Category Archives: Washington

Glacier (North Sauk, 8h38)

Ptarmigans and Glacier


Glacier Peak is the most remote of Washington’s Pacific Rim volcanoes. I first climbed it in 2014, taking about 12 hours on a semi-casual outing, and found it to be one of the most scenic hikes in the Cascades. After about 5.5 miles passing through old-growth forest by the North Sauk River, the trail climbs to meet the PCT in alpine meadows near White Pass. From there, the route follows the Foam Creek trail (not on any maps) below White Peak, then leaves it to cross the ridge north before Point 7520’+. There are bits of climbers’ trail beyond the col, but since the talus plain is covered in snow for most of the summer, most of the long talus traverse is pathless. The summit, rising 1000′ or more above its neighbors in the center of the range, would have a great view on a clear day.

Moss everywhere

The FKT on Glacier, 7h58, was set by Doug McKeever back in 1998, using the now-abandoned White Chuck River trail to the Sitkum Glacier. The new standard route, via the North Sauk, is significantly longer, but I thought I had a chance to beat the venerable record. After a couple of easier days along the Mountain Loop, I settled in to sleep at the North Sauk trailhead. Sometime around 2:00 AM, I woke to the sound of a mouse in my car. Since I had not kept the mouse traps from the last time I had this problem (two years ago, also in the western Cascades), I lay awake until the mouse went to sleep around 5:00 AM, then got a couple more hours’ sleep before downing my beet-enhanced breakfast and hitting the trail at the ludicrous hour of 8:00 AM.

Approaching White Pass

The mornings are surprisingly cool in the wet west-side valleys, so I was comfortable jogging the 5.5 miles to the cabin at the base of the climb, then hike-jogging the switchbacks to the PCT, reaching the junction in almost exactly two hours. I put on sunscreen, moved food to the front of my pack, then continued past a couple scruffy PCTers and a large cluster of mountaineers returning from Glacier with all sorts of heavy gear. The last of these, an attractive young woman putting on sunscreen at the pass, seemed concerned about my safety tagging Glacier with so little gear. She was not entirely convinced by my protests that I knew what I was doing, and skeptical of my fast-and-light evangelism.

First view of Glacier

I continued mostly jogging along the Foam Creek trail, then left at a cairned junction to cross the ridge north, finally getting my first view of the peak. I was nonplussed to see the summit covered in a lenticular cloud, promising cold, wind, and no views. I had done the peak a month earlier in 2014, so the long snow traverse I remembered was mostly obnoxious moraine, barely runnable with extreme concentration.

Broken ice at Gerdine-Cool saddle

After some ups and downs around 6600′ below the much-diminished White Chuck Glacier, the route climbs to a popular camping site around 7200′, then over a minor ridge to finally reach the edge of the Gerdine Glacier. A well-worn track follows the lateral moraine to where it becomes nasty, then drops to the edge of the glacier. I followed the boot-pack left by the several recent parties, putting on crampons near the headwall where the snow is slightly steeper. I remembered the glacier climb as being mostly snow, with one easy crevasse to avoid, but found quite a bit of bare, broken ice on the saddle with the Cool Glacier, making me glad to have brought crampons.

Crossing Gerdine Glacier

Continuing up the Cool, I jumped warily across one widening crevasse on the bootpack, then left my crampons near the summit ridge. It was slow going on the volcanic sand and loose boulders above, but I had no trouble avoiding snow on my way to the summit. I reached the top in almost exactly 5 hours, and spent about 30 seconds in the clouds before hurrying down to get out of the cold. I had both my overshirt and jacket on over shorts and a t-shirt, and was barely warm enough while moving. Also, while there was no way I could do the round trip in under 8 hours, I still wanted to put in a decent effort.

