I struggled a bit with how to file this blog entry as this adventure was along distance backpack that also happened to include some scramble days/hours. I have opted to devote this entry totally to the backpacking portion of the trip. Details on the climbs will have their own post in the scramble section of the blog, but I will link to it in this entry as well for navigation ease. So without further delay:

The PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass has 310 switchbacks. How do I know this? Damien and I embarked on the longer trek either of us had ever taken last week. We sent 9 days in the backcountry hiking section J of the PCT taking several side trips from the main trail to scramble up some summits. The PCT Section encompasses 75 miles and with the side trails we estimated that we added another 30ish miles of off trail adventure. Oh and the switchbacks? Damien counted them.

Prep:

I thought I should add a special note regarding prep and acknowledge Melanie for helping make what could have been a difficult to coordinate trip very easy. She was our “society” base camp coordinator, shuttle driver and food cache assistant manager. On Friday the day before we left, Melanie and I hiked the Hyas Lake Trail and cached 4.5 days of food near the Tuck Lake Trail Junction cutting down the the weight Damien and I carried on our first 2.5 days (there was some overlap in food just in case something went wrong). We also dropped my car off at Snoqualmie Pass that day. The next day she dropped us off at Stevens Pass. During the trip we checked in with Melanie at “Society” basecamp and received weather updates from her via my InReach.

 

DAY 1: Stevens Pass to Thunder Lakes

Melanie dropped us off at Stevens Pass at about 6:30am on Saturday September 18. I’m lucky to have a friend that wakes up as early as I do! After taking a “before” pictures and some farewell hugs, Damien and I set out on our 9 day journey into the rugged heart of the Cascades. It was a cool, misty day with a light rain that grew harder as the day wore on. But for now it less than even a Drizzle as we headed off under the ski lifts and up to the the top of the first ridge. In fact, it felt like most of the day we spent going up and down ridges… and passing thru hikers. Damien talked to them as much as they would allow. They were easy to spot: beard (if male), osprey pack and waffle sleeping pad. We never did find out why 90% of the thru-hikers we met on the PCT had osprey packs. They all said “They carry heavy loads” when we started asking. We also Learned from a Thru-Hiker that when passing through Yosemite PCTers must carry a bear vault or get ticketed $500… but you can just carry the small one ūüôā

The remember the feeling went the final hint of the the ski slopes disappeared from view. It was relief. Finally I was in my world. The world of the wilderness where I feel truly feel alive and at ease. A world where everything is so much more simple and beautiful. We passed by Lake Josephine, Mig, and Hope swiftly. We barely noticed the miles fly by. Of course were were fresh right out of the gate that first day. Things would change! But for now we enjoyed high energy and found ourselves passing Trapp Lake and arriving at Trapp Pass insane ease. Here we took our first side trip off the trail. From the pass we turned left onto a rugged, unmarked side trail that follows a ridge to¬† glorious alpine meadows with towering spires. Slippery Slab is here along the rock towers and further on in Thunder Lakes. By this time a steady rain and thick mist had settled around us and we barely saw Thunder Lakes as we approaching following cairns to the shoreline. Only two other parties were camped by the lake. We couldn’t see Thunder Mountain, but we could see where it was across the lake on the map. We set up camp on the shoreline and enjoyed our first freeze-dried meal. I believe Damien had his favorite: Mountain House Chili Mac. We went to sleep with the pitter patter of rain against the tent fly and excitement for day 2!

 

Day 2: Thunder Lakes to Deception Lakes (Thunder Mountain & Surprise Mountain)

After climbing Thunder Mountain Damien and I packed up camp and headed back to the PCT. It seemed the the weather predictions had been flip flopped. Saturday was supposed to be partly sunny with showers and Sunday all rain. Well, Saturday was all rain and as we passed Slippery Slab on Sunday the sun was shinning! Once back on the PCT we began passing the usual parade of thru-hikers going North. We continued South dropping below Trapp Pass and contouring below the ridge we had just climbed. Above us Slippery Slab and Thunder Mountain loomed above looking more ominous from this preservative. Below us the blue waters of Surprise and Glacier Lakes Shimmered in the sunshine. It was along crisp autumn day on the PCT and like any other autumn it did begin to get clouding again and we reached the large Talus Basin below Surprise mountain… but clouds and rain are always better than the hot sun.

