With the forecast threatening a record breaking weekend of 90+ temps on the west side and 105+ temps on the East side it became clear early in the week that Damien and I would not be climbing Sherpa Peak unless we wanted third degree burns on our hands. Damien suggested that we go on a backpack that he’d enjoyed in the past. The trek went up Pilot Ridge, down to Blue Lake then to White Pass and back to the car via the PCT making a nice loop. We could catch Johnson Mountain, Portal Peak and Kodak Peak along the way as well. This would create a 29 mile loop. Perfectly doable especially since we planned to begin walking through the night on Friday to avoid most of the heat. Naturally, things did unfold as we predicted. The heat was worse than we imagined.

We began at the North Sauk River Trail at 10:30pm just as planned. The air was thick and humid. I was distracted by this at first because I spotted two enormous toad on the trail and jumped into the ferns to catch them to Damien’s surprise, He had yet to experience was inability to resistant catching anything slimy or scaly. However, once we turned right at the junction (2400ft)  things changed. The trail kind of disappears in a large area by the river but it you look carefully you will find two overgrown trails that lead to logs. You can cross over the river via either one (left log is best though). From here the trail goes recently up on a no so forgiving grade. The night was not granting the coolness we had hoped. It was humid and warm and it caused us to sweat buckets. There was a welcome creek at 3800ish feet which is the last reliable source of water. It was cooler here and we took a break.

At about 5000 Damien pointed out that we were on the ridge, being delusional with heat and exhaustion (it was about 2:00am) I asked him how he knew.  “Well it slopes down on both sides of us”. That made me laugh for a moment. We pressed on and eventually broke out of the trees into some grassy wildflower meadows. The trail was level for about .5 miles before dropping 240ft back into the forest. Then it began to push very steeply up again. At this point lack of sleep was getting the better of us. We found a kind of flat area and set up our tent… the mosquito were feasting on us even with deet!

After an hour nap we woke again at 4:00am and continued to climb watching the sunrise over Sloan, Glacier Peak and the Monte Crisco Peaks. The splendor of Pilot Ridge with illuminated and so was that fact that we would be walking on the shaded side of the ridge! We were thrilled with this discovery! Finally the steep climbing ended and we followed the rises and falls of the ridge amist hundred of wildflowers of every color. At times the vegetation overgrew the trail remarkably, but it wasnt hard to keep on track. Deet was required. We neared the final push upward to 6160feet just below Johnson Mountain. Here we found a few small patches of snow, and it was all were would see on the trail.

At 6160ft there is a signed spur trail (the sign really is faint and needs to be replaced) for Johnson Mountain to the left. We dropped our packs and followed the steep trail with switchbacks that were way too long. The 700ft of gained would not have been bad in cooler weather what the heat made everything and effort. We were no longer in the shade. The route up is a very overgrown trail and about 3 class 2 scramble moves just before the summit. The summit is a flat area were the foundation of an old fire tower still remains. We rested here for a bit taking in the views and sharing a small corner of shade before headed back down.

Fro the junction we dropped down to about 5625ft to Blue Lake (turn left at the junction with the PCT). This was supposed to be our long resting place before pressing on to White Pass. We set up our tent on top of a little hill with trees to protec tus from the sun and, though exhausted, went down to the lake for a dip. The basin was still partly shaded and our weary bodies didn’t seem to like the idea of leaping completely in. We instead waded up to our thighs and splashed ourselves. Then we went back to the tent and slept. It was 9:30am.

When we woke up it was about 2:30pm. Lots of people had arrived to the lake, but they were all camping on the shore right in the sun… the sun that had grown strong and powerful releasing on intensity of heat into alpine that I had never experienced. We packed up, filtered water and headed up the next chuck of elevation gain. I could hardly move in the heat. It was stifling. It don’t think I ever sweated so much and so fast. I walked .5 miles per hour just to keep from overheating and the effort that took made it feel like i was trying to run uphill. But I’m determined and stubborn so I didn’t say a word as usual. Damien noticed though and asked if i needed to go back to the lake. I didn’t want to turn back. He tried a new strategy “How do you feel?” I explained how hot I was, that was throat was completely dry even though I kept drinking, that I was getting a headache and that I needed to walk really really slow to regulate my body temp. He decided for me that it would be better to go back to the lake and stay the night. It was too dangerous to continue in 86 degrees, fully exposed with few water sources. We descended and set up our camp again. We again went to the lake for a swim, this time having no trouble jumping in multiple times. The heat sapped the energy from us and after dinner we went to sleep at 7:30pm. We slept pretty much on the top of the sleeping bag all night and minimal clothing. Down jackets were never used.

