Associated trip report: I had done a summer overnighter to this area for five years in a row until last year, when the snow quality didn't justify it, so was glad to be able to resume the tradition. I had just a bivy and no stove, since there is running water everywhere, and waxless skis and lightweight leather boots. It was sunny on the hike in, though cool in the forest until getting into the meadows of Spray Park. Continuous snow now does not start until the top of Spray Park, and I started skiing at the cliffs overlooking Mist Park, going east over the high point of the Spray Park trail and then crossing rocks/heather to get onto the gentle snowfields to the north of Echo Rock. I traversed southeast up to 7000' and found a nice place to camp among big boulders on the edge of the Russell Glacier. A nice waterfall about 100' below supplied my water.
After setting up camp and getting water, I lazed in the sun for a while, taking in the views and listening to the nearly constant booms and clatter of rockfall from the north face. I was startled by a loud clunk of rock behind me, and turned to find a mountain goat only about 30' away. Apparently the goat was also startled to see me, and it bolted before I could get the camera out.
This trip usually represents the transition for me from strenuous spring ski trips to more relaxing mountain outings, and I found myself with a strong desire to just sit around and soak up the scenery. After a while, though, I got motivated, put a few necessaries in my pack, and skied under the north side of Echo Rock, then up and west across the Flett Glacier to its western high point on Ptarmigan Ridge. Stashing the skis, I hiked over to the edge of the cliffs overlooking the North Mowich Glacier and sat around for a while soaking up more scenery. Although the day had been sunny, the air was very hazy with marine moisture and fog began flowing across upper Ptarmigan Ridge, slowly making its way down toward my elevation, as sign that I had better get skiing while I could still see.
Back at my skis, I installed the cables on my 3-pin bindings to turn my wimpy leather/fabric boots into supercharged performance machines, and started down a narrow finger of the Flett which descends between moraines to the west of Cat-Eye Lake (no old tracks here, unlike the main Cat-Eye Lake run). This run consists of a series of rolls connected by flats or, in one case, a depression. The first roll was pretty steep, very smooth, and perfect corn. For the second roll I had to climb west a bit to get to the top. This roll was very steep - definitely the steepest I have skied in these boots - and also very good snow. The snow became somewhat more suncupped as I skied down to the bottom of the run, where I was able to traverse around under the Cat-Eye Lake moraine and join the main Flett run. There was still enough snow to ski back up to the bottom of the eastern Flett with only a couple of short carries (avoiding climbing up the steeper Cat-Eye Lake run), and from there I skied up between Echo and Observation to get on the Russell at about 7800'. From there it was a quick ski on nice snow back to camp, where I could resume relaxing. As the sun got lower the fog settled down, and I was treated to a very nice sunset on the upper mountain. I awoke several times during the night to see a very bright Milky Way Galaxy.
The morning was sunny and warm, inviting more lazing around camp. The marine fog layer had settled down overnight but was pushing east, and during the morning began making its way into the Carbon River valley and up toward the mountain. Eventually I started skiing up the Russell Glacier, where the snow got better and better, except for occasional areas of grit-filled depressions. Crevasses are still minimal, especially along the western side. I really wanted to get a close look at Rainier's north face, and found a snow saddle at 9200' which gave a good view, although by now clouds had enveloped the upper mountain. I skied back down to the Russell, then over to the same high point as on our trip last week, about 9200' right on Ptarmigan Ridge. Our white 6-day old turns were now standing 8-10" above the surrounding brown snow. From there I did a 2600' run down to the bottom of the Russell, following a line to skier's left of our previous run which avoided the areas of grit-filled depressions. Below about 7000' suncups made the skiing a little less good, but unlike recent years runnels were pretty much non-existent.
Back at camp I packed up and skied down the gentle snowfields north of Echo Rock. As I came around one corner I startled a group of a dozen mountain goats which had been relaxing on the snow, and got to see how fast they can move. With one carry over the rock/heather band I was still able to ski back to the Spray Park trail (barely - lots of melting in just 24 hours).
As Bud pointed out in his recent TR, the steep Observation Rock headwall is still looking good for those who like that run: totally filled in with no rock islands showing. The Cat-Eye Lake run below that is pretty tracked up, but there are still other good runs on the Flett. Below about 7000' the snow is getting suncupped, though should still provide good skiing on warm days. Continuous snow is gone between the bottom of the Flett runs and the Spray Park trail, and the skis-on heather traverses are getting pretty long.