Primitive Canada

Classic Canada: clearcuts and glaciers

Classic Canada: clearcuts and glaciers


Back in pioneer days, finding one’s way up a mountain, or even from one town to another, required one to unearth and collate local information from loggers, miners, and outdoorsmen. At some point in the United States, the Forest Service, Parks Service, and Federal Highway Administration created a unified network of roads and trails, and made information about them universally available. Early mountaineers could rely on this network to get within striking distance of peaks.

As I have found, beyond the highways and National Parks, access in Canada is essentially “pioneer-level.” Access depends on the whims of logging companies, local clubs, and individuals. At best, one finds a volunteer-maintained trail with a subtle “trailhead” sign, like this:

Good trailhead signage

Good trailhead signage

After successfully using this trail recently, I headed up a maze of logging roads toward another nearby trailhead. Thanks to some turn-by-turn directions, I was able to drive to within about a kilometer of the purported trailhead, where the road finally became impassable. Hiking the rest of the way in the morning, instead of some kind of marker, I found this:

Bad trailhead

Bad trailhead

Continuing up the winding logging roads, I happened to spy orange markers for another “trail,” which I later learned is mentioned in the most recent local guidebooks. I bashed up a clear-cut following the markers, then promptly lost them in the open old-growth forest above. Travel wasn’t bad in the big trees and modest undergrowth, but after another 10-15 minutes of seeing nothing, I decided I was not in a “pioneering” mood.

Mox Peaks, Redoubt (14h50)

Scary side of Hard Mox

Scary side of Hard Mox


The Chilliwack Group, located at the head of Depot Creek just south of the Canadian border, contains several of Washington’s highest 100 peaks and several decent-sized glaciers. I had meant to tag most of the peaks in a long traverse last year, but ran out of energy after just Spickard, the least interesting of the four I had planned to tag. This year I returned for the unfinished business: the Mox Peaks and Redoubt. All require both glacier travel and at least fourth class climbing; “Hard Mox,” possibly the hardest, is reached by a circuitous route over rotten rock that is somewhere between 5.2 and 5.5 depending upon who you believe. I had toyed with the idea of re-climbing Spickard to establish an FKT for the whole area, but ultimately decided to just climb the new stuff. This was a good decision, as the day was long enough as-is, and would have been much less fun if rushed.

This was a road last year

This was a road last year

The Depot Creek road has degraded in the past year. A fallen tree at roof-height stopped one car with a roof box, and I chickened out at a nice camp spot a mile or so short of the open area where people parked last year. The road beyond the old parking area, semi-drivable last year, had turned into a six-foot-deep (er, two-meter-deep) gully, making it entirely beyond repair. Starting at 5:30, I took about an hour to reach the border swath. Based on the register, the trail sees very little traffic, and I saw my entry from last year about a page back.

Ouzel Lake cirque

Ouzel Lake cirque

Once in the old growth forest south of the border, the trail is easy to follow and only mildly overgrown with blueberries; with cooler temperatures, I was comfortable bashing through with pant legs attached. The huge cascade at the head of the valley was no less impressive than last year, with the same alder crossing and hand-line through the misty, slimy part. After some steep climbing, I reached the bog at the foot of the upper valley, and turned left on the faint trail to Ouzel Lake. I’m not sure if the lake counts as “scenic” or not: it is dyed blue by glacial till, surrounded by purple flowers (and one orange tent), and ringed by glaciers, but sits on a plain of barren morainal slag that looks like mine tailings. I saw a few possible Ouzels as I crossed the various streams feeding the lake, though I didn’t notice them diving or swimming.

Mounting the Redoubt Glacier

Mounting the Redoubt Glacier

Past the lake, I followed the obvious route up to the far left-hand side of the Redoubt Glacier. After contending with a tricky bit of gritty, freshly-exposed slabs, I put on crampons and mantled up onto the bare glacier. The traverse up and right was low-angle and mostly crevasse-free terrain, though the rest of the glacier around Ouzel Lake to the west presented a much trickier crevasse maze. I aimed for a logical-looking place to gain the rock and, after a bit of third class scrambling, found some slings suggesting I was on the right route to somewhere.

Easy ridge of Easy Mox

Easy ridge of Easy Mox

The scramble deposited me at a saddle on Easy Mox’s broad class 2-3 north ridge. Hard Mox, across the way to the south, looked especially fearsome from this angle, with its vertical east and rotten north faces on display. After gaining most of the necessary elevation on easy terrain, I dropped 50 feet down the left of the ridge at a cairn where it narrowed, then reclimbed some low 5th class rock to a notch just east of the summit. I found the expected Washington climber garbage above, with an added twist: some particularly slovenly climbers had added a fresh sling, then cut most of the old ones and left them lying there. Ugh.

Ouzel Lake from Easy Mox

Ouzel Lake from Easy Mox

I tried to examine the remainder of my route from the summit, but upper Redoubt was covered in clouds, and the west face of Easy Mox, which I had to descend, was too steep. Hard Mox just looked hard and chossy. Retracing my steps, I downclimbed the 4th class, then continued down a chossy, white-ish bowl toward Hard Mox. When this bowl looked like it might cliff out, I headed left into another, then back right where it cliffed out in turn. Things were looking steadily worse below, so I pulled out my camera and paged back to my photo of Beckey’s route description. It described a complicated series of ledges and gullies in an upward direction, passing a “prominent gendarme” that certainly did not look prominent from above. Not helpful.

