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Traditions are good: The Spring Ramparts Tour
posted by John : July 6, 2014

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Two years ago Eric and I toured the Ramparts in early July to get the last of the snow. It was magnificent. The Ramparts always are, but with snow it was especially magical. We finished the day with a stunning sunset on Rampart Ridge.

Somehow we didn't repeat the trip last year. I had been feeling 2013 was lacking a little something and now I know what it was. I won't let that happen again.

Instead of another time-constrained evening trip we set out early Sunday morning. (Yes, this means I avoided Mailbox yet again.) There was no snow until we reached Lake Lillian. Although the lake looked mostly frozen a plunge into the icy water would end our trip so we stayed high on the rocks along the eastern shore. The gully leading to the Ramparts was clear of snow, but filled with flowers.

The gully is a grind. It's steep and loose with few redeeming qualities except it leads to the Ramparts. Even before you crest the ridge it's easy to remember why you struggled up. Glacier lilies cover the last south-facing slope before the snow starts and as you get views to the north it takes your breath away. Steep alpine meadows stretch to the feet of the next line of peaks. Beyond that first ridge, the mountains continue until you can't see them any more.

Rather than turning to the west for Rampart Ridge as usual, we continued north to the Rampart Lakes. This meant dropping in elevation, but the snow was in great shape and we had a 400 foot glissade that made it worthwhile.

The lakes were just beginning to melt out and were ringed in electric blue. On the largest lake a section of ice and snow looked like a cross between suncups and penitentes, but with no regularity. Treen made sure to check them out up close. It must be nice to have a fur coat and a tolerance for ice-cold water temperatures.

Just like before, we climbed the wide gully up to Rampart Ridge. Treen managed through the moat without a problem and we lounged on the summit while Eric made his way up. From the top we could see 360 degrees of wonder.

To the north and east, most of the terrain was still covered in snow, though it was melting quickly. Rainier dominated the south, but most of the peaks in between were snow free even on their northern faces. In the west the lowlands were sweltering under another hot day in the 80s and 90s.

As much as I was tempted, we couldn't stay in the snow all day. We returned to Lake Lillian and found the few people we had encountered en route had crossed the ice on the lake. Eric and Treen went first while I photographed and planned the rescue operation. When they survived I crossed.

It's an eery feeling walking on an ice-covered lake. Especially when there's soft snow and puddles of slush on the surface. I made sure to step way over the apparent cracks, though my axe's spike found they were solid.

I'm a big fan of traditions in general and this is one I'll definitely make permanent. Timing is the trick. Too soon and it's laborious and perhaps dangerous. Too late and the snow is thin or at least so rotten it's no fun. But timed just right it's a tour I'd hold up against any other.

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