Jim Hill Mountain Ski Tour


Gaining the north ridge of Jim Hill

I think I can honestly say that this is the first trip I’ve had that was about the skiing and not the summit or the views or anything else. We debated many trips, but settled on Jim Hill, a peak I had heard about for years but never checked out. We saw it from Rock Mountain a month or so prior, and I had always kind of poo-pooed it thinking there were better things to do. But we needed a day trip, didn’t want to trailhead camp, did want sunny blue skies, and settled on the Stevens Pass area. Jim Hill it was. Skiied 3/25/2018.

  • Distance: 5ish miles?
  • Elevation Gain: 3400 (6400 highest point, we didn’t summit)
  • Weather: 40’s and sunny, 40’s and cloudy, 30’s and snowing
  • Commute from Seattle: 2hrs without traffic
  • Did I Trip: Some backsliding while skinning but no faceplants or tumbles

Lanham Lake

We arrived at the trail around 8. Problem was, we had planned on starting up via Henry Creek, but couldn’t find parking anywhere and I was too lazy to figure it out so we just parked at the Stevens Pass Nordic Center and went up via Lanham Lake. Lanham Lake is a popular snowshoe, and we made quick work of the 1.5 miles to the lake. I stubbornly left my heel risers down as long as possible before finally caving and putting them up, only to have the trail flatten out. So I walked in basically high heels for another few minutes before putting them down, only to encounter another hill around the corner. I grumbled and put them back up again as Robert sang Jack Black parody songs behind me.


Almost at the ridge!!

At the lake, we crossed the outlet stream to the east and started switchbacking up through the woods. It was a surprisingly steep skin trail. Whoever was ahead of us had great balance, or just determination, because it was a few inches of fresh snow on top of an icy crust. I was hoping the other side would be a nicer ski out, because I knew immediately I wouldn’t have fun skiing the trees down to Lanham Lake.


Robert coming up the ridge

We got sneak peeks of the views to the south as the trees opened up, and finally I saw blue sky ahead! And rays of sun! Yes!! I whooped as I gained the ridge and broke out into snow covered trees and spectacular blue sky all lit up by the sun with the open slopes and glades below Jim Hill begging to be skiied. Oh my god. Robert hurry up. Look what we can do. I relented and agreed to have a snack, I can’t run on stoke and pride forever.


Weather moving in

We followed the skin track up the ridge. To my dismay, weather was already moving in. We knew it was coming, but it wasn’t supposed to get cloudy until 11am, and no snow until the afternoon! Yet here was a wall of precip coming towards us. Ah, shit. Visibility deteriorated, I decided I didn’t want to tag the true summit because it was steeper than I had expected and the northwest slopes felt totally windloaded. We decided to ski back the way we came, and once we hit the ridge we’d drop into the north basin and ski out via Henry Creek.


Visibility didn’t get too bad!

We transitioned to downhill mode and dropped onto the softest, lightest, most glorious powder I have EVER skiied. My sample size is small, but these were easily the best backcountry conditions I had ever seen. We carved two feet of powder, maybe more, whooping and hollering the whole way. It was an absolute dream. We went one at a time to be sure we liked the snowpack, and damn it was perfect. We came to a stop near another party, who was going back up for more. One more? Worth the hike? Hell yes!


Neat textures up high

Since visibility hadn’t gotten as bad as we expected, we skinned right back up for round two. It almost got sunny (“partly sunny” is often how these days are described even though you’re mostly looking at the inside of a ping pong ball) but the light never got too flat. This time we started higher up and earned ourselves an extra 200ish feet of turns, and it was worth it so many times over. I dropped in first knowing Robert would catch up and we could just party run it (everyone at once instead of one at a time). This time we kept going to the bottom. From wide open alpine slopes to open glade skiing threading the needle between sparse trees to slightly more dense trees I mean seriously I wish this run had gone on forever. We finally hit the only patch of bad snow, which was sloppy grabby crust that I did not enjoy. But I still made it through without booting it.


Robert shredding the north bowl. Two tickets to pow town!


One more with moody clouds

And from there, we had some survival skiing (slide slipping on ice, dodging thicker trees, the works), some split-board-skiing (Robert’s actually quite good at it), some forest road cruising (soft and enjoyable), and a short highway walk (sorry mom) and we were back at the car just as it started to snow and visibility was officially shot. So on one hand, we had awesome timing. But on the other hand… we definitely could have gotten in a few more laps, and right now sitting on my couch I wish I was back up there. The sound of skis slicing through champagne powder is like the sound of rain on a tin roof. There’s just something soothing about it.

Lakes Dorothy, Bear, Deer, and Snoqualmie


The far end of Lake Dorothy, neat channels underwater

Catching up on old posts, and since this is a rainy day one it’ll be a quickie. I had donated blood the previous afternoon, so I ignored all hiking/climbing requests to do my own thing in case it was similar to the last time I donated blood. Last time I thought it would be smart to hike to Lake Serene, and I was pouring sweat with a heart rate of like 180 and miserable the entire time and I did not want a repeat of that. So I surveyed the population for “boring lake hikes.” The lakes can be nice, but I don’t want any tempting peaks behind them, no scrambling, no elevation gain, a well maintained obvious trail, relatively short drive, you get the idea. Hiked 9/9/2017.

