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 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.

 

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!

Golden Horn is becoming that obscure peak that is always just barely out of reach. My first attempt was in Oct 2014 with Marybeth. We bailed about 25 feet from the summit since the rock was dripping wet and more bad weather seemed to be coming in. My next try was last summer with Damien in July. We had good weather all day until we were 20 feet below the summit block trying to figure out where the route was for about 45 minutes when a cold snap and sudden heavy clouds moved in leaving us both too hypodermic to continue searching for the way up the final few feet. Both attempts of Golden Horn were supposed to be couple with a go at Tower Mountain next door, but the sudden bad weather foiled any attempt at that peak. Thus, we still had unfinished business and decided to give things another try last weekend. Party sunny on Sat and clear skies on Sunday. Not a drop of rain in the forecast and we would bring a bigger puffys in case another cold snap came in.

We left the trailhead for the PCT North from Rainy Pass at about 8am. It was a nice, crisp autumn day that felt much more like mid-October than late September. There was heavy mist, but it was slowly lifting and when we reached Cutthroat Pass at five miles most of it had burned off affording us with some brilliant views. We continued on the PCT another 2.5 miles to Granite Pass where we got our first look at Tower and Golden Horn. Clouds were coming and going, but that’s what the weather called for. So far so good. Things looked promising. We continued on our journey admiring the larches that were beginning to turn golden, but not yet in their prime. Another 2.5 miles and we reached an open meadow camp, the unsigned Meathow Pass. Here we turned off the PCT and headed right up the unsigned but very obvious trail to Snowy Lakes about 600ft higher. From Lower Snowy Lake we could see that Tower Mountain had some fresh snow plastered on it. This caused us some concern as a thin layer of snow and wet rock would make things dicey. Another team was just about to head up and passed us as we were setting up camp on the lower lake. We figured we’d get some beta from them when they got back. In the meantime we had another mountain to climb.

We camp set up we departed for Golden Horn at roughly 2pm. It was more cloudy than sunny, but no cause for alarm or concern. We followed the trail to Upper Snow Lake and then turned right and walked cross country to the base of the lower golden scree slopes of Golden Horn. There are various trail going up the scree, but you kind of just go up and hope to eventually stumble across one. We went up to the far right of the mountain and stayed in the trees while slowly working our way left as we ascended to the ridge. We did eventually come across a boot path which helped in the scree.

We reached the ridge and first notch affording a view of the other side of the mountain and a sobering drop off. We followed the obvious boot trail along the ridge heading toward the summit block on the left. A little ways after the second notch with dizzying views down the gully on the other side we climbed up an easy rock formation marked by a carin and then followed more carins around the back of the summit block. There are actually a few big towers and its hard to tell which one is the top. There was some snow here that was up to 2 inches in some places and we had to step carefully. Once we were on the other side of the rock towers we took the first gully up which appeared well traveled to a trio of towers. The one on the right is clearly shorter than the other two. But the others look similar. We kept looking for bolts and the mantle move that marks the route to the top. we even went under a big chockstone to examine options. All the while we were grabbing on snow/icy handholds.

After 45 minutes of looking around and coming up with no route that resembled our description or pictures we were feeling very frustrated. But at least this time we had a big puffies. Once again the temperature was dropping quickly and the wind was picking up. For some reach I scrambled up a class three ledge on the right at the base of the left most tower to make sure we weren’t missing something. Alas, there was another gully which also looked well traveled. had we been in the wrong gully the entire time? We descended down to the base of the first gully and traversed left to the second gully (which we found was marked by a carin). We climbed up this more narrow gully which featured a few class 3/4 moves to the base of what we recognized to be the summit block on the right complete with bolts. However, rime ice was plastered onto the route and snow was piled up as well. Still we roped up and I left over to the mantle move 10 feet from the summit. The snow made things slippery and the rime ice was not making me feel very good about my hand hold… and then i discovered that all the cracks were icy. I was just 3 or four moves away, but I just couldn’t risk it. Once again mountain weather foiled the attempt.

We packed up our gear and descended the route in the fading light reaching the camp just as full darkness fell. We talked to the Tower Mountain climbers by Upper Snowy Lake. They had summited, but described the route as slimy, dripping wet and icy. I don’t really fancy when i route is described in that fashion. Still we planned to make a final decision in the morning. Perhaps the sun predicted for the next day would dry the route off.

No such thing. I;m not sure when it began, but i woke up at night to the sound of rain battering the tent walls. RAIN?! It was supposed to be clear! It pounded on all night and it the morning everything was very misty, wet and cloudy. Tower was shrouded in heavy fog, but we did not need to see the mountain to know it was wet and icy. We didn’t see a reason to take a closer look. Instead we packed up and enjoyed the autumn colors on the way back to the TH. The sun did not show up the entire ten mile walk out. In fact light rain fell most of the time! Welcome to the mountain where anything is possible! still we had a fun weekend. We figured out how to get to the right gully to Golden Horn and made it ten feet closer to the summit. Maybe next time. But until then we’ll enjoy the yellows, red and oranges of fall!

