After climbing Mt Shasta and visiting the Oregon Caves we opted to close out Memorial Day weekend with a quick morning hike before heading back to WA which ended up being a ten hour drive. We woke up at 3am at camp on Selmac Lake, quickly packed up and headed along the twisty twindy road to Oregon Caves National Monument. Although the big draw to the park is its underground attraction, there was also some hiking to be had in the Siskiyou Mountain above ground. We chose the longest trail, The Mount Elijah trail. It is 8 miles with 2390ft of gain (summit height 6390ft). Pretty much a stroll in the park for alpinist, but still nice way to end the weekend.

We began at 4:45pm on the right branch of the Big Tree Loop just behind the Visitor Center. The trail traverses through the forest with a few switchbacks for 1.7 miles at a gradual grade to the junction with the Elijah Mountain Trail at 5070ft. The trail’s elevation gain through the forest and high meadows continues to be very steady and gradual except for about 200ft of gain just beyond the NM border when the trail enters Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Here is is respectably steep. But it evens out again after that. There are several trail junctions. All are well marked except for then the Mt Elijah Trail splits into a loop. There is no sign here. Just a tiny carin. If you look down the trail on left you will see a sign regarding a forest service road ahead. You can climb up the Mt Elijah trail and then descend the mountain to Bigalow Lakes, walk on the said forest service road and get back to this junction. Basically the left turn heads to Bigalow Lakes and then Elijah and it is a longer route to the summit. We went right, not wanting to walk on a road. The trail goes up a forested ridge for what seems like forever until it curves left and breaks above treeline. Now a a high ridge covered with phlox and  small shrubs that trail continues it gradual ascent to the summit. An old sign makes the top.

It was another clear day and we could see all the way to Mt Shasta to the south. The green, forested Siskiyou surrounded us. They are not the craggy peaks of Washington, but they still held their own beauty. We stayed here enjoying the views for about a half hour before heading back down the way we came, but finishing the hike on the other half of the Big Tree Trail. The entire 8 miles taking our time took us exactly 4.75 hours to complete. Great morning walk before a long car ride!

The original plan for Memorial Day weekend was to climb Mt Olympus in 4 days. But typical Washington weather came in with the promise of both rain and possible lightning in the Olympic Range and pretty much the rest of the state. We made some last second decisions and opted to climb Mt Shasta in California instead. It is a two day climb, but we planned on staying an extra night at camp for additional acclimation and adjoined this climb with a trip to Oregon Caves National Monument as well.

Almost every route was in for Mt Shasta, but we chose to do the standard Avalanche Gulch route on the south side of the mountain. It is basically a high elevation steep snow scramble. The main event for us with the opportunity to get up above 14000ft and spend lots of time near the summit to prepare our bodies for Mt Rainier and the Tetons later this summer.

Two permits as needed for the climb and both are self-issue at the TH. The wilderness permit is free and must be carried by each permit. A summit permit must also be purchased for $25 per person (exact change needed). We started out for the Bunny Flats Trailhead at about 7:00am on Friday hoping to beat the Memorial Day Rush. There is snow almost right away, but there is a great boot/ski track to follow through the forest until you reach treeline. From here boot prints spread out, but the way to still very clear. Even without tracks the route through the drainage and up to Helen Lake would be pretty obvious. We headed across the final flat part of the treeline and then up. The trail wasn’t extremely steep and we made great time to Helen Lake at 10,400ft enjoying the surrounding mountain views the whole way up.

High Camp at the lake is watched over by a single ranger. There is green flagging which indicated the area where camping is allowed and more signage for the bathroom area just below the lake. About ten tents were lined up. We took a spot on the end as far away as we could for some solitude. We were sure it would fill in as the day went on. It was only 12pm. We set up camp and examined the parts of the route we could see up to “The Thumb”. Then basically we did a whole bunch of sleeping since we planned a very early start. Plus driving through the night 560 miles can be pretty tiring!

More folks showed up throughout the day filling in the camp. Most were very friendly and in-between naps we talked to some of the other climbers. We got taken aback when folks said they were from the Bay Area or Tahoe… we kept forgetting we were in California! We had an early dinner and turned in for the night at 6:30pm.

