Thanks to the guy at Marathon Sports back home who made the logo! I think it’s going to have to stay here because I cannot for the life of me figure out how the hell to get it next to the title above. Eventually I’d like to have a few things added, like lists (everyone loves lists), hike of the month, and a few more categories, but for now it’s all about learning to hike, climb, and run. Elevation profiles are in the Strava links when provided, and if anyone would like a GPX file of my route, comment and let me know, I usually have one. Comments, blog suggestions, and recommendations for peaks are always welcome! Doesn’t matter whether it’s a hike, run, or climb.
Recent updates: I have started an instagram! have_tent_will_travel (because some bastards took havetent_willtravel and havetentwilltravel). Not much to it right now, but I figure it’ll keep things moving during the dreary winter days where we can all reminisce on that one time it was sunny for a record streak and we were sick of the sun hoping for rain.
I have wanted Challenger since like… 2015, probably. I don’t remember where I first saw it or heard of it. Over the following few years, bureaucracy, lack of PTO while I was contracting, grief, lack of fitness, lack of interested partners, a million things became reasons to push it off every summer. In fact I think I’m having an existential crisis right now because two peaks I’ve been looking at but was never able to find partners for (Triumph the week before and now Challenger) have come to fruition in the past two weeks and it reminds me why I don’t like setting goals. Because what do you do once you reach them?! Most people feel pride and accomplishment and I just feel like now there’s a hole, an empty space where there used to be a dream. And if I could do it, was it really that ambitious of a dream to begin with?
Anyway, saving the existential crisis for later, let’s get to some stats. Jon’s Garmin died the last day so these are estimates but they seem in line with other reports.
Elevation gain: 18k total, LOTS of up and down wow
Weather: 70’s and sunny
Commute from Seattle: ~2:45 without traffic
Did I Trip: No legit ones actually but that’s probably because I crawled for like 30% of the trip and you can’t trip when you’re crawling
We got a late start on Thursday after dropping Sammy at boarding and picking up permits at the ranger station. “Are you aware of the situation up there?” My mind flashed to caution tape and helicopters and serial killers and ancient graveyards and rabid bears and massive trail damage due to suspiciously localized earthquakes. “The… the snowpack?” I said as I stared blankly at the ranger. “Yeah, we know it’s way snowier than usual.” He hyped up stories of people swimming through waist deep snow. Maybe postholing, but no one’s swimming through snow that deep this year. We were just out last weekend. We’ll be fine. We got our permits and went on our merry way wondering what the heck “the situation” would be like.
The Hannegan Pass trailhead was not too full, we were able to park nice and close to the washout. I actually love this trail. Well sort of. It’s HUGE bang for your buck in terms of effort to views, the only catch is that I’ve never experienced a trail SO DRY despite having SO MANY WATERFALLS running across it. There are streams like every fifth of a mile and yet you feel like you are mummifying in a desert for the majority of your hike. We slogged the 4 miles up to the pass in the sun and took a leisurely break, chatting with some hikers coming down from Easy Ridge (only 6hrs from Easy Ridge to Hannegan Pass, which was a good sign for us) and seeing a familiar face come up from the far side of the pass. The ranger who gave us our permits for Triumph the prior week! He had told us he’d be opening the Copper Ridge lookout but I figured no chance would we run into him. He independently brought up how dry and sunny this trail is. We laughed and shared some trip conditions and stoke before he went to head home and we went further out into the wild.
We finished out the 3.5mi to Copper Creek Camp around 3pm. Some of the creeks in the Chilliwack valley are like waterslides, carving their way through slick smooth rock instead of the rocky rivers we’re used to hopping across. Super cool features. The trail also loses a deceptively large amount of elevation. I don’t know what it is, I don’t want to know what it is, I just remember thinking shit, this is downhill ALL THE WAY TO CAMP AND WE HAVE TO COME ALL THE WAY BACK UP IT ON SUNDAY but that’s a problem for future me.
Copper Creek camp was, for lack of better words, lovely. Downright pleasant. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a chill day (which was funny, knowing what was about to come). We hung out at camp, found the two pit toilets, carb loaded, I think I even took a nap. There were no bugs, just warm dappled afternoon sunlight through the trees. Even the bears stayed away from my extremely accessible food. ONE COMPLAINT: People left toilet paper all ove the ground! Some mere feet from the toilet! Is the toilet too camouflaged? Do you have something against pit toilets? Omg people. Take care of our outdoors, come on. At least bury it.
We got moving around 5:30am knowing we had a long day ahead of us. John shook out the tent, which always makes me think “shake shake shake” which turns into shake your booty. So the next few hours would be full of me repeating that chorus. There is supposedly a trail to the river ford, we didn’t find it. We did find a log that I strongly disliked but still crossed thanks to stubbornness and a burning desire to not take my shoes off so early in the day. But I swore I would not be taking that log on the way back. We found the Easy Ridge trail quickly, and I’d say it was easy to follow for maybe 85% of the time. I did manage to get us off trail where we ended up cutting a switchback, but we re-found it quickly thanks to gpx tracks (Jon’s being surprisingly more accurate than my AlpineQuest app, which had yet to let me down, more on that later). We crested the ridge around 8am, but that didn’t mean much, because the ridge goes on forever. And the bugs were bad. Really bad. I had a sweet potato baby food. My new Invisalign strategy is liquid calories thanks to two recommendations I got last week. The sweet potato wasn’t as bad as it sounds I was ready to gag but it mostly tasted like fruits. Instant sugar, let’s go.
It was an easy walk past tarns and mellow slab highways and meadows to the false summit of Easy Peak, where I looked at the real Easy Peak and said ah shit, that doesn’t look so easy. We took a brunch break to crush some calories and when we stood up I said something like “well, let’s get to a point where that snow and scramble doesn’t look so intimidating.” Except that point never came, because we ended up scrambling some wet slabs up to a patch of steep snow that we ascended without ice axes or crampons. That snow led to a crumbling mess of a peak where we topped out 30ft later. And that’s where the good stuff started.
Easy Ridge is gorgeous, and the second half past Easy Peak is like 100x better tahn the first half. Only problem is there are fewer tarns (that could also be a pro depending on your feelings about views and mosquitoes). We were half in clouds, half in sun. I suddenly saw something sprinting away from us: BEAR! He was hauling ass down the snow while we stood there dumbfounded.
We dropped off the ridge to the south and started the long downward traverse to the Imperfect Impasse (or the Perfect Impasse? it’s not an impasse because you can pass it so Perfect Impasse seems wrong but I think that’s what it was originally called). It’s this miraculous canyon ripping down Whatcom’s ridge that has exactly one sketchy section you can scramble through. Except we had one problem. We didn’t really get any beta for the Impasse, because everyone had said they usually get skunked so you should just ignore it and drop 2000ft of elevation to go around the bottom where the canyon opens up onto normal talus slopes. The first wobbly piece of talus cued surfin safari, which finally replaced shake shake shake.
Well. I beg to differ. Try to find the impasse. Holy shit.
We dropped down through some brush (there IS a better way where you can follow talus the whole way) and some wet slabs before popping out at the base of the Impasse. Believe me I made that sound way faster and more pleasant than it was. But we weren’t mentally and emotionally wrecked yet, that part came later. We crossed below the canyon on snow, hearing the running water below us and having no idea how thick the snow bridge was. But suddenly we saw bear prints. Well I mean if it held a bear… it can probably hold us? Walk carefully. We scrambled up the other side of the canyon on vegetated slopes and suddenly I hear HEEEY BEAR! from Jon ahead of me. I pop my head over the hill and see Jon standing across from a bear at a stream. Holy shit. The bear lumbered away while Jon shouted HEY and then turned around to see me ready to bail back the way we had came. We pushed forward with Jon shouting “hey bear” and me talking to the bear like the Guardian of the Alpine. “Hiii bear we’ll just be here for a few minutes sorry” “Please let us through real quick we’ll be gone soon” “Ok but you could have worn a better trail here this one is kinda shitty you can do better than that” “Ok Mr. Bear we’re going uphill now thanks for letting us use your traaail!” Very kind of him.
We gained a brushy ridge. I definitely read a trip report that said “just pick your way up the basin and avoid all the brush” and instead our GPX track went… straight into the brush. We started cursing its owner, who said he had uploaded the down route because his up route was so bad. Did he upload the wrong route? Who goes through this?! WHO DOES THIS? I swear we were doing like 5.7 rated tree climbing. We saw a gully to the right. Why doesn’t anyone take the gully?! Must be a reason. Back to the trees. We found a water bottle, so some other dumbasses had gone this way. My pole strapped to my pack kept getting caught on branches. Loops of the rope kept getting caught on branches. I can’t believe I didn’t rip or break anything muscling through those trees. My sunglasses miraculously did not get slapped off my face. We saw the gully again. This is BULLSHIT I started cursing under my breath. I was getting belligerent. Manhandling trees. Jon burst out from the trees and saw the gully a third time. THIS IS RETARDED!!!! I followed in quick succession WHO CHOSE THIS WHY DID WE LISTEN WHY ARE WE HERE I was just relieved he was raging with me.
We continued upwards to slabby rock. This must be the section people rappel. Surfin Safari was placed with “now walk it out walk it out” on loop because that’s how I feel on slab. Run it out. So next time you’re in the alpine admiring views just think somewhere is someone on a slab vibing “it’s on once again, patron once again, I threw my hair back, then I froze like the wind, west side WALK IT OUT” oh hey look a rap sling. Jon got onto the arete proper. I stayed on the lower slabs, which felt like the last pitch of Ragged Edge on Vesper except there were no views and no cute flowers and no pro. Jon’s arete seemed downright pleasant with nice features and sticky rock. Another rap sling at the top (I think for two 15m raps vs one 30m rap). We took another break. “I hate slabs” I announced. “No you don’t, you do them all the time.” Touche, sir. I was tired and pissed from the trees and frayed from the scramble. There’s no way the impasse is worse than this. I pounded another baby food. We kept moving. 20ft higher was a way better break spot with way better views. I hate when I do that. “Perfect Pass better be PERFECT” Jon announced. You’re damn right it better be perfect.
I thought we had to be above the worst of it, no way would we run into anything that could compete with the trees. We carried up through patches of snow to the base of what I called the headwall, where we left the snow and headed for waterfall slabs instead. I have never scrambled so much wet rock in my life. Wet, mossy, slick rock. But I guess that’s better than 5.7 trees? We tried to find spots with sizeable footholds at least. At this point I was driven by sheer determination and stubbornness. We’re getting. To. The. God. Damn. Pass. Jon made it to the pass first, scrambling up a final blocky vegetated waterfall. He immediately started scouting campsites. Meanwhile I was below and behind him doing what can only be described as literally crawling up the rocks standing up only when I was on mostly flat ground. I dropped my pack at the first campsite Jon had found, partially because it was a beautiful, well protected spot but also because it was the first campsite he found. Upon further investigation, it was definitely the best campsite, so the pack could stay where it lay. There were a multitude of streams coming off the snowpacks, huge cornices that I imagine were absolutely wild in winter. I am surprised more people don’t come up here to ski.
I glanced at my phone and realized it was actually only like 3pm. We had taken about 8.5-9 hours from Copper Creek to Perfect Pass with much room for improvement on routefinding between Easy Pass and Perfect Pass, even though we ignored the Impasse and lost/regained the 2kft of elevation. I wanted to do Whatcom, but it was socked in by clouds above us. I figured I wasn’t coming all the way back out here just for Whatcom. “Ok, if the clouds clear, Whatcom at 4:30? Shouldn’t be more than 90min round trip from here.” “Deal.” Sweet. I went back to my nap.
Whatcom was a quick side trip. We slogged up some moderate snow (I found a ski strap just uphill of Perfect Pass, possibly from JT’s team months prior which would be hilarious) to a surprisingly pleasant, fun ridge scramble. After the knife edges we had on Triumph and Custer, this was a piece of cake. Clouds unfortunately moved in over Challenger as we ascended Whatcom, blocking out views to the south and east, but that made the ridge look more dramatic. We didn’t find a summit register, just snapped some pics and headed back down. “Would you have carried one up here if you knew?” Jon asked laughing. “Ugh… at home I’d have said yes, now I don’t know.” I put crampons on for the descent because I don’t trust my feet in trail runners on snow at all unless I can get a good 2″ deep heel print, which wasn’t happening. Jon is like the king of plunge stepping and disappeared into the fog below me, and soon enough we were cooking dinner back at the tent.
I was apprehensive about the clouds. Given our streak the past few weeks… shitty spring, left the Chilliwacks a day early, Triumph cleared miraculously but we were socked in the rest of the time, Bacon I bailed for a dozen reasons but one of the reasons was lack of views… I was going to be really discouraged if we ended up socked in by clouds on Challenger. They weren’t supposed to be here today, it was supposed to be mostly sunny! And I guess it was, minus the peaks we were on. And the Pickets do tend to frustrate you by deciding to shroud themselves in clouds and mystery as soon as you arrive. But the forecast was for sun. Just sun. Please mother nature pleeeeease give me one sunny day! I hung my food 5ft from the tent ready to fight off any bear that wanted it and went to sleep. The tent was flapping enough that I put in headphones and was relieved to have music to block out the wind, which I had forgotten on the past few trips. Fingers crossed for a clear morning. I woke up around 1 or 2 am to the sound of silence, no wind, no tent flapping loudly. A sigh of relief, and back to sleep.
We woke up to an inversion, a spectacular sunrise, and a mostly cloud free sky (besides the streaks that lit up with sunrise). We got moving quickly, each carrying coils with friction knots between us in the case of a crevasse fall. You really, really don’t want to fall on a two person rope. I mean you never want to fall, but a 2p rope makes any sort of arrest and rescue extremely difficult, if not impossible. I think people overestimate their abilities on two person ropes (myself included) and underestimate the difficulty of a real two person rescue. A friend once set up a z haul for me in a crevasse (practice), and was only above to get about two feet of space in his system meaning a TON of mini hauls and resets. I’ve had to arrest single partners multiple times on slopes with good runouts (vs crevasses) and even then, the moment their weight hits you is terrifying and strenuous. I am basically of the mindset that if something happens on a 2p rope, you’re probably fucked, but like Nirmal Purja said in 14 Peaks, usually when you think you’re fucked, you’re actually only like 50% fucked. So I’ll take my chances on a 2p rope vs unroped travel.
We head up the side of the col until we could see mellow snow (vs cornices and lips), and started the long traverse. And boy is it LONG. We crossed one rock arm with a cute mossy stream running through it, and from there it was all snow, just avoiding crevasses here and there. We were moving quickly by glacier travel standards. The glacier was well covered (I don’t like “filled in” because crevasses don’t fill in, they just get covered) and we had great line of sight which made navigation easy. The two cloud strips relieved us of some sunshine while still providing ample views, and soon enough we were on the ridge heading up the mini hogsback towards a saddle between the summit and a low point east of the summit.
The bergshrund still had a huge snowbridge, but I could see how it would be entirely impassable later in the season. In fact, just a week later this crazy picture of an extremely narrow bridge was posted on Facebook, the comparison is sobering. I wish I had better pictures for comparison. The bridge was 10+ft across and 3+ft thick when we crossed it, and the pic on fb shows a very narrow piece that won’t last much longer. A good example of how quickly conditions can change and how you can never be positive what’s underneath you. That bridge could have been hollow underneath and we just happened to see a 3ft thick piece from the angle we were at, who knows.
The spookiest part for us was right above the bergschrund. We switched back to climber’s left up a steep slope above the bergshrund, and I was kicking steps when we heard a WHUMPF and the entire snowpack moved and a tiny half inch crack opened up directly below our feet. We froze. “WHOA did you hear that holy shit” I was scared to kick another step for fear the whole slope would give way. But when nothing had happened in 10 seconds, we hauled ass up to the ridge (only ~20ft away). Our best guess is that it was a glide crack or something similar to a slumping cornice given we were on presumably unsupported snowpack above the bergshrund. I did not take the time to try to dig and see if it went down to ice vs rock, but believe me I wish I could 1) see what it looks like now and 2) go back and set up a safe way to analyze what’s beneath it. I texted Forrest (long time avy instructor and very experirnced climber) as soon as I was home to debrief. That’s the best we can do, try to learn from what we experienced. Maybe we got lucky this time. Glide cracks don’t tend to get triggered by human weight, but a slumping lip could.
