Category Archives: Washington

Leavenworth

June 18-19, 2011.

Cracks and more cracks

After a really long drive, setting up camp and eating a big breakfast, I met up with Tom to do some granite cragging. We futzed around a bit finding the Planet of the Eights climbing area and then surveyed our three options. First we took turns leading Surveillance of Assailants (5.8), mixed trad climb. The top was pretty slabby with teeny ledges, which mad the first climb less of a warm up and more of a heart-racer.

Next we took turns leading Small Change (5.8) This began easily, with ledges and angled jams, ultimately leading to a narrow, angled ledge that I used for my feet and smooth, rounded slab that my palms were gently resting on for balance. I had to step my left foot across, between my right foot and the wall, when I lost my balance and took a pendulum fall onto a #1 Camalot in a pocket. I screamed “falling!” and remember looking back at that cam, feeling good that it would hold my fall. It did, and it was gentle enough that a minor scrape on my wrist is all that happened. I was shaken up and Tom recommended that I cheat left like he did. That was the ticket!

We kept the rope through the anchor and toproped Make Mine a Bold One (5.8+), a mixed climb. I thought the bottom was the crux; the climbing eased for most of the rest of the climb, with the exception of some friction moves at the top.

We walked down the trail a bit and I boldly jumped on Poison Ivy Crack (5.9). The bottom is a longish friction slab with no opportunity for pro until you reach the base of the crack. Mind over matter on this one…

The crack itself was flaring, making trusting my gear difficulty. But I did a lot of resting on cams, so I learned to trust them! A lot of the feet were friction smears, with the occasional small ledge on the right. The crack opened up to hand size at the top beneath the roof, which gave me a chance to catch my breath. I rested one last time at the roof, searched around for holds a but, and finally figured out the last sequence to the anchors. I t wasn’t pretty, but I finished it.

We moved on…back to the car for a short ride to another approach trail to Surf City. People were actually climbing at this area. We saw a rattlesnake on the approach. It was just a little guy. Then Tom led Paydirt (5.6), a crappy little crack/slab with an easy walk off I was about halfway up the crack when I reached my hand into the crack and heard something squeaking at me. I yanked my hand out and looked inside. It was a BAT! I took about a hundred pictures of it and stared into its angry bat face. It was wedged into the crack, its hands just beneath its chin. The back of its head was pressed against the other side of the crack. I could see its wings folded up, and it was baring its bright white teeth. I don’t remember much about the route, since the bat was just about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

We packed up and headed back to camp. For one last climb we took a short walk up to XY crag. There were three climbable “cracks” there. The two to the left were okay, although I really sewed up the one to the far left. The cracks were wide and flaring. I didn’t have tape on my hands, which made the jams painful. I complained about the painful foot jams too. Clearly I need more practice with this style of climbing. I hope tomorrow I can climb past some of my fears.

A plan, and a backup plan

Today turned out to be an adventure of a different sort. We left early with the intention of getting the most out of our half-day before we had to head back. We set out to find Warrior Wall, which turned out to be a long, steep and involved scramble up to the based of a cold, wet and mossy rock face. We decided we didn’t want to climb it and very carefully retraced our steps to some other crags that Tom was familiar with. We checked out Dirty Dome, but that was mostly sport. Tom wanted to climb trad. So we walked a little further to Keen Acres.

Here, I racked up and led Kilt Twister (5.8) on the left edge of the slab. It had some bolts and some crappy gear in the flaring cracks I’ve started to come to expect. I grabbed a draw at one point to allow me to scooch my feet over on tiny ledges and check out my next sequence. It was tough for me, but good. The start and finish were fun.

Then, Tom and I shared leads on Snakes! (5.9). He led most of it, stopping to belay me from a tree growing out of the crack. From there I stepped left into the slanting off-width and thrahsed through a few big moves to get to a sweet hand and fist crack that led to the upper anchors. It was a really fun climb. Even though Tom could have led through to the top I’m glad he gave me a shot at a lead. There’s something just way cooler about multi-pitch climbing.

