Skiing the Cascade Volcanoes
        Amar Andalkar's Ski Mountaineering and Climbing Site
Ski Mountaineering Photos & Trip Reports Equipment & Info Cascade Volcanoes Ring of Fire Site Map

Table of Contents | Introduction | Ratings | WebCams | Bibliography | Highest Volcanoes | Snowfall & Snowdepth | Monthly Chart | Conifers | Compare | Distance | Sun Chart
  Lassen Peak
  Mount Shasta
  Medicine Lake Volcano
  Mount McLoughlin
  Pelican Butte
  Crater Lake
  Mount Bailey
  Mount Thielsen
  Diamond Peak
  Newberry Volcano
  Mount Bachelor
  Broken Top
  Three Sisters
  Mount Washington
  Three Fingered Jack
  Mount Jefferson
  Mount Hood
  Mount Saint Helens
  Mount Adams
  Goat Rocks
  Mount Rainier
  Glacier Peak
  Mount Baker
  Mount Garibaldi
  Mount Cayley
  Mount Meager

| Northeast view of Mount Rainier from Crystal Mtn in February;
Emmons Glacier descends straight down from the summit,
with the rocky spire of Little Tahoma at left
(photo by Amar Andalkar)   <click to enlarge>

Mount Rainier
    14411 ft (4392 m)     Highest point in Washington State .
Major Peaks:
Columbia Crest:     14411 ft (4392 m)
Point Success:     14158 ft (4315 m)
Liberty Cap:     14112 ft (4301 m)
Little Tahoma:     11138 ft (3395 m)
Location: Cascade Range, southern Washington,
60 miles (100 km) SE of Seattle
Lat / Long: 46.9° N, 121.8° W
Volcanic Type: Stratovolcano
Volcanic Status: Active, steam emissions at summit;
last eruption in the 1820s
First Ascent: Hazard Stevens and Philemon Van Trump, 1870
First Ski Ascent: Sigurd Hall and Andy Hennig, 1939
First Ski Descent: Dave Roberts, Kermit Bengtson,
Cliff Schmidtke, and Charles Welsh, 1948
Skiable Vertical: over 10400 ft (3200 m),
perhaps 12000 ft (3700 m) is possible
Lift Served Vertical:   former rope tows at Paradise, 1930s-1970s
Timberline: 5500-6500 ft (1700-2000 m)
Administration: Mount Rainier National Park
Protection Status:   much of National Park is administered as wilderness
User Fees: National Park entrance fee (or National Parks Pass);
$30 climbing fee required for all travel above 10000 ft

Mount Rainier is the highest volcano and the most heavily glaciated peak in the contiguous United States. It has been the focus of mountaineering and ski mountaineering activities in the Northwest for much of this century, and is a popular training ground for those planning future Alaskan or Himalayan expeditions. The massive snowfall (averaging nearly 700 inches annually, with a record of 1122 inches) builds a deep and stable snowpack which allows skiing nearly year-round on many areas of the mountain. Although about 5000 people successfully climb Rainier each year, only a few percent of them ski from the summit. The first ski descent of Rainier did not occur until 1948, long after other volcanoes such as Adams and Baker. Many would-be summit skiers are deterred by the crevasse hazard, highly variable ski conditions (often frozen on the summit, with mush down below), and extra effort needed to haul skis above 14000 ft. However, in favorable conditions, the descents from the summit of Rainier via the Emmons, DC, or Fuhrer Finger routes are reasonably safe and extremely enjoyable ski runs. The skiable vertical of well over 10000 feet (3000 m) is the largest in the lower 48 states.

Route Ratings Starting
Quality Effort Ascent Descent
Summit Ski Mountaineering Routes:  
Emmons Glacier /
  Winthrop Glacier

4300 ft
(1300 m)
10100 ft
(3100 m)
16 miles
(26 km)
A classic glacier route, with a more remote feel than the standard DC route. When filled in by heavy snowfall in late spring, this route is surprisingly safe, with minimal hazard from the many deeply-buried crevasses. Superb skiing in the large bowl from 11000-13000 ft, where recent glacial conditions have produced a consistent 30-35 degree pitch (somewhat steeper than the guidebooks say). The bergschrund near 13500 ft may be tricky to cross, and depending on current conditions it may be safer to traverse this area on foot even on the descent. On the way back to the car, the trail below Glacier Basin (5900 ft) is often unskiable after early spring. (See my ski trip report from July 1999 for more details.)
   Cleaver (DC) /
Ingraham Glacier

