Category Archives: Washington

Mt. Thomson, West Ridge

August 16-18, 2014.

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It had been about 2 years since I’d even attempted to lead any outdoor rock, and I’d only been to the rock gym a handful of times in that period. So when my pal Rick recruited me to take him up a 5th class route on Mt. Thomson, of course I said SURE!

To be fair, the climbing on Thomson is pretty easy by climbing standards. The hardest moves are rated 5.6, but most of the climbing is 4th class scrambling and easy rock climbing. But the lack of practice with ropework, reading routes and dealing with exposure made me a little nervous about the climb. Nevertheless, I felt confident that I could rally and make the climb work for our little team.

Mt. Thomson looked impressive from the photos I’d seen on the Internet. It lay tucked away, buried deep in the woods (by climbers’ standards) 7 miles from Snoqualmie Pass on the PCT. Rick and I rolled into the trailhead at about 5 pm on a Saturday evening, hoping to make camp by sunset.

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With hardly a few words of conversation, we busted out the 7 miles to camp above Ridge Lake in about 3 hours, barely pausing to admire the famed Kendall Katwalk (shown above) on our way. The lakes below us were overrun with campers, so we were happy to have our own little hideaway just a couple hundred feet up the trail.

We awoke the next morning to a view obscured by fog. We lazily ate breakfast and got our things together to head up the PCT in search of our climber’s trail.

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In about a half mile, we turned straight uphill in a steep drainage to reach Bumblebee Pass. The view from here looked just as cloudy as our view from the tent. We dropped down into the basin from the pass and traversed west across heather meadows and meandering mountain streams to the base of a large talus field. From there, we should have had a striking view of the south face of Mt. Thomson. Instead, we saw the talus rise into a low-hanging, gray cloud. I took out my photo of the route and tried to match up features on the base of the mountain with the view in front of me. We sat and waited for the clouds to rise.

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In the meantime, a couple trotted down from the pass and told us they were also headed up to the West Ridge. We waved them good luck as we continued to wait for a little clearing.

The curtain of clouds slowly began to rise. We ascended the jumbled talus up to the low point of the west ridge. Once there, we attempted to scout the route. After much futzing around, we made one dicey move to get to the belay ledge for pitch one.

And now, the climbing begins

Here’s where the gears in my brain began whirring at a mile a minute. We methodically got rigged up for the first pitch and triple checked everything. I looked up at the chimney, and over at the sloping traverse to get there, noting one very important thing. I’d need a 0.5 cam to protect the bottom of the route and I decided to leave all my small cams at home. Brilliant.

I looked behind me at the other team, waiting in the batter’s box for the two of us to get going. I noticed the leader’s bright, shiny, well-equipped rack. Luckily, he let me borrow his 0.5 and I was on my way. On. My. Way. Well, I’m not sure how long it took me to make that first move, but once I got up a ways and put that cam in, I slowly plodded my way up pitch one.

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The first belay ledge was nice and roomy, with a big tree for an anchor. Yay. Now I was feeling back in the groove again. Pitch two felt a little more challenging for me, with a couple of bulges, not a lot of great pro (I needed those damn tiny cams again) and a lot of zig-zagging, causing too much rope drag. I called it good about halfway up and rigged up a belay station there. Once Rick joined me on the tiny and awkward belay ledge I started up pitch 2.5. I was sure glad I broke up this pitch because soon I was stopped in my tracks by a vertical wall with seemingly nowhere else to go. It looked harder than 5.6, I thought, but maybe that was just my rusty leading skills talking. I located every hand and foot placement I needed to tackle that wall, then all at once worked my way up to the next ledge. Rick told me afterwards that he made some pretty sick Chris Sharma moves to follow me up there. I pictured him gripping the rock tenaciously with one hand, swinging his hips powerfully to one side to plant a toe perfectly on the next rock nubbin, where he’d regain his balance and glide effortlessly to the next hold.

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Pitch three: the slab. Certainly, I was excited to float up an easy slab after all that stressful vertical. Pitch four: more slab and blocky climbing. One account described it as a “5.4 staircase,” although this was not evident from the get-go. The exposure and not super obvious routefinding occupied my brain. I’d forgotten how much rock climbing can dial in your focus and allow you to remain entirely present. That’s the part I love.

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At the top of the false summit, we scrambled down a steep gully along a trail that led to the base of the final pitch. There was one last pitch of easy climbing to reach the summit. Thank goodness. Rick patiently dealt with a serious rope tangle, since I had absentmindedly forgotten to re-flake the rope, while I perched on a nice ledge. I knew a huge notch lay below me, but I couldn’t see the depth of it since it was filled with cloud.

Nearing the end of my rope (literally) I had to stop short of the summit, build a belay with the loosely piled rocks on the ridge and bring Rick up. From there, we untied and meandered over to the summit, reaching the top about 8 hours after we left camp in the morning.

Up until this point I had subsisted on about a half liter of water and an energy bar. I figured it was time to eat some food. We didn’t bring much water, since neither of us wanted to carry it up there, so we’d have to wait for a resupply down in the meadow. Good thing it wasn’t warm today.

Down the East Ridge

Again, our goal was to make it to camp before dark, so we headed into the unknown yet again to descend the east ridge.

We dropped down to the first rappel station, made a quick rap, then saw another tree wrapped with slings and rapped a second time. From there, it was not obvious where to go. We followed a faint path for a short while, then it seemed to disappear. Stupidly, I went to scout the rocky ledges and Rick split off to wander around in the trees. After much yelling back and forth, it was decided that Rick had the route that would work. We found a trail through the heather meadows that followed the east ridge down. My first thought was that the East Ridge as a climb would be boring as hell, switchbacking up a trail 95% of the way to the summit, so I was extra glad that we’d fumbled up the West Ridge.

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Eventually the trail led us to a notch that dropped down into the basin beneath Mt. Thomson. From there we traversed across talus and meadows, refilling our water bottles with stream water, then headed straight up to Bumblebee Pass.

We were both thrilled to catch sight of the PCT once we descended from the pass. That meant we were nearly done. At 7 pm, we crashed back into a soggy camp and quickly began refueling and rehydrating.

The retreat

The next morning, the clouds had released their grip on the valley and a beautiful sunrise brought us out of the tent. It was going to be a bluebird day.

We took our time on the return trek, taking the opportunity to actually see the area we’d just spent a day and a half in. There were beautiful peaks, glassy lakes, and stunning vistas. The Kendall Katwalk, which had been mired in fog just two days before, looked a bit more like the pictures I’d seen (albeit still a little disappointing).

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While we didn’t set any speed records on this trip, I’m glad we made it happen. I felt great getting back onto alpine rock and facing head on all the challenges it brings. It’s not always glamorous; in fact I find it so rare that people actually write about the hard stuff. Everyone’s always ready to inflate their ego retelling the epic awesomeness that they achieve on exotic and aesthetic climbs. But even the “easy” climbs present problems that need to be overcome. I appreciate the opportunity to be challenged, to be humbled and to be forced to think on the fly. Alpine climbing is truly an opportunity to apply everything you’ve learned and practiced, recognizing that the textbook placements you studied and easy as pie sequences are not always realistic.

I hope that Rick will again entertain the thought of spearheading another alpine adventure and force me to get out of my comfort zone again.

Glacier Peak Wilderness Backpacking

July 27-30, 2014.

N. Fork Sauk Trail > PCT > Kennedy Creek and back, plus a side trip to Portal Peak

37 miles | ~8500′ ele. gain | Hike photos

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Backpacking. It’s one of those activities on par with cleaning the basement, doing my taxes, and going to the dentist. It is not one of the things I prefer to do with my precious time off. However, this was supposed to be a mountain climb, and I was invited to go by two people I was really interested in meeting. So I blocked off some time and met up with my shiny new hiking partners in preparation for a 4-day climb of Glacier Peak.