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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After plans for The North Ridge of Baker fell through due to some unstable and possibly hazardous weather in the northern cascades, Damien and I decided to go south. Saturday called for some precip, but Sunday called for 100% sunny skies. On our agenda was Mt Adams via Mazama Glacier (with the Mazama Headwall Variation if we could figure it out). Adams was the last summit Damien needed to complete summits of the WA Cascade Volcanoes. And I wanted to return to the route since the last time I climbed it a crevasse forced us to move to the Lunch Counter and finish the climb on the South Spur.

It’s a very long 6 hour drive to Cold Springs TH which is also the start of The South Spur Route up Adams. A very late season snow of several inches had fallen the night making it feel more like October with green grass peeking through the white powder. We got on the trail at 11am, rather late for us. The going was easy at first as we simply followed the well traveled South Spur Route for 1.3 miles. At the Junction with Round Mountain Trail we turned right and began to make our way through the forest trying as best we could to find the trail hidden beneath both old and fresh snow. We strayed a few times, but found our way back to the track with the help of our GPS. The route finding did seem to eat up time though. Finally we crossed in the Yakima Indian Reservation. We turned off the trail and traveled cross country to our left a few yards away from the border through an opening in the forest revealing the distant moraines. This was a shortcut, as normally the route to high camp follows Round the Mountain Trail for another mile before cutting off toward the moraines. With the ground covered in snow it was very easy for us to travel diagonally to cut off some mileage.

Sunrise camp in described as a pass in notch in the moraines and there is very little detail as to where this pass is within the moraines. We identified a snow slope on the headwall of the moraines and decided to venture upward. As it turned out we chose the moraine that had a cairn on the top indicated me with on route for Sunrise Camp. However, now we had a new issue to contend with. The partly sunny skies that had graced us all day suddenly changed. Thick, low white clouds rolled in and a hail/snow fell fro, the sky. With reduced visibility we were 100% relying on a map, compass and GPS to find out way. Luckily, navigation is one of Damien’s strengths, and though tedious at times, he lead us directly to camp without getting turned around once! Some tent sites were melted and on black pumice while others were still under snow. We first set up our tent in the pumice, but when we discovered how messy that black gravel was, we moved it to the snow.

After lingering in the tent for 30 minutes the precipitation dissipated and the clouds parted. A world of black pumice and white ice surrounded us and Mt Hood glowed pink in the light of the setting sun. We had a full view of the Mazama Glacier in front of us in the fading light and wavering fog. From our perspective we could see crevasses on the left of the glacier and thus we decided our best bet was to stay more to the right as we ascended.

We woke up at 2:45am to brilliantly shinning stars and a shimmering moon. We almost didn’t need headlamps it was so bright. By the time we were roped up and moving up the glacier it was 3:38am. We made our way up the ice keeping an eye out for crevasses. Luckily the line we chose did not run into any crack until sunrise at the very top of the slope where Damien found himself with a huge bergshund blocking the way. We turned around and I led further right to the lip of two gaping crevasses. Wow, i am always awestruck when i have  the opportunity to look into the depths of the ice. The wind was blowing hard and snow swirled around us and bounced in and out of the crevasses. Everything glowed with hues of pink, orange and yellow in the morning light. It was simply stunning.

I probed the snow and managed to safety maneuver between the two crevasses and to the safety of a rocky moraine notch.  From here Damien took the lead again. We followed a broad gentle slope in another wall of snow, rock and ice. A tall steep wall. We cut around to the far right of the slope where the grade was slightly gentler…. but only slightly. From here we tediously ascended for what seemed like eons. We did finally make it to the top of the endless hill. From here we found ourselves a bit confused as to where the Mazama Headwall actually was as the beta on it was pretty scarce so we opted to carry on with the Mazama Standard route. We ascended diagonally left through bands of moraines until we joined up the circus that the South Spur. I was shocked at how many people brought their dogs and more surprised at how well the dogs were doing!

We climbed very slowly to the crest of Piker’s Peak, the false summit. It is always kind of a sinking feeling when you reach the top and  are greeting with the final slope looming high above you on the other side of the .5 mile plateau. But we pressed on, ominous as the final climb seemed from that distance. the final 800ft of climbing passed much more quickly that I recalled and once again I stood on top of Adams, the first volcano I ever climbed in WA and the final WA volcano on Damien’s list. No clouds obscured the view and we could see Rainier, Helens, Hood, Sister, Broken Top and Jeffereson. We hung out just below the summit block with other climbers and their canine companions. Damien fell fast asleep! Then we got to our feet and began the descent.