5400 ft
(1650 m)
9000 ft
(2700 m)
16 miles
(26 km)
The standard guided summit route, often very crowded unless you know the secrets of avoiding the hordes (see my climbing trip report from July 1999 for some hints). Skiable through Cadaver Gap to Ingraham Direct in early season. Later in year will require hiking the talus slope through Cathedral Gap, followed by a difficult crossing of the broken-up Ingraham Glacier. The north edge of the glacier (beside the Cleaver) is usually not too heavily-crevassed from above the Nose of the Cleaver up to its top at 12400 ft. From there th=o the
Gibraltar Chute
5400 ft
(1650 m)
9000 ft
(2700 m)
14 miles
(22 km)
Shortest and most direct summit route, but exposed to extreme rockfall hazard from Gibraltar Rock and icefall hazard from the overhanging Nisqually Ice Cliff. Slopes to 50 degreees. (There is a snowboard descent photo on lead climbing ranger Mike Gauthier's website.)
Fuhrer Finger
5400 ft
(1650 m)
9200 ft
(2800 m)
14 miles
(22 km)
Shortest and fastest of the safer summit routes. Avalanche and rockfall hazard in 45-degree main chute in warm spring conditions. Continuous ski descent of 10400 vertical ft (3200 m) is possible from summit to Nisqually Bridge (first done in 1980).
Tahoma Glacier
  (direct approach)

5400 ft
(1650 m)
12200 ft
(3700 m)
25 miles
(40 km)
A very long route, with several possible routes to high camp at 9200 ft. The best option is to ski directly up Tahoma Creek from the road closure (avoiding many miles of hiking the road), possible only in early season with heavy snowfall. Since the Tahoma Glacier is very heavily crevassed, a deep snowpack is necessary in order to make a ski descent from the summit feasible at all.
Mowich Face
  (Edmunds Headwall)

5400 ft
(1650 m)
10500 ft
(3200 m)
20 miles
(32 km)
Extreme route, slopes to 50+ degreees. First ski descent in July 1996. Not nearly as exposed as Liberty Ridge, except at the top of the face. Skiable only with a deep snowpack which is not too windblown or icy for safe skiing.
Liberty Ridge
  from White River

4300 ft
(1400 m)
11000 ft
(3400 m)
18 miles
(29 km)
Extreme route, slopes over 50 degreees. First ski descent in 1980, and rarely repeated. Extremely exposed, with several thousand foot drop onto Carbon Glacier possible. One skier in party of three fell 2000 ft to his death, May 1999.
Other Ski Mountaineering Routes:  
Muir Snowfield
5400 ft
(1650 m)
4700 ft
(1400 m)
9 miles
(15 km)
The classic day trip on Rainier, a fine choice in any season and a superb introduction to ski mountaineering for skiers ready to finally leave the lifts behind. Skiable year-round between 7000-10000 ft. Often crowded, but safety in numbers and easy access to emergency help makes this a good solo trip when one's companions stay at home. (See my ski trip report from June 1997.)
Paradise Glacier
5400 ft
(1650 m)
4700 ft
(1400 m)
11 miles
(18 km)
Much less crowded than Muir Snowfield, this route is usually nearly crevasse-free in spring, and not too dangerous in early summer, although there are usually a few crevasses open. It joins the Muir Snowfield at 9000 ft, so one can ascend Muir and then descend this route.
Nisqually Glacier
  (lower portion)

5400 ft
(1650 m)
4700 ft
(1400 m)
11 miles
(18 km)
Ski or climb up to Camp Muir from Paradise, then descend chutes to Nisqually Glacier and ski for 6200 vertical ft (1900 m) to Nisqually Bridge. Lower sections can become treacherous in spring as the snowpack thins due to swift river flowing underneath. Car shuttle back to Paradise, or simply park at the bridge and hitch a ride in the morning.
Van Trump Park
  to Camp Hazard

5400 ft
(1650 m)
6000 ft
(1800 m)
11 miles
(18 km)
A fine alternative to Muir, with much steeper and more interesting ski terrain. As with previous route, can ski out to Nisqually Bridge before mid-spring in order to get a much longer run.
  near 10000 ft level

5400 ft
(1650 m)
18000 ft
(5500 m)
26 miles
(42 km)
A grand 4-6 day tour, starting/ending from either Paradise or White River, and traversing around Rainier between 7000 and 11000 ft. Many opportunities for fine skiing during the many descents and ascents required to cross the various glacial troughs. See the new map and guide for more much information.
Flett Glacier /
  Russell Glacier

