Mount Rainier-Central Mowich Face 14,411-ft
July 16-18, 2005

The Mowich Glaciers and Face, right and Ptarmigan Ridge, Liberty and Willis Walls can be seen to the left.
Then is not Death at watch
Within those secret waters?
What wants he but to catch

Earth's heedless sons and daughters?

....Edmund Blunden

Jason, Josh, Sky, Hannah, and Phil

I see the Mowich on clear days and it usually takes my breath away, if only for a moment between traffic jams. Still, during those weekdays coming back from work, I am left with one overriding desire, especially on those sunny spring days, and that is, "I want to ski it!" I want to dance with the exposure and face my fears, overcoming them with each knee grinding, mind bashing turn. Only then, you see, would I look up and smile, because I had done it.

Indian Paintbrush are the red flowers. Surrounding those are Lupine.

On Friday, I told my boss I would be seeing him tuesday. Mid saturday after fooling with permits and such, we were faced with the prospect of heaving our loads up to camp. Sky would stay behind and wait for Hannah, a young women who planned to join us for the climbing portion. The rest of us continued up through the spectacular meadows full of every color flower. I would surely be happy to just stay and take it all in, but the pull of the mountain was intoxicating. Like drunkards we drank in the mountain with every step forward, too involved in its minutiae than we should have been. Too many glances. Too much looking through binoculars. And too many thoughts back on my past attempt to ski the Mowich. It was just more fear for the vultures to feed on. By the time I was at camp, I was so full of tension and apprehension that I thought I would just curl up and die.

That night was beautiful and the soft glow of pink washing the upper slopes of Rainier calmed my fears. "No problem," I would say, "It's a joke." Until morning my dreams would be filled with fanciful tales of Men and the Mountain, skis and the almighty edge biting its teeth in with each turn downward.

From camp just below Observation rock, we expected to meet Sky and Hannah, neither of which we had seen thus far. To burn the time we climbed to the top, and gazed as far down the valley as we could for any sight of either of them. No luck and so we returned to camp, relaxed some more and ate before hearing a voice calling out, "Are you guys climbers?"

Louswort, a variety common only to Mount Rainier Park.
Phil hiking around a tarn to a better campsite.
Phil, Sam and Josh and the summit of Observation Rock. Motel 6.

A massive waterfall pouring out the snout of the Mowich Glacier.
Phil commented, "Who is asking?" Before adding, "Are you Hannah?" She was and thought that Sky was ahead. Dropping her pack, she made a made dash up the Ptarmigan ridge, yelling out, "SKYYYYYY!"By the time she returned without him, we were all well on our way into packing our gear and preparing to go. As it turns out, Hannah hadn't met Sky that morning, and didn't know where he was. We figured he would be able to find his own way (we surmised that the skier she had saw wasn't him, because he didn't have skins) and so after everyone was ready, we ascended slightly higher, to about 8200-ft, before dropping down to the Mowich Glacier.
I present without further aduei, THE MOUNTAIN PEACOCK.
Slumber Party.
At least she doesn't complain about her feet Sky, unlike you. Home away from home.

At the glacier, we could now see Sky halfway up. Jokingly we had admitted that it would be funny to see him there, knowing that his smug expression would be reflected back. Yells of, "Aurgh, there he is," couldn't be helped. After the joys associated with jumbled volcanic rocks and dust, we were starved for water, especially after a 1000-ft of it. Once I had poured a good deal of it out of my shoes and put my ski boots on, I wondered carefully over to a stream. Between folds of blue ice, carved like a fountain, cold spring water leapt from its prison and threw itself down a deep cavity into the depths of the glacier. Earlier I had seen the culmination of all of these streams rushing over cliffs that ring the terminus, creating a waterfall that is eye candy enough for any man to take pause and appreciate the forces of nature.

After we ascended the glacier to a 9100-ft camp, we had plenty of time to bask in the heat, and watch the debris rain down either side of our island. It was hard not to suddenly be startled from a near slumber by a bigger than usual splat, many of which labored on and on throughout the day. By dinner there was more calm and by sunset there was enough to finally let down your guard and surrender to sleep.

With morning my apprehension had returned, even though I was feeling strong. From our camp we traversed around an icefall whose towers gave pause, if only for a moment before any realization of their toppling over was imagined. Debris from the icefall between the Edmund's Headwall and the Central Mowich had already left a swath of glacier covered in its wreckage. Once we were by this, we were able to start ascending the face. By then the headlamps could be stored and since that needed to be done, a break and water were also taken.

Alpenglow on the Mowich Glacier.
Alpenglow on the Mowich Headwall.

Josh on the Mowich Face waiting for me to take a photo. Here it is.

