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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Not a typical weekend for us. Damien wanted to take a rest day before our big trip coming up so we planned on doing a one day trip. The objective was Sloan which can be done as a leisurely two days or intense 1 day climb. However, circumstances would change the plan. The route to Sloan was a alot less of a trail than we expected. It was decent until after the multiple river crossings. After that the ribbons and tread pretty much faded out and we found ourselves thrashing through devils climb and scampering over a maze of fallen logs. It was pretty clear after about 45 minutes of bushwhacking that in such conditions the summit would be be very attainable in a day, and getting back in the dark through this terrain would present a large challenge. Luckily it was still early enough to switch gears and head off to plan B: Mount Pugh.

After driving further down the Mountain Loop Highway we finally got on the trail at 9:40am. I’ve climbed this mountain once before, but it was new to Damien. Lots of people label it as scary and technical. But I tend to disagree. It certainly one of the most mellow scrambles I’ve ever done with minimal exposure. Maintly its just long (11 miles) and big elevation gain (5300ft). The longest and most mind-numbing section of the trail is the first 3.5ish miles which switchbacks very very gradually up through the forest, passing a lake at about 3200ft (turn left at the T intersection here). I stress here that the grade is extremely gradual and for a climber used to going straight up it can be very agonizing.

Eventually the forest gives way to an open basin granting some gorgeous views of the valley far below and Stujack Pass above. The grade steepens here as it switchbacks through talus and across steep meadow slopes carpeted in the wildflowers to the pass. But it is steep not nearly as steep as climbers trail.  From the top of the Pass views of Whitechuck and Mount Baker abound, but 1500 feet of climbing stills awaits. After a few more switchbacks the tread follows a “knife-edge”. That’s how it is described and it is the part that scares a alot of folks. I’m not sure why as you don’t walk on top of the edge, but on a fairly wide trail just below it. Its extremely secure and I wouldn’t label it as exposed. At the end of the knife edge there are a few quick class three steps to the rock wall. You’ll recognize there area since you’ll see a steep gully before. The trail is nor clearly visible, but if you stay on top of the ridge and walk to the rock wall you’ll see there is a straight forward class 3 ramp hidden away. From here follow the  clear trail (open also marked by carins) up steep terrain mostly covered in heather to the summit which always seems to be over the next hump, but never is. Luckily the spectacular views off a distraction!

The summit is brood and wide with plenty of space for multiple groups, but we were the only ones there. Remnants of the old fire tower are still there. Clouds were moving in and out over the summit giving it a very alpine feel while still affording us some clear views. We lingers for about 45 minutes before descending the same why we had come. And yes, the forest switchbacks down felt like they would never end!

 

 

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We tried to do this itinerary last year, but in the sweltering heat that was last summer I got severe heat exhaustion about 100ft above Blue Lake and we had to go back camp at the lake. This year we were determined to complete the trek. The Pilot Ridge/ White Pass Loop is 30 miles and suggested as a 3-4 day trip. We did it in two days and, since that was apparently too easy, we added summit of Kodak Peak and white Mountain to the mix. Oh… and it was all in inclement weather complete with whiteout mist and rain. This was our rest weekend.

We began on the North Fork Trail taking a right turn at the first junction after 2 miles to Pilot Ridge. There is a large log here to cross the river. From here at 2400ft the trail heads up to the top of Pilot Ridge in what seems to be endless switchbacks until reaching the first high point knob at 5200ft. Following the ridge there are ups and downs, some rather significant. I know the views here are spectacular from our journey last year, but that day the mountains were mostly concealed under thick cloud cover as sprinkles dampened our jackets. We did get to enjoy lunch grasses and wildflowers though. Plus the feel of the day made everything extra alpiney which we love!

The route follows the ridge for 8 or so miles until it passes under Johnston Mountain . Here at the top of the ridge one can see Lower Blue Lake in the basin below and the switchbacks down begin. Long , sweeping switchbacks that seem to take forever! Do not follow take the turn onto the PCT once reaxhing the basin floor. Turn left and head up to Upper Blue Lake. It was much to chilly out to swim this visit. Instead we ate near the outlet steam and enjoyed views of the trout chasing each other in the perfectly clear blue water. We didn’t linger to long as we were only halfway done with the day and since it was much cooler than last time we had no trouble climbing above the lake. There are switchbacks, sometimes under snow but easy to regain that lead up from the lake and to the top of the next ridge. The final 100ft was fully snowed in and steep so we used Ice axes. We could have probably stayed on the side of the snow in the heather, but since we had the axes we just kick stepped up. The sun came out full blast for about 3 minutes warming things up significantly… and then it was cloudy again. So no heat exhaustion this time!

