Eric and I woke up early the morning after climbing the North Face of Vesper Peak. We had a little excitement during breakfast when a mouse managed to crawl onto Eric’s leg in hopes of getting a handout… and then a few minutes later in scurried onto his lap! It was still dark when we left our camp on the glassy bench along the scramble trail to Vesper Peak just above the basin drainage. Our plan was to traverse from the Vesper Scramble to the saddle of Sperry Peak to access the scramble route up Sperry. One can also access the route by going up the basin headwall on the far side of Vesper Lake directly to the saddle. However, that way was full of blocky talus and slabs and it was still dark. We toom the route we were more familiar with.

We cut off the Vesper Scramble route in the same place we had the previous day near a large carin about 1/3 o the way up. See photo of distinct rock. From here we traversed across the mountain two a hump on the ridge (we did have to cross a few snow field where an ice ax was needed). There are various trails here (game or human). Take one of these tracks and head up the hump until you are above the cliffs and can traverse across. From here descend on a faint trail to a more obvious trail on the saddle. There are great views of the basin and mostly frozen Vesper Lake below.

A clear trail leads up the steep slope to the upper bench of Sperry Peak. Eric and I used a fair amount fo foliage belays to haul ourselves up. The trail flattens as it crossly the grassy bench to a snowfield and the final push of steep climbing to the summit. A mountain goat greeted us here, but, unlike so many goats that beg for food, this on headed away.

We crossed the snowfield easily and followed the path of least resistant to the left of a big slabby block. Here we found a carin. There is a faint trail marked by carin, but it is easy too loose and it seems several trail intertwine and there is a fair amount of bushwhacking through dense pine trees. The is loose dirt in places and the use of tree belays become required.

We broke through the trees to a jumble of boulders. We scrambled from here (class 2-3) to the flat summit with several small trees. We had a wonderful view of the North Face of Vesper here as well as Glacier Peak, Morning Star and Big Four. Two men joined up at the top and we talked abut other mountains we had climbed before descending back to the saddle.

From the saddle there is a trail that goes off to the left side leading down to Vesper Lake. This more direct route was not as difficult to follow as expected. At the bottom we crossed a large snow field before the lake where to drains into the creek. Eric and I decided to partake in an Ice Lake Challenge (a variation of the currently famous Ice Bucket Challenge). We stripped down to our underwear and leaping into the partially frozen lake… and suddenly we both felt very very awake! Eric also invented a new form of trail running… it involves running across the snow barefoot in nothing but your underpants!

We returned to camp and prepared to head out. The descent down Headlee Pass made my toes hurt extravagantly. A random dark cloud spit of few intermietnet rain drops on us. In the heat they felt wonderful. With about 1.5 miles to go we paused to remove my shoes and take a break by a blueberry patch. Things were going well at first…

“Did you hear that?” Eric suddenly asked.

I listened hard. “No”

“I thought i heard thunder, but very far away. maybe it was just an airplane”.

We listened hard for the next three minutes… than I heard it too. A distant rumble. The the random grey cloud made sense. “Let’s get going.” I said.

As we put on our shoes a more distinct clap of thunder echoed over the basin… the very open basin. I would also like to point out that metal ice axes were attached to our packs. We scrambled  to our feet and booked to down the slope of the basin. Suddenly my throbbing toes felt fantastic! I don’t think I’ve very covered rocky, root laden trail so quickly. As I leaped over the stones and root having a personal dialogue with myself out load the humidity suddenly spiked. The thunder grew louder. I tried to figure out how far the storm was. I plunges into the forest after the creek crossing at the bottom. Eric was sweating bullets and getting a bit of heat exhaustion he told me later. I kept my pace for the final half mile and thrust my metal bearing pack into my car immediately upon reaching the trailhead. Eric followed in bad condition from the humidly ten minutes later. Not long afterwards the rain spilled from the sky and lightning flashed. I was glad to  not be on a summit.

