Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Glacier Peak on skis

June 18-21, 2010

Over four days in June, Kelly T. and I made our way into, and back from, Glacier Peak, 10,541', in the Cascade Mountains. The most remote of the Cascade volcanoes, Glacier has become more remote over recent years as floods and landslides have closed traditional access roads. It takes a little more energy to get to the mountain now, but the payoff is a greater sense of isolation and wilderness. If you've been to other Cascade volcanoes you know the numbers of climbers they attract. Glacier probably sees as many ascents in a year as some well known summits see in a day.

Being a late spring this year, we decided to utilize skis. The majority of the trip crosses the open plateaus and cirques of the White Chuck, Suiattle and Gerdine Glaciers. If one can deal with carrying the skis and boots on the approach, it makes for efficient and fun travel above.

Map of our route. Click for a full size zoom-able image.

From trailhead to summit is roughly 18 miles each way with overall vertical gain of about 9000' on the way in. Our plan for the four day/three night trip would involve moving camp every night. This lets us do reasonable days and make use of daylight to keep moving. Friday we would go into Camp 1 at White Pass. Saturday would get us to Camp 2 on the south ridge of Glacier Peak. Sunday we would summit from camp, return to camp and then move south as far as we could and make Camp 3 where we could exit "easily" Monday.

Ready to go skiing!

We started from the North Fork Sauk River trailhead at 2000'. Following the river for the first 6 miles this trail has impressive old growth stands for most of its length. This section gains a modest 800' so the extra weight of ski gear isn't terrible, yet. Passing Mackinaw shelter, 3000', the trail bends uphill with a vengeance. In the next 3 miles it will gain 3000' on the way up to White Pass. Switch backs up the hillside got us to a tongue of snow of old avalanche debris. We switched to ski mode and were skinning at 4800'.

Kelly arrives at White Pass. The Monte Cristo mountains behind.

One of the benefits of this route is that the trail, while a stout climb, is also an easy ticket above treeline. Once at White Pass the route goes cross country. If it were any lower bushwacking would ensue, but up here, even without snow, the travel is through open alpine slopes. One can just move along enjoying the views and not worry about thrashing through alder and devil's club.

Glacier Peak from White Chuck Glacier.

After a night at White Pass, we dropped over White Mountain and entered the White Chuck basin. A layer of moist maritime clouds were pushing in from the west and we traveled in a soupy fog. After some miles, right on cue, as I was juggling map, compass and GPS, the clouds opened and the mountain revealed itself. Still a long ways off, but it did brighten our spirits. We continued in and out of cloud to the south ridge and made camp at 7900'. Soon after a group of Everett Mountaineers, whose tracks we crossed now and then, were descending the mountain. We exchanged greetings and soon had the place to ourselves again. These would be the only other people we saw on the trip.

Dawn at Camp 2.

Though rain on the tent lulled us to sleep, we woke before dawn to an encouraging silence. The summit was clear while clouds in the valley matched a layer high above. We headed out across the Gerdine Glacier for the summit.

Climbing the final pitch to the summit.

We watched as dark clouds tracked in from the east. They would slowly swallow neighboring mountains as they approached. We ascended the Cool Glacier to the col behind Disapointment Peak (Cool Col?, Disappointment Col? Satisfaction Col?) Now the clouds were on us and they brought snow and winds. Visibility was gone and the likelihood of safe, enjoyable skiing above was low so we stashed skis and continued in crampons. We wove a route up around rime ice covered rocks, keeping an eye out for any new significant windslabs. By knowing we could easily reverse our ascent and constantly monitoring our own condition we were able to push on one step at a time, always ready to pull the plug. Soon we had nowhere else to climb.

Kelly flies a banner for his niece.

We summitted in a mild storm. Our celebrations were brief. It was time to get off this crazy thing. Our tracks were already obscured by windblown snow so we took a careful minute to get onto the correct bearing back to our skis. The blowing snow made for very bad visibility in a place where cliffs are white just like the snow between them. Using a cord flicked from a ski pole like a fly rod we could get a shape of the terrain ahead. We took it one careful step at a time.

