Central Mowich, Elevation 14,410ft
July 12-14, 2001
Ben, Jason, Josh
In case you haven't heard the hype Rainier's Mowich Face was skied in 1997 by a group of hardcores. I don't know all the details but here is a blip I read from Powder, Volume 29, No 1:
"Agoraphobia: fear of open spaces. No edges to hug, no rocks to hide behind. Rainier's Mowich Face starts with a 30-degree pitch, then turns to a solid 55-degree sustained face for 3,200 feet. Presumably skied twice, both times were, of course, by Andrew McLean and his friends."
Solid 55-degree sustained face for 3,200 feet? No wonder it's only been skied twice.
The route they skied is more accurately known as Edmunds Headwall and the description given in Powder is a hoax. From what I've seen and heard elsewhere, the crux involves approximately 500 vertical feet of 45-50+ degrees. It begins from the ridge at around 12,500ft. The lower portion of the face is 30-40 degrees on terrain that I might consider claustrophobic after having skied the NFNWR on Adams several times.
The Hummels and I headed up there to clear things up. We were hoping to ski an even knarlier line known as Central Mowich. Our line is a couple thousand feet north of Edmunds Headwall and from what we could tell, there was no need to exagerate.
Mowich Face at sunset from our camp on Ptarmigan Ridge. Our climb is in red and our ski descent is in green. The Edmunds Headwall route is seen in blue.
We had hoped to get up there a few weeks earlier but the road to Mowich Lake didn't open on schedule (late June). The weather and snow conditions would have been perfect but we ended up doing a Goat Rocks Traverse. We returned to find a new scheduled opening date of July 18-19. That was too late so we decided to go for it the following week.
Getting started proved to be twisted as usual. The Hummels drove down from Bellingham to meet me at my place at 6am. I went sailing with some friends of mine the previous evening and didn't get to bed until after midnight. They were still sleeping when the Hummels arrived. I quietly packed and moved outside where we loaded the Sport Truck. I noticed that the Hummels only had one bike. I asked Jason why he didn't bring his and he told me that his derailer was broke. I told him the day before that he wouldn't need to pedal and to just take off his chain but I guess he didn't mind hiking down 5 miles of road. Perhaps he hadn't thought that far ahead.
We left Seattle around 6:30am. Traffic wasn't bad and we made it to HW410 in less than an hour. We stopped at Albertsons for some last minute groceries. I got gas while waiting for the Hummels and finally went in to see if there was anything I needed. I spent awhile shopping for nothing and when I came out the Hummels were both in the cab having breakfast. I didn't notice the canopy.
We continued up HW410 to HW165 and it wasn't long before we hit the gravel. Hit it we did. We drove for another 5-10 miles to the end of the road (beginning of gate). We parked and got out to unload. I went around back and realized that the canopy was open. Our backpacks were all dusty. No biggy. Wait a second. My box!
I remembered stashing a box on top of our backpacks. We looked around for a minute but it didn’t take long to realize that it was gone. It had fallen out somewhere between there and Albertsons. This was midweek and there weren't too many people out so we decided to drive back down to look for it. There was nothing terribly important in it. A loaf of bread, pack of hotdogs, jug of water -- things we could have done without. However, my camelbak was also missing and I would have sucked losing that.
We unloaded some gear and left it with Josh. Jason and I headed down. Jason seemed intent of finding the stuff but he was driving a bit too fast. I told him it wouldn't do any good if we wrecked so he put it in neutral and we coasted even faster. A couple miles down the road we spotted a car headed up. I jumped out and waved them down. Two older ladies told me they passed it a few miles down the road. We continued down, our hopes renewed, until we spotted another car headed up. It was a ranger jeep and I waved him down. I confronted him and he pulled a camelbak out of his stash. Shorts and shirt included. "The rest of it is just down the road," he blushed. Hmm.
We continued down the road and spotted the mess where the pavement turns to gravel. The hotdogs had a few scratches but the rest of it was in good shape. Turns out the Hummels had 4 pops in there that didn't survive. I thought it was funny that the ranger picked up everything but the trash. I doubt that my camelbak would have ever turned up.
