The most reassuring trip report about Bonanza you’ve ever read. Yeah you read that right. Maybe the planets aligned, but I think a lot of the nerve fraying reports for Bonanza are overhyped. And I’m a WIMP. I mean seriously. Talk to me while we’re face-in downclimbing, it can be about anything but someone needs to be talking to me so I can’t get in my head. Same if I’m making an airy move on a rock climb. So I went into this climb with expectations of exposure, spice, and whatever a noun for “heinous” would be, and came away swearing I’d write the most reassuring trip report ever.
That’s not to say it was easy. The waterfall slabs are spooky in the afternoon. The snow can be steep. The scramble is exposed and arguably 4th-5th class at the very top. Lots of transitions. It’s a long day. But this has got to be up there with Fisher Chimneys as one of the most enjoyable moderate routes I’ve done in Washington. Here we go.
- Distance: 5mi to camp, maybe 2 from camp to summit?
- Elevation: 3,000ft gain from Holden to camp, 3,100ft gain camp to summit (9,511ft highest point)
- Weather: 70’s and sunny
- Commute from Seattle: Like… 8hrs because you have to take the ferry
- Did I Trip: I mean probably
- Beta Spray: Here, here, and here (PDF) with our GPX track here
1. It’s not as bad as it sounds. Or as bad as the pictures look. But it’s not easy.
1.5. The bushwhack near the lake is gone because some saint came through with a pair of loppers, and a saw, and a dream
2. Bring multiple pairs of shoes for approach/glacier/scramble. Scrambling in mountaineering boots blows. Very happy I had scrambling shoes. Mike brought enough shoes for our whole party.
3. Do Martin, because you aren’t going to want to come back just for that crumbling mess
4. Plan on rappelling the waterfalls in the afternoon but power to you if you find a down-climbable route
5. The ice cream place in Holden isn’t open in the mornings so you won’t get ice cream on the last day don’t get your hopes up
Bonanza is the highest non-volcanic peak in Washington, and the 26th most prominent in the state. It’s known for throwing a moderate level of everything at you – off trail navigation, bushwhacking, glacier travel, scrambling. Many of the trip reports I read spent time talking about the difficulty and not so much the tremendous scenery that flanks every section of this climb. And these pictures do NOT do it justice. At this point I like to think I do a good job capturing scenery, and I tried to give a taste of every section of this climb, but this was truly just one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been.
We piled into my car at the North Bend Park n Ride and met the rest of the crew at Field’s Point Landing Friday morning. I missed exit 85 on i90 as usual, and had to turn around like 6 miles later at the next exit. Near Blewett Pass we stopped for a bathroom break and got to see my car peel out doing 0-60 in like 2 minutes given the extra 1000lbs of passengers and gear (without that, I only need like… 48 seconds). And finally, my stomach dropped out of my body as I realized what I had left at home: the cheese. I had a whole bag of pretzels, and no cheese. Four days, no cheese. This was going to be horrific.
We had the slow ferry on the way there, which took about two hours from Field’s Point to Holden. It has snacks! I got some pretzels and hummus, and cheese sticks. We passed smaller boats, kayakers, even paddleboarders on our way up Lake Chelan. At the Holden landing, we promptly got into the wrong bus (villagers only), were shamefully ushered off the bus, and finally seated in our own van. In 2015, the Wolverine Creek Fire evacuated Holden just before cutting off road access entirely, so much of the 17mi drive from ferry to village is in a burn zone. I’ve heard great things about the village and maybe this is to blame on covid, but we were totally ignored. Nothing was open, couldn’t find anyone to check in with at the ranger station, no one would answer my questions. I thought I was just being a dick/doing the horns effect thing feeling out of place knowing it’s a religious village* and I’m not very religious and then someone walked by singing hymns. Maybe I am actually just that out of place. I love people and had so many questions about the history of Holden but jeez no one wanted to talk. We finally started hiking the road that would eventually turn into the Holden Lake trail around 2:50pm.