We were packed and moving back to the ridge at 4:00am hoping to get most of the elevation gain out of the way before sunrise. Again we were on the side of the ridge with shade which was till very warm, but better that direct sunlight. The views were again glorious and the wildflowers spectacular and we ambled along the crest. Descended took less time than I expected. We stopped at the creek at 3800ft and the log crossing at 2400 ft to dip our heads into the water. Heat did get to us on the way down, but it was manageable. Plus I caught a frog and a toad which distracted me from the temperature for a least a few minutes!

We were off the trail by 11:00pm. We had climbed about 6000ish feet and walked 25 miles in the worst heatwave ever recorded in June. Not bad all factors considering. Plus I got to play with three toads and a frog!

 

 

The  plan for the weekend was to climb Mt Baker via the North Ridge, with a backup plan of using the Coleman Deming route if conditions on the ridges looked sketch. We started out late on Saturday, late for me anyway since we woke up at 7 as opposed to my normal 4:30am! The Heliotrope Ridge trail is heavily used  and in good condition up to the Junction. Here we turned right onto the climbers trails. The trail takes you up a steep, rocky, dusty ridge… typical climbers trail style. It is not very long, but with 50lbs on my back if felt like ages. We arrived at the Hogsback camps after three hours after leaving the TH. We decided to stay here on the edge of the Glacier instead of the high Gargoyle rocks camp at 6500 feet because of the running water because we could easily descend to camp after summiting with lighter packs. The volcano was shrouded in heavy mist as we set up camp in what of the stone windbreaks by the river. We went on a short exploration up the Gargoyle Rocks after the tent was up to get a glimpse of the route through the clouds. As luck would have it the mist began to clear when we reached 6500 ft. We spoke briefly to a guide and his client who were camping there. They also were climbing the North Ridge. It looked menacing with so many exposed crevasses. The glacier was really broken up due to the unseasonable amount of heat and lack for precipitation.

Damien and I woke up at 2:00am to a cloudless sky and brilliant stars. It was going to be a perfect bluebird day. We climbed the snow finger between the rocks leading up to Gargoyle where we had laid tracks the night before. At the top we roped up and began to traverse toward the ridge. The Crevasses very very exposed and we leaped over countless cracks as we approached the slowly illuminating North Ridge. It was intimidating in appearance even from this distance. Damien paused at about 3:45am and we re-evaluated. The North Ridge is committing. There were only two of us and both of us had limited experience on big alpine ice routes on volcanoes. The route was well within our ability, but if things went wrong that could go incredibly wrong due to inexperience. Navigating through the broken up glacier could also be time consuming. We saw a team ahead of us already bailing and heading up a non-standard way toward the Coleman-Deming route instead. The second team was wandering around the seracs and crevasses looking uncertain. We decided the margin of risk was higher than we wanted it to be and decided to turn around and do the Coleman Deming.

The Coleman Deming route was insanely busy. Everyone had decided to climb that way this weekend! Lots of conga lines of guided teams. However, since we began the route late due to our change of plans we ended up behind most of the madness. The is a very clear boot bath from the High Coleman Camp on the glacier. The way crosses some major icefall debris from Colfax. Move quickly through this area. There are some large, but obvious crevasses to navigate around as well. The going went very smoothly. Damien took the leads since I could catch him easier downhill of him due to our size difference. It was warm and we were down to a single layer by 5:30am. The route traverses the lower Colman Glacier  until reaching a flat saddle at 9200ft just below a ridge. Two hearty souls had built a camp here. The alliteratively gentle grade of the climb gets steeper from here. We climbed the ridge high above we could see large teams bottle-necking at the Roman Headwall. We hoped that would clear out by the time we arrived. There were a few patches of exposed rock on the ridge and a cornice to the left of one of these bare patches. The snow was still pretty solid and good for crampons as we ascended. I didn’t feel 100% as I climbed; my stomach felt funky. Im still not sure if it was altitude (though I’ve never had issues) or something I ate.

Lots of climbers passed us on the way down. There was only a single guided team behind us that we had passed earlier and they weren’t even in sight anymore. At the headwall the terrain is very steep and there is only a small snow bridge that allows crossing onto the Deming Glacier Plateau above. This is what was causing the bottleneck. Damien and I waited for the final descending team to clear through it before crossing. From here it is about 100ft more to the upper Plateau. Here we unroped and walked right to the summit hump less that .25 miles away. There was a team on the summit when we arrived (10:30am), but they left after ten minutes so Damien and I were lucky enough to have the entire summit to ourselves for probably and hour or so. The views were 360 in all directions with no clouds below and only a mild breeze. Unreal weather for a Cascade Volcano!

