If you’ll recall, I attempted this scramble/climb back in October with Marybeth. That outing proved to be a very wet one. We turned back at the last several feet of the climb due to dripping wet rock. With a wet weekend forecast for Mount Shuksan Damien and I decided to return to Snowy Lakes. The weather at Rainey Pass was predicted to be at least partly sunny (along with the rain) and we’d hope to catch a weather window to climb Golden Horn and Tower Mountain. If not we figured it would be a great backpack.

The weather on the way in proved to be as bi-polar as predicted. It was drizzling went we left the parking lot and headed into the forest. However, some blue patches became visible as Cutthroat Pass came into view and the landscape opened up into the alpine. What a different coming back to this area in summer when the larches are green! We followed the switchbacks up to Cutthroat Pass along the PCT as the clouds closed in again. It didn’t rain though and we enjoyed a brief break looking at the mountains of the North Cascades.

The PCT stays high (don’t follow the low trail going right) and follows a ledge was that blasted out of the granite walls. Don’t get too close to the edge here. Rounding a corner Tower Mountain and Golden Horn came into view partially shrouded by soft mist. It grew very windy and a bit rainy as we began the descending switchbacks down 600ft to Granite Pass. From there the PCT contours beneath the South Face of Tower Mountain again on a ledge… at time a very narrow ledge indeed. Our various beta proclaimed that the unmarked side trail up to Snowy Lakes was reported to be anywhere from 2-2.5 miles from Granite Pass. Our GPS read 1.91 miles when we reached the junction. It it pretty easy to locate. Top the left there is a trail that goes into a large grassy camp area and to the right is a trail that goes up into the brush. We took the rugged and steep trail to the right and climbed 600ft to the Snowy Lakes Basin.

It was definitely damp and misty when we arrived at 3:00pm, but the stones around camp seemed pretty dry so after setting up our tent at lower Snowy Lake we packed up our gear and headed toward Golden Horn.

Golden Horn is considered a class 2-3 scramble except for the final 20 feet where it is low class five. Bringing a rope is optional for the climb and there was no beta on protection. We did read reports of rappel rings though. Damien and I opted to tote a rope, some nuts and tri-cams with us. We walked around Upper Snowy Lake and over some alpine slopes in the general direction of Golden Horn. There is no trail, you just have to kind of find our way to the golden talus and scree slope where the angle increases. There is indeed some kind of trail that ascended the talus/scree but we could not find it. The best route up is to stay near the left of a line of trees that go up the scree slope. As you near the ridge starting aiming left. There are numerous weaving trails here that all follow at or close to the ridge heading left toward the summit. we climbed over some rock piles and followed cairns to around the back of the towering summit block. The mist was very heavy and the wind was beginning to pick up at this point. There were three towering rock features that we thought might be the summit… we couldn’t tell from our angle which was higher from the low angle sandy area beneath the stone walls. We put on our harness here and climbed up the easiest one. The fact that the climbing was class 2 on its own indicated that it was not the summit, plus we could tell once on it that the others two were higher.

We scampered back down and headed toward the features on the left. It seemed like we could climb what appeared to be a low class five crack to this slab flake on the right. There was no obvious rappel rings though and we did not have large enough gear to protect the crack. We might have been able to rig a rap station off of a very wide lower flake. We both discussed it. Damien felt he could lead it and that we could find a way to rap. I was unconvinced about the rap and also beginning to shiver uncontrollably as the temperature dropped suddenly.  We decided to opt out of that route and tray was appeared to be more like a staircase on the left. I went up that and once again too a look at the large slab. It looked like there would be two or three moves of friction on it to reach the top… only there were no bolts. That didn’t sit well with either of us. Especially since now Damien was beginning to freeze. Both hit was mild hypothermia and with weather that was swiftly deteriorating we decided that looking around for a way up was no longer an option. We descended.

Luckily going down the scree was much easier than going up.We basically plunge stepped down! It did indeed begin to rain and our sleeping bags were most welcome. We didn’t emerge until along 9pm to cook a quick dinner. It rained all night and thus we opted not to attempt Tower Mountain when we woke up at 5:30am. It is infamous for loose-rock and sustained class three climbing. Instead we took out time at camp enjoying the weather which was a massive relief from the endless heatwaves we’d had over the past two months. It remained bi-polar between rain, mist and sun all the way to the car which we reached at 12:35pm. It was time for some dry clothes and ice cream at Cascade Farms!

 

Damien and I snagging last minute reservations to climb Mt Rainier via the Emmons Glacier Route. Damien climbed the mountain last year on the DC route… I had never climbed it. We figured since we already climbed 3 volcanos this year we might as well go for another. The weather was predicted to the clear and sunny… perhaps a bit overly sunny, but we figured travel by night would mitigate most of the sunshine issues. Our training was up to par. We took aspirin for two weeks to thin our our blood a bit to deal with elevation and climbed to Camp Muir the weekend before. Now we just needed to actually start climbing!