 

 

We arrived at the Goldmine TH (#707) along the Mountain Loop Highway Friday night and began our trek at 5:30am Saturday Morning. Our main objective was to climb the technical North Face of Vesper Peak. We would then climb Sperry and Morning Star Peak (both scrambles) as time allowed over the weekend. The peaks all in the vicinity of Headlee Pass known for its steep grade and 30 switchbacks. We expected the pass to be the most torturous section of the 3.5 mile approach to Vesper Lake with our 40-50lb packs. The trail began easily enough cutting through forest for .5 miles and crossing several creeks. At .5 miles the final creek crossing is not obvious as the trail seems to turn left and walk along the creek before dumping you into a thicket of shrubbery with the faintest glimmer of a trail. If you come to this you have gone the wrong way (like us). The trail goes down the bank and crossing the creek on a few logs tired together with questionable string. The forest vanishes here as you climb over long switchbacks over a rocky and root covered trail to the head of the basin above. The unpleasant footing continues in the basin and includes a few talus crossings. Luckily there are blueberries everywhere to snack on! You cannot see Headlee Pass as you cross the basin pretty much in a long straight line. Then suddenly the trail turns sharply right and after several switchbacks through a small forest and talus Headlee Pass looms in front of you.
The switchbacks are not terribly long as the Pass is relatively narrow. I did not find it very steep and a decent amount of the trail is pretty good condition. In fact, it was the easiest part of the approach so far for me! However, there is rock fall danger galore. Tread carefully to prevent rock fall on the hikers below you and keep on eye from rocks from above.
When we reached the top of the pass at 4600 Feet we shuttered looking out over the talus field we would have to cross. It was in direct sun. The basin we had just crossed was completely shaded spoiling us. The crossing is on a pretty good trail though and we made good time to the outlet creek. At the creek you can turn right and walk amount the shore to Vesper Lake or cross the creek and begin the scramble route up Vesper Peak. At first we headed to the lake in search of camps on the suggestion of a hiker nearby. The lake is a scenic camp area for sure with frozen Vesper Lake and Vesper & Sperry Peaks looming above. However, this is a popular camp spot, plus we decided we’d rather be closer to the route. So we doubled back and crossed the creek. On the grassy bunch just above the flowing water are several good camps. We dropped a bunch of our backpacking gear here and slimmed down to our alpine equipment.
There is a very obvious trail that heads up the ridge scramble route for Vesper Peak. We followed this route which offered good tread, though steep in places, to the upper slopes of Vesper Peak about 2/3 of the way up. We turned right at a large carin and distinct rock (see photo) and traversed off trail across the slopes cutting through some snow patches and easy slab scrambling to small notch (not the big notch) of the shoulder of Vesper.
The notch offers great views of Cooper Lake and Big Four Mountain. Just below a large glacial mass of ice (with several crevasses) sits on the North Side of Vesper Peak. Some folks scramble down to the glacier, cross the moat, and then climb the lower walls of the North Face for a longer climb. Eric and I had no desire to cross what appeared to be a dangerous 30 foot moat. Instead we scampered to the left to an obvious ledge of heather and on the side of the mountain. There is a faint, but obvious trail here to follow most of the way. However, about ¾ of the way a blocky rock wall seems to end the ledge. Some class 3 & 4 scramble moves over the rock leads to an upper ledge to the start of belay for Pitch 1 (see photo). We roped up here and began the climb.
I was told that Pitch 1 was 65 meters… thus Eric would begin simul- climbing when he ran out of rope. I knew I was looking for a dihedral as I headed up the slab. There are various ways one could take on this pitch to archive the same end result. I followed the weaknesses in the rock and managed to find places for 3 pieces of protection. Not ideal… but placements were almost non-existent! After Zig-Zagging up way up I came to a flat area and looked for a place to build an anchor. There was none. So I plopped down and braced my food again some rocks. This would have to do… and I through the climbing was more like class 4 than 5 so I wasn’t too worried about a fall from Eric.
We swung leads and Eric headed up the dihedral. However, he ended up climbing on the slab about 85% of the time; barely using he dihedral. The pitch is 60 meters long and requires a “hanging belay” of sorts. There is a decent ledge to stand on, but you basically have to build an anchor. Eric used a pink and black tri-cam, size 3 or 2 mastercam and a medium nut. During the route he managed about 4 placements. We were told to bring lots of small gear. However, it would have been nice to have a few cams from 2-3 inches. We saw a number of places for this type of gear, but didn’t have that size.
I took the final lead up a steep slab (there is a cracky system to the right which makes for more secure climbing). I was able to place only a single along the 20 or so meters. Once on top of the glassy flat area I slung a boulder with a two triple runners and belayed Eric up.
We left our gear and scrambled up the final few feet to the blocky summit. The views are 360 degrees. Sperry, Morning Star and Big Four are right in front of you. Beyond numerous craggy summits spread out before you. Glacier Peak stands tall in the distance.
We descended the scramble trail which is rather obvious and well-traveled heading in the opposite direction of the North Face. After some rock scrambling we completed a quick glissade down some snowfields to the place we had turned off for the traverse earlier in the day. From here it was about 30 minutes back to camp.

