Associated trip report: "Spectacular weather and snow conditions enabled me to make it all the way to 3rd Burroughs (and back), the longest day trip I have ever done. FS73 was melted out to within a quarter mile of the Eleanor Lake trailhead, and the snow was continuous to 3rd Burroughs, except for one 100' carry over the saddle out of Berkeley Park and a couple of spots of all-terrain skiing. All the snow in the open had frozen solid overnight, whereas in the forest it was firm but not frozen. A great thing about this tour is that virtually all the forested sections are heavily gladed, so it is possible to avoid most of the bumpy tree snow and have good runs coming back down.
I skied the general route of the trail, past Lake Eleanor, over a small ridge to the first big meadow, here and there finding some old ski tracks. Then I started up along the unnamed creek which drains the NW side of Grand Park and climbed moderate glades to the plateau of Grand Park. From there it was about 1.5 miles of glorious XC skiing SW across the plateau on very fast snow (smoothest I have seen there), with the whole north face of Mt. Rainier looming ahead in a perfectly clear sky. Still on the route of the trail, I descended from the S tip of Grand Park to Cold Basin saddle through the sometimes tight trees on sun-softened snow, and then entered the dreaded Dark Forest section, where the route traverses into the valley of Lodi Creek near Affi Falls. Navigation-wise, this is the crux of the tour, because missing the route on the return would mean lots of unpleasant exploring to find it, and there are few good landmarks on the return, just a lot of similar-looking gladed forest. So, I marked the route. Not with fluorescent tape, but with ski scratches and mini-turns in the dirty snow to leave pure white markers.
Skiing up Lodi Creek was great, smooth fast snow and ever-increasing vistas as glades turned into avalanche clearings and eventually the openness of Berkeley Park. I took an hour lunch break in the warm sun by the last clump of trees in Berkeley Park, then skied up to the saddle, carried across, and skied into Granite Creek Park. Once there, I had to decide whether to try for 3rd Burroughs from the 2nd-3rd saddle (the way I have always done it), or more directly by crossing Granite Creek Park and climbing up the little N-facing pocket glacier under 3rd Burroughs. Snow conditions had never encouraged me to try the latter before, but they seemed good this day so that's what I did. By this time on such a sunny day, snow on all aspects had softened, and the N-facing slopes were in good shape for climbing with my waxless skis.
I took a little tour around double-topped 3rd Burroughs, skiing over to look down a nice slope which drops toward Glacier Basin, and watched little ants going up and down Interglacier before going to the true summit and finding a warm rock on which to have another lunch. And a nap. It was so pleasant (a big contrast to 5 days earlier) that I stayed for 2 hours, starting down at 4pm. The ski down into Granite Creek Park was pretty good; on the pocket glacier the snow was actually excellent (2-3'' softened), but I had chosen to bring my narrow skis (Karhu XCD) for their speed, not their ability to carve, and it showed a bit. Nice gliding traverse back around Granite Creek Park, up to saddle, and a great run down into Berkeley Park. Near the top of that run, on beautifully consolidated dusty snow, Andy's and my turns from 5 days earlier now stood a foot above the snowpack as pure white arcs.
Going down Lodi Creek was mostly a glide on snow which was already cooling and firming up, with several sections of turning through glades, when doubt and uncertainty set in about the Dark Forest section. I know this section pretty well now, but if it hadn't been for my marks, I still wouldn't have been sure. But there they were, 4 parallel white lines in the dirty snow saying "here", a very welcome sight. A traversing climb led to Cold Basin saddle, where I decided to ski the short distance into the upper meadows of Cold Basin, and found complete tranquility. Pure blue sky, 6 o'clock sun on the dark green trees, a gentle breeze, and the only sound to be heard was bird song - I didn't want to leave. But I also didn't want to be skiing after dark, so I skied up to the S tip of Grand Park (somewhat unpleasant due to tight trees), then back across it. The snow had softened so it was not as fast as the frozen morning snow, but it still wasn't bad. Entering the forest fringe for the drop down to the unnamed creek, I scored a direct hit on the best run down - 400' of glades with the most perfect turning of the trip. To my surprise, the creek bed was so well filled with smooth, fast snow that it was possible to ski right down it as far as necessary, avoiding sections of bumpy forest snow. Even the last section of forest, from Lake Eleanor to the road, was largely skiable due to the smooth snow in glades. Got to the car at 8:45, which made it a 14 hour day. My measurements on a 7.5 min quad suggested about 9 miles and 4000' to 3rd Burroughs, with another 1000' or so on the way back."