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!