Anaconda Peak/Gordon Ridge Snowshoe

I think this is Bald Mountain from the summit of Anaconda
Game on!

“Why do you think it’s called Anaconda Peak?” “Because.. my anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun?” Rob couldn’t finish the sentence without laughing and I cracked up. It’s true, you need some serious buns to do this peak, especially on snowshoes, which are second only to crawling on your hands and knees as a self-propelled mode of transportation. Snowshoeing. Is. So. Hard.

I joined Rob’s trip up Anaconda at the last minute. It was organized by Tim, who is like a gecko on snowshoes and can fly up any slope of any angle at an inhuman rate of travel and he’s turned the corner or crested the knoll before you see where he went. More on that later. We met at the gas station in Granite Falls and caravan-ed to the trailhead, which we almost missed by two miles, but finally found before we got started. It’s just past the “red bridge” which is more like a pink bridge nowadays.

  • Distance: 7.5mi
  • Elevation gain: 3700ft
  • Weather: 40’s and rainy/sunny (classic)
  • Commute from Seattle: ~1:30
  • Did I Trip: Yes, many snowshoe slides and a stumble or two, maybe a faceplant
Figuring out the river crossing

We started up the Marten Creek trail, which begins on an old road that we suspected was from logging times given the second growth forest, but actually provided access to mines further up the valley by Granite Pass. The trail was wide and well graded, but must have been a bitch of a logging road (mining road?) because it was STEEP. But mossy, and beautiful, and protecting us from some of the rain that was coming down. We found a cool sign explaining that the lower section was actually an experimentation zone, like what Amber and I had seen at Little Mashel Falls a few weeks ago. After some surprisingly extensive Googling and checking coordinates of sites listed in random long term doug fir studies, I finally landed on the Stillaguamish test site (thanks to this PDF), which is where we were despite the sign saying CARSON WASH which misled me for a solid 10 minutes. It was seeded in 1915 (okay, that sign was accurate) along with four other test sites. Each site had multiple varieties of douglas fir, and the goal was to measure survival rates, health, and how well different varieties of doug fir could adjust to different environments. At this site, in 15 years, the douglas firs had grown to about 5.2m already, and by 2013 they were 36.0m tall. Only 15% had survived, which was the lowest survival rate of the five test sites but second tallest in height and the largest in diameter, partially due the Stillaguamish site’s lower elevation & warmer weather. After a hundred years of being studied, the researchers also confirmed some common sense: survival rates of seeds are better if they stay in similar climates to the parent trees.

Stillaguamish Experimental Plot

Enough on douglas firs. About a quarter mile after the trail starts to head north and finally flattens out, you’ll notice you are fairly close to the creek (~200 horizontal ft maybe). This is where you cross the creek at a point of your choosing (the crossing we chose… I mean, it worked) and start heading uphill. Creek crossings in winter are always interesting, and Rob broke a great trail across some logs that did the job well enough. Just beyond the river we strapped on the torture devices known as snowshoes, and started to head uphill. Tim put it best. You ever want to diet? Forget it, just go on a few snowshoes and before you know it you’ll be running marathons like no one’s business.

Everyone appreciates a wise tree

Rob and Tim took turns breaking trail, which was totally fine with me and Trang and I assume Alex, who was recovering from a broken ankle but still decided to bring extra water as training weight. I asked what was the biggest trip he’d done so far, and the answer was “this one.” Just a casual jaunt up 3700ft of powder in snowshoes. I have happy unbroken ankles and they weren’t stoked on the day. But I spent this winter becoming soft between accutane and sedentary-ness, like a humanoid soft serve ice cream with asthma and a propensity to burn in the sun. A creme brulee, perhaps.

Rob breaking trail – steep!

The first uphill section was steep but not threateningly steep, and soon enough we were on a forest road running along a ridge. We carried on to the end of the road, and headed uphill due northwest towards the south ridge of Anaconda. This was also steep, but still manageable until we got to the point we had to start making switchbacks. And when this happens, the first person basically kicks a one-snowshoe-wide trail, and the second person has to try to widen it, and maybe by the time the fourth person comes along you have a small sidewalk. Or all the steps blow out and you have misery, depends on the snow. We had a bit of both, but the ridiculously huge trees with fresh snow and patches of blue sky kept us motivated. Oh, and you couldn’t stand in one place for too long, or you risked getting smacked by a tree bomb, which is chunks of melting snow falling from the trees. That’s the real reason to bring helmets!

Did I mention it was steep?

