After some high stress weekends in the mountains, Damien and I decided to take a rest and do a simple backpack with two straight forward scrambles. Our plan was to complete the Cradle Lake Loop and on the second day hop up to Bootjack Mountain, cross the ridge to Highchair, retrace our steps and then complete the backpack. We had attempted this itinerary in late October last year. It ended up being an out and back trip to Cradle Lake because of deeper than predicted snow. We didn’t expect to have this problem in July of course!

The trail begins at the very end of Icicle Road. It follows the Icicle Creek trail 1.5 miles through the forest until reaching a junction with French Creek Trail where we turned left. We continued through the forest though it opened every now and then as we followed French Creek for 4.7 miles until we came across the junction with Snowall Trail. We took a left and immediately arrived on the shore of a very deep French Creek. We both have vivid memories of having to cross this creek in October without pants with water nearly up to our hips and WOW had it been cold! Damien and I were both wearing shorts and with the water level being lower and the temperature being uncomfortably warm we were much more enthusiastic about this crossing in July. In fact, the water skimming the cuffs of our shorts as we crossed was downright refreshing!

We trekked onward following the trail as it switchbacks up through the forest. Not far up the trail we began to realize how poorly maintained the track was. Shrubbery hung over the trail scratching our legs as we gained gentle elevation through the woods. The trailed intermittently flattened out for stretches and the woods gave way to glorious wildflower meadows in the shadow of The Cradle…at least they were glorious at first glance. These meadows painted with ever color of an artist’s palette swallowed up the already thin trail. Several times we lost the track in the waist and sometimes shoulder deep grasses or flowers. Route finding skills came into play as we wandered through the meadows making our way up the valley. The sun also blasted its sweltering rays into the flora, which somehow seemed to have an insulating quality as we bushwhacked our way along the barely there trail. At least we had the relief of the forest every now and then even though the shrubs mangled our legs.

Finally, we reached the head of the valley and headwaters of French Creek. The trail turns left here and switchbacks up open hills of grasses and flowers. Most of the elevation gain had thus far been in the sections of trail under the cover of trees. Gritting our teeth we trudged up the exposed slopes drenched in what felt like gallons of perspiration. Finally, the small saddle in the ridge we where destined for came into view and we made the final grueling, long switchbacks to the high point of the trail (not including summits). The book said that this point was supposed to be 6100 feet, but my altimeter and GPS read 6500ish. Nevertheless, from this point we were rewarded with sprawling views of the Stuart Range and an inviting looking Cradle Lake about 250 feet in the basin just below us.

The trail to the lake wasn’t obvious so we just descended straight down the slope to the shore of the lake. We picked up the trail there and followed it around the right side of the lake passing a single tent, which surprised us. Damien and I continued past their camp in search of solitude and found a secluded place just past the creek at the foot of the talus ridge leading to Highchair Mountain. The mosquitos were hungry, but we were keen on getting into the lake. Quickly we stripped down to our underwear and stepped into the delightfully cold water feeling the sticky sweat drift away from our skin. Refreshed we swiftly set up our tent and dove inside away from the biting insects. There was no need to set up the fly so we watched as the sun drifted behind the mountains and mosquitos and flies buzzed hungrily just on the other side of the mesh. We still had to filter water so we armed ourselves with our puffies and long pants before venturing outside to the creek. After a lovely freeze dried dinner we settled in for the night completely exhausted.

 

We were packed up and walking in the cool morning hours of 6am the following day. Covered from head to toe in deet, we still had to deal with the buzzing of the biting bugs, but at least they didn’t land on us. As our beta instructed we followed the trail along the creek for one mile. At this point we were supposed to meet a junction with a trail on the left. This trail was on our GPS map as well so we were confident it would be there. It never occurred to us that there might be an issue. However, when we came to a junction is was marked off by branches as social trails often are in the National Forests. Confused, we checked our GPS which showed we had passed the junction. We figured we’d missed it and backtracked. Several minutes later our GPS showed we had passed it again! Now very perplexed, we diligently walked back to the blocked off junction. The trail on the map didn’t exist… unless it was this marked off trail and the GPS was off. Not knowing what else to do we stepped over the branches and followed the marked off trail.

Things seemed to go well for the first 15 or so minutes on the thin tread, but then the trail began to veer away from the direction we were meant to be heading and we found ourselves a quarter mile away from the “trail” we were supposed to be on. We had a good view of the sub-summit of Highchair and we studied the terrain. Damien suggested that we ditch the traditional route of summiting Bootjack and then following the ridge to Highchair. It would require a lot of backtracking anyway. It appeared we could climb Highchair via it’s West ridge and follow the next ridge to Bootjack making for a direct traverse. The appeal of a direct route and the fact that there didn’t seem to be a trail to Bootjack anyway made our decision easy.

Highchair was on the other side of the valley from the ridge we were on. However, the ridge is U-shaped so we traversed the ridge staying high and aiming for the saddle on the left of the sub-summit. The terrain was a mix of heather, forest, tall grass and blocky talus fields. The bushwhacking was minimal and terrain pretty decent for cross country travel, though it still slowed us a bit. The heat was debilitating though, especially for me. Just below the saddle we stopped in the shade by a snow patch and filtered water from a small melt stream in the talus. This was our last appealing filtering option for the day. We continued to the ridge and followed it to the blocky sub-summit (the rocks are red from iron content). From here we followed the talus and scree (class 2) to the summit. You’ll know you’re there because of the massive ammo box labeled “Summit Register” at the top.

From here views abound with Mount Rainier taking center stage. Also visible are Dragontail, Stuart, Argonaut, Sherpa, Cashmere, Adams, Eightmile, Daniel, Glacier… basically you can see a heck of a lot of peaks! It was also clear from this vantage point that we could have taken a direct route by climbing up the foot of the ridge from Cradle Lake.

We lingered for a long time, hesitant to begin moving in the sun again, but the ridge to Bootjack beckoned. We descended loose rock down into a larch filled basin just below the ridge and skirted the talus below the gnarly part of the ridge at the edge of the trees. Just before the ridge drops to its low point there is a small pond with tadpoles called The Oasis. We rested here in some shade. The water was kind of dirty here so we did not filter. Soon after this spot we rejoined the ridge and began the 1.5 mile walk to Bootjack. Every now and then a gentle breeze refreshed us, but mostly we cooked in the sun’s blaze. There is a faint climber’s trail that meanders on top of the rocky ridge, or just below it on the right side. About .3 miles away from Bootjack the ridge turns broad and grassy as the route climbs to an unnamed high point with some shady trees. The ridge then descends to a small rocky saddle (we skirted a gendarme on the left side to gain the saddle). From here it is a quick 150-200 foot class 2/3 scramble to the sub-summit and short traverse (class 2) to the true summit on the right.

