Damien and I have been looking for the opportunity to try our our new Katabatic Expedition Tent. Lots of new snow had fallen over the week when the freezing level dropped to 2500 feet and we figured that made this weekend the perfect time to do so. Our destination was a far as we could get on the Plateau near Slippery Slab.

We began at the Surprise lake TH. There was about an inch or two of snow right from the start and it slowly increased as we gained elevation. There was a boot track in for about two miles. It was pretty easy to break trail though as the snow was no more than 5 inches up to the junction with the Trapp Pass Trail. However, as we began the switchbacks up to the pass with shimmering, fat snowflakes falling from the sky things began to get more challenging. By the time we reached the top of Trapp Pass we were cutting our way through 12+inches of fluffy powder.

We were granted in and out views of the ridge we were about to follow and Slippery Slab in the distance. We had been in this very spot just over a year ago when we had section hiked the PCT and turned off to do a side trip up Thunder Mountain. It looked very different now, but very gorgeous indeed. As more snow feel and the mist traded places very few minutes with hints of blue sky we turned off the trail and began to navigate along the ridge. The climbers trail was impossible to distinguish so we basically stayed the the right side of the ridge and cut through the trees and snow. Sometimes the snow was just a few inches and other times it was knee deep. When we exited the ridge and came out below the rock band on the left side the the ridge the fluffy snow was wind loaded and the high angled slope. We fought our way though waist deep snow. There was no base we found ourselves dropping into tree wells and gaps in the talus. It was more like swimming and cutting a deep channel than climbing.

After a long traverse we swam up though shoulder deep snow and up to the basin below Slippery Slab Tower. But then we were pretty beat and we nervous about all the pothole traps in the big boulders and talus hidden by snow that laid ahead. It was also getting on to evening. We found a ncie flat place on the edge of the basin by the ridge and dug our a large platform to set up our giant tent. Wow is it gigantic. The wind picked up a few times at night, but we only heard the wind in the trees. The tent barely flapped or made a sound. Bomber!

About two inches of snow feel overnight, but luckily we had cut a huge trench the day before on our way up from the basin and it was very easy to follow it back down to Trapp Pass. The same was true to the rest of the track back. A few more weeks of snow like this and there will be a good enough base to start climbing and skiing!

Damien and I headed out for a backpack/scouting trip this weekend. The Enchantment permits were finally over and although weather and snow conditions were not promising for climbing Cashmere Mountain we decided to head in that direction anyway and scout out the route. We were happy to discover that Eightmile Road was still open. The trail was snow free to about 6000ish feet just before the pass above Lake Caroline. At the shore of Caroline there were a few sets of boot tracks and we got  abit turned around trying to identify the set of tracks that were actually following the trail to Little Lake Caroline .5 miles away. Although heavy rain was predicted we only experienced light to no rain right until we set up our tent on Little Lake Caroline. Then a cold, steady rain settled in.

It was still early in the day though and less than stellar weather never really deters us, so we set out to take a look at the trail to Windy Pass. We wanted to start in the dark the next day so we figured we’d see what we were in for… plus we had a feeling that just a bit higher up the rain would turn to snow and we love snow! As we suspected the rain did turn to snow at about 6600 feet and it was beautiful! We turned back once we got to the basin 400ft from the pass so we could turn in early. There had been a boot track the whole way so we weren’t too concerned about finding our way to Windy Pass.

The next day we woke before the sun and headed out. The rain had turned to snow overnight and there was fresh dusting at our camp and thicker fresh powder the more elevation we gained. Boot prints were blown out starting just we we had turned back the afternoon before in the basin. We put on our snowshoes and pretty easily navigated up the the ridge line just right of Windy Pass enjoying a fiery sunrise the sunrise! The clear skies didn’t last though as as we followed the ridge snow began to fall. No trouble there though. It gave things a more alpine feel! The ridge to Cashmere was pretty mellow and broad until about 7600 feet where we reached a talus hump covered in the thin layer of fresh slippery snow. We were able to traverse this sketchy section, but at 7800 feet, just before the false summit we decided to call the scouting complete for the day. The rock there was much more vertical and climbing technical rock in thin, slippery snow was not on our agenda.

The snow cleared by the time we got back to camp and the sun appeared for the hike out. With all the fresh snow there a wonderful bounty of animal tracks on the trail! Winter is coming and I’m so so happy!

It can be hard to find good adventures on the shoulder season, but as long as you are not adverse to rain and snowy conditions you can usually find something! Damien and I were going to do a Loop backpack called The Cradle this weekend which is located at the end of Icicle Road in Leavenworth. No many folks go to the very end of the road. We also wanted to add an ascent of Bootjack and Highchair mountain tot he second day since the route to those peaks was right off the loop. We were also prepared to revise out plans as the mountain conditions lately have been a question mark.