Day 1: the approach

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Day one was hot and long. We set off along the North Fork Sauk River, gaining roughly 1000′ in the first 5.5 miles to the Mackinaw Shelter. This was the easy part. In the next four miles, the trail rocketed up 3500′ in a series of switchbacks leading to Red Pass. The lower portion of the trail kept us relatively protected in the shade of the forest, but as we climbed higher, we entered longer and longer stretches of wide open meadows. The meadows were green, lush, and dotted with colorful wildflowers. But the sun felt extra hot here. I was overjoyed when we hit the PCT. The grade mellowed, and we were on the home stretch.

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When we crested Red Pass, we dropped our packs and took a deep breath in. The scenery was magnificent in all directions. Behind us, Sloan Peak stood out from the numerous snow-capped ridges and hills stretching in all directions.  Over the pass, a broad, snow-filled basin provided a look at some new features on the south side of Glacier Peak. As the sun set, we prepared dinner and then nestled into our sleeping bags for a good night’s rest.

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Day 2: search for the climber’s trail

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We got off to a late start the next morning, and began hiking in the heat of the day. From the pass, the PCT dropped over 2500 vertical feet in the next five miles. It was depressing to lose that much elevation after working so hard to get up there. We trudged along, through bright meadows and dark forests, along snowmelt trickles and rushing streams. We were on the hunt for the Sitkum Glacier route. We had a couple of maps and a little bit of beta to go on, but no recent trip reports with updated conditions or directions. Regardless, we hiked for several more miles to the WC trail. Here we kept our eyes peeled for a cairn, a brushy trail, or any other indication of the climber’s route.

We found no such clue, and found ourselves eventually at a broken bridge over Kennedy Creek, which we knew was too far along the trail. We then headed back the way we came, scouring the trail for any sign of the way to go. I sat down for a while while my partners wandered through the forest. It was almost 5 pm. We had 3500′ to climb to get to the basin. Tonight. I knew it wasn’t going to happen.

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I had to be the Debbie Downer to break the news. We were all exhausted and frustrated. But we’d recently passed a sweet backcountry campsite, so we returned there and set up camp for the night.

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A quick wash in the river followed by a fire-side dinner brought our spirits up. We chatted until well after the sun set, then retreated to bed.

Day 3: splitting the group

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After a nice long sleep in, I bid farewell to my hiking partners and began the trek to Red Pass. They had already planned to circumnavigate the mountain post-climb, so their journey led north and mine led south. I walked in solitude back through the woods and meadows I’d traveled the day before, seeing everything from the reverse perspective. Again, it was brutally hot and now I was headed uphill. My legs were tired and I just couldn’t drink enough water. As lunchtime approached I desperately looked around for an adequate spot to rest and refuel. After passing a few so-so locations, I stumbled into the most perfect location for lunch. A small stream tumbled down a green meadow dotted with snowfields. The huge basin beneath the pass fanned out before me, and Glacier Peak stood like a sentinel over the whole scene. I inexplicably broke into tears, the combination of adrenaline, hunger, thirst, fatigue, and awe spiraled out of control. I wiped my face, broke into a smile, then quickly got to work filtering water and setting out my lunch.

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From here, it was a quick walk up to the pass. The easy switchbacks of the trail allowed me to move steadily, despite the intermittent snow. The Crocs handled like a champ. As I approached the pass, I saw a couple of humans and their huge dog. This was the first sign of life I’d seen since leaving camp. I worked up a friendly conversation starter in my mind as I continued up, but was startled by their dog who’d bolted down the snowfield towards me. It barked and growled, running circles around me as I stood and shot an angry look towards the couple. They made a half-ass attempt to get control of the dog, which failed. I waited, prepared to wail on the beast with my hiking poles if it got any closer, but they finally grabbed its collar and pulled it in. I walked by with a brief “hi” and kept on going until I reached my camp. What a horrible encounter.

Portal Peak

Two nights ago, while camping at Red Pass, I’d eyeballed Portal Peak. From the pass, it looked to be a stone’s throw away, just about 400 feet of elevation gain and a quarter of a mile’s walk. I was dying to get a summit, so I made this my goal.

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With not much more than a water bottle and camera, I scrambled up rocky ledges and heather meadows to the top of the peak. I was overjoyed to see a summit register and USGS marker, as well as an unobstructed view of Glacier Peak. I hung out up here with the butterflies and wildflowers as I scanned the horizon trying to identify the mountains. I was completely out of my element; it was my first trip to this area. I thought about all the PCT hikers who had walked just a few hundred feet below this spot but never paused to leave the trail and take in this view. Amazing.

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Day 4: back to the car

I awoke to a beautiful sunrise, finally an early wake-up. After breakfast, I packed up and began the descent. The early morning air was cool and breezy. But that didn’t last long. The summer sun picked up and I shed layers. I was under no time crunch to get back to the car, but I really wanted to be done.

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On the way back down I passed by a trail crew working to clear vegetation and divert water from the trail. I also passed a ton of hikers coming in, and a train of mules and horses carrying gear. It felt much different from my wilderness solitude the day before. I was pretty ecstatic when I saw the trailhead.

And now, for something completely different

I had a couple of days before I would meet up with my next climb team near Stevens Pass so I planned to do some car camping along the river. I drove just a few miles back along the North Fork Sauk River and found an excellent dispersed campsite on the left side of the road. There were no other campsites nearby.

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I spent the rest of the afternoon and the following day relaxing by the river, reading, stretching, and basically doing as little as possible. It was a perfect end to a strenuous trip. Car camping in the right place can feel just as much a wilderness experience as camping in the backcountry. The roaring river drowned out any noise from passing cars, the canopy of trees offered respite from the summer sun, and the soft, flat ground provided a comfortable, low-impact place to pitch a tent. A nice, big fire ring gave me a safe place to build a campfire and ample deadfall in the area provided the fuel. If I’d only left a couple of beers in the car, it would have been the perfect end to a lovely trip.

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Luna Peak

August 22-25, 2013

About 40 miles, 8,000+ feet elevation gain. For route information, check out Steph Abegg’s website or buy/borrow Selected Climbs in the Cascades Vol 1.

Photos from the trip | Video 360 from the summit ridge

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It has been said that Luna Peak has one of the best views in the North Cascades. But few people ever experience this view because of the rugged, long approach and lack of technical objectives. It takes a seriously determined person to put in that much work to get someplace without a mind-blowing rock or ice climb to top off the effort. I was one of seven such people who set out to ascend Luna Peak on this trip.

It all began at the Ross Dam Trailhead, which was packed with cars. The Ross Lake National Recreation Area is a playground for hikers, backpackers, fishermen, canoers and kayakers. There’s resort accommodations, lakeside, boat-in camping and backcountry camping. At the parking lot, we laced up our boots for a quick 1-mile downhill jaunt to the lakeshore, where we’d pick up a water taxi that would take us across the lake.

The boat ride was short but exhilarating. We sped across the clear, blue lake and exited the boat when it reached the other side. From here, our team of seven set off on the ten mile hike to Luna Camp.

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Big Trees on the Big Beaver Trail

The walk along Big Beaver Trail was lovely. The trail was relatively flat, with small, rolling rises and dips. We meandered beneath giant cedar trees as the path traveled further and further from Ross Lake. It took all afternoon to get to our camp. Feeling heavy under the weight of my overnight pack—my first of the year—I plodded along slowly. I was thrilled to arrive at Luna Camp, where I dropped my backpack and decided which dinner meal was the heaviest one. That’s what I’d eat tonight.