All snow last time

I jogged the upper glacier in crampons, then sat on a rock lower down to take them off and empty the volcanic sand from my shoes. I stopped again below the bivy site to refill my water at a stream and take off my overshirt, but otherwise maintained a steady effort on the return. It would have been hot if it had remained clear, but broken cloud-cover and a breeze kept temperatures comfortable as I descended back to the forest. I was slower than I probably should have been on the rolling downhill jog through the woods, but managed to reach the trailhead in a respectable 8h38. This is a runner’s course, so a better trail runner could probably do Glacier in under 8 hours.

Gear notes

I used the same setup for Glacier that I used for Olympus: running-shoe crampons and no ice axe. This is perfect for moderate-angle terrain that might include bare ice, as my crampons are light (600g) and compact enough to strap on my running pack. I thought about leaving the crampons at home, but am glad I did not, as it would have been difficult to work my way around the ice at the Gerdine-Cool glacier saddle, and incredibly sketchy to cross it in trail runners. Going crampon-free on Adams last year worked only because it is popular enough that other people put in stairs.

Northern Pickets traverse (East Fury to Challenger, VI 5.7, 28h32)

Northern Pickets pano


The central northern Pickets are arguably the most remote peaks in the lower 48, so it was only a matter of time before I had to try them. I had visited both ends of the northern Pickets: Challenger in 2014, Luna in 2015, and East Fury in 2016. On this last effort I had been planning to go for more, but I was stopped after a single pea by route-finding errors, a lack of drive, and the realization that I had underestimated my objective.

And so it begins…

While it is possible to pick off the peaks one-by-one, for the sake of efficiency and style I wanted to nab them all and claim the coveted Northern Pickets Traverse. I had estimated that it would take me 24-30 hours with a shuttle from Hannegan Pass trailhead back to my car at Ross Dam. Unfortunately I was unable to set up a shuttle on short notice, forcing me to either hitch, or use a different route. Not liking my chances of finding a ride first thing in the morning after rolling in late to Hannegan and taking a dirt nap, I used a significantly longer and harder route, descending the cross-country Eiley-Wiley ridge to Beaver Pass, then “running” 20 miles of trail back to my car. This put me at the upper end of my estimated time range.

Smoky dawn on Luna

I got a few hours’ sleep at the Ross Dam trailhead, but it is noisy right by the highway, and I was too wired to sleep, so I turned off my midnight alarm, drank my Cup of Sadness fortified with beet nitrates (found at a Walmart full of obese tweakers in Bellingham), and started down the trail around 12:15. The toads seemed more numerous than last year, and I even met a few on the trail down to the dam. It is around 17 miles to where you leave the trail for Access Creek, so this would normally be far too early to start, but I had a good GPX track of the cross-country route from last summer, so I could do it at night without losing too much time. This was key to giving myself as much daylight as possible to deal with the ridge and unknown de-approach.

Upper East Fury

The approach worked about as well as it ever does. I bashed down to the river, where I almost immediately found the remnants of the log bridges I had used in 2014. I wasted only a bit of time dithering (I still hate getting wet), then forded barefoot to try to keep my feet dry and minimize the damage they would suffer in the evening. I found a bit of a boot-pack along the subtle ridge right of the creek that is least brushy. My worst mistake was crossing south one slide path too early, but that did not cost much time. As a result, I reached East Fury’s summit in only 10h15, vs. the 11h30 I took last year.

Luna, East Fury from West Fury

Now it was time to launch into the unknown. The final scramble up East Fury consists of shockingly mobile large talus, and the same continues on the way to West Fury. Beckey’s guide suggests that this traverse takes multiple hours, but I found most of it to be standard chossy 4th class, and reached West Fury in under an hour. The first ascent register was still in good shape, and I was surprised to supposedly be the 19th “party” to visit.

West Fury descent

Up to this point, the best exit would be to retrace my steps. Once I headed down the west ridge, things would become more complicated, possibly involving a long and unfamiliar cross-country route around the north end of the range. I steeled myself, then followed the first ascent route down the west ridge. Starting slightly east of the summit, I descended a chute, then made a descending choss-traverse back west to the ridge. I followed that a bit, then made my way down dirty, ledge-y terrain on the other side to gain the small glacier northwest of the peak. From there, I easily kicked my way back across to the saddle with Swiss.