From the top of the ridge we actually got some beautiful views of the surrounding mountain and a look back at our route across Pilot Ridge. We could also see far off White Pass in the distance along with all the other passes we had to cross to reach it. White Pass was where we hoped to came with an Alternate being Reflection Lake which was 2 miles closer. We dropped down switchbacks and traversed to the 4 way junction at Dishpan Gap. Here we turned onto the PCT North… well we followed the PCT South for about five minutes by accident. The trail wanders long the meadow topped ridge through Sauk Pass and then the the base of Kodak Peak.

At the base of the small, grassy peak we stepped off the trail and traveled cross country straight up the mountain. It was much steeper than we imagined it to or maybe it just felt that way after we had walked for about 15 miles or something like that. Nevertheless we made it to the summit and were greeted by wondrous views of white mist! It did eventually part through revealing glimpses of the surrounded wilderness.

Getting onto late evening now we dropped down the other side of Kodak Peak (6121ft ) via the narrow footpath and regained the PCT on top of Wenatchee Ridge. From here we descended into the snow Meander Meadows which required a bit of route finding in some wide paths of snow, but nothing significantly difficult. It was disheartening, but the trail kept on descending until to reached a low point of 5000ft at tree filled Indian Pass. It actually felt more like a basin than a pass. After all that descending it was of course time to go back up.

The way is very gradual and the trail ascended steadily toward White Pass. Damien feet hurt and my calves felt like jello by the time we rounded the corner on the ridge at 9:00pm and stood on the shoreline of small Reflection Pond. Our gate wasn’t as swift anymore and darkness was settling. With only 2 miles left to White Pass we decided that we had nothing to gain by pressing on when we could get more sleep and do the whole thing faster in the morning. In the settling darkness we set up camp beneath the trees in the low hanging mist. I cannot express how happy we were to wiggle out of our boot and put on our crocs! We had done 19 miles and 6000ft of gain.

The next day we thought with was raining due to the pitter patter on the tent, but the mist was so heavy and low it was condensing on the tree branches and then dripping heavily on our tent! We packed up and began moving at the good clip across the ridge toward White Pass. There were quit a few of snow fields to cross on the way to the pass and we were really glad we had stopped at the pond. Crossing was easy in the morning, but last night our fatigue would have made things slow and tedious.

White Pass was clod, damp, windy and nearly in a white out when we arrived. Our White Mountain beta instructed us to take the Foam Creek Trail from the pass a few yards in to the bare patch on the lower south slope of White Mountain. After 100′ the bare spot should turn unto a narrow boot trail. We did as the instructions said. The bare patch of mud and loose rock was not all the pleasant to ascend. It did end at about 100′ and we located a boot track on the left. we also noted that the tracked started much lower than the “bare spot”. Now following an obvious, narrow trail in the grass we were straight up along the spine of the ridge. The going very very, very steep. It was not technically though. We crossed one easy rock band what was still class 1. We traversed around the larger rock band to the left leaving the ridge, but then the track high-tailed it right back up to the spine passing a pretty large marmot colony. The grade eased ever so slightly until it reached a flat area at about 7020 ft. In the whiteout haze we could see the finally few yards of narrow ridge that led to the true summit. We left out poles and walked across to the summit pass the geo survey marker. No views. We were surrounded by mist with almost no visibility. And it was awesome! Views are not mandatory to make the alpine experience incredible. The summit is 7045 ft.

We descended the trail and stayed on it without entering the bare spot all the way back to the PCT. We then continued on our journey down traversing the lower slopes of the Color Mountain Group. We stayed left on the N Fork Trail at the junction and eventually began the long and endless switchbacks all the way down to the valley floor. as a climber you always wish you could just skip the switchbacks and go straight down.

At the valley floor in the forest we passed the Mackinaw Shelter and continued on the forest trail for what seemed like an endless 5 miles to the trail head. And, as luck would have it, as soon as we got into the car it began pouring rain outside! We had gone 12.5 miles and gained about 2000ft that day. This the trip qualified as a rest weekend for us!