We followed another mini snow arete to the rock. I jumped into a moat because I like being snugly between rock and ice while Jon stayed on the snow slope until it petered out. At that point, we stashed snow gear and it was an easy scramble to the “5.5-5.7” rock pitch. The beta I read said “5.5-5.7 depending on how long your arms are” which suggested that some nice jug would be just out of my reach leaving me with shitty slabs, but I have fairly average arms and there was no shortage of jugs or mantles. We didn’t even use the 3 pieces of gear we had brought. There was a piton, another piton, a third piton, a fixed cam, and a fourth piton, and boom you’re at the top of the pitch. Jon led it in his freaking Merrel Moabs and I followed in some Vasque basically-trail-runner-but-with-ankle-high-tops. It was fine. Definitely not 5.7. We stashed the rope there and scrambled to the summit including another cool alpine sidewalk with some exposure. There is a rap anchor on the summit, so I think some people stay roped up for the top out too.
Summit views are ridiculous. The entire northern Pickets cirque is just breathtaking. Eiley Wiley Ridge looks beautiful. Luna seems standalone, almost not part of the Pickets ridge, but with two beautiful lakes below a face that rarely gets climbed above a valley that rarely gets visited. Fury’s NW Buttress looks insane, both the approach and the buttress itself. Like it literally might be easier to approach via Challenger than bushwhacking with the bugs in that valley, yikes. As usual I was eager to get down, so I went to start setting up the rappel while Jon enjoyed the summit views for a few more minutes. The rap was fine with a 30m rope, and soon enough we were back on the glacier where we followed intermittent tracks (surprised how quickly ours had melted/blended back in with the snow) back to camp. At one point I was moaning about dehydration. “Well have you been drinking from your camelback?” Jon asked. “….no…” I replied sheepishly. I kept forgetting it was there. 20 minutes of me monologuing later, Jon said “hey, you do realize I’m 20ft behind you on a rope and you’re facing away from me? I have no idea what you’re saying.” Oh, right. Glacier travel. Damn.
At camp, holy shit – people! We ran into Ryan Stoddard and an old acquaintance Westy that I hadn’t seen or talked to in several years! Small world. They were just as surprised as us to see others. They carried on towards the summit. Jon remarked about their small packs. I said yeah.. knowing Westy, they’re probably doing one push. When we got back to cell service, yep, sure as heck they had done it in one push. Absolutely insane. Those day packs must have been nice.
We packed up camp and tried to find the impasse on the way down. Having no beta on that side made it seem mostly impossible, so we gave up after 20-30 minutes of scouting and went back down the way we came. We downclimbed the top of the slabby arete the way Jon had ascended, and then rapped the second half. Or, I rapped and Jon used the rope as a hand line. My rope management in precarious positions is quite nifty. I was relieved to be below the slabs. Now all we had left was the 5.7 trees, which we quickly found and ignored in favor of the grassy gully to skiier’s left. Which went almost to the bottom! We were forced into trees for maybe the last 15-20ft, but MUCH better than what we fought on the way up. From there, we followed the bear’s trail back over a small river, down to the bottom of the impasse canyon, and over to some talus where we regained what felt like infinite elevation back to snowfields while being absolutely cooked by the sun. I have never been so sweaty in my life. The snowfields looked so short and doable. “It’s right there Eve!!” Jon said pointing at Easy Ridge. Right there. And probably like 2 hours away.
We alternated between heather and snowfields, dunking sun hats in every river we found, splashing faces, chugging water. Jon dropped his sunglasses somewhere but we knew we had no chance of finding them, fortunately I had spares… bright pink spares. He looked great. Actually he looks better in them than I do. At the ridge our spirits lifted knowing we just had short ups and downs and ridiculous alpine views. I could hear thunder in the distance which was starting to concern me, but that was a problem for future me. Jon didn’t hear anything. The last crux for me was the far side of Easy Peak, where I knew we’d have to drop down that shitty loose rock and then steep snow again. I refused to let my brain turn off until we were past it. I immediately trundled like 5 big rocks down to the valley below. Jon went far skier’s right and I stayed left so we could both kick down whatever was necessary without concern. At the top of the snow, I put on crampons and he stuck with boots, fortunately the snow was more mellow than I had remembered it. He waited for me at the bottom while I calculated every step, too tired to trust my feet enough to plunge step given the lack of purchase I was getting. I just didn’t have the strength left to really force a good heel cup and 40whatever lbs on my back wasn’t enough to make it happen naturally. It was extremely tedious.
We ran into two climbers going to put up a new route on the west side of the Pickets. Intrigued but not wanting to press too much, I just asked if they’d post a report if they were successful. Answer: yes, and here it is!! They had a great trip doing a new route on Spectre, a seldom visited peak WAY the fuck out there. Probably in the running for most remote point in the lower 48.
We overshot our goal campsite by some lovely tarns, quickly realized it, turned around, and hiked the longest 0.1 mile I have ever hiked in my life before dropping packs and setting up camp. Finally Jon heard the thunder too, I confirmed I wasn’t losing my mind, and we looked over to see a massive storm cell to the east. I have no idea where it really was, but Challenger was about 5mi away and still in the sunlight, so hopefully it stays over there. It continued moving due south, leaving us with sunny blue skies and an interesting slow motion show.
We filled up on water, enjoyed out last dehydrated meal, jumped in a frozen tarn, took a thousand sunset pics over the less frozen/more buggy tarn, and then dove into the tent to hide from the bugs. The bugs. Were. Everywhere. And lower on Easy Ridge was even worse. Yeah tarns are gorgeous, but they spawn mosquitos. You can’t win them all, you know?
We got moving around 8am the next morning and had an uneventful trip out. Whatever had been in my head transitioned to Down as we lost elevation. In addition to losing elevation, I also lost the Easy Ridge trail on the switchbacks again, same as one of our gpx tracks did which was amusing. My phone had a +/- accuracy of 20ft, which is not really helpful when you are trying to find a sometimes barely visible trail. Jon’s inreach kept turning off every two minutes due to what he later figured out was a corrupted memory card. Jon with balls of steel took the log to cross the river again, I rapped the riverbank and forded it because fuck no my life flashed in front of my eyes on the way up no way am I doing this log downsloping even if the ratio of foot size to log diameter is better for me than for him. Yes, the rap would have been unnecessary if I had scouted like 50ft downstream, but I didn’t, I just wanted to keep up with this crazy guy who has no fear and far superior balance to my own. Perks of river ford: freezing water feels absolutely incredible on cold tired feet and calves covered in a burning heat rash. Upon our return to the main trail, we immediately found the trail to the river we had missed with freshly cut logs. And then we found fresh drainage ditches. And then more freshly cut logs. And then… the team clearing the trail!! Woohoo! We showered them with gratitude and praise. Turns out in the park you can use chainsaws unlike in the wilderness areas (and I guess park trumps the fact it’s all Stephen Mathers wilderness?) where you can only use hand tools.
I knew the return to Hannegan Pass would be tough. When we broke out into the sun like a half mile from the pass I was ready to get roasted. At the pass we took a long break, Jon hiding from sunshine and people deep in the trees to recharge and me plopping down with the crowds to chat everyone up so I could recharge. But first I dropped my pack and grabbed a nalgene. I had one thing on my mind. “Snowcone” I whispered as I grabbed it and then i shouted SNOWCONE as I ran to the snow to stuff my water bottle with snow and flavored mio. 10/10 prime alpine dessert.
I’m striking out on synonyms for brutal. The hike from Hannegan Pass to the car was absolutely.. heinous? Savage? BRUTAL! How can a trail with so many streams be so incredibly dry?! It was BAKING in the sun. So hot, so dry, I got mad that the streams were all so low to the ground (OBVIOUSLY) and weren’t like waist level waterfalls next to the trail that i could easily touch without squatting or bending over. We ran into a friend I haven’t seen in years, Jennifer, and we did a quick greeting before Jon and I hustled onwards because we were in survival mode. I told him all about her ridiculous garden and flowers and wedding pictures and mushroom foraging. I’m surprised he didn’t tell me to stop talking. I did it myself when I was convinced we were near the end of the trail. I predicted 800ft or 300 steps to get to the parking lot. It was 291 steps. That’s the closest I’ve ever been in my life to having my guess match reality, even when I have line of sight to where I’m going. Sheer coincidence but I was so stoked.
We split a beer at the car because I couldn’t handle a full one. I was so dehydrated and hadn’t left any water at the car. Rookie mistake. Jon fortunately had some he shared. We changed into fresh clothes and beat the rush at North Fork Brewery on highway 9. We parked, stumbled in (literally, in my case), got bar seating. I almost burst into tears when the bartender said “hi” because it knew we were about to be taken care of and fed (because we were giving them money, but still).
We ordered a large artichoke dip, a calzone, and a hoagie. Next time I’ll just get two large artichoke dips. It’s fucking DELICIOUS. It arrived and we though shit that’s way too big and 10min later it was gone. I added extra romano cheese to all of my servings. I couldn’t believe I ate the whole sandwich too but I did. Fabulous. 10/10. The servers were swamped. There was a 90min wait for takeout! The manager came out to the bar at one point and said “I disconnected the phones for you guys so you don’t have to answer.” That’s good management right there. Being the boundary for his employees. But they kept on top of it in good spirits and I tipped excessively. Get there before 4:30 if you can, it’ll be a mobscene after then.
It has been a long time since I had a trip that strenuous. I have a five day coming up this weekend and I’m hoping it’s a breeze compared to that because wow. Challenger is one of the easier, more accessible and popular Picket peaks and damn it is still a committing trip. Spectacular scenery though, and worth the effort a thousand times over. But next time, I’m looking for the imperfect impasse, even though I think I’ll hate it (lots of slabby negative holds with exposure). Or I’ll go in via Big Beaver and Eiley Wiley ridge for traverse purposes (plus that ridge has some cool lakes). What a ridiculous area. I wish I had more free time. And maybe also a helicopter.
This peak has been on my radar for probably seven years now. A low grade but technical ridge ramble in a spectacular setting with ridiculous views and not many visitors, that’s probably my favorite combo in the climbing world. The forecast looked good, I had Friday off, and we crossed our fingers for one of the two permits available for the Triumph zone in the North Cascades National Park. We decided on a casual 3d itinerary. Spoiler: no one ever got the second permit.
Distance: 7.5mi to camp at the col, ~18mi round trip
Elevation: ~4,200ft gain to the col, 7,600ft gain round trip (some gain and loss in both directions), 7,240ft highest point
Weather: 50’s and cloudy
Commute from Seattle: 2:30 without traffic
Did I Trip: a crotch deep posthole but no trips per se
We dropped Sammy at Snoline Kennel in Arlington, got to the ranger station around 9:30am, and had no trouble snagging an overnight permit for the next two nights. The road to the trailhead was steeper than I remembered, but Jon’s front wheel drive car did just fine as long as he kept his foot on the gas. The TH has a nice restroom and space for a dozen cars, including some parked on the road. Surprisingly small for such a popular hike! Triumph is behind Thornton Lakes and Trappers Peak, two great objectives with impressive views. I’ve been to Trappers Peak twice and Thornton Lakes once, but never beyond. As usual, I remembered almost nothing about the trail, including confusing two offshoot trails for one another (I guess there’s one trail to Trappers and one trail to a mystery lookout point that isn’t on any of my maps).
The trail was snow free until the col above the lakes where the trail splits to Trappers Peak or the lakes. We took a snack break on a large rock overlooking the lakes with great views of Thornton Peak, a surprisingly rarely climbed objective despite great access and great views. “Oh no!!! My cheese!” Similar to the pizza debacle two weeks ago, I look over and see two babybel cheeses tumbling down the slope away from Jon. They got caught in some blueberries and heather and we went on a brief cheese rescue to make sure no calories were left behind.
We dropped down to the lake through intermittent snow and found two crossings for the outlet stream. I crossed at the mouth of the lake on some 3rd class rock followed by a log jam, Jon crossed further downstream on some rock that I knew I didn’t want to downclimb with an overnight pack followed by a log jam. Both routes went Later on Jon said “yeah that was a move for tall people.” I am not a tall person, I am quite average, and glad I found a route with average moves. The supposed campsite by the outlet stream was entirely snowed in, and lumpy postholey snow, not pleasant for setting up camp. I’m not sure where the group we passed camped (if anywhere).
On the west side of the lake we followed a bootpath in and out of snow. GPX tracks were very helpful for this section since there actually were areas to cliff out and at least two points where the bootpath makes a sudden 90 degree turn, first in some boulder just beyond the outlet stream (left) and again just before the middle lake (right). At the middle lake, ran into the downside of GPX tracks too, you don’t always know if the route goes where you’d want it to go given the conditions when you’re there vs whenever they were there. We stayed west of the lake at first, but ran into some cliffs and ended up backtracking to the mouth of the second lake where we found an easy snow crossing. Finally on the east side of the second lake, snow gave way to talus and grass and blueberries, and we did a rising traverse up to the col, quickly intersecting the boot path to the top. Summitpost said you can see it on satellite imagery, so we were optimistic, and Summitpost was right, it was quite obvious.The last ~200ft to the col were snow covered and went quickly despite stopping every 50ft to wipe sweat from our faces.
The col was entirely covered by snow and we were suddenly being whipped around by gusts of wind. It was cold and clouds were moving in fast. We saw a patch of heather with a social trail. We followed it to a flat spot where a cute bubbling stream coming straight off the snowpack. Damn I was hoping that was a tent spot. Wait, a little further. Around the two trees! Yes! A melted out dirt patch exactly the size of our tent. No views, but we could avoid camping on snow, and get some protection from the wind. Home sweet home.
We got the tent set up quickly, made dinner, and marveled at how it was only 4:30 and what the heck were we going to do with the next 4-5hrs before bed? We watched views slowly disappear and felt the wind pick up and temperatures drop. I groaned. If this kept up, I’m going to have a repeat of our night going after Cadet Peak. I voiced that out loud but Jon was already sound asleep, lucky bastard. I. Hate. Wind. Especially in a tent. I do not know what it is. It is not rational. But strong gusts of wind just give me this deep unsettling feeling of something coming after me. Like a wave washing over you except you can’t tread water to get above it. So I lay awake all night, cursing the howling and bemoaning the fact I had forgotten my ipod once again. But the forecast had been for sunny and no wind. Mountain weather is tricky.
We “woke up” in the morning, in quotes because we were both wide awake long before the alarm went off. The tent was covered in water droplets. We could hear the rain. We opened the tent doors around 5am and I walked over to the col to take a look at Triumph. It’s wet, windy, cloudy, and cold. Can’t even see the notch. Back to bed, re-evaluate in an hour? We were there so we figured we might as well walk across the basin to where the climb starts, but we didn’t want to be huddled over there for hours in the rain waiting for weather to be clear. So we’d burn some time hanging out in sleeping bags and see what happened.
I was cranky like an overtired child. Triumph has been high on my list for years. This spring sucked thanks to weather, we basically just had extended winter. We backed out of a trip to Dark Peak because of weather. We left the Chilliwacks a day early because of weather. I had bailed on Bacon Peak (another highly coveted peak on my list) the prior weekend 90% because of mental game but 10% because I don’t care much to climb without views and it was in the clouds. And now it’s mid July and I’m about to get skunked again by weather? When the forecast said sunny? I was discouraged and pissed and throwing an adult tantrum.* “This is a WASTE of a PEAK if we don’t even get to see the VIEWS why are we HERE I can’t beLIEVE weather has been so shitty for so many weekends this year we’ve had ONE WEEKEND WITH TWO SUNNY DAYS AAAA” for like half an hour. I’ll climb peaks I don’t care about in crappy weather sure but not peaks I chose specifically for the views… no one likes repeating peaks, let’s save it for a clear day! I don’t care about the peak, I’m here for the views! I was excessively frustrated. I just wanted to see beautiful things 😡
7am came around, and the rain had stopped. And the clouds had lifted like 100ft, enough for us to at least see the notch. We knew the forecast (if you could trust it) called for skies to clear up throughout the day, so I ate my pb&j disasters and we donned our boots and crampons. Might as well check it out. We aimed for the bunny ears across the basin, you can’t see them in the picture but they’re above the left leaning snow finger on the left (two parallel snow fingers).
The snow coming off the col where we camped had created an extremely steep lip by the lower bivvy site (also melted out), but after that it mellows out and is a simple walk, avoiding crevasses and moats (though I think we were technically lower than the glacier the whole time). There was still a good 5-10ft of snow on top of the slabs below the glacier, with some enormous glide cracks on the slabs down low. I imagine this crossing is much nicer now vs in August/September when it’s all melted out and you’re hopping across (probably wet) bedrock slabs.