  • Distance: 14 miles
  • Elevation: 1600ft gain, 3600ft highest point (warning: you lose 500ft elevation to Snoqualmie Lake)
  • Weather: 50’s and rainy
  • Commute from Seattle: 2 hours
  • Did I Trip: No. Who’s well grounded!?

Your first glimpse of Lake Dorothy

And I settled on lakes Dorothy, Bear, and Deer. I figured if I felt crappy I could turn around at any of those lakes. I got to the trailhead around 10am and started off, immediately being passed by two trail runners. I was jealous. Then I cruised past some park rangers, one of whom dated my friend last year (I’m awkward and announced him as such) and prayed they didn’t give me a ticket for my expired America the Beautiful pass. Lake Dorothy is about 1.5 miles down the trail, but the lake is HUGE. Tons of campsites, great for families with kids and inflatable boats and towels and big stoves.


Closest thing I had to a view all day

It took what felt like forever to get to the other end of the lake. You finally hit some elevation gain on the far side, and switch back up a short ridge that eventually drops you to Bear and Deer lakes, which are twin lakes! There are more campsites at each lake (immediately off the trail), and you can either stop here or continue to Snoqualmie Lake.


Beautifully maintained trail

I had all day and was moving faster than I thought, so I figured I’d carry on. I also expected there to be a turnaround destination here, which there wasn’t, and continuing trail is just so tempting. I lost what felt like a ton of elevation dropping to Snoqualmie Lake, which interestingly had some sandy shores. There are campsites here, my personal favorite (which I deemed my turnaround spot) was actually just off the main trail to the right towards a beautiful surprise tarn. So that’s where you should camp if you don’t mind a 7 mile hike.


Local riff raff

Figuring it wasn’t going to get any more interesting from there and looking forward to a warm cozy dinner, I turned around and high tailed it back to the parking lot. I did not get a ticket from a lack of pass, thank you rangers! I had actually called their building on the way hoping to get a pass but it was close, so I swear I had tried. And I finally got the new pass a week, don’t worry. I know, I know, I live on the edge.


Favorite tarn by Snoqualmie Lake

Overall, pleasant hike, good destination for anyone who wants lake camping with kids or a long trail run. The trail continues beyond Snoqualmie Lake all the way to Middle Fork Snoqualmie River (I’m pretty sure those two trail runners started at Middle Fork, ran to the Dorothy trailhead, and then ran back to Middle Fork), so you could have a fantastic out and back or even car to car trail run on a mellow, well maintained trail if you so desired. Just don’t donate blood the day before. Good for hot summer days (lakes!) or gross rainy days (…lakes!) or lazy days (flat trails, and… lakes!) since you can turn around at any number of destinations.


Luxurious campsite near the tarn

Rock Mountain & Rock Lake via Snowy Creek


Rock lake from the ridge to Rock Mountain

Could you have a more genetic name for a peak? It’s like “Blue Lake” or “Round Lake” or “Mount Peak” (okay, the last one’s kind of funny, and in their defense, it was “Mount Pete” until a bunch of people screwed it up). And Rock Lake is kind of an oxymoron, it’s like naming a peak Water Peak. You can’t have a lake of rocks. It’d be weird. Anyway, enough Monday morning ramblings. Back after a few weeks without any new trails or climbs since Torment/Forbidden! Here are the stats.

Distance: ~11 miles
Elevation: 3600ft
Weather: 50’s and foggy, eventually sunny
Commute from Seattle: 2 hours
Did I Trip: No but (spoiler alert) I peed on a wasp nest and you can imagine how that went

Starting out in forest

We were originally planning on Lake Edna at my insistence (and I fantasized about tacking on some cragging since we’d be right off Icicle Creek Road), but decided halfway there that weather looked okay around Stevens Pass and we settled on Rock Peak, which Chelsea found on wta’s Hike Finder Map. My expectations were low. It was just a hike, pictures I had seen were mediocre, and I had wanted the alpine feel above tree line that I don’t trust Route 2 to deliver. But driving 2 hours instead of almost 3 was enticing, and I didn’t want to push it, so Rock Mountain it is! We decided to approach via the Snowy Creek Trail, which was a shorter and less steep(!) trail compared to the Rock Lake approach. We weren’t planning on a lake. In fact I didn’t even realize there was a lake there.


Fall foliage (credit: Chelsea)

The trailhead is 15-20 minutes past the Lake Valhalla trailhead, over a lower, lesser known Rainy Pass. My car got a wash scraping past all of the dewey slide alder hanging over the forest road. I hope you don’t care too much about your paint job. Amazingly, mine stayed mostly intact. We pulled over at the trailhead next to a car with a bumper sticker informing us that we should EAT MORE KALE! I’m working on enjoying salads and I’ve made a lot of progress in the last few months, but kale is… kale is still gross. Bleck.