Hard Mox summit pinnacle

Hard Mox summit pinnacle

Peering over the edge, I saw the kind of worsening terrain that tends to result in fear, backtracking, and cliffing out, but I wasn’t stuck just yet. I headed down and right in a steep but safe chimney, then connected it to a ledge with a few exposed moves, heading back left toward the highpoint of the col between the two Moxes. From my perch, I could see a nice ramp trending down and left toward the ground, only a few steep moves away. I carefully chose the least-bad holds on the way, but still had something come off below one of my footholds, which somehow held. “Lucky break,” I suppose.

Crux of Hard Mox

Crux of Hard Mox

Somewhat rattled, I made the rest of the descent to the saddle, then took off for Hard Mox along a faint but well-cairned trail. The terrain reminded me a bit of the Minarets in the Sierra, with lots of steep gullies, random cliffs, and rotten rock. The route leading through a notch to the southwest side of the ridge, then traversing down and up to the saddle at the base of the summit tower, is mostly class 2-3. I tried to shortcut the main down-and-up, and was promptly cliffed out for my trouble. Beckey mentions a “5.5 or harder” move above the saddle, but I found nothing harder than maybe 5.2. After a traverse and a nice secure chimney, I found the crux of the route to be an ugly, cramped ledge leading left above some white rock to the final, easy summit scramble.

Talus traverse toward Redoubt

Talus traverse toward Redoubt

In addition to a copy of Beckey’s original entry, the register contained more and less familiar names going back quite a few years. I added mine, admired the view for awhile, then downclimbed and hiked back to the saddle between the two Moxes. The best route to Redoubt traverses above the head of Redoubt Creek before climbing to the flat upper Redoubt Glacier. This looked like a horrid talus-slog from above, but after some loose scree descending west from the Mox Peaks, I found mostly stable and pleasant boulders. I reclimbed some slabs to reach the mercifully flat and crevasse-free upper Redoubt Glacier, then crossed below the step in Redoubt’s gnarly south ridge to reach easy but wretchedly loose talus on the south and southwest side.

Depot Glacier from Redoubt

Depot Glacier from Redoubt

Above the talus fan, this whole side of Redoubt is a series of fins and gullies of varying difficulty and quality. I followed the path of least resistance up and left, aiming for roughly where I expected to find the summit. This generally worked, with a bit of extracurricular fifth class leading to the summit. A layer of clouds just above summit level cast interesting patterns of light and shadow on the crevassed Redoubt and Depot Glaciers below, and kept it cool enough on top to put on a warm hat for the first time this month.

My plan was to descend around to the north and down the West Redoubt Glacier, a standard route according to Beckey. The glacier had looked crevassed and tricky as I passed by on the way up, but I figured I could deal with it. The route appears to be little-used, and after descending too far along the apparent new standard route from Ouzel Lake, I reclimbed a bit through fins and gullies to reach the west-facing talus slopes leading to the col at the head of the glacier. I found loose but not especially treacherous terrain, and no sign of human passage.

This totally goes...

This totally goes…

Looking down, I saw some complicated terrain and a couple of cracks that might extend all the way across the glacier, and began to question my route choice. Still, I hopped over to the snow, pulled out my axe, and started down. I made it past the first crack I had seen, but was faced with a dubious snow bridge and a slightly unpleasant downward jump at the second. The jump would have worked, but things looked like they only got worse below. Changing plans, I traversed to the bare northern side, where I dismounted to the slabs the shrinking glacier has left behind. Freshly-exposed slabs are often covered in unpleasant grit and choss, but these were clean, so it was relatively straightforward to find a third class path along the glacier to its snout. Glancing behind me as I descended, I realized that crossing some of the steeper crevasse fields was somewhere between desperate and impossible.

Lower cascade and slimy rocks

Lower cascade and slimy rocks

Hiking through stable debris along the stream below the glacier, I thought I was home free, but I did not anticipate the bog. Knowing that I would eventually have to be on the right-hand side of the stream, I crossed above the valley bottom, only to be faced with a brushy swamp where several small streams from the surrounding glaciers meet and mingle. After the first foot-soaking, I squelched through the marshier patches where I could to avoid the brush, finally wading the calf-deep stream from Ouzel Lake to finally return to the trail. Done with the wet part of the day, I wrung out my socks, then motored the long but surprisingly pleasant return down Depot Creek, reaching the car well before sunset.

Whitehorse (again)

Looking down route from summit

Looking down route from summit


Rising 6,000 feet just south of Darrington to its glacier-clad summit, Whitehorse is more prominent than its modest 6,800 feet would suggest. Also, with a trailhead on the valley floor, the climb involves over 6,000 feet of elevation gain. Were it not for the final glacier crossing and scramble, Whitehorse would stand along with Si, Sourdough, and Pugh as a classic western Cascades “workout peak.”
Hand after 2-hour shower

Hand after 2-hour shower

I had tried it on my way down to Seattle after a humid and rainy night, but ran out of time and energy after spending two hours being constantly drenched by wet brush, and another hour waiting for my hands to warm up above the brush-bash. In drier conditions on the way back north, it proved much easier.

