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Cascade Glissade Index (CGI) for Washington Peaks
By Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCS
I recently enjoyed a conversation with a client of mine who is in training for such peaks as Adams and Rainier and the question came up, as it does so often this time of year: what is my all-time favorite climb? I have to be honest, it usually depends pretty heavily on snow conditions for any given year. Since I’m a huge snow and glacier fan, perhaps the single most important ingredient for me personally is what I term a mountain’s GLISSADABILITY.
Glissading to scramblers, hikers and climbers is what powder skiing is to downhill enthusiasts: it means literally sliding downhill on snow or ice, either on your feet (without skis, just boots) as in a standing glissade, or on your butt (hopefully in slippery pants so you can go really fast) in a sitting glissade. I like to refer to seated glissades as “butt skiing” without a sled, and even people who have never tried it can sort of understand what it is from that two term description. Glissading can be a rather strenuous physical undertaking 1) if you are on steep icy terrain and have to really press the pick of your ice axe into the snow to help you slow down; 2) if you have to flip into a self-arrest position, resulting in a lot of work for the shoulders, core and grip strength to prevent continuation of the slide; and 3) for the quadriceps, also requiring good balance and ankle stability if you prefer standing glissades. The first time I ever was exposed to this means of travel was back in 1990 on training outings in preparation for my first climb of Mt. Rainier, and it has been my favorite means of downhill snow travel ever since.
My Glissade Index
After rereading Mark Dale’s humorous personal assessment of his Cascade Bushwhack Rating System (see www.bodyresults.com/e2bushwhack.asp) I thought I would try my hand at a Cascade Glissade Index (or CGI for those who like acronyms) and share my own favorites with anyone else interested in the best butt skiing out there in this state. The best ones would obviously have to 1) have plenty of snow, preferably year round; 2) be a continuous, not too steep (i.e. 20-30 degrees) gradient with lots of easily linked glissades, and 3) have a good amount of elevation drop. Below is a first attempt.
CGI1 – Very minimal butt skiing that is heavily seasonal-dependent; usually includes most low-elevation Washington scrambles without much gain that turn into dry, dusty hikes as early as mid-May and do not have much in the way of significant snowpack again until October. Guye Peak ( www.bodyresults.com/a2guye.asp) is one example; high up on the mountain on a day in mid-June we found a few patches of snow that allowed for a few moments of sliding.
CGI2 – Short stretches of glissading that sometimes involve pushing with the hands in order to sustain runs; usually easier grades (15-20 degree slopes) that require just the right snow conditions to allow good forward movement. Shallow grade portions of the Muir Snowfield (not including Panorama Point up from Paradise, or some of the upper reaches of the mountain which get considerably steeper; see www.bodyresults.com/a2rainier02.asp) and stretches on Mt. Pilchuck and Silverstar ( www.bodyresults.com/a2silverstar.asp) would fall into this category, for example.
CGI3 - Moderate stretches of glissading with occasional “swoops” that allow elevation drops of up to a few hundred feet, with some sideways scrambling required to connect different glissades together. Basic Rock climbs in mid-season such as S. Early Winter Spire ( www.bodyresults.com/A2SEWS.asp), and early spring glissading at Alpental or Cowboy Mountain (at Stevens Pass) would fit in this category, as would the single drop around Panorama Point on Mt. Rainier. Mt. Shuksan ( www.bodyresults.com/a2shuksan.asp) and Eldorado ( www.bodyresults.com/a2eldorado.asp) also have slopes that fit CGI3.
CGI4 – Sustained stretches of glissading that allow significant elevation drops and regular use of the ice axe to provide braking action; the scramble route on Mt. Daniel ( www.bodyresults.com/a2daniel.asp) would qualify, as would the Inner Glacier on Mt. Rainier ( www.bodyresults.com/a2rainiere3.asp AS LONG AS THE CREVASSES ARE NOT OPEN!) Dragontail and Colchuck ( www.bodyresults.com/a2dragontailcolchuck.asp) are also good candidates as long as you avoid the sloughing gullies on the sides of the approach routes that are prone to avalanches. Mt. Goode before mid-summer would also be fantastic coming down the scramble route known as the Cascadian Couloir ( www.bodyresults.com/a2stuart.asp BUT earlier in the summer). As long as you are cautious glissading on glacier fields, Olympus ( www.bodyresults.com/a2olympus.asp) and Glacier Peak ( www.bodyresults.com/a2glacier02.asp) would also fit this category.
CGI5 – Up to thousands of feet of elevation lost quickly through sustained 25-40 degree slopes, and available most of the year. Mt. Adams – South Side (snow field, no crevasse risk; pictures on our website are from the west side on Adams Glacier, www.bodyresults.com/a2adams.asp) certainly qualifies, as does Mt. St. Helens up until about June 15. We try to climb St. Helens annually prior to limited permit season that opens May 15; see www.bodyresults.com/a2helens03.asp for pictures.
MY TOP PICKS
By far the easiest choice for me of “Best Glissade in Western Washington” which is also the reason why we return every year is MT. SAINT HELENS. Nowhere else in the state that I have found (except perhaps Mt. Adams, which can actually get quite icy on the upper reaches of the mountain – and can be a cause of injury to the novice climber) can you be on slopes with little to no avalanche risk, minimal risk of getting too far out of control with your ice axe, and no crevasses to worry about, PLUS lose some 3000 feet of elevation in one single slide. A tie for second would have to be MOUNT DANIEL and MOUNT ADAMS. Do YOU have a favorite?