We found that our crampons were gathering snow and turning into High Heels. After some discussion during roping back up at the start of the glacier we decided it would be safer to descend without them since we were slipping everywhere. We descended the first steep hill using a roped glissade since no crevasses or evidences of hidden ones were visible. Then we once again crossed the broad slope and began to descend the final 1500ft. It was only now, in the daylight that we fully realized how many crevasses there were on the ice. We hadn’t seen them in the dark and the evening before the ski was dim enough and the mist present enough to hide of cracks. On the way up we had picked an almost perfect line up and bypassed them all mostly by shear luck! Now as I led down staying to the right i found myself barely planning passage around the endless indentations in the ice and probing carefully especially in the fresh snow. Damien made the mistake of taking a step in a area just on the outer edge of where i probed and his foot sunk in and didn’t stop.. he jumped back quickly confused. Then took another stop and it happened again before realizing what had happened. he had stepped in a narrow crevasse. Luckily, it ended up being funny and not troublesome and we completed the descent back to camp with incident.

After a brief break we packed up camp and began the walk back just as the heat of the day began to fade. It was rather pleasant walking across the moraines again. It was like walking through a totally different area since it was clear this time around and we were in great spirits. We were actually able to follow our footprints back to Bird Creek Meadows. From there the tracks faded in and our, but we did manage to stay more on trail than on the way in ironically and arrived back at the car at 7:30…a 15 hour day. We were exhausted, hungry, thirst and achy, but mostly we were ecstatic. How could we not be after a climb?

Now as for the 6 hour drive home… we were not so ecstatic about that!

The Brothers has been on my “to do list” for about 2 years now and it had been on Damien’s list for 16 years! We were going to attempt this prominent Olympic peak last year, but unseasonably warm weather and a nearly snow free winter made for some reportedly unsavory conditions so we skipped it. This year though conditions were much more favorable so we decided to give the summit a try via the popular 3rd class scramble Known as the South Couloir or South Gully. It is labeled in every piece of Beta as “very strenuous” and reported to feature very difficult route finding. After doing the climb I would say that it is “easy-moderate” and the route finding is not “easy” per say, but not difficult either so long as you have descent beta. But that of course is just me.

We took the first Ferry to the Peninsula from Edmonds and began walking on the trail at about 8:30am. Lena Lake Trail is exceedingly manicured with endless switchbacks that gradually ascend from 700ft to 1800ft in 3 miles.  This gradual grade can drive a climber who is used to going straight up a little crazy, but it went relatively fast at least. The trail goes around half of the lake passing numerous campsites and even a building with a bathroom. There are some junctions, but there are signs that point to “The Brothers”. Shortly after crossing a bridge  a trail leads left (labeled Brothers) away from the lake and into what is referred to as The Valley of the Silent Men. The trail here is still pretty gradual as it slowly ascends the valley. However, this is not manicured at all! This trail feels much more what I would expect when going on a climb. Lots of downed trees, washed out trail, etc. blocked the direct route. Whenever a trail seemed to be lost or was redirected  pink flagging on the trees that help guide the way. Damien and I were both blown away by the clarify of the Lena Creek and the greenness of the valley. The Olympics have such a different feel to them than the cascades. Much more like a rainforest with Moss and ferns carpeting the wilderness.

At 3000ft we arrived across the creek from the main climbers camp. We followed the trail a little further up to a suitable rock hop crossing and then headed toward the camp to regain the route. We wanted to camp in the more secluded camps we’d read about further up. There is no official trail here. However, the track felt much like the Valley of the Silent Men. A clear path obscured back random debris. Pink and yellow flagging clearly marked the way so long as you paid attention and looked for the markers. After about .75 miles the trail which had been following Lena Creek moves right and away from the creek up toward a snowfield below a waterfall. We were looking for campsite in a meadow below the first headwall. Turns out this was the snowfield. We decided to scout for other camps and followed the left edge of the snowfield about 2/4 of the way up before pink flagging and a trail that led up into the burned forest. We followed this a few yards before concluding that any camps would be below us. We backtracked and thus stumbled upon a lone secluded camp just below the snowfield that we had somehow missed beside the creek. Perfect!We set up camp at about 2:30pm happy to be out of the heavy sunshine and in the shade of the thick trees. Napping there was pretty awesome!

We broke camp as a faint light appeared kn the sky around 4:50am the next morning. A heavy mist blanketed the lower slopes of The Brothers and the air felt humid. I guess that’s what the weatherman means by Marine layer. We reascended the snowfield happy we had scouted out the location of where it turns back into the forest. It can get tricky here if you are not looking for the flagging. As a general rule, if you haven;t see flagging or a carin in five minutes backtrack and try again. The trail is pretty clear though s long as you are vigilant. It basically crosses through an old burn and goes up a “minor ridge” as it is called in most beta. This is called ‘the nose” The trail delivered us to the bank of a rushing creek. This is “the obvious gully” described in guides. Enter the creek and move up the following water over the rock. There are some illusive carins. A little ways up there are some impassable small waterfalls but look for flagging on the left for a small on the shore under an overhanging rock. Then reenter the creek until the water starts and the snow begins.

