Primus

Primus and Borealis lake

Primus and Borealis lake


Primus Peak is a rubble-pile on the eastern end of one of the largest glaciated regions in the North Cascade, which extends west to Eldorado. A tour coming in the Eldorado side and out Thunder Creek is popular among both climbers and skiers. While the west-side access is much shorter and more popular, the east-side route is reasonable, with about 6 miles on-trail and a faint but usable climbers’ trail up the ridge to the base of the Borealis Glacier. I had planned to tag neighboring Austera and possibly Tricouni as well, but ended up just doing Primus.

Thunder Creek near McAllister

Thunder Creek near McAllister

After one rest day due to fatigue, and another due to it raining, I woke up to overcast skies, drove through the weekend crowds at Colonial campground, and took off up the Thunder Creek trail around 6:30. This stock trail accesses the standard route on Logan, and is the start of some popular backpacks. The well-maintained tread traverses miles of dense woods near the glacially-blue Thunder Creek on its way to Park Creek Pass, passing numerous campsites named for glaciers on peaks hidden above the trees.

Climbers' trail

Climbers’ trail

The route for Primus follows the trail to McAllister Camp, gaining 600′ in 6 miles, then gains 4000′ in 2 miles on a climbers’ trail up the ridge between McAllister and Thunder Creeks, ending at treeline near the toe of the Borealis Glacier. After walking right through some guy’s campsite (sorry!), I easily found the start of the climbers’ route. While it is easy to lose in a few places, especially on the way down, a combination of flagging, cairns, and use make it easy to regain on the way up. After a couple hours’ work, mostly in the clouds, I emerged from the woods to catch an occasional view of Primus through the mist.

Upper moss-and-choss

Upper moss-and-choss

The standard route gains the Primus-Tricouni saddle, then talus-hops west to the summit. However, the bare icefall and adjacent dirty slabs below the col looked unpleasant, so I circled right around the base of what is now a large glacial lake at the Borealis’s toe, climbing heather, then crossed a bit of glacier to the base of Primus’s north ridge.

Almost-view of Austera

Almost-view of Austera

I had read online that the ridge was at least doable, though not classic; I found some standard North Cascades class 3-4 choss-and-moss. Between the clouds, my worn shoes, and the wet moss, I wasn’t feeling it, climbing the ridge crest more slowly than I had expected. Finally topping out on the broad summit plain, I caught a brief view of Austera and Klawatti before the clouds closed in just above my head. Disappointed to miss the likely excellent view west, I lay down in the bright calm to take a half-hour summit nap while deciding what to do next.

Looking down Borealis

Looking down Borealis

Not wanting to downclimb the north ridge, I decided to try out the standard route instead. After a bit of talus, I linked some snow-patches and the edge of the glacier back to the Primus-Tricouni col, then moved to the rock on the Tricouni side to avoid the steep tongue of bare glacial ice. This turned out to be more or less what I had anticipated from below: wet, gritty third class slabs, awkward but manageable. Circling around the east end of the lake, which is now the outlet stream for the glacier, I returned to the climbers’ trail at the head of the ridge.

Looking 4000 feet down access ridge

Looking 4000 feet down access ridge

Anticipating that, like most ridge-top routes, it would be much easier to lose going down than up, I had taken a GPS trace on the way up. This saved me a few times, as I slowly veered off one side or the other of the broadening ridge where the trail disappeared. I met a large group of likely mountaineers at McAllister camp, another stomping up the Thunder Creek trail in their big boots, and the usual mix of backpackers and dayhikers on my hike/jog back to the trailhead. The place was loud and packed on a mid-summer Saturday evening, so after a quick pot of nutrient glop, I happily left to find a quieter place to sleep.

Ragged Ridge (Kitling to Cosho, 14h)

Mesahchie and Katsuk from near Kimtah

Mesahchie and Katsuk from near Kimtah


The Ragged Ridge peaks have been on my to-do list for many years, yet I somehow only got around to doing them now. The ridge extends west from Easy Pass, accessed by a good trail, petering out in the long ridge of Red Mountain between Panther and Thunder Creeks. Though some parties traverse the whole ridge, most start or stop at Cosho, the westernmost point above 8000 feet. For efficiency’s sake, I traversed all five of the 8000-foot peaks on the ridge: Kitling, Mesahchie (Panther), Katsuk (Holyoke), Kimtah (Gendarmes), and Cosho (Ragged End). For suffering’s sake, I stupidly tried to return to Easy Pass via a supposed high traverse instead of dropping down to the Fisher Creek trail.