4900 ft
(1500 m)
5200 ft
(1600 m)
15 miles
(24 km)
A fine route, without much crevasse danger on the relatively inactive glaciers. Best done in late spring and summer, when there is road access to Mowich Lake and fine corn snow. Earlier trips require many miles of skiing, snowmobiling, or hiking up the snowbound (or melted out, but closed) road.
Carbon Glacier
from Ipsut Creek

2300 ft
(700 m)
6500+ ft
(2000+ m)
18+ miles
(30+ km)
A long trip starting from very low elevation, requiring a long hike most of the year. Can ski up nearly to base of Willis Wall at 9600 ft, although the upper end is exposed to huge ice avalanches falling from the summit dome 4000 ft above. Unsuitable after late spring due to meltout/breakup of the active Carbon Glacier.
to Steamboat Prow

4300 ft
(1400 m)
5400 ft
(1600 m)
10 miles
(16 km)
The lower portion of the Emmons climbing route, makes a superb day trip by itself up to Steamboat Prow. Stunning views of the Emmons Glacier from the Prow, and a consistent, moderately-steep pitch descends for 3500 vertical ft below it, often with perfect corn snow after late spring. The glacier is crevassed, but usually quite safe until midsummer.
Summerland /
  Fryingpan Glacier

3900 ft
(1200 m)
5400 ft
(1600 m)
16 miles
(26 km)
This eastside route ascends Fryingpan Creek to one of the nicest sections of the Wonderland Trail which encircles Rainier. Multiple ski options heading south to Panhandle Gap, or SW below Meany Crest and then W up onto the Fryingpan Glacier. Minimal crevasse hazard before midsummer.
Little Tahoma
  (11138 ft / 3395 m)
via Fryingpan and
Whitman Glaciers

3900 ft
(1200 m)
7200 ft
(2200 m)
20 miles
(32 km)
An extension of the previous route. In good conditions, Little Tahoma, the prominent satellite peak east of Rainier, is skiable from up to 10800 ft (3300 m) in the east side gully. Above the snow, the route to the summit involves loose and exposed rock scrambling, and a hand-line or other protection would be helpful especially when climbing in ski boots. From the summit there is an unusual and stunning close-up view of the east side of Rainier, including the Emmons and DC routes.

Upcoming additions: Topographic map showing all ski routes.
Full page descriptions and photos of Emmons, Muir, DC, Fuhrer Finger,
Flett/Russell, and possibly other routes.

| Panoramic version of photo at top, digitally composited from two photographs
(photo by Amar Andalkar) <click to enlarge>

| Panoramic view of Rainier from the south above Panorama Point, digitally composited from three photographs;
Muir Snowfield arcs along the right, with Nisqually Glacier and Fuhrer Finger routes at center and Kautz Cleaver on left skyline
(photo by Amar Andalkar) <click to enlarge>

Useful Web Links:

Mount Rainier National Park: Home Page
      (with links to road, trail, and climbing reports, plus climbing information)
National Weather Service Office: Seattle, WA
The Weather Channel: Mount Rainier Natl Park, WA, Forecast
USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory: Mount Rainier

List of Guidebooks:  (detailed references on the bibliography page)

100 Classic Ski Routes in WA Many routes, but no summit routes (detailed skiing info)
Wild Snow DC / Ingraham Glacier to Emmons Glacier route(skiing info)
Cascade Alpine Guide (Vol. 1) All routes, including approaches(detailed climbing info)
Mount Rainier: A Climbing Guide All routes (except Little Tahoma), plus approaches (detailed climbing info)
Climbing Mt Rainier: Essential Guide All routes (including Little Tahoma), plus approaches(detailed climbing info)
Selected Climbs in the Cascades DC / Ingraham, Emmons Glacier, Liberty Ridge(detailed climbing info)
Selected Climbs in the Cascades (Vol. 2) Tahoma Glacier(detailed climbing info)
Adventure Guide to Mount Rainier All major climbing routes, no summit ski routes(brief skiing / climbing info)
Mt. Rainier Glacier Travel Guide Circumnavigation routes (detailed skiing / climbing info)
Climbing the Cascade Volcanoes All major routes, including Little Tahoma(brief climbing info)

More photos, routes, links, references, etc. coming soon...
Please contact me with any suggestions, additions, or corrections.

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Table of Contents | Introduction | Ratings | WebCams | Bibliography | Highest Volcanoes | Snowfall & Snowdepth | Monthly Chart | Conifers | Compare | Distance | Sun Chart
Ski Mountaineering Photos & Trip Reports Equipment & Info Cascade Volcanoes Ring of Fire Site Map

Amar Andalkar   Seattle, WA, USA   <About the Author / Contact Me>
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