In about an hour we found ourselves stepping off snow onto a short but wet fourth class scramble (turned out there was a way better route we missed) to get to the gully that led to the notch (mostly a walk). “Well, get to the base of the notch?” Jon asked. “I feel like I’ve already decided to bail, but sure, why not” I replied. At the notch, we were pleasantly surprised to see that not only was the entire first pitch in view, but the rock was dry. I dropped my pack and took out the rope. The forecast is supposed to improve. The rap/descent route is the same as the climbing route so we can bail whenever if the weather doesn’t clear. So…. you want the first pitch? We stashed our packs and snow gear and racked up.
P1: 5.fun, PG13. Jon’s lead, thank god. Up through some blocky features, traverse right on a ledge, and continue up on some downward sloping rocks (they don’t deserve to be called holds) with zero options for pro. I’m glad Jon led that one. I think we could have stayed left and climbed through a tree and up more jugs, but can’t say for sure. But if you go right, it will be run out, albeit with easy moves. Trust your feet.
P2: 5.fun, My lead! Felt like gym climbing which means 5.fun trad climbing. Good jugs and feet everywhere you wanted them. Straight up to a bush at the top, and right beyond it was the bivy site. Long way to carry overnight gear, but sure does look like a fantastic spot.
We scrambled/walked easy terrain past some snow fins to the base of the next pitch. I think the beta says one bivvy spot but you could sleep like a dozen people here with bivvy gear when this is melted out, unless the snow fins were hiding weirdness. And to our pleasant surprise, the next pitch that had been hidden in clouds was suddenly visible before us.
P3: 4th-5.fun-3rd. The first steep rise. Jon’s lead, even though it was easier than the next one and I wanted it I said no you take it the next one will be good for me. And so he did. Easy 4th class gully on the left, some 5th class above that, we did some simuling, and the clouds parted to reveal that we were at the base of the second steep rise.
P4: 4th-5.fun The second steep rise, I took this one and it was a blast. I tried going right (against what beta directed) and wasted 10min looking for a route that didn’t have blocks pulling off the wall. You can see the clean brown rock where flakes had peeled off. I finally went left and oh wow, the beta was right, who’da thunk? More fun gym style climbing with pockets and ledges exactly where I wanted them. Oh hey!! a green nut! It pulled out immediately, not even stuck. Hey take this nut when you get here, it’s easy to clean! And at the belay station, the clouds had lifted enough to reveal the next section: gendarmes and I assumed the knife edge beyond them. Still no views of the crux.
Here’s where we got funky. At the knife edge ridge, the beta says there are two gendarmes, the first of which is bypassed on the right, the second is up and over with enjoyable fifth class climbing. Just go up and over all of them. Because:
P5: 5.6 PG13. Jon led a very questionable traverse down and right around the first gendarme. Do I think it made us better climbers? Yeah, maybe. Did it create wicked bad rope drag, involve smearing on marginally protected mossy wet lichen slabs, and waste time? Also yes. On the way back, we scrambled to the top and rapped off, and I think it could have been climbed maybe with some spooky smears worst case on climber’s right. Left looked blocky.
P6: Low 5th, mostly 3rd-4th. Back to stoke, I got to the top of the second gendarme and shouted to Jon confirming that it was, in fact, very enjoyable 5th class climbing just like we were told. Selfishly having fun, I continued along the entire knife edge ridge, giggling because the rock was so solid and the exposure so wild and the views below us finally feeling alpine. I set up a gear belay to climber’s left in a crack around the ridge and sat on an awkward ledge because I couldn’t see any tat. In classic Eve fashion, had I continued 15ft higher I’d have found a rap nest to use instead.
I belayed Jon across the knife edge and to my gear anchor. “Why didn’t you sling the horn?” he asked. “Because… it literally did not occur to me with that crack right there.” We swapped a horn sling for two cams so he could carry on with a more thorough rack, and he went off up the next pitch, towards the swirling clouds that were still obscuring the crux but had given us line of sight up the pitch in between.
P7: 5.6, clean and fun. Jon’s lead. Steep climbing, but just a total blast. Similar theme. Solid rock, small holds and feet appear everywhere you want them though you can’t always see them, just spectacular. “What are you doing?!” Jon shouted as I cleaned a blue sling. “Uh, cleaning gear?” “That’s not my sling!” “But it has your extension on it?” “Well yeah I clipped it but it isn’t mine!” “…well it is now!” More free booty!! This pitch brought us perfectly to the bottom of the crux, which, that’s right, the clouds had lifted just enough to reveal.
P8: 5.7 offwidth, Jon’s lead again. We could finally see it. I’m glad the clouds had blocked it when we were lower down, all of the beta said it looks very improbable until you’re right next to it. And from where we were, we could see the anchor above it, and it looked… well, actually pretty probable. You can supposedly avoid this crack by traversing around a rock horn to the right, but the traverse looked like 15-20 horizontal feet of unprotectable slab and the crack looked vertical and protectable and actually enjoyable. So, crack it was.
Jon started up, and was loving it. The last move to the visible anchor was tricky, but he crushed it. Piece of cake. I started up. I don’t think I did a single crack move besides maybe one fist and one foot jam. There are enough features on the right side of the face that the crack is just an added feature. The last move to the anchor does involve some steep smears on slab (slab is my least favorite thing ever) but there are still good hands and feet to the left and you’re over the ledge before you know it. Oh, and there’s a very stuck cam at the top of the crack too. I did not expect to see so much abandoned gear on this climb! Seems Triumph likes to eat gear.
P9: low 5th-3rd. I took this lead and wasted time trying to go left up what felt 5.6y but with a deck and overhung for short people before Jon said “you know it’s like 3rd class to the right” and I went right and laughed. I found myself at the base of the slab wall summitpost mentions, which actually has finger cracks in it that would be fun if I had any gear that fit finger cracks (smallest we had was a .4 cam). I scouted right. That just looks like a scramble but it’ll create mad rope drag. Back to slab wall. Nope, not feeling it. Back right. Yeah, I really think that goes, but it’ll be faster if we just scramble it. I looked at the slab wall again. My brain was falling to pieces. It felt like the mile 20 bonk in a marathon where you just get really tired and dumb (except that one time I got pissed). My decision making was shot. I needed food and water. I shouted down to Jon who was only like 20ft below me. I’m just going to belay you up here. I don’t want to make the slab move and I am pretty sure the route to the right is just a scramble that we can do unroped. I built a gear anchor and brought him up.
I really needed food and a drink. I have invisalign, which means I can’t just eat while I’m moving/standing. It’s a whole process to take them out, stash them somewhere secure, have a snack, put them back in, and that has been resulting in me undereating on a lot of trips this summer. I bonked similarly on Spickard because of the same issue, got to the top of a ridge and just felt super dumb and lethargic and like I didn’t want to use my full body for the next part of the climb because it seemed too complicated. I don’t know how else to explain it. I’m doing my best to figure it out but it’s been extremely frustrating. I really miss pocket snacks. If I knew Invisalign would be a 9mo affair and not 3mo like originally told, I would have started in September to avoid climbing season, not in January. I almost cried at the dentist a week ago when they said I needed more through mid September. I can bail any time I want and say my teeth are good enough, but I have summit fever with the Invisalign, why come this far just to stop six weeks early? Power through. I had my quick snack. I think Jon would have been pacing the ledge waiting for me had there been space. But he scouted the corner while I snacked, and I was right, the route to the right went easily.
P10: Just kidding, there’s no P10, you can scramble from here! I’d honestly just scramble after the crux pitch and carry the tope, maybe starting at the base of the slab wall if you want to stay roped for 20ft past the crux. You don’t have to stop at the top of the offwidth crack, a 60m rope is long enough to get to the slab/finger crack wall.
To the right of the slab wall where I bonked is a thin, sharp ledge you can walk up to the base of the “great notch” summitpost mentions. A snow wall helped mitigate the exposure. Then follow a trail left of the great notch for a few feet, then climb the 4th class scramble on the right at the terminus for ~12ft to another trail. Follow that trail left, and then just scramble 4th class heather and ledges to the summit. I honestly have no idea why summitpost recommends roping up at all beyond the great notch. We did at first and it was probably more of a hazard than a safety precaution. Also, how are there boot paths up here with so little traffic? Is that just how fragile the alpine is? Are goats trampling this routinely?
The summit had a tiny, full summit register. If I knew, I’d have carried a bigger one with a fresh notepad, but hopefully whoever goes up next can refresh it. I don’t know what happens to old registers when they are replaced. Mountaineers maybe?
The clouds didn’t quite part for us on the summit. We got glimpses of blue sky, but many surrounding peaks were surrounded by their own clouds. Bummer, I had really been hoping to see the mystery traverse from there. I had another snack (Again with the invisalign diet, I realized I had only eaten 3 stroop waffles in the past 8hrs and not even half a liter of water) and chugged a half liter of Mio. It took us 6hrs from notch to summit, and we expected about the same back to the notch base on prior reports, so we were antsy to get moving.
We downclimbed past one rap station to the second, and rapped almost to the upper bootpath. From there we walked/downclimbed to the Great Notch. I wanted a hand line going down the ~12ft fourth class move to the lower trail because it was a big drop for my height and if you lost balance when landing or straight up fell you’d miss the trail and just keep going 1000ft, but couldn’t find the end of the rope on Jon’s shoulders to set up a short one and said fuck it don’t worry about it and made the move and it was fine. I found a handhold I hadn’t found on the way up that made it a 6″ drop compared to what had felt like a dyno on the way up. We downclimbed all the way to the slab/finger crack wall, where we started rapping.
I think we made maybe 10 rappels in total. We did a bit of downclimbing between each one, and we scrambled the entire knife edge rather than try to set up rope work. Everyone’s risk tolerance is different. I consider my risk tolerance to be relatively low and I felt fine scrambling the knife edge knowing the rock was extremely solid. Stay in your three foot world and focus on the bomber holds all around you. Flow state.
The clouds were finally lifting all the way, minus the summit itself. The raps down were spectacularly beautiful. Finally wildflowers were popping, green valleys, blue lakes, glaciers hanging on the pickets. Despair looked less appealing than I expected. The pickets kept their tips in the clouds, but gave us just enough of a tease to whet my appetite. Trappers Peak (no apostrophe, remember) had its usual late season cornices lit up by the sun. You could see the lake beyond the col that housed out tent out of sight. Every time Jon got on rappel I started snapping photos. “Don’t forget to look at the views!” I shouted. He laughed. “What do you think I do every time you’re on rappel?!”
We had rappels DIALED. It’s so efficient when you can prep your rap while someone else is on the rope and hop on as soon as they’re off. You land, you untie the knots, they flake the rope (or feed it into the next rap anchor) while you pull. In this case, we did a lot of flaking because there was downclimbing between most rap stations. Fortunately, there were ample rap stations. We actually skipped two because they were unnecessary, though we had to do maybe 10ft of 4th class downclimbing at the base of some raps. Jon also had a trick tossing the flakes – roll up the middle of each side separately from the bottom, if that makes sense, so you end up tossing four sets of coils. Toss middle first, then bottom. It never got tangled doing that, unlike when I toss all flakes at once and 25% of the time end up finding knots halfway down the rappel.
We were back at the notch just 4hrs after leaving the summit. Jon was first on the last rap. He got to the ground and I just hear “Oh, FUCK!” That’s a strong phrase coming from Mr. Jon who usually defaults to “oh my word” when I’m throwing phrases like “what the fuck/holy shit/no fucking way” around. “What happened?” “My pack is gone! And my boots! I need those to get out of here!!” My brain raced to conclusions. someone took our stuff. No that’s absurd, no one’s out here. Goats took our stuff? I started rapping. “It’s in the moat! I can see it! It fell in the moat!” Jon was already downclimbing the notch. I pulled the rope. “Well, get a pic for documentation?” He paused long enough to take a pic and then continued frantically running around. I flaked the rope and picked up all my shit in my arms, awkwardly downclimbing while juggling two poles, an ice axe, crampons, my loose boots, and the rope, ready to drop the rest of our shit in the moat if I even slightly lost balance.
We couldn’t find anywhere to place pro for a rappel into the moat. I proposed I sit on the other side of a wedge and he rap off my body weight. I really did not want him downclimbing into a moat and getting hurt or stuck or anything that would require me to retrieve him. We’ve used people stuffed in moats as anchors before, it’s not a new technique. He was ready to downclimb until I finally spotted a short crack that fit a .5 snug as a bug and a .4 slightly less snug but passably tight. Okay Jon, rap off these, I’ll watch them like a hawk and shout if they move the tiniest bit. He flung his whole body weight against them and they stayed perfectly and the rock didn’t budge (the gully is so loose I was worried the flake would shift or break). Great. The rap will hopefully be sustained, just try your best to stay smooth and not shock load it just in case. I won’t pull the rope up unless you say so. And off he went.**
My staring contest with the cams went well. What I hadn’t mentioned yet is I had had to use the bathroom for like two hours at this point. But it seemed inappropriate to do that given the pack-and-boot rescue situation, and I certainly couldn’t chuck-a-dook into the moat he was exploring, that would just be adding insult to injury. So I fought bodily urges (always emphasized while waiting for something, like hide and go seek or a staring contest) while channeling all my discomfort into daring those cams to move. “I got the pack!” I hear from Jon. “And one boot!”
He climbed back up onto the snow, and spotted a rap anchor on the rock on the other side of the snow gully. “Do you want the rope to rap the rest of the way?” I shouted. “Yes!” I took the cams out, relieved he was on secure ground and had a fresh rap anchor across the way. He rapped from there to the snow while I packed up the rest of my stuff and met him on the snow. I took the rope back. He had only found one boot. His other foot was in a sock, then a doggy bag (literally, like for dog poop), and then his rock climbing shoe. On a glacier.
I couldn’t help but laugh. You look ridiculous. He had a crampon and boot on the left foot, and just the rock shoe on the right. Fortunately that meant downhill foot had a crampon, uphill was the weak one. Well, I’ll kick the best steps I can, and that steep snow traverse… we’ll deal with it when we get there. Oh and look, the cloud level dropped and has reclaimed our col once again. I laughed. “You did say you were up for a challenge this morning! Just… maybe not this challenge.”
We made quick work of the first part of the glacier traverse. Snow was decently soft. We crossed the rock rib and started up the steep traverse. I’d kick once with the left foot (for his cramponed boot), and then three times hard with my right foot to get the best platform step I could make for his rock climbing shoe. The traverse was steep in shoes with crampons, nevermind one foot in a freaking rock shoe with no circulation/feeling. We crested the snow lip by the lower bivvy site and only had like 60ft to the top of the col. I thought Jon was going to puke. The screaming barfies are what happen usually ice climbing when blood starts flowing back into numb extremeties, your vision blacks out and waves of nausea wrack your body. I know Jon’s toes were numb, he was about to be in agony. I was torn between racing up the slope and kicking half decent steps. At the top on flat snow he took off ahead of me. He dove into the tent and shoved his foot in his sleeping bag. I threw my things on the ground and grabbed toilet paper and ran into the bushes. 10min later we reconvened at camp as whole new people with mostly normal feet and GI tracts. He didn’t puke.
Dinner that night was insanely good. I proposed messaging someone with the inreach and having them meet us at the lakes with boots for Jon, but he thought he could tough it out with his Mythos (rock climbing shoe) on the hike out. Okay, we’ll see in the morning! Wind didn’t pick up too much, the clouds helped the night sky actually be dark, and I slept like a cozy baby.
In the morning, we moved our exit time up an hour to have some buffer time given he’d be hiking out in a rock shoe. I put on crampons while he somehow plunge stepped down the snow in his rock shoe (plunge stepping in firm snow is the only time I wish I was a little bit heavier). The boot path up to the col was half melted out fortunately and he regained circulation in his foot before we hit the snow near the lake. We traced our old steps as well as we could, occasionally referring to the GPX track to be sure. Soon enough we were crossing the outlet of the lower lake where we ran into some of Jon’s friends, Dave, Dave, and Trevor. Dave caught sight of Jon’s feet. “Are you… are you hiking in a Mythos?” “…yes, I lost a boot up there.” We told them about the moat, and Triumph eating gear, in our case, the gear was Jon’s boot. Dave cracked up. Everyone who climbs has some story like that. He isn’t wrong. They went on their way towards Thornton peak, and we carried on back to the car.
The rock shoe actually did pretty well on soft dirt trail apparently, but not so much when we got back to the last ~2mi, which were on an old logging road. Flat, hard, and rocky. He was limping for the last mile or so, but the only alternative was my mountaineering socks or his flip flops, and it wasn’t bad enough for either of those yet. We finally popped back out at the cars, where we had beers and rested for half an hour before starting the drive back to civilization.