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Day one turned out to be a walk in the park. The next day, we walked about a mile and a half further up Big Beaver Trail to a cairn marking the start of the bushwhack. Off we headed, into the brush, to find a way to cross Big Beaver Creek. As we pushed through Devil’s Club and various edible forest berries, it became apparent that this would not be an easy task. After much deliberation and scouting, we settled on walking across a single log that looked far more perilous than it turned out to be. Getting from the riverbank to the log was the most challenging part.

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Once across the creek, we stashed a cache of supplies that we wouldn’t need for our high camp: tents, spare first aid supplies, water shoes, etc. This is where the real fun began. And by fun, I mean not fun.

Whackety whack

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For several miles, we bushwhacked roughly along Access Creek, crossing it once, and thrashing through a mixture of steep, dense shrubbery and more flat, open forest. At one point in the relatively benign forested section, the front of the team upset a colony of ground nesting bees, which took out their anger on the latter half of the team. That included Simeon, Angela, and myself. Each of us was stung several times. We ran quickly to try to escape the fury of bees, but I still managed to get stung four times: on my right hip, behind my left knee, and on my left wrist and elbow. They went for critical joints, which I would curse them for later.

But there was nothing we could do about that now, so we continued on our journey. As we began to sense that we were nearing the basin and our high camp, the trees parted a bit to provide views of the creek and the rocky sided canyon containing it. As the tall trees diminished, the understory began to thicken. Devil’s club gave way to slide alder, a brand of vegetation notorious for heinous bushwhacking. It was critical to maintain just the right distance between the team member on either side in order to prevent being whacked by a branch or whacking the person behind, as well as keeping close enough so you wouldn’t lose them in the thick mat of branches and leaves.

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The ground got soft and wet as we approached the creek. “The grass is always greener on the other side,” I thought, as I looked through a window of trees and glimpsed large boulders piled on top of each other just across the way. Oh, how lovely it would be to get to that side!

The team agreed, and we made another sketchy creek crossing to make it to the heavenly rockpile we’d seen from afar. The walk to camp from here felt like a breeze. We all plopped our gear down in the flat, broad basin beneath Luna Peak and promptly fell off to dreamland for a couple hours. It was a peaceful and much needed afternoon nap.

What are the chances?

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Gray clouds flirted with the ridgetops all day through the evening. There was much talk about the forecast: 50% chance of rain and thunderstorms for tomorrow. It sure looked like weather was moving in. Clouds swirled in and out the whole time we sat at camp, debating what Plan A, B, and a number of contingency plans were for every possible scenario. Tomorrow was supposed to be our summit day, but we gave ourselves a slim chance of that happening.

At 4:30 the next morning, our alarm clock (Alex) shouted, “the stars are out!” That meant clear skies, and an opportunity to summit. We ate breakfast, slimmed down our packs for the ascent, and made a beeline for the first gully.

Speaking of bees, by this point my arm and hand had puffed up like a balloon from the previous day’s bee encounter. I had a hard time moving my wrist, and everything was very itchy. The swelling would get worse and worse over the course of the day, which I attributed to the vigorous level of exercise, not some crazy allergic reaction.

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As the sun rose, it painted the mountains with orange and yellow. We ascended slowly, taking some time to acclimate to movement this early in the morning. At the top of the gully, we reached a col. Here, there were amazing views of the Picket range right in front of us, and no sign of the predicted thunderstorms.

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Take a right, then another right

We quickly powered up with some rugged, alpine blueberries and began the traverse through the heather. Some parts were fairly steep, but they did not necessitate an ice axe, which was suggested in other trip reports. We zipped right across the traverse and then picked a line to reach the summit ridge. Crossing patches of greenery, rock, and snow, we all climbed up to the final saddle, with Luna Peak rising up to the right.

It was here that Simeon chose to hang out, enjoy the views and take care of some blisters while the rest of us made the final scramble to the top.

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The ridgeline leading up Luna peak was bouldery and fairly solid. It never got too steep or treacherous. The rest of the walk was very pleasant, and the views on a clear day would be second to none. At this point, high clouds obscured the tippety tops of the mountains, and occasionally dropped down to fill the valley. We enjoyed peekaboo views of Luna, Challenger, and the other dramatic peaks extending out in all directions.

At the summit, or really the false summit, we sat down and savored the chocolaty treats that Eric brought up for us, surrounded in a gray fog. The true summit lay just a few minutes walk away, along a sketchy ridge that popped in and out of view. We weren’t interested in making that trek today.

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And then turn around

We returned the way we came, back down to the saddle, then down an alleged chimney, across a snowfield, and back to the vegetated traverse. It felt a little steeper this time around.

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At the top of the gully, we split into two teams so we wouldn’t shed too much rock down on one another. Going down was painfully difficult, as my knee started acting up and refusing to play nice. I was elated to get back to camp, sit down, and tear into the Hostess cupcakes that I’d left hanging just above marmot’s reach.

But our day wasn’t over yet. We still had to complete the bushwhack and return to the trail, where we’d try and find a place to spend the night. We were all dreading the bushwhack. We put it off as long as we could, then loaded up our packs and began walking down the boulderfield.

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This time, we followed some cairns to try and locate a better place to cross the creek and avoid the slide alder. This was a success. Once across the river, we stumbled across a rough path that was a zillion times easier to walk on than our random path on the way up. The hardest part was going down the final steep descent to reach Big Beaver Creek and our gear cache. MIraculously, we hadn’t been rained on, and our unbelievable luck would continue as we re-crossed the creek and popped out on the other side.

We all mentally prepared for the final stage of the bushwhack along the creek. We decided that following a compass bearing and going right towards the trail was the best choice, to try to shave some time. One by one, we filed out in a line, pouring our last stores of energy into tired leg muscles.

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Not two minutes later, we stumbled across the trail. TWO MINUTES. We all looked at each other in disbelief, then smiled and praised the forest gods for this luck. After a short break here, we walked briskly, no, ran towards camp! We hoped there would be an empty spot at Luna Camp and sure enough, there was. We all unpacked, set up tents for the night, ate dinner and crashed.

Saying goodbye

The last day was a repeat of the ten mile walk along Big Beaver Trail. Again we sorted out into two groups and took off. My body was tired, but my mind was focused on reaching the lake. I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Four of us reached the halfway point at 39-mile camp in just under an hour and a half. Sweet. We re-supplied with cold stream water, and hightailed it down to Ross Lake.

We were set to meet our water taxi at 2:15 and arrived at the lake by about noon. That gave us 2 hours to take off our boots, swim, lay down, eat the rest of our food, and bask in the glorious sunshine reflecting off the lake. What a perfect way to spend the afternoon.

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The last boat ride felt bittersweet. I couldn’t stop grinning as I looked back at the green mountains, sparkling lake, and wisps of snow on the high peaks. Once on the other side, I had a nice chat with Eugene as we slogged methodically up the final mile to the cars. My body had been on autopilot all day today, and that mile passed in an instant.

Overall, I had an extraordinary experience in the North Cascades. It was one hell of a way to start climbing season for me.

Mt. St. Helens: A Spring Adventure

June 14, 2013.

Winter Route, or some rough approximation, from Marble Mountain Sno-Park | 12 miles | 5500' ele. gain | 9-ish hours

Hike Photos

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On a whim, I decided to join a group from portlandhikers.com who had a few spare permits to climb the mountain on this Friday. I’ve climbed St. Helens several times before, but always in the winter. See, I can’t be bothered with the process of acquiring a limited entry permit and *gasp* paying for one. I was happy to swoop in where some poor soul ducked out of the opportunity to climb this amazing volcano.

I met this motley crew at the Lone Fir Resort at 6 am, where we filled out the climber’s log and dutifully tied our permits to our backpacks. Shortly later, we reconvened at the trailhead and put the finishing touches on our packs and outfits for the day. Or so I thought. Turns out, the tennis shoes, shorts, and track suits that my new climbing partners were wearing were not “drive up” clothing, but the clothes for the hike. Oh boy, I thought, this was going to be an interesting day.