The Couloir is wide and never gets steeper than 40 degrees for the entire journey. Usually its more like 30. The key here is ‘when in doubt stay right’. We stayed in the widest and rightmost gully and ascended the snow. No crampons at this point as it was pretty soft. The Mountaineers group we knew we’d meet up with on this trip caught up with us at this point and climbed nearby for the rest of the ascent. At what I think was about 5800ft we reached the “hourglass” where the south couloir suddenly gets very narrow. This is sometimes climbed, but is is usually bypassed by going onto the rock ledges to the right. We bypassed it due to think snow and running water in the hourglass. There is some pink tape in the shrubs on the rock ledges as well as carins and a faint boot path. Basically if you take the path of least resistance in the general up direction you will once again find yourself in the wide couloir. From here we simply followed the couloir up putting on our crampons at about 6000ft when the snow go stiff and icy.

The couloir begins to pas some rock spires. The key here is before reaching the saddle branch over into the right couloir and follow the boot pack around the summit block to a small narrow gully in the rock. From here I suggest taking off the crampons and ascending the final 200 ft in just boots. The climb is easy and no exposed at all, but rockfall in a real danger here. Beware of those below you as you climb. The upper clouds lifted upon our arrival revealing just the top of the surrounded Olympic range and the volcanoes. Otherwise we were above the clouds. We hung out with the Mountaineers at the summit enjoying the view for about 30 minutes. No wind made for great conditions to hang out at the top. The shorted North Peak was much closer than expected and we pondered if the Brothers Traverse was as difficult as advertised since the south couloir was easier than described.

We descended just as the high clouds rolled back in swallowing the mountains around us. We left our crampons on until 6000ft where the snow was soft enough to plunge step. We then did a combination of glissading and plunge stepping back down in the heavy mist to the running water section of the gully. The way back to camp was much quicker int he daylight. We didn’t break for a nap since we were all wet from the thick mist and glissade. Instead we packed up and headed out returning to the trailhead at 5:30pm. Finally got that one checked off the list! VIEW VIDEO

 

 

We got a little more than we bargained for when we set out to climb Argonaut Peak via the NE Couloir this weekend. The plan was to hike in and camp below the couloir, climb the next day with a carry over to Colchuck Lake and hike out. This is I guess what happened, but it unfolded rather differently from what we had in mind.

The road to Stuart Lake TH (Eightmile rd) is still not opened. So we began early on Saturday to get past the 4 mile road walk by mid morning and get on the real trail. Stuart Lake Trail is pretty beat down from all the traffic and there were a fair amount of folks on the trail with us. We unfortunately were passed by couple with two dogs. There are signs all over the TH stating that no dogs are allowed which kind of irked us. Damien mentioned it to them, but the gentleman arrogantly retorted “Not when the road is closed.” Sometimes even in the wilderness you can’t escape jerks.

At the Junction with Colchuck Lake TH we put on our snowshoes. The Stuart Lake Trail was not very well beat down from here as everyone funnels to Colchuck. We were happy to remove weight from our packs. Both of us were carrying a twin rope for the long rappels. We hiked for about 1 mile to the clearing where Argonaut becomes visible looming over the valley. From here we hiked .2 more miles before cutting left off the trial and into the trees.

Bushwhacking off trail became very tedious business. The snow was melting leaving lows of hallow areas and unstable snow bridges everywhere. It was like walking through a giant booby trap. This ate away a far amount of time. Furthermore we had to cross Mountaineer Creek 3x. The beta often makes it sound like there are plenty of stable logs to cross. However, with the creek running fast and 6ft deep in places and the logs not as grand as expected this also became time consumer. The first crossing was over a thicker log which, though scary, was stable. We had to search around when crossing the area where the creek folks and found only borderline acceptable crossing. In fact, after Damien leaped across some rocks that were too spread out for my much shorter legs he built me a bridge of logs! He said this was my early birthday gift.

After the final crossing we were able to vaguely see the open slopes of Argonaut through the trees. We trudged on. My back had been killing me ever since our Liberty Bell Group Ski Tour when I had to cart my skis on back down the road making for a total load of about half my weight (60lbs). I was really really looking forward to taking off my pack. The tree began to break and Argonaut loomed high above us. We opted to climb up some of the lower slopes and look for a place to camp. Luckily Damien came across a nice flat area in the snow beside a big flat rock perfect for cooking. This made a lovely home for the evening as we admired 360 degree views of the surrounding Mountains including Stuart, Sherpa and Colchuck as we enjoyed a fine meal by Mountain House. We turned in before dark prepared to wake up early the next morning to begin the trek up.

At 4am when the alarm rang we could hear a gentle pitter patter on the tent fly. Rain. The forecast had said there was a slight chance of snow/rain overnight that wouldn’t amount to much. Still we didn’t want to pack water soaked gear and lug it over the mountain in the carry over. We decided to wait to out and began getting ready to leave at 5am.

As light spilled over the snow covers sloped of Argonaut and illuminated the surrounding craggy peaks we slowly snowshoed up the steep slope toward the NE Couloir which is the left obvious couloir. We roped up on a narrow rocky ridge above a huge avalanche debris field.