Next we crossed the bergschrund at over 10,000-ft, making long traverses back and forth to conserve energy. At that point our group was beginning to split and Sam was complaining of some intestinal issues and didn't think that he would be able to keep up. I kept looking down until I couldn't see him any longer. Josh was above me and I told him to just go straight up the face, which wasn't any easier due to the snow hardening. While being perfect conditions for climbing, the ski was another consideration entirely. A battle was brewing in my head about risk and return, and the overall long-term success of a short-term strategy. Basically I didn't want to die, just to say I had skied something. As I climbed up even harder snow towards only steeper and more exposed snow and ice (as if that mattered at that point), I chose the conservative route over the uncertainty that climbing to the top would surely guarantee. Plus I didn't want to position myself at the top with only my skis and thousands of feet of vertical between me and the bottom. I would then be set to go for it, as I am a much better skier than climber. Just then a rock whizzed by within millimeters of Josh's head. Fuck it! As soon as we reached Sky, Phil and Hannah I voiced my apprehension and Phil and Josh both remained with me. Sky went ahead both because he had to get Hannah to the summit and because he had more faith than us. I can't tell you how close I was to just going for it, especially after watching a 20 year old girl (umm WOMAN) soloing up the face towards the upper variation (huge respect for that BTW). As it would turn out, we would all have copious amounts of time to fight our demons while we faced the cold night and day before the sun thankfully blanketed our icy hell. This woke us up and also illuminated our restful worries with a reality looking more prosperous by the minute. At that point I did regret not going, but the wind brought me back to reality and the glaze reflecting off the face higher up to the foolhardiness.

I took cautious turns all the way down the face, taking only one opportunity to take a photo near the very bottom. After that I didn't risk another shot thinking that I would have more joy milking my turns than I would taking pictures.

Looking back up. Debris from the icefall.

Below the bergschrund, we crossed the avalanche debris and stopped to take a photo of the towering serac's that we had earlier passed. Just then Phil commented that he saw someone on the upper face, possibly down climbing. He wasn't sure because he was moving slow and on the wrong part of the face. After a few moments we realized that it was Sky. Phil and Josh skied further down and I pulled out my camera in order to get a better look. Using my elbow, I steadied the camera and focused in. As he came into view my heart leapt as I saw him make a turn, then another. Only the slight spray of ice crystals marked each turn. A plane buzzed by for the second time, very near him. He was still there...another turn, another. He's at the variation, just above where Ben, Josh and I had turned around four years back. This was the crux and the moment that separated his going for it clouded my vision and my shaking didn't help me see him through the camera. Will he go? Yes! A sudden push and dash forward put him below the variation. "Way to go man," was all I said. I didn't know what else to say, as it was one of the most hair raising things I have ever watched. One moment I likened it to was watching a guy leap from a 180 cliff called Sugarloaf, down into the waters of Deep Lake, an experience that severed his spinal cord. Sky's situation was much more perilous, but each turn lower, I was set more and more at ease. Once he reached our turn around point, I decided to ski down to camp.

I didn't know how to feel at that point. I had really wanted to ski the face, as it was number one on my list of descents. Still my anticipation of putting myself in the same situation as 4 years ago (where we had skied down in very icy conditions) wasn't something that I wanted to do. Sometimes going back to a demon you think you know is worse than the unknown. I was glad that a friend was able to ski the face, get to the bottom and tell me about it. Now I don't have to go back.

Josh skiing by the huge seracs.
Phil skiing by with a lower F-stop. I should've kept the first. Sky is in the middle of this photograph above the center cliffs.

Several minutes later Sky reached camp in a clumsy manner. Josh yelled, "At least you weren't like that on the face!"

Sky could only say, "Oh man, I'm retiring. I don't know where to go from here." He further commented that, "This wasn't skiing, this was a descent." The mountain peacock had his feathers ruffled a few times. He described his error of making a wrong turn on the variation, and his sketchy turn into the chute above there where it took him 15-ft to stop.

After all this excitement, the ski down the glacier was dull in comparison, but at least the water was just as pleasant and satisfying because the long scramble back up the talus would need every bit of motivation. Since my knees where still aching from a few weeks back, I wore my boots all the way to Observation Rock, where I was able to piece together snow down to a muddied lake, which captures most of the runoff. Sky and Josh must have regretted walking while Phil and Sam where glad they had skied. This didn't gain us any time. Both Josh and Sky hiked by and we didn't see them again until the car.

The way we came. You can see our camp on the upper left hand corner. Another shot of Sky and the route.

The meadows looked ever prettier. I regret not taking any more photos of them, but the pull of the car and food, sleep and freedom from my pack were all the more pressing at the moment. My memory will have to serve me well and you'll just have to get up there and see this precious place for yourself.

Finally the trip was over. A long weekend, a challenging climb and ski, and a fantastic show of bravado from Sky who pulled off what we weren't willing to do. Thanks for the show Sky and thanks to everyone else who came, especially Hannah who had to deal with our crews sour language and fanciful tales. I would also like to add one more thought though. Today in traffic I caught sight of Rainier and the Mowich while stuck in traffic. It seems I still dream of my skis dancing down its face - and - maybe that's all I'll ever do. For now that's close enough to reality for me...

HOME Conac sunset.