We started off of the Icicle Creek Trail. The drive across the creek just before the TH is still very doable in any vehicle. After about 1.5 miles at a huge camping area we turned onto the French Creek Trail. leads though the forest for a long time gradually ascending. It was raining throughout the day, but not pouring and the cool temp made the forest jaunt pleasant. At the next Junction we stayed left on the French Creek Trail and a few yards later came to the edge of a very deep French Creek… with the trail on the other side. Damien tried to find an alternate place to cross, but there were no better options. The water was deep enough to make removal of the pants necessary. It was actually deep enough so that the water was actually just below my hips. The key was to go inott he water and aim slightly up-stream to avoid a waist deep drop and then circle back to the trial on the shore. And, yes, it was FREEZING! Strangely once out of the water a dripping wet we didn’t feel very cold.

We continued on. The trail grained elevation more aggressively for about 600 feet before changing once again to a more gentle uphill grade. Mist hung low in the sky, but we could still see the bottom of Cradle Peak to our right. We passed though an Avalanche debris field and several meadows before once again going aggressively up after a horsecamp. Here snow covered the ground pretty solidly and we lost the trail at times. We managed to get back on it though without too much trouble. After about 1000 feet of climbing the trail begins to switchback up the ridge until reaching the top overlooking the snow engorged Cradle Basin. It was dark back then so we took out our headlamps before descending. The lake was frozen and it was hard to see exactly where it was. We set up camp in some trees near a thawed out pool.

In the morning we reviewed our options. There was a lot of deep snow and potholing ahead of us in the next two basins until we began to climb to the ridge by Bootjack. The forecast called for a big storm in the evening and moderate rain in the afternoon. Naviahgating through the deep snow in the basin could take hours and if we did end up having to turn back and go out the way we had come we could be looking at returning to the TH the next morning (we were 12.5 miles in). Highchair Mountain would be be a good choice of a climb since the snow covering nearby ridges looked slippery and questionable. With these being the circumstances we opted to change the loop to an out and back.

Of course this also meant we needed to cross French Creek without pants again! We made the right choice. The rain picked up as soon as we got back to the car.

With some significant rainfall in the outlook for Saturday and a chance on Sunday we had to revise our climbing plans. Instead we opted for a long backpack through the Pasayten wildness called Seven Pass Loop (27 miles), aptly named since it goes through 7 passes. The trip begins on the PCT North from the trailhead just a bit further than Harts Pass (pass #1). There was heavy mist and a bit of a typical WA drizzle when we started out with a nice crisp autumn feel ton the air. I love this type of weather (seriously, I do and that’s why I live in WA). The trail is pretty level and follows open slopes below Slate Peak where we had intermittent views of the wildness whenever the mist parted. As to be expected we ran into a good amount of through-hikers due to reach Canada and finish up the PCT next day. We crossed over Buffalo Pass and then went up a few switchbacks to the top of Windy Pass. From there the trail descends a bit through larches (still green but they will turn soon). Then we followed along more open slopes and onto a ridge. We crossed Foggy and Jim Pass and didn’t even notice! The trail eventually switchbacks down for a long time until reaching Holeman Pass at 5000 feet. But then it was raining pretty steadily. In fact there had been a mini flood running down the trail!

At Holeman Pass there is a signed 4 way junction. We left the PCT and turned right onto connector trail #472A. This trail is not nearly as well kept as the PCT. There are fallen logs to cross over and places where the grass is encroaching on the trail. The fallen trees are easy to go over, under or around though and it is pretty impossible to loose the trail. It is still what i would consider maintained. It’s just not immaculate. There was a fair amount of mud. I’m not sure how much was a result of the rain, but it seemed live the area was just damp in general.

The connector trail was flat so the two miles to the next signed junction went quickly. We turned right again onto the West Fork Pasayten River (Slate Peak 8 miles). The trail follows the Paysaten River though it cannot be seen at first. It was in the same condition as the connector trail. There is a campsite in about a mile on the shore of Shaw Creek which the trail crosses. The next set of camps is about 2 miles further at the next creek crossing. But then it was about 5:30pm and we were pretty cold and damp. We decided to call it a day and set up camp at a small site in the trees above the creek. It’s always an adventure setting up camp in the rain, but we managed to keep things mostly dry. We were happy to remove of sticky goretex and cuddle into our puffys! It rained pretty hard all night.

