Norse Peak

Saturday was an incredibly warm sunny day and we took advantage by snowshoeing north of Mt. Baker. Sunday was forecast to be another unusually warm clear winter day. We had to get out again. This time Suzanne and Sadie came along plus Suzanne's friend Kelly. The drive to Crystal Mountain is much shorter and I was able to "sleep in" until 6:00 AM. Bob and Kolleen were going to meet us at Crystal. We arrived in the rapidly filling parking lot at a little after 9:00 AM. With a few phone calls we managed to find Bob and Kolleen.

I have done Norse Peak twice in the winter. It is a steep climb to the ridge crest then a mile long up and down ridge walk to the summit. On my last visit in 1995 there were no groomed snoboard roads on the north side of the valley. This time it was much different. We headed up right behind the chapel. I recalled snowshoeing an old road then going into the forest, crossing a creek, and breaking out onto open slopes to the ridge crest. It is different now.

We headed up and immediately reached a groomed road. A number of groomed road criss cross the area. We continued to take the uphill choices. At one point we came across the trail sign for Bullion Basin and Silver Creek. The road was so hard that snowshoes were not even close to being needed. After gaining about 550' we had a clear view of steep open slopes above. There were some ski turns carved in the snow. It looked steep and hard but it also looked like the slope I recall taking on my previous trips.

After a short discussion we chose to leave the road and head for the slope. We followed a track through forest and soon it steepened. We put on snowshoes, more for traction than flotation. It was rock hard even off the groomed road. We popped out of the forest and began the climb. Bob, Kolleen, and I have MSR shoes and we flipped up the televator bars. They made a huge difference reducing calf strain in this climb. I remember the open slopes but I do not remember 1600' of straight up climbing. Oh well...

The climbing was slow and steady. For the most part we had good grip. The parking lot came into view and slowly got smaller and smaller. With the blue sky and bright white snow the lighting was excellent. It was a chore to take out my camera on the steep slope but I managed to get in quite a few photos. The slope was in the sun and we heated up real fast. The slope was very steep at the bottom then gentler then steep again at the top. I would guess it was 25 -35 degrees. As always it felt much steeper than it really is.

As we neared the top the wind began to blow. We stopped in some trees for food and water. Once on the move again it did not take long to reach the top. Wow! We came over the lip and into a meadow below the actual ridge top. Great views of Mt. Adams and well as most of Mt. Rainier. Rainier came into view part way up and more and more came into sight as we ascended. We crossed the meadow and got up onto the ridge itself. We saw a high hump on the ridge ahead.

It is one mile from where we reached the ridge top to Norse Peak. The hump looked too close but we headed off towards it. The ridge walk is one of the best. Much better in winter than summer. The brush is buried and the views are terrific. The ski area was crammed with many hundreds of skiers but we were all alone on the ridge top. We had a few ups and downs before we topped out on the hump. Farther down the ridge was the unmistakeable summit of Norse Peak. Not quite there yet.

Kelly chose to remain on this false summit and enjoy the views. It was only 175' lower than Norse. To get there we had to first drop to a saddle and then climb back up. Norse blocked views due north but otherwise the false summit had outstanding views. Of couse I had a good look at Mt. Stuart again. Mt. St. Helens also rose above surrounding ridges.

After a quick bite to eat we headed on down the ridge. The snow here was thin and it was a little tricky. Bob and Kolleen took off their snowshoes for the down climb and Suzanne and I managed to climb on down with them. There was almost no cornice on the east side making our walk much safer. I felt a second wind and went out ahead. We crossed Scout Pass and began the final climb.

The ridge climb was pretty easy. In a few places I had to work through some forest but for the most part it was in the open. The snow was still pretty hard and I could stay ahead without tiring. We did stop continuously to take photos. How often do you get bright sun and blue sky on the Cascade Crest in January? We soon topped out on the summit of Norse. We saw a few ski tracks part way along but none on the final climb. The summit view is fantastic. Norse is one of the few viewpoints where all five Washington volcanos are visible. We could see up to Mt. Baker where we were the day before.

The rest of lunch was finished and many photos taken from the summit. All to soon we had to head back. The return was mostly downhill and much faster. We covered the roughly half mile back to Kelly in only 16 minutes. Rather than climb back up the tougher section to the top of the false summit we contured around and met Kelly on the other side. The ridge walk back to where we first reached the ridge top was fast and enjoyable. I hated to have to go down.

We were a little nervous about the slope down. How much had it softened up. We hoped to be able to plumge step and hopefully glissade down. Snowshoes definitely were not the way to go. We packed up our snowshoes and headed down. The snow had just softened enough to give good footing without being too soft. We managed to get in three good glissades. The longest on was about 375 vertical feet. The best one was shorter but much faster. We made very good time coming down the open slope.

We found our tracks at the bottom heading into the forest. Somewhere along the way we lost them and went too far to the right. We ended up needing to cross a creek in a deep gully. Some ski tracks led to a more gentle spot where we were able to cross. I recalled this creek from my other winter ascents but we never saw it on the way up. Soon we were back on groomed road and that quickly led to the bottom. The crowd of skiers milliing around the base was amazing. Hundreds all together. I was glad for the solitude we enjoyed all day.

What an incredible weekend. A sunny day for a climb of Mazama Dome on Saturday and another sunny day for Norse Peak. It was fun to return to an old favorite after a dozen years. The ridge walk was every bit as much fun as I remembered it. The views were incredible. The descent was fast and the glissades were a blast. We took 3 1/2 hours to summit Norse and 1:35 to come down. That was five hours very well spent.

Shady At The Start
Across Valley
Ski Area
Open Slope Above
Bottom Of Slope
Gentler Slope
Suzanne & Kelly
On and On...
Sadie On The Run
Rainier Is In Sight
Climbing Higher
Top In Sight
Rainier Improving
False Summit
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Photo Page 2

Trips - 2007