The meadow! Hope those clouds clear

I wondered at where the rest of the road went, and we started hiking. It was wet at first, the past day had been pouring rain and everything was still wet. Rocking my yoga pants (yup), I wasn’t thrilled about the dew. Luckily the overgrown trail didn’t last long though, and soon enough we were in the woods. There’s a trail split with a sign a little over a mile in, and while I couldn’t entirely tell which way the signs were pointing, I can tell you that if you want the quickest way to Rock Mountain, keep going straight.


Fiery red plants. No idea what these are

We were soon dumped into a meadow full of brilliantly red plants and yellow grasses. It’s fall! Fuck, it’s fall. I started snapping pictures. The meadow is a tease, while you can see the ridge you’re aiming for across open grassy slopes, the trail dips back into the forest and starts to switchback up. Around the third southeastern switchback there is a wasp nest. We’ll return to that in a few hours. Also, some species of plant up there smells like poop. I suggested that it might literally be poop, but Chelsea wasn’t convinced. There can’t be that much poop around.


I believe that is Labyrinth Mountain… I could be wrong

Switchbacks usually annoy me, but not here. They were short and mellow, and gorgeous once you hit the grassy slopes. Up and up with surprisingly good views (Minotaur Lake and Labyrinth Peak look awesome!) and easy traveling with a party of two (the kale fans!) below us for scale, and eventually we hit the ridge, where the trail goes in both directions. Head right to get to the summit of Rock Mountain.


This is what the inside of a ping pong ball looks like, if it has a peak and a cairn

From the flattish ridge you can look down on Rock Lake, which was a surprise to me since I didn’t know it was coming. It’s surprisingly pretty, especially with the fall foliage all around it. The ridge heading east from Rock Mountain might qualify as dramatic too, sharp steep rock stark against the sky and the rolling hills of Route 2. Anyway, we went left to hit the summit, and just our luck: socked in at the top. Inside of a ping pong ball. We took a few great summit selfies and decided to head down since it was chilly in the wind. On the way down, the cloud(s) blew through, and everything was back in view. Hey, we got up here in 2 hours, want to head down to the lake? Hell yes! Chelsea’s awesome.


The best of the summit selfies (“where’s your nose guard?!”)


Heading to the more colorful end of the ridge

We went to the opposite end of the ridge where the trail switchbacked down the opposite side we had come up, through some ridiculously red foliage. We moved quickly, until “HUCKLEBERRIES!!!!!” I looked at my feet. Huckleberries everywhere! Holy shit I forgot about berries! We started double fisting berries left and right, someone has to starve out the bears right? We finally continued down to the lake, laughing at our purple faces and hands. Worth it.


Huckleberries!!! Go go go go go!

We arrived at the lake and set up to have snacks. I ran over to the side to attempt to get a picture with lake and fall foliage. We feasted on baked goods from Sultan Bakery, cheese, crackers, and happy corn mixed with chocolate covered pretzels which was a surprisingly delicious combo (and paired well with the surprisingly pretty lake). Eventually we knew we had to head back up, and stood back up ready to fight off the lactic acid in our legs. Ugh. And I had to pee, but wasn’t going to do it near running water, since I’m the idiot who often ends up drinking from that water.


Fall huckleberries! I considered filling a bag but realized none actually would make it into the bag.

Heading up was frequently interrupted by more photo breaks, more blueberries I MEAN HUCKLEBERRIES (Chelsea feels strongly about this: blueberries are east coast, huckleberries are west coast, get it right), debates over what was a squirrel and what was a chipmunk, and a family of very brave ptarmigans that didn’t give a shit about us. Back at the ridge we took one last look at the views and headed back down the switchbacks, hitting forest before we knew it. We stopped to delayer, and I remembered that I had to pee.

So I ducked behind a tree slightly below the trail, just next to the meadow. I heard the low hum of wasps, reminiscent of our beehives back in Boston. Ha, it’d be funny if you peed on a wasps’ nest. I looked around. No wasps, just a fat fly being a pest. I pulled up my leggings and walked off. It took about six steps before I felt the pinching all over my legs. Fuck. Definitely bees. I shot towards Chelsea, hopping on one foot while crushing bees with my bare hands. “Shit!!! Bees!” My fingernails were full of wasp gunk. Good thing I didn’t cut my nails MOM. “Chelsea!! Are there any left on my legs?! Tell me if there are any left on my legs!!” My three layers of windbreaker, sweater, and shirt were too powerful for wasps to break through. But my yoga pants were no match. My legs were toast.

Rock Lake

“You aren’t allergic right?” Chelsea asked, being responsible. “No, they’ll just get itchy and puffy and I’ll whine about it” I said. “Are you sure? Because one time someone told me they weren’t allergic and they ended up being very allergic.” I mean I don’t know I haven’t been stung by a bee since like middle school but it was never that bad? We’ll find out. I hobbled down the trail. The meadow wasn’t as impressive the second time around, either because we had seen so much better on the ridge or maybe because my brain was full of wasp venom.