On our way the the talus switchbacks we ran into a pair of thru-hikers who seemed mroe than happy to stop and talk to us. More Thru-hikers are in a hurry to reach their dality mile quota (usually 25+) so Damien and I are always carefully to not say more than a quick “Hello” as we pass unless they initiate a conversation and usually that will only last 4 minutes. These two talked to us for about 20 minutes! We never got their names, but the duo was an American Man and a British woman who had met while hking the PCT. They told us that everyone used an App called Half Mile instead of maps these days. This shows you the next camp, water sources and where you are on the PCT. Phones are powered by extra batteries. Pack base weight ends up being 10-13lbs. Most folks will make the mistake of going to heavy or too light in the beginning. A happy medium is found eventually. It is possible to travel the PCT with just a credit card and no mail ahead boxes. In fact, all the stops except for the ones in WA had easy access to store to restock on food. They were moving at about 28 miles per day, but since they only needed to do 26 miles per day now to finish when they wanted they had a bit more time to spare.

We continued up the talus switchbacks are bidding them farewell and good luck. The trail makes a huge loop around Surprise Mountain and eventually puts you beside Deception Lakes. This is more as pristine looking a lake and was probably my least favorite camp. We set up camp early on the shore in the rain. There was a trail up Surprise Mountain a few yards away that we planned as another side trip that day.

Since Surprise Mountain isn’t a scramble I have decided to describe it here. We followed the labeled Trail to Surprise Mountain. There is a split in the trail again after a few yards. Stay left toward the Horse Camp. The trail is in pretty good condition inute a few down trees. It is only 1200 ft, but it somehow seemed to take forever, probably because it is mostly wooded. There is a nice lookout on Surprise Gap that looked into the talus basin we had crossed of the PCT. From the gap we took the trail to the left that went back into the forest at to the summit of Surprise Mountain. Mist completely blocked the view on this summit that was once a watch station of some kind judge by the metal remnants. We went back down to the Gap. We noticed two things here… there is a very clear trail that leads from the talus basin to the Gap, but it was not of Green Trails Maps. Also, there is a trail to the right on the Gap and leads to????

We headed back down to camp. Another Freeze dried meal and more pitter patter of rain on the tent fly.

Day 3: Deception Lakes to Robin Lakes

The next day we woke to clear blue skies. We packed up camp and headed out looking forward to the opportunity to dry all of our gear out that evening. This was also an important day because we would find out if our food cache strategy had worked. Damien and I swiftly arrived at the multiple junction of Deception Pass. We turned off the PCT here and headed down the Hyas Lake Trail. About .5 miles in we turned left onto the Tuck and Robin Lakes Trail. This is where Melanie and I had cached the food. I was unable to get a GPS reading on the cache we we stashed it due to poor accuracy. It took a bit a searching, but eventually I found the tree (the only white cedar in a stand of fir trees). Our food bags were struck up high about 15 feet off the ground and still intact! We thought of retrieving the food when we camp back down the trail in a day or two, but opted to take it immediately¬† in case our luck didn’t hold. After taking out what seemed like hundreds of knots the bags plopped to the ground. We added the load to our packs and continued up the trail. Wow, what a difference the addition of 4.5 days of food makes.. especially for me. I had way more food than Damien. I have a fast metabolism and I don’t seem to survive very well off fat reserves. Damien, conversely, does very well on little food in the backcountry. I’m jealous!

The 1000ft of gain on the trail to Tuck Lakes is no cake walk. It’s rather steep and built more like a climbers trail. However, the next 1000 ft of gain on the trail from Tuck to Robin Lakes make the Tuck Lakes Trail seem like a lazy walk through a city park. After crossing the log jam between Tuck Lakes the trail becomes more less a scramble. Carins led us over vertically challenging rocky bluffs and up steep, muddy slopes to slabs above. From the Slab view open up of Hyas Lake, Mount Daniel, Cathedral Rock and Even Mount Baring in the distance. It was gorgeous and my glutes were killing me from all the high stepping! After crossing the slabs we found ourselves on top of a flat plateau above Robin Lakes. We descended to the pristine Alpine Lakes that are indeed some of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen. We found a secluded spot on the lower lake near the Ridge we planned to climb up the next day to get to Granite and Trico Peaks. It was an early camp day (3:30pm). We used to time productively though and dried all our wet gear in the sunshine. I even took a bath in the lake. Damien took his more sponge bath boiling water on the stove first!

