Martin Peak: Alpine Jenga

Martin and Holden Lake from Bonanza
Rock? Petrified wood? Regular wood?

The reputation of this peak is both hilarious and accurate. It’s a chossy heap of shit. Martin will erode into nothing millions of years before the rest of the cascades. A single small quake will send it crumbling into the valley while Bonanza looms 1000ft taller, unscathed. A climbing party will remove the wrong fist-sized rock from their scramble route, and half the mountain will collapse. It’s alpine Jenga.

There’s a route in there somewhere

Okay, now that I’ve set your expectations extra low, here’s why it’s still worth doing: I swear, that between most of those gullies trying to skid you off into the future, there are some lines of decent rock, and it’s not unmanageable. At least on the way up. It’s not the west side of Gilbert with the miracle streak of conglomerate and death runout everywhere else, it’s more forgiving than that. The fact that we got 5 people up and down without incident speaks for itself.

  • Distance: 2mi from camp to summit (okay obviously my math sucks because gpx track had us at 25 miles for the whole holden/bonanza/martin/holden trip)
  • Elevation Gain: 2,100ft gain to summit (8,511ft highest point)
  • Weather: 70’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 8hrs bc ferry
  • Did I Trip: Technically no, but plenty of other mechanical stumbles
  • GPX track here
Rob’s expression matches my thoughts

We left camp at 6:15am, ready for a more casual day than Bonanza the day prior. We followed a vague bootpath on and off up and over two small humps until we were at the saddle just west of Martin. We traversed a tiny bit east before finding a gully to head up. There were multiple options. I’m still not sure which is the “correct” one. They all had 3rd class ish steps towards the beginning, none were 100% walk up. And honestly, the 3rd class ish steps were the most solid parts. Because the walk up sections were previews of what was to come. Extremely loose dinner plate talus and steep awkward sidehilling. If you managed to go straight up you’d randomly slide back a few steps.

“Alright now that’s enough of that”

We crested the west ridge after fighting ungracefully through some stubby trees, and were able to walk maybe 1000 horizontal feet before traversing east again around 7,500ft. The view of Bonanza is spectacular, you can really see just how large the Mary Green glacier is and how daunting the summit looks from afar. Crazy to think there’s a manageable way up that.

From here, it’s a project of scrambling over ridges and aretes and connecting shitty gullies when they become really too shitty to climb. If the gully is seriously bad, there is probably a ridge or some cleaner line you’re missing, or it’s time to traverse to the next gully. Treat it like a scavenger hunt, it’ll go. If you are lucky, you’ll see a cairn, but there’s only like 5 on the entire mountain and if you build one, it’ll probably fall over in five minutes anyway. Climbing Martin is like a 12 step program, but it’s OGAT: one gully at a time.

Finding veins of solid rock

When truly on the ridge (or even the aretes between gullies), the scrambling was solid. When in gullies, it was loose and tedious and sometimes just nasty, but more often than not we found clean lines on the way up. But sometimes things would look solid, and then break off if you tugged or knocked on them even slightly. Some blocks that looked embedded you could actually remove and then put back exactly where they came from, like 3d puzzle pieces. Totally bizarre.

There was one section where I realized we were on exposed, thin ledges that just felt like they’d crumble at any point. No jugs, nothing solid. It was probably the fastest I scrambled all trip, and the only section on the way up where I had an “oh, whoa” moment. The rock was red, then white, and then we were above it, and I noticed rap tat right at the top which was great because I knew I wouldn’t be stoked on downclimbing that. Turns out we had overshot the “first crux” per summitpost, which is just to climber’s left of the white and red gully. But it wasn’t so bad, at least on the way up. And above that gully, we found solid clean rock on the ridge (exposed, but fun), and then it was back to crossing yet another gully.

The red/white gully. Rob is on the airy narrow ledge section, Mike’s just below it.
Solid ridge scrambling

The second crux went smoothly on the way up. It was exposed, but had solid rock compared to the rest of the peak, and a few very fun moves. Beyond that, nothing dramatic between there and the summit. I’m sure Rob was singing the final countdown. You know what else distracts from shitty choss? That diarrhea song (you know, “diarrhea [fart] [fart]”), which SOMEONE started singing as talus and scree and debris crumbled below our boots, a fitting theme for Martin’s quality of rock.

