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



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