Damien lead easily to the base of the couloir. We used the full length of twin ropes due to the double rope rappel needed on the way down. The couloir started out wide. we used the axes dagger and deadman style and the climbing went quickly. Damien place don picket. Further up the walls grew closer funneling us into the narrow couloir. Damien placed some mid- sized nuts, cams, a piton and a tricam in this seemingly endless and steep area. Snow condition were continuously changing and inconsistent. There was snow so hard we had to swing at it like ice and about an ice away might be snow was with softer like Styrofoam. Basically we used a mixed bag of swings, dagger and deadman tool placements. Note that as the couloir got narrow debris from the upper climber falls at whistling speeds down these runnel areas. staying on the side near the rock and out of these trenches provided good protection, but sometimes crossing was required so I ran across. About 3/4 of the way up Damien ran out of pro and built a gear anchor. We swapped leads and I began the final pitch.

The couloir got wider, but the gear grew scarce. I didn’t see any good rock placements on the sides. I placed the first picket and looked above me. I had one more picket left. I decided I would climb the next steep section which seemed to be about in 30-40ft. After that the angle eased up… or so I thought. The closer I got the more I realized that the easing angle was some kind of illusion from below. And the top of the couloir seemed to be somehow the same amount of distance away. Oh endless slopes. I placed the final picket and resigned myself to not falling.

About 4 yards from the top i spotted from slings on my left. I almost used them for my belay anchor, but after an inspection I’m not convinced I didn’t trust the rock or the old slings. I put in a came and moved to a flat rock square beside some crack on the right wall. I was able to build an anchor here and belay Damien up.

Damien passed me, crested the small col and disappeared on the other side. He called that there was a ridge and he had found a tree. He belayed me over the other side where i scrambled over rocky exposed terrain. The final 250ft of Argonaut reared up on on left looking ominous in the sudden darkening sky. When I left my belay stance the sky was blue, but now grey clouds were furiously rolling in and the winds were picking up. We decided that going for the summit would not be wise in the deteriorating weather and the time 3:30pm. Carrying the extra carry overweight had really slowed our normal progress speed. Instead, Damien belayed me down to a thick tree with wrap slings so I could peak over the edge at the rappel. Going back the way we had come was also an option but not recommended since it is very sketchy. Instead it is better to do a rappel down sheer rock wall ridge. Damien wanted me to see if our two 60Meter ropes would reach the snow. I wasn’t convinced they would. Of course as I said this snow began to fall from the sky and swirl around us in the fierce wind. Hypothermia set in for both of us almost immediately and we delayed all decision making until we had more layers put on.

I belayed Damien to the tree and after some discussion we decided that we should execute the scary rappel. If the ropes didn’t reach the snow we hoped to find some kind of left behind mid-way anchor or, worse case scenario, build our own gear anchor. The slings on the stout tree looked pretty good, but we decided to leave behind our own cordaette and rap rings. Damien went down first. It took forever. I shivered again the wind and snow feeling very very much like an alpine climber. I was also gazing toward Colchuck Col. We would have to traverse under a rock buttress and then back up to the col once we finished the rappel. It all seemed very very far away. Damien had estimated we’d be home by 1am. I wasn’t convinced, especially when i watched the col disappearing in a momentary whiteout.

Finally the rope went slack and Damien called up that he was off rappel. The echo bounced all over the rock walls around me. I clipped in, triple checked the system and undid my PA. This was the rappel of rappels. I hadn’t used my training for rappeling off of roofs since my first climbing class 4 years ago, but here they were. Roof after roof. I tried to lower my butt first as far as possible, but my heavy pack made me off balance so it wasn’t a very graceful descent.

Damien was standing on a tiny ledge in a small open book crack system. He was clipped into four nuts, someone previous anchor exactly where we needed it. Luck. We prayed that the ropes would pull clean and by some miricle they didn’t get held up in the many cracks above. However, we wouldn’t get of this mountain without some trouble. Our twin ropes seem to have a habit of tangling into complicated bird’s nests.  It didn’t matter how careful were were; they kept getting into a knotted mess as were coiled. This was a huge time eater. Finally we were able to toss the ropes. Damien’s threw clean and mine got help up were the rock met snow. I rapped first since i was on a lower ledge than Damien. This rappel was somewhat easier since it didn’t involve roofs. I did have to navigate over some moats as the snow creeped up on the rock. More of the rap was through the snow though and I took it until the rope’s end.

With Damien on the ground beside me we began the long traverse to Colchuck Col. We had to go down and around this small buttress and then back up again to get to the col. I was doing well until I had to start going up again. I had 300 calories in bars left so I wasn’t eating much. The storm had blown by but the cold remained. My back ached with the weight of the pack and my whole body suddenly felt drained. Still we plodded on in snowshoes to the top of the col. Only it wasn’t the top of the col. It was just a hump. The real col laid beyond at what seemed, at that point, to me like an impossible distance. Wearing every article of clothing I had as my body lost it’s ability to maintain temperatures we continued our march to the col.