Unicorn Peak

June 5, 2011.

6 miles | 2500′ ele. gain | 6.5 hours
Snow Lake TH > summit and back
Photo album
Rick and I took advantage of early sunlight to get a semi-alpine start on this climb, not because it’s particularly long and grueling, but because we’d hope to avoid large groups of newbies heading up. Unicorn Peak, the highest of the Tattoosh Range located near Mt. Rainier, is a fairly straightforward snow slog with a short rock climb at the top. A quick rappel and some glissading finish off the descent on this high bang-for-your-buck climb.

Not knowing what to expect on my first visit here, I prepared for everything and carried harness, helmet, rock shoes, rock protection, 60m rope (the only rope I own), crampons, axe, hiking poles, the whole nine yards. That, combined with slushy wet snow, made for a tortoise-like walk through the forested approach. This year’s snow levels are high compared to last, and the warm June temperatures didn’t allow the surface to harden up for easy travel. Rick and I followed a bootrack as it snaked through the trees and crossed a river twice. There were lots of ups and downs that led us to a wide U-shaped valley containing the elusive Snow Lake. Steep slopes on either side of the valley had recently shed snow and debris onto the snowfield we walked across, making travel a little tricky. A few times we punched through a weak layer of snow devilishly covering up a loose conglomerate of evergreen branches below. As we picked our way through the debris we eyed the thick layer of gray clouds between us and the sun, wondering if we’d get the 80 degree weather predicted.

At the far end of the valley we climbed up a moderately steep snow gully also filled with avalanche debris. Piles of rocks and snow fanned out from the rock walls above us. We moved methodically up the snow, as Rick kicked steps and I hauled up the rope and gear behind him. Beyond the gully there was more moderate snow climbing, which felt a lot harder than it was due to the soft snow conditions. We stepped gingerly across a tree top bergschrund and made the last left-hand turn onto the summit ridge.

We followed footsteps all the way to the false summit, scrambled over the small rockpile, and tossed our packs onto a dry rock at the base of the summit pinnacle. The small, docile pile of rock allegedly has 4 variations of low fifth-class climbing to choose from. I looked at a photo with some route descriptions and tried to pick out the 5.6 “Classic” route as our method of ascent. A straightforward-looking system of ledges and slab was going to do the trick for us. I never found the piton mentioned in the decription so I’m sure we were off route, but it was fun anyways. All I needed were two slings and a #2 Camalot to protect the pitch. I belayed Rick up from atop the rock pitch and we both explored the small summit area from there. The wind completely died down, and the clouds were sparse. We enjoyed views of all the major peaks in the area, including Rainier (of course), Adams, St. Helens, and Hood.

A short rappel off a gnarled old tree brought us back down to the snow, where we re-packed our gear and put on some rainpants for glissading. On our way back down to the gullies, we passed a group of Mountaineers on our way up–the first folks we’d seen today. We continued along, moving rather quickly now compared to the earlier slog, and eyed yet another large group approaching the upper gully. Being fellow Mazamas, we exchanged words and then set off for a bit more solitude. We’d had just enough of this walking business and decided to glissade down the last steep gully to the valley of debris. I’d forgotten to put gloves on, so my hands became numb as I steered the butt-sliding by driving my ice axe deep into the slush.

By now the sun had become absolutely ferocious, causing me to stop, adjust layers, pack up my axe, and have a snack. Rick trudged on ahead while I took my time basking in the sunshine. We ambled out at a comfortable pace, following our tracks back to the car. Although it was a really straightforward alpine climb, it felt great to use my combination of skills out in the field, and to spend another day in the mountains with a great friend and climbing partner. I’m looking forward to an exciting and eventful summer.

Rock Climbing at Vantage

May 7-8, 2011.

Some general musings about the situation at Vantage:

  • The camping situation is a free-for-all and the road is really rocky. Also, the port-a-potty was full. No pooping all weekend.
  • The sport routes appear to be well-bolted, if not overly so.
  • There are a large number of fun-looking sport (and trad) routes in the 5.9-5.11 range.
  • There are limited rap stations, which can get very busy.
  • Gully #1 involves a tight squeeze, so pack lightly or go over to gully #2 to descend to Sunshine Wall.
  • The people we met who’d been there before were very friendly and helpful, a nice vibe overall.