The next morning it was still raining, but not nearly as hard. We packed up camp in the dark and began moving at first light. Two miles more down the river there is a bigger camping area. The trail crosses the river shortly thereafter and turns away from the West Fork. Finally there is some climbing as the trail ascended up the slope and then turns right to traverse the ridge moving very slowly upward. Not a steep grad by any means. The tree broke away about three miles from slate Peak which could be seen easily in the distance since the clouds had broken up and blue sky was appearing. We followed the open slopes to a talus and scree field below Haystack mountain. Here the trail switchbacks up the final few hundred feet the the road. We took a small side trip and followed the road right to the summit of Slate Peak and the Lookout (which is closed). At least we climbed one summit! We had great views from the top all the way to Canada!

From Slate Peak we followed the road back down to the car passing Slate Pass, the final pass. Rain never stops us!

 

After a few weeks of long climbs through rough terrain Damien and I decided to use the long 4th of July weekend ti complete a backpack that as been on my list a very long time: The Icicle Divide. The route goes from Stevens Pass to Leavenworth mostly along the top of Icicle Ridge and covers 45 miles. With light packs and on a trail that my book reported is sometimes get lost for a few yards, but is easily picked up again, we thought this would be a great rest weekend option for us. Oh little did we know….

 

Day 1: Stevens Pass to 1 mile Short of Mary’s Pass, 15 miles

We started out fresh, clean and with no abrasions on the PCT heading south at Stevens Pass. The trail wanders up and down through the ski area for several miles. This was reminiscent of when we hiked the PCT from Stevens to Snoqualmie. It was even the same misty weather! The trail finally turns away from the Mill Valley skiing area, passing lake Susan Jane and cresting over a small rise and reaching the first trail junction at 4900ft.  Here we turned off the PCT and onto the Icicle Creek Trail. This tread passes Lake Josephine and continues to descend and follow the Icicle Creek until 3800ft. Of course after loosing elevation one must go back up. Here we took The Chain Lakes steeply up for 1000ft, before it mellowed out a bit for the rest of the climb to Chain Lakes at 5600ft.

These chains of aptly names lakes sit beneath the Bull’s Tooth Ridgeline and offer spectacular camping. Of course it was way to early for us to set up camp! We still had many miles to travel. So under now blue skies and admiring lofty mountains views surrounding us we pressed on. We climbed switchbacks before the Upper Chain Lake to reach a small Pass Overlook Upper Doelle Lake on the other side and some gorgeous mountain views. There was snow ont he descent to the lake and due to the steepness we opted to use ice axes… Damien glissaded in shorts. I plunge stepped. The trail follows around the left side of the lake, crosses the outlet and then follows the waterfall down to the lower lake. When the terrain evens out you need to cross back over the outlet. Of course when i did this I fell and my foot went into a huge deep in the stream what had been concealed by overhanging grasses. Quick first-aid patched up the gash on my knee. We continued on around the left side of the lower lake the trail vanished into the thick grasses on the hill overlooking the meadow we were supposed to descend into. After some searching we decided to just go down off trail. Besides, the mosquitoes were getting to bad for us to do too much looking for the actual trail.

Once in the meadow at 5600 ft we stayed left as my book described until we found the trail heading back into the forest. The trail climbs up Icicle Ridge gradually and reaches the high point of the ridge at 5800ft. Note that close to the top of the ridge there is an flattish area that appears to be a junction of some kind. Stay to the right here. It was evening now and we still have two passes to cross over. The trail along the ridge was thin, but we were able to follow it just fine for some time admiring the emerald green slopes that surrounded us. Then suddenly the trail stopped short on top of what seemed to be a small mudslide area. We could not locate the trail or think of any alternate but to drop down into the basin below and hopefully find the trail somewhere.

We dropped down to the shadowed green basin filled with zig zagging streams and buzzing mosquitoes. We played with the idea of setting up camp since it was already about 7pm, but opted against it as the insects seemed lick the deet right off us. Instead used the GPS to point ourselves in the direction of Frosty Pass and followed the course… a course through thick brush, tall grass, nearly vertical slopes and fallen timber. Oh, and we were still wearing shorts. However, we did stumble back onto the trail… feeling a bit more torn up than we had at the beginning of the day. We followed the trail to the forested Frosty Pass, staying the Icicle Ridge Trail at the junction. Now getting close to 9:00pm we were able to see Mary’s Pass still far in the distance… I think the one mile calculation from Frosty Pass was wrong in the guide. We decided that 15ish miles was good enough for the day and if we could find a place to camp by water before Upper Lake Florence, our original destination beyond Mary’s Pass, we would call it a day. As it turned out we did find a flat place near a creek 800ft below the pass. We quickly set up the camp…we were so tired and hastily trying to escape the mosquitoes that we could not find the cross bar for the tent when we dumped everything onto the ground, so we used our poles instead. Then we dove into the flyless tent and watched the buzzing mosquitoes swarm outside… they didn’t go away until almost 11pm. Thats when we finally went back out to filter water and have dinner.

