Peaks: Florence, Howard, Sweet (MRNP)
Party: Matt, Martin S, Natala G, cartman, Iron, Bad Dog, Trailpair (2 plus Luis), Opus
Every winter, my fondest wish is to get out somewhere high on the first sunny day after a storm, when the trees and land are still frosted white and the air is bright and clear, so the whole scene is a brilliant winter composition of forests and peaks etched in snowy highlights.
But it’s a rare pleasure, because it takes a difficult combination of conditions: enough snow to cover the trees but not make travel too difficult, enough sun to light up the snow but not melt it off, a route that has high views but not too much danger, a group of friends that’s ready to go, and lucky timing to have all that come together on a day that I’m free.
Today we got it all: clear blue skies, bright white peaks, snow-plastered forest, high ridges, wide views, a safe route, decent snow underfoot, and a fine party of people.
We parked at Mt. Rainier’s Carbon River entrance (1750 ft) and followed the Boundary Trail till it reached Alki Crest circa 4500 feet. Then we followed the crest SE to Florence Peak at 5508. Part of the group followed the crest further to HowardPeak at 5682. On the way back, some of the group took a different branch of the ridge north from Florence to Sweet Peak at 4580, and then rejoined the Boundary Trail to exit.
Florence-Howard-Sweet Route Map
The Boundary Trail began in shadowy deep forest.
Looking down at the Carbon River
Boundary Marker on a Big Tree
Above 3000 feet, the forest became progressively more magical.
Light Amid the Darkness:
Light Amid the Darkness 1
Light Amid the Darkness 2
Light Amid the Darkness 3
Snow Blown Understory:
Snow Blown Trunks 1
Snow Blown Trunks 2
Snow Loaded Sapling
Tallness of the Trees:
Above 3500 we lost the trail. Circa 4000 we took a break by an open glade.
Iron kicking up a rooster tail (He kicked almost all the steps the whole way.)
Skirting the edge of the glade
Back into the Woods
Snow periodically fell from the higher limbs, sometimes crashing down in blobs, sometimes drifting down in sparkles.
Diamond Shower (look close)
Tree Shower Sunbeams
Nearing Alki Crest:
Snowshoers near the crest 1
Snowshoers near the crest 2
Snowshoers near the crest 3
Along Alki Crest, the forest was a hallway of frosted columns, with occasional openings to see the snowy boughs above.
Martin & Eric
Sun Sneaking In
Hiking Past an Opening
Trees Swallowing Opus
Hiker in the Snowy Trees
More Tallness of Trees
Just below the false summit, the terrain opened up.
Path to the false summit
Arriving at the false summit
Lots of Rime:
A brief scramble led to the true summit.
Matt at summit
Joanna & Natala coming to summit
Queen of the Summit
We enjoyed a lunch break on the false summit.
Luis is all ears
(False) Summit Party
(False) Summit Tea
Iron, Matt, Cartman, and Bad Dog made a side trip to Howard. (Iron kicked all the steps.)
We basically followed the ridge crest from Florence to Howard.
We dropped about a hundred feet back down our ascent route, then followed the SE nose of Florence down to the col at 5150, went over Point 5255, and up to Howard at 5683.
The ridge had a decent crest for travel the whole way: cornices on the left, trees on the right, a bit of rock on 5255, a broader slope on Howard.
Then we continued across a minor col and up toward Howard:
The ridge ahead to Howard
View Along the Way
Bowing to the Master
Howard had a broad flat summit:
Broad summit slope of Howard
Howard Summit Group
Wishing we had time for Tolmie as well (See the lookout?)
Along the way back to Florence:
FloWard & Florence
Florence & Olympics
Iron & Eric
Treecicles near Florence:
Last View from Florence:
Last View of Howard & Rainier
Martin & Natala wanted to summit Sweet Peak on the way back.
It was a thousand feet lower and covered with trees, but it had a name, and it wasn’t far out of the way.
As we departed Florence, we stayed right and took the branch ridge northward circa 5200, dropped to the Florence-Sweet col at 4300, and went back up to Sweet at 4580.
Descending to Sweet
View back to north side of Florence
Sweet Summit Party
Then we returned to the col and angled down and west to hit the snowshoe tracks about 3800.
Down to about 3000 feet, the melting snow on the limbs above made a constant rain shower on us.
The trailhead actually is a short nature trail loop. What a surprise - it’s a rain forest!
Soaked by Tree Rain
Temperate Rain Forest
Carbon River Entrance 1760, Alki Crest 4500, Florence 5508
Florence-Howard Col 5150, Howard 5683
Florence-Sweet Col 4300, Sweet 4580
Gain: Florence 3700, Florence to Howard 600, Howard to Florence 400, Sweet 300. Total 5000 feet.
Mileage: Florence 4.0, Howard 1.4 each way, Sweet 1.0, exit 3.3. Total 11.1 miles.
Time: Up to Florence 4:10, Florence summit break 0:40, Howard round trip 2:55, to Sweet 0:55, descent 1:35. Total 10:15 hours.
-------------- “As beacons mountains burned at evening.” J.R.R. Tolkien
But only if we have a little more flexibility next year, so we can shift pics between months. I know I've got a great pic that I took in February that would be good for April or May, but makes no sense for Winter.
I have just one question, Matt: when do you find time to hike?
-------------- Something lost behind the ranges. Lost and waiting for you....... Go and find it. Go!
Wow, I wish I'd joined for Horward and Sweet too! That ridge walk looks amazing. I'm glad I conserved my energy for Welcome pass the next day though. Snow conditions were so much better at Florence saturday.
well told story matt. your tale captures my feelings exactly. once we hit that ridge heading towards howard, i was in a pure euphoric state. not only was it warm and sunny with untouched powder and blue skies, but the wind - the wind was non-existant. the stillness in the air was mimicing the stillness of the snow and ice. everything just seemed to be perfectly frozen in time. i think i found myself whistling and laughing to myself while walking that ridge (which might just be a sign of a loose screw...). this doesn't happen much.
anyway, it was wonderful to meet everyone that was new (matt, martin, opus, and natala). it's just another reinforcement of just how amazing so many people are that frequent the nwhikers website. thanks everyone. let me know when you need some more steps
martin leading the way towards 'lunch valley'
departing 'lunch valley'
moss and snow coated tall trees
early morning shadows
the kind of skies we just love to see
working through the trees up the ridge towards florence
approaching florence's false summit
approaching the false summit of florence
little summit scramble to florence's true summit
looking back towards false summit
lopsided snow-caked tree
working over one of many bumps on the ridge towards howard
martin on florence summit
florence summit shot - tea included
after dropping down from florence and heading to howard
wonderful ridge walk to howard
untouched fun near howard
blue framed by green
big cornices along initial section of howard ridge
heading up towards pt. 5255 and looking back at ridge from florence (not visible here)
tiny prints on otherwise untouched powder
the biggest cornice i've ever seen after dropping down from pt. 5255
matt on pt 5255
nearing howard summt with pt 5255 in the wake
summit of howard and some unnamed peak in the background
straight lines are overrated anyway
exploring a bump on the east side of howard
howard summit shot
looking back at ridge heading towards florence
-------------- man, you go through life, you try to be nice to people, you struggle to resist the urge to punch 'em in the face, and for what?
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