The weekend didn’t exactly go as planned. After bailing of ice climbing Hubba Hubba in Leavenworth we decided to head out to West Granite and  Granite Mountain. Avalanche danger was moderate so it was the perfect time to go for the summit on this peak. People die every year climbing Granite since the route is basically up a massive avalanche chute.

We began early and followed a well packed down trail to the Junction with Granite and Pratt Lake. We took the Pratt Lake Trail and turn off about another .2 miles down after crossing the second creek. The route for West Basically goes straight up. However, we found that the snow was too deep and fluffy even with snow shoes to make meaningful progress. We turned back and decided to just go fror Granite via the standard route. At the junction we took the turn for Granite and followed a well beat down trail for several switchbacks up the gully in and out of the trees. we had taken out snowshoes off, but opted to put them back on at about 3400ft since track wasn’t as solid.

The going was slow, especially for me. I felt very out of condition. The result of taking too much time off from climbing steep mountains and carry heavy packs during the fall due to life’s curve-balls. The trail traverse to the fall left gully and then back to the right gully. The snow was very stable, but still felt a bit slabby. I could definaely see how this area should be avoid in anything above moderate avy danger.

The trail became less and less stomped down by snowshoes tracks as I expect folks bailed. At about 4500 feet the track we were following simply ended. Damien broke trail through deep snow for another 300 feet. At that point it was about 3pm and we knew that summiting before dark probably wasn’t going to happen. Instead of descending the way we had come we plunged steeped straight down just off the left of the center of the gully in case an debris fell. This worked very wekk and we rejoined the trail on the last switchback in the galley that entered into the forest. From there it was an easy walk (via headlamp) back to the car.

 

On August 16 Damien and I packing up our camp in the South Fork after climbing South and Middle Teton. Our next objective was The Grand. We descended down the talus of the South Fork, cut above the meadow at 9,300 feet to meet with the creek flowing below Spalding Falls. We crossed the creek and met up with the Trail being careful not to step on any alpine flora and remain on the rocks. The route up the North Fork is not a boot path like the South Fork. It is actully a trail completely with switchbacks, albeit steep at times. We hardly noticed though even with our heavy packs. We were distracted by a chance meeting with Jimmy Chin on his way to solo The Grand Teton via Owen Spalding with his friend. we were wondering if we would run into him! Its always great to run into your heroes in the backcountry.

After the switchbacks the trail curved deep into the North Fork passing over a creek below the Ranger tents. The tread then vanishes in some large boulders. We climbed through the boulders and easily regained the trail which had a sign indicating the start of the moraines camp. We decided to take a nearby camp with a windbreak at 10,800 feet. There was  a nearby “cave” in the boulders as well that we toyed with staying in. It had multiple rooms and had some work done on it for sleeping. However, after by bear spray fell into a crack and I had to borrow deep in the “basement” of the cave to retrieve it and Damien contemplated the possible presence of spiders, we decided to stay in the tent unless the weather got bad. At this pint we had no idea what the forecast was since we hadn’t been in the front country in three days. Jimmy had said it was supposed to be nice though. We figured he knew what he was talking about!

After setting up camp we headed up the trail to check out the lower Saddle and Scout the Owen Spalding route. Enroute Damien turned off the trail about ten minutes from camp to where water was visibly running on the glacier to the left to filter. There is no water access further down as it flows under the rocks. Here the water run funneled down the track in the glacier ice. We continued up the easy to follow trail to a headwall. There was an orange handline with knots to ascend this class 4/5 rock. About 2/3 of the way up one must move to the second handline outside of the chimney and out onto the wall. There is a blue bandline when one tops out for extra safety until the trail moves away from the thin ledge. We ran into Jimmy and his friend again as they came down from climbing the Grand.

From the top of the headwall there are several different paths intertwining, but they all lead to the Lower  Saddle. The Lower saddle is at 11,600 feet and is rather broad. Middle Teton is on the left and the Grand rises up on the right. There are several camps, a trickling water source and two guide tents. We could see that the couloir to the Upper Saddle would be complicated as it appeared to be a huge maze of rumble. We would have to study tge route hard that night before turning in. Ascending the couloir to the upper saddle was known to be a route finding challenge.