Looking back across the lake at our snack spot, bottom right, and Rock Mountain, center right

The rest of the hike was less eventful. Neither of us tripped (Chelsea’s nimble, I just got lucky and paid my dues in wasp stings instead of stubbed toes and facefuls of dirt). We passed the kale fans on the way back, who were surprised to see us coming from behind. I was too happy to be back at the car where I could lay off the legs.

Oh, this gets to the other interesting part! We’re driving just past the Valhalla trailhead on the way down, and Chelsea starts gasping and pointing. Speechless. I look where she’s pointing and slowly brake the car. A huge. Fucking. Tree. Is slowly falling across the road. The entire thing was in slow motion, and it didn’t make a sound, it didn’t shake the ground, it’s like the whole world was suspended watching this monster snap and tip.

Timber! Chelsea for scale.

I was stopped in the middle of the road. Who gives a shit? We walked towards the tree. I don’t have tow straps, or a saw. I have straps that I use with my roof rack, we could try using those as tow straps? Or maybe with enough people we could roll it? Or, it’s soft enough maybe we can chip away enough to just make a ramp and drive over it. Everyone was brainstorming immediate ideas. The man in the truck behind us tried levering it with another branch. It wouldn’t budge, even with all of us.

Amazingly, at that instant, here comes a decked out pick up truck in the other direction. This guy’s gotta have something. He hops out of the car. “I have tow straps! We can move this.” Woo! He loops the straps around the log just beneath a knot so it doesn’t slip off, turns on the 4wd, and beautifully pulls the log out of the way. No hesitation, no directions needed, smooth as butter. The woman with him laughed. “This is probably making his day. He’s loving this.” I get it, I would too. Hell I’m proud just jumping other people’s dead batteries, wait until I tow someone.

MVP making sure we got home before dark and still had time to stop for dinner!

We all cheered after he moved it. We hopped back in the car. I was weirdly shaken, if I didn’t drive like a granny we could have been right under it when it fell. It’s unnerving seeing something so massive just topple like that without any wind or outside influence, it turns out it’s just dead on the inside and no one knew.

Happy to be back on hte highway where no trees could fall on me, we sped along Highway 2 and stopped at a Vietnamese fusion place for dinner. They had this amazing lychee drink, it’s worth stopping there just for that. I got a burger with guac and bacon, and it was delicious. Post hike/climb/falling tree survival meals are always amazing. I had even forgotten about my legs. I woke up the next morning and it looked like I had been peppered with paintballs from ass down, and my right eye (only my right eye) was swollen. Cool, let’s go crush it in society. Where are my sunglasses, and can I wear them indoors?
Update: Bee stings have turned purple. Either I have scratched them to the point of bruising (possible), or I am dying.

Looking back up at Rock Mountain and its rocky arm from the ridge

Mount Baring: When Turning Around is Still Awesome


Baring’s true summit on the left

We all have to turn around on some hikes and climbs, that’s just life. You underestimated time or overestimated your speed, or conditions were worse than expected, or weather took a turn for the worse or the sun heated those avvy slopes a little too much. Or maybe there was just too much horse poop and spiderwebs and you said fuck it and bailed. Wait, who did that? It wasn’t me ok, it was me, shut up.

Two weeks ago, I took a vacation day from work (anyone who knows me understands the personal sacrifice right there, I ration vacation days like Seattle rations its sunshine) only to be turned around by time constraints on Colonial Peak, despite what I’d consider to be perfect conditions. Perfect meaning temperatures in the low teens, low avvy danger, great views, and a deep, empowering satisfaction with my ability to plow through powder mindlessly for hours on end without hating everyone and everything despite the 55lb pack on my back and the skis awkwardly extending 2ft above my head.
So the following weekend, I lowered the bar and set my sights on Mount Baring. Without skis. John and Rob had talked about how amazing it was and it had been on my winter list for a day hike, and Saturday’s forecast was “partly sunny” so I thought great, let’s see if we can get a crew together. Cue Simon, Kacie, and Cheryl all being ready with ~18 hours notice. You guys are awesome. I packed my bag at 5:30am.
  • Distance: ~6 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 3700ft
  • Weather: 50’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 1:30
  • Did I Trip (/slip/posthole): The real question is “what’s the farthest you got without tripping” and the answer is “three steps.”

Steep forest, already hitting snow

We met at Sultan Bakery at 7. I rushed everyone out knowing we were in for a 10+ hour day, and we got started from the trailhead at 9:15am, a much later start than in my dream world. Everything in my dream world starts at like 5am because I’m too impatient and don’t like waiting for life to happen. “Does anyone have a blue bag?” Kacie asked. I had a stash of them in my car, with some Immodium as the alternative. Pick your favorite!

The trail starts on the abandoned road behind the outhouse at the trailhead. Go down the road a few hundred feet, and you’ll see the trail heading straight up the slope to the right where a small creek crosses the road. It’s marked with a large cairn that looks just like a large pile of rocks. I honestly didn’t notice it until the way down, but the orange blazes were a good hint.