The trail is very easy to follow. Spectacularly green, wildflowers blooming, Copper Mountain rising above the valley. It took longer than anticipated to get to the lake, maybe heavy packs, maybe late start and sluggish after being on boats/in busses all day, I don’t know. My mind was wandering, from the Kraken logo to Homestarrunner/Trogdor to the song about burninating the peasants. Some other hikers thought we were bears. Maybe there was a bear. Either way this trail kept going FOR EVER. It took us a little over two hours to the to the lake (the song stuck didn’t help) and we arrived around 5pm. Sunset wasn’t until ~9pm ish so we had plenty of time. I spied a fifth of whiskey in Rob’s pack… that bodes well, I think.
We took a long break at the lake before following a path counterclockwise to the far side of the lake, where we were able to follow cairns AND CLEARED BRUSH up the gulley to camp. That’s right. Someone came in with a bona fide saw and chopped up that slide alder. There was basically a trail the entire way to camp. And following it up next to the stream was glorious. Waterfalls cascading down the face of Bonanza above us like Shangri La, wildflowers and Copper Mountain and Holden Lake behind us as we gained elevation. Spectacular beauty in every direction. I was like a black hole of sweat soaking in what the world has to offer.
We reached camp at the saddle around 7pm, roughly an hour and a half after leaving out break on the south side of the lake. It was steep, but thanks to the brushed path and plenty of cairns, we never had trouble with navigation. at least, Mike and I didn’t. The others went through some twilight zone shit and had a bit of a brush bash, but found the path eventually. We pitched tents in an obvious flat spot at the saddle with a big snow patch for water. I stuck mine in the middle so anything coming to get us would have to go through everyone else first. Mike and I split a bear bag, partially because I forgot a rope to hang anything with, and partially because if anyone saw me try to throw a rock over a tree limb 30ft in the air they’d laugh and then evict me from the climbing party.
There is a better camp a bit higher up towards Martin, but we weren’t sure about the water situation, so we stayed where we were. It was also just as fast to hike back to the river to fill up on water as it was to boil it (and the melted snow always had surprise pine needles), so it was nice to have reasonable river access. Also, river showers. I crushed my first dehydrated meal. I called my menu “variations on mac n cheese” since the meals were things like chicken alfredo, creamy pesto chicken, mac n cheese, mac n cheese primavera… you get the gist. And you know what? They were all GREAT. We agreed on a 3:30am wakeup. Ugh. Alpine starts.
I woke up to everyone rustling, and we were moving by 4:30am, hiking up the ridge towards Bonanza. I immediately forgot socks and turned back to run down to camp to grab them, knowing I’d regret it if not. I had two pairs of shoes, traditional mountaineering boots for the glacier travel and light trail shoes for the scramble. I honestly considered just bringing rock shoes for the scramble given what I had heard about it, but left them at home after getting these hiking shoes. But whatever makes you most comfortable. You want to summit safely and as comfortably as possible. That’s why Mike had four pairs of shoes. If chances of success were correlated with pairs of shoes we were in great shape.
From camp, this climb has three distinct sections, each with their own challenges. Waterfall slabs, then glacier, then scramble. We reached the waterfall slabs around 5am. We were able to fairly easily pick a way up these without getting too wet (see photos above for details). We unintentionally followed the last two pages of the PDF and the “alternate route” on Andrew Leader’s trip report, both in the beta spray towards the top of this post. Both were in the back of my mind, but it felt like a natural path we never consulted anything during the scramble. Gaining the grass at first was probably the worst part, maybe the final move over the top waterfall was a close second because it was wet (but juggy). I wished I had worn my scramble shoes for this section, mountaineering boots on (wet) slab are yucky. But we were quickly transitioning to crampons by 5:45am, and I was stoked to be on top of the world as the sun rose.
We had two rope teams of 3 headed up the glacier, which is SO much bigger than it looks. We were able to cut straight through the center rather than hugging rock on the right and then traversing across the top of the glacier, but I don’t think it saved us that much time. Cooler crevasse views though. I spent the whole time telling everyone who would listen that I would rappel down the scramble section, for sure. I’m a sandbagger. Underpromise, overdeliver. Twice I thought the glacier route wasn’t going to go. We had to cross a sagging snow bridge across a decent crevasse that looked nasty from afar but ended up being totally solid, and then there was a decent moat between the glacier and the rock ridge that turned out to have a snow finger that was solid, but THIN. The glacier took us about two hours with plenty of stops for crevasse pictures.
