoe
Apr 23, 2012
- Type of Outing
- Snowshoe/XC Ski
- Read More in our Hiking Guide
- Hike: Mazama Ridge Snowshoe
- Region: Mt. Rainier -- SE - Longmire / Paradise
- Agency: Mount Rainier National Park
- Avg Rating: 4.29
- Be Aware Of
- Snow on trail
Down in the valley we switched over to skis. The amazing thing was the lack of recent tracks. A few old mostly melted ski and snowshoe tracks but mostly just smooth snow. The mountain was cloaked in clouds on the drive up and it began to clear as we started out. As the day went on it became mostly clear then clouds covered it up once again. Great views back to the mountain from the valley. The Tatoosh Range peaks were mostly in the clear all day. Great blue sky. We headed up the valley and then back down. This is not a long trip and we had all day so we enjoyed the easy skiing.
Getting up to the road was a chore. The snow was soft enough to climb in the sun but rock hard in the shade. Our skinny skis did not get much bite in the icy snow. Sliding down the ice and banging into trees did not look like much fun. We made it up to the road to find it also rock hard in places. It is not steep so the skiing was mostly fine. In one spot the road is not flat as the snow angles down across it. Of course it was shaded and icy here. I slipped in the middle of the crossing but did not slide down the hill. Once across it was fine once again.
We soon reached the trail heading up to Mazama Ridge. It was shaded and icy in spots. Gary chose to ski up and John and I switched back to snowshoes. This worked well enough. The problem was having skis high overhead in our packs ski slots. Getting under some branches was interesting. We were also beginning to post hole in slowshoes. Damned if you do... When the grade lessened we went back to skis. No more post holing or getting hung up in branches. Much better. We chose not to take the spur trail down to Reflection Lake. It was all uphill now. The snow on the ridge was excellent. Still no recent tracks. Gary led us up the ridge.
The grade is mostly fairly gentle. There are some ups and downs to break up the climb too. We kept stopping as the views behind us of the Tatoosh peaks kept betting better and better. Soon we could see some folks crossing under the summit of Castle Mountain. It was 38 degrees and sunny when we started. It was now closer to 55 degrees and very sunny. The heat radiating off the snow was worse than mid summer. I don't do well in heat and I could really feel it. I had not been that warm since late last summer. We continued up the ridge to near where the route heads down to the road near Paradise. here we headed right towards the high point. I have had lunch on top a number of times.
John and I chose to go back to snowshoes for the short steep climb to the top. Gary kept his skis on. Very little wind on top and fantastic views in all directions. Gary picked out the summit of Mt St. Helens between two Tatoosh peaks. Pyramid Peak was shining in the sun. We could see back to Paradise too. The summit of Rainier was now almost completely clear. We were completely surrounded by snow but a cool breeze would have been appreciated. Across the ridge we finally heard and saw some other folks. Not nearly as crowded as I expected. A sunny warm day and free admission yielded only a few others on Mazama Ridge. The fact the road is plowed out of the parking lot probably had a lot to do with it.
We had a leisurely lunch, spending about 40 minutes on top. It was now past 1:00 pm. Rather than head straight back we headed back down the ridge. great skiing even with as little as I have skied the past two years. It did not take long until we were a full mile down the ridge. That left us with a mile to ski back up. The heat really began to get to me. Not much shade to be had all day. I poured on the sunscreen several times and still ended the day with a slightly red face. Uphill we plodded. The view were so stunning that the work was soon forgotten. Still, I was glad when we reached the spot to exit the ridge.
There were a number of tracks heading down. One person with a very small shoe was post holing very deeply with every step. No snowshoes and a very hard trip down. Ours was not nearly to bad. John and I went back to snowshoes and Gary again stayed with skis. Part way down we met Barb who was doing her annual camp out on Mazama Ridge. They had big packs and lots of luxuries for their short trip up to the ridge. A great weekend for camping. The crux of the trip was getting down from the wall of snow to the freshly plowed road. It was about 14 feet tall. Folks had cut out a narrow walkway along the vertical snow wall. It was narrow to negotiate with a pack on but not too bad.
Once down to the road we just had the final uphill slog to the parking lot. It seemed strange to be looking for shade beneath the wall of snow to escape the heat of April. We returned to find the lot mostly full. Parked across from us were Carla, Franklin, Nikolai, and company who had skied to Camp Muir, then down the Nisqually Glacier, then back up to near Panorama Point and back down. Made our day look like a walk in the park. I guess it was a walk/ski in the National Park. They planned to ski up to the Tatoosh peaks crest to camp to end the day. I guess we are wimps.
All in all, it was a terrific day to be high in the mountains. Paradise still has about 200 inches of snow but more days like this and it will be melting fast. Pretty good snow conditions overall though a bit hard in the morning and soft in the afternoon. I'm sure glad I did not forget my camera this day. A good reminder of just how spectacular Mt. Rainier is.
I have posted 42 fully annotated photos on my website at: http://www.hikingnorthwest.com. Go to "Trips - 2012" on the left margin.