 

Gear: full nut set (though you can leave the 2-3 biggest behind), cams .5-3 inches, black, pink and red tri-cams
Note: ice ax required. Crampons were not needed in our case

 

Skyline Divide is a very popular trail, although most people just go 2 miles to the ridge and do not continue onto the divide. Eric and I began our day late at 7am after spending the night in my car at the trailhead. This is late by my standard, but no the rest of the hiking world. We were the only ones walking at that time. The trail begins climbing through a forest of silver firs for about 2 miles. There trail is very well maintains and most of it is extremely wide. As the trees thin out more and more wildflowers adorn the ground. Then we broke out of the trees into the wildflowers meadows with Mt Baker’s incredible massive devouring the skyline. The clouds and mist covers most of the other ranges visible from the ridge on a clearer day, but the scenery was spectator… and we would get to walk through it for about 2.5 miles!

The trail turns left and follows the ridge up and down a series of knolls causing a significant gain and loss in elevation pattern. Some knolls have a trail that goes right over then and a trail that skirts of side. Your choice. However, there is a much more critical junction at 3.5 miles marked by a large carins, but no sign. We were looking for this junction but did not see the trail to the right that we were supposed to take at the carin. Instead we went left and descended for a bout .25 mile toward a basin until I was convinced we’d missed the turn. We went back to the carin and saw that there was a trail on the right, but it as very rocky and disguised. We took the right trail and continue up and down knolls until we crossed a tiny snowfield and ascended the sixth and final knoll known as the Skyline Divide. Mt Baker was coming in and out of the clouds at this point and the views lovely even with the intermittent mist. We had lunch here and lingered before descending.

Now we encountered and endless parade of people, especially where the trail goes back into the forest. It was getting warm so we were happy to be under the cover of the trees again. At the TH the parking lot we were greeted by a full parking lot and cars lining the side of the road as well. This is why we start so early. Lovely hike!

 

Eric and I drove up the surprisingly well maintained and mostly paved FS 39 to the Heliotrope Trailhead in the Mt Baker Wilderness Area nearly Saturday morning. The day was cloudy as we donned our packs full of ice climbing gear to the on the Mt Baker Seracs. Heliotrope Trail is a popular day hike area for folks to get a good look at Coleman Glacier from the overlook. But this early (6:30am) we were the only ones on the trail… though we say lots of folks loitering in the parking lot. The trail is well maintained and crosses a bridge almost immediately before heading up and a steady grade through the forest. There are several switchbacks and lots of blueberry bushes, though most of the berries were not ripe at this time of year. We crossed two shallow, but wide and wild creeks. There were good stepping stones though on both of them. At about 5000 feet and 2 miles in we arrived at a juction signed left for the “overlook” and right for the “climbers trail”. The climbers trail is for those wishing to summit via Coleman Glacier… not for ice climbers. We went toward the overlook.

We were greeting by lovely wildflower meadows and a roaring Heliotrope Creek several yards from the junction. After assessing that the current was strong and the water deep in about a 2 foot area we opted to remove our shoes and roll up our pants. Crossing without doing this is possible, but if you slip while hoping the the sparse rocks you risk getting washing away down the slope… or getting wet shoes (not fun while on ice). We crossed and continued on into the meadow where we had to do a bit of route finding to get across a double creek. If you look there are ways across… they are just not obvious. There are lots of social trails here and this is where day hikers stop (2.25 miles). Take the lower trail the the ridge. The seracs are lovely and very visible here. But you  must descend along the ridge to Harriman Camp to access the ice. At the lowest camp there is a small rough trail that leads down to the moraines. Carins are in the glacial dirt and talus. Follow them back toward the ice.

We put on our crampons when we reached the dirty, black ice since it was slippery. From here one can take any path they desire. There are route everywhere. One can get lowered into the crevasses and climb out or find and area with a good belay spot. Most features allow for easy top-roping.

We ended up finding a good area for belaying from the ground with a few routes that were tall. Lots of the features are not very long so we got lucky. I led up a ramp (probably equal to a W2) and built an anchor. Eric and I climbed three routes off of this toprope, but the anchor screws melted quickly so I had to rearrange them in new holes every other climb. We then moved the a corner with more advanced routes and set up a top rope there (stemmers and overhangs about W3-3+).

We paused for lunch before getting on the ropes and head a huge cracking sound right beneath us. We grabbed our packs nad backed away quickly. We had heard a lot fo groans from all over the seracs, but that one sounded from right beneath us (at least i though so, Eric said it was from the wall). We also so some massive ice-fall further up the ice-field to the right close of the cliff. Beware of your surroundings. After a few minutes we timidly approached the belay and deemed that if we heard anything else we would leave. We heard nothing but our own breath as we climbed the awesome routes on the corner.