Triumph is an amazing climb, it reminded me of Forbidden except with more technical climbing and more walks between pitches. But good rock in a really good setting, and it’s amazing that the clouds revealed the route pitch by pitch. Saturday morning I thought the shitty weather was going to be exactly when we needed it to be nice, but it ended up being the opposite – we climbed during the only weather window that weekend. Mountain weather is so volatile, it’s actually insane how often the forecast is decently accurate. Triumph has been a very long time coming, and it’s almost sad having it completed at this point after thinking about it for so many years. I am just glad it didn’t turn into another bail, and I have Jon to thank for wanting to at least check it out Saturday morning and see what happened!
*I apologized later. “Thanks for being gneiss enough to put up with my grumps. I won’t take it for granite. I have faults. It was a rocky start. I’ll be boulder next time.” Is that enough puns for one climb?
**we quickly realized he had taken the inreach with him. Pro tip: if you are doing something bold, leave the inreach with the person waiting on the safe ledge!
We woke up around 5:30 or 6am and got moving around 6:30. We expected a shorter day than the prior day, but given the two peaks took Steph Abegg 8hrs, we figured probably a nice round 12hrs for us. I forgot how freaking fast she was. Scale it down for us plebs.
Distance: I have no idea 😦
Elevation: ~5000ft gain
Weather: 50’s and sunny changing to cloudy
Commute from Seattle: 3.5hrs depending on the border crossing
Did I Trip: Actually, I may not have tripped this entire day… miracles happen
3. We took the far right 3rd class ramp to get through the rock band on Rahm. Loose but mostly covered in snow and not too bad.
4. Custer’s south ridge is WILD on so many levels, both good and bad. Don’t panic, it goes, and the exposure is done after the lowest point. The alternative is losing like 700ft of elevation to drop into the basin southwest of Custer and boot to the top.
We got moving around 6:30am, headed up to the col between Silver Lake and Lake Ouzel once again. Snow was already soft enough that we didn’t need crampons. This time, we went all the way to the top of the col, where we found melted out talus and took a breakfast and bathroom break in the sun. I marveled at the sky. We knew the forecast called for storms, but that’s so hard to imagine when you have a clear blue sky. I also ate my last pb&j disaster rollup. It was very sad. They were delicious. The worst part of delicious things is when they are gone.
From the col, we immediately crossed a steep snow traverse. I wore actual mountaineering boots this day instead of hiking shoes, and I was glad I did. The traverse quickly mellowed out, and the rest of the way over to the rock band on Rahm was actually uneventful. There were a few streams of running water, but for the most part, we were just walking a very tame snow slope hiding miles of talus from us. Feathery clouds moved in, usually a sign of rain in the next 24-48hrs. And so it begins. At least I wouldn’t get sunburned?
At the rock band below Rahm, we took the far right gully, which is 3rd class. The other gully options had goats above them, unceremoniously kicking down rocks i can only assume were meant to mock us. In the goat free gully, we just had to hop over a chockstone (three people, one chockstoke, three variations of moves!) and it was moderate snow to the top of the gully. Above the gully, it was moderate snow to talus, and then a talus walk that felt like it took forever until we were on the summit. We deliberated which summit was the true summit before deciding you know what, the east summit is marked on the map and has the summit register, so let’s call it this one. Rob took out the summit chocolate(!) and we had a short celebration before facing a decision.
We were originally looking at the ridge traverse between Rahm and Custer, but we had three possibilities talk us down: 1. The ridge was a terrible mix of knife edge rock and melted cornices (where the cornice is somehow hanging on despite being almost entirely melted) 2. Custer looked terrible from Rahm. Terrible. 3. It would really suck to be on that ridge in any sort of storm 4. You can’t bail once you’re on the ridge besides retracing your steps.
And so, we decided to retrace our steps back to the mellow snow slopes, backtrack almost all the way to the Silver Lake col, and then climb Custer via the south ridge. Downclimbing the gully was easy and we took a break to fill up water bottles in the waterfall running down it (this might make it less enjoyable as a gully option later in summer). The traverse went quickly too, I was hoping to get a before and after pic of Silver Lake’s melting status so I kept turning around to take pics hoping one would match the morning picture I had gotten. And soon enough, we were rounding the corner of a talus rib and ascending snow slopes up to Custer’s south ridge.
I was dying, again. I was stopping like every 10 steps to wipe sweat off of my face. Where did the clouds go. Please come back. And the wind. Please, just a light breeze. Thank god for Jon breaking trail up ahead, probably wondering why we were dragging behind him. Believe me if I could tie a bungee cord to that man and get a ride up in a sled I’d do it and he probably wouldn’t even notice. He was standing on the rock ridge gazing at Custer when Rob and I finally huffed and puffed our way to the saddle.
We looked up at Custer. Um, that still… that still looks terrible. My GPS says we only have like 300ft to the top but that looks like Martin which was 1000ft of tedious choss gully after tedious choss gully. It’s even the same color. Well, let’s get started I guess. “This goes for sure right? Because it looks… questionable…” “Well, I have a gpx track and they made it” “Hmm my route is different… do you have any idea what the ridge is like?” “Nope” “So you’re just assuming we can handle whatever they did” “Yep, it’s part of the adventure! “Have you considered that some of us are wimps on occasion and like to be reassured that we can handle the adventure?” [paraphrased] “No” “Well… it always gets clearer when you get closer right? So hopefully we’ll see the route when we get there…”
The scramble gets worse before it gets better. It gets looser, and knifier, and finally you’re downclimbing a third class ridge with WILD exposure on both sides and did I mention the ridge feels like it’s about to crumble beneath your feet? I swung over an outcropping and I can’t believe the whole thing didn’t burst below me. I hesitated before the last downclimbing step. It was loose. I watched Jon get through it smoothly but watching doesn’t make it better. I looked back at Rob. “I don’t know guys…” I was on the fence. Jon was already across. Rob was going to turn back. Too much objective hazard. I so didn’t want to be the tiebreaker here, but I also really dislike when parties split up. We’ve had some bad outcomes when parties split up. I looked back at Jon. I could see a boot path behind him. I would feel silly if I bailed because of 10 feet of loose ridge scramble. Hey Jon. Are you stoked? If you’re stoked, I’m stoked. He was stoked.
I made the last few downclimbing moves. I au-cheval-ed the lowest point expecting the dragging of my ass to lower the notch another 6″ thanks to crumbling. Shout out to Helly Hansen bibs for not getting shredded by the sharp rock that was shredding my fingers and palms and confidence. I hopped over one more small horn and officially was on the other side. The ridge flattened out. No more exposure. I looked back at Rob. I shouted to ask him to message us from Ben’s inreach when he was back at camp, so we’d know he was safe. Rob shouted back. “How was it?!”
“Not as bad as it looks! The exposure is over quickly!” Rob was considering turning around again and coming up with us. I looked at Jon. Heck yes. There’s a chance. Rob was scrambling down towards the notch again. I’ve said it here before, he’s a way more nimble scrambler than I am, so if I can do something, he can do it. I shouted exactly that back to him. We could always go down the snow/scree route and lose and regain that 800ft of elevation. And a minute later, Rob was through the crux, standing right next to us. YES. All three of us let’s do this.
From there, you might as well swim breaststroke up through the rocks to get to the top. I think we once again all took different routes, more with the goal of not showering rocks on each other than anything else. I grumbled crawling up talus about as gracefully as a komodo dragon laughing as Jon Danceswithtalus aka chossboss led the way with the grace of Jesus walking on water. But soon enough we were on the summit sitting in a pile of ladybugs marveling at the lack of summit register. I’d have carried one up here if I knew! I munched on the last of my mike & ikes. I think I had a margarita shot block from Jon. It was the best shot block I’ve ever had. I chugged water. I didn’t want to ask if there was a third summit chocolate, no way did Rob bring enough for multiple summits. Except then he took out summit chocolate!! Aahahaha yes!
We scouted out the basin snow/scree route back, but eventually decided we didn’t want to deal with the elevation loss especially given that we couldn’t see the couloir we’d have to climb up. And again, that storm. Quicker to take the south ridge back and hope the mountain gods smiled upon us. And they did. We made quick work getting back to the ridge, scrambled it very efficiently, and soon enough we were leapfrogging glissades back down to the traverse to the Silver Lake col. I turned back to Rob. What did you think of that scramble? would you say it was.. dangerous? What zone would we be in if you had to call it a zone? Trying to get him to start singing Danger Zone as he had on so many prior trips. I was unsuccessful, but Jon said something about “are you down” so I instead had “baby are you down down down down down doooowowowown” by Jay Sean in my head for the next 16hrs.
We had one break on the way because some dummy made an amateur, glissade 101 mistake. I had carried my hiking shoes in case my mountaineering boots made my feet bleed after a while. They needed to stay dry for the hike out the next day. You know what doesn’t keep boots dry? Letting them drag behind you on a glissade so they get stuffed chock full of snow. AMATEUR HOUR! I stood up at the end of the glissade as the light bulb hit me. Oh NO! I poured all the snow out and stuffed them deep in my pack hoping I was quick enough the snow didn’t melt at all and soak them. We’ll find out at camp. Rob turned his ice axe into an air guitar and started ripping the Final Countdown before we glissaded back into camp from the lakes saddle.
We were back at camp around 6pm, just in time to meet the neighbors coming down from Redoubt and the Moxes. They were not the owners of the gloeves I had picked up on the trail. “Did you see our T shirt though?” “Yes but we left it at your campsite!” “Oh, the one where we camped on elk poop? Yeah that was a low moment…” we laughed, and they continued on to their 4800ft camp above the waterfall. We had plenty of time to lounge in the sun, dry out wet clothes/pants/some idiot’s boots, and enjoy the evening. Or so we thought. We finished up dinner and clouds started closing in fast. And then the first few droplets hit. And the rolls of thunder crept in the distance. I wrapped up my yard sale and got in the tent so I wouldn’t be scrambling when the skies opened up. It was gradual, but around 8pm, the rain started. And it never stopped. “Should we put our food in bear bags?” “I… I think i’ll take my chances in the tent.” I don’t have a bear bag, I just put food in my sleeping bag stuff sack and put it somewhere out of the way. And honestly, if a bear comes to my tent in a thunderstorm to get my food… well assuming I make it out alive, that’s a great story.
I didn’t sleep well that night. Rain on a tent is loud, and I always worry something is getting wet. Amazingly, all of our things stayed dry. The tent stayed securely staked. There weren’t even pools of water on the ground, it must have been super absorbent. Rob was less fortunate, he was up at 1am re staking his tent in the pouring rain. We woke up around 6 and just waited, listening to the rain. Around 7:30 I voiced my concerns. I don’t want to pack up in the pouring rain… but I also don’t think it will stop pouring rain. Jon shouted to Rob. Rob, want to leave around 8:30?! “Sounds good!” I shouted to Ben. “Ben, can you be ready to leave by 8:30!?” I saw an arm flail out the tent door and suddenly Ben was standing outside in head to toe goretex. He was READY.
We started packing. Jon brilliantly packed the tent up from beneath the rain fly so the rain fly was the last thing to come down! And amazingly… the rain stopped. Here’s our window!! Let’s get moving! I crammed my last pb&j sandwich into my mouth. In case anyone is wondering, if you leave one half buried in snow a la Canadian Fridge, the part of the bread in the snow gets crunchy, as if it’s toasted but less delicious. In case anyone else is traveling with a variety of pb&j sandwiches.
It took us similarly long to get back to the 4800ft camp at the top of the waterfalls. The river was SO swollen compared to Friday, and crossings were more perplexing than they were on the way in. Streams we could hop across suddenly required planning, or different crossings entirely. Remember how I said Custer was a heap of shit? Well in the early 2000’s, there was a massive rock and ice slide off Custer (LITERALLY CRUMBLING) that obliterated the trail from the waterfall top elk poop camp to Lake Ouzel. The slide alder was awful in the late 90’s, improved with the rock slide, and now it’s regrowing with a vengeance, so you get no trail and bonus talus and slide alder with a grudge. THAT’S why that last mile to Lake Ouzel is so brutal.
As we got closer to the main falls, it turned almost scary. From exciting and invigorating to holy shit, this is a monster. Going down the steep dirt and talus was a knee banger, and I learned a new term for what I’ve always called “the alpine butt-scoot.” When you scoot down something on your butt. The new term is better. It’s an ass belay.
We popped out on the waterfall slabs, where I ass belayed my way to the top of the hand lines rather than sidehill while fighting through alder. I couldn’t stop laughing. We’re in torrential downpour, now trying to downclimb a waterfall, and I’m sliding down a slab on my butt like a kid on a waterslide. I hopped up to cross a boulder to the first hand line. The wind nearly knocked me over. I stopped and held my stance to wait for the wind to stop. Oh, wait, I’m in a waterfall, it’s not going to stop, Okay, MOVE!
Going down the hand lines was easier than going up in my opinion. Crossing the slide alder bridge was similar. I think I was a lot better at balancing by the end of this trip. Log walks were highways, not the scary-can-I-balance challenge they usually are. I was getting very good at crawling with a pack on. Thank god I wasn’t carrying skis. Below the falls we actually stayed on trail for hours. HOURS! We barely lost it until the last mile or so from the border, where once again we went into the Twilight Zone of deadfall and logging debris. We kept doing our best to find the trail. We wanted to see the obelisk! I don’t even know if it’s still there! Or where it is 😦 “Screw you guys I’m cutting to the road!” Ben ditched us to just bushwhack the like 100m from the trail to the logging road we had walked initially. We continued for another 10-15min before I said guys.. I think I’m with Ben here. We don’t even know if the obelisk is up here. And there’s SO much deadfall we haven’t seen the trail in ages. And we, too, cut straight back to the road, where we followed Ben’s prints back to the car.
I love seeing my bright car from a distance and knowing I’m almost back. We changed into entirely dry clothes and piled our sopping wet gear into the trunk. I was worried the car would smell like wet feet on the way home but somehow we kept it contained. Some folks ahead of us had put logs and rocks in one of the deeper culverts, which was a nice touch. I was getting skilled at not scraping the back mud flaps. Back at Ben’s car, I jump out of my car only to see Ben standing in a bathrobe with a cooler of beer and a bad of off brand cheese doodles. I cracked up. It’s like something out of the Big Lebowski. Don’t worry, we crushed the beer and cheese doodles, eventually sitting in the car because it was so freaking cold and wet outside.
Heading back to the US, we stopped for burgers, had zero wait at the border crossing, got gas for UNDER $5 THAT’S RIGHT THE PRICE PER GALLON STARTED WITH A 4 at the skagit casino, and I was home spreading wet gear out in the basement by 10pm. A bummer that we couldn’t stay another day as originally intended, but all things considered, the trip was a huge success, and the hike out wasn’t as miserable as I expected, and I don’t think I got cavities from wearing invisalign in the wilderness with questionable dental hygiene for 3 days straight. To be determined.
Awesome trip, awesome group, FAR surpassed my expectations. I mean I thought these peaks were popular because they’re on the Bulger list. I thought they’d mostly be walk ups. Instead I got a totally wild, remote area, more scrambling than I anticipated, snow so good I wished I had carried skis on that whole damn approach, and a supportive encouraging stoked team. Totally worth the overnight storm and the hike out in the rain. And thanks for letting me be proud of my car 🙂
A few before and after pics of the river conditions:
Holy crap, where do I even start. Spickard has been on my radar since I met Sam in 2015 and we dreamed about lugging skis/splitboard up there for a wild backcountry trip. Correct, I did not own nor know how to ski at that point, but I had big dreams. Sam, I’m so sorry I did this without you but you’ve been 2500mi away for like 6 years. To everyone else, I have a loyalist streak with climbing, if you talk about a peak for long enough with someone you need explicit permission to go do it without them. So consider this my public apology.
Jon got permits for the Chilliwacks Thursday morning, so here was my chance. I did not bring skis, thank god because wow this area wildly surpassed every expectation that I had for it in terms of beauty, difficulty, remoteness. Even my literal hunger and quality of sleep and output of pee surpassed expectations. I thought the peaks were mostly walk ups minus a scramble step here or there, I thought the approach via Ouzel Lake was on a trail, I thought when people said “4×4 required” they were just being babies about driving, I didn’t consider that a waterfall would be more reminiscent of an east coast hurricane than of a shower.
Let’s get those summary bullet points out of the way first:
Distance: 8mi to camp, no idea what mileage up and down Spickard
Elevation: 7000ft gain total, 8,979ft highest point
Weather: 50’s and sunny
Commute from Seattle: 3:30 depending on traffic and border crossing and your forest road driving preference. Took us just over 7 hours.
Did I Trip: Yes, tripped/slipped/postholed/stumbled, you name it, I did it. Never a full on wipeout.