 

Day 2: To Lake Augusta, 10 Miles

We rose to a windy, cold more that felt much more like fall then summer weather. Better than being hot though and no bugs! There was heavy misty swirling around us in the winds as were packed up and left camp to climb the final 800 ft to Mary’s Pass. We did come across some snow going up the pass and led us to taking out our axes again. But the switchbacks were easy to find between snow patches. On top of the Pass we did see much aside from the swirling light. We did get a glipse of Florence lake about 400 feet below before it too vanished in the mist. We continued to traverse along the ridge and soon found ourselves on Ladies Pass with a similar view. From here it was like we entered late autumn. Thick mist swirled around us as we traversed gullies, small basins, scree and jagged and rocky ridges. We crossed some snow, but did not take out of the axes. This continued until we finally dropped down into a deep snow filled and wind blasted basin. Here through waves of mist we could see still mostly frozen Lake Edna. There was single tent on the shore getting completely battered by the strong gusts.

We followed the trail away from the lake. The ski began to clear up a bit and the winds died enough for us to stop for a small break, but they never truly settled down. The trail drops about 2000 feet all the way down into the forest to Index Creek at 4800 feet. And then, you guessed it, we had to go all the way back up again. We climbed about 1000ft through the forest until things began to open up near a cascading creek. We lost the trail and picked our way up the steep and, in places, snowy slope, until we found ourselves back on the trail. We climbed to about 6600feet to a wide flat area and followed carins to our left to the saddle overlook the next valley at Big Jim Mountain at 6700 ft. Of course we once again went down into the valley and followed a small stream on think tread before crossing it after .25 miles. The crossing is barely visible. We could only found it because it was on the gps tracker. The next landmark is Carter Lake. The trail goes around it to the right and then to a junction. Following the Icile Ridge trail we now followed more eastern WA landscape up steep switchbacks across grass and ponderosa pine to the high point of the backpack at 7200 ft atop of the saddle of Big Jim Mountain. Here is was extremely windy, but the views were spectacular. On one side to the west we could see the distance passes we can crossed to get there. It was stormy looking. To the east it was sunny and we could see Lake Augusta below and distant Cabin Creek Valley and the section of Icicle Ridge we would walk along the next day. We knew already it would be a long day, but for now were were almost to camp!

We descended about 400 feet to lake August and made a nice camp in the trees on the far shore near the outlet steam. We had to be careful not to loose anything in the strong wind, but we were mostly protected by the trees and shrubs around us. At night we could see the town lights of Leavenworth, Cashmere and beyond. It was beautiful and I was glad we were in the alpine and not in the town. I rather watch from a far distance in the solitude of the mountains.

 

Day 3: to Leavenworth… a relentless 18 miles

Even though we had turned in hours before dark the night before it still seemed like the alarm rang all too soon at 3:20am. We antisipated a long day though. My book indicated the the section through Cabin Creek presented the thinnest trail. Furthermore, two hikers we’d run into coming from the opposite direction as us the day before mentioned that the resent burn and overtaking forest had made that section of the trek horrendous. We wanted to start moving quick and we shouldered out packs a little before 4:30am.

It was still windy and mist hung over the mountains. The rising sun reflected off the fog turning it shades of pink and orange. We descended at first following the outlet stream before we began to switchback up the ridge to our left to the Junction of the Hatchery Trail. Here a sign marked that the Icicle Ridge Trail was not maintained. We would come to believe that the last time the trail was maintained was when it was built.

At first it wasn’t so bad. We followed along a dry ridge top that looked a bit moon-like. Sometimes we lost the trail, but with a bit of searching we always regained it easily. It was when the trail turned off the ridge to descend into the creek that we ran into trouble. The trail vanished. Did not exist. Our GPS told us more than once we were standing right on it as we plunged straight down through the grasses it and it was not there. after passing the grassed we found our way through think pine forest riddled with fallen logs and then when that was over we thrashed our water through barely penetrable side alter. I swear these type of plant gets angry at you for stepping on it. The branches grab were ankles and hit you in the face on purpose! Then it was through another layer of pine and another layer of alder… and we were only the valley floor. We crossed soggy marshes and walked through some less dense forest until finally reaching Cabin Creek. Panting we crossed the log jam and rested here until the mosquitoes got to be too much. Then we walked to the edge of the marsh and followed in left until an organge ribbon marked the trail going into the forest. A TRAIL!!!!!!

