Damien and I went to TX to visit family over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but we came back in time Sunday to get in a quick day hike up Mt Dickerman. To be precise we got home from the airport at about 1:45am on Sunday and left the house at 7 to go on the hike.

I won’t go into too much detail about the trail as I have several posts on this convenient conditioning hike already. The snow/ice line begins at 3800 ft and snow/ice is continuous after 4000 ft. Crampons were very much needed on the trail. Microspikes will probably work, but you’d have to go very slow. There is a good trench in the snow in the meadows above to the summit so no snowshoes required.

Great summit views all the way to the Olympics. We were surprised it wasn’t busier. The gray jays greeted us during our summit lunch as always. We shared a few crumbs with them before heading back down.

 

After a massive windstorm and multiple feet of snow slamming the mountains all week, the extreme conditions lifted and left us with a weekend of sunshine and fresh powder. Damien and I decided it was time to do another ski tour from Paradise. Only this time we hoped that all the rocks would be covered and we planned to camp the night at Muir.

We headed out from Paradise at about 10:20am after getting our permits. We were certainly not the only ones that had plans for spending some time on the mountain that weekend. Ahead of us were hundreds of little black dots skinning and snowshoeing up the trail. We could see them from a great distance all in a line heading up the snow chute to the top of Panorama Point.

The skinning was descent up to the base of the chute to Panorama (winter route). We saw a few people skiing up the steep slope, but most folks were stowing their boots on their packs and walking up. Some wore crampons, but we opted not too. In retrospected it would have made things much easier. After the pain large slope the steep rolling bumps afterwards also proved to be on the icy side. We boot packed our skis to about 7,000ft before putting them back on after what appeared to be the final rock pile (rocks seemed to attract the worse ice)/ However, we encountered another rock pile and thick sheet of the ice at about 7,400 ft. At this point we gave in and put the skis in our packs once again. This time we put on our crampons too. The situation looked bad. All this boot packing the skis was slowing us way down.

But as luck would have it, the ice disappeared and turned to powder at about 7666 ft. We put our skis back on and made a steady and relatively fast climb to the Muir just as the sun was beginning to set. We made camp quickly under a sky of pink, orange and yellow. The temperature dropped quickly, but with our massive puffy coats (and my cozy puffy pants) we felt rather comfortable in the winter frigid air as we setting down to melt snow and have  dinner.

The morning sunrise was as lovely as the sunset. The cold of the night vanished as soon as the sun rose and warmed the mountain (a but too warm in my opinion). With our new arcteryx alpha sv gear we made some turns down the Muir Snowfield. Great powder and the views were spectacular!

At 7666 ft overheated from the gore-tex gear and beginning to hit ice. We removed some layers and packed up the skis again. We carried the skis down wearing crampons to the bottom of the steep slope to Panorama Point. From here to the parking lot the conditions were icy, but not scary icy. We made it too the bottom in 3.5 hours. Just in time too sinc ethe sun was really beginning to cook the slopes.

 

No trip to Yosemite would be complete without spending some time on the trails! We opted to climb to the shoulder of Half Dome, one of the most famous hikes in America. Actually the hike to the top of Half Dome using the cables to ascend the 5.4 finally few hundred feet is the famous trip, but this late in the season most of the caple setup is removed and only a length of chain remains on the icy rock. So we decided to just get as high as we could.

We had a bit of a rocky starting finding the right trail to take from the Happy Isles Nature Center. We found finally that we had to go to the road and cross a Bridge to get to the Mist/John Muir TH. The trail is not terribly steep here and is on broken up concrete which kind of took away from the wilderness experience. There are also restrooms and concessions (closed for the season) at the Vernal Falls Bridge. But we had the trail to ourselves this crisp November morning as we walked deeper into the Valley.

Eventually we met an intersection where the mist trail stems off left. This is a shorter way to Half Dome, but its much steeper and Damien expected it to be icy with all the “mist” from the falls along that direction. We continued on the John Muir Trail which now began to gain elevation stradily. We cam across massive patches of ice and really wanted our micro-spikes, but alas we did not have them so we did our best to skip along the very edge of the trail or protruding rocks. It wasn;t too bad until the forest opened up and we could see marvelous views of Nevada Falls, Half Dome and Liverty Cap. However, the trail was now between a low stone wall barrier to the left and a massive rock wall to the right. The trail was basically an ice skating rink with large shards of ice on top of it that had fallen off the rock wall. To cross we had to hang onto the barrier and move quickly as some smaller pieces of ice fell on us!

