The western Cascades were generally making my life miserable, with constant rain, changing a flat tire in said rain, driving 10 miles of gravel on a doughnut spare afterwards, etc. Finally, I got sick of the abuse and headed over to the east side. The forecast was still not great, but it had at least a chance of being drier, and I had some peaks to deal with there. Enchantment and Cannon are two high but otherwise unremarkable summits in the Enchantment area southwest of Leavenworth. I had hoped to do them with McClellan earlier this summer, but was rained out. This time, I returned toward the dry end of the season, and experienced cold, cloudy conditions, but fortunately no rain. I hope this will be the last time I have to hike the the dusty trail to Colchuck Lake, or descend the miserable talus of Asgard Pass.
I camped at my usual spot, then drove up to the popular Stuart Lake trailhead for a late-ish start. I expected it to be mostly full on a summer Friday, but there were still many spots in the large lot; perhaps the forecast had scared people off. It was chilly and cloudy, and I started the hike in my hoodie. I have not been in the Cascades this late in the year before, and when it is not raining, the Eastern Cascades are much more pleasant than in June and July, when they are unbearably hot.
I passed the usually tourists and campers at Colchuck Lake, then slogged my way up the braided trails to Asgard Pass. Some dude, apparently concerned for my safety, yelled that I was going the wrong way when I headed right of some cliff band. I took out my earbud long enough to give him a polite version of “yeah, whatever,” then continued following my use trail, which required a few third class moves getting up a rock band. At the top, I checked out the remaining permanent snowfields, including a nasty, icy thing on the descent route from Dragontail, then took off across the dry plateau.
I soon left the trail, diagonaling across sand and rocks toward the two bumps of Enchantment’s summit. I contoured under the west one, passing through some cliffs on a ledge, then climbed a rockpile that might or might not have been its highpoint. The eastern summit looked a bit higher, and that is evidently where most people go, so I hiked over there, then made a short third class scramble up the west side of the summit knob.
There is a ridge between Enchantment and Cannon, but it looks tricky, so I dropped down to Prusik Pass, then followed occasional cairns and bits of use trail past a small, unnamed lake, then up sand and scree to the broad plateau below Cannon’s summit cone. I climbed a short third class summit block, then made my roundabout way back home via Prusik Pass. There were the expected campers, and some mountain goats who were unnervingly unafraid of me, but the place was surprisingly quiet for summer in the Alpine Lakes. There were only a few cars parked down the road when I returned to the trailhead in the mid-afternoon. I went into town to check the forecast (bad), then to choose a suitably unambitious goal for the morrow.
It is getting a bit late in the season for the North Cascades, but I drove up the Cascade River Road hoping to tag my last two Washington top-100 peaks in the area, Austera and Formidable. Austera is in the middle of the Eldorado-area ice cap, a long glacier-walk east beyond the standard Eldorado approach. I had done much of this when doing Eldorado, Klawatti, and Dorado Needle several years ago, and knew it would be a long but not especially difficult glacier crossing. Starting off in the mist up the increasingly well-used Roush Creek trail, I hoped to emerge into sun and dramatic views on the ice cap. Instead, I found it windy and drizzling, with temperatures probably in the 40s, far from ideal conditions for a multi-hour glacier hike. I bravely turned my tail and ran, returning to the car around noon to get warmer, if no drier.
Though the forecast was the same for Sunday, I saw stars when I woke up, and it remained clear as I started up the Cascade Pass trail just after headlamp time around 6:40. The trail was every bit as hateful as I remembered, gaining 1800 feet in miles of near-horizontal switchbacks. One of these years I want to visit the pass when there is enough snow to hike or ski straight from the parking lot to the saddle. Since it had rained overnight, I was in no hurry to start up the Ptarmigan Traverse path and begin the day’s leg-washing.
The Ptarmigan Traverse is popular enough to have developed a decent trail most of the way. However, there is still a lot of up-and-down on the route, and sections of unpleasant talus where the trail disappears. I think the route is probably best either on skis or in the early summer. I sketched my way across the nasty dirt-chute, then managed to avoid bare ice on the way up the Cache Glacier, though crampons were still nice for the hard morning snow.
From the col, I followed the trail down, then across heather to Kool-Aid lake, where I was a bit surprised not to find any tents. Beyond, I stemmed my way along the moat before climbing to the red ledge, then continued on more rolling terrain to the Middle Cascade Glacier. This is a fairly impressive piece of ice, descending from a col around 7000 feet to around 4700 feet in the valley below Formidable’s north face. The safest route climbs the left side, then traverses below Spider to the col, though one could probably go straight up the middle.
The other side of the col is a steep couloir, with a healthy snow tongue hanging around even this late in the year. I carefully made my way down the garbage in the right-hand moat, then down some unpleasant slabs covered by loose stuff to a bench a couple hundred feet below the col. There I traversed west across snow and slabs to just below the next col, where I left the Ptarmigan trail near a campsite to cross northwest, finally getting a view of the route up Formidable’s south face.