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The hike to treeline was completely snow-free. This wasn’t a mountain that looked familiar to me. It was interesting to see all the greenery and flowers on what, in my mind, was an icy, windswept, white wasteland. Soon after emerging from the trees, we continued walking straight on a rough, rocky ridgeline that was dotted with trees. The well-packed trail became indistinguishable from the rest of the ridge, and I knew that we were off course. The hike organizer was out of eye- and ear-shot, so I jogged ahead to try and get his attention. “We need to go left,” I said, “although I’m not sure where the route is.” Everything looked surprisingly foreign to me. At least the ridge to our left looked like it had more solid footing, so we ventured that way.

Corralling the group into a tighter line, we veered west to try and regain the climbing route. We followed the ridge until it petered out, then fumbled our way roughly up and left, looking for the path of least resistance. By now we’d hiked into a thick, low-hanging cloud that reduced visibility at times to about 50 feet. Morale was low. Some of the team members were struggling with the snow and loose rock on our off-route adventure. With some coaching through these tricky sections, they performed wonderfully and group confidence and enjoyment (I think) began to improve.

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At last, we reached some long snowfields that made the traveling easier. The organizer passed out various traction devices to his friends, which helped them walk more easily through the snow. We kicked lots of bomber steps in the sloppy snow. I left my crampons in my pack, as my boots were performing nicely.

We slogged ahead for hours in a cloud, chit-chatting about miscellaneous things to keep people from feeling too lousy about what was supposed to be an easy and straightforward climb. It reminded me how much of mountaineering is pure drudgery, and to normal people, it kinda sucks.

“Don’t worry, we’ll climb above the clouds and you’ll see, it will be spectacular.”

I counted on breaking through the thick cloud layer like a winning marathon finisher, breaking through the tape with a huge grin of joy. Sure enough, we saw the sun poking through the edge of the clouds and we emerged victorious, with the summit of the mountain in view. We took a break above the clouds and looked down at the earth below. It was covered in a giant, puffy blanket, through which only Mts. Rainier and Adams were tall enough to penetrate. It was spectacular.

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After some refueling and sunscreen-slathering, we continued along in the final summit push. We picked up a hop-on who joined our group, and we took turns kicking steps all the way up to the crater rim.

It was thrilling to stand at the edge of the crater and look at the world around me. It was extra exciting to share that moment with the rest of my team, who were totally troopers for enduring the day to that point. Everyone was feeling good, and the summit was well-deserved.

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Time to go. So, how do we get back down? I was really surprised that we’d hardly seen anyone so far today. The sign-in book was filled with names of people who allegedly would climb the mountain, including some groups of 10-12. We didn’t see a thick line of bootprints leading the way back down the trail, either. We decided to begin following the flags and posts marking the summer trail, since it overlapped a bit with the winter trail near the summit. Whooping and hollering ensued as we walked, then glissaded, and glissaded some more. Everyone was having a great time.

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However, the excitement of glissading distracted us from keeping an eye out for our junction, and we ended up far from the winter route again. The trip leader was way out of earshot; I was worried that we’d end up at the wrong parking lot and have a lot of backtracking to do to return to our cars. Before veering to the right of a huge rock formation, I rallied the troops and we took a sharp left, following some snowfields and gullies as we approached treeline. From a distance, we could see a short stretch of trail following a short north-south ridge. We made that our goal.

But getting from point A to point B wasn’t so easy. First, we had to negotiate a fairly steep and loose wall of rock to drop down into a narrow basin. It wasn’t a huge deal for me, since I’ve done lots of dumber things before, but I was concerned about some of our team members. They took it slow, and everyone made it down in one piece. From there we scrambled up and over some blocky lava flows, crossed a brushy bump, and landed on our trail. Phew! Awesome.

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It was cake from there. We picked up the winter climbing trail just before the switchback we’d missed on the way up. Of course, it looked much more obvious on the way back. We ran into a group of climbers who’d been similarly confused earlier in the day. But they ended up bagging the climb as they got disoriented in the clouds. Bummer. They were busy placing some arrows marking the trail and blocking the herd path that deceptively led them (and us) astray.

Every climb is different. The mountains always present different conditions, challenges, and secrets. I’ll never get tired of taking opportunities to climb peaks I’ve climbed before.  Each time, another story: Feb 2012 | Feb 2011 | Jan 2006.

West McMillan Spire

September 7-9, 2012.

West McMillan Spire

Goodell Creek trailhead > Terror Basin > West McMillan Spire and back

Approximately 20 miles | 9000′ ele. gain

Picasa Photo Album

This was my first venture into the Picket Range in the North Cascades. The Pickets are notorious for the burly approaches and challenging, remote peaks. I was really excited to get going but a bit nervous about what to expect.

The original plan for our team of four was to tackle the South Face of Inspiration Peak, a multi-pitch 5.8 rock climb accessed only after crossing a heavily crevassed glacier. I was a bit skeptical of this objective since we were getting such a late start to the approach, but I was just happy to have the opportunity to poke around up there.

On Friday morning we picked up permits in Marblemount and drove to the Goodell Creek climber’s trailhead. We got off to a casual start around noon and began hiking up the trail. The trail followed an old roadbed for about 3.5 miles. It was flat and extremely well-maintained for a climber’s trail. But the pleasantness was immediately over when we reached a large cairn and arrow made of rocks that directed us straight uphill. Over the next few miles, we gained about 6000′ of elevation. Steph Abegg has a great graphic that shows the mileage and elevation here.

mythumbnail

It was hot, and we were working really hard. Eventually we popped out of the forest, traversed along some cute heather meadows and then continued up some more. I was happy to find ripe huckleberries along much of the approach. They were like miniature morale-boosters.

The sky was growing dim and we were still nowhere near our camp. We finally approached the saddle that we’d cross to drop into Terror Basin. On the other side was a steep slope and a snow gully with a moat near loose rock and vertical dirt. I assumed we’d have to descend the moat, so without delay I began downclimbing. It was really crappy and loose but with the snow directly to the side it felt less exposed than downclimbing the slab. At the bottom, however, the loose stuff continued and the snow went away. We all made it down this treacherous nastiness without incident, and hightailed it across more snow and rock to find a camp. Just as the sun went down we settled in near a big boulder with a flat, sandy sleeping spot.

In the morning, our team dropped from four to three as one person opted for a rest day. Again, we were off to a late start. I knew Inspiration was out of the question. An hour of walking brought us to the camp we’d hoped to reach last night. Another hour brought us to the foot of the glacier. It was heavily cracked up and it would take some skillful navigating to find a direct and safe route to the rock. Then, there were several hours of climbing left on territory that was new to all of us.

Terror Basin
I asked if there was an alternate peak we could get up from here. Glenn suggested the west ridge of West McMillan Spire, a third-class scramble. We could clearly see the gently sloping ridge from where we stood. it looked totally doable, so we changed our itinerary and set out towards the spire.

The glacier crossing here was very moderately sloped and crevasse-free. We took our sweet time ascending the snow, stopping every so often to look around at the awesome scenery and to guzzle down some water. It was murderously hot! The air was almost perfectly still and the sun was blazing.


We stopped short on the glacier, avoiding the steep snow finger that led to the base of the west ridge. Instead we angled onto some rock and decided to “lead” a couple of pitches to get some use out of all the rock gear we’d hauled up here. We stashed most everything else, including 2 packs and all the snow gear here. Then I started up a vertical-ish slab and placed a couple of pieces for the hell of it as I quickly scrambled up easier and easier rock. I belayed my partners up and Glenn wandered further to pick out another crappy vertical section and we got some simul-climbing practice in. Yeah, not for me. Now I know.