Puffballs on the way to Kitling

Puffballs on the way to Kitling

With plenty of daylight, I got my usual anti-alpine (Cascadian?) start around 6:30, hiking the familiar Easy Pass trail. It was once again overcast at the pass, but unlike last time, the clouds were patchy enough to get an occasional look at the peaks above and across the valley. Doubting that I could see well enough to locate the standard route on Mesahchie, which traverses to a rib on its south side, I instead headed straight up grass slopes from the pass to the ridge to start the traverse from the far east end.

Typical view

Typical view

Reaching the crest… somewhere… I headed west across turf and then class 2-3 rock, probably crossing “Cub Peak” on my way to Kitling, which had a cairn but no register. The traverse from Kitling to Mesahchie is long, passing over an unnamed peak in between, but the climbing is not hard, and the ridge is easy to follow even in clouds. The final climb up Mesahchie involves a few 4th class steps and traverses around pinnacles; Beckey claims you can keep it third class by staying left, but the rock on the crest was solid and fun, while that to the left looked chossier.

Mesahchie summit "view"

Mesahchie summit “view”

With nothing much to see other than clouds on Mesahchie, I started down what seemed to be the west ridge. When things shortly turned tricky, I got out my compass and decided that I was actually on the northwest ridge. I returned to near the summit, got a quick glimpse of a lobe of glacier, and headed down a gully near another fin. The clouds began to lift as I descended, and I even found a cairn, and I continued doubly reassured to be on the right path.

Clearing view of Kimtah

Clearing view of Kimtah

Katsuk is similar to Mesahchie, with multiple fins and ridges, and only slightly shorter. I found an original register on the summit, left by John Roper in 1968. In it he names the peak Mount Holyoke, after his girlfriend/wife’s “alma mother,” and refers to Mesahchie as Panther Peak. Looking into things a bit online, it appears that Fred Beckey chose the current official names, which are all Chinook jargon. The alternate names come from the first ascenscionists, the Fireys and Roper. But back to the climbing…

Katsuk’s west ridge was long, complicated, and often unpleasant. When it is possible to stay on the crest, the going is solid and easy. However, this is often not possible, or slower than traversing on the south side. There the rock is chossy and often unpredictably rotten: I managed to pull off a couple of toaster-sized blocs that looked solid.

Grotesque Gendarmes

Grotesque Gendarmes

After over an hour of downward traversing, I reached the saddle near Kimtah. The climb looked like more chossy side-hilling, so I thought I would be clever and cross the western Katsuk Glacier to the north ridge. After making my way up a snow-tongue and some gritty, outward-sloping slabs to a notch, I realized that there was no easy way around a vertical step in the ridge, and that the other side of the notch was near-vertical. Oops. Retreating, I decided to salvage a bit of pride by climbing Kimtah’s northeast face west of the two red “Grotesque Gendarmes.” This turned out to be fun fourth class, with mostly solid rock, and deposited me back on the ridge near the red ledge mentioned by Beckey.

Kimtah arch

Kimtah arch

From right below, Kimtah is a confusing mass of gullies and pinnacles, and it is not at all clear which is highest. I traversed the ledge to a broad, red, third class gully, climbed most of the way up the thing to its right, then realized the one on its left was higher. After a retreat and some fun scrambling, I passed a decent-sized natural arch and soon reached the summit. The day was finally clearing, so I enjoyed views of Mesahchie and Katsuk to the west, and most of Goode and Logan to the south. The remaining traverse to Cosho was a breeze with full visibility: drop down some choss, get on the Kimtah Glacier at the col, then get back off for a third class scramble to the summit.

End of Ragged Ridge from Cosho

End of Ragged Ridge from Cosho

From Cosho, it is clear why many people stop the traverse here: nothing on Red Mountain is nearly as high or impressive as the eastern peaks. After a short rest, I slid back to the col, then started descending the gully toward Fisher Creek. If it had been a quick scree-ski, I probably would have dropped down all the way to the trail. However, it appeared to be a jarring, slow mixture of scree, slabs, heather, and scrub all the way down, so I tried to find the traversing ledges described in a trip report online.

Hours of this...

Hours of this…

In theory, there is a decent traverse between 7000′ and 7200′ all the way back to Mesahchie’s standard route, saving the 2800′ climb from the Fisher Creek trail back up Easy Pass. Descending and hiking the trail probably would have taken me about 2.5 hours. Instead, I spent 3.5 hours sidehilling through awfulness, putting in a good part of that 2800′ evading cliffs and brush. I won’t dwell on it. The right line may save some time, but it’s best to just suck it up and drop down to the trail.

Finally back on trail at Easy Pass, I put on This American Life and jogged back to the car, which I reached with no headlamp. With the correct return, this would have taken about 13 hours, almost 5 on trail, making it a long but reasonable day. The way I did it — 14 hours, and just over 2 on trail — left me feeling a bit worked.