I admire a cool snow formation while Kacie fights a butt-deep posthole

We started up the steep slope, and 10 feet up, Kacie says “Wait. I can’t find my water.” Uh, okay. “Is it because you forgot your water?” We laughed. “No, I filled it I swear!” She never did find her water, only an empty camelback, which she filled up in the small stream. The water will forever be a mystery. It wasn’t all over my trunk, at least. I think she forgot it.

The trail goes up, and up, and up. We hit snow almost immediately. There are a few fixed lines through some scrambly sections, but none felt necessary and they’re looking a little old so test them well before use. We did use one on the way down above what was a legitimate class 3 scramble move, covered in ice and moss and running water. Brutal combo.


And some more steep forest snow

The trail up to the ridge is very well blazed already with orange tape, which was helpful. But the gist is “head straight up, stay to the right of the gulley, drop into the gulley for the last few hundred vertical feet, and suddenly you’ll be on a ridge.” We had some a shit-ton (is that metric?) of postholing, some root scrambling, some surprisingly legit rock scrambling, and plenty of crawling over and under downed trees. Simon took a chunk of ice to the head – the trees were shedding their snow and ice in the warm temperatures, and we all heard the thunk, followed by a string of expletives. I donned my hat for protection.


Flat section of the ridge, gorgeous forest

It was very slow going up to the ridge, but the terrain flattens out for maybe a half mile once you’re up there. The forest was gorgeous in the sun, and the ridge was very knifey for a forested ridge, which I thought was so neat. It was a winter wonderland, with the sun lighting up the moss on the trees and snow all over the ground. At this point I knew we didn’t have a shot at the summit especially if it got steep again (spoiler alert: it did), so I settled on a conservative 2pm turnaround. We’d see how close we could get, and reevaluate accordingly depending on conditions, speed, and how everyone was feeling.


Kacie and Cheryl downclimbing a not so flat part of the ridge

Eventually you run into a cliff band along the ridge. My advice here is to drop juuuuust low enough to the right to avoid the cliffs. Don’t go lower than that. You’ll cross a gulley beneath the cliffs. Go straight across it with a slight upward trend. We went slightly down, and had to regain elevation, which sucked, especially in the powder. It’s amazing how long it takes to regain a measly 20ft of elevation in steep powdery conditions.

Like I mentioned, some masochistic part of me loves breaking trail in powder. It sounds like I wasn’t much help for anyone else, as Simon postholed through my kicked steps, and even some of his collapsed when Kacie and Cheryl came along. We fought for every step. To be fair, I don’t think I put my full body weight on many of those steps since if you use your poles as flotation devices it spreads out your body weight so you can skitter across some of the powder without falling through. That’s my favorite trick climbing steep powder now, ice axe be damned. With powder like that, it’s tough to fall far since you sink 2ft deep as soon as you land.


Looking out at Gunnshy, Tailgunner, Gunn, and Merchant across the valley

Well I’m in heaven minding my own business struggling frolicking in powder and eyeing the blue sky ahead of me (you know when the blue sky gets lower, and lower, and you know you’re getting close to the ridge, and your excitement starts creeping up again since you have a tangible goal and fuck it you didn’t come this far for nothing) and I hear Simon shout behind me “Eve! 2pm!” Crap! I shouted back “I’m pretty sure I’m looking at the saddle! Let’s give it a few more minutes!” I picked up my pace (from .000001mph to .000002mph) and broke out along the ridge, looking up at Mt. Baring draped in dusty white snow and hoar frost, admiring the baby cornices along the ridge, and wary of the size and conditions of the avalanche gulley that was the next step.


Windblown baby cornices along the ridge, avvy gully on the left

I had anticipated the avvy gulley being in the shade (I had also expected to reach it much earlier in the day), and I had expected colder temperatures as freezing level was supposed to be below 4000ft. Instead, the slope was partially in sun, and was only going to receive more direct sunlight as the day progressed, and everything was melting around us in the warm air, as exhibited by the conflict between Simon’s thoroughly bruised skull and the light snow falling off the trees, which hurt. I also knew, given our slow pace down low, that realistically we’d need several more hours to get the whole team up to the summit. I figured I’d consult with everyone else, but I had a feeling we’d be calling it here. I am usually willing to push it if the team wants to, but I didn’t think anyone would.

I shouted back to the others, no response. I started to worry that Kacie and Cheryl were turning around, and I wanted everyone to see the views from the saddle. It made everything worth it, it was the icing on top of the cake that was our hilarious day. I gave them a few minutes and ran back down and shouted again. This time Simon responded, and they were all coming! Yay! I was too excited and antsy and had already taken a bunch of pictures, so I started trying to stomp the last 30 or so steps down extra good so they’d have an easy time getting to the top.


Panorama as the clouds moved in

Breaking out onto the saddle, everyone was all smiles. We snapped pictures of everthing, Simon took 12 selfies with my camera, Kacie requested a photo of Cheryl taking a photo of Simon taking a photo of Kacie taking a selfie, and we broke out the plethora of pastries we had gotten at the bakery and jerky that Cheryl and Simon had brought. Delicious. And of course, we all agreed that we were not going any farther.