Damien and I got out of work early on Thursday to pick up our permits. The ranger at the White River Ranger station warned of very thin snow bridges and gaping crevasses in the corridor. Plus a questionable “snow chockstone” bridge over the upper bergschrund. To top it off some of the route was pure ice due to the lack of snow. Self arresting would be impossible in some areas and a few screws were recommended. We kicked ourselves for a bit. We had talked about taking a  few screws and then decided against it. We decided to drive back to Everett to get our screws… then we came back and slept in the car. We got up at 2am… the ranger’s intimidating talk started to get to us and we began to wonder if climbing the Emmons was a safe idea after all. We discussed everything for about an hour and decided to do something else for the weekend… but when we got home we felt horrible about bailing so we drove back to the park and headed down the trail at 12:30pm Friday. We no longer find the drive to White River enjoyable.

The Glacier Basin trail begins in the White River Campground (4500ft) and gradually ascended through mostly shady forest to Glacier Basin in 3.1 miles. There is running water along the way and Glacier Basin Camo has access to the silty White River on a side trail. The basin is completely melted out which I’ve been told in very unusual. The unmaintained trail from here is very easy to follow, but gets rougher as it follows the white River from the grassy basin to the moraines of the InterGlacier. We put on our harnesses and crampons at the base of the ice slope, but figured we’d rope up higher up on the big ice field.  Access onto the glacier is made treacherous due to running water running swiftly under the ice and snowpack which is thin in some places. There are large areas of exposed steep ice and self arresting would be futile. Rockfall from the surrounding cliffs is frequent so stay out of the fall line. We roped up about 600ft up the slope before the first crevasses. By then it was 6:00pm.

There is a beaten bootpack that leads up what seamed like an endless slope. Every time i thought we were at the top there was another slope behind it! We stepped over a few crevasses and crossed a snow bridge. Nothing was dicey. We were just very very tired at this point! Finally we arrived at the rocky area known as Camp Curtis. We picked our way over some rocky ledges and were greeted with a full view of Mount Rainier… and the long track we had to follow below to Camp Schurman (9450ft). We carefully descended the sandy rock ledges back onto the snow, now passing mammoth crevasses and Little Tacoma to the left. The path seemed to go on forever and the little hut of Camp Schurman never seemed to get closer. But we did finally reach it just as the sun began to dip below the horizon. We joined the other late comers in digging our a space for our tent on the snow left of the rock plateau the dry campsites and hut were located. The wind howled as we staked down our tent with our pickets. Folks nearby us were really struggling with their massive dome shaped tents, but getting up our BD Eldorado was fairly easy. The city light of Seattle glowed far below us against a smoky pink sky as we finally snugged up inside the tent at 10:30pm. Damien ate gummy worms for dinner… I had goldfish (whole gain of course!).

We awoke late on Saturday morning. This was our day to chill and rest before the climb. We hung around camp talking to the ranger and other climbers. I’d never been to a basecamp like this before complete with prayer flags and plastic flamingos outside the hut. We switchout our pickets and staked down out tent up our snow parachutes… had last nights dinner for breakfast. Base camp activities and a lot of sleeping. Climbers seemed to be having success with the route, though many warned of icy on top of the corridor being very cruxy. Damien and I were concerned about the heat forecast for Sunday as well and figured it would be best to start as early as possible just as the glacier began to freeze up and get down before the sun had much time to heat up the route. We decided that we would head out at about 10pm.

As the sky dimmed Damien and I donned our harnesses. We’d been studying the route all day. The corridor would be the hard part it seemed. We were the first team to break camp and head into the darkness. We passed through Emmons flats easily following a boot pack across the gentle slope. Then the real climbing began. We followed a narrow ledge beside a massive crevasse up onto the corridor. Bridges were everywhere and many were disguised as solid snow. I crossed one and only realized i was on a bridge when my ice axe punched through halfway across! We moved carefully and with purpose. The path was easy to follow… but sketch. We stopped over a crevasses with a deep lip. The going was on wither very soft snow or solid ice. Whenever Damien crossed what seemed like thin bridge I would go into arrest position if i could, but in some places it was impossible due to the ice. Getting a picket to rescue would not work here. At about 11,000 ft Damien came across a very sketch bridge. It had two footholds punches through it as though someone had fallen through and their crotch stopped them. Damien crossed to the left of it… up ahead her could see even more thin bridges in a seracs field. It didn’t look bad from down at camp… it was very different up close. We moved into what we assessed to be a safe place and stopped to examine the situation. Snow bridges around us were making funny sounds. Someone had punched through this one earlier. The day was going to get warm and through we could probably make it up just fine getting down could lead to an epic. Self arresting was not always an option. We are conservative climbers.. we bailed… and it became very clear that this was the right move in a matter of minutes a few feet below the bridge with the boot punctures the ground under Damien made a big whump sound and sunk a bit…. he was on a weak hidden bridge. We moved down the mountain surprisingly not in sadness, but feeling pretty happy with ourselves for not letting our ambition override our judgement. This is the first time I didn’t horrible about being forced to bail. For the first time it wasn’t about the summit… it was about the journey. I’ve always been obsessed with summits  and getting as many as possible. I didn’t care how I obtained that goal. Amount of mountains climbed is still important to me… but the route and journey there now holds importance as well. That is something Damien has shown me.

