Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Photo Essay of the Week #3 - Dan vs Randonee

Adorned with bruised knuckles and screaming hip flexors,  I write this blog with the incessant reminder that I am no longer in my 20's.  Once again, Mount Rainier has served yet another healthy portion of humble pie.  I am all too familiar with the taste.

Not quite a month ago, I finally made the decision to invest in a randonee set up.  I happened to luck out on a set of practically brand new Mount Bakers, mounted with Fritschi Freeride bindings for a screaming deal.  Finally, I could take my beacon, shovel and probe out of storage and justify their existence in the backcountry. 

After giving them ample warning that I had not strapped on a pair of ski's since I was about 14, my friends still agreed to drag me into the backcountry for some touring.  Since Rainier was pretty familiar territory for all of us, and the tour up to Muir is relatively mellow we thought it best to keep it breezy and give it a go.

Grant Domer takes a look at the gathering lenticular clouds on Rainier's summit.
Paradise was a bit socked in.  But just enough blue bled through the clouds to give us hope that sunny skies waited for us.  That is, if we were willing to put in a little work for it.  We made excellent time as we cruised up to Panorama Point.  Though when the snow quickly turned to windswept hardpack, I decided to pack my skies and kick some steps.  Hey, I've got nothing to prove. 

After a quick top out, we stood above the swirling mass of grey and reveled in the sunshine.  This lasted for about fifteen minutes.  The clouds, not quite ready to give us up to the sunshine that easily, wrapped us in its cold embrace and squeezed.

Within moments, our visibility was reduced to a few meters while a gentle drizzle turned the snow into a sheet of wet plastic.  At that moment, it was quite clear that we were boned.  Wanting to get back to the car in haste, we began a speedy descent.  Well, as speedy as a guy who hasn't been on skis in over twenty years can be.

When we finally made it back to Panorama, it was once again time to pack my skis and kick steps.  Only this time, every step took two to three swings to penetrate the bullet-like husk that covered the 40 degree slope.  Without crampons, it was slow going at best.  And without and ax, the only way to gain purchase with my hands was to punch through with a thinly gloved hand.  It was akin to punching a hole through sheetrock, about 115 times in a row.   (yeah, I know.  lesson learned.) 

Eventually we made it back.  Naturally, we landed at the nearest dive bar for some three dollar beers.  As I sat there with my friends, I smiled and thought how much better IPA's really are when they're earned.

Sean Collon revels in the calm before the storm

Sean scopes his line before heading down Panorama Point.
Grant Domer skins it back for his descent.
Grant readies the harpoon.


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