Good rock on Swiss

I made my way more or less up and over several small pinnacles of mediocre rock on the way to Swiss, a broad NW-SE summit with a permanent snowfield on its southwest side. I found the rock pleasantly solid, climbing a line on its southwest face and descending near the northwest ridge. I stuffed some snow in my Camelbak, then tossed that out when I found running water below the snowfield. This was a valuable find, as running water is scarce on the rest of the ridge, and it was hot enough to be sweating in shorts and a t-shirt on the crest.

Spectre (l), Phantom (r)

Given the time and my longer-than-desired descent route, I skipped “Spectre Peak” without a second thought, then spent some time considering my route to the saddle with Phantom. The ridge itself looked unusably steep, the gully to its west at least somewhat navigable. Looking back, I think a line just right (east) of the ridge would have been better, blocky low 5th on decent rock. My chute was a garbage-fest with a tricky chockstone, and the traverse back to the ridge was outward-sloping dirt and death-choss.

Challenger and Crooked Thumb

The rock was somewhat less chossy on the way up Phantom, but still not great. I mistakenly climbed a lower summit to the northeast, earning zero bonus points, then found the original register on the true summit. It was in bad shape, and probably not long for this world, being protected by only a bashed-up tin canister and a plastic bag. There appeared to be even fewer entries than on West Fury, but I was concerned enough about my position that I did not pay much attention. Phantom is about one third of the way from West Fury to Challenger, and if things continued apace, I would be lucky to make it off by dark.

The misery continued descending off Phantom, with tricky route-finding on rotten rock on its left to bypass steps in the ridge. Considering the prospect of a bivy or a very long night made me think of efficiency: I turned off my GPS to save batteries for night-time navigation, and skipped the ridge crest whenever I thought it would save me time. As I made my slow way north, I was examining my escape route down the west side and up between two of Challenger’s lower summits.

Challenger from Crooked Thumb

Fortunately things improve considerably at “Ghost,” a subpeak of Crooked Thumb. I could have gone up some line along the south ridge, but Beckey mentions that Roper had climbed an “exposed class 4” route on the west face. Good choice! The rock reminded me a bit of the Tetons’ golden granite, and I had my first fun in awhile romping up steep, solid rock with incut holds.

The ridge from this point looks long, but the climbing remains mostly fun, with the best route generally on or near the ridge, and the descents to the north usually easier than the climbs from the south. Reaching Crooked Thumb, I found quite a bit more traffic in the register than on previous peaks, though still only a party or two per year.

Final ridge to Challenger

Since I was not rappeling, I had to make a substantial deviation west to reach the first saddle on the way to Challenger. From there, I stayed near the ridge to enjoy the fine, exposed climbing, deliberately not thinking of the grim headlamp time that awaited. Challenger’s summit ridge is a wonderful finale, a series of narrow fins with the holds angled so that the easiest route climbs right along the spine. I let out a whoop of joy, looked around for a summit register, then made the short downclimb to the Challenger Glacier.

Eiley Ridge

I had three options at this point: exit to Hannegan and hitch (16 trail miles), traverse to Whatcom Pass and take the trail back over Beaver Pass (25-30 trail miles?), or descend Eiley Ridge directly to the pass (20 trail miles). Given the time, I should have sucked it up and chosen the second, but I optimistically and foolishly took the new-to-me Eiley Ridge descent. Things started out great, with a nice hogsback of snow providing a clear path around the yawning summit crevasses, and easy jogging on the lower glacier to Challenger Arm.

I climbed Point 7374′, then was forced to sketch my way down a dirt-chute to the snowfield on its northeast side. I got more water at a tarn near frozen Wiley Lake, then continued making good time on snowfields south of the ridge to Eiley Lake. So far, so good — I thought I would be near the final bushwhack down to Beaver Pass by headlamp time.