The summit is big, and we took a looooong break with snacks and naps and pics. My favorite signature in the summit register was Dick Hertz (ha) with the SKt (Slowest Known Time instead of FKT, fastest known time) with 80hrs round trip from Holden and 2 bivvies. We’ll never know their real name, or what actually happened, but it sure gave me a laugh. I bet it’s some animal who did this in like 7hrs from Holden and just has a good sense of humor.

Summit shot!

I was anxious about the downclimb as usual, but I had bomb ass shoes and the way up had been fine and I was confident in the group to help me through whatever might get in my head. I made sure I was neither first nor last. It means someone’s below me if I need someone to talk me through some moves, and someone’s above me to distract me if I just need to recalibrate my brain. Put more simply: I won’t be left alone! Turns out I enjoy climbing a LOT more when in a crew. Rob being the mountain goat he is downclimbed first. I followed. The crux was a great combination of fun and electric. I grabbed pics I didn’t think to get on the way up (probably too busy studying moves/getting hyped). We kicked tons of rocks down on the way back to the white slabby gully, including one where we might as well have glissaded talus. We went one at a time, very slowly, and eventually stopped even shouting rock because there was no avoiding it and everyone knew.

Downclimbing a crux

A rocky outcropping splits the white/red gully (skiier’s left) from a grassy gully (skiier’s right) that looked doable. We gazed down each side of the outcropping. We scoped out the grassy gully. I did my usual I’d prefer to rappel, but if you downclimb, I’ll follow.. except no one wanted to downclimb. And we had carried the rope all the way up here (by we I mean Alex thanks Alex) so why not put it to use? We set up one of the most beautiful rappels I’ve seen (scenerywise, though I assure you our rope management was impeccable as well) and rapped as far down as we could get. “Take a picture of me rapping, for my dating profile.” Damn straight!

Rob was the first one on rappel, and he cleaned the rap for us, pulling pieces of loose rock and flakes off of the rock wall. One of the flakes was HUGE. It had been a while and we were starting to wonder if he was okay when we heard a huge crack followed by rockfall followed by Rob explaining what was going on. And when I rapped down, I could see the huge scar left behind the flake that he had pulled off. Great call, would NOT have wanted that coming down on any of us.

Mike admires the views by the crux

At the base of the rap we kicked more rocks down traversing to skiier’s right to get out of the line of fire from any other debris the rap might pull down, and then it was back to awkward sidehilling, ball bearings on solid rock, stringing more gullies together and tagging the ridgeline between gullies. The five cairns helped, plus some recognizable rocks. Once we were back on the mellow end of the ridge, we cruised to the very end and took the last gully on skiier’s left to get back down to the saddle. This went fine, but still had a 3rd class ish move towards the bottom. Not a problem, I just expected a walk up gully at that point and we never found one.

Beautiful spot for a rappel. Ridiculous really
Me on a downclimb section*

Getting up and over those two humps back to the saddle above Holden Lake was tough. I was low on water, Mike and I hauled ass back with the others somewhere behind us. My inner juke box was alternating still between the diarrhea song and you are my sunshine, two wildly different tunes. Back at camp, I boiled water to chug before collapsing on my sleeping bag in my tent. I love sitting. Full crew was back at camp by 4pm.

Much better as a rap

Maybe an hour later, there was a sudden commotion around the bathroom area, and we saw a porcupine! I’ve never seen one before! We all gathered around, he didn’t seem to care one bit that he was being watched. The new neighbors joined us for a watch party (they just got back down from Bonanza). Some hiked down to the river for fresh water and a shower, I boiled snow for my final variation on mac n cheese and chugged more mio, content that we only had to hike back to Holden the next day. I groaned as I lay down in my tent. Someone laughed, I think it was Tim. “You know what that sound is? That’s the sound of a 70 year old. Or a climber.”

In the middle of the night, I was woken up by sniffling outside. I always thought I could just kick/punch an animal through my tent if it sniffed too close, but I didn’t want to blindly smack a porcupine, right? So I sat there panicking. I’m so blind without glasses/contacts in. I debated between fight or flight. What does flight even mean when you’re in a tent? It kept sniffling. Mike’s light in the tent next to me turned on. Okay, he knows too. Reinforcements. I unzipped the door and peeked outside. Oh wait, that’s right, I’m fucking blind. Well whatever it was took off, and sounded like it tripped over one of the tent lines. I shone my light around a bit more but didn’t see anything. Must have been a deer.**

Mike on the west ridge in front of Bonanza

The hike back to Holden was quick, about 2.5 hours. Including Mike and I thinking one of our party members was missing on the far side of Holden Lake. We literally jogged back there to find him, shouting his name, and it turned out he had at some point passed us and was ahead of us on the trail back to Holden! We passed another party on the trail that mentioned him and said he was totally okay, confirming what everyone else had thought. Oops.