We descended back down to camp and went to bed way before the sun went down. We planned on an early start… and at 1:38am, Aug 17,  we were on our way back to the Lower Saddle once more.

Once on the lower Saddle we followed good trail on the right until about 12,250 feet to the base of what known as the Black Dike. There is descent trail to follow here and a few cairns. Stay to the left of the small tower known as The Needle. The real difficulty occurs when the trail seems to just run out and a wall rears up in front of you. This is the crux. At this point you will see a rock with a 2 foot horizontal black “ribbon” across is. This left here and traverse right over some class 4 terrain  (you may need to crawl a bit) to a small ridge. Then descend a bit and find “The Eye of the Needle” which is a little tunnel under some boulders. There seems to be nowhere to go after coming out the other end, but look left and you will see a short but scary class 4 hand traverse called “the half belly roll” From here one can ascend straight up over one of the various trails to the Upper Saddle at 13,100. As you near the Saddle though be sure to aim for the right side of the saddle. If you go left, like we did, you will end up on top of this hump that cannot be down climbed easily to reach the start of the Owen Route. We had to downclimb about 250 feet and then climb back up to the right. Our route finding was not exactly easy as the couloir is a maze. We did a fair amount of asking for directions from the guides and took a few wrong turns. The real crux is getting from the traverse to the Eye of the Needle. Once through the Eye of the Needle and half belly roll its pretty straight forward.

Damien and I tied up at the base of the Owen Spalding in some light snow that didn’t last long. We used two 37 meter twin ropes which worked out great. Less length to manage, good rappel length and less weight. We simul-climbed the first pitch. Though on the route there really are no formal pitches. Its kind of do as you wish. Damien led the entire route since speed was of the essence in case of an afternoon storm and switching would take too much time. The OS begins be traversing left past the prayer flags. There is an airy step over a flack on the ledge followed by the famous  Belly Roll. Basically the ledge system is blocked by an overhanging rock with a squeeze space just big enough for the climber to shimmy through on their belly with half their body.. the other half is off the ledge fully exposed to a shear drop off. Airy!

After that there is some straight forward class 5 moves. Damien built an anchor on a flat area just below the “crux” 5.5 move called the Double Chimney. Thw name is no longer accurate as this used to be two chimneys, but the divider flake has fell over about 60 years ago so now it is more of an open book kind of chimney. About this time some clouds rolled in and it began to hail. The temperature also dropped quite a lot. Multiple hail cells would pass over us as we climbed the rest the route.Luckily, we like climbing is less than optimal weather. Its kind of our trademark.  It was difficult for Damien to jump into the chimney, but easy for him to climb out. it was the opposite for me. I’m small and can scramble into anything, but climbing out requiring some awkward stemming moves and pulling up on less then bomber handholds. Good pro though for this move.

The route continues to be exposed, but still relatively low fifth class. Damien belayed me in from the beginning fo the catwalk, which is an exposed ledge that circles around right to the base of Sargent’s Chimney. Sargent’s Chimney is low class five, but not really protectable. We stayed roped up for it, but it really didn;t matter since there was no pro placed. There are definitely some exposed moves. At the top of Sargent’s we untied. From here we scramble up the path of least resistance veering left over brown rock and slabs to the summit. A trail runner who stopped his watch at 2.15 hours came up shortly after us. I have no idea where he timed it from but it was impressive regardless. It was 10am and we’d been climbing for 8.5 hours! But we we had made it. we’d made it through hail, snow and wind! We had trained all summer and it had led to success at 13,776 feet! Words cannot describe how happy we were to be on the summit of the Grand. But of course we were only halfway done.

