Mazama Ridge MRNP (Feb 21, 2015)

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mazama_ridge_coverConditions: day hike
Gear: snowshoes
Map: USGS Mount Rainier East
Area: Paradise, Mount Rainier National Park
Reference: Snowshoe Routes Washington
Stats: 4.16mi, 1130' gain (round trip)

This year is weird...just plain weird. There is just so little snow. February is usually the best time of the year for winter trips since there is tons of snow, it is usually pretty well consolidated, the days are longer/sunnier/warmer. But this year...there just isn't a lot of snow. Below about 7000' it's a small percentage of normal. Trips that are normally snow covered this time of year are bare dirt and summer routes are possible. With it already time to mow the lawn this year (twice so far since mid February), my crocuses and rhodies are blooming, and neighbors flowering plums and cherries already full of blooms...I needed to see some snow. So I figured I'd head down to Rainier. A long drive but and easy trip.

I had grand plans to head up Mazama Ridge and then head over to Cowlitz Rocks. I'd seen a recent trip report from a hiker who did a loop out of Paradise. So off I headed early in the morning. The weather forecast called for sun, and temps just about freezing. But that same forecast also called for winds (up to about 25mph) after about 11am. Overnight the area was expected to get a few inches of new snow. I arrived at the gate (`2800') just after 9am and no surprise, it was open. The road was snow free and dry. There wasn't even any snow on the side of the road. I carried chains but then I always do that during winter to avoid being turned back. Up the road I headed and passed the parking area for Narada Falls which doesn't have much old snow in the area and probably hasn't been plowed in some time (no need to). I crossed over the Nisqually and it was here, on the shaded road, that there was a tad bit of patchy ice. Not bad though with good traction tires. I arrived at the Paradise parking area along with several dozen skiers. The parking area looked to have melted out the previous day and then froze overnight. Microspikes came in handy just getting out of the parking area without a slip/fall.

I followed the closed road out of Paradise (5400'). It is not plowed in the winter but with so little snow and lots of traffic, I didn't need my snowshoes right away. I walked the road downhill around the big turn until just after the creek crossing (.73mi, 5240'). Here I dropped my pack and finally put the snowshoes on. I headed uphill (looked like several skiers had already headed uphill but I couldn't find a snowshoe track. Hmm...looks like I'd be breaking trail. The snow here wasn't deep...maybe only about 4 feet. I could see dirt in the middle of the tree wells. For the most part I tried to stay out of the skiers track. I followed the summer trail pretty closely and reached the ridge at 1.4mi (5780'). From here I headed north along the ridge. Up on the ridge the new snow seemed deeper (6-8 inches maybe) and as the sun heated up the snow even with snowshoes on I'd sink 8' or so. Not too bad, but tiring when I didn't have help breaking a trail.

Sure enough the weather forecast was spot on. I had the blue sky and sun I expected. I also got the winds. A few gusts I turned my back to. I was "hoping" there would be other snowshoers out to help break trail but no luck. I wasn't too keen on breaking a trail all the way out to Cowlitz Rocks so I ended up wandering around and then settled behind some trees to take a break for lunch. The views along the way of Rainier...just incredible. The route out was the same as the route in with the exception of cutting a few switchbacks in the trail...I had to take a short sprint downhill a couple of times...gotta love Spring snow conditions...

The drive back down to Longmire was completely melted out. The few patches of snow/ice were nearly gone by afternoon.
Mazama Ridge Slideshow


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Copyright Janet M. Putz
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