Challenger

Unfortunately I made a mistake here, straying too far southeast of the ridge. There are several places where it is temptingly easy to descend directly east here, but they lead to Luna Creek, which is supposedly one of the worst places in the world. When I realized what had happened, I tried to fight though some scrub pines back toward the ridge, then tried side-hilling across steep grass and flowers to rejoin the ridge. Unfortunately the ridge rises again; maybe the correct route goes over Point 4984′, but I have no idea, and that was not an option for me now.

Before it got dark, I had programmed my GPS with a point a bit south of the pass, so I turned it on, turned on my headlamp, and continued via IFR. My strategy was to traverse until the point was directly down-slope, then bash my way toward it. I found plenty of wretched scrub, blueberries, and alder, but also some surprisingly open groves of big trees. Unfortunately all of it was steep and slick, but I suppose sliding on your butt is an efficient way to lose elevation.

I’m a size 10

There was much less devil’s club than I expected when I finally reached the valley bottom, but I reached my random point without hitting the trail. I did my best to bash due east, and almost fell as I stumbled out onto the trail. At the first stream that seemed safe-ish to drink, I got some water, downed a couple ibuprofen, rinsed my feet, and switched to my dry socks. My calluses were all white, soft, and wrinkled, so I knew my feet were in for a beating, but I hoped that the clean (and thinner) socks would reduce the suffering.

Moonset from Ross Dam

On a normal outing, this return would take about 4.5 hours, 3 to Ross Lake and 1.5 back to the dam. I started off at a reasonable jog, but realized shortly after Luna Camp that it would not last. I could motivate myself to jog with a mixture of Rammstein and reminders that the more I jogged the sooner it would be over, but it was a pathetic shuffle. As I neared the lake, I tripped more often, and was worried I might face-plant into one of the toads, which are even more disturbing after 3 hours’ sleep and 27 hours on the move. I could probably have gone to sleep curled up on the trail, but I wanted to do this in a single push, and did not want to be woken by a ranger’s boot or the splat of a toad to the face. I took in the moonset while crossing Ross Dam, and for once was grateful to be finishing in evening headlamp time — at least it wasn’t quite dawn.

Hozomeen the hard way (SW and N peaks)

North peak from SW


Hozomeen, Hozomeen, most beautiful mountain I ever seen. — Jack Kerouac

South peak from SW


Welcome to the North Cascades. Have some choss and a face full of alders. — Hozomeen Mountain

Though not especially tall, Hozomeen’s sheer, isolated twin peaks draw the eye from many North Cascades summits. The peaks are normally reached from the north end of Ross Lake, at the end of a long Canadian dirt road. Since I was passing by on the Trans-Canada Highway, I decided this was my best chance to tag these hard-to-reach peaks. I had hoped to tag both the north (higher) and south (harder) summits, but thanks to some route-finding stupidity, I only climbed the north and lesser southwest peaks. Canada’s flagged climbers’ trails, and especially the Rogers Pass trail system, had made me complacent; Hozomeen reminded me that you need to bring your A game to the North Cascades.

Nice flower

I found the dirt road to Ross Lake in surprisingly good condition, so it only took a bit over an hour to drive to the Hozomeen Lake trailhead, which has both water and nice free camping. I believe the normal route on Hozomeen these days goes up the border swath, but since I was thinking of doing both peaks, this route seemed to make more sense. I woke to horrible smoke, but started up anyways around 6:00, hiking a well-used trail to the lake. So far, so good.

Peak from the wrong place

Beckey says to follow a trail around the east side of the lake to a prominent gully, but I found nothing, not even a fisherman’s trail. As expected, the ground near the lake is a miserable sea of deadfall and devil’s club, so I instead started climbing diagonally northeast, hoping to run into the obvious gully. I found a couple of smaller ravines, but no large, obvious gully, and between the vegetation and the smoke, I had no view of the peaks. It turns out that I should have followed the lake all the way around past its north end but, expecting a straightforward approach, I had not bothered to bring my map, and the guidebook’s aerial photos were not helpful.