Bridge where road is closed

Bridge where road is closed

Unlike the afternoon drive down, the dawn drive up from Seattle was quick and painless. Greater Seattle is becoming more like Los Angeles, with parking-lot traffic on the freeways at most times during the day. After parking in “Deliverance” country at the end of the Mine Road before Darrington, I hiked up the old roadbed, then turned onto the Niederprum Trail at the old sign. This old Forest Service trail climbs brutally 4,000 feet to “Lone Tree Pass,” which is not really a pass, and does not have a lone tree. Like many North Cascades trails, it now receives no maintenance other than periodic replacement of the trail register.

Old growth tree for scale

Old growth tree for scale

The workout portion was the same as last time, only drier; I ate a few handfuls of berries as I passed, nodded to the tarp at the camping spot where I warmed up last time, then continue to the pass. From there, the trail traverses the ridge, then makes a descending traverse around a couple of buttresses on the south side of the mountain. I saw a couple of mountain goats on this section, though nothing like the incredible herd of 20 or so I saw before. The trail basically disappears here, but I managed to find a few flags and some boot-prints making an up-and-down level traverse to broad scree chute below High Pass. The final section involves some especially unpleasant steep side-hilling across grass, which would have been treacherous had I made it there in the wet.

Glacier from High Pass

Glacier from High Pass

At High Pass, I finally saw the glacier and summit knob, which make Whitehorse more than just a “workout peak.” In my running shoe crampons, the crux of the route was an unavoidable steep section of almost-bare glacier that forced me to front-point and even swing my tool a few times as if I were ice climbing. Above this section, lower-angle snow led to the base of the summit rock. The early-season route supposedly climbs a steep snow tongue to near the top, but the snow had pulled far down and back, and even without the moat, the exposed rock looked unpleasant. Fortunately, there is a fairly obvious, moderately exposed third class route on the left.

Scoured slab and moraine

Scoured slab and moraine

The summit itself had an unacceptable quantity of flies, so I found a flat place to sit a short way down the south side of the peak. From my perch, I had a perfect view of the Three Sisters to the south, as well as Whitehorse’s brothers White Chuck, Pugh, and Sloan. Between me and the Sisters were a number of nicely-scoured white slabs, one featuring a perfect moraine left over from the glacier that had cleaned it.

I killed some time, then skipped back down to the car and continued my northward migration. As I now know, all of Canada heads south for the weekend. I had expected the unpleasant process of crossing the border to at least go quickly. It was still unpleasant — I will never get used to the standard semi-hostile questioning, even if I know what I am supposed to say — but this time it was preceded by almost two hours waiting in a line of cars. Worse, I was sitting on the west side of the car on a shadeless street on a 90-degree afternoon. If only that weather had lasted…

Aerial North Cascades

One of life’s most important choices is one’s choice of parents. As a result of mine, I have an uncle living near the Cascades who is a good airplane pilot, which means I get to fly over them sometimes. I am still a bad aerial photographer, but have hopefully improved since last year, and came up with a better flight plan.

Luna (18h50)

Northern Pickets from Luna

Northern Pickets from Luna


As previously seen, Luna in particular and the central Pickets in general are much more difficult to reach than the northern and southern Pickets, making them possibly the toughest dayhikes in the lower 48. The standard “Access Creek” approach is truly grim: after 17.5 miles of almost-flat trail around Ross Lake and up Big Beaver Creek, it leaves leaves the trail to swamp-whack down to Big Beaver Creek at the invisible junction with “Access Creek,” crosses on logs (if you’re lucky), then follows the steep creek through a couple miles of underbrush and boulders to reach the alpine. While the popular approaches from the south (Goodell Creek) and north (Perfect Pass) have fairly well-established use trails, Access Creek sees little traffic, and remains in a state of Forest Primeval.

Long ways from home...

Long ways from home…

With a good forecast and too much rest, it was time to head back in and get the job done. Having procured suitable nutrition (8 packs of pop-tarts and a bag of corn nuts) and listening material (Fatboy Slim, Ministry, Rammstein, and hours of NPR), I set my alarm for stupid-early, and was on the trail down to Ross Dam at 2:35. With 2h30 of headlamp time, I expected reach the off-trail section with full light, and return well before full dark. Crossing the silent dam by headlamp was a bit spooky, but I was soon in more familiar night-time terrain on the other side, and put on an episode of “Ask Me Another” to pass the time.

Trippy at 4:00 AM

Trippy at 4:00 AM

Spotting something reflective on the trail, I slowed to see what kind of night-time creature was crouched on the trail, expecting one of the little birds one sometimes sees in the Sierra. Instead, I found a fist-sized frog, which lazily hopped off to one side as I tried to get a decent picture. I saw several more of the creatures as I hike-jogged to the Big Beaver junction, passing the sign around 4:15. Between rusty legs and the slowness that comes with moving by headlamp, I was disappointingly slow reaching the cairn indicating roughly where to leave the trail, taking about 4 hours versus closer to 3h30 on my last outing.

This log crossing totally goes!

This log crossing totally goes!

I put the legs back on my pants, then made the almost-familiar swamp-whack to the creek, once again emerging at some random spot with no sign of crossing logs or side-streams. After scouting upstream a bit, I returned downstream, reluctant to ford a wide stream of silty, uncertain depth. At a braided section I remembered from my previous outing, I realized that with one daring move, I could make a dry crossing on a series of four logs. The crux was to shimmy out onto some large alders, then make a 3-foot step from one slimy log to another, steadied by an alder on one side and the upturned root-ball of a snag on the other. A slip would result in a full-body soaking and probably a swim. Fortunately I avoided these things, and after four easy logs and an unnecessary foot dab, I was in the swamp on the other side, where I realized I was just upstream of Access Creek.