West Ridge West McMillan Spire
Once we put all our toys away we each chose our own adventures up the mellow west ridge. I went for the more solid, vertical sections since they were short and fun and not that exposed. The guys seemed to prefer the loose talus and scree for whatever reason. Either way, we all made it up to the false summit and then completed the final traverse to the small summit block. The views up here were hard to beat. The mountain dropped away steeply in all directions. We had amazing views of the Picket Range and beyond. Glacier Peak, Mt Baker, Mt Shuksan and the Liberty Bell Group all stood proudly among the glaciers and spires. I could see no evidence of human civilization in all 360 degrees around me. It was spectacular.

Summit shot

Descending the ridge was mostly easy. We had to avoid the steep stuff near the bottom that we’d simulclimbed up. Instead we took a loose, exposed gully back down to a point where we could see our packs. Here Glenn veered off across ball-bearing covered slab to another loose gully where he was cornered in a moat. Brad and I chose the awesome slab on the other side and got down pretty easily. It was amusing to watch Glenn in action as he self-belayed with a nut tool over the narrow but deep snow moat.

We walked back down the glacier, staying to the left this time, to avoid crossing the waterfalls and having to downclimb the steep, polished slabs we came up. From there, it was a mostly straightforward snow and slab traverse back to camp. By now I was pretty worn down and was really looking forward to taking off my boots and settling down in camp. Even though we just did an easy scramble, it was still an 11-hour day.

Dan was looking rested and spry as he had a nice, mellow day hanging around the beautiful camp area. No one else had been down in the basin since we’d arrived. We all ate dinner and watched the sun set, then happily headed off to sleep.

The next morning, I awoke in a hanging mist and couldn’t see a thing from camp. We were totally socked in with clouds. That was going to make for a super fun day.


Another lazy start (arg!) this morning meant it was also going to be a long day. We were all dreading the awful moat we’d had to descend from the saddle to enter the basin and had been strategizing alternate routes for the way out. We left camp at 7:45 am and trudged up the snow to the more solid-looking rock beneath the moat to our right. It looked mostly easy and straightforward, but it was steep and exposed and we’d had our heavy packs on. We ended up protecting two pitches–one on the slabs beneath the moat and the moat itself. This was the smart thing to do, but it did cost us a couple of hours. At 9:45 we were finally up and over the saddle and began the long walk out.

We wandered through the clouds, following trails worn through the heather and cairns marking the rock as we slowly began the long, traversing descent. But the mood changed rather quickly when the real descent began. Just as surely as the trail shot straight up a couple of days ago, it dropped straight down in a hurry. This was the most heinous descent I’d ever done. my quads and knees were screaming for mercy. My feet weren’t faring any better. There was no relief along the way, it was just all down all at once. I relished every tiny bump that led uphill as opportunities to give my poor muscles a rest.

Cloudy forest

But all was well as we dropped down the final bit of trail to the old forest road. From here, walking would be a breeze. I kept my internal radio station on mindless, mellow songs as we cruised all the way back to the car. By 3 pm we were done.

This was arguably the most challenging trip in recent memory for me. What surprised me the most was that my muscles didn’t feel completely spent the next day. I guess that means I could have pushed harder. And THAT means I will be back in the Pickets again soon.

Sahale Climb

August 26-27, 2012.

With my Forbidden Peak climb plans falling through, I quickly made plans with Lee to take his son up Sahale. We left Portland early Saturday morning to pick up permits at the Marblemount Ranger Station for the next two nights. Luckily, permits were available since we hadn’t come up with a backup plan.

After killing a day chasing bunnies and trying the various eating establishments in Marblemount, we drove to the end of Cascade River Road and prepared for a long day of hiking. We had an 8-year old with us and I had no idea how that was going to go. I assumed the worst.

The hike began on the trail to Cascade Pass, which was extremely well graded, with the most switchbacks I have ever seen. Nonetheless, about 5 minutes of walking passed before the little guy wanted to sit down and take a break. So, it was going to be like this…

Lee was good about setting short goals, like we’ll take a break after X switchbacks, but there was still an awful lot of resting and not a lot of walking. I was hoping to at least be able to hunt for huckleberries as we plodded along, but as this was a very popular trail, the berries were mostly picked over. I got a few, but quickly lost interest in looking.

Cascade Pass

Hours later we made it to Cascade Pass and took a lunch break. The views were breathtaking from here. A huge, wide valley opened up in front of us and throngs of hikers came and went across the trail. Once we left the pass, the trail switchbacked a bit steeper now. Up on Sahale Arm, the grade dropped and the views became more enthralling. We walked through green meadows dotted with patches of wildflowers. Dramatic, craggy peaks rose up from the valley on all sides. I could recognize Eldorado, Forbidden, and Johannesburg, and the others were too numerous to count. It was here that I broke away from the other two (sorry…) and blasted away towards camp.

The end of the trail rose sharply up a loose talus field to the camp, which was perched atop a gravelly moraine. A hiker we passed earlier recommended the camp on the second of three domes, so I chose that one for us. I unpacked, ate some food, drank lots of water, and took some pictures. It felt so good to have that heavy pack off my back and Crocs on my feet.

Camp

45 minutes later, the boys rolled into camp and G was instantly bored. I was flabbergasted. I will spare the details of the hours whiled away at camp.

The sunset was spectacular. Pink clouds decorated a dimming sky and the moon rose over the snow-capped peaks. I took a walk to the composting toilet, which was right out in the open on the ridge to camp. Using the loo was not for the shy camper. I was tempted to linger there, as the views were particularly gorgeous.

Sunset

The next morning, we awoke to clear skies and a cool breeze. It was going to be a great day. We motivated to get breakfast going quickly and start climbing the mountain. It would take some time to gear up at each of the switchovers, so the more time we had, the better.

A short jaunt from the camp brought us to the base of the glacier, where we put on crampons and roped up. I would head the team with Lee on the other end and his son just about 10 feet away from him on the middle of the rope. I thought that would put me out of earshot, but I got to deal with being ordered around by an 8-year old screaming to “slow down” or “speed up,” depending on what he felt like doing. Actually, this is not much different from roping up with adults; being on a roped snow climb is obnoxious unless you have a really killer team of climbers who are all on the same page.

Sahale glacier

The glacier was mellow and short. Soon we were taking off our crampons to ascend a rocky pile to the base of the summit block. This also took some time, as the rocks were loose and I didn’t take the time to coil the rope nicely so I was dealing with a mangled rope butterfly held over one shoulder. We didn’t know exactly where the climb started and Lee mistakenly sent me, the worst routefinder in the universe, to scope it out. I stopped basically where I didn’t feel comfy scrambling without a belay and built an anchor there. I led up and over a rocky corner just a short ways until I found a rock slung with a red piece of webbing. I belayed them up and led a second pitch. This time I found a legitimate route on solid rock with good gear placements. I also found a sweet fist crack that had some webbing inside it, which I clipped and climbed over.

The summit area was small, but there was more webbing there so I quickly got safe and put the dudes on belay. It was windy and cold up there, so I hunkered down and appreciated bringing the BD guide to make the belaying chore a bit more bearable.

On the summit

View of Glacier Peak

With the 50 m rope, two raps brought us down to safe terrain and we hiked back to the snow from there. Crampons on, ropes on. This time I took the tail end of the rope as the kiddo and his dad led out. This was perfect. I kept enough rope in my hand as a buffer to allow me to walk at a reasonable pace and I may have let the rope pile up a bit on my end in places. There were a few big cracks in the glacier but our route was well away from them and so we were in a very safe situation. We made it back to camp around 1pm, in time for lunch.