We returned to the plateau and roped up again. On the way down I took the lead since so Damien would remain uphill of me as easier to rescue. Damien front pointed down the roman headwall. I did a combination of front pointing and cautiously slow down climbing. The snow was clumping up in my crampons and I had to bang them out with every other step as we descending the steep, knee-jarring part of the ridge.

Near the Coleman camps the sunshine became unbearable and we had to stop to prevent heat exhaustion. We also began to realize that it was going to be a long day (I don’t know why this hadn’t dawned on us earlier!). We arrived back at camp at 3:30pm and promptly fell asleep. We began packing up at 4:00pm. High clouds had rolled in covering the sun and making for quit a nice temperature on our descent.

So finally I have climbed Mt Baker after our failed attempt via Boulder Glacier 2 years ago and finally Damien saw the view from Mt Baker (he climbed in on a cloudy day via Easton)! Now all we need to do is climb it again on the North Ridge!

Sometimes small ideas take on a life of their own and suddenly be grand plans. That’s kind of the way this past weekend began. Since Damien ended up getting sick last weekend and only doing part of the Enchantment Traverse we planned another trip into the area for this weekend with a peak or two along the way. This simple planned morphed into the following: drive to the trailhead Friday night and begin hiking, climb Assguard Pass at night to avoid heat, summit Dragontail via the East Ridge followed by Witch’s Tower and Little Annapurna. Sleep for the rest of the day somewhere, approach Enchantment Peak and set up a tarp camp. Sunday climb Enchantment Peal and McCellen Peak. Then hike hike out.

Here’s what really happened;

Damien and I left cars at Snow Lakes Trailhead and Stuart Lake Trailhead and began walking at 11:00pm Friday night. So far so good and on schedule. We were full of energy and happy to be hiking in the coolness of the starry night unlike last weekend’s head extravaganza. The trouble began at Colchuck Lake when we found ourselves walking in circles and passing the same rock and bivy-camper 4 times. We seemed to be in a maze of campsite trails and couldn’t find the main track. at this point we decided to wait until we had a bit of light to go by and we cuddled up under a rock outcrop and went to sleep for and hour. We began moving again at 3:50am as the sun peaked over the mountains. We found the main trail again easily and began climbing up Assguard Pass as the sun kissed the summits of Dragontail and Colchuck Peaks. We climbed in the shade which was marvelous unlike last weekend! There are a few small snow patches high on the pass; a lot smaller than last weekend and I think they will be totally gone by the end of this week.

We reached the top of the pass and entered the wonderland of craggy peaks, blue lakes and mystical goats. There was still snow in the basin, but more rock was exposed for certain. The boot path leading to the East Ridge of Dragontail is very clear in the snow and easy to follow to the right of the top of the pass. We put on crampons since the snow was still hard from the night and followed the tread. There were few mixed moves over some exposed rocks on the way to the saddle, but mostly it was an easy climb up snow. From the saddle we can see a few different summits and tracks leading to several of the peaks just below the ridge. We ended up following tracks on the west ridge before realizing we were heading toward Pandora’s Box. The East Ridge is actually located directly left at the saddle and follows a faint trail over class 2 dirt and rock to the summit of Dragontail Peak. Here we were greeted by a marmot and spectacular views!

We descended back to the saddle and down the slope trying to gain the boot-track traverse of the south side of Witch’s Tower. However, the snow had softened considerably by then and we began to experience some issues. Our crampons kept balling up causing us to fall ever few feet on the steep terrain. I ended up somehow stabbing myself in the thigh with one of my points. I’m still now 100% certain how that happened. We took our crampons off, but then we had no purchase in the snow whatsoever and the route to the base was only going to get steeper. I had a bad feeling about the climb and the snow conditions didn’t looks safe we we abandoned the peak and glissaded down into the basin.

We decided to take a 2 hour nap on a flat rock above Isolation Lakes. When we woke up after two hours we found that the cloiuds had rolled in… some were kind of dark. Alpine weather strikes again! As we packed our our sleeping bag little balls of hail began to fall and a cool wind blew. This weather hadn’t been in the forecast and was another stark contract from last weekend’s cooker. We relished the surprise! We traversed the side of Isolation Lake and began climbing the exposed rock up the left ridge of Little Annapurna. No crampons, but we had our axes out. About halfway up we turned and found that Stephen from the mountaineers was climbing behind us. Damien was in a much friendlier mood than me at this point. I was drained and any energy I had was devoted to kicking steps and climbing. I didn’t have the extra energy stores for socialization. The plateau was a bit more melted out than it had been the week before and equally as beautiful. I took a quick nap in the rocks there before we descended.