I felt sick since Monday and barely got through the night without sucking on throat lozenges constantly. I was less than stoked to get climbing today.

Since this was an AR student weekend, I was partnered up with someone who I’d mentor for the day. He was in way over his head. He wasn’t comfortable leading 5.6 and he was painfully slow. If it was a real situation with weather rolling in or anything out of the ordinary happened we’d both be in a deadly situation. I lost my patience.

First I followed him up what we thought was Strokin’ the Chicken (5.6) but what ended up being Shady Chimney (5.7). I’m glad I didn’t look at the time because I would have hated to know how many hours of my life I wasted here. I ended up sending him a #4 cam so he could protect the top and finish it. God I hate chimneys.

Next up we got on Chapstick (5.6). This was much better suited to my partner but it still took him forever to place gear. Plus, the extra cluster of dealing with twin ropes (his idea). It was really windy up top so I mangled the throw and opted to rappel first so I could uncluster the ropes. At least that gave me a project to do.

After that learnin’ was done I hopped on a TR’d 5.9, although I hardly felt like I was on route. There was very little crack climbing involved. No matter, at least I got a little climbing in today.

The next day I partnered up with another assistant and three students to find some trad climbing. We wandered around for a bit looking for some routes on Fugs Wall, but I was NOT excited about this. With descriptions mentioning “gear to 10 inches” and many routes with no stars I thought this was a complete waste of time. When we got there, the others agreed and we headed all the way back to Sunshine Wall.

My first lead of the day was a sport route: Ride ‘Em Cowboy (5.9), rated 4 stars. I led it clean although there were some balancey moves that made me think. It was a really fun route. Next I hopped on a TR called Pony Keg (5.9). This was a super fun jug haul with some hand and fist moves at the top.

I encouraged the other assistant to put up some hard sport routes, which he did: Snooze Ya Lose (5.11a) and Easy Off (5.10c). These were both fun and challenging but the highlight by far was Easy Off. I smiled the whole way up that thing and could hardly stop yelling down at my belayer about how awesome it was. Lots of high stepping and ledges and nearly a half rope length long. This is exactly how I needed to end my weekend!

Klickitat Rail Trail

April 3, 2011.

18 mi | 900′ ele. gain | 6 hours

Sue and I met up at the Swale Canyon trail head for an as-long-as-we-felt-like-it hike of the Klickitat Rail Trail. This mostly flat, well-graded trail is built out of an old rail bed. In places, its history is quite apparent. It was a beautiful spring day with mostly clear skies and I was looking forward to a nice walk with a good friend.

The start of the hike passed through stark, wide open hills. Rocks lined the riverside. And what was that? A marmot? Fat little rodents popped up their heads from their rocky surroundings. I was surprised to see marmots here! I always think of them as alpine creatures.

Patches of green and bursts of color came from occasional early blooms. But the landscape was predominantly gray and brown. As we walked further down the canyon, we found piles of bleached bones. A vertebra. A jawbone. A pelvis. I couldn’t identify the animals but it was interesting to feel the bones and imagine the other critters that were living (and dying) along this trail.

At the far end of our hike we started to pass by old junker cars and other trash. It became less pleasant and we didn’t want to be out here all day anyways. After about 9 miles of walking we decided to turn back.

With the sun high in the sky and most of the walk behind us I took the time to observe the remnants of the old railway. We crossed the river on old rail trestles. There were piles of rusty, iron nails on the sides of the river. I wondered what it would have been like to ride a train through this landscape. Or what those trains were carrying. It’s easy to get lost in thought when you’re out on a long day hike.

This would be a great hike in the peak spring wildflower bloom, but would be terribly hot in the peak of summer. It’s quiet, relatively easy to access and travels through a unique landscape that offers a break from the dense, rainy forest surrounding Portland. I’m glad we made it out here today.