We were greeted by 2 day-hikers taking in the view. Our entire route from the day before all the way to Cradle Lake and the cross-country route we had taken to Highchair and then Bootjack was visible from this vantage point. Of course, we had the same amazing views of the mountain range as well.

We were again reluctant to leave the summit, but we did coax ourselves up. Damien and I scrambled down the other side of Bootjack and joined a faint trail. There are several turns along the trail that can lead you astray. The general idea is to make sure you end up going down the opposite side of the ridge away from Bootjack and not into the meadows just below it. The Blackjack Ridge trail wasted no time in elevation loss. It plummets straight down for over 1000 feet with no switchbacks. Then when the switchbacks do start they are exceedingly steep. May kind of descent trail!

We reached the road in early evening and walked .25 miles back to the Icicle Creek TH. A little more of an exploration weekend than the easy  backpack with scrambles we anticipated. Not exactly a rest weekend, but still excellent!

This was one of those trips that didn’t exactly pan out as intended, but still ended up being incredibly awesome (that is if you enjoy a good sufferfest). The original intention was to climb as many of the Lemah summits as possible (there are 5 total) and then traverse to the next mountain over and climb Chikamin. There is a small bit of information on the tallest Lemah called “Main Lemah” or “Lemah Three”. The remaining 4 minor summits have beta that amounts to one sentence for each in the Beckey guide and a blurry, un-detailed distance photo with dotted lines in the same book. Chikamin has more beta, but the only info regarding approaching the climb from Chikamin Lake was a drawing and the same blurry photo. Information on traversing from the Lemahs to Chikamin Lake also amounted to the same vague drawing and blurry photo. In conclusion, we had minimal beta on our objectives and route. We knew going in to expect the unexpected.

Day 1:

Our goal for day one was to complete the approach to the Lemahs and camp on the slope directly beneath Lemah 5. We did have pretty good beta on the approach luckily. We began at the Pete Lake TH and walked 4 gentle miles to Pete Lake. while contending with mosquitoes for the first hour. Deet seemed to keep them mostly at bay. From the Lake we continued on until we reached the primitive/bridge river crossing junction to Spectacle Lake. From here we turned left and trekked another mile before crossing the first bridge. The second bridge (Lemah Creek Bridge) has been washed out, but there was no need to cross. At this landmark we departed the trail and followed a faint boot track through the forest up the creek. This track went from faint to non-existent when we reached mossy rock benches. The idea is to just follow the creek more or less until reaching beautiful Lemah Meadows. We were very tempted indeed to just set up camp in this gorgeous, secluded oasis. A blanket of fragrant green grass engulfed a large open area with a deep, refreshing creek winding through it. Just ahead all five of the Lemah’s jagged summits rose into the skyline.

Though we did take a break here to soak our feet in the cool creek and enjoy the view we managed to tear ourselves away and press on. Damien and I headed across the meadow aiming for the obvious snow couloir on the right side of the Lemahs. Of course this was not to be a simple walk through a meadow. We had to contend with about ½ mile of bush whacking through dense willows and then navigated snow covered talus where under-snow creeks carved hollow tunnels just waiting to collapse. By the time we reached the snow finger we felt a bit beat up. Determined, we continued up the snow slopes with towering rock walls rearing above us on either side. It felt like a snow couloir canyon and streaming down the walls were countless waterfalls! There were some massive boulder islands in the couloir guarded by moats up to 30 feet deep. I had never seen anything like it. About halfway up we paused to rest on a small island of vegetated ground and rock that we were able to access since a significant moat was strangely absent. We still had about 1500 feet more to climb to get of the base of the Lemahs and it was getting late. Conveniently, there was a small flat area on the island  and we decided that this would be camp 1.  It was a spectacular place to spend the evening and more importantly the rock island provided protection from the fall line of any canyon debris.

 

Day 2:

We continued up the couloir at sunrise which gradually grew steeper as we ascended. About 200 feet from the top of the couloir we veered off to the left just to where the towering rock wall dissipated so we could cross onto the Lemah Snowfields. However, there was still a short rock wall to scramble with a small, but noteworthy waterfall. Of course the climbable part of this rock wall was currently submerged under the waterfall which made for a rather interesting mix climb. Usually with my crampons and axe I climb frozen waterfalls and not running ones!  We took a short break on a heather bench before continuing into the snowfield beneath the Lemahs. We examined the route up Lemah 5. Basically, the idea with to climb to the notch between Lemah 4 and 5 and then ascend the ridge. The way to the notch was about a 50 degree snow slope with some slabs melted out. These slabs were guarded by significant moats 20-30 feet deep and about 3 feet wide. If you fell on the snow above then and didn’t catch the fall in time you’d be swallowed. We decided we could avoid being directly over all but one of these moats and opted to go for it with caution. Damien and I left our overnight gear in a depression in the snow and began to climb. We did not use a rope since it was only 50 degrees. A second axe might have been nice for security, but we did ok with just one. We kicked in extra deep over the moat run-out. Luckily at notch we were able to access the rock ridge since the moat was small enough to navigate.  However, we found that the ridge led to a false summit. In order to get to the true summit we had to cross another snow field to the next tall summit spire. This was guarded by a formidable 30 foot deep x 3 feet wide moat. No access. At least we had great views from the middle false summit.

We had to descend most of the route facing the slope which was tedious and painstakingly mind-numbing. We returned to our gear and reloaded our packs. After some discussion we decided to make Lemah Main the priority and began to traverse the snowfield. We opted not to rope up on the glacier since crevasses were not is issue until late season. We noted the route up Lemah 4 as we passed beneath it. It was guarded by unpassable moats. It took us some time to get the route of Lemah 3 (main) into view. We traversed slopes under the towers and then beneath steep slabby buttresses and under Lemah 2 until we could climb back up and around to the top of the buttress to view the way up. This was the worst looking route yet. Thin snow on top of slabby rock, huge moats, waterfall traps. Yikes. Feeling a bit defeated we reflected on how to proceed with the trip. Clearly, we had come too early to climb any of the Lemahs. Lemah 1 was in front of us abruptly jutting out of a craggy ridge wall guarding the way to Chikamin Lake. As previously mentioned, we had a drawing of this ridge and blurry photo. It was difficult to tell where we were supposed to go up to access the top of the ridge and there was a big question mark as to what the descent to the lake would be like or if it was possible. If we chose wrong it could easily cost us 2 hours. We studied the poor beta we had and compared it to the landscape, then made our best guess.