Heading down Access Creek

Bushwhacking in Access Creek

The swamp ends remarkably quickly on this side, replaced by consistent blueberry underbrush as the stream climbs steeply away from the Big Beaver. I found occasional divots in the moss, indicating previous foot travel, but no trail, and resigned myself to the ‘schwack. Blueberries are fairly harmless as underbrush goes, but their stiff branches can still be hard on the shins. I eventually found myself on the spine of a ridge just north of the creek, where there almost seemed to be a faint trail. After an initial climb, the valley levels off again, and the terrain gradually changes, with open woods interspersed with swampy sections filled with berries and devil’s club. Eventually the slide paths begin, choked with denser vegetation and alders.

First boulderfield in Access Creek

First boulderfield in Access Creek

Spotting an open boulderfield to the south, I crossed the creek at the first opportunity, tunneling through the alders on either side to reach open ground. From here, I tried as best I could to link boulderfields split by stripes of dense alder, pines, and berries, finding a few cairns as I made my way to the head of the valley. Luna was intermittently visible through the clouds ahead, so close, yet intimidatingly high and vertical from this side.

Upper Access Creek

Upper Access Creek

From the route descriptions I had read, the route heads left up a steep gully to cross the ridge and reach Luna’s easy side. There are several such gullies, so I headed toward one near the valley head. Nearing the base, I realized that the permanent snowfield was unfamiliar from the route description, and boded ill for what was above. Traversing some steep dirt and heather to avoid backtracking, I tried the next gully left. This started out “bearable,” with a third class version of the garbage normally found under snowfields, then got “serious.” After a somewhat desperate stem and grovel on wet, slimy rock around a chockstone, I decided that I wanted to be elsewhere. Exiting left again on steep heather, I rounded the corner and found the obviously correct gully below me. I found a place to traverse in, then followed the top part to the ridge.

First view of Southern Pickets

First view of Southern Pickets

Finally, I was rewarded with the first part of the view I had come for: MacMillan Cirque, including the impressive north side of the southern Pickets. While these peaks are all short rock spires above a plain on the south, on the north they rise in an unbroken 4,000-foot wall of rock buttresses and steep glaciers. Side-hilling up and west on some steep heather, I rounded the corner to see Luna’s southeast face and easy southwest ridge. After some time edging across the steep heather, I headed straight up the face before a col on the ridge, scrambling up some easy third class slabs and steps to reach the broad talus ridge.

First view of Luna's easy side

First view of Luna’s easy side

As I climbed the ridge, Fury and the Luna Cirque gradually came into view, the former discouragingly far away, the latter depressingly deep and full of loose moraines. My hope to come at Fury via Perfect Pass was dimmed; Access Creek once again seems like the least-worst option. Topping out on Luna’s east summit, I had a full view of the two Pickets cirques together, and finally saw the final, exposed scramble to the true summit. While it looked loose and intimidating, it was actually fairly quick and painless, with sections that could be easily “balance-beamed” with a decent head for heights.

Final summit ridge

Final summit ridge

Reaching the summit 9h40 out, I found a small register which went back less than a decade, and suggested that an average of 2-3 parties a year typically reach the summit. Many seem to tag Luna as part of a longer Pickets traverse, going in and/or out easier routes like Whatcom or Perfect Pass. With plenty of flat rocks to lie on, I spent about 40 minutes on the summit, taking in the Pickets, Jack, Hozomeen, and a distressingly complete view of my long route back to Highway 20 at the base of Mount Ruth.

Luna Cirque

Luna Cirque

Eventually, I put on my pack and started my stiff legs on the long road home. Making my way down the descent chute, I stopped to pick up a long piece of climber-trash, completely unnecessary on steep dirt and scree. Thinking I had found a better line to the boulder-fields, I stayed high at the base of the chute. This worked well initially, but proved to be a terrible mistake that cost me about an hour. The high shelf cliffs out in a mixture of steep slabs, random drop-offs, and steep gullies. I was slowly beaten back nearly to the base of the gully, cliffing out again and again. I finally forced a way through, taking a winding route through fourth class slabs and trees to reach the boulderfield. I was pissed at myself for wasting so much time, eager to reach the trail and turn off my brain.

Access Creek

Access Creek

Rather than staying high on the boulderfields and bashing through the vegetation bands, I stayed low, following an apparent game trail near the stream before crossing north into the woods relatively high in the boulderfields. This was probably the faster way, as I found mostly open woods with decent game trails through the few slide paths. Below this, I intermittently found and lost bits of trail, getting on better and worse terrain as I bashed my way down toward the Big Beaver. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked, and I eventually reached my complicated log crossing. The crux was harder in this direction, and I was not in the mood for a bath, so I searched around for suitable wood, and eventually found a sort of board that made an almost perfect platform over the step-across. I was desensitized enough not to notice the swamp-bash back to the trail.

Not having exerted myself in hours, and glad to be moving in miles per hour instead of hours per mile, I ran almost gleefully down the first part of the Big Beaver trail, then forced myself to keep up the pace out of habit and boredom between 39-mile camp and Ross Lake. I noticed some small things moving on the trail, and figured they were either crickets or hallucinations. However, in a strange echo of the morning, they turned out to be dozens of fingernail-sized frogs.