Coyote Wall

February 12, 2011.

8.25 mi | 1920’ ele. gain | 3.5 hr.

I set out today, alone, to revisit Coyote Wall. I came here once in 2008 and loved the tilted plateau with scenic views of the Gorge. It was a cool and breezy day, but at least the trails were snow-free. The eastern part of the Gorge is the dry side, which has much more reliable hiking options in the winter than the western part.

The hike began at a gate. I walked through a brown, dry, open woodland on a narrow trail. There were occasional views of Coyote Wall, a towering rock cliff above a talus slope, fairly typical of this area. As I climbed higher, views of Mt. Hood began to appear. The peak blended into the clouds surrounding it, but it was still beautiful in its snow cap.

The forest felt different here. On the west side, the trails are lined with towering Douglas fir, Western redcedar, spruce and other evergreens. But here, oak trees dominated. Their brown, bare branches poked skyward as their fallen, dry leaves lay flattened on the ground. Bits of old foundations and coils of ancient cables popped into view as I walked along; remnants of another time.

The trail came to Courtney Road and dozens of mountain bikes whizzed past. Now I found myself in a maze of roads and paths, not entirely sure where public land ended and private land begun. This was the worst part of this hike. The bikes, the cars, the network of roadways. I just wanted a walk in the woods.

But I continued on. Finally, at the meadow, a wide open view of the river and Mt. Hood. Breathtaking. I walked along the braided trail, veering close (but not too close) to the edge of Coyote Walls to enjoy the open air and to feel like I had gotten on top of something today.

To my surprise, I saw some little purple flowers sprouting in the meadow. A sign of spring. I savored the walk along the cliff edge, being battered by the wind, a tolerable side effect considering the incredible place I was in. Better the wind than the stupid bikes. They were out in force today.

I took several photos of Mt. Hood. None were particularly good, but I kept trying. I still can’t believe I live here.

More purple flowers. More meadow. More bikes. Get me out of here.

I made it back to the closed road, the last little section before the car. Boulders lay on the cliff-facing side of the road, loudly announcing why the road was closed to motor vehicles. I wished I’d had a helmet, although if something that size came crashing down on me I doubt a helmet would really matter.

I think this was my last visit to Coyote Wall. Too many bikes. I don’t think mountain bikers and hikers are compatible modes of transport. They’re too fast and obnoxious. I’d rather go somewhere else.

Table Mountain for the Clinically Insane

September 26, 2010.

Bonneville Hot Springs Resort > Table Mtn Summit > out-and-back with a small loop | about 9 mi. | 3200′ ele. gain |4:45 hrs.

What a difference a day makes.

On Saturday, the greater Portland area was treated to blue skies, 80 degree weather, and dry air. But, alas, my hiking partner had other plans so we decided to hike Table Mountain on Sunday. The forecast had a chance of rain in the morning and predicted clearing skies by 11 am. I should really know better.

Luke and I got an early start, leaving the Bonneville Hot Springs Resort parking lot just after 8 am. We followed the directions in the “60 Hikes” book to get to the Heartbreak Ridge Trail. The access trail began through some overgrown Himalayan Blackberry, Thistle and Stinging Nettle…a perfect day to be wearing shorts. Soon we reached a T-junction with what seemed like an old logging road. The wide path helped with keeping my legs free of thorns as well as staying dry, for now. Although the sky was cloudy there wasn’t much of a hint of rain yet. Up we climbed, amidst a lush understory of Oregon Grape, Sword Fern, Vine Maple, Wild Rose, and Duck’s Foot.