On the Cool Glacier.

We got into our skis and headed down the Cool Glacier. Whiteout skiing can never be called fun, but it is an essential skill for ski mountaineering. Practicing the process of moving your eyes and looking for a any visual reference, feeling the acceleration and G force of turns, maybe dragging pole tips for some sense of speed are all important to do before you really need it; like skiing a glacier in a whiteout nearly twenty miles from the closest road. The soup gave way and we stopped starring in awe of the view we had to the east. The North Cascade subranges of the Entiat, the Chiwawa and the Dakobed stretched around us. Notable peaks like Clark Mountain, Buck Mountain, Mount Maude and Bonanza Peak could be picked out on the horizon.

The incredible scenery of the White Chuck basin.

We returned to camp and reloaded our packs for another carry. Using skins once we were able to traverse much of what we had done the day before. The wet snow was sticky and let us do several uphills just by the grace of water-ptex surface tension. We got to a flat basin before White Mountain and, although it was early, put down camp and crawled into the tent. This would be fortuitous as the rain began again and would continue into the next morning.

On the trail, in the sun.

We would pack up camp in the morning to the pitter patter of rain on our Goretex. We would continue to skin up the ridge to the same sound. The rain was cold, the wind was brisk, all gloves were soaked and hands were going numb. We made the long traverse to White Pass and began the descent to the river trail. A combination of ski traversing and walking on bare sections of the trail got us across White Mountain and slowly down out of the cloud. We followed our avalanche debris down to the greenery and stepped into the forest. The sun that we found felt incredibly good as we switched out ski boots for sneakers. A big relief, but moderated because we still had over 7 miles and 2800' to descend.

We hiked along absorbing the spectacular forest, encountering a huge porcupine and enjoying the spring flowers. We had paid our dues to make it safely into and back from this remote place and had been rewarded with a successful, unique and adventuresome trip. Congratulations Kelly!

More pics can be seen on my photo site nickpope.zenfolio.com

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Leavenworth Rock and Ingalls Alpine

June 13-16, 2010

Our good friend Catherine came out for five days of climbing in the Leavenworth area. Having some challenging alpine objectives on her tick list we focused on local multi-pitch rock days combined with an overnight in the mountains for an alpine rock and snow route.

Starting Givler's Crack, 5.7+.

We began day one at Clamshell Cave, a one pitch granite crag in Icicle Canyon. After we built a few anchors, top roped a few climbs and reviewed rappelling it was time for something bigger. The heat of the day was building. Although the icy river was beckoning, we followed a steep trail up to Givler's Crack, 5.7+. Starting with a tricky move off the ground, the climb delivers 2 pitches up a splitter crack. We were thankful for a cooling breeze that graced this lofty escarpment. Der Pizza awaited so we headed back to Leavenworth.

Nearing the top of Castle Rock on Midway Direct, 5.6.

We spent day two at Castle Rock in Tumwater Canyon. Its minimal approach helped to maximize our climbing. Due to a party ahead of us we split the normally 3 pitch Fault/Catapult into 5 pitches. This was actually good practice for making belay station transitions efficient. Secure the second, hand over the gear, re-rack, stack the rope, leader on belay, go. Above, we did the classic and historic Midway,5.5, finishing up Midway Direct, 5.6. For a final hurrah we did a lap on Sabre, 5.4. This time we climbed the route in our approach shoes as a reminder to be adaptable to climbing in whatever is on your feet. Such practice can make you more secure by making you really dial in your footwork. It can increase efficiency by reducing transitions between footwear or even eliminating that second pair of shoes from your pack altogether.

Hiking towards Ingalls Pass.

Many alpine rock routes in the area were complicated by recent snow on the routes and unconsolidated snow on the approaches. We looked for a route that would have gotten some snow-melting sun and be a reasonable climb even if parts were snow covered. The classic South Ridge of Ingalls Peak, 5.5, would certainly be sunny and snow free, but the East Ridge, 5.7, is a favorite of mine that provides greater alpine ambiance as it traverses a long rock ridge. We drove up the Teanaway River and hiked in towards Ingalls Pass.