Day 4: Robin Lakes to Cathedral Rock Basin (Granite Mountain, Granite Mountain South Peak and Trico Sub-peak)

The morning was spent climbing¬† Granite Mountain, Granite Mountain South and Trico Sub-Peak. When we returned to camp it was about noon. After a short rest we packed up and followed the ruggest trail back down to the Hyas Lake Trail. I thought it would be worse going down… but it was easier to my delight (I’m one of those people that dislikes the feeling on the body of downhill and likes going up). We rejoined the PCT at the Deception Pass Junction and continued south in the shadow of Cathedral Rock heading toward Cathedral Pass. There is a “treacherous” ford 2 miles from Deception Pass in a canyon, but the water wasn’t too high and there are two log crossing options. At this point my glutes really really hurts as did my feet. But we pressed on!

We ended up making camp in a basin below Cathedral Rock were a creek provided plenty of water. Damien told me not to pump as much water as I;d been filtering since I always had more than I needed when the morning came. He promised that if i needed mroe the creek would still be there in the morning.

Day 5: Cathedral Rock Basin to Plateau Camp

I think this was my favorite day on the PCT. It was a harrowing 18 miles and chock full of some spectacular views. My favorite combination: suffering and beauty. We woke up to another sunny day in the basin. It had proven to be a very frosty night indeed. Mud had fused into these amazing ice crystals and puddle with ice sheets. Another crisp fall day! We packed up and followed the trail the rest of the way up to Cathedral Pass. The last time I was here was in 2014 when I climbed Mount Daniel. It looked very different without the snow on it! began to follow endless switchbacks down to the valley. These took forever, but we were afforded with wonderful views of the surrounding peak and cascading falls. The views here were some of my favorite. Not only where the autumn colors glorious, but the color of the rock on the mountains were stark as well with shades of grey, rusty red, copper and black. It was simply magical to walk beneath such majestic summits.

Finally we reached Deep Lake and stopped for a quick bit. Damien was at this point eating about 3 bars a day + Dinner. He also brought along some little candies… but at the food cache he realized they were sugar free so I don’t know if they count. I was getting pretty hungry at that point and the food fantasies had begun for both of us. Strangely, by that evening the craving for fresh food subsided and didn’t return.

We headed on through the valley. This part of the trail went on forever gradually loosing elevation. Damien and I began to play a game with the counting the switchbacks and told each other what we were each doing in the year 93, 94, 95, etc… when we got to 215 we switched and shared what we were doing at the age of 15, 16, 17…. this was actually great fun! We passed the trail Junctions for Waptus Lake which the PCT does not touch and finally reached the low point of 3000 Ft at the Waptus River at 3:30pm. We knew the next camps with water were on top of the Plateau the laid a head of us another 2,200 ft and 7 miles away. We talked to some PCTers on the bridge of the river. They seemed shocked that we planned on going another 7 miles.

It was hard 7 miles. The elevation gain wasn’t horribly steep or anything, but having already put in 8 hours of trekking everything was amplified. Luckily, we were granted some amazing views of Bears Breast Mountain and Waptus Lake as we gained elevation. We reached the top of the plateau at sunset and followed the ridge as the colors of the pink and orange sky reflected on the new landscape before us. It was astounding and I felt re-energized.

We reached the first small lake at the sky began to dim. By the time we set uo our tent it was funny dark. We filtered water by headlamp and ate dinner in the bright moonlight. it had been a perfect day on the PCT.

Day 6: Plateau to Park Lakes Basin

This was perhaps a close second favorite day along the PCT since there were more gorgeous views and some up close looks at Chimney Rock and the Lemah Summits. We were surprised that the temperature didn’t plummet as badly as we expected and tucked our gear into our packs. It forecasted to be partly cloudy, but thing seemed to be erring more toward sunny. The trail say high and goes through an old burn. Because of the lack of trees the view are pretty much unobstructed of Four Brothers, Chikamin, Stuart, Lemahs and Chimney Rock. The vistas from this part of the trail were not just beautiful. For some reason looking at the rugged faces of these peaks demonstrated the fierceness of the alpine.The wilderness is not just romantically beautiful, it is also a powerfully rugged and dynamic environment. This that I felt as I passed in the shadow of these peaks.

The trail eventually switchbacks down again to a valley There are signs about the Lemah Creek Cridge being washed out and to use caution on the difficult crossing or the bypass trail (Lemah Meadows). It turned out the the crossing only require a few easy steps across rocks. The trail then entered a burn just in time as the heat of the day was upon us. I don’t like hot autumn days. We sweated as we crossed over a section of endless downed trees and began switchbacks back up toward Spectacle Lake.

