Words by: Kat Parks
Photos by: Cayman Waughtel and Kat Parks
Trusting the forecast for Tahoma is always a gamble for the mountain makes and changes its weather quickly because it can. Despite the webcams showing a totally socked in parking lot at Paradise, we left the house at 6am like planned and headed to the mountain. Upon arrival, rain was falling from the thick fog and Cayman asked if I still wanted to go. I told him that I had a feeling the forecast was going to be right and that we were going.
We started skinning in our rain jackets and by the time we got to the bottom of Pan Face, we decided to take them off because getting a little damp from rain was better than continuing to sweat ourselves to death from the inside. We began our way up Pan Face as the sun was becoming a faint orb through the fog and by about half way up, I looked over my left shoulder towards Tahoma and could make out its prominence. The forecast was correct and we were in for an absolutely stellar day with the couple of inches of snow that fell overnight.
We stuck together for the first bit of skinning on the snowfield but since it’s a long slog, we ended up realizing that our paces were too different and chose a spot to stop for a break halfway up to come back together. Skinning alone in front of a peak as big as Tahoma is humbling. The snowfield is vast and Cayman was nothing but a speck when I looked behind to check and make sure that he was still there. There was little to no wind so aside from the rumble of several sérac pops, I was in total silence. I allowed my body to choose my pace which happened to be 1600-2000 vertical feet/hour while I was skinning.
I arrived at Camp Muir 4 hours and 9 minutes after leaving Paradise and shared the lunch spot with 3 others while I waited for Cayman. The RMI guides and their groups and the MRNP climbing ranger were the only others up there until Cayman arrived 20 minutes later. He was a welcomed arrival because the inside of my legs began cramping as I was sitting and he was the one with the electrolyte pills. My cramps went away after 2 pills, a Left Bank ham and cheese croissant with maui onion kettle chips and a snickers bar and I was able to start getting stoked for the descent. We hung out a bit longer because the low clouds over the Tatoosh were a sight that needed a little extra time. This was also my first time to Muir and I needed to revel in it a bit.
After putting in my first couple turns, it became immediately apparent that the snow was going to be gooooooood. And good for several thousand feet. The new snow accumulation was soft on top of corn which made for gorgeous splooshy turns over a super supportive base. Although not nearly as big, the views of the Tatoosh, Goat Rocks, and Pahto were breathtaking as we party lapped our way down, cutting in and out between one another like some sort of choreographed dance that we’d never be able to replicate. We stopped every once in a while to make sure we were both on the same page with our descending choices and to talk through the handful of hazards the snowfield presents. Shortly above Pan Face, the snow turned to mashed potatoes but I didn’t care. I was more than happy to ski some wet, heavy snow back to the lot for the turns we had gotten just prior.
The turns down Pan Face were the most disconcerting as I watched my skis pop small wet slides with every cut. It went against everything in my mind to start putting turns in over the top of moving snow but I had to trust that the snow wasn’t going to propagate and that anything that did continue to move would be slower than I can ski. After some initial hesitation, I went for it and was glad to be out of the hazard.
The Paradise parking lot is always an interesting place to come back to after a day on the mountain. Tourist groups, kids and families playing in the snow, other sliders/snowshoers/climbers getting back from their treks, selfie takers, the “I’ll take a photo from my car window” visitors all enjoying the Park in their own ways.
We hung out long enough to change our clothes and stretch our muscles before heading home with satisfied bodies and minds from a day spent together feeling small and inconsequential in the shadow of Tahoma and its grandeur.