Camp below a cloudy Ingalls Peak.

The local mountain goats greeted us at the pass as well as views of Mount Stuart and the Ingalls Creek drainage. Clouds that obscured the summits of Ingalls and Stuart dusted us with snow as we settled into camp.

Rich, full alpine flavor on the East Ridge of Ingalls Peak, 5.7.

We left camp at first light and hiked up into the clouds. Once we located the entrance couloir getting on the route involved easy snow and 4th class ledges that lead to the notch in the ridge running between the north and east summits of Ingalls. We removed crampons for the rock but soon realized the theme of the day was snow traverses between rock steps. Crossing the snow on the ridge without spikes would have been a sketchy affair, with them it was quick and secure. Climbing the rock pitches with crampons was excellent practice for classic climbs in the Alps.

The clouds part.

We ascended in cloud, focused ahead on the section of ridge we could see. Occasionally we were offered a glimpse of the valley below, then the soup would be upon us again.

The knife edge ridge, in crampons and clouds.

The crux pitch challenged us with a short 5.7 move that demanded very precise footwork. With rock shoes a smear would let you sail through it, but the edges you could rest a crampon point upon were microscopic. We persevered and completed the ridge to the summit.

Catherine on the North Summit of Ingalls Peak.

The clouds gave us our well deserved views at the summit. We were fortunate to have this popular mountain to ourselves. We descended down the South Ridge via three rappels and headed back to pick up camp.

Anemone along the trail.

Our hike out was a great chance to enjoy the wildflowers that have benefited from our wet spring. Lilies poked through the snow and purple anemones filled the trail banks. They all got another dose of water from a light drizzle that fell as we neared the car. Then it was back to Leavenworth where it, uncharacteristically, poured rain into the night.

The next day we were beckoned by the sun for our final outing and hit some south facing granite in Icicle Canyon. A few hours of edging, jamming and smearing in the sun with gorgeous views capped off our five day adventure.

More pics of our trip can be seen on my photo site.

Sherpa Glacier and Icicle cragging

June 9-11, 2010

Al and I met in Leavenworth on Wednesday morning with the plan to spend a day approaching the Sherpa Glacier between Sherpa Peak and Mount Stuart. We would climb to the top of Stuart the second day, return to camp and hike out on the third day. Recent storms had loaded the mountains with new snow, so we ventured in prepared to assess safety and climbing conditions as we went. From the trailhead at 3400' we had dry trail till 4500' where the trail was partly covered in winter snows. The route in goes cross country up Mountaineers Creek, including a log crossing of the snowmelt-swollen creek.

Crossing Mountaineer Creek.

Through the forest we were slowed a bit by randomly post holing to our thighs. Getting higher the snow became more consolidated and we made it to camp at 5400' in the Sherpa Glacier basin. Although clouds obscured the high summit of Stuart it was an impressive location with thousands of vertical feet of granite relief all around us.

Camp below the mighty northeast side of Mount Stuart.

We headed out early in the morning for our climb eventually deciding that it was not be our day to go for the summit. Knowing that we still had a day and a half we decided to grab nap then hike out that same day. Our third day we could spend learning rock skills on the crags of Icicle Creek. We made our way out of the wilderness and regrouped in the morning.

Al climbs Fathers Day, 5.7.

Leavenworth climbing provides a perfect classroom for all aspects of rock skills. Al and I reviewed anchor building, then some rappelling. We squeezed in as much movement skills as we could using numerous top ropes. We even drifted on a tangent of improvised hauling systems employing the munter-mule-klemheist combo.

Al pulls the moves on Hopscotch, 5.6.

The day on rock gave Al a chance to solidify much his technical knowledge in anchors and rope systems. He also found out he's a pretty good climber. Hopefully it will help him expand his climbing objectives to include routes involving technical rock or ice. We look forward to climbing with Al again.