We reached the bridge with the waterfall much faster than expected and wasted no time stripping down to our underwear and jumping into the water. It felt simply amazing! Re-energized we sat on the rock drying off and just glowing. The water had brought the life back into us! We carried on reluctantly up the endless switchbacks toward Park Lakes. We crested the high point of the ridge and headed back down again to a a small lake where we set up camp. This would act as a base camp for climbing Chikamin Peak the following day

Day 7: Chikamin Peak Attempt

Day 8: Park Lakes Basin to Ridge Lake (Alaska Mountain)

We headed up to Chikamin Pass in swirling mist and partial views. So much for the clear weather that was predicted. I love the mist in the mountains though. It gives things a real alpine feel. We dropped down and contours below the peaks and above a new valley. Normally you can see the trail all the way on the other side of the U shaped ridge but in this valley we were socked in with mist for the better part of the morning. It did begin to lift though and were were able to see the trail we had come from far far away. It really gives a sense of how far you walked to look back and see the line of the trail on the slope opposite you. We climbed Alaska Mountain and passed Mount Thompton and the the mighty basin of talus I once crossed to climb to the summit. I was glad I didn’t have to cross it again on this trip!

It was a short mileage day and we reached camp at Ridge Lake pretty early at 3:00. It was kind of a bittersweet evening for us. We set up the tent, dried out sleeping bag filtered water and ate dinner. We did all the things that we had done over the passed 8 days. We were masters at it now and our efficiency made us happy. However,  knew that it would be the last time we did it on this trip.

That night it was warm until about 2:30am when suddenly we both woke up freezing. The cold had finally come. We put a bunch of layers and huddled together relishing the cold on our last night. It somehow felt fitting.

Day 9: Ridge Lake to Snoqualmie Pass

After a freezing night we woke up to an equally freezing morning. After convincing ourselves to emerge from our cozy sleeping bag we removed as much frost from the tent as possible (leaving a dusting of snow on the ground) and headed up and over our final climb up and down a ridge. We followed the trail along the famed Kendall Catwalk and admired the mountains and valley one final time before dipped back into the trees. In the trees I mostly reflected as I passed day hikers and smiled politely. I didn’t really want to be among the day hikers. I wanted to be back in the deepest wilderness with the thru-hikers. I wanted to go back where my life was so simple and yet the most meaningful. I wanted to go back to a world where my greatest worry of the day was when I should eat my next cliff bar. I wanted to go back to when all I needed to be happy was the 30lbs I carried on my back. My happiness is not derived from things, but experiences. The only things I needed were what I needed to survive and live those experiences. And yet I was walking back into a word of things and complex stresses of finances and society survival. When we neared the TH Damien joked around and turned back a ran a few feet saying he was afraid of civilization. I wanted to follow him, but for more than just a few feet I wanted to go back to the world of simple problems and few things. But for now I am here back in the society with a shower, sink, mattress and computer writing this blog. Until next weekend….

 

This scramble was done Day 7 as part of PCT Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass backpacking trip.

Alaska Mountain is a short, easy scramble from the PCT so it was easy for us to do as a quick side trip. We left the trail at the highest point the PCT reaches on the slopes of the mountain Just below a white talus field. We stashed our packs in the talus and began to climb with the steep rocks. Not all of the rocks our solid and one has to be very cautious as it is a bit like climbing up a house of cards. We accessed the ridge through a small break in the trees at the top of the talus and bushwhacked to the left to reach the summit which provide some lovely views of Thompson, Four Brothers, Huckleberry and the base of Chikamin (the top was covered in mist). To descend we retraced our steps back to the talus and traverse down to skiers right trying to stay close to the heather where the rock was more fused and solid.

This scramble was done Day 7 as part of PCT Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass backpacking trip.

We attempted Chikamin Peak in less than optimal weather. When we left Park Lakes Base Camp it was cold and drizzling. The ground was wet from the steady rain the previous night as well, but it didn’t matter to us. We ere going on an adventure! There are several variations of routes up Chikamin. We followed the PCT from Park Lakes to a obvious but unsigned trail on the right about .75 miles from the Mineral Creek Junction. From there we followed the path first up over a small hill and then very steeply 600ft down into a deep basin where Glacier Lake is tucked. A trail goes around the right side of the lake to a boulder slope. It is easy to reconize since thee is one massive slab boulder sticking out of it (it looks about ready to topple over). We found our way through the maze of giant, but very solid boulders (there is now a trail of carins created by Damien) to the top where it levels out in 200ft. There is a small pool there and a faint trail that follows the stream. If you don’t find the trail (we didn’t on the way in) simply follow the stream up to a small unnamed upper lake. There is a carin here on the slabs.