We reversed route back down which unfortunately meant we had to down climb the class 5 Sargent’s chimney unprotected. It was somehow fun though. At the base of the chimney we walked skiers left  along the wide ledge and down a few steps to where there is a cord wrap station (protected bye a fire hose oddly enough) and a bolted wrap station right next to it. We used the cord rap station since it was slightly lower. We would not be able to see the bottom of the rappel which made things a bit intimidating. I went first and found, to my delight, that this was the most fun rappel I had ever done!. There are lots of overhangs, the last one be particularly long as you lower yourself in mid air. Of course this is along where the ropes chose to get tangled and it was tedious getting out the twists as a hing in space. Still the best rappel I’ve ever done!

We coiled up our ropes and prepared to descend to the Lower Saddle. The sky was getting more menacing looking and sure enoguh we heard a clap of thunder halfway down the couloir. Some rain began to fall as we traverse the half belly roll, but it didn’t last long. We managed to find our way to the Eye of the Needle, but discovered there were two tunnels. we took the wrong one, note that the  correct tunnel is the the right as you come down. Down go through the tiny squeeze hole on the left like we did! We had to climb back down the the right tunnel. A guide pointed us in the safest way down to avoid rock fall from above climbers. Basically the idea is after doing the traverse following the needle stay to skier’s left.

Thunder was heard in the distance, but it never arrived at the Grand. We descended back to our camp and crawled into our tent just as a steady rain began to fall. We’d done it. We’d climbed all three of the Tetons: South, Middle and Grand!

We hiked out of the moraines the next day. It was a sunny day and it seemed like all the little critters were out on the trail feeding. They didn’t move at all as we passed! However, an hour after we arrive back at Lupine Meadows Trailhead thunder rolled over the Teton Range and the mountain were engulfed in lightning, clouds and rain. The weather window was over. We had somehow timed everything perfectly!

 

Video

 

After climbing Mt Shasta and visiting the Oregon Caves we opted to close out Memorial Day weekend with a quick morning hike before heading back to WA which ended up being a ten hour drive. We woke up at 3am at camp on Selmac Lake, quickly packed up and headed along the twisty twindy road to Oregon Caves National Monument. Although the big draw to the park is its underground attraction, there was also some hiking to be had in the Siskiyou Mountain above ground. We chose the longest trail, The Mount Elijah trail. It is 8 miles with 2390ft of gain (summit height 6390ft). Pretty much a stroll in the park for alpinist, but still nice way to end the weekend.

We began at 4:45pm on the right branch of the Big Tree Loop just behind the Visitor Center. The trail traverses through the forest with a few switchbacks for 1.7 miles at a gradual grade to the junction with the Elijah Mountain Trail at 5070ft. The trail’s elevation gain through the forest and high meadows continues to be very steady and gradual except for about 200ft of gain just beyond the NM border when the trail enters Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Here is is respectably steep. But it evens out again after that. There are several trail junctions. All are well marked except for then the Mt Elijah Trail splits into a loop. There is no sign here. Just a tiny carin. If you look down the trail on left you will see a sign regarding a forest service road ahead. You can climb up the Mt Elijah trail and then descend the mountain to Bigalow Lakes, walk on the said forest service road and get back to this junction. Basically the left turn heads to Bigalow Lakes and then Elijah and it is a longer route to the summit. We went right, not wanting to walk on a road. The trail goes up a forested ridge for what seems like forever until it curves left and breaks above treeline. Now a a high ridge covered with phlox and  small shrubs that trail continues it gradual ascent to the summit. An old sign makes the top.

It was another clear day and we could see all the way to Mt Shasta to the south. The green, forested Siskiyou surrounded us. They are not the craggy peaks of Washington, but they still held their own beauty. We stayed here enjoying the views for about a half hour before heading back down the way we came, but finishing the hike on the other half of the Big Tree Trail. The entire 8 miles taking our time took us exactly 4.75 hours to complete. Great morning walk before a long car ride!

