You know how if you break a bone you forget what it really felt like? How bad that pain was? Yeah that’s how I feel about the trail to Colchuck Lake. Let’s talk about how it feels to fall on your face skinning up ice while wearing an overnight pack with an alpine rack around 10pm to do a climb you don’t even know if you can do. I’m not even going to call it type II fun, that’s too generous. I laid there, all too aware that I would like ski crampons and cannot do the pizza backwards. And I picked myself up, took a deep breath, cursed the world, and kept skinning towards JT, who I can only imagine was laughing at my plight. So that’s how I ended up on Colchuck Peak, 4/2/2017.
- Distance: 19 miles round trip, eff that road
- Elevation: 6600ft gain (8600ft highest point)
- Weather: 50 and clear Friday night (summer), 40 and windy and rainy on Saturday (spring), 15-20 and fucking freezing and snowing and windy on Sunday (winter)
- Commute from Seattle: 2:30, longer if you forget spoons and turn around halfway down Icicle Creek Road to go buy a 50pack from the gas station
- Did I Trip: Oh god. Good lord. I can’t even count how many times I fell on my face skiing.
We had started up the road a few hours earlier. There was consistent snow from the car, so while the idea of “car to car” was appealing, the fact we had 4 miles of road, 4 miles of brutal trail (the Colchuck Lake trail and I have never gotten along well), and then an entire climb ahead of us. The road had gone smoothly, we reached the trailhead, and I expected the trail to be a breeze. But my memory of the trail was skewed. Tony and I last year had cut off a nice chunk of the trail on the way down from the Enchantments (arguably even less pleasant), and I didn’t remember much of how it was in the winter. On several occasions I swore to myself the lake was just around the corner, only to be hit with another steep icy slope and eventually having my face greeted by ice yet again while I remembered that I suck at skiing.
We finally got to the lake around 10:30pm, a solid 5-6 hours after we left the car. I needed camp and I needed it now. JT kindly obliged and we set up the tent halfway around the lake. I peed and cried and boiled water (okay, I did two of those things) while he did the hard work of setting up the tent and digging a lower level below the vestibule (my new favorite addition to a tent setup – you can put your feet down and there’s so much more room). I managed to make it through a dinner before falling unconscious in my sleeping bag, where we agreed we’d wake up around 3 and check weather.
Well, I rolled over at 3am to the wind buffeting the tent and some sort of precipitation. We agreed to wait it out (to my relief, I was freaking wiped) and I woke up an hour later to even worse wind. Around 7am we rolled out of bed and debated what to do with the day. We chopped snow blocks and built an awesome wall around the tent to compliment our “foyer” in the vestibule, and finally around 10am JT was bored. We decided to skin across the lake and either scout the route or go up Aasgard, but my feet were blistered and bruised from my ski boots and I could not be bothered to put boots on. I laced up my mountaineering boots and hoofed it.
An hour later, I was back at the tent getting my ski boots on. Feet be damned, it’s a hell of a lot more efficient than walking.I skinned back across the lake to catch up with JT but bailed like 10 feet up Aasgard. It was windy, it was cloudy, it was on and off raining, Aasgard was a lot of effort for no reward especially knowing I couldn’t ski down it. JT either agreed or just could tell that I was done, cause he skiied back down to me and I told him I was gonna hang at the lake.
He somehow convinced me to move camp up to the base of the couloir, despite the fact we had already nested and made a great snow fort with an awesome vestibule and I mean shit we had it made. But it was like noon, which meant we had 7 hours of day left and I knew we’d both be bored and antsy. Okay fine, let’s pack it up.
It was a great decision. As we skinned across the lake, the skies cleared up, the rain stopped, and it was a bluebird. Freaking. Day. We should have gone up Aasgard. Shit. Whatever, too late now. We humped our overnight gear up to a small snow bowl at the base of the couloir and set up camp on a little outcropping overlooking the lake and questioning whether it was too late to go for the route or not. I had no mental stoke, so I was content to hang at the tent. JT skinned up to the couloir and skiied back over, saying it wasn’t nearly as steep as it looks. We chilled at camp, made dinner, and went to bed early, hopeful for an alpine start on Sunday.
But again, we woke up at 3am to whipping wind and snow. Dammit. 4am came along, same wind. 5am came along, wind was worse. 7am happened, and we heard voices. We poked our heads out of the tent, two guys were going for the NE couloir. JT turned to me. It’s 7:30. Should we do it? If we’re gonna do it we gotta get our stuff together now. Without thinking, I agreed. Fuck it, let’s do it. We started packing.
We were moving by 8:30, and started the climb up the couloir. The snow was great for kicking steps, and we made pretty good time thanks to the skiier who was kicking steps ahead of us. Aka breaking trail. So while I was breaking the number one rule of spring training, I wasn’t complaining. The wind was strong, snow came and went, we got glimpses of blue skies. Hopes were high.