We followed this trail marked by ribbon for about ten minutes until it entered a burn left over from the Cabin Creek Fire. If i recall this area burned last year and because the soil was now so fertile it was overgrown by fireweed, shrubs, grasses and alder. No trail at all. We continued to fight upward through the thicket that was at times insanely steep. We tired to go to the left to where the trail was supposed to be at one point, but fighting the alder proved to be just too much. We decided to go higher to where the alder was thinner before traversing. It was painstakingly slow, painful and frustrating work. We battled the grasses, alder and then the thick and steep pine forest ascending to 5800ft and then back down  in search of the trail and by some brilliant stroke of luck we found it at 5500ft. Words cannot come close to describing how elated we were!

Finally back on overgrown, but defined trail we traversed to a low saddle and then switchback up the the ridge-top at 6700ft (carins helped at times). It was once again extremely windy and with hoods up and traversed the top toward the distance black rock outcrop marking the high point off the ridge. There were a few ups and downs on the way and sometimes we lost as much as 500ft. Luckily the heavy misty was swirling enough to sometimes provide views of The Enchantments (Colhuck, Argonaut, Drangontail) and Stuart Range (Sherpa and Stuart). Plus of pain of the morning was beginning to wear off. The ridge was just like The Sound of Music and we loved it!

We finally crested the high Point near the junction of the 4th of July Creek trail. Ten miles to go! We continued a long the ups and downs the the ridges admiring the Enchantments and eventually getting views the desert-like eastern slopes. The trail lost elevation extremely slowly. In fact were were sure it would never descend all the way down. But abruptly the slow traverse a long the ridge-top turned into short and steep switchbacks down toward the canyon bottom. The short and steep switchbacks lasted above 1000ft until reverting to longer switchbacks but it all went faster than expected. Our feet hurt, but we seemed the fly down the ridge and we arrived back at the car at the Icicle Ridge Th at 8:30. Two hours before our expected ETA.

 

So not a rest weekend, but still pretty  awesome!

 

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.

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!

 

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.

I struggled a bit with how to file this blog entry as this adventure was along distance backpack that also happened to include some scramble days/hours. I have opted to devote this entry totally to the backpacking portion of the trip. Details on the climbs will have their own post in the scramble section of the blog, but I will link to it in this entry as well for navigation ease. So without further delay:

The PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass has 310 switchbacks. How do I know this? Damien and I embarked on the longer trek either of us had ever taken last week. We sent 9 days in the backcountry hiking section J of the PCT taking several side trips from the main trail to scramble up some summits. The PCT Section encompasses 75 miles and with the side trails we estimated that we added another 30ish miles of off trail adventure. Oh and the switchbacks? Damien counted them.

Prep:

I thought I should add a special note regarding prep and acknowledge Melanie for helping make what could have been a difficult to coordinate trip very easy. She was our “society” base camp coordinator, shuttle driver and food cache assistant manager. On Friday the day before we left, Melanie and I hiked the Hyas Lake Trail and cached 4.5 days of food near the Tuck Lake Trail Junction cutting down the the weight Damien and I carried on our first 2.5 days (there was some overlap in food just in case something went wrong). We also dropped my car off at Snoqualmie Pass that day. The next day she dropped us off at Stevens Pass. During the trip we checked in with Melanie at “Society” basecamp and received weather updates from her via my InReach.

 

DAY 1: Stevens Pass to Thunder Lakes

Melanie dropped us off at Stevens Pass at about 6:30am on Saturday September 18. I’m lucky to have a friend that wakes up as early as I do! After taking a “before” pictures and some farewell hugs, Damien and I set out on our 9 day journey into the rugged heart of the Cascades. It was a cool, misty day with a light rain that grew harder as the day wore on. But for now it less than even a Drizzle as we headed off under the ski lifts and up to the the top of the first ridge. In fact, it felt like most of the day we spent going up and down ridges… and passing thru hikers. Damien talked to them as much as they would allow. They were easy to spot: beard (if male), osprey pack and waffle sleeping pad. We never did find out why 90% of the thru-hikers we met on the PCT had osprey packs. They all said “They carry heavy loads” when we started asking. We also Learned from a Thru-Hiker that when passing through Yosemite PCTers must carry a bear vault or get ticketed $500… but you can just carry the small one 🙂