Well okay, maybe not all smiles (looking at you Kilo Charlie)


Tried to get mountains in Kacie’s glasses

Turning around always sucks on some level. Naturally everyone wanted to summit, but we were all wary of the gulley, and I think everyone understood that we’d need hours to make it to the summit, and although we had appropriate gear to come down in the dark, no one wanted to. Would it be worth the effort to keep going, only to turn around halfway up the gulley, and risk the gulley sliding the entire time? No way, we’ll all be happier with a casual break here. What made my day is that no one cared. I’m sure there was some disappointment, but my biggest concern is that someone will be tired and crabby about how we had to fight through all the powder only to turn around, or that someone was miserable on the way up and didn’t voice it, or that I’m the only one having fun and everyone else is just following me because it was my idea and not actually enjoying it. But no, with these folks everyone was just thrilled to be there, proud of how far we had come, and cracking fart jokes and archer jokes and laughing at how miserable some of those lower slopes had been. And that’s how it always should be. So we sat in the sun, enjoyed the views, and played the “airplane or avalanche” game as we listened to peaks shed their snow all around us.


The dirt glissade


Cheryl negotiating the scramble move

Clouds moved in as we sat, and after nearly an hour we decided it was time to head down. We followed our tracks most of the time with a few exceptions to save elevation (turned out we had been much much closer to the “standard” route than I thought on the way up). The way down went much faster until we were off the ridge. Getting from the ridge back to the road was possibly more difficult than going up. We could glissade the gulley for first few hundred feet, but eventually the snow was too thin. Then came the scrambles, covered in melting ice and snow, and the wet mossy tree roots, and the mud beneath an inch of snow. I slipped more times than I could count. Kacie took an axe to the face when she lost her footing downclimbing one of the scramble moves. I accidentally glissaded down a 15ft muddy stretch while everyone laughed, only to make the same mistake themselves. Ha!


The microspike-veggie belay!

Somehow, Kacie got her microspikes snagged on a tree on the way down. She sat there in defeat, silently staring off into the distance, unable to climb back up backwards, incapable of moving forward because, well, her microspikes were stuck on a small tree. We laughed, and took pictures, and then continued a casual conversation while Kacie sat there, still silent, still dejected. Until I finally couldn’t maintain conversation anymore because I was laughing too hard at Kacie sitting there, quietly waiting for help, while Simon and Cheryl talked so casually. Cheryl helped her get unstuck (“You’re loose!” Cheryl proclaimed, as Simon and I stood below hollering “HOW ARE WE NOT DOING PHRASING!?”), and we continued our hilarious downhill slog.


The profanity was truly impressive

We made it back to the cars at 7:15 and went straight to Red Robin for bottomless fries and burgers. It was. So good. Except just a heads up – the containers of fries are literally bottomless. Keep that in mind, and don’t spill them everywhere.

So guys, the moral of the story is it’s okay to turn around. We’ve all been there, and the more you do it, the easier it gets. I recall talking to an IMG guide who said eventually it became a mock fight to see who gets to turn back with clients. They’ve all climbed the mountain dozens of times, and you get to the point where you just think “yeah I’ll go hang out at the tents and nap and snack, that sounds wonderful!!” instead of “Ugh if I don’t summit then I did all of this for nothing and it’s embarrassing” or whatever runs through your head the first few times you need to turn around. I’ve heard (and probably thought) every reason for not turning around, and eventually you realize that none of it matters. Getting back down safe, sound, and preferably happy is what matters.*

*Often the happiness comes later. Type II fun is very common in mountaineering. Or type III, in which case the happiness is only present because you’re so happy you bailed and didn’t fuck it up even further and as a result you lived to tell the story to everyone else so you can bond over the (hilariously?) miserable times.

Safe, sound, and so very happy!

Gunn Peak

The three musketeers!

The three musketeers!

I wasn’t totally convinced about this hike, but I hadn’t made any of my own plans for Saturday, so I figured why the hell not. Rob and John are good company, so worst case scenario I’d get a good laugh and a bit of a workout. I ended up getting both of the above, as well as a pleasant reminder that stunning, untouched scenery can be found without driving 3 hours into the wilderness. Hiked the first weekend of October, 2015!
  • Distance: no idea. 9 miles? 7 miles? Short for how long it takes.
  • Elevation: ~4000ft gain, 6210ft highest point
  • Weather: foggy until we got above the clouds, and then 40’s-50’s and sunny!
  • Commute from Seattle: 90 minutes
  • Did I Trip: I was going to count everyone’s slips/trips/wipeouts on the way down but I forgot to keep track! But yes. And we had two twisted ankles, some muddy butts, and a very tired dog.
Tarns in front of Townsend

Tarns in front of Townsend

Now I’m writing this three weeks late (and posting four weeks late) because I’m busy lazy, so we’ll see how much I remember. We drove out in pouring rain. Halfway there, sitting in traffic (on Rt 2!) in the dark dreary wet weather I realized I didn’t even care, I was just happy to be getting out. We were listening to Reel Big Fish, who can’t be happy listening to that? We even stopped on the way to get steak and veggies for a campfire meal. I’ve never really cooked over a campfire before besides sausages and stuffed mushrooms and other wrap-it-in-tin-foil-and-go, so this was new.