We sat down and removed our snowshoes on the rocks of the col. It was 8:00 and the sun was beginning to set. The snow was growing hard in the evening cold. Originally we had planned to glissade down to Colchuck Lake 2000 feet below, but in icy conditions this would not be safe. We decided to try and plunge step and french step our way down to the tiny distant lake. So so far away.

Damien tried to glissade at one point, but the icy shrapnel  flying in his face made him abandon that idea quickly. I switched back down, but found my leg growing weak. I found an old glissade track and tried it. Not too bad so long as I buried my axe deep for control. The snow was softer here too for some reason, though not exactly fluffy. More like soft ice. But I didn’t trust my feet anymore. I found that if i dug hard enough into the snow with my axe I could glissade slowly enough to feel safe. It was tedious going and completely darkness fell just as we reached the bottom.

We now faced a decision. Try to hike out exhausted, unfed, dehydrated and with muscle fatigue or sleep for a few hours to at least have some of the exhaustion relieved. Also, since i feel a few times coming down the slope when i was trying to walk down (yay for successful self arresting) it seems like the more logical decision as my legs weren’t happy with me. I think it was the almost zero calorie input and high energy output that really did me in the most.

We set up and camp and melted some snow on the side of the lake before Colchuck Col. Before settling in for a deep and hard sleep we agreed to walk up at 2:00am to complete the journey out. Of course those 4 hours felt more like 5 minutes. Our bodies were stiff as we crawled out of our sleeping bags and tried to rub the sleep out of our eyes. I had slept with my rain-gear on since my body was having issues maintaining temperature. But will all the goretex i stayed warm enough.

We packed up and follow the stamped out trail by the light of our headlamps. The walk around the lake to the trail down was a bit of a maze, but by choosing the track that was the most stomped down we were able to slowly move around the lake and get to the descent. We had assumed that the trail down would be easy and well stomped out. This was true.. except there were several trails to choose from. With many folks in the road so to speak we kept looking at the gps and trying to choose the right one. Sometimes the track we followed wasn’t on the summer trail though which made it difficult. It was at one of these off the summer track junction that we turned left in the direction the main trail was. It ended up being a trail that descended steep embankments and harsh terrain. Not something we wanted to deal with when each of us had consumed about 150 calories for breakfast. However, we did eventually find a better trail and our way down to the creek crossing. We took off our packs here and filtered water admiring the gorgeous colors of sunrise. It was light now and Monday. No one else would be on the trail we assumed. Solitude. It was kind of nice to have the wilderness to ourselves and we endured sore muscles, dehydration, exhaustion and hunger. I definitely felt worse than Damien. But it is suffering that makes us better alpinist. And it is suffering that teaches us to endure all the trials of life.

But before I could trying appreciate all this pain and suffering and we had to continue down. We once again shouldered our packs. My steps were pretty quick up until .75 miles after the next bridge crossing. Then my feet felt like led. It seemed to take ages to get to the Trailhead parking lot. We wished that the road was open and that our car was parked there to greet us. But there was only snow patches. Instead we had to walk another 4 miles along the road back to our car on Icicle Creek. The journey seemed endless, but we made it.

We might not have summited Argonaut, but this goes down as one of the greatest adventures I’ve had in the alpine. Bad weather, harsh conditions, obscure route, technical climbing and technical decision making… and above all a test of physical and mental fortitude. This is what makes a true climber. VIEW VIDEO

Damien and I left Washington at about 9:00pm on Friday and drove through the night to Timberline Lodge at the base of Mt Hood. After spending a rather uncomfortable few hours trying to sleep folded up in the front seats of the car we began the approach. Our packs were extra heavy since we were lugging mountaineering boots up along with the rest of our gear. Our plan was to skin to Illumination Saddle. Then we would nap for the rest of the day in preparation for a nigh time start of the Leuthold Couloir. The freezing level was going to be 12,000ft once the sun came up. We wanted to be past the Hourglass and its infamous falling rim ice before the sun came up.

We followed the ski resort groomer trail a long the lower Chairlift to Silcox hut before Timberline opened it’s lifts to inbound skiers. We then continued up along the Palmer Chairlift which was not in service. It didn’t even have an chairs on the cables! Going seemed very slow by the time we neared the top. Lack of sleep and string sunshine to blame. And of course just as we reached the top of the lift at 8500ft a snow cat comes up and drops off 10 inbound skiers. Slightly disheartening after spending 4 hours trudging up hill to reach the same spot. But oh so worth the effort.

From the top of Palmer we began the mile long traverse left aiming toward Illumination Rock. The Illumination Saddle camp into view as we grew closer, but the traverse seemed endless with the heavy packs. Eventually we arrived at the saddle and set up camp out of the wind below the two saddle ridges. Towers of rim ice rock created magnificant castle-like ice sculptures around us. Rim had a way of making everything look like a fairytale. We were able to peak over the saddle and see the bottom of the couloir as well just before X rated Yocum Ridge. There were footprints to follow which woudl help in the dark and the crevasses did not look like they would present an issue.