The plan was to hike out and drive home today, so lunch was casual as we packed up and prepared to leave. Still, it was over an hour before we took off. The area was so beautiful I hardly cared. I took this opportunity to look around and enjoy the scenery. We even spotted a bear grazing in the meadows beneath the trail. Cool! But, walking behind an 8-year old was taking its toll on me. Rushing forward, then stopping every 10 seconds for no apparent reason, taking snack breaks at least 4 times an hour, and making funny noises just pushed every button I had. I jumped ahead of the crew once we got to the edge of the Sahale Arm and waited for them at Cascade Pass. There I chatted with some other hikers and tried to stomp on a critter scoping the area for dropped crumbs. We stuck together through the rocky section just beyond the pass, but as soon as it was time to stop AGAIN I made a break for it and finished the trip down on my own.

Bear

Forbidden Peak

It was nice to have some space to breathe and get lost in my own thoughts. As I turned one switchback after another, I drew little images in the dirt to amuse the child who was hopefully following close behind. I hoped that it would break up some of the monotony for him. It’s hard enough for big people do climb mountains; I could only imagine that it would feel like a huge undertaking for a child.

Overall, Sahale is big bang for the buck climbing. It’s mostly a hike, with a little bit of mild snow climbing and a short rock climb. Incredible views make this a five star trip. Go during the week for the best chance to get a permit or make it a day climb to avoid the permitting hassle.

Gear: 50 m rope, crampons/axe, light alpine rack to 1″, long runners

Horseshoe Ridge

April 14, 2012.

Siouxon Creek Trail > Horseshoe Ridge > Siouxon Creek

10.8 miles | 2600′ ele. gain | 6:15 hr

This hike came together quickly after a recommendation from a friend on Thursday night. I found myself a hiking partner on Friday and we met up on Saturday to try this wooded loop near Mt. St. Helens in the Gifford Pinchot Forest. Although we arrived just after 8 in the morning, there were already several cars parked at the trailhead. I was hoping to avoid people this day (as usual) and was curious about what all these folks were up to.

Less than a quarter mile from the trailhead we found most of the car’s owners camped along the river, with kids and dogs aplenty. We happily cruised by along the beautiful, green river and admired the abundance of mosses, ferns, and early spring blossoms covering the forest floor.

At about 1.25 miles we arrived at the junction with the Horseshoe Ridge trail. The trail, which had been gently rolling downhill at this point, suddenly rose steeply as it gained the ridge. The trail was brushy and narrow. Our pace slowed down and as we climbed we were pleased with the lack of snow on the ground. Knowing we’d be gaining over 2500 feet in elevation, I was prepared to hit snow at some point in the day, but it seemed to be perfectly clear.

The ridge was more scenic than I’d imagined. There were occasional breaks in the trees that would have provided an excellent view if we hadn’t been socked in with clouds. As we sat at an early viewpoint, I half expected to see a beam from a lighthouse and a low bellow from a foghorn; it felt like we were perched upon a coastal bluff. The air was chillier than I’d hoped, so we didn’t dally at our non-viewpoint long. As we ambled along the ridge, we began to see the occasional patch of snow on the slopes to our left. I was thrilled that it was over there and not over here.

Our bliss was short-lived, however, as the snow ultimately took over the ridge. As we continued our walk, the trail roller-coastered up and down underneath several inches (or more) of wet, sloppy snow. Hoping that the snow would be patchy and inconsistent, I chose not to put my gaiters on. Hours later I would regret that decision.

Up until we reached the junction with the logging road, Sue and I were able to follow the occasional pink ribbon in the trees and old footprints in the snow. We never felt like we got that far off track.

At the junction, however, the tracks disappeared. A pile of downed tree boughs and scattered human garbage indicated that some slob had made camp here and didn’t pick up after him (or her) self. I didn’t see any frozen limbs sticking out of the snow so I assumed this person got out safely and just had no regard for fellow hikers making their way to this camp. We searched the woods for any sign of a trail, looking for cut branches and depressions in the snow. I found myself saying things like “this looks trail-y” and so the two of us pressed on in hopes of completing the loop. At this part of the hike, a logging road essentially paralleled the trail so we had some sense of where we were.

Once we left the safety blanket of the logging road behind, it was a search for sawed tree limbs and a logical path through the snow. I plodded ahead in fits and starts, keeping the ridge to my left, rushing ahead when I found a clue and slowing way down when I felt off track. I kept checking back with Sue to get confirmation that it felt like we were going the right way. I only had the hand-drawn map in the hiking book to guide me, and I had forgotten my compass today. I’m not sure that it would have helped anyways. Our amicable conversation had ceased to exist during this miserable section of the hike. I think we were both bemoaning the challenging nature of walking in unpredictable and unforgiving snow as well as not entirely being certain where we were or how far we had traveled.

Miraculously, and after what felt like many hours of carefully following faint clues of the trail along the wooded slopes, we made it back to solid, dry ground. We rejoiced as our soggy feet and tired muscles touched upon easy walking. I’d had enough postholing/sidehilling for a lifetime.

We stopped to have a snack once we got back to Siouxon Creek. That was enough fuel for the hike back to the car. Along the way we passed several groups, almost all of which were walking with white dogs. A small portion of the riverside trail was washed out, and pink flagging on nearby trees served as a warning to tread carefully. We arrived back at the car just after our planned return time that would get us back to Portland for Sue’s evening event.

You’re welcome, to anyone who attempts this loop soon. The trail has been tracked out for you. Just remember to bring your snowshoes so you can avoid the major suffer-fest we had up there.

Goat Rocks: Old Snowy and Ives

September 24, 2011.

about 14 miles | 3700′ ele. gain | 8 hours
Snowgrass Flats > PCT > Old Snowy > Ives > down talus to PCT and out

Photos from this trip are on Picasa.

Sue and I left Portland early to arrive at what we thought was a reasonable time. When we pulled into the Snowgrass Flats trailhead parking area just before 9 am, the place was overflowing with cars. I was already not excited about my first trip to the Goat Rocks.

We walked for a couple of hours through unremarkable, forested terrain. The trail was well-maintained and well-graded, so we were able to cover a good amount of miles without too much work. We saw a handful of people who were mostly carrying overnight packs. I was happy to cruise by with just a small daypack.

Once we broke free of the trees and entered one gorgeous meadow after another, I began warming up to the hike. An undulating ridge overlooked the colorful wildflower display at our feet. Remnant snow patches still lingered on the rocky slopes. Paintbrush, lupine, gentian, and asters provided a never-ending show of beautiful hues. We followed the trail as it gradually gained elevation along zillions of switchbacks that ascended to the highest point of the PCT in Washington State. Along the way we watched a train of horses heading up the trail, spied a lazy marmot enjoying the sunshine, and admired the intriguing rock formations. There was never a dull moment.

Once we hit the apex of the PCT we turned left to climb the north ridge of Old Snowy, our destination for the day. Ahead of us was another group of hikers with a small child, moving upwards at a glacial pace. We cruised by and were greeted at the summit by a Mazama team who were enjoying some snacks. Once the other group caught up, it got awfully crowded up there and we wanted to leave. I had gotten the idea that we could tag Ives while we were up here and it was so close. I didn’t have any specific details besides follow the ridge to the summit.

It didn’t take much convincing to get Sue to agree with the new plan, so we happily departed under sunny skies along the bumpy ridge connecting the two peaks. The route turned out to be surprisingly straightforward. We had to negotiate our way around several large gendarmes along the ridge that looked more challenging than they actually were. Along the way we came across bits and pieces of climber’s trails and the occasional series of boot tracks. There was a considerable amount of loose rock on the route that reminded me of climbing back in Oregon. We essentially followed the ridge as it rose and fell, passing by an interesting rock arch and other notable geological features, until we hit one steep talus slope taking us to the base of the summit’s ramp. From the base of the ramp we were able to follow a climber’s path up the rock to the top.