Words cannot come close to describing how amazing this overnight ski tour of Silver Star Mountain was, but i will do my best since blogs require words! We left home at about 1am (yes I know, yikes!) and arrived at Silver Star Creek along Highway 20 at about 6:30am. After a nap we got moving at about 7:30. The route begins on the south side of the highway on the left side of Silver Star Creek. We skinned up thick trees on snow that was so icy that I had to make up of the ski crampons for the very first time. We went a bit to high a one point following ski tracks that gained elevation, but we easily skis down an open slope and back into the trees. The key to to stay low and near Silver Star Creek. At 4444feet we closed the creek via a snow bridge and followed ski tracks up the right side for a bit. Then the waterway became snowed in enough for us to actually skin in the creek. Beware though as there are some deep holes in the snow with water running below! This route also included skinning up a steep area that I can only guess is a waterfall in the summer. Nothing was too dicey though.

Eventually the skin track left the creek to the left via a ramp and we were in the trees again. There were a few tracks in the trees, but we just picked one and continued to ski straight into the valley. We remained at 5000ft for what seemed like forever until the trees parted revealing the snow Silver Star Meadows and our first fully view of Silver Star and the Burgundy Spires… still very far away!

We skied to the head of the valley. A large headwall guards the upper basin, but there is an obviously gully area where the trees are sparse and the grade less steep. We climbed the gully which through being less steep then the surrounding wall was still rather steep! At about 6000ish feet we followed te ski track hard left and traverse along the headwall below Vasiliki Ridge until the trees opened and revealed the wide snowy basin below Silver Star.

We sent up camp near some bare larches and watched some skiers descend Silver Star Col in the distance. Lots of folks do this trip in a day. Heli-skiing is also popular in the area. We passed several heli-pads and saw a bunch of helicopters on our way up. But the whole experience is much more enjoyable as a two day in my opinion. The area is spell-binding and the round trip for that day ended up being 8 miles as it was.

But at that point the day wasn’t over yet. We rested a bit and set up camp before starting our once again at 2:30. We stayed the left the left side of the large buttress that split the snow slope leading up the Silver Star Col. There was pretty good skin track, but we were the only folks going up so late in the day. The last few people on the mountain were descending. The climb seemed to go quickly. We ran into an ice spotting on the second big “hump”. I recommending making large and gradual switchbacks here. The final push to the col as also exceptionally steep, but once again long switchbacks solve the issue.

From the top of the col we could see the mountains to the North stretching far into Canada. To the South laid the North Cascades with the perfect view of the liberty bell group. But we were not done yet. It was time to take off our skis and climb the final several hundred feet to the top. There was a boot pack already in. We followed it up and around the left side of the peak. The rock was mostly covered and the steps stable. However, the final climb went straight up a nearly vertical staircase of snow. This climb was steep, exposed and a sketch since the snow was powdery. We didn;t on the summit long except to snap some photos and videos, but the views were amazing. The was down this snow ladder was tedious and slow. One slip would have fatal consequences (this is a class 4-5).

Once we made it back down to the skis safely we prepared to descend. We were pleasantly surprised by the unusually deep powder we encountered on the upper col! The whole route down had deep powder and making for a fast, scenic and adventurous descent back to camp. Damien had some tight turns so perfect he looked like a pro skier! This run trumped Mt St Helens from last week!

Back at camp enjoyed our Mountain House meals under a dimming sky in the shadow of the Wine Spires before returing for the night. Sometime after midnight snow began to fall, and we woke up at 7 to a snowy wonderland. The mountains had all but vanished in heavy snow and thick mist. The work was white and all we could see where the nearby larches. It was beautiful. We opted to wait a bit to pack up and continue our descent. The weather was supposed to clear up later in the morning, and sure enough at 9:00 when we were packed and ready visibility had improved quite a bit.

We traverse left toward the gully we had climbed up aiming slightly down. Navigating through the trees wasn’t too difficult though route finding was definitely necessary. We eventually found own way to the gully and skied easily the rest of the way down through the sparse trees into the meadow.  Once we re-entered the trees on the other side of the meadow we put on our skins in preparation for the long, flat traverse. Here route finding got tricky. We followed some ski tracks that often disappeared heading in the general direction of North and slightly left until we reached the creek ramp. Here we removed our skins and skied down the narrow creek carefully avoiding the gaping holes. At 4400 feet we crossed onto the right side and descended through thick, steep forest to the road. This was my first tree skiing experience. Scary as I was certain I’d crash, but also lots of fun (especially since I didn’t crash).

