Looking back at Monogram Lake with Eldorado, the Triad, Hidden Lake Peaks in the back
It’s not 100% funny yet, there are still a bunch of embarrassing moments and regrets mixed in, but in a few weeks/months it’ll be a stupid story from my 20’s when I was still a 5-year-old on the inside. Don’t take candy from strangers, don’t let someone else bring you your drink at a bar, blah blah blah. We’ll get to the fun part in a bit. Karma bit me in the ass on this one.
- Distance: 10 miles round trip
- Elevation: 4500ft agin, 5700ft highest point
- Weather: Single digits overnight, maybe teens during the day. Sunny, cloudy, snow showers.
- Commute from Seattle: ~2.5 hours with no traffic
- Did I Trip: Oh boy
Plans came together Friday evening. Originally we were thinking of checking out the Enchantments, but last minute we settled on Little Devil Peak. Tony joined our plans around 9pm, assuming he’d follow our skin track and catch up to us at camp. We left around 5am Saturday, stopped off for coffee and breakfast and climbing permits (which I left at the car anyway, so you could argue that was a pointless detour), and started the drive up Cascade River Road, which is allegedly plowed to mile 7.
False. It was not plowed to mile 7. We had to pull over ~1.5mi from the trailhead, because I was too lazy to drive and we took JT’s car which, while great on snow and ice, has like 5″ of ground clearance and was bottoming out on the chunk of ice between tire tracks. We knew Tony was only 30ish minutes behind us, so rather than skin the mile and a half, we got all of our gear ready and waited in the car for Tony, who we hoped would be driving his snow-crusher FJ.
Tony skins up below (PC: JT)
Aaand we were right! We waved Tony down and hitched a ride to the trailhead, where we started up with skis on our backs. I almost wish I hadn’t been up here before, because I only remembered two landmarks and of course both were like 2,500ft of gain up the trail so every switchback was a reminder of how far we still had to go. I found a piece of candy on the trail (woohoo, free snacks!) and stashed it in my pocket. We finally broke out into the clearing I remembered from last time, where we re-entered the forest and started to boot straight up once we lost the snowshoer trail. We hoofed it for a while as Tony skinned a more mellow route, keeping within earshot (whistles and various signature whoops), and met up just below a second clearing where we were officially starting to skin.
WHERE IS THE SKIN WAX
We had a quick snack break where I decided to have kimchi pancakes leftover from Amber’s Korean feast the prior night and that candy I had found. Which was gross, like a combo of licorice and a cough drop but it looked like a lozenge so cough drop taste made sense. We took off up the icy drainage, fighting through trees (but actually, too steep and dense for skins but you could drag yourself up by pulling and pushing on trees and toning your triceps) and dragging snow-caked skins (picture 10lb weights on each ankle) through the shitty slush followed by shitty powder as we zigzagged in and out of sunshine and shade. Take five steps, try to smack snow off the skins. Another five steps, smack snow. Another five steps, cry a little bit. Another five steps, smack snow and fall over streaming profanity into the powder and lie there in defeat only to find JT taking a break 15ft away when you assumed he was a mile ahead laughing at your plight from above in the distance.
PC Tony, so it actually WAS pretty (See bullets below)
I flopped down next to JT. I couldn’t figure out why I was so spacey and wow my mouth was amazingly dry. I changed into thick gloves and remarked on how cold it was, my fingers were sharply painful and suddenly numb, it must be single digits! I was smacking my lips when I noticed my heart rate still elevated and a mild anxiety about everything we were doing. My vision lagged, I’d move my eyes and the scenery would drag behind. I looked up at JT mid sentence. Life in slow-mo, cotton mouth, shitty circulation, mild anxiety? My life is pretty vanilla, but I remembered this from college. Only one thing has given me those symptoms. “Oh my god. JT. The candy wasn’t candy.”
Tony caught up to us and we told him what was going on. “This can’t go in the blog post.” “If you don’t write about it I swear I’ll add it in the comments.” Well we weren’t camping here, so let’s get over the ridge and down to Monogram Lake and re-evaluate. This stuff can’t last longer than like an hour, right? Oh god. It was just kicking in. I kept my eyes on the ground, focusing on the skin track in front of me. If I looked up at JT I’d get dizzy and start to tip over. Kick turns were the worst. Put your poles here. No, put them here actually. Or maybe there? Actually if I lean into the snow with my whole upper body including this elbow then on the fourth attempt I can swing my ski in line with the turn aaaand… .there it is. Stand up straight. Eyes ahead. NO, no, eyes down. Yes. Good.
We crested the ridge and I could see the lake. But the slopes to the lake. Oh my god. A million things ran through my head.
- The hills – they’re so steep (they were not)
- Who LEFT this there this is ILLEGAL (no, it’s not, you live in Washington)
- Are these good views or is it just my eyes? (both)
- Can I ski down on my skins? (no)
- Can I ski down in downhill mode? [world spins and up is down and i’m covered in powder] (…no)
- Can I boot it? Hmm. Yes. Feet are good. This is good.