On the rock ridge, we coiled ropes, switched to whatever our preferred shoes were (was Mike on pair #3? #4? Did he leave some at camp? Different shoe on each foot?), and started picking our way uphill. Here I was anxious again, having read tons of trip reports about negative holds and downward sloping slabs and kitty litter and exposure. But we found there were decent ledges almost everywhere. If there wasn’t one right in front of you, it was one move away, never sustained spiciness. I entered my own 3ft world, each of us choosing our own adventure, solving the scramble puzzle move by move with that little flare of confidence and accomplishment with every movement. I followed fresh red rap tat most of the way up, jumping point to point like a bizarre pinball game, my reminders of “I’m going to rap this” becoming fewer and further between as I realized the scramble was… totally manageable. The group generally stayed close, though we each took slightly different routes. This was to optimize rock fall. Slightly different routes meant no one directly below you (hopefully), and staying close meant if a rock did get knocked loose, it couldn’t pick up too much speed before connecting with someone. It was also clearly the path of least resistance, and it just kept going smoothly. And hey, if we wanted to rappel down, the entire rap route was brand spanking new so at least we had that going for us.
The final ridge to the top is technically difficult starting just above where we are in the above photo. I’d honestly say we made some low 5th class moves there, but they all had extremely solid holds, and some were these nice juggy holds and a fantastic hand crack that I found in this chimney-like feature that just felt super comfy. I was very happy I was fresh off climbing Cathedral Buttress, because I felt much stronger and more secure than I had expected. I pulled myself up onto a shark fin and did a few au cheval moves before the final talus walk, and soon enough we were doing cheers with whiskey at the top. You know who HAD brought cheese? Rob. Smoked. MFing. Gouda. So in classic fashion (this seems to be turning into a trend), I probably ate more of Rob’s snacks than my own.
We took a long break but I was (as usual) anxious about getting down. Sorry I’m (secretly? hopefully?) neurotic. I wanted to rappel at least the top section. We set up a rappel, I went first, Rob downclimbed (he’s part mountain goat), the other 4 followed the rappel. It took astonishingly long to have five people rap, and that idea was immediately vetoed for the rest of the scramble. Patience is not my strong suit. So we began to pick our way downhill. I was in the middle, which is good for me. I’m a wimp but I’ll follow just about anything. Shit I’ll DO just about anything if I’m properly distracted. There were a few moves I asked Rob to talk me through, which means there was some 4th class on the way up because that’s about where I start paying attention to downclimbing and have to face in.. He started explaining the rock features and where I could put my feet and I laughed – it doesn’t even have to be downclimbing beta, it just needs to distract me from thinking about whatever we’re doing so I go with the flow and stay in that flow state instead of overanalyzing. I’ll start coming up with prompt questions for next time. What’s the best meal you’ve ever had. Favorite peak you’ve climbed. Would you rather fight a coyote or an eagle. Are there more doors in the world, or wheels. What song only needs one line to get stuck in your head. No wait maybe not that one, that’s risky. Rob had already gone from Danger Zone to Final Countdown and I’m sure there would be another song rotation in 30min.
Having confidence in the people around you is HUGE on a peak like this. Knowing Rob (mountain goat) and Tim (gecko, can stick to anything) were SO nimble and would find a reasonable way up and down did wonders for my own mentality and brought me back the joy of climbing that I had occasionally been missing in prior years. A team on an adventure, working together, same goals, same destinations. People to follow and chase or lead, no pressure either way, we’d find a way for everyone to get up. Conversation partners to keep mind off tired feet, exposure, getting too far ahead of yourself. Knowing I could ask anyone to talk to me and they’d start chatting to distract me while I downclimbed. Hearing Tim crack himself up in the distance. Looking at him and Alex edging on nothing. Finding the route of least resistance through the 19,428 options in front of us.