TH to camp at Lake Ouzel: 8hrs
Lake Ouzel to Spickard summit: 3.5hrs
Spickard summit back to camp: 1.5hrs
Sparknotes version/TL;DR for the lazy:
1. If you have 4×4 and high clearance (>10″ clearance) you can literally drive to within a couple hundred feet of the border swath. DO NOT drive to the traditional trailhead. Take the left fork just before the trailhead and drive to your favorite pullout near the border/depot creek trail before you start bushwhacking. Make no mistake, you will be bushwhacking.
2. The start of the trail, as far as we could tell, is almost entirely destroyed by recent logging and the 2021 winter storm(s). Obliterated. You’ll pick it up after maybe an hour of bushwhacking and catching glimpses of the trail, and it gets better from there. But the beginning is a mystery. Just drive to the border and take the path of least resistance down to Depot Creek and you’ll intersect the trail at some point. We couldn’t even follow the trail on the way back. The fresh downfall on the trail smells wonderful at least.
3. The trail gets better once in open forest, and is actually pretty smooth. It’s easy to follow, especially around and after the waterfall crossing. “Better” is relative though, you still can’t see your feet a lot of the time.
4. There is a spare rope tied to a tree below the waterfall scramble for when the current ones need to be replaced.
5. Once you are at the camp above the waterfalls where it flattens out, it’s just over a mile to Lake Ouzel, but for us it was another hour of awkward postholing, talus hopping, slide alder, and creek crossings. When you hit slide alder, just drop to the river bed and rock hop.
6. It is ~8mi from the start to camp total, 7mi if you plan your drive right, as long as 10mi if you park before the culverts. We took 8hrs to go those 8 miles. On the way out, we found the trail more consistently and only took 6hrs.
7. Spickard climb itself is straightforward, especially with snow. Multiple route options/variations.
8. Someone out there did it c2c in 19h right before us (via the north face, which is in great shape) and I wish we had their fitness and wisdom and packs.
Okay, so now let’s get to details. First, we were supposed to be gone Thursday night through Monday. Unfortunately, the forecast progressively got worse and worse until finally it was calling for 100% rain Sunday and Monday, with totals coming close to two INCHES of rain (20″ of snow, which would have me STOKED in February) with thunder likely. So we figured we’d be cutting the trip short, but we were still going to go and take advantage of what we got. Rob was cautiously optimistic about weather, I was like dude I’m not even bringing 4 days of food anymore because no way do Sunday/Monday turn out half decent. I’ll tough it out if I’m wrong.
Right, so back to that 3.5hr drive that turned into >7hrs. It took me 90min to get from Fremont/Ballard to the Ash Way park n ride thanks to a massive accident that I just barely missed. We got on our way nearly two hours later than planned. We miraculously found gas for $5.15/gallon(!) near Sumas. The border crossing only had a single lane open so the “5min wait” reported by the gov’t was a lie. Then we got a scenic tour of southern Abbotsford farmland, converting km/hr to mph and passing many tractors which, with my car’s acceleration and 1000lbs of passengers and gear, is no small feat with oncoming traffic. We joked about what was to come on the forest road. Jon’s car is too new and pretty for a shitty road. Rob’s is too low clearance, and also has no air conditioning. My car has many problems (it literally would not be legal to drive in my home state of Massachusetts), but AC is not one of them. Rob laughed. “I got 99 problems but my AC ain’t one.”
I’ve seen people say “4×4/high clearance required” a hundred times over the years I’ve lived out here, and this is the first road I’ve seen truly require it. Nevermind the potholes, yeah they’re annoying but any car will be fine. But if you want to drive to the start of the route, per Ben, you want truck parts, not car parts. About 3mi from the border, the road has a dozen 18-24″ deep culverts dug for drainage that even cracked one of my cheap mud flaps (a rite of passage in the xterra world), plus some extremely rocky sections. I dread the day I have a car nice enough to worry about brush and branches on the side of the road scraping the paint.
We scouted a ways up the road and eventually turned around knowing Ben’s car wouldn’t make it. We parked at the fork just before where the culverts started. How far out was Ben? Has anyone heard from him? Did he even get across the border? We were debating what to do if he never showed. Except suddenly we heard squealing tires and here comes Ben!! Five minutes behind us, not even! We trailhead camped right there to spare his car the horrors and went to sleep almost immediately.
We woke up at 4am, I had a champion breakfast of PB&J, and we all hopped in my car to get as far as we could go, stopping before some deeper culverts to inspect before passing. It’s a blast to drive though. Enough to be exciting but not scary as someone who doesn’t do any legit offroading. By the end of this trip though I was GREAT at angling appropriately across the culverts despite having 4 people and probably 200+ lbs of gear in the trunk between packs and car camping goodies. My car is not built for comfort, I was worried all of us were going to get carsick, but no one puked. Good start.
We passed a fork in the road and stayed right, parking at the old trailhead about 400ft past that fork. Rob said “I think you can drive all the way to the border!” and I laughed thinking he was joking. Narrator: he was not joking. The no longer present “trail” took us immediately up through a clear cut to the left branch of the road we had just been on. The beginning of the trail is literally a forest road now. Dammit. With more culverts, but all similar to what my car had already gone through. Could have saved ourselves another mile or so of walking. It’s also insane this area was logged. Imagine someone logging Cascade Pass in Washington. That’s how it felt. Crazy views of snowy glaciated peaks, and… clear cut.
We walked the road until we realized the trail had dropped south of us at some point and was already across the USA/Canada border (we were still north of it). We saw zero indication of anything leaving the road at any point, so we dropped straight off the road and bushwhacked down to Depot Creek to start looking for the trail. We had multiple gpx routes from others as well as an old trail map, but it was still extremely slow going. We were consistently going through head high brush, fresh blowdowns, finding weird ways to cross creeks.
As far as I have found, no work has been done on this trail since some vigilante maintenance in 2010. The leading theory based entirely on gossip is that gov’t funded trail maintenance stopped here after 9/11 in 2001, logic being that the US didn’t want to encourage unregulated border crossings. That means 20 years of no serious maintenance, plus a significant amount of logging that seems to have happened straight across the beginning of the trail. I dreamed of a day where we’d have little portable things that could shoot out lasers capable of cutting anything so I could slash my way through underbrush and blowdowns and realized I had dreamed up a light saber. I was torn from my daydreams when I heard Jon shout “AAHHHHH!” while crossing a log, expecting to see him in the stream below it. “My pizza!!!” His pocket had ripped on a branch and two slices of pizza had fallen into the creek. He snagged it and ate it immediately. Can’t be losing calories like that up here.
We finally heard the roar of Depot Creek Falls just after passing a small campsite with a fire pit, and caught glimpses of the falls through the trees. The “trail” led us through slide alder and brush so thick you don’t have enough hands to push it out of the way to see your feet. We came upon a tangle of 3 slide alder branches drooping across a stream. “Are you sure this is.. where we cross..” I couldn’t believe it, but it’s not like I could see any better options. We less than elegantly crossed the slide alder, and found ourselves on an island in the middle of a waterfall. We hiked up a stream for about 15-20ft before seeing the open slabs with hand lines to climber’s left. This is roughly where the spare rope is, hanging coiled nicely on a tree branch to climber’s right on the trail in the middle of waterfall. This will make sense when you’re there, I promise. Picturing the first people to find routes like this just blows my mind. How long did it take to stumble upon the perfect 2″ alder branch across the creek?
The hand lines are OLD but held solidly. I gave them a few good yanks knowing I was about to be relying 80% on them. I don’t know how these would be doable when soaking wet without the hand lines. PUT ON YOUR GORETEX. I wasn’t going to until Jon mentioned putting his phone somewhere safe and waterproof and then I was like ehh okayyy you’re right… and oh boy, was he right. You get absolutely blasted by freezing water, I can’t believe my contacts stayed in my eyes. I couldn’t feel my hands. You can’t hear anyone, just the thundering of the waterfall. It’s >900ft tall, and absolutely massive. The biggest waterfall I’ve seen in my life, and we were part of it. I swear it was a spiritual experience, I was buzzing with humility and endorphins and awe all at the same time. Invigorating is the most accurate word. I honestly cannot believe this trail is unmaintained with such a ridiculous payoff, even just to see the falls. It has to be one of the best falls in Washington. I hope there’s aerial footage of it somewhere.
After the hand lines, we scrambled left up some slabs/vegetation until we found where the trail cut back into the brush. From here we followed the extremely overgrown trail until we broke out into a talus field followed by a steep dirt trail (all easy to follow/obvious). I found a peanut butter cup from a prior party (I did not eat it, I learned my lesson). We finally crested the top of this ‘headwall’ and found ourselves at a campsite in a beautiful meadow with ridiculous views of Redoubt. Someone had clearly camped here, and it looked like they had camped on some elk poop… and forgotten a t shirt on a tree. Tough go, guys.
We had ~1.2mi left to Lake Ouzel. Jon and I were stoked, we’d be at camp in like 30 minutes!! Heck yes! I ran out into the meadow to snap pics, impatient and eager to get to camp. We cut left and stayed mostly left of the leftmost stream (this will also make sense when you’re there), following the path of least resistance. Occasionally there are cairns to help on stretches of talus. Jon did a fantastic job keeping us on track, always finding the trail within a few steps even when we realized we were off.
At one point, the slide alder blows too much and it’s better to just drop to the river bed and rock hop. After the 30th branch to slap my face since the meadows, I checked my phone. It’s been an hour and we’ve gone like.. 0.6 miles. That’s hilarious. That was the moment we dropped down to the river bed and chose talus over slide alder, and then waited for Rob and Ben to figure it out. They were right behind us in the brush, until they weren’t. We couldn’t see anything. At what point do we get worried? Crap, I SO didn’t want to backtrack through that shit. “Ahh wait those bushes just shook” “YEAH YOU SAW THAT that has to be them the wind wouldn’t move that cluster of branches like that it’s not strong enough” “YES i see the leaves rustling they’ll pop out any second now” “Heck yeah there’s Rob!”
From there it was a relatively easy talus hop to get to Lake Ouzel, where we found huge melted out campsites with running water! After Glacier Basin and Cadet Peak last weekend, we thought we’d be camping on snow given this lake is higher and further north than where we were, but we got lucky! We pitched tents and took a looong break. I’m using Invisalign to straighten my teeth, and oh boy is it a process in the mountains. They get disgusting if you don’t brush them and your teeth after eating, which means I basically have infrequent huge meals rather than ongoing quick snacks, which SUCKS for climbing. But long break meant I could crush more pb&j and do my whole dental hygiene routine, thank god. My pb&j rollups had turned into a jelly disaster, but were sill 10/10 delicious. I will try making mini pb&j burritos next time to see if that keeps the jelly contained.
Around 2:45pm, we started up Spickard, knowing we only had ~24hrs of good weather left. We had wanted to go for Redoubt, but took way too long getting to camp, so Spickard it was. We figured that made the most sense anyway. Given we only had 1.5 days for climbs, made sense to bag Spickard/Rahm/Custer and save Redoubt/Mox spires for the next trip.
The standard route starts by heading up to the gentle col between Silver Lake and Lake Ouzel. But you make almost a 90 degree turn to head right/south towards a taller, narrower col on the south ridge of Spickard. This is very straightforward with good visibility, and the snow slopes are moderate but very manageable and with good runouts. My legs were starting to get tired. Rob and Jon took turns breaking trail, which was great because breaking trail is HARD and I was happy to have a (mostly) pre kicked staircase. Ben was bringing up the rear, aka everyone got the best pics of him while I only have pictures of Rob and Jon’s butts.
“Dark chocolate!!” someone shouted ahead of me. No way, the other party our new neighbors were up here too and dropped more chocolate? I started calling them the Chocolatiers in my head. I, too, am a chocolate afficionado. We have so much in common. Maybe they’ll want some of the 11oz of m&ms I’m carrying. I can’t wait to ask if their peanut butter cup was actually an edible. I got to the dark chocolate. It was goat poop. You jerks. You knew it was poop. They laughed. There are no chocolatiers up here. Only me and goats and poop and weirdos who don’t want to share my m&ms.*
At the col, we could decide whether to scramble the ridge or take snow slopes. We chose snow slopes. We dropped down towards Perry Creek (someone came up from this side, I am dying to know who so I can pick their brain, we saw their tracks!) and then traversed over to Spickard’s south face where we went straight up snow. My friend’s son had attempted the Perry Creek approach a week prior but took 6hrs to go a single mile due to the terrain. Apparently NCNP rangers cleared a significant amount of the Little Beaver Creek trail only days later, which must be what these mystery tracks enjoyed. Unfortunately for us, clouds and fog started rolling over the ridge, with the summit in and out of the cloud. Of course. Of course that’s how this is going to go.
We gained the south ridge about a hundred feet below the summit, where we had a short but exposed steep snow traverse and then a 3rd class scramble move to make on loose rock. The steep snow traverse can be avoided by going left on rock and taking a much shorter steep snow climb (not traverse) to the ridge, but I didn’t realize that on the way up.
After the snow traverse I gazed at the scramble. I was officially wiped. My whole body was tired. I didn’t want a no fall zone. My pack was heavy my arms were heavy and looking at Jon and Rob making the move I thought ohhh no. There was a moat on the west side of the ridge I considered scrambling up, but it cliffed out, so the only choice was the ledges Jon had found. And then summit fever kicked in. I didn’t come this far to turn around just because I didn’t want to use my whole body to do something. And then I heard “it goes!” from Jon up above. Okay Eve get over yourself we’re fucking going. It’s like I forgot that climbing can be hard. You can’t just walk up everything. Of course it’s hard. If it wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t be half as fun or rewarding.
The scramble move wasn’t bad at all. Loose hand holds sure, but huge feet, and I think watching people do it is worse than actually doing it. My brain is definitely my limiting factor (maybe that’s healthy?). It actually reminded me I like scrambling (this will be a repeated theme this weekend). From there it was a quick walk to the summit, where clouds had moved in just in time to obscure all views to the west and north. THANKS SPICKARD. We didn’t get much of a glimpse at Silver Lake or at the traverse we’d be doing between Rahm and Custer the following day.
We snapped photos, had summit chocolate (thanks Rob!), and marveled at the mystery tracks coming straight up the north face. They seemed far too close together and perfect to be human (we had been destroying each others’ tracks all day) but what the heck else would be up there? Goats? A wolverine?! Wishful thinking. Had to be goats. The summit register had no names in it for all of 2022. We hadn’t seen anyone unless we miraculously barely missed them. We were totally stumped. Well as of today, Peakbagger now has a report from two siblings who did Spickard in A DAY (19hrs car to car) via the north face, so there you go. They went right by us at some point. Totally insane. Found them via social media (wow) and they didn’t find the border obelisk either. I’m now wondering if the obelisk still exists or if it’s under 6ft of deadfall from logging.
Ben offered me a caffeinated shot block, I devoured another pb&j roll and we started back down. I thought I had carried a ridiculous number of layers, but I ended up wearing every single one I was so cold. Luckily, going down went very quickly with perfect plunge stepping and glissading. We avoided the steep snow traverse by staying along the ridge for an extra 50ft and downclimbing straight down (less awkward than a traverse).
The caffeine kicked in, even if it was placebo (bc I think a single shot block only has like 15mg). I felt great. My legs felt great, endorphins were running high, we were on our way back to camp, look where we are! And there were ice worms! Ice worms are super cool little guys that can only live on glaciers. This particular species stretches from Alaska down to Oregon. Even when a glacier is fully covered by snow, the ice worms will stop within a few meters of the toe of the glacier. Us humans can’t tell when the glacier starts and ends when it’s under 10ft of snow, but they can. Their anti-freeze proteins that prevent them from freezing solid at freezing temperatures are a hot source of research too. They’ve even been used to help map the retreat of the Cordilleran ice sheet, which is how they spread south ages ago. And if/when glaciers die, the ice worms will too.
I’m sure my teammates were ready to punt me off the ridge hearing about ice worms for 20 minutes but it kept me occupied on the way down. My other favorite topic: why do you all only own grey, blue, brown, or black clothing? How am I supposed to get dope photos of you when you all look like rocks? Every one of my pics is like I spy or where’s waldo, alpine edition.
We followed our footsteps back around to the col where I was happy to find that the shady snow was also soft enough for plunge stepping and glissading! I had my whole routine planned out: Get to camp. Drop pack. Start stove with water that was left from climb. Refill water bottles while stove is boiling. Shoes/socks off. Lay everything out to dry in the sun, because of course back at camp, the sun was out and Spickard’s summit was back in view. Crushed my dehydrated meal and some m&ms and curl up in my sleeping bag. It didn’t go perfectly, but my yard sale was mostly effective and I was in bed quickly. “6am start tomorrow? What do you think?” “6am sounds good. If you said 3am I was going to bail and stay at camp.” I laughed. Sweet. 6am it is.