The final stretch of the south ridge was surprisingly steep, I definitely underestimated it. I expected a walk in the park, I got a mountaineering adventure, ice axe included. I think my favorite thing about Tim was the boundless energy and positivity the entire trip. I’d see one of his gecko prints sideways on a mound of vertical snow, laugh, and hear him whooping 100ft ahead of me. He and Rob were also both great at checking in on everyone. “Do you want some goldfish?” “Who needs a snack?” “Don’t forget to drink water!” “Do you want some goldfish now?” “What about now?” “Goldfish, anyone?”

How does that slope look?

We took a break just below the summit where we had a hard time breaking trail up some very steep snow between tight trees, and Trang decided to wait. Tim and Trang were prepared and she had layers, a radio, snacks, the works. She whipped out a beautiful purple goretex layer I immediately complimented and she and Tim started laughing – she wanted to return it because of the color!! No, it’s the best shade of purple ever! It was hard to tell from my gear for once, but I LOVE bright colors.

We were at the summit… maybe 15 minutes later, and Rob had the idea to save the final ridge traverse for Tim to lead since he had organized the trip. On the summit, we had sneak peeks of the surrounding peaks. Tim made sure to radio Trang so he could trash talk a bit so she knew what she was missing, at least for the 3 minutes of views we had before being back inside a ping pong ball. I think Anaconda is like Oakes lite, where you suffer through forest until the very end where you get spectacular views, except we couldn’t entirely tell thanks to the clouds. I also learned that having a great camera doesn’t mean you take great photos (literally ALL FLOPS, they are all terrible, and you will see none of them) and sometimes carrying four jackets IS useful (we were SOAKED from rain/snowbombs on the way up and a dry midlayer was amazing). And finally, Tim accepted Rob’s offer of goldfish.

Tim laying tracks to the summit!
I THINK it’s Liberty in the moody clouds

We didn’t want to make Trang wait too long, so we headed down after a quick bite and some group selfies. The way down went faster than the way up besides several transitions between boots and snowshoes, and me snagging my “radio antenna” on everything. “You didn’t collapse your trekking pole all the way!” I laughed but pouted at the same time. “Because they’re ski poles 😦 This is as collapsed as they go!” I always have a pole sticking up like two feet above my head. Luckily, we glissaded much of the way down, which makes me short enough I’m not hitting branches with my antenna. At one point Trang asked how you stop sliding going downhill on snowshoes. I don’t think you ever do, you either learn to use it to your advantage or you get resigned to it. Either way you stop fighting it.

Contagious laughter!!! The pic makes me happy

Back at the river, we found a MUCH better crossing than what we used on the way up. I was still in snowshoes and used them to dance across some rocks. Rob got his feet wet. Tim pretended to be a diva and Alex had no ankle so we (Rob gets most of the credit, actually) started laying out more and more rocks to build a crossing, and by the time Tim crossed last it was a bona fide rock bridge while we laughed on the other side. From there we had a few soul sucking postholes getting back up to the trail (I refused to put the snowshoes back on, we were so close!), and then it was clear sailing back to the cars. The sun had come out and we had beautiful afternoon light shining through the trees.

Turned into a beautiful day

The cherry on top? We got back to the base of the trail a few minutes before the others and Rob goes “I’m going to get the watermelon set up so it’s ready when they get down.” WATERMELON?! Oh my god, it’s March and all I wanted suddenly was watermelon. It was some of the best watermelon I’ve ever had, such a perfectly timed snack. Rob carried it over to the other three and we munched watermelon marveling at the clear sunny weather and how it had turned into such a pleasant day.

This was one of the most refreshing hikes I’ve had in a long time. I hadn’t seen Rob in over a year and hadn’t met the others yet, but I told Rob back at the cars that it was a really good group of people and I hope I can join them on future adventures. Just a really good group dynamic with happy people who are just thrilled to be on their feet outside, and I don’t know about anyone else, but it’s been a tough winter for me. Not as many trips as usual, not as much skiing as usual, way less social than usual. It felt so damn good to reconnect with people and get outside, even if it required… snowshoes.

Royal Basin & Mt. Deception

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Anita coming around a glacier boulder, Deception on the right

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Wildlife by Royal Lake

Hooooly crap, this was a good one. You know sometimes everything just falls into place last minute and your mildly half-assed plans actually work out? That’s what this was. Like 24 hours in advance Anita mentioned she was going to Royal Basin, which I had always wanted to do as a trail run. And some dude had done Mt. Deception earlier that week, so I knew it was in decent shape. And that would be a cool day trip too. Maybe I could run up early in the morning, meet her, and climb Deception? She was stoked when I suggested it, and I decided I’d head up late Sunday night after Marmot Pass/Buckhorn and camp with them so we could get an early start. “What are you wearing?” she asked. “Some yuppie lululemon outfit” I responded. My climbing pants have a 6″ hole in the butt [insert asshole joke]. “No, I mean for boots!” Oh, duh. A real gear question.