- Every slope will avalanche if I step right there (false)
- Has it actually been two hours, or has it been 15 minutes and it feels like two hours? (2 hours)
- Have I moved? (debatable)
- Is JT ahead of me still?? (yes)
- Where’s Tony DID WE LOSE TONY OH NO (we did not)
- DID WE LOSE ME WHAT IF THEY WENT SOMEWHERE ELSE AND I JUST FORGOT AND NOW I’M ALONE AND shut up and follow the tracks ya dingus
Looking back at our tiny camp
We got to the lake and I flopped on down on my pack. Do we continue to the ridge, or camp here? I stared into space for 45 minutes. “You’re the high one, you decide.” I’m sorry, that’s backwards. High people can’t make decisions. “Come on, stoner cat.” Let’s go to the ridge. No, let’s camp here. Yeah, camp here. JT started to set up his tent. I handed him the first set of poles, point first. Hmm, the second set must have to go feet first. I turned it around and bent it so the feet would be the width of the door. Almost there aaaand…. SNAP!
It rang through the valley like a bullet, or the sound of Alex Honnold falling during that 24hr climbing competition in that one short film. I stared at the pole, now two poles. I stared at JT. I tried to put them together. If I had been hydrated maybe I’d have cried. JT took it in stride and patched it up and didn’t let me touch any other piece of the tent, which was fine because now I was scared to touch anything anyway. As soon as the tent was set up, I crawled into my sleeping bag and passed out. It was 3pm.
Skinning back up the ridge
I woke up to Tony and JT talking. I could hear them and wanted to laugh and say things back but that involved blowing air past my vocal chords which sounded like such a chore, I’d rather just meld into this sleeping bag and become on with the fluff and drift off like a piece of a cloud. Eventually I was somewhat munchy so I had cheez its (amaaaaaazing) and dinner. And passed out again.
In the morning I awoke to snow, frozen boot liners, frozen water bottle, frozen socks, a very full bladder, a clear(er) mind, and some shame. And the gradual realization that yes, this had to go in the blog post. I chose to face the bladder first, followed by the socks and liners. We boiled water to melt the ice in our water bottles, and I started skinning laps around the lake to get my feet and liners to warm up. By the third lap, I was walking on numb stumps. I crawled back into my bag and JT boiled some water for me to put in my bottle to put between my thighs to try and get circulation moving. I told Tony and JT to head to the ridge to ski, I had to figure out my feet and liners. The liners would never be dry, but if I could just get them warm enough to not freeze once they touched air again, then I could keep them warm once I was moving. I took a deep breath and put the damn ice blocks against my chest. They were melted within a few minutes and warm ish maybe 15 minutes later, and I stuffed my feet in them and took off to catch up with Tony.
JT with Lookout Mountain
The first run down was phenomenal fluffy powder. JT went first, then Tony, then me. We’re whooping and grinning and suddenly JT yells “watch out for the-” “CRRRRRSSSSKKKKKKK” “-crust…” as Tony skidded to a stop on sheer ice. Only the shaded snow was fluffy, anything that had been touched by the sun was no fun. We did a few laps before packing up camp and starting to skin out. Getting up and over the ridge was brutal because anything involving using my edges resulted in me popping out of my bindings and the ski sliding back down the ice until I caught up to it, but skiing down the other side of the ridge (especially in one fluffy gully) was spectacular. Going back down the veggie belay/tree climbing drainage was brutal, I booted it for about 4 steps before putting the skis back on because survival skiing was the lesser of the two evils.
The survival ski continued back to the boot pack we made on the way up where the trail enters that first clearing. We crashed through trees, skiied over some dead branches and rocks, kept in touch by shouting “marco!?” “polo!” and the usual “whoop whoop” [whistle] “woo!” I caught up to JT. “I… I got into a bad situation.” The look on his face wasn’t good. I was trying to think if he was stuck on a bad slope or had a bad gear issue but no, we were never anywhere like that. “Look at the back of my pack.”
“There’s nothing there.” “Exactly.” Shiiiiiit. His tent. Should I laugh or cry? I mean, I’m off the hook for broken poles if there’s no tent, right? “Why not just take $700 and make it rain over a cliff?” He had been tracking our route, so there will be a spring revenge trip to find the tent eventually. It’s up there somewhere.
Apparently it’s cold
We booted straight downhill until there was not enough snow left to cut switchbacks efficiently. I muscled through a downed tree only to lose my ski strap a few switchbacks later, but at that moment I didn’t care enough to walk back up to look for it. We popped out back at the car followed shortly by Tony, who found the ski strap! Woohoo!
We drove back to JT’s car and were going to stop by Mondo (Tony was a little jealous of the Korean feast Amber had cooked before the weekend and had been thinking about kimchi pancakes for days now) but in a crushing moment of defeat, it was closed. We decided to part ways so Tony could pick up his son only a little late instead of very late.
Amazingly, driving through Darrington we found that Burger Barn was open. We demolished some burgers before driving back to real life in the city, where I immediately googled the letters on the candy wrapper to discover it was from Magic Kitchen, a Tacoma based pot shop. Great. I wasn’t crazy.
P.S. I peed literally brown on Sunday morning. If you’re gonna go do edibles or eat candy you found on the trail because you have the impulse of a small child, stay hydrated, folks.
Skinning back to camp