We pulled up to the trailhead, still in pouring rain. I set up my tent and layered up for the weather, and we started grabbing big rocks to set up the fire. With some small miracles (and a starter log, or two) we had enough of a fire going to heat up food, and John cut up the steak while I handled veggies. I eventually admitted I had never made a shishkabob when John had to assist with the peppers. The only instructions were “make them a good size so they don’t fall off the skewer” which I apparently could not handle. For you other newbies, that means like ~1″ in diameter.

Post-shishkabobs, it was bedtime. Another rainy night in a tent built for snow, though at least I remembered to open the vents this time. We had alarms set for 5am, and soon enough, we woke up to… more pouring rain. The general consensus was that we’d keep sleeping, so I rolled back into my sleeping bag burrito after peeking out the door.

Ripley looking damn good on one of the first scramble sections

Ripley looking damn good on one of the first scramble sections

We got up for real around 7, and made hot chocolate and coffee. After about an hour, the mist started to brighten, and then clear, and we got a glimpse of blue sky. We had originally resigned ourselves to doing Barclay Lake or Mt. Baring, but… you know what? Eff it, let’s try for Gunn. Might as well. Summitpost said it might take around 9 hours, and we had 9 hours. We all had headlamps and were content coming back after dark if necessary, assuming we had good blazes. Sweet.

The trail is back down the road, maybe a tenth of a mile from the Barclay Lake trailhead. There’s a small dirt road that leads to a campground, and it’s right before the campground that you’ll find the trail heading off to the right. When we were there, it was nicely blazed with hot pink blazes. Rob had brought orange tape for us to use, though we didn’t need it in many places.

Up and up and up

Up and up and up

The trail goes maybe 150ft through a forest before you cross the stream, which was easy enough with plenty of logs and stones to hop across. I imagine when the water’s higher, it’s a bit more tricky. Once on the other side, the trail continues along what might have been a logging road at one point. I couldn’t tell besides the flat grade, but when someone pointed it out, I could totally see how it might be possible.

Don’t get complacent. The trail starts to go up, up, and up after a quarter mile on the flat forest-reclaimed road. It was reminiscent of the Eldorado approach, except I wasn’t carrying 50lbs. Just lots of roots, steep sections, and eventually, something I forgot existed: scrambles in the woods! After pushing aside plenty of tree branches along the bootpath and constantly being showered by water, we reached a rocky cliff, at which point you turn right and pretty much hug the rock for a while.

I always associate scrambles with open views and exposed rock. But there are some that are surrounded by trees, moss, roots, all those foresty things. We had Ripley (John’s dog) with us, and he had brought her life jacket (it has a handle on the back) in case we had to do a doggie belay and carry her up some sections. The first scramble was just a very short “traverse” to stay on the path, covered in moss and dripping with water because of the previous night. A few minutes after this, we reached a section that is probably a beautiful waterfall on occasion, but was pretty dried up this time of year. Cross that and immediately scramble up to the left and back into the trees. Yeah, this hike makes you work for those views.

Finally getting above the trees and brush, Baring in the background

Finally getting above the trees and brush, Baring in the background

Eventually the trees shrink into bushes and brush, and it feels like you’re making progress. But the brush isn’t much better. It’s thicker, harder to push out of the way, and does a damn good job of obscuring the path. And since it was all still wet… it all rains down every time you squeeze between bushes. But thanks to those blazes and the fact that much of it was trampled, there were few spots were we had to guess. I honestly expected it to be much more of a bushwhack than it was, but I think this late in the season, enough feet have been up there that it’s a little more well traveled.

I mean there was some fall foliage

I mean there was some fall foliage

Despite it being early October, there was only one section with real fall foliage, but damn was it vibrant. Finally we were out of trees, out of tall bushes, and surrounded by low colored, blazing heather and blueberry bushes and some scrubby plants I don’t recognize. I stood around snapping pictures constantly, and since Baring was in full view standing over the clouds I couldn’t stop. I had NO idea that there were pics so dramatic so close to Seattle. I thought most of the hikes within an hour or an hour and a half were more “rolling hill” style, with rounded tops, below the tree line, things like that. Not the sharp, dark rock we were looking at here. It felt so much more remote than I had expected.

Looking back at everyone approaching the talus field, Townsend and Merchant in the background

Looking back at everyone approaching the talus field, Townsend and Merchant in the background

There was a bit of a bootpath through the fall foliage. We reached a saddle between Tailgunner and Peak 5760 (which I admittedly might be confusing with Point 5760), just east of Tailgunner and just south of a small valley with a few tarns near the base of Peak 5760. We dropped down almost to the tarns but rather than take a pleasant dip we hung left towards the talus field. The route to Gunn Peak is effectively straight across the talus field to the highest clump of vegetation right below a prominent rocky outcropping on the south face of the peak.

