We had an odd array of circumstances this weekend. Heavy rain and with a chance of snow in the mountains, plus Damien was recovering from a rather icky cold. Staying home is never an option for us of course. We always saw Mount Mastiff peaking out behind all the other mountain on the way home from Leavenworth. This was the perfect weekend to do a scramble so we opted to climb Mastiff in conjunction with Mt Howard (highest mountain on Nason Ridge) with a camp at Crescent Lake. Both are class 3 scrambles and can be done as a traverse from Merritt Lake TH to Rock Lake TH or as a Lollipop from Merritt Lake TH. We opted for the Lollipop variation requiring a carryover.

When we arrived at the Merritt Lake TH the weather was just misty and cloudy. We thought that maybe we had gotten lucky and the rain hadn’t made it over the cascade crest. No such luck of course! By the time we arrived at the Junction with Nason Ridge Trail (left turn) we found ourselves covered in gore-tex from head to toe. Unfortunately, due to sticky humidity we didn’t put on our rain gear until we had already gotten damp. So damp we would remain for the day.

The rain grew harder, but at least the trees above offered some protection. The trail is pretty easy to follow with the exception of directly after the trail drops from 5400ft to 5100ft into a somewhat swampy basin. Here we lost the trail in the thick grass, but regained it after some wandering and crossing a rushing creek (no logs or rocks, we ran through since we were already wet). The trail them once again ascends up scree and talus to the upper basin and eventually to Crescent Lake at 5450ft.

It’s always a tedious process to set up a tent in the rain without the inside getting soaked, but we carefully worked as best we could under the fly and minimized the moisture. We were rather chilled by then as the rain had turned to a freezing mix of rain and snow, the exact snow line was about 200ft higher judging by the white frosted trees. We drove into the tent. It was early and we had originally planned to do the simple hike up Rock mountain about 2 more miles away, but in our soaked state we decided that it was more important to dry off as best we could and keep the last remaining things we had that were dry moisture free. We didn’t want to jeopardize the main event of Howard and Mastiff the next day. Luckily, we both never get enough sleep during the week so we took a nice long nap. The rain/snow even let up right around dinner time giving us the chance to eat outside and scout out what we could see of the route with the heavy mist. But it started up again just as we were tying up the urr sack.

We originally planned to get up at 4:00am, but it was still raining when the alarm ran to we moved it to 5:15 when the pitter patter on the tent finally ceased. We estimated that along with our gear we were also carrying a rather staggering amount of water that was soaked in. Our sleeping bag was rather wet and our tent had somehow managed to collect a large puddle!

Our packs loaded with our gear and some extra water, we made our way around the right side of the lake until we reached the first line of talus on the South slope. Above the talus we bush whacked through some thick pine trees until we reached the upper talus which had a thin layer of snow on it. This made the going a bit spicier as you never knew which footstep would hold or break through. We were just below another band of thick trees so we picked our way to treeless, waterless creek bed. It was slippery and snowy, but very climbable with caution. From here we climbed on top of some trees which were a bit smashed down by the snow and wind the night before and finally accessed the upper snow slope. We climbed pretty easily through the open snow field which gained elevation pretty gradually. Then we climbed the final short band of talus to the SE ridge and scrambled left to reach the summit. Mist and clouds were still swirling around us, but the ski was blue and we could even see Glacier Peak. The storm was over and the sun was shinning. What a difference a day can make!

But the day was only half over. We still had one more summit. one mile away and 300ft below was stood Mt Mastiff with some menacing looking snowy talus fields. First, though, we had to descend Howard. We scrambled back down the SE ridge a few yards until we were able to drop onto the snow covered North Face. Damien tried to plunge step down warning me that due to the steepness and slickness of the snow he might end up falling on his butt and glissading. As luck would have it this happened about 10 seconds afterward. He managed to create a small point release avalanche that he road behind for a little ways before stopping himself and continuing to walk down. It wasn’t a big avy, but it wasn’t tiny either. Pretty impressive. He never felt in danger.

We crossed the mile long saddle over snow to the base of Mastiff on the left side Our plan was to ascend and traverse right between to slab bands. Then head up and hopefully avoid as much of the steep talus as possible. This plan worked pretty well as we were able to avoid the steepest talus and pretty much go straight up from the slab bands before moving right just below the ridge. It was definitely tricky though trying to choose the best way and the talus we did cross was not particularly stable. The summit is broad and grassing, marked by a few carins. The sky was almost totally clear at this point and we could see HWY 2, Lake Wenatchee, Dirty Face and beyond. But we were not done.

To finish the lollipop we needed to follow the SE ridge back to the Nason Ridge Trail. This seemed like an easy enough undertaking, only the ridge was not constant. It actually just plain dropped off in a few sections. The first dropoff occurs a few yards from the summit. we dropped down to the right into a loose gully and then scrambled back up. Exposed and sketch class 3 scrambling. Had we gone around left I think we would have avoided most of that. We were then able to follow the ridge without even on the pretty broad surface of faint trail, heather and snow before we encountered a HUGE dropoff. We dropped down into the trees, shrubs and heather on the left. We dropped below the gab in the ridge and worked our way across the side of the steep slope (we were above Lost Lake). The going here was mindbogglingly slow and rather precarious on the slippery foliage. Lots of tree and shrub belays and just guessing as to the best route to go. We decided to go back up the to ridge rather than traverse to the lower section of the ridge to avoid run-out over steep cliffs. From here were found a very clear boot trail that followed that ran on top of the broad ridge. A few time sit petered out in overgrown brush or snow , but it was easy time find again.

Somehow this climbers trail ran back into the Nason Ridge Trail. We didn’t even notice them connecting. From there it was an easy, but seemingly endless walk back down to the car. Rain… no problem! Sick …no problem!

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