Usually the first trip of the season is a shitshow for me. Somehow this was magically avoided, despite not having been on a hike in TWO MONTHS(!!!) leading up to this. Shitty weather, a wedding out of town, covid from that wedding out of town, more shitty weather, this has been the lamest alpine spring I have ever had. But weather finally seemed to be making a turn for the better (depending on how you define “better” – a 90 degree heat wave is not everyone’s favorite) and I had Friday off and we were going to get after it. We chose Cadet Peak, a nontechnical peak outside of Monte Cristo. We settled on two days, because it’s beautiful and fun, and because the last time Sammy did Monte Cristo and back in a day he had to be carried out in a backpack.
Distance: 18mi round trip
Elevation: 5100ft gain, 7186ft highest point
Weather: 70’s and sunny
Commute from Seattle: 1:45 w/o traffic
Did I Trip: NO just some postholes
We got a leisurely start Friday morning from the parking pullout by the bypass road. For anyone who doesn’t know, the bypass road is a (usually) pleasant bike ride that avoids the trail and the river ford coming from the Gothic Basin trailhead, so we figured it’d be faster. Within a quarter mile we hit a massive tangle of blowdowns and I’d have catapulted my bike across the road in shock and frustration if I had the strength. Fortunately that was the worst of it
It was difficult to hit a rhythm thanks to the multiple blowdowns. PSA those black things sticking up in the road are plastic, you do not have to epicly (epically?) leap off a moving bike to avoid hitting them (I thought they were metal and bailed spectacularly). You will roll nicely over them. Also if you do have to leap off the bike it’s much harder with an overnight pack than just mountain biking tiger mountain.
The road wasn’t clear until it intersected with the official road to Monte Cristo, and then it finally felt like we were cruising. Sammy cakes was doing his best sprint to keep up with our bikes, chugging water at every stream crossing. We rolled into Monte Cristo, locked up our bikes, and started the hike up to Glacier Basin. The siding on those houses has to be restored, right? I mean my house doesn’t look that good and it’s in a city not remote snowy alpine wilderness. We passed a guy who had just done Cadet too. He warned us. “My tracks are everywhere. Just keep jogging left as you get close to the summit, you’ll see where I wandered, don’t follow my tracks!”
I’ll spare you the Monte Cristo history because I covered a lot in my last post here. Great to compare pics year to year too, mid June 2019 vs 2022. It’s such a fascinating area, and crazy to imagine what was there decades ago. Anyway, brief updates on the trail:
It’s still longer than you think
It’s still steeper than you think
The hand line is gone (that’s fine)
Snow starts around 4000-4500ft
I didn’t see any spring mushrooms 😦
Sammy led the way, leaving us behind at every corner. Ida Pass in the pic above was the main route to get from mines around Monte Cristo to the Foggy Mine on the other side of that ridge by Goat Lake. Ida was allegedly a prostitute in Monte Cristo who was in high demand. She now has a pass and a lake named after her, and the lake has what looks like an unnamed, dying glacier above it. There is another glacier on the west face of Cadet that seems to be receding enough to create a lake (Cadet Lake?). Late summer/fall investigation required (edit: holy shit that’s pride basin!!!).
We finally put on gaitors when we hit snow, and let the postholing begin. We stayed south of the river but not always on the summer trail, just picking the path of least resistance through trees/boulder fields/avy debris. The famous boulder was half buried in avy debris. We made our way to Ray’s Knoll, the hill in the middle of the basin, and set up our tent on the very top. I had a full lunch, because snacking with invisalign SUCKS. You have to brush the liners and your teeth and floss after everything you eat, it’s extremely tedious and time consuming so I end up just not eating on climbs at all until I’m starving. Not a good practice.
We made a little nest with food and water for Sammy to hang out in while we climbed Cadet, and started on our way up. We kicked steps up to the base of a gully with a small waterfall. I didn’t believe it at first, I thought it would be better to go up through the brush and trees, but it turns out you just scramble up the gully to the base of the bigger waterfall and then cut left into the brush and snow. My adductor cramped up suddenly, and I couldn’t move my right leg. Then the left one started. I was torn between feeling embarrassed, annoyed, and puzzled. I’ve never had anything like this happen besides in the Moab trail marathon on a much more minor scale. I started willing them to shut the fuck up. Come on legs you can do this. And I’m going to keep powering through the spasms. Your choice whether to keep spasming or not I guess.
We gained the ridge, which usually has a trail but was entirely covered in snow. I sat down to dig fingers into my adductors and chug water and have another snack. The cramps were gone as suddenly as they had started. We kicked up more steps just left of the ridge after finally finding our new friend’s (very melted) tracks, and then continued following it up until we were solidly above tree line. The snow continuously got steeper and steeper and I wondered how I’d feel downclimbing this. I felt my adductors flare up again. “Don’t you DARE don’t even think about it” I muttered except I think it was loud enough Jon heard me. I was also surprised at how much I missed my whippet. At some point I seem to have become a skiier.
Below the rocky headwall, we started cracking up. New friend wasn’t kidding, his tracks criss-crossed the entire face. I could only picture him walking up to each potential exit point. Does this go? No. Does this go? Mmmmm… no. Does this go? It could but it’s wet. Ok this will go. We picked a wet scramble straight up the headwall that wasn’t awful but wasn’t something I’d love to downclimb (though I think if we had scrambled further left it’d have been easier). It was mostly downsloping wet or mossy and muddy holds. Just kinda yucky. My legs seemed to like scrambling more than the repetitive snow climb at this point, because as soon as we were back on snow, my adductors both started spasming again. I literally dropped to my knees a couple times trying to pressure breath and come up with alternative swear words. Does that actually help or is it just mental? I have no idea. But I felt so ridiculously stupid. Come on legs. The worst part was the cramps held off if I was moving fast and consistently enough, and flared up if I straightened the leg (like, to take a rest step, or lean on my back leg while planting my forward leg aka how you go up stairs). Except I was too fucking tired to move fast! Don’t put me in this corner, legs you can’t tell me “well either jog up steep snow or suffer the cramps” that’s a lose lose you bastards. We finally got to the final rock scramble and I planted my ass on the summit ready for another feast.
We were the second and third signatures for 2022 after our friend Mr. Slabby! That’s right, the summit register said Sam Slaby, which I hoped was some clever mountaineer pen name like Jon Gendarme or Brooke Bergschrund or Amber Arete (I couldn’t think of anything for Eve so i’m borrowing names thanks everyone for loaning). The views were tremendous. Maybe better than Monte Cristo, though I was disappointed we couldn’t see Goat Lake. Looks like you need to traverse to North Cadet for that, and we had a barking dog valiantly awaiting us in the valley below that we could hear from halfway up the climb, so no time for a traverse. At one point I asked if we should be worried, since the last time I was here there was ample evidence of bears and in my head poor Sammy cakes was fending off a bear. But that’s about as likely as a bear coming into my tent, which I’m also scared of, and which has also never happened.
We agreed to try downclimbing the snow around skiier’s right/climber’s left of the rock headwall instead of scrambling down the way we came. Leaving the summit was a cool convex slope where it rolls over and you can’t see what anything looks like, you just know it drops off steeply. I wished I had skis. It was too firm to confidently plunge step, and soon enough we were face in downclimbing for what felt like ages. I couldn’t help but think about how much of the climb had been in no-fall zones. Steep snow? Piece of cake, just don’t fall, there’s a cliff down there. Getting onto the rock? Careful of the thin snow and moat, it’s a mini moat but it’ll hurt. Rock scramble? Fine, but.. don’t fall, cause you won’t stop.
Fortunately I got into a rhythm downclimbing almost immediately. Total flow state. The snow was soft and a lot of steps collapsed but it couldn’t ruin my medidative state. I looked down at one point and couldn’t see Jon, my mind went from “hmm well I guess i’m flattered he thinks I can handle myself and he doesn’t need to wait” to “wait but i like when people wait” to “well you can’t exactly take a break on steep snow easily” to “oh hey there he is!” as I rounded a corner only to discover he was waiting. We had avoided the rock headwall entirely. The face in downclimbing continued briefly before we could finally just plunge step, and then we were cruising. We set off a slow moving slush avalanche that ran a few hundred feet, should have ridden that down.
We retraced our steps back to the waterfall scramble, crossed the river, and went back up Ray’s Knoll to find Sammy, who was so happy to see us. And we realized we had neighbors! I suddenly felt 100x worse about the barking. I already felt bad knowing Sammy was panicking or whatever dogs do (maybe it was “I need to bark or they’ll never come back, it has worked every time so far” vs “I’m scared/cold/bears”) and now I knew there were people around to hear it when they were just looking for alpine peace and quiet. They were super understanding though which alleviated some guilt. Live and learn.
I demolished my dehydrated meal in maybe 1.3 minutes. I ate just about all the food I had to try and fend off cramps the following day. I “went to sleep” around i don’t know, 9pm? and “woke up” around 7-8am, so whoop says I got 10hrs of sleep but that’s bullshit because whoop doesn’t know about the wind. I was ready to fight the tent and the wind that morning. The wind picked up overnight and it was SO LOUD it didn’t feel like I slept at all. I’d wake up to the side of the tent slapping against my face or the poles flexing in the wind. Good news? It apparently distracted me from all of my other camping fears, like bears, and the thing from It Follows.
Around 8am I was ready to throw a fit. Something needs to change. Let’s pack up and leave because I’m going to freak out if I hear the rain fly flap one more time. “WE DON’T HAVE TO RUSH IT’S JUST THAT I NEED TO LEAVE NOW” you know when someone says you don’t have to rush but everything they do seems rushed? I was that person. Actually I think my default state of being is that person. We really don’t have to rush but I swear this tent needs to come down and as soon as it is down I’m ready to pack up because I have nowhere to sit besides on my pack and I layered stupidly and the wind is going right through my thin pants and I’m freezing. Fortunately it warmed up quickly and soon the wind was a nonissue and I could sit around comfortably. But that meant…
…it was baking hot and we were in a solar oven of blue sky and summer solstice sunshine. The snow reflects everything right back at your face. Nosebleeds abound for me. We made quick work of the upper basin retracing our steps, then back down the steep slabby parts of the trail, and back to Monte Cristo where the crowds were beginning to form. I always wondered why Glacier Basin/Monte Cristo didn’t get more attention, turns out they get plenty and I had just never been there midday on a Saturday. I hopped across a river to share a bathroom space with a bear and some mosquitos, and then we got the bikes saddled up and ready to head out. We rode the brakes the whole time to make sure we kept pace with Sammy cakes who was doing totally fine just a bit slow and hot in the heat.
Apparently the normal road was much nicer than the bypass thanks to the (lack) of downed trees. Oh well. If you’re going, just take the normal road. The bypass needs some really handy good samaritans to put in some manual labor and get those trees cleared. I was at least much more strong and agile getting over the final mess of blowdowns than on the way in. Could have yeeted the bike that morning.
Back at the car we split a surprise beer I had in the trunk and a bag of honey dijon potato chips that were the salty, crunchy, vinegery snack my body had needed all weekend. Holy shit. And then we stopped for burgers at Creekside Alehouse and Grill. HIGHLY RECOMMEND. The burger was great, I got the viking burger. Huuuge servings of tater tots and fries. Outdoor seating, dog friendly, really pleasant surprise.
This was an AWESOME welcome back to the alpine. Pretty happy with how it went given I had literally zero hikes for two months beforehand. In fact this whole weekend was insane. Bike to hike to steep snow and scramble and what did I do Sunday? Went out to Westport to surf. Where else can you get snow and surf in 24hrs? Only thing missing was skis! And maybe some technical rock 🙂
I have awesome friends. Brooke decided a trail marathon was the thing to do for part of her bachelorette party, and so we found ourselves driving 5 hours from sunny Seattle to rainy Mazama (yes, that’s backwards, it’s supposed to be rainy in Seattle and sunny in Mazama dammit) on a Friday evening prepping for a Saturday morning race. The number of people who have told us “you have crazy friends” when we said this is a bachelorette is hilariously high. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Distance: 26.8 miles
Elevation gain: 2200ish
Weather: 40’s and rainy
Commute from Seattle: 4.5hrs
Did I Trip: NO I DID NOT
We stopped at two gas stations along the way, one where I got the best unsolicited compliment of my life. After I had walked out of the shop one of the attendants pulled my friend aside and just said “is that your friend?” and she said yes and he said “wow, tell her she is beautiful, she has the face of a movie star! I was too shy to tell her myself.” I laughed when she told me that. I had been to shy to try speaking to him in Spanish (he was talking to the other employees in Spanish) because I hadn’t spoken it in months, but you’re never going to get better if you never speak it! Ugh!
We got a mediocre dinner (sorry) in Twisp and then stayed at the Idle a While Hotel, which has rooms that are definitely bigger on the inside than on the outside, not unlike that house in House of Leaves but without the paranormal activity as far as we could tell. Check in was entirely remote, but they have a red phone you pick up that auto dials old school if catastrophe strikes, like Amber’s phone dying so no one knows what the code to get in the room is. We were finally in, packed our trail running packs for the morning, groaned about the weather, gossipped, ate chocolate, and went to bed around 9. A trio of grandmas.
We woke up at 6 to pouring rain. Amber broke the ice. “I don’t even want to go. What if I bailed. I just want to bail.” We all looked at each other. No. We drove this far. It’s a bachelorette. The wildflowers might be dead. The rain might be here while Seattle is sunny. We might have 13.1 or 26.2 miles to run. In the rain. But we’re committed. Regarding the wildflowers, this is usually the start of peak wildflower season, but this year a late season snow storm froze most of the balsam root and a lot of the blooms died off. The rest of the wildflowers were extremely delayed, so we didn’t really know what do expect flowerwise besides a sub-par show. If you need a throwback to a “normal” flower year, here’s Amber being a disney princess.
Brooke and Amber dropped me at the Marathon shuttle before driving themselves to the half marathon start. The shuttle took me from the finish line in Twisp up to the starting line in Mazama. The driver was kind enough to give me a hefty garbage bag to stay dry at the starting line (or you know, bivvy in if I totally died mid race) and I huddled under an outdoor pergola(?) with dozens of other runners until it was 5 minutes before the start. We hobbled over to the starting line in the drizzle, did a countdown, and took off. I let everyone pass me. Just you wait I’ll take you back down at like mile 23 when you’re dying and I’m cruising. At least that’s what I tell myself. Most of them just left me behind it’s okay.
We ran through the woods on a wide, flat trail, then alongside highway 20 for a hot minute, and then crossed back into forest on some Methow Community trails. Some literal kids ran past me in tutus with so much life and energy and seemingly no idea they had hours left in front of them. 2 miles later, I realized they were in the relay marathon, and actually only had to run… well, like 2 miles. The relay runners would soon become the bane of my existence since they were always so fresh and peppy and fast and clearly hadn’t tried to fight a tree or a rock or a raindrop or whatever had pissed them off minutes ago. Because they were too happy to be pissed.
I soon saw a sign that said Mile 26. Hmm. Mile 26. Well we’ve run at least 2 miles. No I don’t dare check Strava, I don’t want to know. I guess we’re just going to run like 28 or 29 miles. Whatever, it’ll be fine. Good to know how much is left so I can set expectations accordingly. I love when marathons are signed like that.
The trail stayed wide open and flat, very well cared for. We ended up on a long gravel/dirt road (mostly mud that day) and back on singletrack trails through a burn zone from the prior year. It was totally bizarre, you could see huge holes where (i think) there used to tree stumps and root systems, the uphill burn was more apparent than the downhill, it looked like two different forests. No morels though, I looked. No morels in miles of burn zone. Not that I’d have known what to do if I did find a cluster. Carry them in my hands for 20 miles?
My brain snapped back to reality. A sign said Mile 15. No freaking way. I haven’t run 11 miles I’ve run like I don’t know maybe 7? Mile 14. Holy shit. Mile 13. We’re halfway there?? No way, there’s supposed to be a rest station around mile 13. But damn if we’re halfway there I feel GREAT. I crushed a pack of ritz crackers with cheese hiking an uphill. I followed a lady in a rainbow tutu that I deemed my sunflower because she was the closest thing to a flower out there for the first like 16 miles. I laughed with a guy in a white shirt as we slip n slided (slipped and slid? what’s the past tense of slip n slide) down a very muddy barely traveled forest road, complete with comical arm waving but no true wipeouts.