We explored the seracs a bit my foot for a bit before packing up and leaving at about 4:00pm. Just as we were shouldering our packs the clouds lifted to reveal the mass of Mt Baker. Glorious end to a great day. But we still had to cross the creeks that were higher now that the heat of the day had melted more snow!

We were due for another scotching dayso Jessica, Mike and I left Snohomish early for a day of bouldering at the Gold Bar Boulders. The three mile dirt track leading the to boulders had yet to be touched by sunshine and we began the three mile journey in delightful shade. The mountains opposite the valley was spectacular on the clear day and ripe blackberries lined the path. In fact, there were many point in the track where blackberries and other shrubbery had branches reaching onto the trail scratching up our arms and making the going a bit adventurous. I suspect that in another week or two the trail will be overgrown to the point where waiting until things die back in the fall would be a  good idea.

We were going to begin climbing The Clearcut area while it was still shaded, but ended up stumbling across an awesome boulder in the Forest area that we couldn’t pass up. We warmed up on “Scotty” V0 which is an awesome and fun climb on cool edges. We then worked on “Beam Me Up” V2 which was another great climb with awesome moves. There is a loose block near the bottom hold though so beware! It doesn’t look like it will come out soon, but in wiggles quite a lot.

After some searching and several wrong turns we arrived at the Doja boulder cluster. We worked on “Bulldozer” V2 with great edges beneath a roof. Then moved on to “Devastation” V2 another roof with technical feet. The topout was so mossy though we decided it was safer to just drop off.

We finished up on a boulder further along the trail. We climbed a crimpy V0 called “Warm-Up Slab” which is great fun despite its ease. Then we worked on a V3 “Rocksteadeasy”. Mike was the most convinced of his inability to finish it… and ended up being the only one to send the problem! It has tiny edges and some mentally dicey moves with feet on tiny holds. The tree beside the problem can get in the way a bit.

After spending much of July in the front country due to the east side fires and Eric’s sudden illness it was a relief to be back outside on the rock this weekend. Jeff and I drove to Exit 38Friday morning, arriving at the trail head for Far Side at about 7:45am. After some wandering within the intertwining maze of trails we finally made it to Interstate Park…named to the view of I-90 below. There are copious sport climbs in the area, both long and short routes. Most route at in the 5.6-5.10b range.

The day was forecasted to be hot, bright and sunny. All bad things in my book. Luckily and good amount fo routes were shaded by trees. We began on some easy short pitches In the “Swerve” 5.7, “Midnight Scrambler” (5.7) and “Nocturnal Remission” (5.8). We both led the routes to get in an much lead practice as possible, plus we were in no hurry. Next e climbed “Swarm” (5.7) which shares and anchor with a 5.10b “Carnage Before Bedtime”. We left the rope up and top roped the 5.10b which included a cruxy diagonal finger crack with a secret hold. I struggled and ended up doing and heel hook boulder move which i would never do on lead. Jeff  repeated the route on lead!

We traveled further up the trail to do the Multipitch which combines the lower :” Eating Dust” (5.6) with the long (10 bolts) upper pitch “Insomniac” 5.8. I led the first pitch which began with a gigantic high step boulder move to get onto the bulge to access open book pitch. The belay station chain were, of course, located in full sunshine. I baked there while belayed Jeff up the second pitch which is great fun. One must be certain to make a right turn and the small pillar (there is a bolt on it) and not follow the grassy ledge. Some heart pumping fun moves on top, but really textured rock.

There was one route we both really wanted to do, a 4 star 5.7 called “Kiss of the Crowbar”. There was a group in front of us so we waited. It shouldn’t have taken long, but the neighboring group was climbing a 5.8 that shared an anchor with “Kiss of the Crowbar” and they believed it was unsafe to have two people on the chains for some reason…they were very inexperienced and refused to believe Jeff when we explained it was safe. So we had to wait until everyone was done with both routes which results in us sitting around for over an hour. But it was the hottest part of the day, so we didn’t mind so much. Finally we both led up the route. The first clip was about 15-20 feet off the ground (maybe more) and the most difficult section. Most clips were a bit hidden since the blocky route was slightly overhung. The holds were solid though the the route definitely deserved it 4 start rating, great fun! We packed up and headed out after we both completed the route at 4:00pm. Great day and we avoided most of the sun!