North and SW peaks from ridge

After quite a bit of brush-bashing, the trees finally thinned enough for me to figure out that I was well south of where I should be, on the southwest peak’s south ridge. I figured I might as well keep going, and eventually found a class 3-4 path up to the crest. The ridge was fairly pleasant, with fast travel along the crest mixed with short bits of class 3-4 climbing up some steps, and one short, unpleasantly rotten headwall below the summit.

N, SW, S peaks

From my unexpected vantage point, I eyed the steep route on the south peak, then the long ridge to the north, and debated what to do. The south peak is a seldom-climbed Cascades prize, but the day had been longer and harder so far than I had anticipated, and it looked like there might be more difficulties getting to the north peak (and my best exit), so I decided to head directly to the north peak. I descended the horribly rotten ridge to the south-southwest saddle, then made a loose traverse on ledges to the ridge connecting the two main summits.

It turns out there is a reason that people don’t take this ridge. While never especially difficult, the climbing is loose and time-consuming, with several bumps to climb and descend along the way via often-rotten class 4-5.easy scrambling. I was tired but relieved to finally reach the base of Hozomeen’s southeast face, a straightforward third class scramble. Reaching the summit, I found a 1992 register showing only a couple parties a year visiting the peak, mostly via the border swath or northeast ridge.

Starting down gully

I returned to the base of the face, then started down Beckey’s “class 3” gully. It started out about the choss-fest one would expect from a gully filled with snow most of the year, and better than some I have seen. Lower down, however, I found some chockstones and wet steps that were definitely harder than class 3. I even found some remaining snow where I had to stem in the moat.

Beckey says to traverse to another gully farther south between 4000 and 4500 feet, but I was forced out of the main gully a bit higher, making a descending traverse through more- and less-pleasant woods. I did finally reach the other gully, somewhere below 4000 feet. It was blessedly free of vegetation, being filled with unstable talus, so it was faster than hopping blow-downs, but still slow. Where it flattens and becomes brushy near the lake, I angled out to the left, figuring I would hit the lakeshore. However, continuing the day’s theme of Doing It Wrong, I missed the lake entirely, finally following my GPS to bash through a swamp and pick up the trail below the Hozomeen Lake turnoff. What I had hoped would be the shorter of my two days out of this trailhead ended up being almost 12 hours. Ugh.

Adams (2h02m45 up, 3h10m42 rt, FKT)

Sorry, no photos. This was Serious Business, and the camera would add weight.

After a couple of days recovering from Fury, and another few with a friend enjoying good food, good music, and even a casual peak, it was time to get back to the serious business of outdoor suffering. Mount Adams, one of the Cascades Volcanoes (and ultra-prominence peaks) I have yet to climb, is enough of a pain to reach that I have previously passed it by several times. This time I fought through road construction on I-5, then drove the windy paved-then-dirt-then-bad-dirt road up from White Salmon. In the dark the narrow, rutted road lined with logs and slash looked like a wrong turn, but when I pulled into the herd of cars parked among the snags just after midnight, I knew I was in the right place.

I got a short night’s sleep, then a slow start to the day, with hot Cup o’ Sadness and a PB&H. Since I was going for speed, I planned to bring minimal gear: running shoes, windbreaker, and hip belt with one bottle and two Clif bars. To make this gear work, I needed the snow to have softened enough to descend without crampons or axe, but not enough that I would posthole or wallow on the way up. At around 7:30, I thought it seemed warm enough, and had run out of patience, anyways.

My body initially felt sluggish, but soon remembered its purpose as I jogged up the wide, rocky, dusty trail. The trail deteriorates where it crosses a small stream, becoming several braided paths that roughly follow a line of giant cairns. Since the route is used year-round, changing snow conditions create multiple best paths. Looking at my GPS, I was concerned that my vertical ascent rate so far had been only slightly faster than the 2h20 ascent I wanted to beat. This worry turned out to be misplaced: while I was doubtless slowed by altitude after so much time near sea level, my increased climbing efficiency on the steeper talus and snow slopes (vs. flat-ish trail) more than compensated.