  • Distance: 20mi ish
  • Elevation: 5500ft (also ish, highest point 7,788ft)
  • Weather: 50’s and partly cloudy
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30 without traffic or ferry delays (ha!)
  • Did I Trip: No, I’ve gotten very good at walking

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Flat beautiful trail to Royal Basin

Mt. Deception is the second highest point in the Olympics, which I didn’t know until we were done climbing it. It is one of the largest piles of chossy shit I have ever had the pleasure of touching, and it was mostly covered in snow when we did it. I have strong feelings about this. I would not have enjoyed it if it hadn’t been snow covered. But snow meant some steep snow, some 3rd class scrambling, and a more mountaineery-feeling experience than had we struggled up a one-step-up-slide-half-step-back-god-damn-scree climb.

Anyway, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. I had driven from the Marmot Pass trailhead to the Royal Basin trailhead and was rallying to knock out another 8 miles and meet Anita and Zee at their campsite. I assumed the trail would be flat soft dirt, easy cruising. I had also assumed that the Marmot Pass trail was one mile down the road from the Royal Basin trail.

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Royal Lake with mist in the morning

I was wrong on both counts. There is a Marmot Pass trail close to the Royal Basin trail, but it is not the trail I had taken to get to Marmot Pass. And as for the Royal Basin Trail once I did get there, well… the first two miles were nice soft flat easy cruising, and particularly beautiful in the dappled afternoon sunlight. But after that it’s rocky, uphill, sometimes overgrown, there are mosquitos, devil’s club, spiderwebs to fight through (you know how I feel about that – spiders fine, webs nooooo), and a surprising amount of elevation gain, though usually gradual. And carrying an overnight pack still isn’t pleasant, especially when you did a 13mi hike right before it, and I was not too enthused every time I rounded a corner only to see more uphill, or opened up the map only to see I was somehow only 500ft closer than the last time I checked. Views finally started to open up and I got glimpses of Deception. Shit, I’m going up that? It’s sooooo far.

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This used to be a lake! Heading to the Upper Basin

But I was making good time, and soon enough I heard two hikers. And one voice sounded familiar. Same accent, same tone, a guy dragging behind her… that’s gotta be Anita. I jogged up to Zee and said hi, just as Anita turned around and saw me. And we had a nice running hugging reunion, we hadn’t seen each other in months and holy shit I was so happy to have company for the last mile of the hike so it wasn’t me vs. my mind for another half an hour. And it guaranteed I would find their campsite and not be walking up to random tents in the dark “are YOU Anita?” “are YOUUUU Anita?” “Is ANITA in there?” and blinding everyone with headlamps while I stumbled around exhausted about to give up (which may have happened before).

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Upper Royal Basin

We found a great campsite just northeast of the lake. I crashed in my bivvy almost immediately (after panicking at two things: the recently updated forecast, which showed overnight showers – not great for a non-waterproof bivvy and down sleeping bag and the bear poop like 15ft away and I was between the poop and Anita’s tent, aka I’d be the first bear burrito that evening should the bears decide we smelled delicious). Eventually it didn’t matter because I was unconscious by like 8:30pm and if it did rain, I didn’t even notice.

We got moving around 8am. There is the alpine start (the offensively wee hours of the morn), the Anita start (mid hours of the morn but as late as possible), and the bonfire start (>11am). So 8 wasn’t ideal knowing we’d be slow, but I figured if we moved steadily we’d be fine. And it was partially on me and the fact it took me 20 freaking minutes to find the stupid pit toilets. Zee turned around on the way to the upper basin, and Anita and I continued. The basin is spectacular, almost like Enchantments lite. I can see why the permits are so competitive. That’s another thing, I got SO lucky. Anita had been fighting for permits for years, and here I am mooching off her hard work. And the main attraction over the basin is Deception towering over some small glacier tarns below a dying glacier. At the base of the slopes, we decided to take a rising traverse rather than risk the rockfall on the more direct route, so we started kicking steps uphill. And so it would be for the next few hours.