I reached the sign in just under two hours, thoroughly beaten-down but pleased that I could finish at a fast walk with no evening headlamp. My episode of “This American Life” turned out to be a re-run, but that was interesting enough in my semi-dazed state. I ground out the final climb to the highway at dusk, rinsed off by headlamp, then crawled in the back of my car and passed out.

Magic, Hurry-up

Magic and Hurry-up

Magic and Hurry-up


As a warm-up after what turned out to be some poorly-timed rest, I did an easy hike up to Cascade Pass and on to Magic and Hurry-up, two peaks on the start of the popular Ptarmigan Traverse. While I needed a bit of time to psych myself up for another shot at the Pickets, I took one day too many and ran into the first rain in the Cascades in a month. Washington and British Columbia will certainly benefit, and I wouldn’t mind less smoke and fire, but I am still not water-resistant enough to force myself to do long days in the wet.

Sad Sill Glacier

Sad Sill Glacier

Pulling into the parking lot, it was immediately apparent just how dry things are this year. The snow bridge below Johannesburg was long gone, and the lower end of the Sill Glacier was all bare glacial ice with wide, ugly cracks that were not at all visible late last July. The direct descent from Cascade-Johannesburg Col, already tricky last year, would now be a nightmare.

Cascade Pass from Cache Col

Cascade Pass from Cache Col

Toodling up the trail, I passed some day-hikers and heavily-laden climbers on the way to the pass, then followed the restroom sign to the start of the Ptarmigan Traverse. I saw no evidence of a current or former pit toilet; maybe the sign is just there to discourage hikers from following the well-traveled but still unofficial trail. After a somewhat tricky crossing of a bare dirt ravine, I reached the foot of the Cache Glacier. Despite having neither axe nor crampons, the climb to Cache Col went easily on the soft and low-angle snow.

Late-changing ptarmigan

Late-changing ptarmigan

From the col, the Ptarmigan trail descends through heather and talus to a small tarn known as “Kool-aid Lake.” Beckey’s route description for Magic Peak starts from the tarn, but I figured I would save myself some up-and-down by traversing along the ridge. This initially went well, as I followed a goat- or use-trail through a large camping spot and along or near the crest of the ridge. However, as I neared the peak, the ridge grew more jagged and the trail disappeared. For the final section, I ended up traversing a loose talus-bowl below the ridge, then taking a narrow 4th class ledge around to join the standard southwest route to the summit. I passed some old bits of rope on the ledge, suggesting that someone else had made the same mistake some decades ago.

Eldorado through Buckner from Magic

Eldorado through Buckner from Magic

Relaxing on the summit, I admired the view of the larger peaks from Eldorado to Buckner across the way, and watched the clouds stream in from the valleys to the north and west. Though rain seemed unlikely nearby, there were thunderstorms building to the east, and the hot, dry spell was clearly ending. Leaving the summit, I made an easy traverse over to the base of Hurry-up, climbed onto its west face, and hiked up steep grass and heather to the summit. On the other side, the S Glacier drops from nearly the summit toward Trapper Lake, above the Stehekin River. Amazingly, the old Stehekin road used to be drivable all the way to below the lake, only a few miles east of Cascade Pass, with daily bus service in the summer.

Clouds coming in near Hurry-up

Clouds coming in near Hurry-up

After descending the west face, I again tried to save elevation by traversing high above the Ptarmigan trail, but eventually realized this was a wasted effort, and joined it a short ways north of Kool-aid Lake. From here, it was a pleasant walk back to the car, and I arrived fresh enough to do something bigger the next day. Unfortunately the forecast did not lie, so I would be killing time between rain showers for a bit.

Dome (13h45)

Long traverse from Itswoot

Long traverse from Itswoot


Located in the wilderness between the Suiattle and Cascade Rivers, Dome is one of the most remote of Washington’s highest 100 peaks. While the Suiattle River Road was washed out, it may have been one of the most remote peaks in the lower 48. However, when the road finally reopened last fall, it returned to being a long but reasonable dayhike from the Suiattle via Downey and Bachelor Creeks. I wanted a “real” day, and was still looking for excuses to delay a return to the Pickets, so Dome it was.

Good trail along Bachelor Creek

Good trail along Bachelor Creek

Food locked away, I slept just past the Downey Creek trailhead, currently occupied by what I thought might be a trail crew, then returned for a lazy start around 5:20. The trail climbs to a sort of bench above Downey Creek, then gradually returns to the creek via side-hill. Having started late, I jogged the downhills and flats to make up time. This part of the trail was well-built back when the Forest Service did that, with numerous boardwalks over the swampier sections and good log bridges, and is still well-used and -maintained.

Recent log-cutting?

Recent log-cutting?

After about an hour and a half, I reached the fairly obvious Bachelor Creek trail junction and started climbing. This trail has a reputation for horrible brush and blowdowns, but I found the first part surprisingly easy going, and even saw some logs apparently cut within the last 5 years. I began to look forward to an easier-than-expected day.

This *is* the trail

This *is* the trail

My unrealistic optimism about the route was rudely corrected as it emerged from the forest into long slide areas on both sides of the creek, choked with berry bushes, devil’s club, and alders. The trail remains fairly distinct and well-flagged, but the head-high brush is usually thick enough to hide the ground and one’s lower body. Some of the lower branches had broken off and died lower down; angled along the trail, they became vicious and invisible shin-spears when confronted in the wrong direction.

