Home > Trip Reports > May 9, 2010, Mt Rainier, Turtle and Wilson Glacier

May 9, 2010, Mt Rainier, Turtle and Wilson Glacier

WA Cascades West Slopes South (Mt Rainier)
Posted by Amar Andalkar on 5/10/10 5:49pm
After two straight days of unexpectedly amazing snow conditions on the south side of Rainier (see previous TRs, ), it was only logical to head back there one more time to try to close out the weather window in style. We had strongly considered heading down to Mt St Helens for Mother's Day, but in the end we settled on the Turtle as our objective. The long snowfield located below Camp Hazard on the standard approach to the Kautz Glacier route, the Turtle extends above the Wilson Glacier from about 9500 to 11500 ft, with a broad open slope of 30-35 degrees forming an excellent ski slope in a stunning location. The Turtle and Camp Hazard have normally been the highest points on Mount Rainier which could be legally accessed without getting a climbing permit, although it appears that the rangers would now prefer that parties register and pay the fee since these locations are well above 10000 ft -- best to check and make sure.

The Nisqually and Wilson Glaciers, with the Turtle rising beyond, as seen from Glacier Vista. (click for double-size version)

After chatting with the rangers at the Guide House, our group of three set off just before 10am, skinning up to Glacier Vista and meeting another pair of skiers with the same objective, then informally joining forces for the day. We ripped skins at 6500 ft and skied down the 300 vert to the Nisqually moraine, then re-skinned for the rising traverse across the Nisqually Glacier. Two large groups of Boealps climbers (70+ of them) were practicing crevasse rescue on the first two major sets of open crevasses above 8000 ft, but the traverse across below that was solidly filled-in. We had left glacier gear behind in order to go fast and light, and would not miss it at all today, as the western half of the Wilson Glacier was also very well filled-in. The steep bowls here were an absolute oven in the bright morning sunshine though, but the snow was nicely softened for putting in a steep switchbacking skin track without needing ski crampons. Temps finally cooled off as we reached the more open slopes above the bowls, near 9000 ft, with a SW breeze making it even chilly at times.

Steep skinning on the Turtle, with Goat Rocks (left) and Mt Adams (right) in the distance. (click to enlarge)

Onward and upward we went, swapping trail-breaking duties among the now-five members of our group, generally through 2-4" of increasingly wintry snow. Meanwhile the clouds had begun to build too, casting shadows across the Turtle as we neared 11000 ft. Here the snow became wind-packed and firm, those of us who had ski crampons donned them, and those without soon stopped near 11200 ft. Three of us continued on to 11500 ft, at the highest point on the smooth slope, just about 100 ft below the rocks of Camp Hazard, finding a mix of icy windpack and 4-6" of dense powder on the final steepening slope. Overhead loomed the blue ice of the overhanging Kautz Ice Cliff, but our location was well protected if anything had calved off. It was 3pm, and after nearly 6400 ft of gain from Paradise, it was time to ski.

Skinning the uppermost part the Turtle, with the Kautz Ice Cliff looming above, and an odd ice pedestal at left. (click to enlarge)

With high expectations from the previous two days, the snow on the uppermost Turtle was a disappointment: not bad, but just very average windpack mixed with dense powder, inconsistent and breakable at times, requiring attention and care to avoid a spill, especially in the flat light. Soon the sun returned though, and snow conditions improved as we descended, becoming more and more consistent and consolidated. Much nicer turns as we dropped onto the Wilson near 9500 ft, even proto-corn for some stretches. We soon passed a pair of climbing rangers skinning up on patrol, they were planning to set up camp and hopefully ski the Fuhrer Finger or Thumb (not sure if Monday's weather allowed that).

Carving turns down the Turtle. (click to enlarge)

The last rolls on the Wilson became a bit too soft and slushy, carving deep trenches, but stability remained very good with only the most minor sluffs even on steep rollovers. As we reached the Nisqually, we hit the day's jackpot: nicely consolidated corn, including a long stretch of lovely firnspiegel that I had spied on the way up, just beside the cattle-stampede posthole path of the climbing classes. Absolutely ripper snow here, beautiful turns on a smooth crinkling carpet leading back to the moraine. Our group of three managed to exit out back to Glacier Vista without skins, sidehilling up about 150 vert of rising traverse in the well-softened afternoon snow, said goodbye to the others, and then cruised back to Paradise. Somehow, still no glop or nastiness even on this last stretch to the parking lot, a third straight day of that pleasant surprise.

Best turns of the day: carving up the firnspiegel on the Nisqually Glacier, with the Wilson Glacier and the Turtle looming above.

Another glorious day on Rainier, with fine company, great scenery, and mixed snow conditions ranging from mediocre to magnificent. After 16200 vert in 3 days, the most I've done since last June, I was pretty much beat. It was time to take a breather, and Monday's forecast called for bad weather and more snow! Paradise would end up getting 4" new on Monday morning.

Looking back at the Turtle and upper Kautz Glacier, at day's end from Paradise. (click for double-size version, and also
After 16200 vert in 3 days

Spectacular!  Great reports, you really took advantage of the weather window!  I'll definitely have to keep the turtle in mind.

Care to offer any observations/speculation on Fuhrer Finger conditions?

author=bigeo link=topic=16638.msg69674#msg69674 date=1273634300">
Care to offer any observations/speculation on Fuhrer Finger conditions?

Well, here's a high-res zoomed photo from that day of Fuhrer Finger, the upper Nisqually Glacier above it, and the uppermost Wilson Glacier below it. Note the large avalanche crown below the cliffs between the Finger and Thumb:

(click to enlarge)

I really have no idea what snow conditions in the Finger might be, since another storm dumped nearly 1 foot more snow on Monday. I skied Ingraham Direct yesterday, and snow conditions were horrible breakable crust between 12500 and 11200 ft on a mostly ESE aspect, but better below that. The upper Nisqually Glacier and Finger face mostly SSE above 10500 ft (and south below that), so conditions may be similar to that (or may not).

Thanks Amar. Your  pics are a big help. As for snow conditions, we'll likely be finding out on Saturday.

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Amar Andalkar
2010-05-11 00:49:11