The remember the feeling went the final hint of the the ski slopes disappeared from view. It was relief. Finally I was in my world. The world of the wilderness where I feel truly feel alive and at ease. A world where everything is so much more simple and beautiful. We passed by Lake Josephine, Mig, and Hope swiftly. We barely noticed the miles fly by. Of course were were fresh right out of the gate that first day. Things would change! But for now we enjoyed high energy and found ourselves passing Trapp Lake and arriving at Trapp Pass insane ease. Here we took our first side trip off the trail. From the pass we turned left onto a rugged, unmarked side trail that follows a ridge to  glorious alpine meadows with towering spires. Slippery Slab is here along the rock towers and further on in Thunder Lakes. By this time a steady rain and thick mist had settled around us and we barely saw Thunder Lakes as we approaching following cairns to the shoreline. Only two other parties were camped by the lake. We couldn’t see Thunder Mountain, but we could see where it was across the lake on the map. We set up camp on the shoreline and enjoyed our first freeze-dried meal. I believe Damien had his favorite: Mountain House Chili Mac. We went to sleep with the pitter patter of rain against the tent fly and excitement for day 2!

 

Day 2: Thunder Lakes to Deception Lakes (Thunder Mountain & Surprise Mountain)

After climbing Thunder Mountain Damien and I packed up camp and headed back to the PCT. It seemed the the weather predictions had been flip flopped. Saturday was supposed to be partly sunny with showers and Sunday all rain. Well, Saturday was all rain and as we passed Slippery Slab on Sunday the sun was shinning! Once back on the PCT we began passing the usual parade of thru-hikers going North. We continued South dropping below Trapp Pass and contouring below the ridge we had just climbed. Above us Slippery Slab and Thunder Mountain loomed above looking more ominous from this preservative. Below us the blue waters of Surprise and Glacier Lakes Shimmered in the sunshine. It was along crisp autumn day on the PCT and like any other autumn it did begin to get clouding again and we reached the large Talus Basin below Surprise mountain… but clouds and rain are always better than the hot sun.

On our way the the talus switchbacks we ran into a pair of thru-hikers who seemed mroe than happy to stop and talk to us. More Thru-hikers are in a hurry to reach their dality mile quota (usually 25+) so Damien and I are always carefully to not say more than a quick “Hello” as we pass unless they initiate a conversation and usually that will only last 4 minutes. These two talked to us for about 20 minutes! We never got their names, but the duo was an American Man and a British woman who had met while hking the PCT. They told us that everyone used an App called Half Mile instead of maps these days. This shows you the next camp, water sources and where you are on the PCT. Phones are powered by extra batteries. Pack base weight ends up being 10-13lbs. Most folks will make the mistake of going to heavy or too light in the beginning. A happy medium is found eventually. It is possible to travel the PCT with just a credit card and no mail ahead boxes. In fact, all the stops except for the ones in WA had easy access to store to restock on food. They were moving at about 28 miles per day, but since they only needed to do 26 miles per day now to finish when they wanted they had a bit more time to spare.

We continued up the talus switchbacks are bidding them farewell and good luck. The trail makes a huge loop around Surprise Mountain and eventually puts you beside Deception Lakes. This is more as pristine looking a lake and was probably my least favorite camp. We set up camp early on the shore in the rain. There was a trail up Surprise Mountain a few yards away that we planned as another side trip that day.

Since Surprise Mountain isn’t a scramble I have decided to describe it here. We followed the labeled Trail to Surprise Mountain. There is a split in the trail again after a few yards. Stay left toward the Horse Camp. The trail is in pretty good condition inute a few down trees. It is only 1200 ft, but it somehow seemed to take forever, probably because it is mostly wooded. There is a nice lookout on Surprise Gap that looked into the talus basin we had crossed of the PCT. From the gap we took the trail to the left that went back into the forest at to the summit of Surprise Mountain. Mist completely blocked the view on this summit that was once a watch station of some kind judge by the metal remnants. We went back down to the Gap. We noticed two things here… there is a very clear trail that leads from the talus basin to the Gap, but it was not of Green Trails Maps. Also, there is a trail to the right on the Gap and leads to????

We headed back down to camp. Another Freeze dried meal and more pitter patter of rain on the tent fly.