Robinson

Robinson from near trailhead

Robinson from near trailhead


Robinson Mountain is the second-highest peak in the Pasayten Wilderness (after Mount Lago) and, according to Beckey, its southeast ridge is a “classic scramble” taking 1-1/2 days. I’m not sure I would call it a “classic scramble,” but it has both a short approach and little choss by Pasayten standards.

Pants and legs... washed

Pants and legs… washed

Having spent the night up near Hart Pass again, I drove down to the Robinson Creek trailhead and got a late start around 7:00. This trailhead is actually the southern end of the Middle Fork Pasayten trail I had used for Osceola, and the trail is similarly well-maintained for stock travel. Unfortunately, this only means that logs are chopped, not that brush is cleared, so I got a good leg-washing between the bridges over Robinson and Beauty Creeks. Unlike most Cascades valleys, Robinson Creek appears to be a steep, v-shaped river valley rather than a flat, u-shaped glacial one, so the trail climbs consistently from the trailhead.

Bowl above tarn

Bowl above tarn

Expecting a minor climbers’ trail past the Beauty Creek bridge, I was surprised to find it nearly as well-defined as the main trail, and a bit less brushy. I stopped a few hundred yards up to wring out my socks, then continued climbing steeply along the left side of the creek. The trail is clearly mostly used by climbers: it rapidly fades as it crosses a meadow, with a cairn pointing out where to leave it for Robinson Mountain.

First view of summit

First view of summit

I followed a bit of a tread up the meadow, then continued through open woods toward the little tarn at 6800′. There seem to be several places to access the southeast ridge, and I chose one in the middle, with minimal scree travel and a short 4th class chimney. I found a faint climbers’ trail on the ridge, which is mostly a hike until the final few hundred feet. The talus is predictably wretched on either slope, but the crest would be pleasant even without the bit of trail. The summit comes into view shortly after gaining the ridge, still most of a mile away.

Osceola from summit

Osceola from summit

After one short third class step, it is a short walk to the summit, where there was no register, but an old Coast and Boundary survey marker. It looked like it might rain again, so I did not hang out long before retracing my steps. Surprisingly, it actually cleared as I descended, and I had a nice view of the little tarn, and of Silver Star and the Gardiners to the south. Leaving the ridge earlier than I gained it, I quickly reached the lake via a mixture of sand, scree, and snow, then hiked/jogged back to the car for a late lunch. With a much-needed short day, I had time to head into Winthrop for maintenance before driving back west to the Real Mountains.

Azurite, Ballard

Ballard from Azurite

Ballard from Azurite


Azurite and Ballard are two peaks west of Glacier Pass on the PCT, rising 3500 feet above the South Fork of Slate Creek. I chose them because (1) Azurite is on the Bulger list, and (2) I could reach them from near Hart’s Pass, which is a pleasant place to camp. They turned out harder than I expected, offering the full Cascadian experience: amazing views, but also awful sharp scree, steep wet bushwhacking, and even a bit of surprise chossy 5th class. I wouldn’t recommend this outing, but as I slowly dried from my cold brush shower while hiking the PCT toward my car, I realized that it was what I needed.

Azurite and PCT

Azurite and PCT

My “campsite” near the Slate Peak lookout had amazing sunrise views of most of the North Cascades, so I hung around to take a few photos before driving over to the Meadows Trailhead to pick up the south-bound PCT. This is probably the longest stretch of the trail in Washington that stays near or above treeline, so I was spared the usual morning soaking as I enjoyed views of Tower and Golden Horn from their best aspect. Azurite and Ballard were also visible, but mostly hidden as the trail traversed the eastern side of a ridge.

Slate Creek valley

Slate Creek valley

I became less enamored of the PCT as it descended to Glacier Pass, in a series of maddeningly flat new switchbacks reminding me that newer trails are almost always worse. Glacier Pass is a weird “pass:” though it connects the Slate and Brush Creek valleys, no trail that I could find actually crosses it. Instead, the current trail descends to the saddle, then continues down the valley on the other side.

Snowfield used to climb Azurite

Snowfield used to climb Azurite

I flailed around the forest for a few minutes, then took off through open and well-behaved woods toward Azurite’s base. The obvious route in current conditions, visible from the approach, follows a large snowfield to a notch left of the summit; when dry, it would probably be an unbearable pile of talus, scree, and old moraine. The snow was soft and gentle enough that, with a bit of careful route choice, I did not need my crampons even on the steeper snow tongue to the notch. From there, I made a climbing traverse on the other side, across white granite reminiscent of the Sierra.