45 minutes and no mileage signs pass and I finally cruise into a rest station and I’m stuffing my face with oreos and potato chips when I see the huge sign that says “13.1 miles left!” My heart sank. Not that much because I had a feeling I was being misled, but oh MAN it would have been great to have been way more than halfway done already. Of course it was too good to be true. Those signs must have been for the Methow Community Trails, not custom placed for the race. I grabbed a few oreos for the road (trail?) and jogged on.
I figured they must have saved the best wildflowers for the second half, right? After all, that is where the half marathon course is, so the best must be yet to come. Single track trail, and finally – a patch of balsam root! And another! And a switchback! I started snapping photos. I chatted with some new trail friends, several who were on their first marathon ever, several who had done the sunflower marathon before and swore I had to come back next year because the flowers this year were so sad. I kept stopping to snap pics and let people run around me while I took pics of them. On multiple occasions I resisted the urge to smash my phone on the ground when it wouldn’t take pics because the touch screen can’t differentiate between my finger and a raindrop. I finally decided I needed to give up on pics and just jog for a bit while my phone and I got some space from each other.
The trail went back into forest and wrapped around a lake where I briefly wondered if I was lost (no, there was literally nowhere the trail ever split, there’s nowhere else you could have possibly gone) before putting us out on a stretch of muddy road with frequent cars passing. This was somewhere around mile 20 according to my feelings, but rather than getting sad and sluggish I was belligerent (and also sluggish). Every car that passed I went OFF in my head. WHY ARE YOU HERE THERE’S A RACE WHY DID THEY CHOOSE A BUSY ROAD THIS ISN’T SINGLE TRACK TAKE YOUR MUD AND GTFO OF HERE I WAS TOLD THERE WOULD BE FLOWERS NO, MAZDA, YOU HAVE 12 FT ON THAT SIDE OF THE ROAD THESE 3 FEET ARE MY FEET THERE ARE MANY OTHERS LIKE IT BUT THIS STRETCH IS MINE and how the fuck did i not buy margarita shot blocks? that aid station better have some god damn potato chips or I swear. A relay runner passed me breathing heavily and loudly and sprinting. It generated similar fury to hearing someone snore loudly at 2am and being helpless. The old running mantra from high school cross country popped into my head. Dig deep in the woods. 15yrs later and I’ll still think of that when I’m dying on a run. Even if I’m on a stupid muddy road with stupid cars driving to probably stupid places in the stupid rain and I’m all out of crackers and I never want to hear this person’s breath ever again.
The aid station did have potato chips, and I grabbed more of those and oreos and threw some gatorade or gatorade equivalent in my face. I’m like the least dialed runner ever. Okay, final stretch, perk up. Wait no, we have to go uphill, use the rage first. I was hiking faster than the other runners around me were running, well besides the super fresh relay runner who at least breathed normally. Get outta here leave me alone hurry up I don’t want to hear it. The other runners noticed my efficient walking and joined me. We crested the hill and the rain finally let up and holy shit, the sage brush and flowers started appearing again. The heavy breather was gone. The air smelled like fresh sage. THERE are the endorphins I needed. Thanks body. My legs felt fresh again. I laughed passing the cameraman. Is this where I pretend to look good?! A guy cruising uphill passed me playing Dancing in the Moonlight out loud on a speaker, I lit up. I love this song! Keep up I wanna listen! I started passing people. Let’s go baby. I don’t know how many miles are left and I don’t want to know. Can’t be much further at this point.
We cruised on top of the plateau for a while, enjoying the flowers and views. I figured we’d get a gradual downhill to the finish line. Except then suddenly the elevation was falling away below me and I was pounding downhill shattering my knees and quads and hips. Through the best flowers we had seen through the whole race. And suddenly I heard cheering. I originally just wanted to be below 6 hours, I hadn’t super trained for this, hadn’t run in like four weeks, just wanted to finish and finish feeling good and that would be enough. I checked my watch. 4 hrs and 50minutes, something like that. But cheering. They’ve gotta be within a mile. Within 10 minutes. Ok. Pick it up.
I flew to the bottom of the valley, and realized the finish line was just up a short hill (of course). My adductor told me to go fuck myself 150ft before the finish line but I put it in its place and sprinted across that mat still feeling awesome unlike the past few years in Moab where maybe I was standing but I should probably have been dragged across the finish line by a support crew. Amber was at the finish line waiting and Brooke had gone to grab the car already. Brooke had already been waiting for like two hours after finishing her half, fortunately she found her other set of friends who clothed her and got her dry and warm (everyone was SOAKED from the rain). Amber and I had bananas and beer and sat on the grass where one of my hips started spasming. Even though it wasn’t being used. Cmon. Get over yourself we’re done here. It’s over. Brooke pulled up and found us sprawled on the grass in the middle of the cars, and we hopped in and drove straight to Seattle. Sunny. Stupid. Seattle. From the rainy desert.
We dropped Brooke off first, and all stumbled quite literally out of the car, grasping at luggage and doors for support. I ate pasta and lentils and chick peas and woke up at 2am to repeat the whole process again, and again at 9am. And then at brunch I finished my entire omelette and then all of Amber’s pancakes except 2 bites before realizing holy shit, was she even finished? I don’t even really like pancakes unless they are the banana or blueberry variety. I love the post race feeling, and I had completely forgotten how much I enjoy trail marathons. Moab is phenomenal and will never be topped but I have not been in good shape the past few years, and it turns out marathons are much more enjoyable when you feel good for the whole race. Let’s see how much I remember that when this fall comes around.
Kudos to Brooke for picking a dope bachelorette idea, motivating me to join, and to both Brooke and Amber for staying positive despite the rain. Never would have found or signed up for this if not for them, I’m so used to burning out with each of my sports that I don’t dare commit to anything in advance and this race sells out every year, you can’t do it last minute! Stoked it came together, pretty damn cool to say I ran from Mazama to Twisp for a bachelorette party!
That’s right, we have a new mode of transportation! I’ve been a closet mountain biker for a few months, mostly because so far it’s similar to backcountry skiing in that I’m pretty good at going up (thank you cardio) and do a lot of walking on the way down (thank you abject lack of skills). But after some laps on Tiger, Ollalie, Rattlesnake, and some random cross country parks here and there, I figured between friends who know way more than me and my own stubbornness I’d survive an 18mi day.
Elevation: I have no idea
Weather: 50’s and sunny?
Commute from Seattle: 3:30 ugh and I did it twice that week solo wah
Did I Trip: In this case, a slow motion tip-over, so… yes
We met at the trailhead around 11ish and went off on our way. We probably started at 11:30 which is actually pretty prompt for this crew. I packed a puffy, a midlayer, two pairs of gloves, enough food for a family of four, and a single liter of water because that’s low priority in a sunny desert. I had no idea what to expect. I’ve never done a long bike ride, certainly not one that brings you miles away from the car. I was banking on my own stubbornness and pride making me physically capable, and smart, much more experienced friends keeping my bike physically capable. Fortunately I know some cool people.
Jay and Matt were in the lead, kicking up dust for the rest of us to eat/dodge/follow. You either have to be RIGHT BEHIND the person in front of you or way behind them, otherwise you’ll be getting a faceful for most of the trip. We did a small loop around one of the ancient lakes basins before continuing south along the Columbia River towards the Gorge (yes, the concert site). We started on what was more or less a road (Potholes Boulevard) and finally jumped with some cross country hike-a-bike to a green trail (Dusty) for a quick lap around Dusty basin and then made our way down Gorge Bound. I quickly removed my puffy and laughed wondering what the heck I was thinking when we left the parking lot, you can’t fit two puffies in a tiny trail running pack.
I cannot emphasize how little I know about biking (and even the bike itself). Someone asked the other day what I wear for biking and the answer was whatever I wear for running? At one point in the beginning of this ride, someone said “make sure you don’t break the derailer on your bike clipping sagebrush or a rock” to which I responded ” what is that does my bike have one” followed by a panicked “IS IT POSSIBLE I ALREADY BROKE IT?!” only to hear Anita laughing behind me “no you did not you would KNOW if you broke it believe me.”
Dust gave way to sand and rocks as we rode next to the river, and I quickly noticed my bike felt like paddling through mud. Or sand. Or running through 2ft deep water. Sluggish. I took off my third layer and miraculously found space for it in my pack, it was really warming up. Or I was. Oh boy. And we were only like 5 miles into what we figured would be a 15-20 mile day. And it seemed like the brakes wouldn’t release. I’d squeeze them to slow down, release my hands, and they’d still be engaged, still slowing me down even if we were on a flat or an uphill. Or maybe that’s just how biking in sand feels, who knows? I wouldn’t know.
At our first stop I flipped the bike upside down and spun the wheels only to realize the brakes were seizing. The wheels wouldn’t just spin, they’d stop after a few spins. It seemed to get better the less I used the brakes, which would be a viable solution for a less scared biker, but as a total chicken with a deep-seeded (seated?) adult fear of going fast and falling, I probably abuse my brakes. Matt bled some brake fluid and worked some magic (I tried to follow, I at least know what some of the allen wrenches can do now but I couldn’t tell you when to do what he did). Whatever he did made the problem better at first, the brakes still seized a few times at first but I didn’t even notice them on the remaining ~13 miles!! That might have also had something to do with the amount of hike a bike I did but um.. I swear I rode at least… half? But at least now I knew the problem was myself and my own legs, not my brakes.
We followed Gorge Bound just a little bit further to Roundabout, where I was snapping pictures while riding one handed when we hit a rocky patch. You probably know where this is going. I stopped to put my phone away. But it was already too late. I did the awkward hop you do when you can’t land comfortably on one foot, couldn’t save it fast enough, aaaand down I went, landing smack on a rock with my tailbone. Anita I think came over first and asked if I was okay. I’m honestly not sure. I haven’t had the wind knocked out of me in like decades. Let me take inventory. I stood up and groped my own ass making sure bones were intact. No crepitus, no sharp pain. That’s good. Something feels terrible but must just be a deep bruise. What happened?! Well, I was taking pictures… while riding… we don’t have to talk about it. Everyone get back on your bikes let’s gooo. We rode around this super steep canyon, didn’t successfully find the waterfall trail (or maybe we did but it was hilariously beyond our skill set except probably Matt’s), and decided to sit on a small outcropping to have lunch and enjoy the views before heading up.
We climbed up to the top of the mesa next (lots of hike a bike, fueled by cheese and crackers and Anita’s cursing in the distance which will never not be hilarious) and followed Upper Mesa which was SPECTACULARLY smooth and flowy. Biking on top of the world on one side, some rancher’s fence on the other but you barely notice with how sleek you feel. This took us to Rim Job which… how can you not ride that trail? I think as soon as we saw the name it was decided we’d get there. And it totally lived up to expectations. We were giggling the whole way, it finally felt fast and flowy and we (the less talented biking crew) could get into a rhythm and feel good about ourselves after hours of ride/stop/ride/hike/ride/hike. But it wasn’t going to last forever. Thanks to Rim Job.
The end of Rim Job took us through some really cool pothole lakes and tarns, through some brushy sections, and through some TOUGH short climbs. Yeah we did a lot of hiking and bike pushing. And it sounds like hike-a-bike is pretty tough when you have flat soled bike shoes and zero traction on a steep sandy trail. I was thankful for trail runners (they stick nicely to my bike pedals, which I had recently learned were children’s pedals and not at all suited to adult mountain biking. Anyway, really cool to get so much varied terrain on one trail. This whole adventure was feeling like a first legit ski tour after only doing “backcountry” laps at hyak. I had mostly ridden places like Duthie and Tiger and Ollalie and while they’re fun, you don’t have the same sense of adventure as you do somewhere like this.
From Rim Job we popped out onto a gravel road that quickly took us to a black diamond rated trail called Ancient Lakes Descent. I think we overshot the trail at first, forgetting how quickly gravel roads go. There’s SO MUCH TERRAIN at Ancient Lakes, regardless of whether you’re hiking, backpacking, car camping, anything you want to do. We passed an incredible car camp spot that looked like the car was perched next to a cliff overlooking the gorge, you bet I’ll get my car there someday. At the time I was just eager to get back on trails so I didn’t even get a photo 😦 In any event, I was excited to be back on trail. The gravel road was both a relief (no more hike a bike) and a disappointment (felt like cheating after the prior few hours). But it certainly saved us some time compared to navigating back the way we came.
The downhill black trail started out… suspiciously. “Where’s the black section?” “This is totally rollable” “Yeah that was fine” “Wow this is beautiful” “I’m skeptical…” “I’m objectively not a good bike rider, this either isn’t a black diamond or we haven’t hit the crux yet.” Don’t worry, it suddenly turned into “oh you meant THIS part yeah no that’s not rollable” “oh… oh no” “hahahaha…. not happening” “oh if he’s walking I’m definitely walking.” Matt sped ahead of us enjoying himself as we walked our bikes down steep piles of shale, tight switchbacks, and drops I won’t even do in my dreams. I feel like when I tell people I mountain bike they immediately assume like Red Bull style epics when in reality it’s like no, I just… bike on pretty smooth, well maintained trails sometimes. Again, it’s like backcountry skiing. I’m not ripping some jump turn couloir here I’m just moving slightly faster than if I was hiking at the cost of occasionally shredded nerves.
Back down in the basin, we knew it would be smooth easy trails back to the car. Which was a relief for me, because I was completely out of water and SO thirsty. I took some swigs from friends’ bottles but I knew there was a gallon of water waiting for me at the car calling my name. We sped off kicking up dust once again, through what felt like mini-moab (more tan and less red). Lindsay rode some circles back at the parking lot to make sure Strava hit 18 miles while I chugged water. We shared some beers because I couldn’t handle a full beer after a day like that, relaxed for a while enjoying the satisfaction of sunshine and good company and a great ride, and finally headed to Whipsaw Brewing in Ellensburg for dinner! They had a root beer for me but I hear the actual beer was quite good from the others, and we ordered WAY too much food from the food truck.
This was easily in my top 5 days of 2022 so far and it’s going to be damn hard to top it. I finally felt like even if I was shitty I was able to do a serious bike ride, hugely grateful to friends who I would have been (and did) relying on 100% if something went wrong bikewise, and I think I laughed for 60% of the time (the other 40% was sucking wind pushing a bike uphill). Really hoping we can get out on more trips like this.
What I thought was 8 miles round trip for some reason ended up being somewhere between 16 and 22 miles depending on what map/tracking device you listen to. Strava said 19, 22 if I had gone all the way to the Teneriffe parking lot and back. But regardless, this is a great trail to miraculously disappear from crowds and surround yourself with greenery only an hour away from the big city, and it’s extremely runnable. Well, besides the middle of the trail. But we’ll get to that.
Elevation gain: 700ish ft at least from the lower trailhead to the upper trailhead
Weather: 50’s and sunny
Commute from Seattle: 64 minutes, unless you miss the exit and have to drive an additional 7mi east before you can turn around
Did I Trip: No
The CCC trail is broken into two sections, upper and lower. It should be broken into three sections, but you can’t really access that third point as a trailhead, so I guess I get it. But I’m going to call it upper, middle, and lower. Middle is technically part of lower.
Upper CCC: The section east of the paved road pullout and west of the middle fork parking lot/campground. “1” on the map. I parked at the middle fork parking lot, unmarked in the upper right corner of the map. There is also parking where the CCC meets the road between sections “1” & “2.” Middle (part of lower) CCC: The section west of the paved road pullout but east of Bessemer forest road. “2” on the map. Bessemer road is the obvious road between “2” & “3.” Also known as the Blowout Creek trailhead, though you will be parking on Middle Fork road as Bessemer road is gated. Lower (also part of lower) CCC: The section west of Bessemer forest road and east of the Teneriffe parking lot. “3” on the map. Sitka Spruce trail is “4” and Teneriffe/Lower CCC parking is “5.”
The upper CCC honestly is the highlight. Wow. I parked at the middle fork parking lot and walked across the street to start the trail, passing the middle fork campground. It is insanely green, and was freshly brushed out by a work party! Credit where credit is due, sounds like it was the Backcountry Horsemen who are incredible trail stewards of many trail in the area and tend to fly under the radar compared to organizations like WTA and the Washington Climbers’ Coalition. EDIT: This was spearheaded by Backcountry Horsemen, but included volunteers from WTA, DNR, King County Parks, and the Forest Service! Work took over two days and an estimated 150 logs were cleared. Holy cow.
You could smell the fresh cut logs and see sawdust everywhere, and looking at the sides of the trail you could see the debris they had worked to clear. Seriously impressive efforts. The only things I cleared were spiderwebs, with my face. Past the campground you turn onto an old forest road, which is less green and more rocky, and I thought “oh shit, what if everyone’s photos are just from the first half mile, and the rest is like this?” Don’t worry, the rocky road quickly turns back into green carpets and hanging moss. It’s SO GREEN. I felt healthier just being there.