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Anita on the way up

There were a few scree sections (“ugh, should I remove my crampons?” “Nope, back on snow in 50ft!”) a few loose third class scramble sections (“can i take my crampons off?” “No, back on snow in 20 ft!”) some steep snow (PERFECT conditions for bucket steps and a nicely plunged ice axe) some moats (there’s no way for them to not be awkward, would it help if we took off our crampons?) and a little more kitty litter scrambling (“can I take off my-” “no”) and we finally topped out at the col, marked with a stick to help differentiate from the myriad of other similar cols.

Here’s where the route was longer than expected. We dropped down some talus (loose, because this mountain is a crumbling POS, we’ve been over this) onto another dying glacier and traversed to the back ridge, where “can I take off my crampons” was finally answered with a resounding “YES!” and we rejoiced in the feeling of boot sole on rock instead of scraping metal. We traversed to a third ridge, which was a perfectly straight talus walk on top of the world followed by a short step of near vertical snow and a final talus walk (i’m so done with talus by this point) to the summit, where we sang and hollered and waved at Zee and marveled at the views. It truly was incredible. Long day of uphill, but high reward with the gorgeous scenery up there.

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Pieces of steep snow

But we had to descend all of the shit we had come up. Getting back off the upper talus section was easy. Crossing the glacier on the north side was easy. Getting back up to the stick-marked col was easy. Then we had the only tricky part to contend with: downclimbing a few sections of pretty steep snow. Maybe 50 degrees. Face in, kick steps downclimbing. I kicked enormous steps for Anita, and luckily some cloud cover meant the snow wasn’t total slush. We actually made surprisingly good time, and these are the parts of climbs that are so singular, so focused, that everything else goes away. I had lingering stress from my old job and nerves around starting a new one, nerves around fitness after working weekends for so long, none of that matters when you’re on terrain like this.

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Some 3rd class scramble

We even skirted most of the 3rd class scramble, with one awkward 4th class step either on a thin downward sloping slab or to hop across a moat back onto snow (pick your poison, I do think Anita’s route across the moat was better but I thought it looked sketchy from up high). From there, we cruised plunge stepping down moderate snow the entire way back to the basin after a short scree field! It was amazing! We found yaktrax prints at the bottom, I said I hope that’s Zee. Despite turning around earlier, it turned out he had rethought (almost went with “rethunk”) his decision, and gave it another shot. And I’m glad he did, the upper basin was phenomenal. We soon found goat hoof prints perfectly inside of the yak trax. They continued for maybe a mile, until we eventually found Zee, hiding in a patch of bushes from the goat that had been stalking him for literal hours. He did get an incredible picture when the goat got too close for comfort.

 

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Mr. Billy Goat (credit Zee!)

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Coming across the north face

We made it back to camp around 4. Zee went to get water (THANK YOU! I was so tired I did not want to do camp chores) while Anita and I changed our shoes and laid around a groaned. When Zee hadn’t returned for 20 minutes, we started wondering what was up. Should we be worried? Is he taking a nap? Maybe we should go look. And then we saw Mr. Billy Goat walk across the trail again, slowly, starting at us. “Zee, the goat is back!” Anita shouted. And then we hear Zee’s deep grumbly voice. “…I know.” We burst out laughing. He couldn’t get away. It’s okay, Mr. Goat will be extradited to the Cascades any day now if he hasn’t been helo-dropped there already.

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Anita coming along the final ridge

I hung out until 5, and then packed up my bags to start the slog back to the car. Anita gave me a brownie for the way out (THANK YOU! For feeding me! Everyone fed me this weekend!) and I started on my way, where I was immediately blocked by Mr. Goat. God. Dammit. I tossed a rock and whined. I just wanna go hooooome mr goat pleeeease let me pass! He eventually ambled over to the side of the trail and I darted past. Anita made a bet that I’d be back at the car by 7:30. I thought 8. But she had given me a goal, and I made it back at exactly 7:30. Even took a selfie to prove it.

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One last push to the top! Mystery in the background

Huuuuuge thanks to Anita and Zee for adding me to their Olympics permit at the last minute, and to Ranger Scott for all of the phone calls trying to get my name on there (and my payment). Seriously amazing trip, and another data point that the Olympics are far more beautiful than I ever give them credit for. And I was the perfect amount of wrecked when I woke up back in Seattle on Tuesday. Just in time for a shit ton of programming homework that I had procrastinated on. Woohoo!

P.S. This would be a sweet trail run (maybe minus the chossy shit, like we discussed above. Wait for snow).

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Olympus way in the distance, the highest point in the Olympics