Summit scrambling on Azurite

Summit scrambling on Azurite

When the granite gave way to the normal Cascades rock, I climbed up to the ridge to get my bearings, and saw that I was several towers shy of the summit. The route from here was complicated, but not difficult, staying below the ridge as it traversed gullies and ribs, before making a final 4th class climb directly along the ridge to the summit. Befitting a Bulger, Azurite’s summit register contained several entries per year, going back to the late 90s. I was heartened to see that none of the few who had traversed from Ballard had any complaints or warnings, since the ridge looked awfully long. From the summit, I clearly saw both the new and the old Granite Pass trail, and resolved to follow the old one on the way back.

Looking back from Ballard

Looking back from Ballard

The initial scree descent north was the standard Cascades wretchedness: loose, sharp, and occasionally slick with moss. As the ridge leveled, it became possible to travel along the mostly solid spine, and I made good time. More than most ridges, this one punishes the climber for leaving the crest; when doing so to avoid a larger pinnacle, return as soon as possible. Most of the long, flat, red part is class 1-2, with the occasional class 3 move getting around or over a bump.

Crux ridge/notch

Crux ridge/notch

But of course it couldn’t all be that easy. Just before it starts climbing to Ballard’s south summit, the ridge narrows, its west side sheer and right side steep choss. After again making the mistake of leaving the crest, and being punished by wet slabs, I returned to the top, which narrows to a fin of some gray, rotten rock near a dirt-chute to the east. After trying out a couple of options, I traversed the top for a bit, then descended a sloping crack to the right to reach the notch. While I had no close calls, the constant rain of pebbles I knocked to their deaths below was unnerving. There is probably an easier line farther down.

After that, the rest of the climb was mostly third class on the left of the ridge, then up around the right to complete the summit knob. The “register” was a printed email about someone’s earlier climb, which had some useful pointers about my intended route down. Since it looked like rain, I spent only a few minutes on the summit before heading for the east ridge descent.

Circling around north of the summit, I descended a dirt-slope, then followed an old pair of boot tracks toward one of the ribs heading generally east-ish from the broad summit area. This proved mostly class 2-3, with a bit of trickery when I likely headed too far south, and I transitioned to the snowfield at the base without much trouble. Unfortunately, my ridge deposited me well down-creek from Granite Pass; I should probably have taken the other east ridge.

Home from Ballard, PCT switchbacks on the right

Home from Ballard, PCT switchbacks on the right

It drizzled gently as I traversed along the snow and scree, making some progress up-canyon while staying out of the green hell. When the going got tough, I decided to drop down, having read in Beckey about “open woods” on the cross-country approach up Slate Creek. I found no such thing, but instead a mess of dense pines, alder, and slippery shrubbery. All of this had of course collected the day’s drizzle, so I got to take a cold shower as I thrashed and slid. Things improved slightly as I neared the bottom and found some bits of game trails, but I still had to cross a couple of broad slide paths.

Eventually, I shortcut uphill to catch the PCT above Granite Pass, below the maddening switchbacks. The old trailbed was overgrown, but I knew where to look, and was already soaked, so I saved quite a bit of distance bypassing the hateful horizontal switchbacks. Above, it was a long, wet, gently-rolling hike to the car.

Osceola

Brief view of Osceola

Brief view of Osceola


Picture rock under this instead

Picture rock under this instead

After some time watching the bad weather, doing the odd workout trail, and generally feeling sorry for myself, I headed over SR 20 to the east side of the range. There the weather is usually drier, the peaks are gentler, and the vegetation is a bit less dense, meaning that they can be done even in wet weather without undue suffering. Working off Bulger’s top 100 list, I picked out three peaks buried deep in the Pasayten Wilderness: Osceola, Carru, and Lago. With the first 9 miles of the approach along a likely well-maintained trail from Slate Pass, they would involve a decent though non-damaging amount of running. At around 7,000 feet, Slate Pass is a crazy-high trailhead by Cascades standards, made possible by the military’s former worries about Soviet bombers. They blasted a road up Slate Mountain to the old lookout, then blew the top 40 feet off the peak for a radar installation. When they finished, they even raised the lookout on a 40-foot tower so it remained in exactly the same position.

Middle Fork Pasayten valley

Middle Fork Pasayten valley

I got up early, saw that the trailhead was completely fogged in, went back to sleep, and started at a more civilized 5:45. I had planned to just wing it based on memory of my road atlas, but I fortunately packed my map and GPS. The cloud cover was not much of a navigational problem, but the dense, redundant, and largely unsigned trail maze certainly was, causing an unplanned mile-long detour at one point before I pulled out the map and verified my mistake. I eventually made the descent to the Middle Fork of the Pasayten, joining the trail from Robinson Creek. The Forest Service trail crew had recently been going to town on the winter’s blowdowns, turning a frustrating ordeal into a pleasant one-hour jog.