The rain was falling harder now and we sat on the slabs looking at what laud ahead. It looked up we might have to cross some slabby faces which would be fine in dry weather, but plain dangerous in the rain. I noticed that it appeared if one walked right along the slabs a small heather gully could be reached which would lead up the the upper talus gully we were aiming for. We decided to take a closer look at the situation to make sure.

We turned left at the small lake and walked up a broad heather slope to the base of the slabs on the left. We then turned right and followed the lower heather beside the slabs above a cliff. Then another left turn brought us into the mostly heather with some talus gully. As predicted this led us to the upper gulley. The slabs would have been much to dangerous. The upper gulley was easy to scramble through and the purple rock and gold conglomerate boulders awed us. We’d never seen anything like it before! We reached the end of the gully on top of a sub-ridge. The next higher ridge was what we were aiming for. We picked our way through steep dirt and rocks to the top of that ridge which was marked with carins and turned right to the base of the Chikamin Summit block.

This is what the definition of the word exposure is. The small gully to the higher rock of Chikamin has a run out of air. During the whole climb it seemed as though we should just go a little further even though things seemed to be getting progressively worse because they might get better. We decided that we were nearing our comfort level boundary and took caution as we stepped up the rock and dir steps of the gully to the solid rock above. We hoped the rock would be better…. but it wasn’t. To sum it up as Damien put it”The rock was wet, mossy, slippery and exposed”. We went up a few feet. Tried several ways of continuing before admitting defeat 50 ft from the summit. The conditions were bad, Damien and I did not have mountaineering boots and we had no helmets. We had no business going further on that mountain or probably as far as we’d already gone. We turned back.

The way down was much faster since we knew the way and we made it back to camp by 4:15pm. We did not feel at all disappointed. The slopes of Chikamin were so beautiful and different from anything we’d encountered. An the route finding was not straightforward or well marked. It had been a true alpine adventure.

This scramble was done Day 4 as part of PCT Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass backpacking trip.

Damien and I woke up at our camp on Lower Robin Lake at about 4:30am. It was the earliest we rose on all of our days on this backpack (and more normal time to wake up every day in society). We planned to follow what looked like an easy ridge on the far right of the Robin Lakes to the summit of Granite Mountain and then come down the other side and follow the ridge passed the Granite Potholes to the summit of Trico before coming down the other side of the lakes on the same ride thus making a compete loop.

The beam of our headlamps revealed the the heather ridge was marked for us by carins. The normal route to these peaks is usually to follow the ridge up the left side of the lake so it was pleasant surprise to come across these little towers. we followed them easily to a talus slope  as the sky began to lightening revealing rivers of mist in the valleys far below. We easily gained the upper ridge at followed to what we originally thought was Granite Mountain. We noticed the elevation was wrong though and looked at the map again. It turned out to be a sub summit of Granite. We could see the real summit in the distance. We stayed a bit to enjoy a beautiful sunrise of hues of orange and pink. Then we headed down other side of the sub-peak. This ended up being very technical high class 3 or class 4 down-climbing. Luckily it was a short section, but it was enough to get the heart racing! We followed the talus and scree filled ridge to another high point Granite Mountain-South Peak (which Damien called Mount Dandelion). From here we turned right and followed another ridge to the Summit of Granite Peak. The actual top of the peak can be reach with 2 very exposed moves. We opted to touch the top to be safe.

We could see Trico in the distance on the other side of the Granite Potholes. However, there was a sub-peak of Trico that looked for more interesting. We decided to go for the sub-peak instead. We went back to Granite South Peak and picked our way down the other side to the lower ridge above the potholes. From here we walked straight for a bit a well marked trail through the talus until it began to descend away from the ridge. We stayed on the ridge and followed an unmarked route over large boulders to the right down the the sub-peak summit block. From here were traversed left around the peak and dropped out packs. The summit can be reached by climbing up onto the tabletop rocks and then edging right with your feet on a shelf and your arms around the pillar until you can get into the chimney. Scoot up the chimney to the to top (class 3+/4). Damien gets first known ascent props on this peak!