We began climbing the route at 2:15am. There was only a light wind, but it was still cold enough for me to wear a light puffy and long underwear under my soft-shell pants. We saw a white and red headlamp above of. We were the third team on the route. The other two climbers were soloist. We climbed pretty much straight up the snow slope leaning to the right. The grade was relatively steep and gradually increased in angle as we ascended. At about 11,500ft we passed the first soloist. He was not doing well and was ill prepared. He had poles and his axe was clipped to his side, useless. His camouflage jacket looked like it was from walmart. No crampons. Thin day-hiking boots. He was taking yet another break as we passed him. he said he was tired and it was his second time trying this mountain (and any mountain). He had started from the trailhead. We wished him luck. We later found out he tried to descend and fell 1000ft. Luckily he was uninjured. his axe remains on the mountain.

Just under 12000 ft we turned to the left and began to climb the steep wide slope to Red Banks. This is the known to be the crux and steepest part of the climb. The top of this slope is marked by a large rock outcrop called “The Thumb”. We ascended steadily and passed the climber with the red light. He looked more prepared then the other soloist, but still uneducated. At about 12600ft we camp across a line of exposed rock coming down the slope. The snow below it was wind loaded and soft. Staying to the left of the rock the sock was more like Styrofoam, so we stayed left. Most folks bear to the left near the top of Red Banks and continue up the slope to the first small plateau. However, I opted to stay right and get onto the ridge near the Thumb.

Once we reached the ridge at 12800ft we were smashed by howling winds (probably 30-40 mph) and fiercely cold temps. We found shelter in the moat near the rocks on the ridge and put on our Feather Friends Frontpoint Parkas. These are meant for Denali! We pushed (thick parkas on and not even breaking a sweat) on heading along the ridge up the next short slope to the left until we reached the small plateau. In front of us was a dome shaped hill appropriately named Misery Hill. We began to climb up. Not only is this an endless type of hill where the top seems to remain the same distance for a very long period of time, it is also where our bodies began to slow a bit as elevation effects began to settle in at 13200. This, for us, was the crux.

On top of the hill on on the upper large plateau the winds died down and the sun warmed the snow. It was still cold though so we left on the huge puffys and continued across the flats toward the summit block  in front of us. After crossing the plateau the route curves left over a gentle hill that seems less gentle at 13850ft and then curves again to the right heading up a slope and then across a narrow ridge. The top of the summit block could maybe fit 6 people comfortably. But it didn’t matter because we were the first any only ones there that morning! It was 8:15am.  We each took turns climbing the few steep snow steps to the true summit which could fit one person safety. Generous clear views abounded on the summit of 14162ft and although the altitude was definitely felt, it was not horrendous at all.  A couple we had met the day before, who also happened to be from WA and also happened to take some classes with the Mountaineers and had seen me before, joined us a few minutes later. Climbers are a small community.

We descended to 13850ft just above the plateau to a flat area. We wanted to spend a s much time at altitude as possible. So we took a nap here for about 2 hours until our heads began to hurt to badly. Then we descended to 12800ft on the ridge near the Thumb and took another hour nap waiting for the snow to get softer. Then we glissaded all the way back to camp…

And camp was getting packed! The ranger said he expected about 200 climbers to show up. Most of which had never climbed before. I overhead one guy said “Oh yeah, I have an ice axe. I don’t know what to do with it, but I have it”. That’s very useful indeed! I don’t think I have ever seen so many ill prepared folks in one place, not even on Mt Hood. We rested the remainder of the day and shared beta with climbers who were just arriving. At 3am and 5am we witnessed the insane amount of people going up the mountain and were ever so thankful we had ascended the day before. And we were so happy to be back on the cascade volcanoes, climbing at high altitude and pushing ourselves. These passed few weeks have been rough and being on Shasta provided some much needed solace. It never ceases to amaze me how the mountains seem to always reset my life when things get overwhelming. It is in the mountains where I find my focus and my peace in the chaos that seems to overtake me. Without the wilderness are am in turmoil and with the wilderness I find tranquility.

 

Damien had family obligation this weekend so Melanie and I decided to do the Enchantments Traverse with a side trip up Little Annapurna.  Melanie had never done a backpack with this much elevation gain or a scramble before so I figured this would be a good intro for her, plus she always wanted to do the traverse. The weather seemed unstable all week fluctuating from sunny to rainy to snowy. In the end it seemed like Saturday would be partly sunny with bad weather pushing in Sunday night and a washout for Sunday. This the plan was to get as far as we could on Saturday and camp at Leprechaun or Vivian Lake. That way it would lower down and the descent would require less navigation in low visibility since its pretty straight forward. I knew I needed to treat any decisions I made on this trip as though I were going solo since I was the only experienced one. I didn’t want to be in anything sketchy so this seemed like the best plan.