Aim for that highest slanted strip of trees below the rocky outcropping in center frame

Aim for that highest slanted strip of trees below the rocky outcropping in center frame

Rob on the 3rd class scramble

Rob on the 3rd class scramble

We each chose our own way across that, and rejoined below the cliff band, which is where the real scrambling starts. Ripley had been a champ so far, but the 3rd class scramble was a bit too much for a dog. Ben, Vazul, and Evan agreed to hang with Ripley and take her over to Tailgunner while Rob led John and I up Gunn. We agreed to meet back at our lunch spot on the ridge between Tailgunner and Peak 5760.

Rob scaled the scramble with ease, and I waited below for him to clear the loose sections. When he was out of sight and well beyond the trees, I went up. I will say that some people (such as Rob) are very graceful scramblers. I am not usually among those. But there was nothing too hard, and I was up and in the trees soon enough, trying to find Rob. I had been making fun of him for putting up blazes for the entire hike, and now I didn’t know where he was. Ooh look! A blaze, just beyond the trees! Yes, aim for that, he must have put it there!

Nope, just a leaf. God dammit. But I was back out on another talus slope above the trees, and saw Rob up ahead of me scouting out the path. I figured we should wait for the others, so we decided he’d scramble a little further to figure out where we were headed and I’d wait to see who else joined.

John on the way back across the catwalk

John on the way back across the catwalk

After 10 or so minutes of waiting, the two of us were ready to continue when we saw John pop out of the trees below us. Sweet! We waited for him to catch up. You keep to the base of the cliff, negotiating talus until a gully opens up on your left side. Follow the gully, path of least resistance, and cross a notch when you reach the ridge. On the north side is where you’ll encounter the catwalk. It’s not Kendall Katwalk, it’s much narrower with a harrowing drop of 1000+ feet. Don’t fall. Follow that ridge, and soon enough, you’re on Gunn Peak! Which, despite being only 6200ft tall, is #29 on the most prominent peaks of Washington list with over 3651ft of prominence. Wow.

We couldn’t find a summit register. And damn did we look. It’s either not there, or it fell off the cliffs, or some asshat buried it under too many rocks. Ugh. We took a few photos, cracked open beers, and Rob laughed and called us the three musketeers. The three who made it to the top of Rainier back in August, and now the three who made it up Gunn Peak. Kudos, guys, you’re fantastic climbing partners.
Rob soaking in the views: Townsend, Merchant, and Baring all visible

Rob soaking in the views: Townsend, Merchant, and Baring all visible

Back through the fall foliage, even more vibrant in the late afternoon sun

Back through the fall foliage, even more vibrant in the late afternoon sun

Just as we sidled up to the clearing, we saw the other three coming back down. Perfect timing! We had spent quite a while on the summit, and I thought the rest of the group would be waiting for us. We met up and took a quick break before heading back down. I thought the way down went faster than the way up, but I’m a bad judge of time. Vazul and Evan and I were flying, and I got into a nice steady downhill rhythm. We stopped occasionally to wait for the others. At one point we were convinced they were lost near the sometimes-it’s-a-waterfall crossing, between someone yelling to ask where we were, general shouting, and the warnings (“ROCK!!!”) and what sounded like mini rockslides everywhere. We sat on the steep trail and waited for them to successfully make it over to us, where we were solidly back in the trees on dirt trail with no scrambling left.

Evan on one of the foresty scrambles

Evan on one of the foresty scrambles

In my head, I was comparing it to Eldorado, which had a bitch of an approach. Going down from Gunn, that’s what I was expecting. But the forested section was much shorter than Eldorado, and I was thrilled when we were on the flat what-once-might-have-been-a-road section. Poor Ripley was exhausted, but had kept up with us the whole time! Every time we stopped on the way down she sat on the ground and tucked her paws beneath her. But she didn’t seem to want to admit it, because she still looked damn happy.

We had been hearing gunshots for a while, and as we got closer to the river, we realized we were pretty close to the shots. I was unnerved, but didn’t think much of it. I think I’ve already mentioned I grew up in east coast cities, dealing with gunshots in deep, dense woods is not among my talents. Ben and John started yelling from the back, and Evan, Vazul and I looked at each other and said holy shit, we didn’t even think of that. Duh. Make lots of noise. The shots stopped, and John and Ben kept yelling periodically just to make sure. Within 15 minutes, we had crossed the river and popped out near the campsite, and apparently surprised the shit out of a few guys doing target practice, aiming across the river. Right where we were. But they had heard us, and had stopped, and I learned rule #1 of being close to gunshots while bushwhacking: make it clear you’re a person.

The best time of day for the woods

The best time of day for the woods

Up and down within 9 hours, never lost, no injuries, amazing weather up above the clouds, and we were back before dark. An unbelievable day, well worth the soggy night at the trailhead. Ripley was too tired to jump in the car, and from what I heard, spent the next few days mostly sitting and occasionally limping around the apartment.