Summit view of Dorothy Lake

Summit view of Dorothy Lake

The one intersection with a sign, oddly, was the one for my trail up toward Shellrock Pass. Though not regularly maintained, the trail is in surprisingly good shape as it switchbacks steeply up past Freds Lake to near Lake Dorothy. There are a half-dozen significant blowdowns, but oddly the hitching-post near Freds looks recent. At Dorothy the trail disperses and fades; the continuation to Shellrock is not obvious, and I did not look for it. Instead, I headed up (too early) toward Osceola’s southwest ridge for the start of what I hoped would be a traverse.

After a bit of up-and-down to get to the real southwest ridge, I found bits of use trail along the least-bad path through the talus. The peak dropped off in steep slabs to the left, and the loose, mossy talus to the right was awful, but a route along their intersection was efficient. It looked like it might even be clearing as I reached the summit: I saw most of Carru, and even parts of Lago.

Carru, Lago, and Shellrock Pass

Carru, Lago, and Shellrock Pass

Unfortunately, soon after starting out I discovered that the terrain between Osceola and Carru is somewhere between awful and impassable. After descending a bit of loose, sharp, ankle-biting talus, it looked like I would probably cliff out. A long, discouraging traverse across more of the same got me to a slightly more solid rib on the south side; the best approach is probably to retreat down the southwest ridge, then contour on the heather below. It was starting to sprinkle a bit — nothing serious, but this was already taking more time and effort than I had hoped, and I was running low on food and motivation. Having seen the area, managed some sort of workout, and tagged a peak, I was content to jog and hike back to the trailhead, saving my energies for another day.

Majestic Mountain

Summit from false summit

Summit from false summit


Majestic Mountain happens to be the last peak described in Beckey’s Cascade Alpine Guide. That’s about the most remarkable thing about this minor highpoint of a ridge north of Rainy Pass. It caught my attention as a fairly painless 5000-foot climb from SR 20 via the abandoned but still decent East Creek trail, which was new to me and near Easy Pass, where I found myself frustrated by a dense, cold fog that refused to move. So after my pointless morning lap on Easy Pass, I had lunch, then drove back down the road a bit, reloaded my pack, and started up East Creek.

Bridge *not* out.

Bridge *not* out.

Ignore the sign about a missing bridge: while the old stock bridge is gone, a perfectly good improved log with hand-lines remains across Granite Creek. Past that, the trail switchbacks steeply up East Creek’s right bank, then sidehills for awhile before crossing to the left side and passing through a few slide paths. About 4 miles up the trail splits, with one branch leading to Mebee Pass and the PCT, and the other to the Gold Hill Mine and Canyon Creek.

Gold Hill Mine

Gold Hill Mine

The latter branch seems well-used to the mine building, which is in surprisingly good shape, and remains usable as it continues slightly right and uphill of the structure. The trail finally becomes obscure after it traverses out into the open, grassy slope of Majestic’s west face. Where the trail grew fainter and crossed a large slide gully, I randomly decided to leave it and head up. This proved mildly unpleasant, but better than the loose dirt and scree to either side, and led just south of the slightly-lower southern summit. There is unfortunately no similar route leading to the true, northern summit, which sits firmly on the Boulder Creek side of McKay Ridge. I found a surprising number of names in the wet register; maybe, like me, they were frustrated peak-baggers looking for a consolation prize.

Having ignored Beckey’s advice on the way up, I decided to follow it on the way down, returning to the southern summit and descending McKay ridge to where the old trail seemed likely to cross. This route did not seem much faster or more pleasant than the one I used on the way up, and I lost the old trail in the long traverse back across open ground. Once back on the trail, though, it was a pleasant jog to the trailhead.

Speed on the I-90 corridor

I-90 from near Defiance

I-90 from near Defiance


With the forecast ranging from overcast to snowing in the North Cascades, I headed down to I-90 to tag some workout peaks. The west side of Snoqualmie Pass has numerous peaks with good trails and about 3000 feet of elevation gain, perfect for days when brush-bashing would be wet and miserable, and route-finding difficult. It can also be mobbed on a summer weekend, but the crowds are mostly concentrated on a few more popular peaks like Mount Si and Granite Mountain. For those with time to kill in the area, here are some reviews.

Mount Si, farthest west and just outside North Bend, is the classic Seattle-area workout peak, popular among runners and those training for Rainier. The route is mostly a well-maintained trail, with the final 200 feet or so a third class scramble up the “haystack.” The trail mostly maintains a consistent, runnable grade, efficiently gaining 3000 feet in under 4 miles. I did it for speed, managing 53:20 from base to summit; the record is considerably faster.

Granite Mountain is a bit taller than Si, and features a closed lookout on its summit. While less crowded than Si, it is probably the second-most popular peak in the area, and the parking lot overflows on weekends. The trail is less efficient than Si’s, with flatter sections on the top and bottom, and rougher, un-runnable ones in the middle. I also ran this one, taking 57:30 from trailhead to tower.