I switched between rock and snow on the climb to the “lunch counter” taking a line more-or-less straight toward the southern sub-summit, generally left of the groups I began to see ahead of me. The snow was worryingly firm toward the left (west) edge of the broad face, but crunchy enough to provide secure footing. Above the lunch counter I moved right, linking various up- and down-boot-tracks and sometimes passing people. Checking my ascent rate, I was pleased to see that I was approaching 3200 ft/hr, slightly faster than I had expected, and well faster than on pace for 2h20.

Topping out on the south false summit, I jogged a boot-pack traverse, then hiked the final grunt to the summit, where a group had congregated in the old fire lookout’s lee. I put on my windbreaker before the summit, already getting chilled in the west wind, then hiked up on the snow covering the cabin. Views were clear in all directions, with Rainier, St. Helens, Hood, Jefferson, and the Sisters all clear. I took it in for a few seconds, then started jogging down.

I cut a corner down the sand on a path I had seen on the way up, then ran to the false summit. The snow had softened enough that I felt secure fast-walking down boot-packs, but it was not soft enough to really open up. I exchanged the occasional word with people I had passed on the way up, then finally got to start running near the “lunch counter.” I made a small route error below there, going too far left, then took a few scrapes trying to use a huge glissade chute with a t-shirt and no axe (the runout was fine, but braking was hard). After that, it was a wild, fast run to the trailhead.

As I stopped my watch, took out my earbuds, and oriented myself, I heard someone probably asking me a question. He asked about my time and, when I told him, asked my name. It turned out he was Jack McBroom, the former California 14er record holder! After we got over our mutual surprise, we hung had a pleasant conversation while a few of his friends finished the hike (he had, naturally, run ahead) and stored their gear. Then they took off, and I began the important business of eating random things — better ones than usual, though — before driving on to the next.

East Fury (20h45)

Traverse toward Fury

Traverse toward Fury


East Fury anchors the southern end of the core Northern Pickets, which wrap around Luna Cirque to Challenger. The easiest way to reach it requires 17 miles along the Ross Lake and Big Beaver trails, a heinous bushwhack up Access Creek, and a long traverse over snow and rock along the ridge west of Luna Peak. While I had hoped to do something much more ambitious, simply tagging East Fury by itself was a serious undertaking, significantly longer than doing Luna by the same approach last year.

Planning something bigger, I did some sleep manipulation and napping to be at least somewhat rested for a start just after midnight. The advantage of doing the Big Beaver approach at night is that you don’t have to think so much about how long it is. The main disadvantage is the giant toads, which squat in the middle of the trail and galumph in some random direction if you give them time to think. I made the Big Beaver junction in about 1h20, and was at somewhere near the start of Access Creek by 3:45 AM, much better time than I had expected.

Luna from the wrong place

Luna from the wrong place

I was not really prepared to start the cross-country in the dark, but I had a map and GPS, and Access Creek sucks no matter what, so I put on my pant legs and headed off into the woods. After thrashing down to the stream-bank and looking around a bit, it was light enough for me to pick out a decent ford: I saw no sign of last year’s complicated log bridge. I splashed through the slow, thigh-deep water without bothering to take off my shoes or pants, as I figured they would be soaked by brush anyways.

Slog up to Luna-MacMillan saddle

Slog up to Luna-MacMillan saddle

I cut back and forth as I climbed the other side of the Big Beaver, periodically checking my coordinates to try to figure out where I was relative to Access Creek. Unfortunately my map wasn’t high-resolution enough to be much use, as the creek is completely undetectable from as little as a hundred yards away, so when I finally got a clear view around 4500′, I saw that I was well above the creek on the south side of its valley. After a descending traverse with much misery and trashing through pines and berries, I crossed to the north side for a bit, then crossed back south to pick up the “trail.” I estimated I had lost an hour or more versus the correct route.