I was once again forced to descend some loose dirt here, then traverse a lot of loose talus and some snow, finally reaching the ridge leading to the summit. I climbed some easy rock and heather to reach the upper snowfield, then crossed that and made my way through another moat to reach the “ramp route.” After the endless approach, the last few hundred feet were actually fun. I followed a broad, clean ramp up and left across the face, then climbed blocky third class rock to the ridge just west of the summit.
Looking at the register, I saw that the peak is climbed almost exclusively by people completing the top 100 list, the most recent having visited a week earlier. It looked like it might be drizzling over Eldorado to the north, and I had taken just under 6 hours from the trailhead, so I did not hang out much before starting the long, rolling return. Fortunately the rain stayed away, and the high clouds kept temperatures reasonable, so the long return was about as pleasant as it could be. I saw no one before the Cascade Pass trail, and only a few people on the run down the pass. The rainy forecast had done a good job of keeping the crowds away from what can otherwise be a zoo on a summer weekend.
McClellan Peak, southeast of Asgard Pass, is one of the more remote peaks in the core Alpine Lakes Wilderness. It can apparently be approached either via the Snow Creek or Colchuck Lake trail; I chose the latter, because it is familiar and higher. To get my money’s worth from the approach, I had hoped to harvest neighboring Enchantment and Cannon Peaks as well; unfortunately, afternoon thunderstorms and a bit of a lazy start ruined that plan.
I made my way up the popular trail to Colchuck Lake, backed by the buttresses of Dragontail Peak’s big north face, passing several parties camped along the shore. Following some cairns through the boulder-field at the head of the lake, I lost and then picked up one of the numerous trails leading to Asgard Pass. I passed a couple of slow backpackers on the 2000-foot climb, then stopped at the top to eat, plan my route, and watch the too-friendly mountain goats common to the area.
Beyond the pass, I began running into a surprising number of early-season campers, their tents perched on various rock outcrops peeking out from the snow. I followed bits of trail and boot-pack part of the time, and the path of least resistance otherwise. I had thought of tagging the poorly-named Little Annapurna on the way out, but it has less than 300 feet of prominence, and is so unremarkable from the north that I passed it before I noticed.
Once I realized this, I shrugged and continued toward McClellan, on the other side of Crystal and Perfection Lakes. There is a bit of a cliff band to negotiate on the direct line toward the peak, but it did not slow me down much, and I was soon diagonaling toward the north ridge across mostly snow. I followed either a boot- or goat-track to the ridge, then scrambled up rock as the snow steepened. From the top of the ridge, the summit is a short krummholtz-whack and a bit of class 3 scrambling away. Prusik Peak and the Snow Lakes looked particularly impressive from the summit, while Cannon just looked far away.
I retraced my route partway, then slid down to just below Sprite Lake, where I picked up the trail to the signed intersection with Prusik Pass. The weather was looking less-than-excellent, but I thought I might escape with just a minor shower. Sadly, it began raining in earnest as I reached the pass, with a long snow traverse remaining between me and Cannon. Fortunately, I ran into three guys who had just come off Prusik, sheltering under a bootied rain fly held aloft by a couple of trekking poles and various guy lines. I sat in their shelter and talked for a bit, hoping the showers would pass quickly. They told me there was another party climbing Prusik, whose leader at one point yelled that he “needed electrolytes!” That’s a new one…
When it looked like the storm would continue awhile, I put on my poncho and headed for home, feet unpleasantly cold as I postholed through the surface slush. I was cheered a bit by a nice boot-ski on the snowy side of Asgard Pass, where the rain had stopped, then wrung out my socks at the base and hike-jogged the miles back to the trailhead. The day ended up being about 18.5 miles, and would probably have been 20-21 with the other two peaks — not bad.
Fortress and Chiwawa are two high peaks at the head of the Chiwawa River, reached via a long, partly-paved forest road and a decaying trail. (According to Wikipedia, “[t]he river’s name comes from a Columbia-Moses term meaning of kind of creek (‘wawa’ creek).” To my disappointment, it does not reflect pre-Columbian trade between the northwest tribes and the Toltec breeders of yappy ankle-biters.) They would normally be a civilized day by Cascades standards, about 20 miles and 7000 feet of elevation. However, when I drove up the evening before, I was dismayed to find that the road was closed partway up, adding an extra 11 “bonus” miles. It still took less than 12 hours, but the morning and evening road commutes pushed the outing in the direction of type II fun. I had originally attempted these peaks in 2010, but I was weak then, and turned around a short ways into what I now consider a moderate bushwhack.
Thanks to the road closure, I had the area to myself except for a strange guy on a touring bike in the morning, and a few campers in the evening. I mostly hiked the road to the trailhead, then pushed through the encroaching brush around some private property and up along the Chiwawa River. The brush is not bad on the east side of the Cascades, but it was thick and wet enough to give me a good leg-washing as I climbed from 2700 feet to around 4700, where the trail forks. It is supposedly possible to approach Fortress via the right fork, an old mine road, but the left seemed better-traveled, and left open the possibility of returning via Red Mountain and the mine.