In an hour, we reached a signboard with a lousy map of the Table Mountain area and a signpost marking the start of the Heartbreak Ridge Trail. Luke led the way up the relentlessly steep path. We walked through the woods, eventually breaking out into some open areas that might offer up good views on a better day. There were some cool, cliffy sections to look at as well as a memorial to the woman who fell to her death from this trail earlier in the year. Soon, the path became even more open as it dumped us at the base of an old rock slide. We boulder-hopped up mossy, wet talus for a bit as the clouds spat rain at us. Fortunately, the talus was relatively stable; however I ditched the poles to use my hands to heave myself along and instead. At the top of the slide some very new and nicely manufactured signs directed us towards a “Gorge Overlook” and the top of Table. We walked along this very exposed and wind-blasted section of trail until a point where it petered out to nothing. This, we decided, was our summit. A couple of quick photos later, we turned around and hightailed it back to the last trail junction. The wind seemed to pick up here, whipping into us with a bit of vengeance for something we didn’t do. I felt more like a New Bedford fisherman than a hiker as I walked, sopping wet, through the wind and rain.

Once back at the signpost, we took the other half of the Heartbreak Ridge loop to keep things interesting (as if it hadn’t been interesting enough). To my dismay, the trail quickly turned into a messy rock pile, which threatened to slough the surface layer off with each timid step. The beads of water aggregating on my glasses made it extremely difficult for me to see and judge distance with any confidence. I proceeded slowly. Fighting this obstacle, as well as dealing with my recovering ankle, made walking a formidable and stressful task.

The excitement of the hike had turned to drudgery but I would not let my soaking wet feet, screaming ankle and fogged up glasses ruin my day. Regardless, I was delighted to re-enter the woods and feel slippery mud under my boots instead of slippery rocks. In this direction ,we passed two lousy signboards instead of just one. I wondered, if some organization would be so resourceful as to design and install a huge trail sign and map, why they wouldn’t do a better job at it. As we rejoined the PCT, we also passed a dedicated trail crew making improvements to the tread of the trail. It was an awfully miserable and wet day for that sort of business, so we smiled and said hello as we walked on by.

The remainder of the hike was a blur. The rain never let up one bit. We didn’t stop for food, or for any other reason, until we made it back to the parking lot. I was never so happy to feel my rain coat snag against blackberry bushes because that indicated we were mere minutes from the car. A refreshing change of clothes and the last half of my morning’s coffee (in a thermos, still warm!) made the ride back somewhat enjoyable.

Both times I have hiked Table Mountain I have been wet, cold, and had difficulty seeing through rain-spotted glasses. I hope the third time’s a charm.

Cracking the Goose Egg: Dirty Sanchez

May 30, 2010.

Dirty Sanchez (5.8 III-PG), Goose Egg Mountain, Tieton River Rocks

It was the second day of climbing at Tieton, one of my favorite areas due to its wide variety of moderate trad climbing intermixed with harder stuff and bolted routes. I was climbing with a new partner who was relatively new to the climbing scene. This was a chance for me to really work on my leading skills, which I was too happy to do.

She was up for taking on a multi-pitch climb on the chossy, broken up face of Goose Egg Mountain, so I couldn’t let this opportunity slip away. I had read about Dirty Sanchez, which was within my lead ability but I knew would challenge me because it was: multi-pitch, loose, run-out, and required some routefinding. These were all skills that I often left to a more experienced (or foolhardy) leader and took on the role of follower. Now, it was up to me. Sweet.

We easily found the approach trail to the the base of the cliff and looked around for the start of the climb. It took some time, scrambling around on loose piles of rock, before we located the trees at the start of the climb at at the top of pitch 1. The book mentioned looking for the obvious rib; it turned out to be the second obvious rib which led us to our belay station.

We geared up and I led up the 5.3 face/moss slab towards a big tree. One lonely bolt lay just a few feet below the tree. I clipped it with a long sling and proceeded up to make an anchor. The tree atop pitch 1 is enormous; my cordelette was too short to make it all the way around. From here I belayed my partner up and now it felt like we were officially up and running.

The second pitch was a bolted 5.8. The bolts are spaced quite nicely at the bottom and they become run out near the top. The climb followed little ledges in a corner, where my rack could get in the way (oops, forgot to switch sides). Near the shrubbery towards the top of the climb I traversed left across the face before coming back right again to the bolt line, while my partner managed to climb straight up. The anchor consisted of two bolts, slings, and a steel biner, all of which looked to be in good shape.

