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Riding the Nisqually Chutes in the sun

The winter sky of Washington has this certain kind of haze to it that makes the locals turn their heads southwest on a clear afternoon and pause a moment, smiling. High in the atmosphere, it starts off as a steely sapphire and slowly deepens to a dark, icy blue as the jagged mountains become horizon. And in between, in the late afternoon, a searing orange-red cuts through the gradient creating an exotic wintry haze.

Nisqually Chutes 2-2-13_low_2From 8,500 feet on a rocky outcropping on Mt Rainier’s southern flank, we gaze into it, throwing our puffies on to stave off the coming chill of cooling sweat.

In the distance, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens stand faint but sentinel behind an ocean of mountain tops. The snow under our feet is ice-encrusted wind-blown; beautiful but slippery.

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The last dump in Washington had taken place a week ago, then was saturated by four days of rain in the mountains. Today, the freezing levels are at 7,000 feet and the mountain was blasted by spring-like temps. We’d shed base layers on the skin up, getting neck’ed right there on the Muir snow field.

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Now, we are about to drop into the Nisqually chutes and make our way onto the toe of the ancient Nisqually glacier.

South facing, the chutes have baked beneath the UV rays all day.

As we drop in, our boards cut into the crumbling slush. One by one, we take turns carving ribbons down the steep and narrowing channels.

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At the bottom of the first, we pause, looking out on the Washington alpine setting. There is so much out there.

So much geology. So much wilderness. So many mountains.

We are on just one of them.

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At the bottom of the next chute, we are told we’ll need to point it and charge as fast as we can across the glacier’s toe, as it flattens out considerably. But that’s actually a tall order given its texture—right now it’s covered with half a season’s worth of massive wind-lips, like riding a washer board. But aesthetically it’s stunning: the perfect waves are now a metallic silver in the thinning light.

As we pin it straight into their sea, our boards bounce wickedly like boats through wild chop. It is all we can do to keep the knees absorbing the reverb, and keep sailing down the valley, finding pockets of gravity to fuel the descent.

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Finally, we pop down off the glacier and into the Nisqually River valley, maintaining speed and asking everything of the muscles for the long heelside traverse that will last till the road bridge. There, we’ll boot-pack out and hitchhike back to the car.

At 4,600 feet below our starting point, our back legs are burning and our minds are reeling from the unique experience, the beautiful ride. In the sky, looking southwest, the haze is on fire.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Rosemary #

    Such great enthusiasm! Let nothing hold you back. You’re way too brave!!

    February 11, 2013

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