Climbers definitely made the summit that day, we saw them near the top when we woke up later that morning. I don’t know what it was like for them coming down. Damien said the route probably will only be in a day or two more. We’re glad we made our decision regardless of the others. It was the right one for us. We broke campo and headed down the InterGlacier. It was so warm that i ended up wearing just my tank top and wishing i could convert to shorts. I always knew this would happen eventually… i never thought it would be on Rainier. My watch read 83 degees at Camp Curtis and it was about 8:45am! Descending the InterGlacier wasn’t as bad as going up… good amount of rockfall in some areas though due to the heat.

We walked out of the wilderness at 12:45pm to what would be the hottest day of the year in Seattle. Until next year Emmons Glacier!

 

I don’t think this route should be called Disappointment Peak Cleaver… it should be call the Trudging Traverse or something of that nature because all we seemed to do was traverse usually by moving in a trudge-like fashion.

We left the North Fork Sauk River TH at 3:45am. The first 5.5 miles of gradually ascending trail are wooded (and in some areas overgrown). We filled filtered water at Mackinaw Shelter and took a short break knowing that the trek was about to go from pretty much flat to very much up. Immediately after the shelter the trail switchbacks out of the forest and into the alpine gaining about 2000 feet. After the final switchback we began our first of many traverses just below the ridge among green meadows of wildflowers. The views are grand from this vantage point and afford us a look at Pilot Ridge and Mount Johnson which we had done the previous week. Below us we saw some intense tree destruction caused by avalanches. There were several little steams along the way and though warm, a soft wind took off the edge.

After what seemed like forever we finally reached the junction with the PCT. From here we continued forward to White Pass (another .5ish miles). White Pass looks like the alps in the Sound of Music, but we didn’t linger long. We took the signed trail along Foam Creek to the left and… traversed again! There were numerous water sources along this trail that seemed to go on forever (in reality it was more like 2 miles, but the warming weather and heavy packs made everything seem an eternity). We turned left off the main trail and onto the well worn climbers trail marked by a cairn in a dusty wash and ascended to the lowest saddle of White Mountain (6600ft). From here we had our first look at Glacier Peak.

The climbers trail then drops extremely steeply into a basin. A clear by narrow trails traverses the left side of  the basin and then up to a notch (the same we saw Glacier Peak peaking out from). From here the view of the mountain and endless moraines, lakes and rocky towers is incredible. We descended into the rocky moraines and babbling glacial creeks. It was too beautiful a place to pass through so we stopped here, took off our boots for awhile before moving on. There were two lower slopes choose from to from to gain the upper moraines. We followed cairns and a trail up the left rocky slope. From here we followed cairns toward White Chuck Glacier which could be seen in the distance. There are numerous camps to choose from and plenty of water in glacial lakes and creeks flowing everywhere.

We left camp at 12:20am. With a full moon we easily made our way over the White Chuck Glacier. We crossed it easily and look the left snow snow gully on the other side to the top of a col. Here it seemed as though the route disappeared over a steep drop off. But after stumbling around a bit we climbed up some rocks to the right and found the trail again. We followed a track that traversed right along a steep snow slope to completely melted out Glacier Gap (high camp). From here we followed a rough trail 100ft over a saddle and then down the other side to the foot of the Suiattle Glacier.

Finally, with all that traversing behind us (or so we thought) we walked across the flat lower glacier to the base of Disappointment Peak Cleaver which was melted, grassy and had a clear trail. We followed the trail until 8600 ft and then dropped off into the snow to rope up. Damien led across the glacier pass quickly by the rocky walls of Disappointment Peak due to the obvious rockfall hazard. We gained the right shoulder and col marking the beginning of Cool Glacier at 9,100 ft. From here we angled left and navigated between a few close knit crevasses before we began our traverse around the summit of Glacier Peak… ugh the traversing!

Finally ,we reached the final section of the climb: the dirty, sandy, dusty pumice ridge and began to climb up the steep trail. The final push is on a snow finger. The route goes up and right on the snow finger and then right at the top to gain the summit. FINALLY! The perfect way to spend the Fourth of July. We were the only team on the summit for a few minutes before the next team arrived. This team was awesome. They brought sparklers up with them… and a golf driver. One guy had a tradition of hitting a few golf balls off of summits!

We were concerned the the descent would be very long, but it were quickly and we arrived back at camp around 2:00pm. We took a 2 hour nap and then, after some discussion, decided to have dinner and traverse out way back to White Pass. I was concerned about the heat on the Foam Creek trail away from the glacier, but it turn out to be breezing and cool on the way to White Pass and the Sound of Music Camps. We were treated to a gorgeous sunset before turning in from the long day.

We hiked our final traverse the following morning and arrived at the car just as the day was beginning to warm up.

Type 2 fun? Absolutely!