I lost the supposed trail in one of the avalanche paths in the broad valley bottom, continuing through easy woods to a stream. Not liking the look of the rushing water, I made my way downstream to where the trail was supposed to be, to find a wider, slower, but still unpleasant-looking ford. Instead, I headed back upstream to a flat, braided area, where I crossed on a series of logs, then crossed a small ridge to regain the route.
From 5000 to about 5800 feet, I found a faint trail climbing through open woods on an indistinct ridge. Above this, I kicked my way up steep snow next to the ridge until it merged with Fortress’s broad southeast face. My road miles began paying off, as what might have been an annoying scree traverse was instead an easy diagonal ascent on mostly-consolidated snow. To my surprise, I found a line of tracks, which proved to be a boot-pack from a couple weeks before. Thunderstorms were brewing to the east, and mist began forming over Fortress, but neither seemed to be turning threatening.
Where the snow steepened below Fortress’ summit, I followed the boot-pack onto the ridge, then followed the north, mostly snow-free side of the ridge toward the summit. The lingering snow forced me onto some fourth class rock that can probably be avoided later in the season, and a cold wind from the north annoyed me from time to time, but I found no serious difficulties on the way to the summit. I found a sheltered spot, then watched neighboring Glacier and Clark Peaks go in and out of the clouds while I had a snack and glanced through the wad of paper in the PVC register canister.
The wind remained, but the weather improved as I retraced my steps down the ridge, then slid and side-hilled south of the ridge to the saddle with Chiwawa. I could have followed snow for most of the 1200 feet from the saddle to the summit, but an exposed talus ridge seemed more efficient than the softening slush. Unfortunately, the loose talus proved treacherous, and I managed to cut myself when a large rock shifted under me and squished my hand. I fortunately avoided yet another broken hand, but the thing hurt and bled profusely for the rest of the climb.
The clouds had dissipated by the time I the summit, and I had excellent views of Bonanza and the nearby Entiat peaks, and of other peaks familiar and unknown to the north. The ridge around to Red looked annoying, so after a snack, I returned southwest the way I had come. Early in the season, this normally knee-pounding descent was instead a wonderful 2000-plus-foot boot-ski. For mysterious reasons, I decided to try fording the creek instead of going around to its head like I did on the way up. This proved unpleasant, with fast-flowing water reaching above my knees at one point. After a bit of wandering, I regained the trail, then jogged the sections where I could see my feet through the brush. I switched into shorts at the trailhead, then tuned out for the monotonous road-jog back to the car.
With unfriendly weather continuing for the foreseeable future in the Tetons, I made the long drive to the dry eastern side of the Cascades. It was more likely to be sunny, and rain wouldn’t matter as much with the lower elevation and warmer temperatures. The area around Leavenworth has both good camping and a number of easy unclimbed peaks on Washington’s top 100 list. Cashmere is probably the easiest, a hike up the trail toward Windy Pass followed by a bit of cross-country travel and a short class 3 scramble. Eightmile Creek has burned recently, so the generally east- and south-facing trail can be brutally hot. Fortunately, partial cloud-cover kept temperatures bearable on my visit.
I got a bit of a late start from the popular trailhead, passing a couple of backpackers on the way up Eightmile Creek. I turned up the trail to Lake Caroline to grind out almost 2000 feet of elevation, reaching unburnt woods just before the lake. I passed a few tents at an established spot, then continued climbing gradually through the woods toward the pass. I finally left the trail in an open basin around 6800 feet, making my way toward Cashmere’s long west ridge near Point 7555′.
Here I found a faint trail, one of two leading toward the peak. It is still somewhat early season in the Cascades, especially in a normal-to-heavy snow year, so the ascending traverse was a mixture of well-consolidated snow, scree, and talus. The snow was welcome on the ridge, though slightly less so on the final summit scramble, where I sketched across a couple of couloirs and otherwise stuck to rock ribs on the peak’s north side. There was no register on the summit, but only a disgusting mass of (breeding?) ladybugs. I had a snack at a safe distance, then returned to the ridge.
I had seen another trail on my way up, leading more directly toward the trail near Little Caroline Lake via the ridge extending south from the first bump west of the summit. The trail disappeared partway down, but it was easy cross-country travel back to the trail around 6800 feet. I made my life unnecessarily hard by “shortcutting” through the woods below that, but thanks to carrying a map and GPS these days, lost little time. There were more tents at Lake Caroline in the afternoon, but no people nearby. I met several groups making the now-baking commute up the Eightmile Creek trail, either for the day or overnight, and was back at the car by early afternoon, one more peak in the bag.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 peak by route-finding errors, a lack of drive, and the realization that I had underestimated my objective.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, Hozomeen, most beautiful mountain I ever seen. — Jack Kerouac
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.