Highly recommended ski tour into the beautiful wilderness that is the North Cascades! VIEW VIDEO

Once again, our original plan was foiled, but this time due to a move novel occurrence. We planned to AT ski to Park Butte,  a fire lookout overlooking Mt. Baker. The trail to Park Butte cannot be accessed in the winter due to snow and where the wheeled vehicle access on the five mile long FS 13 ends and the snowmobile track begins changes every year. As it turned out we only drove one mile up FS 13 that morning and parked on the side of the road before reaching the snowmobile track. It was snowing hard with about 4 inches of new snow already on the road. We wanted to make sure we would be able to drive back out the next day.  As luck would have it though, after about 3/4 mile or perhaps less of boot packing the road, the snow was thick enough to ski.

The official snowmobile track  begin at about mile 2 on FS 13. Quite a few sleds whizzed passed us as we skinned up the gradually ascending road. It didn’t bother us much though as all were courteous. The snow continued to come come down in thick flakes. Every now and then it would stop for about ten minutes and a sliver of sunshine would break the clouds, but then the flakes would fall again. It was actually rather beautiful.

After three miles there is a junction in the road. Here we turn left onto the well parked orange snow mobile track into Schriebers Meadows. Around the time we reached the meadows blue skies began to appear as well as some epic looking cloud formations over the distance mountains. It was turning into a bluebird day! The last weekend bluebird day had occurred almost two months ago so I was very excited. The snow was very stable too. Another plus!

The snowmobile track crosses a creek (there is a bridge) and ascends sometimes steeply in a small valley between two moraines ridges. Park Butte was just on the other side of the ridge. It looked as though the snow mobile track headed up toward the Easton Glacier of Mt Baker where the moraines were less steep. From there we could go around it and double back on the other side to get to Park Butte. For some reason or another we thought we saw an easier line on the steep moraine and decided to take a shortcut. Never take shortcuts.

Off the snowmobile track breaking trail was thigh deep… with the exception of when Damien fell into a hole what was very nearly up to his chest. His skis were trapped under the weight of the heavy powder. He released his feet and moved out of the way so I could get in the hole and dig the skis out. It was a small person’s job.

With the skis out we continued up the slope which was much steeper than we thought. The snow was also thigh deep still even with flotation. About halfway up I switched from following to breaking. I wasn’t all that crazy about going up the slope. The closer I got to the top of the ridge the  steeper it got. I wanted to bail, but I didn’t think I could ski down the slope safety. I’d have to remove my skis which was impossible from where I was. So I settled for making more and more switchbacks. When I popped up on the ridge I had to follow it away to get to a safe flatter spot in the trees. Damien began to follow. It didn’t look like we would be able to get down the other side to Park Butte. Too many trees, drifts and possible cliffs. However, we could still go down and camp near Easton Glacier or go around to Park Butte. Either way we’d have great views of the volcano.  I was even  afforded an excellent view of Mt Baker from the top of the ridge as it was… Meanwhile Damien had begun skiing along the ridge toward me… and this SNAP!

A chunk of snow had gotten lodged under his binding and we his heel stepped down the binding plastic snapped in half. Six miles from the trailhead we examined out options. Going to Park Butte was out of the question. It appeared as though Damien could lock down the binding in ski mode though it wasn’t very secure. There was no way to do a true repair so that the heel could raise. Frustrated the only option seemed to be to boot pack in down the slope. From the bottom Damien could try to secure the binding in ski mode and ski out one heel locked or he would have to walk on the snowmobile track which was hopefully packed down enough.

Going down the slope with the skis on our back was horrible. I was battled my way down snow that was chest or shoulder deep. It made me feel almost claustrophobic and the frustration was getting overwhelming for me. Finally a nice, clear day with lower avy risk and we once again end up not being able to follow through on our plan. Plus, once again we are relatively close to the car.

Once at the bottom of the slope and back on the track it was 3:15pm. We decided to make camp and deal with getting out in the morning. After setting up camp in the valley Damien worked on his binding. He was able to tie to together with a guideline from the tent. he put some medical tape around the ski too and a ski strap as well. It still wasn’t very tight though. Better than nothing.