The third pitch was a weird 5.7 trad lead. I couldn’t find many good gear placements because most of the cracks were tiny, dirty and shallow. Others were simply too huge. The rock quality here, as with most of the rest of the climb, was questionable; most of the “cracks” were gaps between detached blocks.

Pitch four wasn’t really memorable, although I do recall the book mentioned the anchors would be hard to find (they weren’t). I’m pretty sure I put in a ton of pro on this pitch, mostly because the rock quality was relatively exceptional.

The fifth pitch was S C A R Y. It felt harder than 5.7 to me and it was difficult to protect. The so-called “finger crack” took awhile to get to and there were only two or three good jams anyways. Here, as in the other pitches, I had to do a lot of smearing with my feet, and the lichen just made those moves feel a little spicier than they should have been. At the notch above, I had to build my own anchor, which was crap. I found myself sitting on, basically, a pile of blocks. I slung a sketchy pseudo-horn and backed myself up on a 0.5 cam behind me near a tiny shrub. So, I did the best I could, and I suppose that is a lesson to learn when climbing alpine style stuff.

The next pitch was a short, sporty 5.8. There were only 4 bolts before the anchor, no big deal. I remember the first bolt being nice and close but the other were in precarious clipping spots. I spent a good amount of time searching for decent handholds and smears while meticulously testing everything, as I had been doing all day. Right after clipping the third or fourth bolt I pulled off a serving plate-sized chunk of rock that I sent hurtling down towards my belayer. Sorry. This sent my brain spinning for a few minutes, but I got going again as soon as I could and gratefully attached myself to the anchor.

The final section is only 5.5 but this is where the PG rating comes in. I felt like good protection was hard to come by throughout the climb, so I dreaded it getting worse. The knife edge traverse was admittedly pretty cool. It felt safe to stand up there but there was a huge, sheer drop to one side, the wind was blowing, and it felt dramatic. I slung a projecting chunk of rock about halfway across for some peace of mind and quickly made my way to the slabby rubble pile ahead. The rock was covered in living things. There was a ton of exposure, jagged edges, and absoltutely no options for protection. I know that I eventually placed a nut or a cam but my recall of this section is a bit blurry. It felt much harder than 5.5 and I was talking to myself to keep my mind from wandering. I carefully planned my sequence while testing everything twice to make sure it wouldn’t blow out under body weight. I was terrified of pulling off a hold and falling 20 feet across a mangled rockpile onto a tenuous placement. Once I got to the top I found a single bolt, which I equalized with a #2 Camalot and a brown tricam (hee hee). HOORAY!!

When my partner arrived, we broke down the anchor and traversed across the top of the mountain, which is a shifting pile of big, slaty-looking blocks. The downclimb follows a rocky gully and there is one rappel halfway (or so) down to make the steepest section more manageable.

For us, the whole ordeal took 8:15 car to car, including 5 or so hours of actual climbing. We didn’t break any speed records, for sure, but this was my first multi-pitch lead of this magnitude and I was damn proud of our success. I proved to myself that I was truly capable of leading a climb like this on my own, which was the greatest lesson I have learned in my climbing endeavors so far.

The next day, we were happy to join up with some friends at the Royal Columns and let someone else do the leading. Climbing on clean rock was something of a novelty after scrambling up loose rock, dirt, moss and lichen all day. It was a spectacular weekend.

Hardy Ridge

April 10, 2010.

7.5 mi | 2000’ ele. gain | 2.5 hrs.

Sue and I headed out to the Gorge today for a hike up Hardy Ridge. We were looking for some fresh air and exercise, and this hike delivered both. Maybe a little too much fresh air.

We arrived at the trail head just before 8 am and hit snow within the hour. Once we broke out of the trees, we were constantly fighting the wind. We moved quickly so that we could get back into the cover of trees as soon as possible.

Once on the summit ridge, we took in the views and wondered “is this it? Are we here?” Neither of us had been up here before. Maybe we reached the true summit, and maybe not. But we were satisfied with turning around.