We traversed what remained of the the snowfield and then down to some turquoise glacial tarns where the wind suddenly picked up. It was a gorgeously rugged landscape and we couldn’t help but pause for a moment to enjoy it all. Jagged rock towers, untouched snow, crystal blue pools and majestic Cascade Views. It’s a good thing we stopped to admire everything, because our brains were about to be subjected to mental overload.

We ascended the 40 degree snow toward the ridge crest until it petered out to talus and rock. The anticipation was disconcerting. We had no idea what we would find. Was this what it felt like to do a first ascent? We topped out on the ridge crest. About 700 feet below us was a small pond and to the right we knew was Chikamin Lake. Luckily, we had topped out on a broad bench on the ridge. But several meters below us was a cliff blocking access to a snow finger… a snow finger that led down to a maze of snow fingers and benches which randomly may or may not cliff out. Still we thought getting to this snow finger might be the first step to getting down. We traversed along the lake side of the ridge on a heather bench. This bench hit an unpassable wall and cliffed out below us. We turned back and backtracked to where we had first popped up on the ridge top.  No beta. Just a topo map now and what we saw in front of us. It looked like the slopes down to the lake grew gentler on the far right side of the ridge (we could not see it from our vantage point). The only way to gain what might be gentler slopes down would be to climb along the rocky top of the ridge. With no other option we began to scramble the ridge which grew more exposed and technical as we traveled. At its worse it was exposed class 4. We bypassed the class 5 high point by moving just below it on some very loose, blocky rock with no room for error hoping that when we got around the corner we would finally be able to see an escape route. Our brains were fried at that point. Would it go? Would we have to find another way? Were we trapped on the ridge? Down climbing to where we had started would be extremely sketch. I have a new respect for first ascensionists. Having the mental aptitude to withstand constantly not knowing if a route will go takes massive fortitude.

We were exceedingly relieved to discover gentle talus, scree and snow slopes down the Chikamin Lake once we rounded the corner. We picked our way down to the lake feeling a massive weight lifted from our shoulders. At least a figurative weight; our packs were still pretty heavy. Mentally drained we set up camp 2 on the breezy shore of Chikamin Lake in the shadow of Chikamin Peak. Aside from cliff faces on the snow slopes, Chikamin Peak appeared to be climbable. Of course the question remained as to if the summit block was guarded by a moat. We would go for it in the morning.

Day 3:

Breezes turned to severe wind overnight and we woke in the morning for find ourselves engulfed in heavy mist with minimal visibility. We were on the crest and thick clouds were being blown in heavy shrouds over us. However, we could see clear skies on all the surrounding mountains and valleys in the tiny pockets of visibility granted us. We waited three hours hoping the mist would burn off or lift. A few times it seemed like it would, but the cloak always returned. We were nervous about climbing Chikamin in low visibility with the cliff faces we had seen the previous evening. It seemed unwise especially when our brains were still shot from yesterday’s epic. We made the agonizing decision to abandon Chikamin and press on through more question mark terrain after concluding the low clouds would probably hang around for several more hours if not the rest of the day. We knew we already had at least 6 hours of travel ahead to reach Spectacle Lake.

There is a faint trail from Chikamin Lake back to the PCT. But is is a vague trail in the summer through a maze of benches, ledges and cliffs topped off with a steep ascent to another ridge crest to gain the PCT. Add early season steep snow slopes and, you guessed it, more sketch moats to this and you’re basically back to route finding and hoping the way you choose will go. However, this experience wasn’t nearly as taxing as the previous day. We managed to navigate down to Glacier Lake after climbing into and out of a moat, traversing 30 degree slopes and navigating through a partially snow covered boulder field full of traps. From there we crossed a high plateau and faced the wall guarding access to the PCT. Again, we got lucky and chose the correct route up to the top of the ridge on steep snow finally gaining the PCT or patches of it anyway. At that elevation it was mostly snow covered.

It didn’t matter that the PCT was partially concealed though. After what we had experienced this route- finding was peanuts to us. We easily made our way to Park Lakes and then began the long descent down to Spectacle Lake. Of course as we lost elevation the bare parts of the trail increased until we were walking on mostly dry switchbacks.

It was strange to camp on Spectacle Lake and hear voices of nearby backpackers. We didn’t like it even though the lake wasn’t crowded. I think it was the first time since last fall that we camped in the near vicinity of other parties! We’re used to solitude. We had to shelter from the mosquitoes in the evening. A stark reminder that summer climbing season has officially begun and we were more likely to run into people and insects on our trips moving forward.

 

Day 4:

This was by far the least eventful day as it was completely spent on a maintained trail. We departed the lake at 5:30 hoping to beat the heat and the mosquitoes on the 11 mile trek to the Pete Lake TH. We managed to beat the insects and sun until the final 5 miles. Suddenly the buzzing, biting, vermin were waging war on us and battling them with chemical warfare (aka: deet) was doing nothing. All we could do to escape was walk as fast as possible without stopping which thus caused us to get overheated. It was pretty torturous and we dove into the car when we finally reached the TH to escape. This concluded our epic alpine adventure which we realized had been a gigantic loop around Spectacle Lake! Maybe it wasn’t the trip we intended. However, although not full of summits, it certainly wasn’t void of knowledge gained, epic adventure and raw beauty. I could have done without the mosquitoes though!

Four years ago Eric and I climbed the NE Ridge of Black Peak. We had just started leading a few months prior and had about one year of climbing experience and little to no knowledge on simual-climbing. This taking on this route was probably not our best decision. We pitched out most of it which resulted in an extremely long day (over 20 pitches) and  lack of experience made us most slowly on top of that. We topped out on what I know know was the false summit just as the light was fading from the sky and began to pick our way down  the South Ridge via headlamp… eventually we ended up deciding to spend a very uncomfortable night in a 3x2x4 foot slot/cave formation. I’m sure now I would have had no problem descending the scramble route in the dark, but back then lack of experience resulted in my first unplanned bivy.

Four years have passed since then. I am a much more seasoned climber now and it was time to take on the NE Ridge again; this time doing it right and Damien had yet to climb the peak. With sun promised all weekend we departed the Maple Pass TH Saturday morning reveling at the novelty of walking on patches of melted out trail and wearing our summer mountaineering boots for the first time this year. The trail is mostly melted out until the first basin. Then it is mostly snow with small patches of dirt all the way to Maple Pass, then there is no more dirt. Crossing to the other side of Maple Pass and traversing the steep slope to Lewis Lake is tricky business. The run out id very consequential and an ice axe and possibly crampons (depending on snow softness) is a good idea. About 300 feet of elevation is lost traversing to Lewis Lake. From Lewis Lake we began to climb again following the tracks of Nick and Jonah. As it turned out on of the climbers we shared our wedding cake with, Nick, once again had the same objective! He and his partner were doing the NE Ridge in a day and were ahead of us leaving a nice bootpack through the rolling slopes to Wing Lake at 6900 feet. It’s a decently long trek, but the views were pretty amazing providing a good distraction.