Day 3: Deception Lakes to Robin Lakes

The next day we woke to clear blue skies. We packed up camp and headed out looking forward to the opportunity to dry all of our gear out that evening. This was also an important day because we would find out if our food cache strategy had worked. Damien and I swiftly arrived at the multiple junction of Deception Pass. We turned off the PCT here and headed down the Hyas Lake Trail. About .5 miles in we turned left onto the Tuck and Robin Lakes Trail. This is where Melanie and I had cached the food. I was unable to get a GPS reading on the cache we we stashed it due to poor accuracy. It took a bit a searching, but eventually I found the tree (the only white cedar in a stand of fir trees). Our food bags were struck up high about 15 feet off the ground and still intact! We thought of retrieving the food when we camp back down the trail in a day or two, but opted to take it immediately  in case our luck didn’t hold. After taking out what seemed like hundreds of knots the bags plopped to the ground. We added the load to our packs and continued up the trail. Wow, what a difference the addition of 4.5 days of food makes.. especially for me. I had way more food than Damien. I have a fast metabolism and I don’t seem to survive very well off fat reserves. Damien, conversely, does very well on little food in the backcountry. I’m jealous!

The 1000ft of gain on the trail to Tuck Lakes is no cake walk. It’s rather steep and built more like a climbers trail. However, the next 1000 ft of gain on the trail from Tuck to Robin Lakes make the Tuck Lakes Trail seem like a lazy walk through a city park. After crossing the log jam between Tuck Lakes the trail becomes more less a scramble. Carins led us over vertically challenging rocky bluffs and up steep, muddy slopes to slabs above. From the Slab view open up of Hyas Lake, Mount Daniel, Cathedral Rock and Even Mount Baring in the distance. It was gorgeous and my glutes were killing me from all the high stepping! After crossing the slabs we found ourselves on top of a flat plateau above Robin Lakes. We descended to the pristine Alpine Lakes that are indeed some of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen. We found a secluded spot on the lower lake near the Ridge we planned to climb up the next day to get to Granite and Trico Peaks. It was an early camp day (3:30pm). We used to time productively though and dried all our wet gear in the sunshine. I even took a bath in the lake. Damien took his more sponge bath boiling water on the stove first!

Day 4: Robin Lakes to Cathedral Rock Basin (Granite Mountain, Granite Mountain South Peak and Trico Sub-peak)

The morning was spent climbing  Granite Mountain, Granite Mountain South and Trico Sub-Peak. When we returned to camp it was about noon. After a short rest we packed up and followed the ruggest trail back down to the Hyas Lake Trail. I thought it would be worse going down… but it was easier to my delight (I’m one of those people that dislikes the feeling on the body of downhill and likes going up). We rejoined the PCT at the Deception Pass Junction and continued south in the shadow of Cathedral Rock heading toward Cathedral Pass. There is a “treacherous” ford 2 miles from Deception Pass in a canyon, but the water wasn’t too high and there are two log crossing options. At this point my glutes really really hurts as did my feet. But we pressed on!

We ended up making camp in a basin below Cathedral Rock were a creek provided plenty of water. Damien told me not to pump as much water as I;d been filtering since I always had more than I needed when the morning came. He promised that if i needed mroe the creek would still be there in the morning.

Day 5: Cathedral Rock Basin to Plateau Camp

I think this was my favorite day on the PCT. It was a harrowing 18 miles and chock full of some spectacular views. My favorite combination: suffering and beauty. We woke up to another sunny day in the basin. It had proven to be a very frosty night indeed. Mud had fused into these amazing ice crystals and puddle with ice sheets. Another crisp fall day! We packed up and followed the trail the rest of the way up to Cathedral Pass. The last time I was here was in 2014 when I climbed Mount Daniel. It looked very different without the snow on it! began to follow endless switchbacks down to the valley. These took forever, but we were afforded with wonderful views of the surrounding peak and cascading falls. The views here were some of my favorite. Not only where the autumn colors glorious, but the color of the rock on the mountains were stark as well with shades of grey, rusty red, copper and black. It was simply magical to walk beneath such majestic summits.

Finally we reached Deep Lake and stopped for a quick bit. Damien was at this point eating about 3 bars a day + Dinner. He also brought along some little candies… but at the food cache he realized they were sugar free so I don’t know if they count. I was getting pretty hungry at that point and the food fantasies had begun for both of us. Strangely, by that evening the craving for fresh food subsided and didn’t return.

We headed on through the valley. This part of the trail went on forever gradually loosing elevation. Damien and I began to play a game with the counting the switchbacks and told each other what we were each doing in the year 93, 94, 95, etc… when we got to 215 we switched and shared what we were doing at the age of 15, 16, 17…. this was actually great fun! We passed the trail Junctions for Waptus Lake which the PCT does not touch and finally reached the low point of 3000 Ft at the Waptus River at 3:30pm. We knew the next camps with water were on top of the Plateau the laid a head of us another 2,200 ft and 7 miles away. We talked to some PCTers on the bridge of the river. They seemed shocked that we planned on going another 7 miles.