Two other parties showed up at the ridge later that afternoon. One pair of backcountry skiers brought a front country Coleman tent that was mostly mesh with a tiny rain fly. They also had full sized beach towels, inbound ski cloths and some huge plastic lunchboxes. Nothing was ultra light or made for camping on a snowy volcano. The other group of three were skiers with proper backcountry gear. However, they were not climbing to the summit.

We slept hard, turning in at about 6:30pm and waking up once to see the sunset. At 2:15am we groggily slithered our of our sleeping bag and began the climb preparations. We began moving at 3:30am. Damien led us down the saddle and over the glacier to the base of the Leuthold Couloir. t would be fairly obviously even without the footprints. This took about 30 minutes. The Couloir is very wide in the beginning with snow from 50-60 degrees. One of two placed were a bit soft, but the bulk of the route was firm. There was some fine rim ice raining down on us, but nothing to cause alarm. Damien placed three pickets, but said afterward that he really only need one or two. I agree. The forth picket he placed at the beginning of the traverse toward the hourglass along with his ice axe as an anchor. He belayed me in from there and we swung leads.

The hourglass is infamous because it acts as a narrow funnel for all the rim ice falling off the rock towers the surround the chute. Sometimes golf ball or larger rim falls from the towards and zooms down the hourglass and with it being such a narrow space there is little room to take shelter. This is why we wanted to climb it in the dark when it was coldest. Even so, as I neared the entrance to the hourglass traversing left i could hear the rim rain loudly falling down the chute. I placed a picket near the wall just before entering the chute. I took a few tried for me to find a place to out it. beneath the snow was pure blue ice. It would have taken a screw. I found that staying on the far right side of the hourglass kept me our of the line of fire from most of the falling debris. A few pea sized pieces of ice hit me face and some bigger chunks hit my helmet, but nothing significant. Abut halfway through the hourglass I moved left as the protection on the right dwindled. Here here was a short 6-8 foot ramp where I actually had to swing my ice tools like i was climbing water ice. It was solid and fun though. The rest of the time we drove in our shafts or daggered the tools.

The Hourglass widened and present two chute options. I crossed over at took the far right chute. This part of the climb was like an endless hill that slowly sloped away so that you felt like no matter how high you climbed the ridge top never got closer. We were out of the line of fire from debris though and the sun was rising painting the sky with beautiful colors. The shadow of Mt Hood appeared on the valley far below us. Purely breathtaking.

Slowly the ridge-top began to stop growing further away. We expected there to be a lot of wind at the ridge crest when we topped it, but it wasn’t more than 10-15 mph. Gorgeous views abounded on either side, but ahead of us on the right the final 800ft of climbing reared up before us. After a brief break on the narrow ridge we climbed around the broad steep slope leading to the catwalk to a flat area where we could see the steep rocky cliffs falling away from the summit. We started up the final ascent here on 40-50 degree snow with a fair amount of rim ice coating it. It went quickly and we found ourselves on the final catwalk to the summit.

There was good trail stamped out on the knife edge walk to the summit. It was all i could do to walk and not run to the top. I was just so excited about my first volcano of the year! The summit was a bit crowded with folks who camp up the South Side, but it emptied out to no one soon after our arrival. Not a breathe of wind touch us and the perfectly clear day afforded us with views of Helens, Adams, Rainier, Three Sisters and Jefferson. I don’t think there was a single cloud in the sky. It’s hard to leave a summit with those conditions and we stayed for about an hour.

Folks are using Pearly Gates this year on the South Side for the final summit push. However, we opted to take Old Chute down instead. It is much wider than Pearly Gates and since so many folks were climbing up it we didn’t want to get involved in a bottleneck. There was a pretty good stairs stamped into the snow going down old chute though we did have to face inward for the bottom part due to the steepness. From there we basically followed the sidewalk that is the South Route to the base of Crater Rock. From Crater Rock we traversed below it aiming to Illumination Rock being careful to gradually descent to our small yellow dot of a tent and not go below it. The entire descent from the summit to camp took about 1.5 hours.

Damien happily walked around camp in shorts and down booties as we made water and chilled before making out final descent back to Timberline. Lots of folks passed through as we napped in the tent. None were climbers though. There were snowshoes left behind from another team we knew who started the climber about three hours behind us. We broke camp after two hours and enjoyed a leisurely ski back down to Timberline. Skiing among inbound recreationalists felt a bit strange with our giant packs. We weren’t half as agile as them on the slopes. It was still an wonderful ski down in good corn snow. First technical volcano of the year! VIEW VIDEO

 

Moderate avalanche danger. Clear Saturdays skies. Moderate temperatures. Could it be that the forecast gods would actually supply a perfect summitting conditions. We held our breathe all week and when Friday arrived and things still looked near perfect we opted to go to Mt St. Helens. Damien and I had climbed this last year as a walk up since the snow was at 6500ft, but had always wanted to do it as an AT ski. This year the snow was right at the trailhead, plus it was our 1 Year Anniversary. Helens was the first peak we summited together as couple so it seemed fitting.