It took an hour to reach summit #2. We stopped here to soak in the solitude that we longed for on summit #1. It was beautiful up here; we got a great view of Gilbert Gottfried Peak (or Curtis-Gilbert or whatever the kids are calling it these days) as well as Mt. Adams. Although I could have sat up there for hours, we had some friends to meet at a car campground that evening, so we packed it up and eyed a route down.

It was easy to see the PCT junction in a huge patch of dirt far below us. We headed down a talus field, crossed over some snow, then lots more rocks, until we bottomed out in the meadows. After dumping the rocks out of our boots we glided across the wildflowers to reach the trail again for some easy walking. The time from summit to trail: 1 hour.

As we walked out, we kept turning back to burn the images of the expansive and lovely Goat Rocks into our retinas. I was sad to leave the open meadows, and didn’t look forward to the treed-in slog ahead. We passed several more backpackers on their way up and I was glad that I would not be camping up here with everyone else. I suppose since the Goat Rocks are accessible for such a short period of time, that all the use is concentrated in that fleeting window.

I will certainly return to the Goat Rocks, preferably in the off-season with some snowshoes or skis. There are some other peaks and areas that I am interested in exploring. This was certainly a nice introduction to the area. We took a quick jaunt up Nannie Peak the next morning before taking the long drive back to Portland.

Olympic Mountain Backpacking

August 4-7, 2011.

Check out all the photos on Google Photos.

Rick had been planning this trip for years. Last spring I selfishly went and broke my left foot, so we had to cancel our plans to head out to the Olympic Penninsula and climb Mt. Cruiser, one of Rick’s last remaining targets for his mountaineering career. This year I managed to stay healthy so we recruited one more team member and headed into the forest on a sunny, Thursday afternoon.

Flapjack Lakes

From the Staircase Ranger station, the approach follows a mostly flat trail along a river for 3.5 miles to a junction with the Flapjack Lakes Trail. Along this trail, we were surprised by our first and only real wildlife sighting. Four goats came traipsing up the riverbank and plopped themselves right on the trail. We sat down and took off our packs, happy for a short break, then annoyed when they just hung around and made no effort to move on. A couple of times, one goat would rush over to within a few feet of us, stop and then walk back. One particularly old and ratty looking goat made a nice cozy bed for herself in the middle of the trail as the others perused the vegetation for something tasty to eat. Now the goats weren’t cute or fun anymore; they were a nuisance. We strapped on our packs and motioned to start walking and immediately the goats darted up the talus on the upper slope of the trail. We continued along to the first trail junction.

Now the trail began to climb, seriously, for the next 4 miles. Somehow I managed to swap out carrying the rope for this leg of the journey. All I remember was being hot, sweaty, and worn down. The sound of cold, rushing water was almost everpresent but the water was never accessible. The first water crossing was on a bridge high above the stream and after that the water source was out of sight. I slurped down water from my Camelback but all I wanted to do was drop my pack and go for a swim. After what felt like forever we arrived at Flapjack Lakes, where Rick scouted out a campsite.

We set up camp quickly and went to work preparing dinner. This would be my first of three home-dehydrated dinners that I would savor on this trip. We relaxed, enjoyed the weightless feeling of being sans pack, and discussed a plan for the next day. Since we were a small team of three, and Cruiser wasn’t far from camp, we decided we would leave after everyone got an adequate night’s sleep.

Mt. Cruiser- South Corner 5.0

Sure enough, everyone slept in the next morning and we rolled out of camp at 9:30 am. We followed a trail towards Gladys Divide, which offered some challenges as it kept disappearing beneath snow. Some faint old tracks went off in a variety of directions, and a poorly placed piece of pink flagging also set us off course. I was relieved each time we picked up the trail and especially when we reached the snow-covered boulder field that indicated the start of the route.

When I was here a few years ago in early September, the boulders were completely snow-free. It took our team forever to negotiate the jumbled, rocky mess. This time, a smooth snow slope led all the way to the top of Needle Pass. We put on crampons and traded out poles for ice axes to begin this leg of the trek. We methodically made our way up the snow, then stowed axes and crampons to scramble up the 3rd and 4th class slab to our leg. This began the “up” portion of the up-and-down rollercoaster of a ridge ride to the Cruiser summit block.

A little downclimbing, scree sliding, snow skirting, and brush scrambling later we arrived at the top of a dirty chute that gave us a great glimpse at our prize. Unfortunately, we could see a major snowfield covering the talus at the base of the chimney that would allow us to proceed to the rock climbing. (Is that why we’re here?). Rick ran back to get the axes we’d left behind with our crampons, which we thought we wouldn’t need. Meanwhile, we dropped our backpacks and put on our harnesses, carrying a minimum of supplies from this point on. Once he returned we descended to the snow.

It turned out that the snow had melted out near the rock face above it, creating a moat. My partners lost interest in crossing the snow because it was icy and hard and we didn’t have our crampons. Instead, we traversed across the ledges on the rock wall. I felt uneasy about it since one slip would land you down inside the deep moat, so I had everyone tie into the rope and I led out, placing a few pieces of protection and belaying the other two up into the chimney. There was a conveniently located rap station about halfway up the chimney that I used for my belay anchor. From there we unroped and finished ascending the chimney, through the cannon-hole and up onto the wide platform above.

My belayer anchored in at the belay station for the 5.0 rock pitch and I set off into the clouds. The rock before the bolt (30 or so feet up) is the sketchiest, and offers no opportunities for protection. So, I carefully made my way up to the bolt, clipped in, and cruised up to the ridge. I clipped a bolt at the belay station, placed a nut on the ridge for a directional, and continued up to the summit. The ridge walk was really cool, although it would have been nicer to have some views and sense of scale. The rock edges dropped off into nothingness, like the railroad bridge scene in The Lost Boys. Clouds had completely socked us in up here.

The others followed, one by one, and we shared the small summit. There was nothing to see here, and it was already past 3:30pm, so we decided to get out of there. We downclimbed the ridge and rappelled back to the belay area, where we coiled the ropes and skeedaddled through the cannon hole and back to the first rap station we encountered. From here, I had a plan…

There was no way I was going to take us back along the sketchy rock traverse above the moat. But since we had two ropes with us, it looked like we could do a double-rope rappel from the chimney that would take us down below the snowfield, thus clearing both the dicey rock and the snow. I tossed the ropes down and headed out.

I cannot quite express in words the joy of being the first person down an exploratory rappel route. My first ordeal was unraveling the ungodly kinks in one of the two ropes. It was coiling itself around the other rope and also around itself. There was so much friction in the system I could hardly move anywhere. Then, as I reached the bottom of the chimney, I realized I was going to rap into the bottom of the moat. It wasn’t exactly straightforward to get from the rock to the snow. The ropes sat in heaps on the ground well below me. I wedged my body between the rock wall and the edge of the snow, using clumsy chimney technique to move myself horizontally along so I could reach a point where I could transition on to snow completely. I imagined the stupid rope ends laughing at me from their cozy spot under a dripping snow canopy. Locking off the rappel I pulled up the remaining rope, flaked it out, and tossed it onto the snow, watching the ends stretch out downslope. I estimated I had enough rope to make it to a melted-out patch of rock near the far side of the snowfield.

Through a complicated dance of sliding my butt against the rock face and switching my feet 45 times between the rock wall and snow wall, I launched both feet on to the snow and began bounding down the slope at an angle to the bare rock I’d been eyeing this whole time. With about 8 feet of rope to spare, I reached the rock, unclipped my rappel, and shouted for the others to follow.