We sent up camp on the shore of frozen Wing Lake. We saw two figured on the summit of Black Peak and thought they were Nick and Jonah. It turned out to be two skiers. Through my camera viewfinder I zoomed in and was surprisingly able to locate Nick and Jonah about 2/3 of the way up the NE Ridge. We watched them trucking a long for a bit before taking a nap.

Clouds began to move in that evening as we ate diner on a melted rock. We watched the summit for Nick and Jonah, but saw nothing. Chances were they were on their way down we figured. We scurried back into the tent as the temps dropped. Probably an our passed before we heard voices and peaked out of the tent to see two figures plunge stepping down the snow slopes from the South Ridge. We were relived they had made it down the mountain, especially since some unpredicted bad weather seemed to be moving and and even a few small snowflakes fell randomly from the sky. The summit of Black Peak was partly obscured by a cloud. We met up with Nick and Jonah swapping beta, stories and gear info. They had quite a long day on the NE Ridge which turned out to be more demanding than they had expected. But like us, they enjoy type 2 fun and a good adventure! Nick’s detailed account of the NE Ridge can be found on his eloquently written blog SPOKALPINE. Damien and I huddled back into the tent as Nick and Jonah began their journey back to the car.

The clouds that we figured were just passing through did not pass through… they lingered. They lingers and dropped rain. About an inch of rain fell overnight and it was still pitter pattering against the tent walls when we woke up at 2:45am to get ready to climb. We thought maybe it would pass as it was supposed to be a partly sunny day. So we waited 30 minutes… then another 30 minutes… we kept hoping it would stop. But it drizzled or rained moderately continuously and to top that off there was heavy mist providing only ten feet of visibility. There was one longish stint of no rain and we began to get ready. We figured if the rock was damp it would be fine as we’d climbed in light rain. Plus, if the weather kept improving and became partly sunny like it was supposed to the hardest parts of the route would be dry when we got to it… but then the rain fell again. We discussed going anyway and climbing through the rain at length, but in the end we decided it was too risky a move on an extremely long route with  no bail out option. At 7:30 we began to climb the steep snow slopes to the South Ridge, the 3rd and 4th class scramble route.

The route climbed the snow slopes left of Black Peak for about 1100 feet. There is varying steepness. We wore helmet and used ice axes for the last 150ish feet. Although the snow was pretty soft from the rain we still wore crampons approaching the ridge for extra security. Once we crested the ridge were blasted by a frigid wind and pelted with tiny droplets of freezing rain. Visibility had improved, but a heavy fog still hung thick in the air as we ascended the climbers trail uo the melted out lower section of the South Ridge. The trail was easy to follow, mostly class 2 and marked by carins. We passed over a few snow patches, but did not hit a major snow slope until about 8,500 feet just below the first gully. We used an ice axe and front pointed up the steep slope (probably 50 degrees) aiming for the Pillar guarding the right side of the gully. At the pillar we climbed into the shallow moat and once again followed dry rock up the gully until things opened up again. Then we took a very short 8 foot gully with 3rd class steps up to the top of the ridge. There are several “blocks” at the top of the ridge. We followed carins around the right side of the towers looking for the summit block. We found the summit block pretty easily, but finding the way up the rock was difficult. We had a few false starts before finally located a carin that guided us up a short snow slope. Then we circled nearly tot he back the summit block and finally located a hidden gully with 3rd and 4th class moves to the summit. There were no views of course, but that didn’t matter. Even in the srummy weather we had manged to make the best of things and still climb the peak even if it wasn’t the way we originally planned. The the rain and mist make the scramble route much more challenging and interesting.

We descended the route somehow taking a slightly different variation on the ridge down, but with no issues. The clouds never lifted and the rain never stopped as we packed up and began the long walk out. We made the right call.

 

The technique Damien and I are refining this year is the fine art of the “carryover”. We have several projects coming up that will involve this technique (weather gods willing). Our mission on this trip was begin the process of refining this strategy. We climbed Shasta at 14,168 feet last May using the Standard Avalanche Gulch Route. Luckily we caught the route just before the Memorial Day masses and avoided crowds. This year our goal was the ascend the much more technical Casaval Ridge and then descend via Avalanche Gulch. Since we would not return to the ridge, this would necessitate carrying all 45lbs of our gear over the top of the mountain. This is not a requirement for climbing Casaval, but it is what we wanted to accomplish.

Luckily, we did not have to park a mile down the road like folks that would arrive later on Saturday would have to do at the Bunny Flat TH. We ended up pulling in from the long, 580 mile drive at 3am. I took a minute to grab our permits and pay of $25 fee per person. Then we drifted off to a deep sleep in our car until about 7am. We were on the well packed down trail at 8am along with a ton of other folks, most heading the Helen Lake camp for the Avalanche Gulch Route.

We broke away from the well packed trail at about 7500 feet and headed left into the trees and heading in the general direction of Casaval Ridge which is a rather obvious, gnarly looking ridge on the left. We paused by Horse Camp, which is owned my the Sierra Club. The hut was almost completely buried in snow and the well was several meters down. Last year the hut was melted out! We pressed on half following tracks and half making own own trail through the trees traversing up until we finally reached the tow of Casaval Ridge. From here the general idea is to simply head upward. We managed to join up with a good bootpack at about 8500 feet. The flat area above by the first set of gendarmes seems very close, but it is about 1500feet from the bottom of the toe. Upon finally reaching this flat area with a few short towers and melted out rock bivy sites (9500 ft) we were greeted with a marvelous view of the next slope we had to ascend. We found that in general that each steep section of Casaval was followed by a short flattish section. We again head upward and gained the ridge proper. The ridge is wide and flat here and is called Giddy Giddy Gulch. At 9800 feet is is where most folks camp for Casaval. We continued up the next steep slope to high camp which is known to be windy, hence it unpopularity.

Once reaching high camp on the flat bench at 10300 feet we gratefully dropped out packs. We dug a bivvy spot near the crest of the ridge, but offset to avoid the big cornice. From camp we had a great view of the first crux of the route at 10,400 feet. A traverse just beneath Gothic looking, volcanic pinnacles on an exposed 50-60 degree slope. We studied the route the best we could from our vantage point (it was a pretty great view of the ridge actually) and made some mental notes. The wind did pick up a bit as evening camp we were cozy and wind free in our deep bivvy hole and windbreak. Two teams passed through, but both decided turn back and camp lower, so we had the bench to ourselves.

