With a 4000'+ snow level forecast, we headed for Mount Rainier. We skied from Paradise up Mazama Ridge last April. Today we decided to go back to Mazama via the Narada Falls trailhead. Gary has done this trip a number of times but it was my first. The trailhead is at about 4600'. It was midway between lightly raining and snowing. The first half mile is through trees up to the road. Not too bad skiing up but requiring a bit of skill to descend. From the road we turned right heading towards Reflection Lakes. The snow was much more consolidated than I was expecting. A WTA report from only a few days earlier noted thigh deep snow. Skiing south on the road was a breeze. When the road turns east the conditions changed. Snow covers the road at a steep angle. Steep enough that I looked right at times and could not see the bottom of the slope. Hmm... so this is an easy road tour. This went on for a considerable distance then leveled out. We skied on to and across Reflection Lakes and to the Louise Lake overview. After the lakes there were no tracks at all. That was a nice treat at such a popular spot.
Now the work began. We began ascending up the ridge through meadows and forest. The route was great even with touring skis and no skins. The snow was very well consolidated and made for good climbing. As we rose up Mazama Ridge we moved into the clouds. Visibility dropped dramatically. Further up the ridge we met snowshoe and ski tracks coming up from the Paradise Road. This would be our route home. The ridge is a great place for ski touring. We continued higher following the obvious tracks. A group of skiers passed us heading down the ridge. It was nice to have seen so few people on the way up. The visibility continued to decline. I had a tough time sees ahead as the snow and sky blended together. It was a battle stayng on my feet as small dips were tough to notice. At the end of the ridge it was time for lunch before the descent. Thankfully, the wind was light making lunch very enjoyable.
I had planned to ski back down the ridge to where it rapidly descends to the road. From there I was going to snowshoe back to the car. The combination of lack of visibility and lack of skill convinced me I was better off snowshoeing all the way back. Gary had a chance to practice telemark turns on the gentle slopes and I had the chance to avoid lots of bruises. Thanks to the existing snowshoe tracks the way down was fairly easy. I still had trouble seeing them right in front of me at times. As we descended visibility improved rapidly. When we met up with our ascending tracks we turned right and followed the well used track down. On snowshoes the steep descent to the road was fun. From the road it was only another half mile to the Narada trailhead.
For a late season trip the conditions were very good. 225 inches of snow is very impressive. It makes for some great touring.