McClellan Butte is somewhat similar to Si: about 3000 feet of gain, mostly on a good trail, with a final third class summit scramble. The trail is less efficient, with some annoyingly gradual switchbacks and flat sections following old logging roads near the bottom, and a long rolling traverse near the top. There seems to have been some kind of structure near the top at one point; only the anchors remain.

Mount Defiance lies across the valley from McClellan. The climb is mostly on the well-maintained Mason Lake and Defiance trails, with a final use trail to the summit. After a consistent climb, the trail descends and meanders past the lake, making it a poor vertical ascent rate test. However, it is also somewhat less crowded than neighboring peaks, and the lakes would probably be scenic on a clear day.

Silver Peak is an easy hike, gaining less than 2000 feet from a high trailhead on the PCT at Windy Pass, 5 miles of good dirt road from Snoqualmie Pass. It is popular enough that the wretched talus of its upper slopes has been beaten into a decent trail. The PCT section is too flat to make it a good workout peak but, being on the crest, it probably has good views of the surrounding peaks, and the Enchantments farther northeast. It also has 2000 feet of prominence, if you’re into that.

Three Fingers

Three Fingers from wrong side, lookout at right

Three Fingers from wrong side, lookout at right


Three Fingers is home to perhaps the most impressive surviving fire lookout in the United States. Its construction required blasting the top off the mountain, blasting a trail, and constructing a temporary tram to move building materials up the final cliffs. Reaching it requires crossing a bit of the Queest Alb glacier, then climbing three wooden ladders to the summit pinnacle; the trail below can be covered by steep snowfields well into July. The Forest Service was planning to burn the lookout down to avoid liability, but a group of volunteers offered to maintain it, and it is now open to the public as a sort-of museum and also a place for up to two people to sleep.

After hanging out with Luke in Edmonds, I drove up the Mountain Loop, found the subtly-signed Green Mountain road, and drove about 8 potholed miles to what I thought was the road closure, where I crashed next to a couple of other cars. According to the National Forest website, the road was washed out just beyond this point, leaving about 10 miles of road to bike or run to reach the old trailhead. I set my alarm to make sure I had time for the anticipated road misery, then gave in to my accumulated fatigue.

In the morning, I saw that the boulders blocking the bridge had been partly removed, and both the bridge and the road beyond seemed to be in good shape. As Frank Underwood said, “There are two kinds of pain. The sort of pain that makes you strong, or useless pain. The sort of pain that’s only suffering. I have no patience for useless things.” Running a perfectly drivable road is the epitome of useless pain, and there was no “road closed” sign, so I happily drove another 7-8 miles to an actual washout much closer to the trail. While I was too cautious to even attempt to drive through, an overzealous couple had apparently tried the night before, and were now camping in their high-centered vehicle in the rut. I established that they had food and water, and that there was no way I could pull them out with my car, then said I’d be back in the afternoon and took off up the road at a fast walk.

View back to Goat Flat

View back to Goat Flat

About a half-hour later — much sooner than I had expected — I was at the old trailhead, where the stream/trail leaves the excellent road to climb gradually east and north. The trail was fairly standard Cascades fare, with slick roots and wet brush, but fewer uncut blowdowns than one would expect on a trail so far from vehicular access. I reached the Meadow Mountain trail junction without incident, catching occasional glimpses of Three Fingers in clearings. Above this, a large tree has exploded all over the trail and hidden it for 50 yards, but the route is otherwise easy to follow, and I was soon at the Goat Flats camping area, where I saw two tents and one camper heading toward a supposed outhouse.

Route above Goat Flat

Route above Goat Flat

Above the camping area, the trail follows the ridge a short ways, then ducks sneakily into the woods on the south side to traverse around the rocky, serrated ridge. I unfortunately was not paying enough attention, and instead took a likely-seeming goat-path up the ridge and around its north side. This involved some steep snow, third class rock, and one armpit-deep fall through into a moat. Fortunately humans are designed so their arms naturally catch them when this happens, so there was no damage. I eventually realized that the goats had a different goal than I did, scrambled to a gap on the ridge, and descended a loose chute back to the old boot-pack on the south side.

Spot the cabin

Spot the cabin

The trail became unavoidably treacherous near the final notch, where it crosses a steep northeast slope. It looked like there might have been some built-up retaining walls back in the day, and the lookouts probably shoveled this section, but it was now a steep snow-slope with a bad runout. I picked my way across, downclimbed some 4th class rock past an old fixed line, and regained the trail where it crosses back south to easy terrain. More easy switchbacks led up into the clouds.