We made it to the top of Nevada falls and paused for a snack. A few other people who had come up the Mist trail passed by and headed back down the Muir Trail. We continued on the now snowy trail toward Little Yosemite Valley and Half Dome, well signed. High up now the world was white and once again if felt like winter compared to the sunny dry valley below.

The trail makes a massive circle around Half Dome before climbing up once again. The snow and grade slowed us down some, but it wasn’t enough to require snowshoes and the snow was well packed down by other hikers. Finally we reached the large slab shoulder of Half Dome. Here there are spare trees and expansive Views of the Sierra Nevada Wilderness. We had the option of scrambling to the top of the sub-dome from here to the base of the cables. However, it was steep, snowing and icy. It is sketch in dry summer conditions too so we opted not to take the chance in these even more treacherous conditions. Instead we enjoyed the view from the shoulder.

The way down went very quickly. we opted to take the John Muir Trail back as we feared from other hikers reviews thatt he Mist Trail would be too dangerous to go down (normal route down). The ice was a little melted on the John Muir Trail, but not as much as we expected. We made safe passage though back to the Valley.

Regular Route on Sunnyside Beach  is known as the best introduction of Yosemite Multi-pitch in the Yosemite. However, it’s description was a bit deceiving (at least we though so). The route is described as a three pitch 5.4 route with mostly 3 & 4 class scrambling and some exposed  5.0-5.4 moves. Gear was supposed to be up to 2″. Sounded easy enough, but Yosemite is a trickster!

Finding the base ofnthe route was pretty simple. We walked along the Lower Falls Trail for about .5 miles until the trail curved left and a rock wall joined the right side of the track. We then turned off the trail and followed the rock wall left and up until we came to a very obvious gully. We climbed up the class 3 gully to the start of the route on w huge platform by a tree.

Damien took the lead on the first pitch which was supposed to be class 4 with some chimney moves. Damien did not think this was class 4 and after following I would have to agree. There was a far amount of smearing and awkward exposed moves in which I would call the 5.5 range. Also, in my case, I am convinced the route was rated by a tall person… reach was abig issue for me and many moves required me to have my knee practically up my nose. The pitch protected well.

It is important to not that the top of the first pitch is at the first big tree on a smallish ledge and not the second big tree on the bigger Ledge above. We had to back-track a bit. I led the next pitch. The route goes around the corner right and into an open bookish slab with a tree in the center of it. I opted to belay at this tree even though it was only half the pitch due to rope drag fear in the turn around the corn below. I continued the lead again once Damien was up. A few feet after the tree there was a few tricky moves in some steep cracks. I thought this was the “tricky boulder problem” in the topo. It was tricky but protected will with a red tricam and a nut. Above i found myself on a ledge. The belay was just on top of the vertical short wall to my right by a tree. This ended up being the tricky boulder problem… There is diagonal finger/hang crack and a massive good jug above. If i could get one foot to hold to the wall i could throw for the jug, but foot couldn’t get purchase on the polished wall. I knew, sadly, that Damien could just reach up at grab the jug. I peaked around the corner at the very exposed wall leading up to the tree. This was unprotected but had some good foothold and okayish hands. After a few more tries on the boulder i opted to climb the exposed variation. Damien just reached up and pulled himself up on the jug as I expected.

The third pitch beta warned of being wary of getting lost. There was a flaring crack just a few feet up in front of us. This was the 5,5 variation and the 5.4 jugs were supposed to be around the small corner right of that. Damien was up to lead, but when he looked over the corner for the 5.4 jugs he claimed that there was so safe way to get over the exposed unprotected corner and the jugs were not so juggy looking. After some evaluation he doubled back and headed up the flaring crack. From below it was very clear to be that this was not a Washington 5.5, but more like a 5.7-5.8 crack with awkward moves, standing on particles of granite and scary exposure. Damien made it half way up to the wide part of the crack. He was out of big gear. He already already used the one “just in case” 3′ cam. Mentally he was drained too. He put in a second piece and I lowered him. My turn…

I took out some of the bigger pieces from below the toprope as I climbed and when I entered the crack I saw why Damien was so tried mentally. Yikes this was gnarly! I moved above his final pieces and was on lead. The moves were certainly awkward. I focused on making the 1-3 moves on no footholds to the tiny more solid ledges as I jammed. I had to moved from the top of the crack onto a wider ledge to the left. This proved to be very intimidating and the hardest move for me. I had to get off this comfy my left foot was on, foot switch with my right foot on a jug in the crack and put my right foot on the exposed park of the wall (friction). Then I had to take my left foot off the jug and mantel onto this ledge on top of the crack. It took forever for me to go for the move… but I did eventually. From there the climbing eased a bit and I focused on getting from one tree to the next and following the path of least resistance. The ran the rope out to the last two feet before belaying from a tree. I was above what was supposed to me the top of the route as we were supposed to walk on “easy” slabs to the descent trail, but it was exposed and had some techy moves so we actually ended up roping up for a fourth pitch.