From Little A we followed the boot track over snow and rock to the edge of Perfection Lake. We found a stand of trees in the perfect formation and hung our tarp from there in case the hail returned. Dinner and water filtration were quick affairs. Exhausted from only getting three hours of sleep since Friday morning we fell in and out of the sleep in our double sleeping bag. Once Damien woke up to see a hiker with a fishing pole starring at us. Damien greeted him and the man moved on. I slept through the night without waking once.

We were up at 3:30am and 7 hours of sleep. I felt good at camp, but by the time we had walked to the other side of the lake and began climbing Prusik Pass I felt crushed. Its a good thing Damien was chipper and ready for action. At the top of the pass we headed right over some snow following tracks to a rock ledge. From here we followed a combination of rocky terrain and snow slopes to the to the top of the ridge. There are several blocks on top of the ridge that looked like they could be summits. We followed the boot tracks in the snow to the Middle Summit (which we thought was the NE Summit). We quickly found out that we needed a rope to attain the top and headed back the way we had come to the NE Summit…who should we see standing on the top by Stephen of course! The scramble was easy with the exception of the final two moves that appeared to sketchy for our liking without a rope so we opted to stay 2 feet below and enjoy the sprawling views. I took a dose of caffeine pills here and Damien took a lb of my weight… I began to wake up finally as we descended.

McCellen was originally on the agenda, but we had decided the night before that snow conditions being what they were meant we could only climb one summit since after the snow softened the routes seemed to be troublesome.We instead enjoyed a glorious morning passing through the Middle and Lower Enchantment Lakes. A lot had melted over the week and it was amazing to see how much of the scenery had changed. We realized at the enchained rivers where were now totally melted out unlike last week and enjoyed the waterfalls cascading down the smooth slabs.Then we left the shores of Lake Vivane and the trudge began.

My caffeine was beginning the wear off and I felt destroyed as I crossed over the rocky slabs and uneven terrain on our way down to Snow Lakes. I twisted my ankle again (the recently sprained one) and had to sit down while the pain subsided. After that I moved even slower for fear that I would break it if I took another misstep. I wanted to make it to the dam of Snow Lake, but only made it halfway around before I could barely stand anymore. We stopped to nap on a rock, but the mosquitoes were bad even with deet so I took my caffeine pills again and we moved on.

The caffeine kicked in, and I walked as fast as I could down the mountain trying to take advantage of the energy while I had it. We made it to the camp at the base of Snow Creek Wall in record time. My caffeine had worn off about an hour prior and I only got down as fast as I did on shear willpower. We rested here before heading out to tackle the final 2.5 miles… and I took more caffeine. Lower down now it was hot and as rounded the switchbacks. I was terrified of heat exhaustion and the caffeine wasn’t working anymore. I was beyond exhausted and I’m not really sure how I made it down from the camp in exactly an hour.

When we got to 59er Diner it was 8;15pm. I was sleep deprived and on a massive calorie deficit. I drank a milkshake before my eggs got to be and barely felt like I had consumed more than a cup of water. The drive home was torment. Damien followed behind me to make sure I stayed awake (The caffeine I took at the 59er wasn’t working). We stopped together at Index for a 20 minute nap. By the time we crawled into bed it was 11:30pm. I was destroyed…

So destroyed that I had to go home from work today and spend the day sleeping. I felt like I had a hangover (or what I imagine a hangover to feel like) all day. I chalk it up to the grand total of ten caffeine pills that I took over the course of the weekend…8 of which I took yesterday. I don’t even drink coffee so my body didn’t know how to handle that kind of load. Having 17 hours of sleep since Friday morning didn’t help either nor did the lack of food and hiking 30 miles. All of these things contributed to one of the best sufferfest I’ve ever had… and would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat!

Oh and meanwhile Damien felt great all day!

 

 

The plan was for MB, Damien and I to meet in Leavenworth and complete the Enchantment Lakes Traverse with a peak or two thrown in. As fate would have it Damien awake Saturday morning feeling nauseous. So it ended up being just the ladies, as least on Saturday.