We arrived at the trailhead at about 7:00am. We were certainly not the only folks planning on taking advantage of the weather window. Throngs to snowshoers, skiers and booters were getting ready in the Marble Mountain Sno-Park to join the conga line up the mountain. We ran into Jeff at the trailhead among the many outdoor adventurers… all the mountain in Washington and its amazing how often we run into people we know. We also ran into Michelle further up the mountain.

The route begins on the Swift Ski Trail which is more packed down then any of the other adjoining trails. There are also signs for Worm Flows Climbing route to prevent confusion. The trail ascends through the trees until in breaks into the open at treeline and revealing the first views of Mt St Helens which was 100% mist/cloud free. Chcoclate Falls was frozen and easy to cross unlike last year when it was running. Once on the other side folks can spread out on the ridge leading to Worm Flow.

We stopped at 4200 ft and dropped down into a wide trench to set up camp. We had originally planned to camp on the summit since I couldn’t find information saying that camping was restricted there…until just before leaving the house that morning. Camping is prohibited above 4800ft. It all worked out well though as it were. We were able to climb faster and skiing down was much more fun without excess weight.

After setting up the tent and dropping some overnight gear we continued our journey up. There is an obvious rock ridge leading up the flow. We had taken this talusy route last year when it was snow free. Snowshowers were following it now, but most skiers don’t bother weaving around on the bouldery ridge. We followed the skin track up the steep slopes just left of the ridge along switchbacks. Here we noticed a group where one split boarder was boot-packing up the slope and post-holing right in the track ahead of us. Damien advised them that this was bad wilderness ethics, but the senior skier insisted this was necessary since the spitboarder was a beginner and needed confidence. Ugh. Why is a beginner on Helens? Some other folks joined in showing their displeasure though which ended the post-holing in the track. I don’t like folks with bad manners in the backcountry.

We continued up at a descent pace, but eventually the sun took it toll and we stopped for a break at 6700ft. A cloud of mist had settled over the summit, but I had hope that it would dissipate by the time we arrived and it did!We reached a cloud free summit at about 2:40pm. The winds were high and we wasted no time putting on our big yellow puffys! The crater was 100% clear unlike last year were there was lingering fog. The views all around were perfect as was the climb and since we had started later most people were on their way down and not on the crater rim. I could not have picked a better summit to spend our anniversary weekend. I cannot describe how happy we both were.

We we were even more thrilled with the descent! There are two routes down the mountain (that I saw). One is to stay skiers left of the worm flow and follow open slopes down. The other is to more or less follow the climbing route down, but stay slightly right to avoid foot traffic and makes turns on more open slopes. We stayed right to ensure that we got back to our tent. The first 1000ft down was pretty steep, but after that the slopes mellowed out and we made excellent turns on spring corn snow! Conditions could not have been any better and they were consistent! Not an icy of slushy patch to be found! We were able to ski all the way back to the tent door!

It rained on and off a all evening, but nothing major. An almost full moon lit up the night and before down we looked up at the mountain to see headlamp of some folks hoping to beat the bad weather. It was picture perfect and it was March 20… our official anniversary. Morning revealed thick grey clouds coming in from the south as we packed up camp. We hoped most folks would avoid climbing Helens due to the the bad weather pushing in. Skiing down the treed lower trail with a bunch of folks marching up would have been tedious. As luck would have it we had an awesome run through the lower slopes of treeline on snow as excellent as the day before. We ran into a lone climber that SAR would have labeled a “future subject”. He had on blue jeans and a cotton, short sleeved shirt. From his tiny non-technical backpack dangled mountaineering boots fitted with crampons (the spikes were not protected in any way and the boots were swinging freely). He wore low, mesh hiking boots on his feet. Damien gave him a warning about climbing in such attire especially with the incoming rain. The man said that he climbed mountains dressed like that all the time… plus he had a blow up sled in his pack to descend. The pack was so tiny with a sled I expect that layers food, water and other safety gear did not also fit. Just wow.

The rolling trail in the trees was much more fun that we expected. It was like being on a groomed fun with lots of fun twists and turns. We only stopped for one team heading up the mountain and skier right up the the door of my car! I noted though that some portions of the trail had some very thin snow cover which was very different than just 24 hours prior. I expect that these areas are now dirt patches.

The whole mountain was amazing. The very best AT ski we have both done! We finished off the weekend by going to Ape Caves. You have to walk the road .75 miles to the TH since the road is closed in the winter so we had the cave mostly to ourselves… its a great place to hike in the rain (though there are some leaks). Once again it was the most fun we’ve ever had on talus and a great end to a perfect weekend.

I love you Damien. Happy 1 Year Anniversary! VIEW VIDEO