Fury from Luna Col

Fury from Luna Col

At least I knew where to go from here, and I made quick work of the gully up to the saddle with MacMillan Creek, which still held a bit of avoidable snow. After a short break enjoying the view of the Southern Pickets, I made the long traverse to the Luna saddle, where I got my first glimpse of Fury, far to the west along an undulating ridge.

After unnecessarily traversing around the first bump, I stayed mostly on top of the ridge, which is mostly broad and flat. I found a few cairns at one point where the route deviates north, and some typical Cascades rappel-junk where it deviates south. Though none of it is difficult, the traverse is long, made longer by the remaining patches of soft snow.

Southern Pickets, Outrigger, SE glacier

Southern Pickets, Outrigger, SE glacier

Shortly before where the ridge turns to sharp, red choss, the route traverses south across a bowl, going under some rock buttresses to reach the Southeast Fury Glacier. The glacier itself was both badly broken up and covered in soft snow, so it was faster to follow the ledge-y third class rock to its right most of the way up, then traverse a bit of snow to the saddle just east of the summit, which is hidden behind a snow dome from this direction. I crossed the top of the glacier, then cautiously kicked my way up the left side of the snow dome before transitioning to more third class rock to reach the summit, about 11h35 from the car.

Baker and West Fury

Baker and West Fury

It was a perfect day, with most of the Cascade visible, and even Rainier making a ghostly appearance far to the south. The rest of northern Pickets stretched out to the west and north, as well as the long return route from Challenger to Beaver Pass. I thought about traversing over to West Fury, which is not that far away, but the ridge looked like complicated choss, and I was a bit demotivated by the morning’s Access Creek fiasco. Instead, I sat around perusing the register, eating, and taking photos, then began my return.

Luna and Prophet

Luna and Prophet

The steep snow slopes were unpleasantly soft, so I stuck to rock around the snow dome. The northeast side of the glacier was flat enough to plunge-step and boot-ski partway, before crossing the rocks at its edge. Now that I knew the route, the return to Access Creek was efficient, but still took quite a bit of time. Anticipating vicious insects and brush below, I put my pant legs back on before descending to the creek, putting up with sweaty legs.

The correct route above the creek crossing was mostly pleasant, with a decent path beaten through a thin strip of berries and alder. At a wider strip of brush near 4000′, where the woods are close to the north side of the creek, the current route crosses to dive into the relatively open woods. I tried to cross on some logs instead of just fording, and was rewarded with both wet feet and a bashed hand when I slipped. The best route stays in open woods somewhat near the creek higher up, then strays farther away onto an indistinct ridge as the creek steepens and turns north. I had to contend with some vicious blueberries when I lost it in a couple of places, but still made pretty good time down to the Big Beaver. Here you stay left above the swamp, then reach the stream junction mostly in blueberries.

Weird clouds and Ross Lake

Weird clouds and Ross Lake

I recognized the series of logs I had used the previous year, but one was either submerged or gone. Fortunately there is a reasonable ford immediately upstream. After a bit of devil’s club and other misery, I lucked into the correct path into the woods, and was back to the trail much sooner than expected. Only 17 miles to home!

The bugs were out in full force, and I was completely swarmed by flies in the brief time it took to remove my pant legs for the hobble/jog. I ran a few miles to a place that seemed less buggy, then stopped to quickly wring out my socks before trudging on. The final stretch from Big Beaver to Ross Dam was as miserable as last time, though at least it was still light. My hand ached, my back was sore where my (unused) crampons had been poking it through my pack, and my feet, which had been damp or wet most of the day, were working on blisters. I crept up the spiteful climb from the dam to the trailhead, humbled by the unexpected difficulty of my larger plan (not this year…), but pleased to have dayhiked one of the most remote peaks in the lower 48.

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.