We thought we would have to walk the road, but it turned out of be open allowing us to bypass walking the 4 miles up gravel. I was elated since I’ve walked up the road about 5 times already in the past 6 months. The skies were cloudy, but no precip. The trail was much drier than expected almost no snow until we reached the Junction of Stuart and Colchuck Lake Trails. From here and up to the Colchuck Lake we encounters a few larger patches of snow, but nothing to significant.

Once at Colchuck Lake the snow cover increased. It was mostly snow around the lake, but there were still dry patches. Some were even rather large. There is a good boot track with the only tricky navigate being on the peninsula before the smaller lake. Below the talus field of Colchuck Col the ground was blanketed in snow, but there is a good boot pack. Aasgard Pass is pretty much 98% still under a thick blanket of snow.

We took a break before heading up the pass. The weather was still cloudy, but seemed okay and no storms that I could see were heading our way. After reviewing ice axe arrest to Melanie and deciding that the snow was much to soft for crampons we headed up. The summer route had no tracks on it. Instead the staircase of kick steps left straight up the center of the Pass. They was excellent  secure steps and I so easy to ascend I got a bit bored. About halfway up near the narrow gully to the left several route up branches away from the main steps. I opted to stay out of the gully and go straight up ascending a few areas of talus/scree that were melted out. Around 7000ft a cold wind suddenly came down the pass and several minutes later snow poured out of the sky. Hail was soon added to the mixture. With a few more layers on we continued up the pass hoping that maybe this would pass quickly. We hadn’t seen the system coming since it up from the Enchantment Core area where i could not see the sky. The system passed over in about 15 minute and things seemed to ease briefly, but then another wave came followed by another. We could see the storm system passing over us and then onto Cashmere and they all looked menacing. Melanie was getting her first taste of how unpredictable alpine weather could be. The bad weather had basically come in early at 2:00pm.

We finally reached the top of the pass. I felt surprising good after ascending 2200ft in 3/4 miles. Melanie was pretty spent though, more from being unfamiliar with how to mentally manage alpine elements than the physical exertion. It was much colder than forecasted at the top. About 30 degrees and visibility was low in the snow.  The ground was fully snow covered and snowshoes would be a good idea (which we had). We layered up, ate and considered the options. We could press on with the plan skipping Little Annapurna to make sure we got to Vivian. But the unexpected cold made me wary with our ultra light three season tent, 30 degree bags and medium weight puffys. Route finding in low visibility and searching for tracks that were filling up with snow at that moment also raised a red flag. With an experienced person to assess decisions on direction with me I would have felt pretty confident about moving forward in the storm, but I had to treat this with I was solo. The right thing to do was to descend to the lake were it was warmer and I could easily find the way out back the way we had come in the morning.

This turned out to be great opportunity for Melanie to learn some alpine climbing techniques. We plunge stepped down the first 3rd of the pass and then glissaded the rest of the way down. Melanie did great and successfully self arrested to stop her glissade too! The glissade itself was pretty awesome. Prefect snow conditions and a fun ride down.

We camped at the edge of the lake below Colchuck Col in what remained of the severed trees from an avalanche last this winter. Luckily we were able to camp under three trees that remained standing to shield us from some of the rain. We stayed relatively dry that night, though the rain pounded pretty loudly on the tent. I was glad to not be on the high plateau.

We woke to a still rainy morning though it wasn’t a downpour anymore. We broke camp and headed back to the TH. The miles went by pretty quick once we got around the lake. We got  abut turned around on the tricky peninsula, but found our way back on track. And of course just as we reached the TH the sun started to come out just a little… but blue skies never revealed themselves. Not quiet our original plan for the weekend, but still a fun experience.

The Brothers has been on my “to do list” for about 2 years now and it had been on Damien’s list for 16 years! We were going to attempt this prominent Olympic peak last year, but unseasonably warm weather and a nearly snow free winter made for some reportedly unsavory conditions so we skipped it. This year though conditions were much more favorable so we decided to give the summit a try via the popular 3rd class scramble Known as the South Couloir or South Gully. It is labeled in every piece of Beta as “very strenuous” and reported to feature very difficult route finding. After doing the climb I would say that it is “easy-moderate” and the route finding is not “easy” per say, but not difficult either so long as you have descent beta. But that of course is just me.