Trail crossing Bachelor Creek

Trail crossing Bachelor Creek

After crossing a log from brush to equally bad brush, and passing through the blessed relief of some alder thickets, the trail finally enters open forest where the creek flattens and turns back northeast. Unfortunately, the brush is replaced by constant blowdowns, so progress continues to be difficult and slow. Near where the creek finally turns back southeast, the trail enters open heather on the ridge to its right, and smooth travel and open views soothe the bushwhacked soul.

First view near Cub Lake

First view near Cub Lake

From a saddle near 5,900′, the trail descends to Cub Lake at 5,300′, finally getting the first view of Dome’s summit in the distance. Bypassing even-lower Itswoot Lake, a well-established trail crosses some flats, then climbs heather next to a cascade to reach Itswoot Ridge around 6,200′. The view steadily improves as the Dome Glacier icefall comes into view, and Spire Peak looms at the head of the ridge. I was expecting to meet a party I had noticed in the trail register, but had the well-traveled route entirely to myself.

Endless glacial plain

Endless glacial plain

From the ridge, Dome remains discouragingly far away. After a long traverse down around a couple of rock buttresses on slabs and heather, I made my way up a random assortment of snow, talus, and slabs to the western edge of the glacier near 7,000 feet. Though it looks mostly flat, the broad glacial plain leading toward the summit is steadily uphill; reaching it at mid-day, I found it a long, exhausting slog to the col north of the summit. There were some old bootprints, one set making a beautiful ascending traverse up the steep snow-slope to the col between the northeast (true) and southwest (false) summits.

Summit catwalk

Summit catwalk

Near the col, I wrung out my socks and warmed my cold feet on the rocks, then followed the third class rock ridge to the summit. The final 30 feet is a beautiful exposed catwalk; I was disappointed, but not surprised, to see unsightly rappel slings left by people avoiding it on the return. The heat wave continued: the south side of the summit was uncomfortably warm even in shorts and a t-shirt, while the north was comfortable for an extended stay. I tried to enjoy the views, but Canada had recently caught on fire, so I could see nothing beyond Eldorado and Bonanza, each about 15 miles away. This supposedly qualifies as “generally good”, but I am not sure I agree; it reminded me a bit too much of Houston and LA.

Upper Chickamin

Upper Chickamin

Retracing my steps, I found a mostly-snow line down to the long traverse, saving lots of time with fast plunge-stepping and boot-skiing. The climb past Cub Lake was a grind, but passed more quickly than I had expected. The bushwhack was still over an hour on the way down, but at least it was easy to stay on-route, and I had enough podcasts to put my mind elsewhere as I picked my way through the green hell.

Jogging the final open section down to Downey Creek, I saw that my “trail crew” was in fact a NOLS group. You could tell by the big plastic boots, heavy things like dutch ovens, and communal gear — big tube tents, bags of oats, etc. They were about 20 days out, having probably resupplied on the Suiattle River Road after coming down from Glacier Peak. Their plan was to traverse Dome and exit to the PCT, probably descending the heavily crevassed Chickamin Glacier and bushwhacking through some hellish creek to the east. They seemed to be in good spirits, but at the rate they were going, it would probably take them a week. After stopping to remove my pant legs once more, I put on some aggressive music and jogged much of the trail back to the car.

Snowking

Summit and glacier from col

Summit and glacier from col


Snowking is not especially tall, but it is striking landmark as its broad northeast face and location on the far western edge of the Cascades make it home to an unusually large amount of glacier. I was looking for an easy day, and Snowking was roughly in the area, so I drove the 20 miles up Illabot Creek Road to the small Slide Creek trailhead. Most people apparently approach from the other side via Kindy Ridge, but this looked no harder and less out of my way. I found a nice camping pull-out, rolled down a few windows for air in the heat, and hung out for a bit before turning in.

Go Trail Crew!

Go Trail Crew!

Sometime before dawn, I woke to furtive rustling and scurrying sounds, and suspected there was a mouse in my car. Clearly, I had not fully appreciated the implications of seeing one above the rear window a couple weeks earlier. I had read an anecdote about Norman Clyde having a mouse stowaway in his station wagon, but now it seemed I would get some firsthand experience. I almost fell asleep, startled awake as it scurried past my head, then lay down unhappily until it got light, when I decided to deal with this problem later, and headed for the peak.

Life will find a way

Life will find a way

While not often used by climbers, Slide Lake is popular with hunters and fishermen, and the trail is well-used and -maintained. Passing the lake, I passed two men and a young boy eating a late breakfast, with various fishing paraphernalia strewn about camp. I passed a couple more fire rings and a discouraging amount of trash as I made my way to the head of the lake.

Slide and Enjar Lakes

Slide and Enjar Lakes

I initially tried thrashing through some head-high ferns up high, but eventually wised up and returned to the inlet stream, where a decent, well-flagged trail led through the woods to Enjay Lake. The trail faded and ended past another trash-strewn fire ring, so I boulder-hopped around to the eastern end of the lake, passed a smaller puddle, and headed up a dry watercourse toward the ridge above. After a bit of a cliff problem, overcome by a short, desperate vegetation scramble, easier heather, slabs, and snow led to a small col with my first view of Snowking. Along the way, I was somewhat surprised to see the occasional semi-recent bootprint.