Before long we found ourselves back at the trailhead. This would be a great hike to do on a nicer day, so that we would be more willing to take our time and enjoy it 🙂

Mt. Mitchell, Washington

November 14, 2009.

6.2 mi | 2100′ ele. gain | 3.5 hours

I headed north for a solo hike of Mt. Mitchell in the state of Washington. I’d heard it was a moderately challenging hike with excellent summit views, although I wasn’t sure what it would be like with snow on the ground.

Getting to the trailhead was a little adventurous but my little car made it out there just fine. The gravel road was rutted and coated with slush and snow. I was happy to park and start walking.

At once the trail was dotted with snow. It was thick, heavy and sticky snow. It didn’t take too long for the snow to get thicker and thicker. I was glad I packed my snowshoes and poles! After about an hour of hiking I broke into my first view, which was…socked in. A dense cloud covered the area, leaving not even a speck of sky to speak of (say that five times fast).

No one had been up here recently. I was putting in fresh tracks all the way up the trail. I stopped occasionally to catch my breath and admire the beautiful scenery. The way the snow clung to each leaf, branch, berry, pine needle…it was just so picturesque.

About two hours in I reached a broad meadow filled with beargrass stalks. This must be absolutely stunning when it’s in bloom. It was still pretty today, the plants decorated with snow. After the meadow, the trail ran underneath a rocky outcrop. Snow drifts obscured the landscape below. And the exposed, windblown faces were much more icy than the soft snow I was dealing with in the forest.

Icicles hung from the rocks like teeth. The clouds thickened and swirled above my head. Was this a preview of the winter to come? It’s not even Thanksgiving yet!

At last, the rocky summit of Mt. Mitchell stood before me. I scrambled up to the top and imagined the view. I couldn’t see 5 feet in front of my face. I was completely surrounded by white. It was a little eerie, not having much sense of up, down, left, right. Small portions of dark rock stood out in the almost totally white expanse.

No need to dally up here. I just came to check a box and get on with it. In a little over an hour I was back down to the car. The road had melted out a little bit, with two clear tire treads in the snow to lead me out.

Today was a truly fun adventure. No serious routefinding, but I did have to make my way through fresh snow all day. A little sting from the cold weather on the upper part of the hike reminded me to get my winter gear ready!

Mt. Cruiser, South Corner 5.0

September 12-13, 2009.

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE

Staircase RS –> Flapjack Lakes (camp)–> Mt. Cruiser summit, and back again

Mt. Cruiser is a relatively indistinct peak on the Sawtooth Ridge, just outside Olympic National Park in Washington. Our group got together at the Staircase Ranger Station parking lot at 10am Saturday morning, for a quick weekend trip. John led this official Mazama climb, with teammates Kim, Mike, Chad and Brad joining as well. We secured a permit for camping a the lake and we strapped on our packs for a few hours of walking. The approach to Flapjack Lakes was 8 miles and about 3000′ of elevation gain. The first 4 miles were essentially flat, with most of the elevation in the second half of the hike to the lakes. It was a warm, yet nice trip through the lush rainforest. 4 hours later we arrived at our destination and found a suitable campsite. I happily changed into crocs and cooled off in the lake. Huckleberry bushes filled the camp area; with camera in hand I circumnavigated the lakes, munching on berries the whole way around.


Even with a large Boy Scout group just a few hundred feet away, this place felt pleasantly still and serene. We enjoyed a relaxing evening, watching the sun’s fading light play with the colors on the rocky ridge and rippling lake. I set down my sleeping pad and bag on the bare ground for a night under the stars. Before long it was time to wake up, under bright moonlight, and get ready for a long climb day.

At 5:30 am we began hiking, aided by headlamps, towards Gladys Divide. In less than a mile and a half, we reached a large boulder field and took a 5 minute break. This is where we were to start rock-hopping over to a scree slope leading to a nasty gully. We tried not to kill each other as we hobbled up the scree and reached the bottom of the gully. Here, John went right and I went left while the others ducked for cover. The group decided that John had chosen the safer route so everyone else followed him and we met up at the top of Needle Pass. I would imagine in earlier season, when the gully is filled in with snow, this section might actually be enjoyable. Note for next time!