The trail weaves through the second growth forest, crossing the occasional stream. There are multiple bridges (one had a tree fall through it!) though the two largest creeks nearly got my feet wet on the return trip. The open creek (views, wide, talus/rocks in the water) had walking sticks stashed on either side for unstable hikers without poles or runners with tired legs to borrow. But the second creek (in forest, narrow, trees/downed logs everywhere) was a no go, I hiked a few feet upstream to an easier crossing and then found my way back to the trail to carry on. If you have waterproof boots or aren’t being a princess you’ll be fine.
A few minutes beyond that creek, you pop out onto the paved road you drove to get to the trailhead. Okay there’s a gravel section right there, technically. Take a right and follow the road for maybe 300ft before the CCC trail picks up north of the road again.
This is the middle CCC section, technically part of the lower, but it was characterized by blowdowns and stream crossings and VIEWS! I was so surprised! I expected only forest and mossy ground, but this section of the CCC actually gets up above the valley floor and gives you peakaboo views (get it) of the Pulpit, Preacher, Russian Butte, and the Pratt River valley. It’s also much more obviously an old forest road than the upper section, for better or for worse. The road seems to have been cut straight through small cliffs at some point, there must have been blasting involved. Glad the efforts were preserved for me to enjoy 90 years later. “Enjoy” being loose here, because I swear every 200ft there was a tree or seven across the old road for me to maneuver under/over/around/through.
Just before connecting with the Bessemer road, there’s what you might call a washout. A creek has eroded its way through the trail, with a huge canyon above and below. But the trail finds this miraculous flat ish spot to cross, followed by a series of blowdowns entirely obscuring the trail besides an old sign you can see poking up. But keep going forward/perpendicular to the stream, and you’ll pop our onto the well maintained but presumably gated forest road.
Left on the forest road this time, and in 1000 (horizontal, please) ft you will see the CCC trail continue for its last stretch. This time it’s marked by a sign saying “Putting America to Work: Project funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” a tribute to the 1930’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) from which the trail derives its name. They originally built a road spanning 9 miles from the foothills to where North Bend Timber Company had put in rail infrastructure for their lumber operations. This area was extensively mined and even more extensively logged for decades, there’s some crazy (and spooky) history in this valley.
I passed some mountain bikers on the road, maybe trying to bike as far as they could before booting the rest of the way up Moolock or Bootalicious peaks. When I reached the switchback where the CCC continues, I looked at the river and thought ah crap, another unprotected crossing. But wait! There’s a cut log to the right, set up as a foot bridge. Crossed that, and I was on my way through the last section of trail. This was a terrible time to realize my Discover Pass was obscuring my America the Beautiful pass on my windshield, which was the pass I needed to show. Luckily I had like 12 miles to mentally prep for the ticket I’d probably receive.
More surprise views! Less moss, more brush. I don’t think this would be very enjoyable once the brush has budded/leafed/grown in a few months. But for now it’s still pleasant, minus the occasional trail runner hurdle (low downed trees), small stream crossing, and mud pit. I finally saw some people for the first time in what felt like ages. At this point I was determined to make it to the end. I refilled my water at a random stream with no treatment. Nonzero chance I have giardia now but my dumb ass only brought half a liter thinking I’d only be running 8 miles.
I hit the last forest road, and deemed that my turnaround point. Turns out that’s not truly the end. It’s gated, so you have to park another 1.5ish miles away at the Teneriffe trailhead, or ignore the residential signs and park at the gate. I should have asked the hikers that started there. Better yet, you park at the Granite Creek trailhead on the middle fork road, and short cut up to the CCC via the Sitka Spruce trail. It’s barely marked on caltopo, but very visible from the CCC trail. The Sitka Spruce trail starts on the other side of Middle Fork Snoqualmie River from the Granite Creek trail (like keep walking the road across the river after parking at Granite Creek, trail will be on the left). Probably much more enjoyable and green than walking an abandoned forest road to the “start” of the Lower CCC.
Here, I started Strava, because I had no clue what mileage was like. I started jogging back towards the car. The first stretch went so quickly. Turned out I had been running uphill for a lot of that, maybe that’s why I had felt so crappy. I remembered a few landmarks, this creek, that creek, this view. And then I reached Bessemer road, and realized I had no more landmarks besides a washout and multiple memorable downed logs. From Bessemer road to the middle CCC, it’s actually not that straightforward even though there’s only 10ft of downed logs. There is no obvious entrance point from the road to the trail/washout, just a wall of brush. But I found the old sign again and there’s very visible flagging across the creek, and from there it was easy to connect the two points and be back on my way.
Until I hit the next blowdown 150ft later. It’s impossible to get into a rhythm. But if you need to work on your mid run hip mobility or agility, boy do I have the trail for you. After a mind numbing few miles, I ran into a guy who bailed at the first downed tree, and reaffirmed his decision as soon as he asked if it ever got better. No, no it did not, for several miles. You made the right choice. I wish I had recommended he take a short stroll up the upper CCC since he had parked on the middle fork road separating upper & middle, by my definitions.
I was happy to be back at the upper CCC trail, knowing I just had two spunky creek crossings followed by who knows how many miles of ridiculous mostly flat greenery between me and the car. And oh boy was I excited to be almost back at the car. I passed two mountain bikers (yes, it’s a shared trail!) and was jealous of their mode of transportation. But mostly I was drunk on endorphins and exhaustion and afternoon sun spilling through the trees. Many friends have heard me talk about how much I love dappled sunlight in our forests here. This was that, on steroids.
Back at the car, I forced myself to stretch for like 7min before joining the congo line of cars. Life pro tip: don’t stop for gas at exit 34. There will be lines, there will be dildos who leave their cars at the gas islands while they get snacks or pee or who knows what EVEN WHEN THE PUMP ISN’T EVEN IN THE CAR and little did they know some nerd who just ran for literally hours and hasn’t eaten was ready to march into the store and rip them a new one. Instead I drove across the street, where prices were the same and car owners were being responsible.
All in all, spectacular run, especially when it’s confirmed free of downed trees. Judging by the debris, Backcountry Horsement put a LOT of work into this yesterday! I don’t even think it’d have been a viable run if not for them. We are seriously spoiled by all of the volunteer organizations that contribute to our trails. And good news: miraculously, no parking ticket, despite the pass not being visible from the front!
All of us have forgotten something crucial at some point going on a trip, and I’m going to highlight my favorites. Anonymously, kind of, unless someone wants to own their spaciness. Some of these are things I forgot. Some I was just present for. Some were by friends whose stories had me laughing so hard I got a core workout or had to stop climbing and prioritize breathing. Every anecdote here is from very experienced climbers, and everything turned out fine so we’ve been granted permission to learn from their mistakes. And laugh.
Roughly in escalating order of importance and ease of forgetting (debatable):
1. Headlamp(s). On multiple occasions. So often that you develop a reputation, and friends start carrying 2-4 headlamps knowing you will forget one or the one you have will break, resulting in multiple overdue trips like rapping the wrong way down Cutthroat and getting lost in the dark while off route or embarrassing yourself on a SAR mission when the batteries explode covering your headlamp in battery acid and leaving you lampless (gift received months later to take on future missions)
2. Boots for a winter scramble up Ruth Mountain. We’ve already driven like 2hrs out of town and I hear a long sigh followed by an f bomb from the back seat. “What did you forget?” “My boots…” “Well, what are you wearing?” “Um.. chacos. With socks.” He tried on all the spare trail shoes I had in the car, of course none fit. At the trailhead we met another group of climbers, one of whom had men’s trail runners to lend our chaco-bound friend. Not enough to summit but enough to accompany us halfway!
3. A belay device on the Ice Cliffs Glacier route up Stuart. My climbing partner is about to work his way through an overhanging cornice as I slowly say “now um is probably not the best time to tell you I’ll be belaying you off a munter on a carabiner but really you got this you’ll crush it.” He proceeded to crush it. I thought I was going to have to leave the picket he placed there because throwing all my body weight at it wasn’t making it budge. A few hours later we found ourselves bailing off ice screws down the sherpa glacier. With more munter hitches. Sorry rope.
4. Skins. For skis. And one time actually the skis themselves, entirely. You have three options: 1) Drive the 2-3hrs way back to town to retrieve your gear, 2-3hrs back to the trailhead, and get a 1hr nap instead of a night of sleep, pretty much a necessity if it’s the skis you forgot (and a sure sign you are tougher than I am nowadays, because I think at this point I’d just go to bed when I got home) 2) In the case of skins, use ski straps to strap branches to the bottoms of your skis. Reasonable alternatives might be spare clothing, multiple ski straps if you have many, or the microspikes you found buried at the bottom of your pack. The fir/spruce used had directionally appropriate needles but was too voluminous to be practical. A hemlock may have been better. Branches selected from an already dead/soon to be dying tree. 3) A reliable but unpleasant fallback that defeats the point of the trip, boot as far as you can and see how long you (and your partner) can tolerate it. Pros: REALLY good workout, physically and mentally. Cons: Pendulum between amusement and anger, high likelihood of bailing/not meeting your goal, postholing.
5. Sleeping bag on the Ptarmigan Traverse. Well, it was June, and we both had a bivvy, an extra puffy or two, and worst case, a down quilt we could share, and the alternative was driving 5hrs round trip to civilization and then back to the trailhead so uh… we still went. Besides nearly being abducted by aliens, we were fine.
6. Water and gas for the group stove going up Emmons on Rainier. We bartered a fancy locking carabiner for another party’s leftover gas at Camp Schurman, and split 2L of water between the two of us on summit day. “I’ve never felt the altitude like this before” my friend groans “well you’ve probably also never been this massively dehydrated on the way up.” They still crushed it though and no one knew because my friend is freaking superhuman.
8. Car keys on a car-to-different-car-very-far-away-from-the-first-car traverse that has been deemed the Blumberhagadeen Traverse. Imagine being thousands of feet of elevation gain up a class 5 bushwhack postholing through fresh snow many many long miles from the original car and having your climbing partner sheepishly whisper “i left my car key in your car.” I don’t have the coping skills developed to process the ensuing emotions. Full story here with OUTRAGEOUSLY beautiful scenery.
9. Actually starting the gas pump when you put gas in your car. Yes, that’s right, visual confirmation that the nozzle was in the tank, but someone forgot to actually get the gas flowing. My car’s gas gauge is broken, so I rely on the odometer to determine when I need gas. We drove off thinking we had a full tank.
We did not have a full tank. The car sputtered to a halt. The tank was clearly empty. We thought someone siphoned gas out, but nope, turns out we just never filled it. Never got charged for gas, and no gas station is giving away free gas so… In case anyone’s wondering it’s >$500 to get towed to a gas station from WA pass with AAA, or you can coast downhill after some good samaritans get you gas with the spare change you have lying around your car/pack/etc and hope to miraculously average 50% more mpg than usual otherwise you’re about to run out again. Which is what happened. 26mpg in a car that usually gets 18mpg. And then we put 21 gallons of gas into a 20gal tank.
10. An entire pack. This has happened to at least three friends, believe it or not. Skis, skins, boots, poles all present, but picture your stoke stopped in its tracks as you open the trunk of your car at the trailhead and realize your pack is still sitting in your apartment.
Or maybe it’s still sitting in the street in Seattle with your rope, shoes, and harness, and you’re already at Vantage with 5 people and only one set of climbing gear. Don’t worry, the neighbor saw it 6hrs later(!) and took it inside.*
Or the crowning achievement: how about being so nervous about proposing to your girlfriend on top of Rainier that you manage to leave your entire overnight pack, including the ring, at home? And your soon-to-be-fiancee is pissed because you both left work early, you’ve already been sitting in traffic for 3hrs and now you have to turn around, still in traffic, and drive alllll the way home? In traffic? And then all the way back to Rainier, and get a super late start, and now you have lower chances of summitting, and who forgets a whole pack?! Don’t worry, she still said yes!
Honorable mentions to:
Empty camelbacks where you packed the bladder but didn’t actually fill it with water
Snacks left in the car, especially the hot pocket that was lost under the driver’s seat and found 2yrs later when the decomp gas made the plastic package start to crackle
$5 gas station sunglasses because you forgot yours (x20)
Putting black jeans in your pack instead of black long underwear for a 160mi backpacking trip
Sunscreen (forgotten, or you know dropped off a 1000ft cliff to be found in 2200 when the glaciers are gone but the spray can is still there)
Blue bags (easily replaced by used dehydrated meal bags)
Ski straps (classic)
A pack that can actually carry skis
Dropped/lost keys mid trail, later found by a good samaritan who left them on the car tire w/ a note
*this is a miracle – I’ve left my car locked w/ climbing gear inside it for 15-20min TWICE and it’s been broken into within those 20 minutes and $2k+ of gear evaporated into the abyss of petty theft. Once in a double gated/locked + video monitored garage in Capitol Hill, once in Ballard outside of Second Ascent when we ran in to get snacks.
This has become a go-to winter “hike” for me over the past few years. I know beach doesn’t come to mind for most people in the winter, but the beach is my happy place even if it’s 40 and windy with passing squalls. Unlike everything else I seem to get sick of and have trouble revisiting, this one doesn’t get old, and it’s mostly thanks to agate hunting!
Pros: No mountain passes/snowy roads, noncommittal ~4mi beach walk that doesn’t require lots of gear/crazy fitness/suffering in the freezing cold, surprise pockets of sunshine, salt air, agates, possible surfing. Cons: kind of a drive, Tacoma traffic, the best breakfast place usually runs out of food before I’m done with my activity and I never think to have breakfast before the beach, and sometimes small children take my agates but I can’t say anything because I’m an adult and they’re so endearingly excited.
Distance: 4mi round trip Elevation gain: 0ft, highest point.. 0ft? Maybe 3ft on top of the dunes. Weather: Usually 40’s and sunny and windy Commute from Seattle: 2:30 Did I Trip: No but sometimes my reflexes are too slow to save me from a wave that blindsided me if that counts Beta from someone who knows way more than me: PNW Beach Combing
You park along the road where it says “no overnight camping” (does that imply no overnight parking?), cross the street, walk past two usually-pretty-clean port-a-potties, jump off a 2ft “cliff” of eroding asphalt onto sand, clamber over a small jetty, and you are on you way to Damon Point. Children and wagons make it over the jetty, don’t be intimidated. And you won’t get lost. You’re on a beach.
And from there, it’s just a 2mi walk to the end, and another 2mi to walk back the way you came. Stay on the ocean side, the bay side is underwhelming (and marshy/seaweedy at low tide) and doesn’t have any neat rocks to find. The dunes are pretty, but nothing cool to find unless you’re into driftwood and bird poop. I hear the bird watching is great but I am totally clueless about it, so can’t help you there.
The best agates are in the last mile of beach, though it seems the gravel beds where the rocks collect change every year. Last year there were piles of rocks at the very end of the point where I’d hit the jackpot, this year those piles were smaller but there were huge strips about a half mile away from the end of the peninsula. You’ll want to aim for low tide (preferably <4ft – my best day was ~1ft) of course. There is also jasper, but I suck at recognizing it besides orbicular jasper. Plenty of quartz varieties too, much more common than agates and jasper. Very little sea glass and I’ve never seen a sand dollar, so choose a different beach if those are your goals.
1. The first time we looked for agates, we picked up like 50 pieces of quartz before finding a real agate and realizing how wrong we had been. It still took several more trips to be able to naturally separate agates from quartz. I’d hold the one thing I knew was an agate next to the quartz to be sure. The reward thinking you’ve found one is just as fun. Agates almost glow in the sun. If seaglass and rocks had a baby it would be an agate.
2. Very fit some type of weiner dog chased us for maybe a full hour. Finally turned out its owner was walking near us, the dog just liked sprinting with us to and from the waves more than walking.
3. Cute kid collecting agates with his grandpa. He snagged a HUGE one from right in front of us but he was so excited about it! His grandpa sometimes gives him $1 for the big ones.
4. This chonk of a chocolate lab started following me at the end of the point and jogged over a half hour with me. Perfect jogging companion, trotted nicely right next to me. Back at the cars I called the number on her collar since no one I had run into owned her. It was the park manager’s dog! He didn’t realize she was all the way out at the end of the point. She was adorable, when we got close to the cars I stopped for a sec to talk to some people and she whined, as if to say “why aren’t we going come on we have to get back” like I had any idea where she thought we were going.
5. Massive kelp nests. I think kelp. Some type of seaweed. They’re WAY bigger than I thought. Would not want to run into one while swimming, no sir. This place would be awesome to walk after a big storm.