The temperature dropped as the blue ski dimmed and a nearly full moon rose over the horizon. I went in and out of loving the evening and being so sad that I was in the valley so far from Baker. I kept thinking about how much more beautiful this all would have been from the fire tower or up near Easton Glacier. I had a hard time putting things into perspective. Damien is much better at that than me.

The night was rather astoundingly bright. So bright that the snow filled valley not not cloaked by darkness in the least bit. Every detail of the landscape was 100% clear. It looked like a black and white movie in the moonlight. I haven’t seen a night like that in a long time.

Morning dawned clear and blue. Damien had come up with the idea of twisting a pen into the guideline to tighten the binding together. It worked (the medical tape did not)! We boot packed down the steepest park of the track as not to end up in the creek, before putting our skis on. Mt Baker was visible from the meadows as we descended down the snowmobile track. Damien was able to successfully ski all the way back to the car without any further binding issues. Of course the guideline was a temporary fix. The skis are now having new binding mounted.

 

No trip to Yosemite would be complete without spending some time on the trails! We opted to climb to the shoulder of Half Dome, one of the most famous hikes in America. Actually the hike to the top of Half Dome using the cables to ascend the 5.4 finally few hundred feet is the famous trip, but this late in the season most of the caple setup is removed and only a length of chain remains on the icy rock. So we decided to just get as high as we could.

We had a bit of a rocky starting finding the right trail to take from the Happy Isles Nature Center. We found finally that we had to go to the road and cross a Bridge to get to the Mist/John Muir TH. The trail is not terribly steep here and is on broken up concrete which kind of took away from the wilderness experience. There are also restrooms and concessions (closed for the season) at the Vernal Falls Bridge. But we had the trail to ourselves this crisp November morning as we walked deeper into the Valley.

Eventually we met an intersection where the mist trail stems off left. This is a shorter way to Half Dome, but its much steeper and Damien expected it to be icy with all the “mist” from the falls along that direction. We continued on the John Muir Trail which now began to gain elevation stradily. We cam across massive patches of ice and really wanted our micro-spikes, but alas we did not have them so we did our best to skip along the very edge of the trail or protruding rocks. It wasn;t too bad until the forest opened up and we could see marvelous views of Nevada Falls, Half Dome and Liverty Cap. However, the trail was now between a low stone wall barrier to the left and a massive rock wall to the right. The trail was basically an ice skating rink with large shards of ice on top of it that had fallen off the rock wall. To cross we had to hang onto the barrier and move quickly as some smaller pieces of ice fell on us!

We made it to the top of Nevada falls and paused for a snack. A few other people who had come up the Mist trail passed by and headed back down the Muir Trail. We continued on the now snowy trail toward Little Yosemite Valley and Half Dome, well signed. High up now the world was white and once again if felt like winter compared to the sunny dry valley below.

The trail makes a massive circle around Half Dome before climbing up once again. The snow and grade slowed us down some, but it wasn’t enough to require snowshoes and the snow was well packed down by other hikers. Finally we reached the large slab shoulder of Half Dome. Here there are spare trees and expansive Views of the Sierra Nevada Wilderness. We had the option of scrambling to the top of the sub-dome from here to the base of the cables. However, it was steep, snowing and icy. It is sketch in dry summer conditions too so we opted not to take the chance in these even more treacherous conditions. Instead we enjoyed the view from the shoulder.

The way down went very quickly. we opted to take the John Muir Trail back as we feared from other hikers reviews thatt he Mist Trail would be too dangerous to go down (normal route down). The ice was a little melted on the John Muir Trail, but not as much as we expected. We made safe passage though back to the Valley.

This scramble was done Day 4 as part of PCT Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass backpacking trip.

Damien and I woke up at our camp on Lower Robin Lake at about 4:30am. It was the earliest we rose on all of our days on this backpack (and more normal time to wake up every day in society). We planned to follow what looked like an easy ridge on the far right of the Robin Lakes to the summit of Granite Mountain and then come down the other side and follow the ridge passed the Granite Potholes to the summit of Trico before coming down the other side of the lakes on the same ride thus making a compete loop.