We headed back up 5-10 miles to an anxiously awaiting Josh and explained our ordeal. All told, it took about an hour to recover my goods. Another lesson for our history of stupidity.
Wasting an hour turned out to be a good thing. We spent another 30 minutes dividing our gear into 3 heaps. It took another 30 minutes for Josh and I to shoulder ours. Jason started hiking a little ahead because he didn't have to deal with a bike and figured we would catch up. Josh said his pack weighed 75 lbs. Mine was equally heavy because I carried the rope and camera. I'm not a very good judge of weight but I'm sure the acquardness factor added a few pounds.
It took a little adjusting but nothing could remedy the pain in my lower back. For those of you who have never ridden uphill on a gravel road with a heavy pack imagine tying your shoes with a refrigerator strapped to your back. Now change shoes, and again, and again…
The ride was bad. Josh's tires were low which made things even worse. We caught up with Jason after a mile or so and continued for another mile until we heard a strange sound. Sure enough, a ranger truck passed us and continued around the corner. As we rounded the corner one of the rangers came hiking back and asked me what our plans were. I told him we were headed up to ski some of the lower glaciers (we didn't have a climbing permit). Jason came along with the truth and they ended up giving us a ride to the trailhead.
Two of the rangers were planning on climbing Ptarmigan Ridge. A third was there to shuttle. They were cool and even gave us some beta on our intended climb/ski. Apparently a couple rangers had climbed it a few days before and reported that it was in excellent condition. They encountered a 50ft section of ice but most of it was steep consolidated snow. They used 2 pickets and 2 screws for protection. We had 2 pickets and an illusion that we could climb/ski this 50ft section of ice. Perhaps there would be a way around.
The rangers also informed us that they would be opening the road the following day -- a week ahead of schedule. We spared them a few choice words because they spared us 3 miles of agony. Besides, shuttling our truck would be relatively easy with 2 bikes and 5 miles of downhill and we had already beaten the weekend crowds.
We stashed our bikes in the bushes and started hiking trail around 10am. Josh was a little concerned because his bike is worth more than his truck but I assured him that there was nothing to worry about.
The weather wasn't too reassuring. We even felt a few drops of rain.
We made it to Spray Park under mostly cloudy skies. Things started to improve as the clouds broke up and the mountain came into view. There was summit cap but we could see the majority of our route. I wasn't sure what to think.
The Hummels entering Spray Park.
We continued up the trail on a mix of dirt, rock and snow. The trail turned to snow at a saddle between Echo and Observation Rock. We put on our skins there and continued up towards Ptarmigan Ridge. The weather turned nasty when we reached the ridge. Clouds were blowing over from the south and we lost our view. We stopped there to wait out the weather and the rangers caught up. The clouds broke as we left.
Jason skining towards Ptarmigan Ridge.
Josh and Jason continuing up the ridge.
We continued up the ridge to what looked like a good place to traverse. This isn't the standard approach to the Mowich Face and we were beginning to understand why. The base of the face was still several miles away. Getting there involved descending over 1000 vertical feet of scree to the heavily crevassed North Mowich Glacier. Getting down the scree was doable but crossing the glacier with heavy packs and softening snow was just plain stupid. We decided to camp on the ridge.
We looked around for a shelter but didn't find much. There were a few flat spots that we decided to take advantage of. We spent well over an hour moving dirt and rocks but ended up with one of our best camps ever.
Fresh camp on the Ptarmigan Ridge.
We didn't rest as much as we would have liked to. I spent most of my time arranging my gear and taking photos. Melting water was taking time so we found a drip at the base of a small snowpatch that quenched us quicker. We did our best to stuff ourselves with food and drink for the long day ahead.
We packed and readied our gear for an early start. Josh set his alarm watch for 2am. We were all in bed by 9pm.
Jason eyeing the Central Mowich.
Trying to remember a line across the North Mowich Glacier.
Stuffing myself with food and drink.