View down ladders

View down ladders

I almost did not find the summit, as there are several sub-fingers of the south Finger, the lookout is nearly hidden from below, and I could not quite see the tops of the sub-fingers from the snow below. I eventually climbed one pillar, waited for a partial clearing, and spied the lookout back to my south. I was tempted to free-climb the summit without using the ladders, but they were in the way of the best route and the rock was wet, so I clambered carefully up two old wooden ladders, made a couple scrambling moves, then climbed up the third to top out on the sloping slab “front porch,” where a massive gym-class rope led to near the front door.

So tempted...

So tempted…

The building and its contents seemed to be in reasonable shape, especially considering its winter conditions. I checked out the contents for awhile, resisted my urge to eat the old canned fish (I was out of food), then made my way back. I passed one man hiking in, like me was surprised at the “open” road, who informed me that the poor couple was still stuck. The clouds stayed where they were, a few hundred feet below the peaks, so there was not much to see on the hungry jog back to the car.

I offered the couple a ride into town, but they preferred to wait for a tow, so I took their information and headed into Granite Falls to find the nearest towing company. Unfortunately someone else had come before me, the authorities had been made aware of the unfortunate situation, and they were not pleased, as the road had seemingly been “opened” by some locals with a winch. I probably missed an unpleasant encounter with The Law by about an hour, while the others at the “upper trailhead” probably got a dose of blue fury and unjust but non-disputable fines. So… I lucked out and got that done without road-running. Unfortunately, the rest of you will have to park lower down.

Wedge

Toe of Wedgemount Glacier (Renee's photo)

Toe of Wedgemount Glacier (Renee’s photo)


It was time to get back to the mountains. While I have yet to explore much in the southern Coast range, online information is much sparser than for most parts of the States. Based on the available beta, I selected Wedge Mountain, the highpoint of Garibaldi Provincial Park. Its northeast ridge is a moderate snow climb with minimal crevasse risk, the approach starts relatively high at just over 3000′ and features minimal bushwhacking, and it probably has a nice view of the range south toward Squamish and Vancouver.

After one final fancy meal, Renée and I drove up to the well-signed and -used Wedgemount Lake trailhead, next to some sort of ugly construction project north of Whistler. We found perhaps a dozen other cars, including a few people camped out to start in the morning. Apparently none of the others were headed peak-ward: the next day was Flag Day, so even non-mountaineering Canadians were out enjoying the start of their brief summer.

Wedgemount Lake

Wedgemount Lake

It was drizzling slightly when we started not-too-early the next day, wearing heavy boots and shells. The trail was slightly brushy in a few open sections, but stayed mostly in the woods, so we were thankfully spared the morning dew-soaking. Like most trails in BC, this one was built by users, so it goes nearly straight up the drainage, gaining over 3000′ in about three miles on its way to a hut and camping area at Wedgemount Lake. As the woods opened up, we got occasional views of the valley below, a nearby cascade, and the feet of mountains to the west, but no sun.

Lower ridge

Lower ridge

We came upon the lake suddenly, blue from glacial till and still holding some winter snow, under clouds that obscured the surrounding summits. The toe of the Wedgemount Glacier, the start of the route, was visible across it to the southeast. While it looked gray and cold, the day was relatively warm, and the rain was rarely more than a gentle drizzle. After a stop in the empty hut to get chilled and put on more clothes, we continued on a path and bootpack around the lake, then followed some old ski tracks toward the Wedgemount-Weart glacier col. There are two ways to reach the northeast ridge, and we chose the lower one to avoid the crevasse field on the upper Wedgemount.

Glimpse of upper Wedgemount Glacier (Renee's photo)

Glimpse of upper Wedgemount Glacier (Renee’s photo)

Nearing where the toe of the ridge should be, we found ourselves slogging up slush in a mixture of cloud and gentle drizzle, able to see only a couple hundred yards ahead. The ridge starts out broad, though fortunately narrow enough to be recognizable in the fog. The cold and wet became uncomfortable in windier areas, and there seemed little chance of a view at the top, so I thought of turning around. However, there was no real danger of freezing or getting off-route, so we continued up a mixture of snow and wet, loose talus. Past a short third-class section, we found what was likely a more direct couloir from the Wedgemount to the ridge, and I added a cairn for the way down.

Random cornice (Renee's photo)

Random cornice (Renee’s photo)

As we climbed, the ridge became more snow than talus, and we began following a bootpack from the past few days. Judging by online photos, the climb would have been spectacular on a clear day, with the large, flat Weart Glacier stretching away to the north and east, and the summit looming ahead. Today, though, we only had variations on the theme of “gray.” The ridge was mostly gentle, with a brief steep section below the summit plateau.

