Hike to Spray Park and Skiing on the Flett Glacier
Mount Rainier National Park
9.6 miles roundtrip, 4000′ elevation gain (1200′ skiing)
July 8, 2017
Since we missed out on our Flett Glacier overnight ski trip the previous weekend due to me being sick, we decided to head back that way as a day trip. An advantage to going a week later is that we got some beta from friends who ended up going the previous weekend. Word was we were in for a long walk. I was hoping that the thick snow pack this year would shorten the approach, but the coverage seemed about the same this year as the same time last year when I did the same trip.
It was Maggie’s first time hiking with her skis and boots on her pack and it was good that we weren’t carrying overnight gear as well. We went as light as we could, but our packs were still probably in the 25-30 pound range. After answering everyone’s questions in the parking lot about if we were actually skiing or not, we got started hiking just before 9 am from Mowich Lake. We hiked in about 3.5 miles on dry ground and enjoyed the beauty of Spray Park as we started to get out into the open. Wildflowers were starting to bloom as the snow melted back and we started to have views of our ski objective, the Flett Glacier.
The Flett Glacier is more of a permanent snowfield and has no real crevasse dangers. I skied it last year in both July and August. Observation Rock towers over the snowfield and there is a steep 45 degree head wall for the top 400′ which opens up to a longer, mellower run. Maggie is not quite ready to ski the head wall, so we were just planning to ski the lower section today.
We transitioned to ski boots as we left the Spray Park trail, but opted to keep our skis on our packs a little while longer. It was hard to tell if the snow would remain continuous for long. As we came to a ridge, it quickly became apparent to me that we had left the trail a little too high. We found a talus field to walk down in our ski boots and just as we reached the snow below, I spotted a black bear (very brown in color) about 500 feet away on the snow! I was barely able to snap a couple of photos of him before he disappeared into the bushes.
We were able to transition to skinning pretty soon after this and reached continuous snow at around 6200′. Once it was apparent we were on the correct route, we stashed our hiking shoes to grad on the way out. We stopped for lunch at Cat Eye Lake at the base of the Flett and made quick work up the snowfield on our skins afterwards. We transitioned for the ski down at 1:30 pm. We had several hundred feet of very smooth corn snow which gradually transitioned to more sun cups and runnels as we got further down on the snow field. The head wall actually looked to have the smoothest snow, but there were also a good number of skier triggered wet slides in line with all the tracks.
We grabbed our shoes and skied down a little further before stopping to filter water out of a stream for the hike out. We carried skis over dry ground a few more times before stopping and putting our shoes back on. In hindsight, we could have kept our ski boots on most of the way to the Spray Park trail and we actually transitioned a little too early.
Maggie was really feeling the weight of carrying her skis and boots on the way out. It seems that the awkward weight distribution of the boots on her pack really hurt her back since she is so much smaller than me. Nevertheless, we had a fun time with all of the funny looks and questions we got on the way out and enjoyed some cold beverages when we returned to the car just before 4:30. We got July turns, a great workout, and to see a bear on snow – an excellent day!
Spray Park in itself is a beautiful hike that we highly recommend. If you want to turn it into an overnight backpack, you can continue all the way down to the Carbon River and connect on the Ipsut Pass Trail back to Mowich Lake. We did this trip last summer. If you are up for carrying the weight, a ski trip to the Flett similar to ours is a fun excursion. Last July I spent the night up next to Cat Eye Lake and ventured up onto the Russel Glacier which also has some fun skiing.