We packed up camp the following morning in the cover or darkness and set out by headlamp to tackle the first crux. There were several teams on the route, but we were all spaced out and the route accepts multiple teams well. Besides, the 10-15ish teams on Casaval did not compare to the masses heading up Avalanche Gulch. Their headlamps looked like an LA freeway! The first crux traverse was indeed very airy and a fall would be serious. Although we had our harnesses on we did not feel the need to rope up just yet. As it turned out the rope, harnesses, carabiners and 4 pickets we had brought along ended up being training weight. We never used them. Comfort with exposure is hard to determine in beta. After this lengthy crux we found ourselves ascending  broad slope which had some rocks and provided a nice rest area to enjoy the view and now blue sky. The next crux was ascending a very long and ever steepening slope. The final section was easily 50 degrees. We then passed through a notch in a rock band where there was small flat area before the slope reared up again to 60 degrees. There were 3 guided clients here waiting to be belayed up by their guides above. The guides shouted down that we could go ahead of the clients and climb beside the rope. I pressed ahead climbing the slope on the right on the edge of the rock band. Damien decided to climb behind the clients. It a good thing he did because one client popped a crampon. Damien was kind enough to spend a fair amount of time fixing the gear which the guides were very grateful for. We continued up the slightly less steep slope over some exposed rocks to the base of the catwalk, marked by a slightly overhung rock wall on the crest of the ridge. Reports where the with the collapsed pinnacle on the second part of this already spicy section, things were rather sporty and this variation was not recommended. Carrying 45lbs packs did not make something sporty feel very appeasing so we opted to take the bypass route. We headed left of the headway and pinnacles and onto the slopes of the West Face.

This slope is steep, endless and completely in the sun. It was my least favorite section. We knew that the top if West Face/Casaval deposited the climbing on the west side of Misery Hill. We did not know if it was the lower or upper part of the hill… I cannot tell you how much we wanted it to be the upper section. But of course when we crested the top and reached the upper mountain we were greeted with a view of Misery Hill about .25 miles away and we were very much going to climb from the base.

We trudged to the base of Misery Hill aptly named since it is the final miserable and endless steep hill one has to climb to each the crater. We plodded upward though the hill wasn’t as bad as I remembered from last year. Once at the top we crossed the nearly flat crater and deposited out packs at 3900 feet with everyone else’s at the base of the final ascent. There is a good ramp leading up to the summit ridge and finally the summit throne. In fact the final ascent is ridiculously easy and short. We did it! We carried all our stuff up the mountain and not, as we hoisted our packs once again, it was time to haul them down the other side. We descended the Red Banks on Avalanche Guch and gratefully plopped down in the glissade track and took off on a giant slide down to 10600 feet. Unfortunately, many inexperienced folks climb Shasta. A climbing ranger even commented to Damien how surprised he was to see someone holding their ice axe correctly. About halfway down the four glissade tracks there was a traffic jam. Folks were either sitting in the track and taking a liasurely break or moving at about a quarter mile per hour. A requested a person sitting in my track to please move to the side if he was resting. He slide forward several yards and stopped again to rest. I again requested him to move to the side. He did the same thing. After the third time this happened I gave up and made my own track weaving in and down of the resters and slow movers until I was ahead and had a clear path to Helen Lake. Ugh, it can be frustrating sometimes descending a standard route. Last year we ran into folks who had never even used an ice axe and though just carrying it along meant they were good to go.

The snow became too soft to glissade soon after passing Helen Lake. We descended on the left side of the lake because we saw a glissade track there. But once we had to walk again we wondered how to rejoin the main route which had been on the right of the lake. Exhausted we stopped for a break and to melt some snow for water. Then we decided to cross over to the right and find a camp. We ended up finding a nice, secluded bivvy on a hill just above the main route up/down. We settled in for the night wondering how achy we’d be the next morning.

To our great surprise Damien and I didn’t feel the tiniest hint of aches and pains the next day. In fact we felt energetic and limber. The snow did not freeze overnight even at our 9000 foot camp so we did not need crampons to descend and the snow was very forgiving on our knees. Hard pack ice/snow descends always cause my joints to protest. We made it back to Bunny Flat in less than 2 hours. Carryover success!

The weekend turned out differently than we originally planned due to some really wretched backcountry ski conditions. We originally intended to ski to the Plummer-Pinnacle Saddle (Mount Rainier National Park) Saturday and climb Pinnacle, Deman and Plummer before descending to set up camp near the base of Lane. The avalanche forecast was moderate throughout with a caution for loose wet on all aspects. Not surprising since it was going to be  a balmy 45 degrees! After secreting our overnight permit we started out at the Narvada Falls parking lot which was buzzing with visitors! We skinned up the slope to the closed Stevens Canyon Road and followed it along with the throngs of snowshoers to Reflection Lake. Here we turned off the road and away from the crowds and following a skin track into the forest toward the Tatoosh Range. The trail split with the skin track continuing left to the Pinnacle/Castle Saddle and a snowshoe tracking went right heading (we guessed) to the Pinnacle Plummer Saddle. We turned right. Unfortunately the snowshoe trail was made incorrectly with each footstep being on on top of the other instead of the other which meant we were basically cutting our own trail on skis over when felt like debris.  We followed the ascending track toward the saddle out into open slopes below Pinnacle. Here ran into snow so sticky and heavy that it felt like we were skiing with cinder blocks strapped to our feet! The air was humid which I’m sure contributed to this. We fought on dragging ourselves through the cement-like snow. After traversing over a few bums we saw the drainage below the saddle was below us. This was the route were were really supposed to be on. It looked ike we could still get to the saddle from our high position, but we were on a slab and the “loose wet” warning made us reevaluate. Plus, Damien I I have 10in thick blocks of snow sticking to our skins. We decided to drop 200 feet to the drainage (bootpack) and hope the skin track was better. It was only slightly better. We finally arrived on the Pinnacle-Plummer Saddle at about 2:30 feeling destroyed. We knew at that point that we had to pick a summit to devote our efforts to and get ourselves in a position to climb it the next day. We both really wanted Lane Peak. Thus we opted to descend back down and traverse below the Tatoosh range until we got near the base of Lane. Skiing down was equally as bad a skinning up. It was like skiing through wet sludge; the snow was thick and saturated. We also had to battle through some dense trees in this mess which made things more arduous. We ended up doing to bootpacking along with the “survival” skiing. Once at the bottom we traverse through open forest to the first meadow we came across and gratefully set up camp 1/2 mile from the base of Lane.

