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!

 

 

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