REAL LIVE PORCUPINE

PSA: there is no $1 ice cream at Holden in the morning, don’t get your hopes up. We kicked around the bus stop until the bus showed up, munching on whatever snacks we had left, wandering the center of the village where we were allowed. It was our driver’s first time driving the bus in a year, and it was an old school manual transmission school bus that had to go through these crazy gravel mountain road switchbacks with no protection. She crushed it though, while I panicked in the seat and didn’t look out the window. Apparently my heart rate was so high that my Whoop picked it up as a bona fide cardio activity for 30min! I can’t be positive, but the time of the activity line up with the pics I took, so… yikes.

Back at Lucerne landing, we unloaded our gear and immediately jumped in the lake. BLISS. Sheer bliss. It was cold and refreshing and clear and amazing. We sunned on the dock until the ferry got close and I figured I shouldn’t be lying around in my underwear as a boat of presumably very polite proper religious tourists rolled up. But yuck, putting on climbing pants was gross. At least I had a fresh shirt.

Rock our neighbors found on Bonanza, way cooler than the quartz I found

The ferry ride back was uneventful besides a cool waterfall we pulled up to. The views were still spectacular, though I wish I could have had my overheated beaten body towed behind the boat on a rope so I could just sit in the ice water (I know that’s not as pleasant as i made it sound, I’d be more like a drowning rock being skipped than a pleasantly dragged passenger).

The other highlight of the day? Besides jumping in the lake? Mike’s girlfriend meeting us at the North Bend Park n Ride with pizza and HOMEMADE MINT BROWNIES. I don’t know how she did them, but holy shit, that was the most delicious return to civilization I’ve ever had. The pizza even became a joke on the ride home. Shroedinger’s pizza. Was it happening? Was it not happening? Dare I even ask? Don’t let those hopes get up. I expected nothing. And boom. Pizza and brownies. I’ve only met her once and I felt like Doug in Up. “I just met you but I LOVE you.”

Chilling at thte Holden bus stop

I drove home, unleashed a forest of pine needles in the bathroom, threw all my clothes in the washing machine and threw away all the trash I had accumulated. I had found socks and a shirt on Martin, I almost had a full Martin outfit. My bed was almost too soft compared to the past few nights on the ground, and I was not looking forward to being back to work the next morning. I liked my alternate alpine life better.

Once again, super strong team, great collaboration and communication, and I seriously hope I get to go on some big trips with them again. At some point on this trip multiple people were rapidfire giving advice to someone. “Put your hand in” “no put it here” “no take it out” “okay put your foot in” and whoever we were talking to finally said “okay but when do i do the hokey pokey and turn myself around?” which of course triggered full group laughter. I’m very lucky to be included with this crew!

Our humble abodes below Bonanza

*those dents in my helmet aren’t all from Martin
**a person definitely tripped over those tent lines at some point too but I don’t remember who. Oops

Bonanza Peak

Bonanza and the Mary Greene Glacier from Martin Peak
Adventure car

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.

Lady of the Lake

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
Copper rising over the Holden Lake trail

Sparknotes version:

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

Holden Lake
FRESHLY. BRUSHED. TRAIL.

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.

Copper over Holden Lake

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.

Waterfalls all around

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.

Waterfall slabs in the morning. Follow the grass, then traverse straight left to center pic, then up just left of the waterfall that starts center frame.

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.

The first part is the worst (though dry)

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.

Good morning to you too

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.

Obligatory crevasse pic

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.

Rope management in heaven

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.

Okay this makes it loook a little spicy

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.

Album cover on the ridge (taken by… not me)

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.

Final talus walk to the summit
Summit shot!

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.

Downclimbing begins

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.

Variations on downclimbing (less fun than mac n cheese, also not taken by me)

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.

Waiting for our second team

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.

Yeahhh we rapped that and then another one (not my pic)

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!

Additional pics:

Glacier Peak from the summit
Holden mine remediation very visible in the valley right of center.**
More of the scramble. You will find edges I promise (though I’m not sure what Alex is standing on)
Soaking in the views
Descending the glacier
Ascending the glacier that morning

*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.

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