From here, Kim led us up some fun third class scrambling to the top of the ridge. From there, we wound our way through some minor ups and downs, turned a corner or two, then continued down a major gully to the base of the chimney leading to Mt. Cruiser’s summit pinnacle. John and I scouted around for the best route up. Everyone but me dropped packs here and put harnesses on. I shoved a couple jackets and miscellaneous items in my pack, including a rope, and headed up the bubbly, mossy chimney below the giant chockstone.

The climbing was a little spicy with all that weight on my back but before long I reached a rap station with a small ledge that three of us hung out on. We checked out the route above, which narrowed quite a bit. Brad and Mike went first so I could hand my pack up through the hole that we all squeezed through. Just above the hole was a broad, ledgy area that provided a convenient home base to set up for the 5.0 pitch.

Once John joined us he set up a fixed line for the last two party members to prussik up while Brad and I prepared to climb the top pitch. Brad took the lead, using up all of his sparse rack to protect the pitch, and fixed a line for the rest of us to follow. I climbed next, meeting up with him on the small summit ridge 5 hours after leaving in the morning.

The rock pitch itself was nothing spectacular. The features were sloping and covered with lichen. The line on the left, following the rope, seemed a bit sketchier (but maybe easier to protect?) than the line a little further right. This was not a climb where the approach was simply endured to experience a tremendously cool, technical ascent at the top; rather, the whole trip was to be savored from beginning to end. It happened to be a perfect, sunny afternoon for all of this relaxed rock climbing (read: big group, lots of down time). Once the other folks started heading up we made our way back down to the rap anchor 30 feet or so below the summit and rappelled down.

Back at home base, we chatted with another group who was next in line for the climb. They had left camp an hour after we did, and from the looks of it, were going to be out quite late (waiting for all of us). Much time passed as the rest of our team summitted, hung out, and rappelled down. As soon as we could, we rigged a fixed line for people to start downclimbing back through the hole and down the chimney to where our packs were stashed.

About half the team used prussiks to descend, and half (myself included) decided to rappel instead. Rapping was twice as fast, and much easier :). Getting a group of six across technical terrain is very time consuming; we tried to get people moving as rapidly as we could. When we reached the third class section just prior to Needle Pass, we had to set two more fixed lines so that the more tentative climbers could have some peace of mind. John went first to rig the lines and I hung back to toss the ropes down and free solo to rejoin the team. After all the climbing I’ve done recently, I preferred descending without having to fumble with a rope. The terrain was not that challenging or exposed, so I felt totally safe scampering down unconstrained.

One more rappel took us down to the base of the steep, nasty gully below the pass. From there we carefully skipped across the scree and talus to regain the trail and begin the long deproach. I had a nice long chat with Kim as we took our time following the trail back to camp.

The men had just begun breaking camp when we arrived. I immediately changed into crocs and dipped my legs in the soothing water of the lake. We all packed our guts with calories and stuffed our packs with gear. It was 5 pm before we departed from Flapjack Lakes. Everyone was pretty beat, but with 8 miles to go, we all put the pedal to the metal and hauled it out of there as fast as we could. Two hours got us back to the junction and another hour took us the last 4 miles out. Just as it was getting too dark to see without a headlamp, we emerged at the parking lot, triumphant!

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If I were to come up to this section of the Olympics again, I’d be interested in checking out some of the other numerous peaks along the Sawtooth Ridge, perhaps attempting the traverse described in the climbing guide. There appear to be several moderate climbing options, but I am not sure what the quality of the routes are. Cruiser itself would be much simplified and much faster with a smaller and more confident party; perhaps the time could be reduced by 4 hours or more if there were no need to protect the third and fourth class scrambling. Fewer people rappelling, fewer people kicking down rocks, etc. would reduce time standing around waiting. Also, more snow on the route might speed up both the ascent and descent (although it also might complicate things!).