We descended back to the trail on the ridge and followed it back to Robin Lakes completing our loop.

This scramble was done Day 2 as part of PCT Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass backpacking trip.

Damien and I woke up in Thunder Lakes camp to more rain, but the mist wasn’t as thick. Across the lake we could make out Thunder Mountain pretty easily. Dressed from head to toe in Goretex we walked around the left side the the lake and scampered over some talus and boulders to the base of the climb on the SE Slope. The general idea is to climb the SE side of the mountain as you see fit. We climbed at first through the heather. At this point Damien opted to get a bit more wet and took off his goretex since, as usual, he was too warm. The heather turned to trees and then finally talus as we neared the sub-summit. The true summit is over the right several more yards along the ridge. The tippy top of the climb in a bit technical (3-4 class 3 moves) which Damien pulled off in trail running shoes even though it was raining. He¬† said it was a bit sketch.¬† I opted to touch the summit instead. The entire climb is short (about 500 ft). But from previous climbs in same meadows I know it is truly a gorgeous area and wroth it. The mist cleared a few times and we enjoyed the views before heading back down the way we came. We even had a moment when had the sky had pink mist and the other half blue. I still haven’t come up with an explanation for that.

We tried to do Observation Rock’s North Face back in August, but the weather ended up being worst that predicted: continuous rain and 70 mph winds. We decided to try again this weekend since no precipitation and wind whatsoever was scheduled. In fact, Saturday was positively summery warm (I wished it was cold of course!).

We picked up our Permit for Ptarmigan Ridge at Carbon River Ranger Station and drove the rough road to Mowich Lake in Mount Rainier National Park on Saturday morning. The trail head was pretty crowded on this sunny day with lots of day hikers. Our boots hit the Spray Park Trail at about 10:00am. Late for us, but it’s only about a 5.5 mile hike to camp.

We made good time to Spray Park even in the heat. The meadows was speckled with tones of red, yellow and orange. Autumn had indeed arrived to the PNW. Last time the mountain had been shrouded in a thick layer of low clouds, but on Saturday the majesty of Mount Rainier loomed very clearly above us. Echo Rock and Observation Rock stood in the foreground of the giant volcano looking much smaller. From that distance the ice wall of the North Face of Observation rock didn’t look that large at all. In fact it looked two pitches and the steepest part at the top appeared to be about 65 degrees. We knew that the appearance had to be deceiving though!

We followed the Spray Park trail until reaching the high point at about 6400 ft at the edge of Ptarmigan Ridge. There is an unsigned¬† trail near a giant cairn here that goes off to the right along the ridge here. We took that trail across the ridge in the direction of Observation Rock and the moraines. We decided to camp at the first source of running water we found just before the trail got rocky. Water was tickling down the rocks from a snow patch a little above and created a nice stream through grassy patch with a small sandy area perfect for a tent. The site set low and surrounded on three sides by moraines to block any wind. It looked like a wonderful spot and as a plus we didn’t even have to wear shoes in the sand!

We set up camp and took a quick shower in the stream and set up camp. We scouted the trail for the next day a bit from the top of one of the moraine walls that surrounded us and had a quiet dinner as a peaceful evening set in. The sunset that night was spectacular with tons of red and orange dancing across the sky. When darkness fell the stars shown more brilliantly than I ever witness and in the distance we could even see the flickering lights of Seattle. It was, it seemed, the perfect night.

Its seemed that way until exactly 2:30am when I was suddenly awakened. I wasn’t sure what woke me up right away, but then another gust of wind hit the tent. This caused two things to happen. The first thing was that it made the walls of the tent flap creating quit the ruckus. The second this was that my face face got sand blasted. We didn’t recall strong winds to be in the forecast… nor had it occurred to use that our little sandbox tent site would cause any issues. But as it turned out the wands came from the one direction not blocked by the moraines and blew harsh showers of sand into the tent… the strange thing was that the sand seemed to be coming from the ceiling of the tent. We still can’t figure that one out. Needless to say not much sleep occurred after that. We ended up getting up at 4:30am instead of 5 and packing up the tent just in case the winds got stronger. At the first hint of light at about 5:30am we headed in the direction of the route.

