By Kyle Miller
Fryingpan Creek is another major drainage on Rainier’s northeastern side that is filled with open alpine, steep chutes, and old growth tree skiing. The plan was simple: Boot and I would break trail up the Sarvant Glacier and return the next day and go from there. Whatever we did, it was going to be awesome. Two years earlier I did a circumnavigation tour in the area and had such a blast that I was stoked to see it again.
It had been months since either of us had been on White River road, and there were no signs of anyone else as we rode in over two feet of fresh snow. It was obvious that the moment we lost momentum we would have to dig the snowmobiles out, so we started a mile and a half down the road from Fryingpan Creek. The old growth in the area was amazing and complex, skinning around trees bigger then 10 feet in width. Three hours later, we got our first glimpse of alpine conditions and more specifically one of the Cowlitz Chimneys.
The scenery was out of this world with glacier-carved features. Having three separate cirques to choose from, it would have been a perfect spot to base camp out of.
The weather was quiet with a little bit of wind and a trace of blue skies. We were in Rainier’s rain shadow, which was a welcome situation while other areas were socked in. We traded off breaking trail up the glacier in over a foot of unconsolidated new snow, making it to a low col in the early afternoon.
Once on the col the clouds started moving in (funny how that always works) and we had to make a decision, should we push on or turn around and call it a day? We decided to head up to the Cowlitz Chimney col in hopes that it would clear up enough that we could check the terrain out.
After a hour of waiting for the clouds to clear to no avail, we decided to turn around and head back. Instead of dropping in off the mellow col we skinned up, we went for a more aggressive face that gave us more options on the descent. Once arriving we could see the White River Road and Fryingpan Creek in the distance. It’s funny how short everything looks when you are looking down on it.
The conditions were everything expected and more. There was a fear of potential slabs, but other then the minor sluff it was stable so we enjoyed effortless pow turns down the huge open face. I was stoked and went for a sporty couloir.
I had originally noticed it on the way up the Sarvant and just knew that it had to be skied. I carefully rode over to the line and spotted the entrance before dropping in. While looking up it I had guessed it was 20 feet wide, but upon entering it became apparent it was half the size. The snow was soft and manageable—other then a small rock I snagged—then it was smooth sailing down the two-mile apron and the not-so-smooth Wright Creek decent. It was a great day and we were looking forward to another day of the same.
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