The view from the top of the route of the Valley is amazing with Half Dome being the star of the scenery. We unroped and decided to take the trail left to get a look at the famous lower falls pools. This easy to follow climbers trail led us to the top of the falls, but there were no falls. It was a wonderful cool place to take a break though. Then be backtracked and followed the trail along the edge of the cliff (DO NOT FALL HERE) for about 3/4 of a mile. Here the track drops into a gully that seems sketch for the first few yards, but the crummy terrain changes once you get in the trees. Then its a easy scramble down. We followed the wide footpath left back to the Lower Falls Parking lot for .8 miles. We were tired. We were hungry. We were Yosemite climbers.

 

Damien and I spent our first full day in Yosemite getting a feel for the granite and valley climbing style at Swan Slabs. This area has a fair amount of good top-ropes and “easy” leads. I put easy in quote because Yosemite rating are very stiff compared to WA. We found that we had to add 2-3 grades to the rating.

We started the day out a bit rocky. We walked around the back of the crag on the left set to set up a top rope for West Slabs (5.6-5.8). We walked a bit to far and found that what appeared to be s simple scramble to the top of the crag was more like a few 5.5 moves. I retrieved our trad gear and Damien led to the top of the ledge. It turned out that we ended up way too high and were several ledges above the slab. We rappelled and found that we simply had to walk to the top of the slab… I guess we like it complicated. We built a gear anchor and walked down (there is a tree but its rotten).

We climbs a few variations of the slab which was not all that fascinating, but a good warm up. Damien led the 5.1 Unnamed Gully to get a feel for leading again.We moved the top rope to the next wall by climbing up a short 5.3 to a large tree where we set up the rope. From here we had access to three fun routes. Unnamed Flare Crack 5.8 is usually climbed at a V0 boulder. It is more like a modern 5.10 a-b with polished foot smearing and bumping hand movements on a  a lieback diagonal crack. We then moved to the 5.7 Unnamed Crack which was a general study is good jamming technique. This was my favorite. The final Unnamed Crack 5.9 featured a horrendous start to a stiff lieback.

Damien and I decided a month ago to drive down to Yosemite National Park and explore the famous Valley Climbing. The Valley had just received snow a few days earlier so there was a white sparkle to the tops of the massive walls. We spent our first and second evening bouldering.

Camp 4:

This was the first place we climbed in the Valley. As so many have warned: the ratings are super super stiff! I climb V4 in the gym and V3 outside and I struggled on V0s in the Valley. There was also some intense variation in difficulty with problems of the same rating too. We climbed on a few different boulders. By far our favorite was Energy Boulder which had some fun cracks. Plus Damien sent his first outdoor boulder problem here! This bouldering area is massive and has something for everyone. Lots of problems are on the high side though.

Swan Slabs:

On the second day we climbed at Swan Slabs Boulders next to cragging. This is a smaller area (three boulders) with a few less highball problems. Many of the boulders you have to down climb though as there is no walk off. The center boulder was my favorite features problems with high throws.

It had been raining is the lowlands and snowing in the mountains all week! We had some unfortunate shores to get done Saturday, so Damien and I decided to get in this season’s first turns at Mt Rainier on Sunday. The plan was to start at Paradise and go as far as we could. The gate at Longmire closes at 5pm now… so we had to be back by 4:15 unfortunately.

The mountain was not visible from Paradise and it was pretty clear (not not clear) that we would be in low visibility throughout the ski tour. Nevertheless, we were certainly not the only folks taking out skis out. The parking lot had a good number of people  putting their skins on.