There was actually a trail marked by cairns through the moraines to the base of the first large snowfield/glacier to the left of Observation Rock. We missed most of the cairns with our headlamps and scrambled up to the highest moraine ridge in front of us off the main track. Below there was a blue lake at the base of the moraines and the glacier. To the right there was a semi clear trail marked by cairns (we could see now) that led along the top of the moraine ridge. We tried to follow this trail, but the wind howled so fiercely it nearly blew us over. We decided to wait a bit slightly below the ridge until it died down a bit. We didn’t wait very long though, we wanted to climb!

Luckily the wind died and we fought our way along the ridge scrambling up and down endless scree and talus. The cairns did, indeed disappear. The general idea was to stay above the small cliff bands heading in the general direction of the base of the route. Then the ridge descends to an ice band just below the route. You definitely need to put on crampons here, but since were were stopped we just geared u completely before stepping onto the low angle ice. After crossing the ice band there is one more final 100ft climb up really loose volcanic crud to the base of the route. But that time I was really, really since of looking at pumice and large glacial boulders. I was ready for ice!

It looked like the crux would be the very top. We decided that we would go straight up at first and then slowing traverse right. The¬† ice changed color up high creating a color coded line across the top part of the route. We would follow along that line to the top and end the route at the far right near the rock. I led the first pitch. It wasn’t more than 50 degree ice/snow at the bottom. I ran out the pitch placing one picket and building an anchor with my second picket and ice tool. On the second pitch Damien placed only one picket. Then the pitch began to take solid screws. He found a great belay spot standing in a crack in the steepening ice. The pitches continued to have bomber screw placements… in fact, we placed most of our screws in blue water ice!

As we got higher on the route our calved began to burn like crazy, but taking breaks at the anchors and screws helped with the pain. The next real evenful moment was as Damien was preparing to follow me up Pitch 5 (normally this entire climb in 5 pitches, but it took us longer because of the traverse). Damien couldn’t find his leashes and thus carried his tools loose. This was making me anxious all day because I just knew he would drop one. Sure enough somehow his adze sum’tec get unclipped from his harness and skidded down to the bottom of the route which must have been about 800 ft. There was a party getting set up at the base and Damien called for them to just leave it for him to retrieve later. Then he started up with one axe. I figured that from then on whoever was leading would be the climber with the second axe and the follower would have one. thus I was surprised when Damien got to me and said he would like to lead the crux with just one tool. I watched nervously as he left the anchors with his his single axe and head up the 80/75 degree blue ice that just kept dinner-plating.

Damien had more than enough rope to top out, but not enough screws for him to feel comfortable going the final 25 feet. So he built another anchor and created a lovely Hanging belay which looked rather comical from below! I followed and then led the final feet to the top.

My legs felt like Jello as a walked across the ice field to the pumice ridge of Observation Rock. We packed up our gear and headed up the final 400 ft to the summit of Observation Rock which is a straightforward class 3 scramble. We then took the descent scramble trail (unmarked but pretty obvious going first in the direction of Rainier). After stumbling down volcanic crud and some refreshing snowfields Damien and I detoured back to the base of the route to retrieve his tool.  More accurately, Damien retrieved the tool and I waited some distance off on top of the big rock.

Getting back over the moraines to camp was tedious and tiresome. We were very happy to reach our camp and sit barefoot in the sand! It had been an excellent climb. Blue ice, great screws, a funny mishap,  just enough wind to give it an alpine feel without blowing us off the wall and crisp fall temperatures. The perfect opener to the autumn climbing season!

 

 

After are fiasco of bushwhacking on our Lemah Mountain attempt Sat and Sunday we decided to salvage Labor Day and go for day scramble of Bald Mountain on the Mountain Loop Highway. There are several different Bald Mountains in WA and two on the Mountain loop Highway. We had our sights on the Bald Mountain near Cutthroat Lakes sometimes referred to at the East Peak.

The approach begins at the little traveled Walk Whitman Trail. The day was cloudy and the leaves wet from the weekend rain. In other words, nice cool weather that Damien and I thoroughly enjoyed after a summer of intense heat! The trail is in pretty good conditions other than it being very very muddy in places. It traverses for about 20 minutes before turning into switchbacks up to the meadows. There are lots of blueberry bushes up here. Normally this would be a great place for forage for the fruit, but the heat this year seems to have destroyed the berry crop. This area is also Known for bear, but we saw none. After a few more creek crossing the trail goes back into the brush and switchbacks up to a slightly higher meadow. After crossing another creek the trail enters a talus field. Watch for cairns here to guide you across (Damien constructed a nice tall one since he deemed one of the carins too short). The trail then switchbacks up through the forest to Cutthroat Lakes.