We took the first Ferry to the Peninsula from Edmonds and began walking on the trail at about 8:30am. Lena Lake Trail is exceedingly manicured with endless switchbacks that gradually ascend from 700ft to 1800ft in 3 miles.  This gradual grade can drive a climber who is used to going straight up a little crazy, but it went relatively fast at least. The trail goes around half of the lake passing numerous campsites and even a building with a bathroom. There are some junctions, but there are signs that point to “The Brothers”. Shortly after crossing a bridge  a trail leads left (labeled Brothers) away from the lake and into what is referred to as The Valley of the Silent Men. The trail here is still pretty gradual as it slowly ascends the valley. However, this is not manicured at all! This trail feels much more what I would expect when going on a climb. Lots of downed trees, washed out trail, etc. blocked the direct route. Whenever a trail seemed to be lost or was redirected  pink flagging on the trees that help guide the way. Damien and I were both blown away by the clarify of the Lena Creek and the greenness of the valley. The Olympics have such a different feel to them than the cascades. Much more like a rainforest with Moss and ferns carpeting the wilderness.

At 3000ft we arrived across the creek from the main climbers camp. We followed the trail a little further up to a suitable rock hop crossing and then headed toward the camp to regain the route. We wanted to camp in the more secluded camps we’d read about further up. There is no official trail here. However, the track felt much like the Valley of the Silent Men. A clear path obscured back random debris. Pink and yellow flagging clearly marked the way so long as you paid attention and looked for the markers. After about .75 miles the trail which had been following Lena Creek moves right and away from the creek up toward a snowfield below a waterfall. We were looking for campsite in a meadow below the first headwall. Turns out this was the snowfield. We decided to scout for other camps and followed the left edge of the snowfield about 2/4 of the way up before pink flagging and a trail that led up into the burned forest. We followed this a few yards before concluding that any camps would be below us. We backtracked and thus stumbled upon a lone secluded camp just below the snowfield that we had somehow missed beside the creek. Perfect!We set up camp at about 2:30pm happy to be out of the heavy sunshine and in the shade of the thick trees. Napping there was pretty awesome!

We broke camp as a faint light appeared kn the sky around 4:50am the next morning. A heavy mist blanketed the lower slopes of The Brothers and the air felt humid. I guess that’s what the weatherman means by Marine layer. We reascended the snowfield happy we had scouted out the location of where it turns back into the forest. It can get tricky here if you are not looking for the flagging. As a general rule, if you haven;t see flagging or a carin in five minutes backtrack and try again. The trail is pretty clear though s long as you are vigilant. It basically crosses through an old burn and goes up a “minor ridge” as it is called in most beta. This is called ‘the nose” The trail delivered us to the bank of a rushing creek. This is “the obvious gully” described in guides. Enter the creek and move up the following water over the rock. There are some illusive carins. A little ways up there are some impassable small waterfalls but look for flagging on the left for a small on the shore under an overhanging rock. Then reenter the creek until the water starts and the snow begins.

The Couloir is wide and never gets steeper than 40 degrees for the entire journey. Usually its more like 30. The key here is ‘when in doubt stay right’. We stayed in the widest and rightmost gully and ascended the snow. No crampons at this point as it was pretty soft. The Mountaineers group we knew we’d meet up with on this trip caught up with us at this point and climbed nearby for the rest of the ascent. At what I think was about 5800ft we reached the “hourglass” where the south couloir suddenly gets very narrow. This is sometimes climbed, but is is usually bypassed by going onto the rock ledges to the right. We bypassed it due to think snow and running water in the hourglass. There is some pink tape in the shrubs on the rock ledges as well as carins and a faint boot path. Basically if you take the path of least resistance in the general up direction you will once again find yourself in the wide couloir. From here we simply followed the couloir up putting on our crampons at about 6000ft when the snow go stiff and icy.

The couloir begins to pas some rock spires. The key here is before reaching the saddle branch over into the right couloir and follow the boot pack around the summit block to a small narrow gully in the rock. From here I suggest taking off the crampons and ascending the final 200 ft in just boots. The climb is easy and no exposed at all, but rockfall in a real danger here. Beware of those below you as you climb. The upper clouds lifted upon our arrival revealing just the top of the surrounded Olympic range and the volcanoes. Otherwise we were above the clouds. We hung out with the Mountaineers at the summit enjoying the view for about 30 minutes. No wind made for great conditions to hang out at the top. The shorted North Peak was much closer than expected and we pondered if the Brothers Traverse was as difficult as advertised since the south couloir was easier than described.

We descended just as the high clouds rolled back in swallowing the mountains around us. We left our crampons on until 6000ft where the snow was soft enough to plunge step. We then did a combination of glissading and plunge stepping back down in the heavy mist to the running water section of the gully. The way back to camp was much quicker int he daylight. We didn’t break for a nap since we were all wet from the thick mist and glissade. Instead we packed up and headed out returning to the trailhead at 5:30pm. Finally got that one checked off the list! VIEW VIDEO