Damien and I apparently didn’t get enough of the Enchantments after 3 trips into the area during the spring. We headed up last weekend (the first weekend of no permits) to see what the wondrous region looks like without snow and to a check off another enchantment summit. I was very overjoyed that it would be not 95 degrees this time around!

We departed Stuart Lake TH at 7:30am as the sun began to appear over the treetops. This was surprise since it was supposed to be cloudy all day with a chance of rain. Luckily, this sun was not blistering hot like it had been on our last journey. We made good time up the Colchuck Lake. The water level was low allowing to a pretty significant sandy beach on the far side. Assgard Pass loomed upon in it’s menacing fashion as always. We dreaded the ascent more and more as we drew closer. I was pleasantly surprised though when i began climbing up the infamous pass. It wasn’t half as bad as I remembered it. In fact I thought it was pretty standard and I kept wondering what my problem had been over the summer (the heat?). I figured eventually it would get difficult so I refrained from saying anything out loud for fear of jinxing myself. My luck held!

We had considered going up the south route of Witch’s Tower, but when we saw the giant ice wall block the approach we decided that we’d save that climb. Instead we walk through the granite wonderland that looked so different than it had on our last visit. The lakes were melted and the once snowy mountains reveal their slabbing construction. It was lovely in a different way. The larches had lost most of their golden needles, but enough clung stubbornly to the branches to give the landscape an Autumny affect.

We decided to camp in the area of twisting creek and slabby waterfalls between Sprite and Leprechaun Lakes at 7000ft since our beta suggested approaching McClellen Peak from there. After setting up camp and filtering water got up on the slabs to get a better view of McCellen. The rock and slab walls straight up the enter of the mountain to the landmark spire known as “the prong” seemed steep and daunting from where we stood. The shoulder to the left near Leprechaun Lake looked much tamer an ascent and decided to ascend there in the morning.

After a surprisingly goatless night we began the short hike to Leprechaun Lake. We left he trail and ascended humps on the far left side of the lake. The good was fairly easy as we wove our way through the larches, slabs and boulders. The weather was a bit concerning however. It had rained at night and the sky was still cloudy and grey. It looked like we might get set. Still we climbed though angling right toward the prong. We reached the top of the shoulder and the end of the larches just beneath the prong. We then ascended talus heading up the the right side the prong. There is a steep slabbing gully leading to the top of the notch, but wont can easily only go a few feet up the gully (before it turns slabby) and head left up safe ramp to some small pine trees. At this point is was raining pretty steadily. There were several variations to make it too the top of the notch. Normally it wouldn’t have taken so much contemplation, but since the rock was wet we made several false attempts before finding the safest way up (far left over the small trees over black lichen covered rock (which strangely was not slippery).

From the notch on top of the ridge the summit is very obvious and to the left. There is a small rock sub-summit in the way though. We descended down the other side the the ridge which is lower angle with sand, small rocks and little trees to get around this feature. The standard route climbs back up to the ridge immediately after passing the sub-summit and climbing the slabs to the top.  In the continuing rain this was not an option for us. Instead we wanted to climb the blocky, lesser known route to the south. We circled beneath the summit block looking for the route. It took several different attempts up a few different routes uptil we found the one that went (it is clear to the other side of the block from the notch we popped up on). We climbed the wet gully to the stop and signed the summit register. After enjoying the whiteout views we descended and spent some time in on of the many “caves” to get out of the steady rain and have a snack. No rain was in the forecast for Sunday at all!

We ended up discovering that the route straight down to camp was not as gnarly as we predicted when looked at it the night before and thus took the direct way back to the twisting creeks. We left camp at about 1:00pm in pouring rain. It was not  freezing rain though and I was not one to complain after the summer’s heat exhaustion.

Snow Lakes has lost an unimaginable amount of water this year. Rocky cliffs, long sandbars and islands attached to the shoreline reveal just how arid the summer was. It made for a beautiful moon-like landscape though. Plus, it was a nice change to walk in what used to be in the lake than in the woods.

We emerged at the Snow Lakes TH at about 7:00pm with our headlamps. Wet and happy!

 

Damien and I have a commitment to climb to $10,000+ feet about once a month to maintain our high altitude conditioning. Keeping to our training program we met our October Quota by spending the night at Camp Muir on Mt Rainier.

Saturday was forecasted to be “breezy”. On the contrary I thought a better word would have been “very gusty”. Winds probably reached speeds of about 30mph. Not exactly as bad as the last time we climbed Muir in August, but enough to knock me around a bit. The crowds grew thinner as we went higher as per usual… but was usual was the sad amount of snow/ice cover. I do believe that we walked across rock and sand piles that had never seen the light of day until this year. At about 8,200 feet Damien and I left the sandy, rocky path we’d been following and moved left onto the Muir Glacier. The snow started at 8,200ft!!!! And, as we discovered, it was pretty must possible avoid the snow/ice until 9400ish feet is one wanted to. We had crampons and we’re really did not enjoy sloshing through sand, so the glacier was a better option for us.

The Muir Glacier is pretty melted out and features lots of blue ice and water channels. Use caution. Higher up at abut 9,000+ feet there crevasses have opened up. Some are rather large. It is fairly easy to navigate around them, but you have to be aware of them being there for sure.

Damien and I had actually originally planned to camp at Ingraham Flats, but with the high wind gusts we decided that it would be safer to stay at Muir. The Flats would probably have gusts at 50mph. We sent up our tent in “the trench”. We were very excited to use our brand new SMC T-Anchor tent stakes, which are like mini flukes. They worked great, except for that fact that they are rather delicate and easy to slice and/or bend when digging them up. We also put some guy lines on the tent using out pickets and axes. In the end we had minimum “flapage” and a tent that didn’t blow away.We scurried inside and heated some water hanging our stove with our new “reactor hang kit”… yet another brand new toy. Basically, it ended up being a  test run for our winter mountaineering equipment.

The night proved to be very cold, but we stayed pretty toasted with our huge puffys! The wind died down after mid-night and we woke to a clear and calm day with views all the way to Mt. Hood. A successful weekend of new gear and acclimation…but we really need snow.