Disconnected glacier bits

Disconnected glacier bits

The route from here is obvious: down the grassy ramp to the snowfield, up a diagonal snow tongue to the glacier, up to the right of the major crevasse area, then along the flat top to the base of the summit boulders. There was plenty of surface slush to make crampons unnecessary as I zigzagged between a couple of crevasses toward the lower central summit. Too much slush, in fact, as walking through a slurpee in thin cotton socks quickly chilled my feet. Therefore instead of doing the obvious snow traverse toward the summit, I got back onto rock as soon as possible, on the far righthand side. From here, generally loose and annoying boulders led to the top.

Kindy Ridge route

Kindy Ridge route

Examining my surrounding, I was surprised to see a party of three making their way down the snow southeast of the peak, presumably returning via the Kindy route. I had neither heard nor seen any sign of them on my way up; perhaps I was rocking out too hard with my awesome new headphones. Anyways, after lounging around for a bit, partly catching up on mouse-denied sleep, I retraced my steps, using a slightly different bit of 4th class brush on the way down. Passing Slide Lake, I was immensely pleased to see a man lounging and fishing in a yellow rubber raft. It’s only a mile and a half in, but still… good thinking!

Constance

Summit pinnacles

Summit pinnacles


After having seen Anderson from Cruiser, I had planned to climb it today, but waking at 4:00, I did not feel up for a 40-mile, 7,000-foot day, so I went back to sleep and did the shorter Constance instead. Constance, another of the Olympic Fauntleroys (again, seriously), was reported to be a choss-slog, but with a much shorter approach than Anderson from the same Dosewallips starting point. It has the same standard approach as other eastern Olympic peaks, but with a twist: the “climb to a lake” part follows the steepest official trail I have ever seen, reputedly gaining 3,400 feet in just two miles. With sections of arguably exposed third class, I am curious if guides short-rope their clients on the trail.

Start of steep trail

Start of steep trail

I started at a civilized hour, covering the washout bypass and subsequent road miles at a purposeful walk instead of the jog I would have used for Anderson. Someone had knocked the sign for Constance Lake off its post, but the junction was still obvious, the trail well-flagged and surprisingly maintained, a chainsaw having been applied to some fallen logs in the last couple of years. The first part of the trail climbs straight up through a burned area, with plenty of loose rocks, slippery dirt, and deadfall, but also food (sweet blackberries this time). This south-facing climb was already uncomfortably warm, but fortunately the trail enters unburned woods after maybe 1,000 feet of gain, where it eases off to a steep but sane grade.

Giant boulder below lake

Giant boulder below lake

Crossing an open, brushy area near the stream, I met a young obviously military couple (buff guy, both wearing drab-flag caps) on their way to camp at the lake and do Constance as a two-day climb. Though I quickly left them behind, I was impressed with their pace up the steep trail with overnight packs. Above the open section, the trail returns to crazy-grade, including the sort-of third class sections, though it remains blessedly shady. I passed another group of climbers on their way down, then reached the lake about an hour and a half after leaving the road.

Here we go...

Here we go…

The route to the peak (part cairned, part seemingly an old trailbed) head up-valley from the northeast corner of the lake, but I first mistakenly continued around through the campground, cluelessly blundering into someone’s camp before returning to pick up the correct route. The talus and scree, more of the dread pillow basalt, can be horrible on the wrong line, but good travel can generally be found either along the old trail or on the large, stable boulders in the center of the ravine.

Climbing toward first col

Climbing toward first col

The route leaves the ravine at the “obvious” place near a pothole, following either boulders and turf (up) or sand and scree (down) to a saddle well south of the summit. There was some University Pass-level suckage on this part, but not as much as I had expected, and I distracted myself taking pictures of the steep, lumpy basalt fins to the north as I ground out the climb.

Past first col

Past first col

After reaching the col, I descended on a bit of trail, then made my way north up the edge of a broad scree-field, eventually crossing another gap from which the summit was finally visible. Though I had gained most of the necessary elevation, there was still some work to be done weaving around and over the narrow, jagged ridge. Staying east of the ridge, I descended a small lingering snowfield, then climbed to an exposed ledge leading around a blind corner and down to the “Finger Traverse,” a hand-traverse along the top of an exposed slab leading around a pinnacle with a vertical north side.

Finger traverse and Rainier

Finger traverse and Rainier

Past the finger traverse, the most direct route would have been to descend and cross the top of a talus-bowl to the east, then make a sloping climb to the plateau below the summit. Instead, I tried to be clever and follow a series of ascending and descending ramps along the west side. I found easy travel and a few cairns, but it wasn’t worth the extra distance; I followed the direct route on the way back. From the final plateau, the summit looks like a pair of inaccessible pillars, but fortunately a talus-ramp around back leads to the short side, only a few 4th class moves high.

Baker and Shuksan

Baker and Shuksan

After again tangling with the summit flies, I found a tolerable seat a safe distance away; as much as I wanted one, the rock is not conducive to summit naps. I chillaxed as much as I could given the flies and uneven ground, then retraced my steps. Once past the traversing section, things went quickly, with more of the scree skiable than I had expected. Below the lake I started meeting a handful of people, mostly shirtless military-looking young men, probably from Fort Lewis. The final hike down the flat old road was almost crowded, with all sorts of people out for a Fourth of July stroll. The trailhead/”campground” was a bit of a scene, but I was headed into a day off, so I curled up in an out-of-the-way corner for another night.