There was at least 1 foot of snow at the base. Using the summer route to get to the top of Panorama Point was very doable and on a well packed down trail. The top of the point was wind blow with rocks exposed, but it was easy to navigate around. From there the trail was less packed down but fairly easy to follow to Pebble creek (which was under 2 feet of snow). A lot of folks were turning around here due to the whiteout conditions above. Damien and I decided to keep going, but took waypoints at intervals to help us find out way down. We had too boot pack our skis to get around an area with lots of talus exposure , but mostly it was easy skinning on good powder.

The sky cleared up a bit at 8000ft. It was about 1:20pm and we both really wanted to keep going especially with blue ski in sight. But we knew how quickly conditions could change. We took off our skins and began the journey down. As predicted we found ourselves enveloped in heavy fog and snow within minutes. Everything looked white and we couldn’t see an features in the snow. Once i stopped moving and didn’t even realize it for a few seconds (which resulted in me falling when I tried to stop). Our waypoint helped us for a bit, but we ended up in the wrong chute and had to boot pack down a slope to the right chute.

We somehow skipped over the exposed rock section and made our way back down to Panorama Point. We opted to boot back down the waist deep snow down the winter route. That was exhausting, especially for Damien who sinks much more than  me. We thought it would be easy from there, but the whiteout made it still challenging. First we got cliffed out and then we ended up on the wrong side of the creek . We crossed and fought out way through deep snow up the creek bed where we finally met up with the packed down trail back to Paradise.

The skiing conditions were great except for the exposed rocks. Another few good snowfalls should take care of that though! Welcome winter snowsports!

Damien and I contemplated attempting a summit bid of Cashmere Mountain  for about a week. But as the weekend approached and we studied the weather it appeared that the Cascades were win for a massive dumping of snow! Saturday and Sunday night the freezing level was supposed to drop as low as 4,000ft! Excited for the season’s first major snow accumulation event we prepped to climb Cashmere in light snow (5 inches was predicted) and mentally prepared for this trip to end up being just a backpack due to the weather conditions. Either way the promise of the first snow was exciting. We missed it!

The drive to Leavenworth proved to be an obstacle course of swerving around massive rocks and downed trees on the highway. When we arrived at  the Eightmile Lake Trail-head On Saturday morning rain was cascading out of the grey skies. Fat, cold drops of rain to be exact. The wind was something fierce too though not as horrible as we’d had it on Rainier. Covered in Gore-Tex from head to toe Damien and I braved the storm and entered the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

The first 3 miles of the trail only gains 1000 very gradual feet. By the time we reached the Junction of Little Eightmile Lake we were dripping wet (though the gore-tex was still holding up). But we were still in good spirits. We hoped that maybe as we climbed the rain would turn to snow. However, as we turned onto the Trout Creek trail and began the climb it appeared the rain continued to thrash us for freezing droplets. The wind began the howl through the valley below too making a sounds almost like ghosts which was appropriate since it was Halloween.

We climbed quickly up through the burn anxious to get to camp. From the top of the small pass above Lake Caroline we could see that it was indeed snowing higher up on Windy Pass in the distance. We followed the long switchbacks down to the lake and followed the trail to our first creek crossing. The water was very high and the logs that were supposed to be used for the crossing were fulling submerged. Luckily to the left  a few yards upstream there were few logs and rocks that were not overly submerged and provided a safe crossing. Another 1/2 mile on the trail we were awarded with our second risky crossing, this one more treacherous than the first. The logs, again, were under deep water. To the left there was a log jam. Somehow we managed to cross those logs some of which were floating and not anchored to the creek-bed.

When we arrived at Little Lake Caroline a lot of the tent sites were occupied with massive puddles. We found one that was just muddy though and put up the tent doing our best to mitigate the rain getting inside our little home. Then we waited… and in the early evening the rain turned to snow!

We woke up the next morning to 1.5 feet of snow, much more than predicted. And huge flakes were still cartwheeling in vast numbers through the sky! We assessed that we could make up up to Windy Pass. However, we doubted that we could make up to the summit of Cashmere with this very fluffy new snow, especially through the exposed section. We also had concerns of being able to find the trail out after another few hours of snowfall. We decided that the safest option was to head out.

It was winter wonderland! We decided to walk around Little Lake Caroline instead of attempting the creek crossing again. On the second crossing the water level was a bit lower so we were able to use the direct logs. We lost the faint trail a few times in the deep snow, but luckily we managed to get it back. The snow line ended up being at about 4000ft exactly. But we we got below it the temperature was cold enough for snow to be falling instead of rain which was a very welcome relief from what were were expecting.

We arrived back at the trail-head all too soon, but we were very happy! The season’s first snow!