The couloir isn’t nearly as steep as it looks from the lake. It was steep and a fall wouldn’t be nice, but it isn’t vertical. I couldn’t stop smiling. Colchuck Lake trail may have destroyed me but now we were above treeline and gaining views and man I felt great. I had a Selena Gomez song in my head and found myself marveling at how she’s just great and every song she makes is great and man I can’t wait to have my snacks and this is just so great how did I ever forget how much I loved this? We took a quick break at the ridge below a huge boulder, had a snack (baby food is delicious – Peter Rabbit fruit is like the nectar of the gods and my future baby is gonna have to start to hide his food), and crossed the ridge.
I think you need to stay up and left in the couloir, because we had to drop down a bit and traverse way out onto the face to start going up again. But we found our ski friend’s tracks again and continued up. Traversing is so freaking tedious. Up is great, down is eehhhhhh, and traversing is like why do I try so hard and only move 6 inches?! And then you look down and you’re like oh, right, if I make a shitty move here I’ll just tumble to my death 3,000ft below. Steep snow doesn’t get to me much but the thought crosses your mind once in a while, albeit devoid of emotion. JT turned to me. “This is pretty gnarly.”
We made it to the summit block. I saw a few “baby mixed” lines that I thought would go, but we kept traversing to the right. JT voiced my concerns. “Is this definitely a walk off?” I had heard that it was, but I didn’t know for sure. I sure as hell hope it is. We roped up for a short pitch to the summit that I was all too happy to lead. I nearly cried topping out. The skies opened up, the wind died down for a hot minute, I was out of slings so (sorry JT) I built most of the anchor using just the rope plus a picket with the last sling, I was staring at Stuart and Argonaut and it was basically still winter and it was gorgeous and such an awesome landscape and I imagine people do drugs to get the feeling I had on that summit.
While I was basically high, JT was freezing his ass off, and said fuck you and started climbing. So I put him on belay and brought him up. We high fived, cleaned up the anchor, took a million photos, and realized the two guys from the NE couloir were coming up! We figured they’d be hours ahead of us. The first guy comes up to me and asks how our route was. Great, just steep snow! How was yours? He starts laughing. “TWO HOURS! Two hours burrowing through that cornice! You should go check out the hole.” I burst out laughing. They were so proud of their burrow, naturally we went to check it out. I hope I’m like them in a few years. Here’s a link to their trip report if you want to see a man sized hole like a caterpillar eating through an apple.
Colchuck is a walk off, though we took a slight shortcut that involved some face-in downclimbing. Then I had the worst glissade of my life trying to avoid the awkward, uneven, crusty postholing, and soon enough we were back at the tent. Melt some water, pack it up, and bring on the misery.
Mistake #1. I booted across hte lake instead of skinning. It was slow and sad and miserable. Mistake #2. Missed the trail the same way Tony and I had last year, but quickly corrected (but not after many posthole-and-the-skis-sticking-off-my-pack-also-get-stuck-and-i’m-hip-deep-in-snow-and-helpless snafus). Mistake #3. I didn’t put on crampons, despite a slick, icy, destroyed skin track. Thanks, everyone who side slipped the whole way down. I finally put on crampons. Mistake #4. Being Pathetic, with a capital P. We got back to the trailhead, I had the best bathroom break of my life to date, and I tried to ski down with no skins. I expected it to be awesome. At first it was awesome, but then it got too steep and icy.
Yes, you read that right. THE ROAD GOT TOO STEEP AND ICY. DID YOU EVEN TAKE SKI LESSONS, YOU TIRED WIMP? YOU KNOW HOW TO DO THE PIZZA. “but I buuuuurn and it huuuuurts and i’m tiiiiired” said both of my IT bands. “I need a massaaaaaaage.” Ugh. Shut up. “your’e wearing a paaaaack it’s haaaaaard.” I finally put skins back on and tried to skate ski ish. I met JT at the car. It took me 1118 “steps” to get back to the car. I imagine that equates to somewhere around 400 F bombs, if I had one every three steps. I crushed a caffeinated gu and the F bombs went from hating everything to making fun of my own situation, so I guess that’s an improvement.
I was so happy to get back to the car. The road had melted out so I had to carry skis in some plces, but it was almost entirely car to car (if you know how to ski). We had one of the top McDonalds meals of my life coupled with the best Diet Pepsi of my life (which it turns out has caffeine, which explains why the drive home was so great). We got back to the North Bend park n ride, where I only transferred half of my shit into my car (forgot the rest in JT’s car), realized I needed gas, and hated three-day-ago-Eve who didn’t put goddamn gas in her car BEFORE the trip. She’s an asshole.
Opening Day! Nice!
Awesome! I need to get on this route asap!
Nice! Any particular reason you roped up for the scramble? I’ve done this peak several times but never had to rope up even early in the season, wondering if perhaps the amount of snow forced this.
It definitely wouldn’t have needed a rope without the snow and ice, it’s probably just a 4th class scramble when melted out. But with the ice it felt more like baby mixed climbing (plus exposure) so we figured we’d play it safe!