The Brothers

Ghost of Rainier behind summit

Ghost of Rainier behind summit


The Brothers, a.k.a “The Little Lords Fauntleroy” (no, seriously), are a twin summit prominent from Greater Seattle to the east. Like most eastern Olympic peaks, they are mostly steep choss-piles. Both they and the nearby Lena Lake are extremely popular destinations, especially near a holiday weekend.

Lena Lake camping

Lena Lake camping

From the crowded trailhead, I followed the switchbacked trail up toward Lena Lake. While the switchbacks’ horrid flatness is not obvious on the way up, it is maddening on the way down, where the flat trail is also frequently too rough to be runnable. The ongoing shortcut war between them confirms that I was not the only one annoyed. The trail eventually reaches the (now dry) stream leading from lower Lena Lake, which it follows to the lake itself. The area is heavily developed, with many established campsites, a multi-hole composting toilet, and numerous signs informing campers about the dos and don’ts of wilderness living.

Valley of Silent Men

Valley of Silent Men

The trail splits above the lake, with one branch leading to more camping at upper Lena Lake, the other to the Brothers. The latter branch follows another stream (also dry) through the Valley of Silent Men, an area of especially big trees and lush moss, eventually reaching a popular climber camp in a relatively flat area of moss and decaying logs. This section was especially pleasant, with a well-established trail passing through shady and open forest.

Second breakfast

Second breakfast

Above the camp, the trail climbs more steeply along a creek, then leaves the water to cross a burned area on the way to the scree-chute. The open south-facing slope was already hot, but the burned area is perfect salmonberry habitat, i.e. a gauntlet of free food. One could often gather a small handful of the juicy, tangy orange berries from a single spot.

Choss-pinnacles SW of summit

Choss-pinnacles SW of summit

Above the berries, I followed cairns and bits of trail through the ravine, then along the left-hand side. Seeking shade and less scree, I eventually headed straight up the bottom of the ravine, getting myself into a bit of unnecessary 4th class near some steps before exiting to the right and returning to the cairned route. This upper portion is normally a moderate snow climb, but in this exceptionally dry year the route was entirely snow-free and scree-full.

Oasis in woods

Oasis in woods

The summit flies were even more vicious than the day before, so I rested a safe distance away in a small shady spot before returning. I followed the trail and cairns more faithfully on the way down, and generally had a better time, even scree-skiing a few bits. Still, I would only recommend the Brothers as a snow climb; perhaps this is what it is/was in July of a normal year, but this year May might have been better. Passing through the fruit stand again, I met a lone shirtless Aussie in running shorts and a hydration vest. Though he looked like he was speed-running the peak, I soon passed his overnight gear, including a giant can of Fosters. If I were him, I probably would have waited to summit in cooler conditions the next morning, but to each his own.

Fern interference

Fern interference

The hordes were truly arriving as I passed Lena Lake on the Friday before the Fourth: families, dogs, even kids with pool noodles. I’m all for wholesome family fun, and for teaching kids about type II fun (i.e. that some fun should hurt) before they’re old enough to think for themselves, but it wasn’t really my scene. Many switchbacks later, made worse by my headphones’ total death, I was back at the trailhead by mid-afternoon.

(Pen)insular culture

With time to kill, I headed back south to Hoodsport for some internet and the nearest likely source of headphones. Passing a solid stream of RVs, I turned off into the library parking lot to find it closed, with a fundraising book sale going on outside. Not wanting to get in the way, I pulled in front, put up my shade, and flipped open my laptop to catch up with the world outside.

I was just about done, and ready to start the headphone hunt, when one of the women from the book sale came over to ask if I wanted a hot dog. I’m not one to refuse free food, so I headed on over and was even guilted into buying a soda — their fundraising ploy worked. I talked with the two older women for awhile, finding out a bit about the local economy (declining timber and not much else), and learning how I was mis-pronouncing odd local place names like Sequim and Dosewallips. I also learned from Jenny, the younger woman who had offered me the hot dog, that the area had good scuba diving, with territorial octopi and non-biting sharks. When I asked about headphones, she gave me her old pair which, while not exactly in line with my normal drab fashion sense, are functional and perversely enjoyable to wear.

Shopping complete, I headed back north, then up the Dosewallips River road to the impromptu trailhead at the washout forming its new end. The “trailhead” was serving double duty as a party spot, so I parked what I thought was a safe distance from the revelry to sit and read. My distance proved less safe than I thought: a large truck with two likely impaired guys in it backed the road past me with windows down and music blasting. Just past me, it headed into the grass (“Dude, you’re off the road!”), getting stuck entirely in the ditch. Driving forward onto the road just spun the tires, and a backward attempt soon ended at a tree (“Whoa, tree!!” thud).

Though I carry a short tow rope, I didn’t feel like getting involved, so I sat back quietly to see how things developed. They both got out, one with and one without a shirt, and the slightly less impaired passenger headed back down the road to fetch another truck and a rope (“Bring ma smokes,” the other called after him). In the mean time, the driver kept working at getting out of the ditch and, with some coaching by bystanders, extricated himself as his friend returned. After some back-and-forth about damage to a brand new bumper, both trucks returned the way they had come, abandoning the apparently not-so-important errand. Good times…