We headed toward Lane before sunrise the next morning. We discovered as we crossed our camp meadow that were was a good snowshoe trail heading right toward Lane that we hadn’t noticed the evening before. We followed it through the forest and opening meadows. There are a few good places to cross the Tatoosh Creek. It didn’t take long for us to arrive at the base of Lane. We skinned up long switchbacks on the lower snow slopes to a stand of trees just below where the peak gets rocky. Here we put on our harnesses, crampons and dropped off our skis.  We had a rope and protection, but we decided to start out using on two petzel sumtacs each. We had the rope and pro ready if we needed it. From here we followed more switchbacks to the right to the obvious couloir: The Zipper. The Zipper is indeed steep (about 45 degrees or steeper). However, it was just snow with no ice. There was already a boot pack up although the steps were huge! Sometimes I was stepping as high as my hips! This was either due to a very tall team or the soft snow constancy. Luckily it was colder so it wasn’t as cement-like. We climbed the couloir without too much trouble and unroped. However, at the  notch and top of the courloir we and opted to rope up for the steep, exposed climb to the summit ridge on the right. The route climbed up an open and exposed slope to the ridge. I used 2 pickets as protection. There are some mixed moves over exposed rocks, but it was mostly steep snow. I belayed Damien from the ridge with an ice axe anchor. Damien then belayed me along a very airy, fun, knife edge ridge to the summit. It was thrilling and I was once again reminded of how strange it is they i will stand up straight when crossing a snow ice edge, but crawl on a rock knife- edge. Note that unlike other snow knife edges in the cascades where you walk beside the edge, in this one the route goes right over the top.  I used one picket for pro and a white tricam and picket as an anchor. The summit offered spectacular 360 views of the Tatoosh Range and Mount Rainier.

From the summit I belayed Damien back out the way we had come for several yards and then he downclimbed about 5-6 meters to the belay tree on the right (from the summit). It had two new rap slings on it. He belayed me to the tree once anchored and we rappeled down a short gully with a 50 meter rope. The 50 meter rope was enough to get us past the worst of the gully and the rocks. We still had to downclimb another 25 or so meters on steep snow before we were able to plunge step.  There was a lot of plunge stepping! The descent going around skiers left of Lane Peak down open slopes and some trees back to the front of the mountain and the small stand of trees where we stashed our skis. Meanwhile, the once clear day had clouded over and a brisk wind accompanied us on our descent to our skis. We skinned back to came under a continually greying sky. As we set out back to The Stevens Canyon Road from Camo following a Skin and snowshoe track it began to snow. Once again we made it out of the alpine just as the bad weather hit!

 

When wind, rain, snow and cold are in the forecast… well for us that’s a great time to play around in the mountains! When spent all of last week and most of the weekend moving so we needed a break from it all and escaped to the Mountain Loop Highway. Stillaguamish Peak was our objective. We started out on Perry Creek Trail at 8am. Not long after a frigid steady rain began to fall. Even with full goretex we somehow found the moisture seeping through to our skin. Luckily, after crossing Perry Falls at 3 miles we were back in the forest and more protected. The beta said to make note of the switchback at 4300 feet and take the climbers trail to the left .3 miles beyond the  switchback. It also noted that usually the climbers trail is invisible and its easier to just continue of the trail to just below the saddle. Indeed we found no climbers trail. Instead we turned left just below the saddle at about 4850 feet and after a few yards if bushwhacking through easy brush we stumbled across a very obvious and clear climbers trail.

 

We followed this trail across the ridge. Note that it does descend about 200 ft, but them it switched back up. The precip turned from cold rain, to sleet and finally to snow. There was a chilly wind to that come up every now and then. I was on my 4th pair of gloves by then and our rain-gear was saturated. In short I was very cold and Damien was, well, I don’t think he’s ever cold. The trail follow just left of the ridge crest. Normally there would be great view of Mt Dickerman across the valley, but in the snow and mist there were vague that day. The terrain would be easy in the summer, but the wet snow made these very slick so movement was not as fast as normal. We made it past the false summit where i changed in my final 5th pair of gloves and borrowed a layer from Damien (the only other layer I had left was my down puffy and if it got wet it would be useless). We continued onward for about another 15 minutes where we got to a cliff edge and the trail seemed to vanish. There was a route down the cliff back down to the ridge. It would be doable but tricky in the slick conditions. We noted that the time was 2pm. Sunset was in 2 hours and we have 6 miles to walk out from where we soon. Navigating back along the ridge in the dark was not our first choice and the weather was constantly getting worst. We weren’t far. Maybe .25 miles and 150 ft of elevation. But it was time to turn back.

We made it back down to Perry Creek exactly at sunset and walked out with headlamps. Cold, soggy and elated that we had a chance to play in the mountains again!

Damien and I originally planned to climb Vesper Peak on Saturday via the Ragged Edge and then Sperry via the Standard scramble on Sunday since there was the potential of rain. We began walking down the Sunrise Mine Trail were surprised by how many other technical climbers were also on their way to climb Ragged Edge and also True Grit, the two newest routes on Vesper. I had climbed Vesper via the North Face two years ago and didn’t see a single either party doing a technical route on the peak. Damien had climbed the peak via the North Face as well along with about 5 scramble ascents. Not once was there another party. However, we discovered that since the new guidebook came out things have changed. The guidebook describes the Ragged Edge (5.7) and True Grit (5.8) and climbers were flocking to the North side of Vesper to get their chance to climb the new routes.

I think we sensed that things might be a bit of a circus on the mountain after we crossed the final big creek in the forest and began the switchback up to the Writz Basin. I’ve never seen so many folks carting ropes in one area other than WA Pass. The trail is in descent shape with carins marking the way through the talus fields. It’s generally a rough trail though with big steps, rocks and roots to navigate. The climb to the top of steep Headlee Pass was glorious per the usual, but seemed to contain less loose rock from when I visited last. From the top of the pass at 4800ft the trail drops a bit before traversing across a scree field and finally to the outlet creek of Vesper lake at the head a basin. We crossed the creek and set up camp on the ridge. Everyone else seemed to camp on the lake giving us lots of solitude and some excellent views as well!

We didn’t linger at camp. Instead we geared up and followed the scramble trail up Vesper to the treeline. Then we traversed right and crossed slabs until we reached the small notch that grants access to the North Face Ledges. We could already see lots of people on the routes from that vantage point and we began to question if it was smart to begin in the afternoon with so many folks on the route. It is 6 pitches with no bail points, not exactly the idea circumstance of climbing our first high commitment route at 5.7. Things just weren’t sitting well with us, but we scrambled over the narrow ledges to the base of True Grit to get a closer look and make a final assessment. It turned out that we decided that the technical routes on Vesper were a circus and since a team of three had just started Ragged Edge behind about 5 other teams, we would be waiting a long time and we risked running out of daylight. We didn’t want to take that chance on a committing route, so we made the difficult decision to turn back and climb up the standard scramble route as kind of a consolation prize. The route basically starts at the treeline and climbs slabs and some block straight up to the summit. The rock is very solid and grippy with many route variations depending on have technical you’d like the moves to get. There was no snow on the rocks. We made it to the top pretty quickly and were afforded grand views of Big Four, Pugh, Sperry….the entire Mountain Loop summit group. We descended the climbing route back to camp and got to bed early in preparation for Sperry.

