Mazama Ridge

So far this winter I had managed one ski trip and Gary had been on two. We were bound and determined to get back on our skis at least one more time. The day before I had been in rain on the Kendall Lakes Road until about 3300'. In an effort to find some snow we decided on Mazama Ridge. Just to be safe we also brought snowshoes in case the snow was lousy. Saturday had brought 4" of snow on top of the foot or so a week earlier. Before that there was some bare pavement on the Paradise Valley Road. We arrived at Longmire at 9:15 to find that the road was still gated. At least that meant there was new snow. At 10:10 the gate was opened and we headed up to Paradise. While we knew that the snow was way below normal it was still shocking to see. The park radio message stated that Paradise had 100" less than on the same date a year ago. With so few places possible to ski the hard core skiers showed up. Not a huge crowd but not bad either.

As we prepared to get started Gary discovered one of his adjustable poles was broken. The end of one half had come loose and was hopelessly wedged at the bottom of the other. I suggested we snowshoe instead but Gary was determined to ski under any circumstances. We headed across the parking lot with Gary set for a day of "unipoling". As we put on our skis it suddenly occurred to me to suggest we try the handy dandy repairer of broken outdoor equipment - duct tape. Back we went to the car and 10 minutes later Gary had one seriously taped up pole. I doubt a weld would be any stronger than that tape job. It was just as solidly held together at the end as when we began.

Now for the trip. The snow was great. There wasn't much of it but the 4-6 inches over a tiny bases was terrific for skiing. It was a little slow but that was fine with me. It was in the low 20s and very windy when we began. As we skied down the road the wind was right in our faces. My ears were about numb in no time and my face was nearly frozen. But the snow was great so why quibble. Our route was not that long so we took plenty of time to photograph that white stuff we had seen so little of this winter. At one point my pole hit hard pavement and I realized that the snow was only about 3 inches thick. Still there were no bare spots on the road.

When we reached the spot where the trail goes up and over the ridge to Reflection Lake we stopped. There was zero avalanche danger on the road so we had a choice. The trail went up and the summer road switchbacked down. We went straight ahead on a short cut road. This is one section that I had not skied before. A couple skiers had passed us early and their tracks ahead were the only other ones on any of the routes. The snow managed to get even thinner. In places we had to step over rocks and some brush. Truly strange conditions for mid February at Paradise. At one point we could look down on the nearly bare parking area for Narada Falls. A little more rock avoiding and we met back up with the main road. The rest of the day we had no more problems with rocks and bare ground.

We finally moved out of the wind and it became much more comfortable. Nearing Reflection Lake we passed nearly a dozen snowshoers who appeared to have camped overnight. With the night time low in the mid teens they had a real winter experience. The lake was snow covered but I would not trust it enough to ski on it. With our late start it was already past noon and a good place for lunch. The sun even came out and it felt down right balmy for 26 degrees. It took a matter of seconds before the camp robber jays arrived.

On my two previous trips to the lake we had skied on past it and then headed up Mazama Ridge. There was not enough snow to attempt that route this time. Instead we followed the summer trail. An obvious track was present making the route easy to follow. Gary and I are somewhat unique in that unlike everyone else we saw with fat skis and climbing skins we had just skinny edgeless touring skis. With good snow we had no trouble at all ascending the ridge. One group of snowshoers passed us and we met another group at the ridge top. They were the last people we would see until we descended the ridge several hours later. Where the trail dropped back down to the road we headed off up the ridge. Only one set of downhill ski tracks were present.

The next couple of hours were winter ski touring at its absolute best. Part way up we had the one set of tracks. When they ended we had completely untracked fresh snow. We followed the ridge through ups and downs while skirting forest and crossing wide meadows. The peaks of the Tatoosh Range were one moment bathed in bright sunlight and the next moment buried in angry black clouds. We, on the other hand, seemed to be in the middle of an almost perpetual sucker hole. Clouds blew by at high speed while we had blue sky overhead. Periodically we would be hit by snow and then the sun would shine again.

Breaking trail was a lot of fun but also a lot of work. I was feeling some skiing muscles that had not been used since last winter. We traveled to the right side of the ridge and were treated to some more great views. At one point Gary saw the summit through the clouds. I looked and could not see it when it suddenly jumped right out at me. I did not think there was any chance we would see Rainier this day. Now high on the ridge we traveled over to where we hoped to easily find the route back down. Fate was smiling on us as we went right to it. At this point I put on my snowshoes and put my skis on my pack. The route down is a little too steep and forested for my skill level. Gary on the other hand had a chance to finally get some downhill skiing in. He skied and I ran and we were all the way down to the road in no time. On the way we were passed by about 8 folks with shorter fatter skis and a whole lot of skill.

Once on the road my skis went back on and we took care of the final uphill section. We arrived back at the lot just before 4:00 pm. The numbers are not impressive as we skied 6 miles with 1300' of gain. The numbers are also misleading. This is one of the best ski tours around. Even with a pitiful lack of snow it turned out to be a terrific day. There were many people in the area but we saw hardly any of them until the last section of road. If this turns out to be our last ski trip of the year it was at least a very memorable one. I did not take my camera but Gary did. All photos are courtesy of Gary Westerlund.

Upper Road
Paradise Valley
Single Track
Paradise Lodge
Jim Kuresman
 Short Cut Trail
Narada Falls Lot
Rocks Ahead
Bare Slope
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Photo Page 2

Trips - 2005