The beam of our headlamps revealed the the heather ridge was marked for us by carins. The normal route to these peaks is usually to follow the ridge up the left side of the lake so it was pleasant surprise to come across these little towers. we followed them easily to a talus slope  as the sky began to lightening revealing rivers of mist in the valleys far below. We easily gained the upper ridge at followed to what we originally thought was Granite Mountain. We noticed the elevation was wrong though and looked at the map again. It turned out to be a sub summit of Granite. We could see the real summit in the distance. We stayed a bit to enjoy a beautiful sunrise of hues of orange and pink. Then we headed down other side of the sub-peak. This ended up being very technical high class 3 or class 4 down-climbing. Luckily it was a short section, but it was enough to get the heart racing! We followed the talus and scree filled ridge to another high point Granite Mountain-South Peak (which Damien called Mount Dandelion). From here we turned right and followed another ridge to the Summit of Granite Peak. The actual top of the peak can be reach with 2 very exposed moves. We opted to touch the top to be safe.

We could see Trico in the distance on the other side of the Granite Potholes. However, there was a sub-peak of Trico that looked for more interesting. We decided to go for the sub-peak instead. We went back to Granite South Peak and picked our way down the other side to the lower ridge above the potholes. From here we walked straight for a bit a well marked trail through the talus until it began to descend away from the ridge. We stayed on the ridge and followed an unmarked route over large boulders to the right down the the sub-peak summit block. From here were traversed left around the peak and dropped out packs. The summit can be reached by climbing up onto the tabletop rocks and then edging right with your feet on a shelf and your arms around the pillar until you can get into the chimney. Scoot up the chimney to the to top (class 3+/4). Damien gets first known ascent props on this peak!

We descended back to the trail on the ridge and followed it back to Robin Lakes completing our loop.

I’ve wanted to climb Mount St. Helens for 3.5 years. Damien has wanted to climb it for 7 years! So on the final weekend of free, self issue permits we finally climbed the peak (or what’s left of it). We left our camp in Seaquest State Park at 3:30am and after getting a tittle lost we arrived at Marble Mountain Sno-park near Couger, WA at 5:15am. This it he entrance to the winter route to the Crater Rim (summit) called Worms Flows/Swift Glacier. We had signed the climbers register and picked up permits the day before in the kosiak in the upper lot. Starting in April permits will cost $22. We began hiking on a snowless xc ski trail to the left of the parking lot. If you begin there the trails are a bit of a maze, but there are signs at the junctions and maps. Ultimately one needs to get the Swift Creek Ski Trail #244B (we discovered later that if we had gone right in the parking lot we would have accessed it directly). The wooded ski trail eventually breaks out into open country. Here we crossed over the dry Swift Creek just above the dry Chocolate Falls and climbed up to the first ridge.

The ridge is narrow, becomes rocky and moves and turns like a worm (hence the name). It was very easy to follow and we hit snow at about 5000 feet. There were good amount of folks going up to the summit, but it wasn’t over crowded pm the ridge. The walking was pleasant and there were no difficulties. About 500ft above the radio tower where the first snowfield begins, the soft snow began to get icy so we put on our crampons. We easily, but steeply climbed over the never ending lumps of snow (this was made easy by following copious tracks). There is a traverse around a corner at about 7,500 feet and then a few more steep lumps to climb before reaching the high point of 8864 feet and the crater rim.

We luck out with views as the mist has cleared and we could see straight down into the massive crater. Damien and I spent some time on the summit eating chocolate and admiring perfect views of Jefferson, Hood, Rainier and Adams. We headed down eventually trying to figure out how cold we were as the wind kept blasting us and then dying down. The descent was easy to plunge step. Glissading is possible, but we only did two short ones due to the exposed rock.

The entire journey took 10 hours (6 to the summit and 4 to descend). We did not break out our snowshoes or ice axes though we brought them up. Crampons were very helpful though. An awesome trip we waited to long to complete!