At first light Damien and I crossed over the outlet creek and traversed the talus along the bank of the right side of Vesper Lake. The going isn’t very difficult n the rock with the one obstance being getting around this huge slab on the far side. The solution is to simple go higher and cross over the top. Once on the other side of the lake and at the base of the headwall leading up to the Sperry-Vesper saddle we began to make our way upward on the rock and grassy ledges. We scrambled up more on the middle/right side of the headwall which led us to some interesting low class five moves on the slabs to gain the top of the headwall (exit marked by orange ribbon). For a much safer option (which we used on the way down), ascend on the far left of the headwall.

From there is an obvious trail on the right (some carins also provide markers) leading up the ridge to the upper talus field of Sperry. Here is where things start getting tricky. There is short, angle grassy slope just above the talus on the far right. Head to tho slope until the entrance to the most far left gulley hidden in the trees becomes visible. Carins will help guide the way. From there follow the steep trail, which can be brushy at times (veggie belays), through the pine trees and upward. The tree can make things a bit like a maze. If you get dead ended turn back and look for correct trail. You will always be able to fit through the trees without too much effort. We managed to get turned around quite a lot but did find our way to the upper boulders and scrambled easily to the summit. The descent is simply the reverse. No snow on this route either.

We packed up camp and headed out. There was heavy mist that came and went throughout the day, but no rain. One this was clear though… the air not how a crisp feel to it. Fall is coming and soon the snow with return!

 

 

I had unfinished business in the Pasayten Wilderness and have wanted to come back and attempt Lago, Carru and Osceola for three years. Last time I only got Lago. Damien and I drove up the narrow, twisting road on a precarious cliff to Slate Pass as 6900ft in the Pasayten Wilderness on Saturday morning. When we got out of the car it was snowing/raining. The weather basically switched from snow, rain, hail and sun every 10 minutes or so all day making it impossible to dress correctly!

Unlike most trails that begin in the valley and require you to climb out of it onto the ridge of some sort, the Buckskin Ridge Trail starts out on the ridge and  drops down. We needed to get into the valley below and had beta with two different routes. First we planned on using the Whistler Trail which was supposed to be in 1.3 miles from the pass. But even with our GPS telling us we were right on the junction we could not find it! So we backtracked and took the Middle Fork Pasayten down (.6 miles from the pass). The trail traverses and switchbacks down to the valley for 3 long miles until it meets up with the Robinson Creek Trail (stay left). Then its a virtually flat 5 miles through the forest. At the Shellrock pass junction we turned left and began to climb up and out of the valley for 2400 feet. At about 6,500 feet we passed along the left shoreline of Fred Lake. Ahead was the final 600 feet to the pass. There are tons of switchbacks which are great on the way up… and endless on the way down.

From the top of the pass the deep heart of the Pasayten is revealed.. well it was a bit concealed in the clouds. But we could see Lago, Carru and Osceola. From here the trail traverses and slightly descends until a junction is reached. This unmarked junction about.1 miles form the top of the pass leads to basecamp: Lake Doris. We turned left here and followed the well worn path down to the hidden lake. 11.8 miles from the TH. Its popular as a camp for the Pasayten.. which means you might have one other party. The area is pretty remote though. We set up camp in a nice spot by the water and turned it as thick, wet snowflakes feell from the sky.

The next day we were before light and moved about 4:40am. Lago and Carru were commonly done as a combo on a very long day. We hoped to get at least one, but were aiming for both. We followed the Lake Doris spur trail back to the main trail and continued down into the next valley loosing about 1000 feet over the next 4 miles. This trail is not as well maintained and had lots of fallen trees and was thin in spots. Its not difficult to follow though and we easily found our way in the dark.The beginning of the route up Lago is marked by a red gully (hard to miss).  We turned left and crossed Eureka Creek leaving the main trail and accessed the lower talus and scree… there would in fact be lower scree, middle scree and upper scree.

After ascending the gully for about 400feet the way gets a bit more slabby and the chute narrows. From here we scrambled up the blocky wall of the gully to the left and traversed under a rock buttress trending upward until the buttress gave way to, you guessed it, more scree/talus! From here the route basically just traveled up to the ridge. Kt very much a take a stop and slide about 3/4 of the way back. Gnarly stuff and it was amazing how much of it there was! In fact it was about 2400ft of scree total! We followed the slope up until we gained the ridge. Then we followed it close to the top (but not on the knife edge) on the south side were the rock was a bit more solid. There was definitely mileage involved on this climb. It was long and the terrain took a toll on the time it took to summit. We did make it though to the top at 8745 feet. It was 11:30am. We enjoyed a wondrous closeup view of the clouds for a bit and signed the register. We looked back and were actually able to find when Eric and I signed it three years ago. Not many folks do this mountain.

We descended back down the ridge, partly walking and partly skiing down the loose rock. The clouds opened and closed around us providing glimpses of the vast wilderness. However, when we reached about 7500 feet we had a decision to make. Climbing Carru would involve us dropping down into the gully beside us to the meadow at 7100 and then ascending straight up steeper scree for 1400 feet. It was about 1:00 at that point and we tried to work out the timing. In the end we figured that climbing Carru would ultimately mean descending part of the route in the dark and since we could have to cross back over to Lago to descend this might get a bit to spicy for our liking. Finding our way would be difficult in the dark. The weather had been changing from rain, snow, clouds, hail and sun all day as well. We didn’t trust what the night might bring. Plus after the morning screefest we weren’t to eager to go back up steeper loose rock.

We followed the scree down along the top of the gully until we reached the buttress. Then we veered off to the left and stayed under it until we reached the lower red gully. We somehow ended up about 300 feet above where the entrance to the gully was, but it wasn’t difficult to navigate down to the blocky area. From there we easily descended back to Eureka Creek. We walked the long 4 miles uphill back to camp. We were entertained though by being in the sunshine, but having snow fall about 5 yards away and holding the line. A brilliant rainbow swept across the valley as well! But of course as soon as we finished dinner and went into the tent, the thick snow began to fall again.