It was hard 7 miles. The elevation gain wasn’t horribly steep or anything, but having already put in 8 hours of trekking everything was amplified. Luckily, we were granted some amazing views of Bears Breast Mountain and Waptus Lake as we gained elevation. We reached the top of the plateau at sunset and followed the ridge as the colors of the pink and orange sky reflected on the new landscape before us. It was astounding and I felt re-energized.

We reached the first small lake at the sky began to dim. By the time we set uo our tent it was funny dark. We filtered water by headlamp and ate dinner in the bright moonlight. it had been a perfect day on the PCT.

Day 6: Plateau to Park Lakes Basin

This was perhaps a close second favorite day along the PCT since there were more gorgeous views and some up close looks at Chimney Rock and the Lemah Summits. We were surprised that the temperature didn’t plummet as badly as we expected and tucked our gear into our packs. It forecasted to be partly cloudy, but thing seemed to be erring more toward sunny. The trail say high and goes through an old burn. Because of the lack of trees the view are pretty much unobstructed of Four Brothers, Chikamin, Stuart, Lemahs and Chimney Rock. The vistas from this part of the trail were not just beautiful. For some reason looking at the rugged faces of these peaks demonstrated the fierceness of the alpine.The wilderness is not just romantically beautiful, it is also a powerfully rugged and dynamic environment. This that I felt as I passed in the shadow of these peaks.

The trail eventually switchbacks down again to a valley There are signs about the Lemah Creek Cridge being washed out and to use caution on the difficult crossing or the bypass trail (Lemah Meadows). It turned out the the crossing only require a few easy steps across rocks. The trail then entered a burn just in time as the heat of the day was upon us. I don’t like hot autumn days. We sweated as we crossed over a section of endless downed trees and began switchbacks back up toward Spectacle Lake.

We reached the bridge with the waterfall much faster than expected and wasted no time stripping down to our underwear and jumping into the water. It felt simply amazing! Re-energized we sat on the rock drying off and just glowing. The water had brought the life back into us! We carried on reluctantly up the endless switchbacks toward Park Lakes. We crested the high point of the ridge and headed back down again to a a small lake where we set up camp. This would act as a base camp for climbing Chikamin Peak the following day

Day 7: Chikamin Peak Attempt

Day 8: Park Lakes Basin to Ridge Lake (Alaska Mountain)

We headed up to Chikamin Pass in swirling mist and partial views. So much for the clear weather that was predicted. I love the mist in the mountains though. It gives things a real alpine feel. We dropped down and contours below the peaks and above a new valley. Normally you can see the trail all the way on the other side of the U shaped ridge but in this valley we were socked in with mist for the better part of the morning. It did begin to lift though and were were able to see the trail we had come from far far away. It really gives a sense of how far you walked to look back and see the line of the trail on the slope opposite you. We climbed Alaska Mountain and passed Mount Thompton and the the mighty basin of talus I once crossed to climb to the summit. I was glad I didn’t have to cross it again on this trip!

It was a short mileage day and we reached camp at Ridge Lake pretty early at 3:00. It was kind of a bittersweet evening for us. We set up the tent, dried out sleeping bag filtered water and ate dinner. We did all the things that we had done over the passed 8 days. We were masters at it now and our efficiency made us happy. However,  knew that it would be the last time we did it on this trip.

That night it was warm until about 2:30am when suddenly we both woke up freezing. The cold had finally come. We put a bunch of layers and huddled together relishing the cold on our last night. It somehow felt fitting.

Day 9: Ridge Lake to Snoqualmie Pass

After a freezing night we woke up to an equally freezing morning. After convincing ourselves to emerge from our cozy sleeping bag we removed as much frost from the tent as possible (leaving a dusting of snow on the ground) and headed up and over our final climb up and down a ridge. We followed the trail along the famed Kendall Catwalk and admired the mountains and valley one final time before dipped back into the trees. In the trees I mostly reflected as I passed day hikers and smiled politely. I didn’t really want to be among the day hikers. I wanted to be back in the deepest wilderness with the thru-hikers. I wanted to go back where my life was so simple and yet the most meaningful. I wanted to go back to a world where my greatest worry of the day was when I should eat my next cliff bar. I wanted to go back to when all I needed to be happy was the 30lbs I carried on my back. My happiness is not derived from things, but experiences. The only things I needed were what I needed to survive and live those experiences. And yet I was walking back into a word of things and complex stresses of finances and society survival. When we neared the TH Damien joked around and turned back a ran a few feet saying he was afraid of civilization. I wanted to follow him, but for more than just a few feet I wanted to go back to the world of simple problems and few things. But for now I am here back in the society with a shower, sink, mattress and computer writing this blog. Until next weekend….