Here you enter a maze of trails through the lakes. Luckily Bald Mountain can easily be seen to the left. Be basically took as many left turns on the trails as possible and ended up at a dead end in the lower meadow. We decided to would be easiest to go cross country straight up to the left saddle of the mountain and join up with the trail there. It was easy terrain over heather and blueberry to the saddle were we linked up with the obvious trail again. This path goes around the back of the mountain and switchbacks up to the other side of the mountain. When you reach this shoulder turn right off the main trail and follow the thin but clear trail over some rock to the summit block. The path in beaiful through rock towers. Its like being in a sculpture garden! A  class three slabby section leads  to the summit.

The views were very misty when we arrived, but the thick clouds were in constant motions and we had moments of the terrific views. We could see the resivoir below on one side and Cutthroat Lakes below on the other. It a rather beautiful summit ad we stayed for about 30 minutes before heading back down. It was great to top out on something after all the bushwacking we did that weekend!

We followed the Walt Whitman Trail down to the lakes. We had some trouble finding out way back through the maze of trails. We kept finding ourselves at dead ends, but eventually we found the right path and headed back down the switchbacks to the lower meadows. Still no bears on the way out, but beautiful autumn colors abounded!

 

This was a climb where absolutely nothing went as planned. Lemah Mountain is a rarely climbed cluster of 5 peaks: Lemah One, Two, Main, Four and Five. We planned to climb up to basecamp at remote Chikamin Lake n Saturday, Summit all five peaks on Sunday and hike out Sunday. Alas this is not what came to be.

All started well on Saturday. It was a cloudy day was few drop here and there falling fro the Sky. We left the Pete Lake TH at about 9am. The way is flat for 4 miles to Pete Lake. From there the trail continues on for another mile or so of level trail to a Junction. The trail to the right goes to Lemah Meadows (an alternate approach) and the right goes to Spectacle Lake. We went right and followed the trail to another junction with the PCT and headed North (left). Here the trail heads up switchbacks through a burn with underbrush already showing autumn colors. The turn off for Spectacle Lake is about one mile from the bridge over the waterfall. The trai to the lake descends about 500 feet for a 1/2 mile to the shoreline. Our beta said to cut around the North (right) side of the lake to the creek outlet on the far side of the Lake. This a a bushwack in every sense of the term. We followed the trail around the lake until it ended near a rocky cliff by the shore. We then found our way through thick trees and brush and I mean THICK brush and on game trails were we could over the cliff and ended up a few hundred feet above the lake. Then we trekked through lower brush to a talus slope. We crossed the slope until we were able to work our way carefully down the the creek outlet.

By then it was 5:00pm. A light rain was falling and mist completely concealed most of the route to Chikamin Lake and Lemah. We opted to camp at the outlet. From what we could see the route further up as class 3-4 scrambling over wet rock and heather. Not safe. It was decided that Lemah was too ambitious since we were now staged at Spectacle Lake. Instead we would continue hiking around the Spectecle Lake in the morning (the other side appeared to be a tamer bushwack. We could then link up to the 3rd creek outlet and take that up to Glacier Lake. Then we could attempt Chikamin Mountain which was smaller.

Just when we finished dinner the rain turned from light to pounding. By morning it was still heavy and when we peakout out at the mountains we saw a fresh layer of light snow 1000ft feet higher than us. Conditions would be slippery, but we decided to try to make it to Glacier Lake. We packed up camp in a short lull in the rain and continued around the lake.

The conditions were easy at first and we were able to hug the shoreline. But then some cliffs appeared again. It was easier to get over these cliffs than the ones from the day before. But above we began to run into slabs and ultimately ended up getting cliffed out with no passage. Frustrated we knew the only option was to get back to the PCT the way we came. The scattered showers  and sunshine that had been forecasted for the day had ended up being just a pure downpour instead. Conditions would be unsafe to climb anything especially with a slick layer of thin snow on the rock.

We headed back the way we came. The talus field was harder to navigate through on the way back and we got cliffed out a few times before we finally found the way through. We saw two large bucks in the brush. they were unafraid of us… probably because they knew we were not nearly as swift as them in the dense thicket. When we finally made it back to the trail it was decided that with the current conditions it would be best to just hike out and do a day scramble on Monday to salvage at least one day of the long weekend. Drenched we began the 11 mile journey back to the car… a different type of adventure than expected indeed!