More pictures are up on my photo site nickpope.zenfolio.com

Monday, June 21, 2010

John - Experimenting with the Spot GPS Messenger

It is truely amazing the things that technology allows us to do these days. This winter while John was out ski guiding, and I was in the office rehabing my knee, he would call in with his current location in the form of a UTM waypoint from his GPS unit. I could then plug this into Google earth and figure out exactly where he was. By looking at Gogle Earth's satellite imagery I could even give John an idea of what to expect up ahead when he was guiding in new areas such as when he was on a new variation of the Chiwaukums Traverse.

This has gotten several steps easier with the Spot. We picked up one of these units over the weekend and John is testing this while leading a trip on the Emmons Glacier on Mt. Rainier for International Mountain Guides this week. When I turned on my computer this morning and logged into our shared page I was able to see exactly where the team was camped on the mountain. As they started climbing John turned on the tracking function and the beacon updates their location every 9-11 minutes.

Spot's website allows you to see exactly where your friends are at.

We are testing this out to determine if it is a reliable way for our guides to communicate with the office while they are out in the field. No widgit can ever take the place of the most important thing on any trip into the mountains - solid decision making paired with good technical skills (i.e. route finding). But the spot is a tool (and a small tool at that) that might be helpful in an emergency and more likely will be able to give friends/family watching from home added piece of mind.

John will post a more thorough review when he is back at his computer.

Glacier Peak Summit & Ski Descent!

A summer view of the mountain - there is more snow up there now.

Nick Pope checked in yesterday to let us know that he and Kelly T. managed to summit Glacier Peak. Our unseasonably wet & cold spring has lead to several last minute itinerary changes but this week the Glacier peak went as planned and Nick and Kelly enjoyed the ski descent of the mountain. They checked in again last night after moving down to a lower camp in preparation for exiting the mountain.

As the 5th highest peak in Washington Glacier Peak is often overlooked because of the longer approach to the mountain. An ascent of Glacier normally takes 5 days and can be done in 4 with a very fit crew (or with skis as Nick and Kelly did this week). The nice thing about the longer approach is fewer people climb the mountain which leads to more of a wilderness experience for those who do go. Many of our trips to Glacier Peak never encounter any other people.

We will try to post a full trip report with photos within the week.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Colchuck Peak Ascent, Colchuck Glacier

Colchuck Peak Ascent~June 14-15, 2010.

On Monday June, 14, 2010, Lee D. and I started hiking from Stuart Lake Trailhead enroute to a guided Colchuck Peak Climb with the Northwest Mountain School. We had spent the previous three days climbing rock in the Icicle and Tumwater canyons and were ready for some alpine climbing. The trail conditions allowed us to reach Colchuck lake without any post-holeing. However, getting to the far end of the lake was a different story.
Fortunately, the forecast was for a cold front to move into the area and provide some cloud cover, further delaying the dreaded isothermic snowpack. In fact, we were able to wear crampons from the tent to the summit.
Camp with Dragontail Peak in the background.

Lee approaching the Clochuck Glacier with Colchuck Lake in the background.

With only our crampon tines penetrating the frozen snow, we moved quickly up the Colchuck glacier. Upon reaching the Col, the clouds released their grasp on the upper mountain and we were treated to views of Rainier. The route up the final summit ridge offered enjoyable climbing on firm snow and the occasional step or two on rock.

Lee & Joel Kauffman on the summit of Colchuck Peak

The final 30 feet to the summit involved crampons on snow-free, albeit easy, rock. Upon reaching the top and looking around, I noticed an incredible scene below. Our two shadows on the summit of Colchuck were being cast on the clouds below. With the sun behind us, our shadows were ringed in concentric rainbows. This phenomenon is known as the Spectre of the Brocken, so named because of sightings on the Brocken, the highest peak of Germany's Harz Mountains. See Atmospheric Optics for more images.

Spectre of the Brocken with Stuart and Rainier in the background.

Spectre of the Brocken with Mt. Stuart in the background.

"If you are lucky enough to be in the mountains, you are lucky
enough." Cliff Hudson

We consider ourselves extremely lucky to have had perfect
conditions, great company, and an amazing view from the top.
The trip was a success as we returned safe, as friends, and we got
to the top.