Crux pitch below summit

Crux pitch below summit

Fortunately there was a sizable summit cairn, because otherwise the high point would not have been obvious in the clouds. We suffered for a bit on top, then found adequate seating in the summit’s lee, where it was almost warm enough not to need jackets for a few minutes. Someone had “thoughtfully” left a nasty cigar in the summit register jar, so I didn’t bother picking through the scraps of paper for an unlikely familiar name.

Collapsed glacial lake (?)

Collapsed glacial lake (?)

The descent went easily, with a bit of inward-facing downclimbing on the steep part, and a mixture of plunge-stepping, boot-skiing, and postholing on the rest. The weather pretended to be clearing a few times, providing views of the Weart and Wedgemount Glaciers to either side, and maybe even the summit. The lake, deserted on the way up, was now swarming with backpackers, including a dozen or so school kids hiking up to the glacier’s snout. Things were almost festive despite the continuing threat of drizzle. The 3000 feet of stomping down the trail were not especially fun, as the stiff boots mashed the soles of my feet, and the slick roots and mud constantly tested my balance and reflexes. Despite all my complaining, it was a good day: mission accomplished with manageable misery. On a clear day, Wedge would be genuine type I fun.

Squamish-y things

Good scenery and bad posture

Good scenery and bad posture


[All photos by Renée.]

With the snowpack and my own motivation not quite in condition for Serious Business in the Cascades, I took advantage of an opportunity to both climb and interact with civilization up in Squamish, where Renée and a couple of her friends were doing things with ropes and gear. In addition to getting in some roped climbing practice, I hoped to tag a couple of local peaks. After another typically unpleasant encounter with a Canadian border guard, I pulled into the Stawamus Chief parking lot early enough to chat with Renée and MJ before it got dark, and easily found parking in the “day use” lot on a weekday. I had been worried about being deported or sent to the Snow Mexican juzgado for sleeping there, but plenty of other climbers were already blatantly camped, so I figured I would have time to make a getaway if things turned bad.

Forced smile after P1 of Calculus Direct

Forced smile after P1 of Calculus Direct

First up was Calculus Crack (direct 5.9 start), a 5-ish pitch route on the Apron. After waiting for a couple of groups ahead of us, MJ led the first pitch, up a corner and out above the forest canopy. While it did not look too steep, the rock was much slicker than at Index, and I embarassingly could hardly follow the pitch. I was almost discouraged enough to be lowered off and walk home, but the rest was only 5.8, and was supposedly more sticky where the rock received more sun.

Calculus Crack P3

Calculus Crack P3

Climbing as a team of three on two ropes was a bit of a nuisance, but we were fast enough to have to wait again at the top of the second pitch. The rest of the climb was less slick and easy enough for me to actually enjoy it. The “top” was actually an exit ledge partway up the huge face, and walls beckoned above and to either side. I am not a climber, but I understood why people spend weeks camped at the base, following different paths up this maze of routes.

With the two waits, we did not have enough time to do another long route, so we instead headed over to Smoke Bluffs, a forest maze surrounding single-pitch crags facing different directions and with different levels of tree-cover. With this variety, it would be possible to find comfortable temperatures at most times during the climbing season, and the approach trails were well-maintained and -signed enough not to confuse a newcomer. I followed a fun and sometimes painful 5.9 hand-crack, then we all retreated to the friends’ house for fancy dinner. This mode of existence was neither temperamentally nor financially sustainable for me, but I could put up with it for a couple of days.

Flailing at Cheakamus

Flailing at Cheakamus

The next day we headed up to Cheakamus Canyon for some bolted face climbs with great views of the Tantalus range. I much preferred this area, with face climbing on predictably sticky rock on which routes I could actually climb were steep enough for falling not to hurt. I managed to lead a few things, and toproped some 5.10s less embarrassingly than I had feared. Still, by the end of the day a mixture of failure and lack of sleep had reduced my desire to crag; it was time for more typical activities.

After another late night, it was off to do some hill-running. Renée and I started with a sort-of loop over the Chief’s three summits, leading through hordes of tourists on some familiar and more unfamiliar trail. The “climber’s route” off the back of the first summit, with its hand-chain and rebar ladders, is easy to miss from the top, but well worth finding. The route is too steep to involve much running, but I didn’t mind saving my knees.

I had lunch in the climbers’ lot, then caught up on sleep for a couple of hours in the back of my car before heading over to the tram to run the Sea to Sky trail. There had been a race the previous weekend, and I wanted to see how close I could come to the winning time. At about 3600 ft/hr, it looked approachable on paper: I had managed similar speeds around Jackson, even when not fully rested. However, the actual trail had numerous flat sections and downhills, several of which were rooty and technical. The course record was actually set by someone capable of near-world-class ascent rates, and I did about how I should have expected: 25% off the CR at 57 minutes bottom-to-top. Hills don’t lie.