Transitioning back to the glacier was interesting. We did not trust the snow finger we had stepped off of since it was thin and very mushy in the afternoon sun with a nonzero chance of us plunging straight through and 20ft down into a moat. That’s not how I want to go out, so we set up a belay system to belay each person down into the moat, and then a separate belay off a picket on the glacier as they climbed out of the moat on the other side since the glacier wouldn’t be a great place to fall either. Slow going, but in a zero fall zone, it was the safest option. It honestly wasn’t that bad, the double belays might have been overkill. But walking down the glacier went quickly.
Next up: the waterfall slabs. I started scouting out where to downclimb. I kept striking out. Holy CRAP they were wetter than they had been in the morning. Maybe we should rap? Maybe I’m being a chicken? I’m probably being a chicken. Rapping would be sooo slow. Okay you guys go first. If you can do it I’ll suck it up and follow. Except then everyone else took a peak over the edge and the consensus was uhh.. yeah… we can rap this. We tied the two ropes together for a full 60m rap (one rope would have been fine but we weren’t sure) and did two rappels to the base of the waterfall slabs, finishing below where we had started that morning. Again with the fresh rap stations. It’s really insane how much bigger the waterfalls were. You expect some extra runoff with sun and afternoon heat, but the difference was surprising. From where the raps landed us, it was a talus traverse back to the ridge, and a walk back to camp, where my variations on mac n cheese awaited me.
We all crashed back at camp. Actually I think some of the guys went to the river for water and showers while I boiled snow with pine needles because I could not be bothered to walk down there. I could barely make it to the bear bag Mike had hung. I LOVED my dehydrated meal. Peak Refuel guys, I’m never switching brands again. I also swore I’d chug a jet boil of mio before falling asleep and I did exactly that. I changed into fresh base layers and I think I was asleep before my head hit my pillow. Figurative pillow. It was probably just some clothes in a lump.
The next morning, we woke up around 5:30am to climb Martin right next door. More of that to come in a separate post!
*Bonus info re: Holden because it has a fascinating history, paraphrased from here. In the late 1800’s, a prospector discovered ore outside of Holden. His last name was Holden. Go figure. He never got enough funding to mine anything, but in the 1930’s, a future generation figured it out and built a copper mine. Like the aptly named Copper Peak towering over Holden. Go figure.
The mining era came to an end in the late 1950’s, and the mine closed down. Having been built on now protected USFS land, much of the village was burned down to be reclaimed by wilderness. There were still no major access roads, no industry besides the old mine, no sizeable logging operations now that they were surrounded on three sides by wilderness. And so the village sat mostly unused.
At least, until some seemingly random guy in Alaska decided he wanted to buy the village. The asking price was $100k (about $1M today, not bad for A WHOLE VILLAGE IN THE MOUNTAINS). He didn’t have $100k lying around, but he kept asking, and several years later he was a student at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Seattle when he has the lightbulb moment: would they donate it to LBI?
Yes, actually, and then he had to tell LBI what he just orchestrated. They accepted after a visit (duh, it’s GORGEOUS), and with some donations and funding from larger Lutheran groups, were able to restore what was left of Holden and built it out into a full village getaway. It honestly felt like a summer camp when we were there. The only way in or out is by air or by ferry and their sponsored buses from ferry to village (~17mi), the vehicles are all ancient manual transmission vehicles that probably only get refreshed when necessary (buses included), the ferry brings mail and food and supplies and volunteers. One volunteer had to leave on our ferry due to a medical issue that couldn’t be treated at camp, they volunteered there for a week every ear going back decades. It is a really close knit community in a really special place with incredible surroundings.
Oh, and huge scoops of ice cream for $1 that are never available when hikers need them.
**The mine remediation happened from 2011-2016. Holden Village (and the mine) are surrounded by federally designated wildernesses, and the mining practices in the mid 1900’s were not the cleanest. The river especially rushing right through the old mining grounds mean lots of iron leeching into the water. As of 2017, there would be a 5 year testing period to see if more work needed to be done, and I have no idea where it stands now but with a scar like that I’m curious how long it’ll take for the wilderness to reclaim that mine.