On Labor Day we started out at about 6am at first light. We walked along the shore of Doris Lake until we arrived at a buttress. We climbed around the left of the buttress over some grass and then scree. We then followed a series of ledges up onto the buttress and across it to access a gully just below it on the right. In reality we kind of made the route up. The goal was to get to the top of the ridge below Osceola. Basically we followed the path of least resistance until we were up on the broad ridge that reminded me of the Sound of Music. We followed the ridge through heavy mist and snow that was beginning to stick for about .6 miles to the base of Osceola which resembles a massive dome made of scree and talus. We climbed up on black, lichen covered rock that are slippery under normal circumstances, but the additional of the fresh thin layer of snow made it extra exciting. The route instead is straight forward: follow the SW ridge up  to the summit taking the path of least resistance. There is a boot track, but it doesn’t help very much as far as dealing with the loose rock. It at least kept us off of the black rocks for sections though.

Again we had a great view of clouds at the summit. Damien and I don’t mind though. We have a thing for climbing in less than stellar weather. I think its become kind of our trademark. The descent went quickly as we managed to stay on the boot path the while way down dodging the slippery black rocks we climbed on the way up. The key to finding the “trail” is from the base of mountain go as far left as you can before hitting a cliff on the ridge. Then look for a reddish line of rocks going up through the black. That’s it.

We followed the ridge about halfway back the way we had come. We saw what looked to be a shorter route to the lake from the slopes of Osceola and cut down at the second ridge saddle. There were a few carins here, but not really much to navigate by. We followed the path of least resistance across steep meadows, talus, scree and slabs back to Lake Doris. But the day was not over! Time to pack up and walk the 11.8 miles out! Needless to say that the 5 mile flat walk through the valley was endless, but we did get out of the backcountry before dark having tagged two remote Pasayten peaks!

August 15 called for 20% thunder in the afternoon. Typical Teton forecast. We decided to start our ascent of Middle Teton at about 5:30 am to avoid any chance of being on the mountain anywhere near the afternoon. Lightning just isn’t appealing for a climber. We climbed back up the the saddle at 1400 pretty easily in the dim light following carins and the boot path we were familiar with from climbing South Teton the day before. See the South Teton report for details on the approach.  After reaching the low point of the saddle (do not cut off to the right until reaching the proper saddle or you will end up on slabby cliffs), we turned right and followed a very distinct booth path along the ridge of Middle Teton and across a broad alpine meadow to the base of the large SW Couloir. The couloir had a descent boot path and is class 3 the whole way up (about 900 feet of scrambling). Beware of loose rock especially in the middle of the couloir when it begins to narrow. Staying right will keep you on less steep rock.

The true summit is on the left upon reaching the upper ridge. There are a few different options for reaching the summit block ranging for class 3 to 4 with a few exposed steps. Our way a was a bit airy, but not tricky. The view of The Grand is electrifying from the summit of Middle.  The Owen Spalding Route is completely visible and we could see climbers on the Lower and Upper Saddles.

We reversed route back down, but ended up taking the wrong trail after crossing the alpine meadow at the bottom of the couloir. We ended up descending the step snow that covered the slabs to the right of the saddle. Not the advised way down, but we made it work. Anther fun climb in the Tetons… now for the Grand!

 

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Our entire summer’s climbing trips and backpacks this season we’re specifically geared to double as training for our biggest adventure of the season. Our goal with the Triple Tetons: South, Middle and Grand. We had secured permits for 4 nights back in January and prepped by climbing lots of volcanos to get elevations and a bunch of extra long backpacks to get in shape for the mileage and weight we’d need to carry. Between the bear vault, technical climbing gear and food for five days our packs weight about 55ish lbs a piece. We were physically ready and now it all depended on the weather. Could we get a five day window without the infamous afternoon thunder storms of the Rockies? The answer would be YES!!!!

We set up our front country base camp in Colter Bay to secure a place to stay once we returned on Saturday. Then early in the morning on Sunday August 14 we started up the trail a Lupine Meadows just as the sun began to rise. We sang a chorus of “Hey Bear!” as we switch-backed up through the trees and into the high meadows overlooking Taggart and Bradley Lakes Below. The air was cool and the forecast called for a mostly clear day with no storms. We ran into no bears in the low country and were relieved to be out of the main bear territory when we turned at the second junction toward Garnet Canyon.

Almost immediately we were greeted view views of the talus filled canyon and the towering  rocky, masses of the Tetons. We reached Garnet Creek and the Platforms Camp  before noon. At this point the trail vanishes into a field of gigantic boulders. We didn’t find any cairns to mark the way and it was cumbersome to balance of giant packs while jumping and climbing over the massive boulders. Luckily the boulder hoping didn’t last we and we followed a good trail along the  creek to The Meadows Camps at 9,000 feet.

At the Meadows the Canyon splits in the South and North Forks. For South and Middle Teton we turned left onto the South Fork. There is a maze of boot paths through the talus and scree leading up the South Fork. They all lead to the Saddle between Middle and South, so basically the idea is to pick the path you like best. Beware of rockfall though. There are several camping areas on the South Fork. We opted to camp on a pretty grassy ledge with a stream at 9980 feet. It is the first campsite area and there are two camps with windbreaks. We found that the windbreaks didn’t do anything since the wind seems to roll right over it slamming into the tent anyway. We set up camp and looked up. The saddle was at 11,400 feet. There was still plenty of daylight left. Our original plan had been to climb the South Monday and then the Middle on Tuesday before moving to the North Fork. Making Tuesday the heavy day was not really optimal due to th early start the Grand we require on Wednesday. We decided to move things around and climb the South right away. We left camp and headed up to the Saddle.

Again there are many boot baths through the moraines. They are easy to follow and carins were now present to mark the route. Mostly the way veers to the right side of the canyon going over one hump after another with the saddle seeming to new come into view. It is easily at least a two mile walk/scramble to the Saddle. There are some windbreaks in various places along the way and at the saddle. Water availability varies.  The key is make sure to go to the lowest point of the saddle before starting up the route.

After enjoying the scenery of Iceberg lake below and expansive views of Idaho we began climbing up the NW Couloir. The actual Couloir is hard to make out from the Saddle as it looks like one rock face near the top of the slope. But looking closely one can see there is a couloir in-between just above the permanent snow slope. This late in the season an ice axe and crampons was not required. We headed up talus on a vague trail until reaching the top of the ridge near the snow field. Then we followed an exposed class 3/4 route along the top of the slope on trail and rock to reach the couloir. Once in the couolir is was relatively short class 3 scramble to the upper ridge. Here were turned left and followed the broken  ridge easily to the summit of 12514 Feet.  The views from the top are expansive and the Grand can be seen Towering over Middle Teton!

We descended easily and headed back to camp. The next day we would climb Middle Teton.

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