Once we were all safely off the rope, we tugged and tugged until the rope came free and tumbled down the chimney and snow to where we were gathered. Again we packed up and set off towards our backpacks. It was about 6 pm and we hadn’t even stopped for lunch yet so we were all pretty wiped out and hungry. With no time to spare, we grabbed a couple of bites of food once we reached our packs and started walking again.

Fortunately, the team was confident enough to descend the slab without a hand line or belay so we continued at a reasonable pace until we reached Needle Pass. We put crampons on again and descended the icy snow all the way back to the trail. Once we reached the trail, we removed our crampons, switched axes for poles again (isn’t this fun?) and bombed down the trail. We had an easier time following it this time, and we made it back to camp just before dark–at 8:15 pm. Needless to say, we absolutely chowed down on dinner and then went straight to bed.

Mt. Gladys

We woke up at about the same time the following morning, with a vague plan to visit Mt. Henderson. None of us had been up there before, but it was seemingly within reach from our camp at the lakes. We trudged up the Gladys Divide trail again, passed the Mt. Cruiser turnoff, and stood at the top of the Divide in glorious morning sunshine to survey the area. Mt. Henderson stood tall and mighty, overlooking basins filled with lakes and snow. Several hills and ridges undulated between where we were and where it was. A timid band of clouds threatened to close in on us just like the day before. Intimidated by the task ahead of us we opted instead to stroll up gentle Mt. Gladys, which was within spitting distance of our current location. We walked up through soft snow and occasional tree clumps to the rounded summit of Mt. Gladys. We could see the clouds making a more marked presence in the valleys, so we decided this would be our summit of the day. Our legs were tired from the previous climb, and it didn’t take much convincing to call it a day. Since the weather here was much nicer than what the dark forest would offer us back at camp, we settled in to a long afternoon of eating, napping, and lounging around on this beautiful viewpoint.

I had my big lunch today: whole wheat bagel with tuna salad, carrot sticks, Del’s frozen lemonade (with snow) and a delicious brownie. I enjoyed the sunshine and the occasional drift into dreamland as I sat in this alpine paradise. Three hours later, after the clouds had thoroughly filled in every nook and cranny in the entirety of the Olympics, we retraced our boot prints in the snow to find our way back to Gladys Divide. Back in camp, we split up. I changed into Crocs and wandered around the forest behind our campsite to photograph flowers and wander among the huge, fallen logs and mossy boulders. It was a lovely forest filled with gigantic trees and lots of places to explore. When I tired of that, I returned to sit by the lake and do word puzzles. It was a relaxing afternoon.

Return to Staircase

On our fourth day, we decided to head home. Originally we had planned to make it a five day trip with three summits, but sometimes things don’t go according to plan. I had a great time here, and I was happy that we accomplished our primary goal.

This time we got up early and broke camp by 8 am. Rick had already taken off, leaving Asia and I to walk back at a slightly more human pace. I didn’t get to take many pictures on the way up so I made an effort to be more observant and less goal-oriented on the way down. It was an enjoyable walk. Flowers were everywhere: trillium, queens-cup, avalanche lilies, violets, bunchberry, the list goes on and on. The greatest observation, however, was the abundant patch of ripe huckleberries that we’d completely overlooked on the hike in! I was astounded that, even with the late snowpack and spring flowers just starting to bloom, that any huckleberries were ready. I think we killed a half an hour just grazing along huckleberry row. I filled up the little pouch on my backpack waist belt with berries to munch on later. Now this is how you experience the woods!

We met up with Rick again at the Flapjacks Trail junction, where we shifted rope-carrying duties and prepared for the last bit of walking along the river. The weather felt pretty nice. The sun was up there somewhere, and I was happy for a stretch of flat trail. We blasted out of there in no time at all, since we didn’t have to wait for any goats this time. We were back in three hours flat. That bag of chips I had left in the car was a blessing. Mmmmmmmmmm……..

Mt. Adams, South Spur

July 27, 2011.

All photos are here.

After a foiled attempt at Adams several years ago with some friends, I finally got my chance to return to the mountain. Except this time, there would be no heavy overnight pack–I planned on getting up and down in a day. Fortunately, another person indicated similar plans so we joined together on a gorgeous July day to do just this.

Nat and I departed from Portland the night before so we could camp at the trailhead and get an early start. After a couple of rude awakenings from obnoxious snowboarders during my precious little sleeping time, we were off on the trail at about 4:45 am. Snow patches on the trail began almost immediately and within a mile or so we were pretty much completely on snow. An hour after we began walking we caught a nice glimpse of Adams in the early morning light. It was so far away!

The trudge uphill was made slightly nicer by turning around to see Mt. Hood peeking through the clouds and St. Helens looming above the western flank of Adams. It was a very pretty area. We had been following a criss cross of boot tracks all morning, and caught up to the aforementioned snowboarding yahoos below the Lunch Counter resting among a rock pile. We walked among several other rockpiles before settling on our own resting spot to have a snack, rest, and reassemble layers.

Once atop the Lunch Counter proper, and within sight of the endless slog up the moderate snow slopes leading to the false summit, we put on crampons and began methodically pushing our way uphill. There were a few shallow glissade chutes breaking up the slope, as well as a variety of boot tracks. I tried to avoid both, making my own switchbacks uphill on the hard, crusty snow. Every now and again, I’d stop to look around and take in the view. It was the same view, over and over, for what felt like forever…

I was happy to crest the top of the false summit, if only for a second, because it was here that the wind picked up ferociously. I quickly added multiple layers, including my giant puffy, and questioned the sanity of the man walking towards me in shorts. The view from here was spectacular, and one I’d never seen before. A wide, snow-covered plateau lay ahead of me, with a gently rolling slope at the other end that led to the true summit. I still had quite a bit of walking to do. But, walking on flat and slightly decending terrain was a welcome change of pace. It wasn’t long before I crossed the plateau and began the last steady, uphill slog.

There were several groups on and around the summit. As I sat on top, snacking on treats and hugging my limbs into my down jacket, I looked back at where we’d come from. There was no sign of the solo guy who was behind us, nor of the group of snowboarders we’d leapfrogged on our way up. The sun was shining, and views reached from Mt. Rainier to Mt. Hood. The building that allegedly stands on the summit was nowhere to be found, covered by a hefty snowpack.

A short glissade took us down the first hill leading from the summit to the flat expanse connecting us to the sub-summit. At the edge of the lip leading down to the 2000′ drop to the Lunch Counter, I waited in the burly wind for Nat. I had to put my down puffy back on to cut the cold. Sure didn’t feel like the end of July! Once he arrived, we prepared for the real glissade. I had a pair of old snowpants on, my jacket tucked into my pants, and my gaiters secured tightly around my legs. It was go time. I sat in one of the established chutes and eased myself down. Soon, gravity took control and I was tearing down the hillside, giddy like a child at a waterpark. It was outrageous fun. There were banked turns breaking up the long straightaways. Snow blasted up into the air as my body and axe dug into the sides of the chute. I had to self-arrest three times to get my out-of-control self back to a manageable speed. I was laughing so hard on the inside I occasionally let out a yelp of excitement. Within just a few short minutes I got up off the snow and looked back up at my starting place, over 2000 vertical feet away. Now THAT’s how you get down a mountain.

We still had some miles to cover to get back to the car. We changed clothes again, had a quick snack, and made our way down the now slushy snowfields, following footsteps and the occasional wand, until we reached the trail. Once we hit terra firma I set my mind on cruise control and stopped for nothing until I got back to the trailhead. What a great day. The agonizing uphill haul was worth it for the sweet ride back down.

On a side note, we stopped at the only place in Trout Lake for food before driving back to Portland. I’m not sure if the food tasted so good because I was hungry, but I had an OUTRAGEOUSLY good BBQ burger that was so giant I couldn’t fit it in my huge mouth. I ate every last speck of it, too.