The Snow Lakes Trail head was overflowing when we arrived to drop off Mb’s car. We continued in my vehicle to Stuart Lake TH which was equally swamped. It was about 9am by then and the day was already pretty warm. This was going to be hottest weekend we had this year. Luckily the trail is mostly in the shade until the junction where we turned onto the Colhuck Lake Trail. We stopped at the creek to dip out heads in the water before beginning 2 mile walk uphill to Colhuck Lake. Luckily that area is also shaded.

The Aquamarie hue of Colhuck Lake glistened under a perfectly turquoise sky making from a dramatic view. We could see that Aasgard Pass was mostly melted out and feel that the trek up the infamous pass was going to be rather sweltering. We decided to prepare by filtering some more water from the lake and dunking our heads in the water again.

I have heard so much about the journey up Assgard Pass. It rises 1900 ft in one mile over talus and scree terrain. There are carins to mark the way, but paths interweave and one basically chooses their own adventure (just stay to the left). I didn;t think the terrain or grade was as difficult as it is made out to be. But i did take things very slow as the sun blared overhead and sweat dripped down my face. I didnt want heat exhaustion. we stopped halfway up in a tiny patch of shade for a quick snack before carrying on. The upper section of the pass has large patches of snow. A very clear boot-path marks the way across. I welcomes them, but then again I always prefer to travel on snow.

At the top of the pass we were greeted by a magical land of craggy peaks, rocky spires and half frozen turquoise lakes. There were a good amount of folks comes down from Dragontail Peak as well off to the right. The Plateau is mostly snow covered with patches of exposed rock and dirt. Beware of the moats some of which as massive. We followed the well work boot trail to Tranquil Lake which is mostly frozen, but thawed on the edges enough to filter water. From here we could see people moving up Little Annapurna’s slopes in the distance. We headed there next, dropping our packs in a cluster of rocks before beginning the ascent.

There are several boot paths in the snow to the top. All are on the right side of the mountain though. It took us 40 minutes to reach the blocky summit where a goat was lounging nearby. The climb was easy kick-steps through snow. No crampons needed. Flatish top was mostly snow-free.

By the time we returned to our packs in was about 6pm. We walk another 1/2 mile and camped at 7300ft just above Inspiration Lake. There were a lot of snow-free sites here. Water was flowing but it was a bit of a walk away. Iyt was easy to melt snow though. I set up my tent for a mental shield against the goats (one harassed us at camp while bivying near Black Peak so I dont trust them). MB set up here tentless camp a few yards away. Damien texted me on my InReach that he felt better and was going to hike in via Snow Lakes the next morning to meet us.

We watched the sunrise over the Plateau at 4:30am the following morning and goats ambled around the camps hoping on of us would pee. We were on the move at 6am. The trail was still mostly snow with a few dry patches. The lake were all frozen of partially frozen. All were brilliant blue. I had to remove my shoes to cross Sprite Lake’s outlet. MB used the precarious log. I preferred to experience frozen feet.

Damien set a text that he was at Lake Viviane while we were paused to delayed at Leprechaun. I wrote that we would wait, but after 15 minutes of no knowing if he got the message we carried on thinking we;d meet his on the trail. The descent to Viviane is scrambly and over giant slabs. But alas when we got to Vivian we had no run into Damien and no one had seen him. We decided to wait a bit while I texted him again. Fifteen minutes later Damien came over the hill from the direction of Leprechaun! He explained that he had taken a shortcut because he thought we were waiting and had thus missed us. He had began hiking at 1:30am and climbed over 5,000 ft and walked ten miles.

Now a trio we began the long and hot descent to snow lakes over steep rocky slabs and talus. By the time we got to the shore I was sweating buckets. We all jumped at the chance to go for a swim and leaped into the inviting waters of Snow Lake which was warmer than expected (still cold). After several dives we sat in the sun and dried out on a rock before continuing on our journey.

The going is flat as the trail circles snow lake. The bridge/dam was flooded though and we had to remove our shoes to cross. From there the trail descends… and just keeps descending. My toes were killing me in my mountaineering boots. The sun was blazing. We stopped at Nada Lake and Snow Creek Wall. We drank insane amounts of water and splashed ourselves in creeks. But of course I still managed to get a dose of my yearly heat exhaustion. I noticed it on the final exposed switchbacks going down to the parking lot. First I felt slightly dizzy. I sat in the shade. Then I walked again… i felt my face get flush and felt like my body was one fire. Sat in the shade again. When the trail flattened a started getting a headache. I pressed on this time, running water was just a bit further and now there was no shade. I felt wretched until i laid in the icicle River. Then I felt GREAT!

We checked the temp a few minutes later. It was 103 degrees!