Category Archives: Type II fun

Goddard divide

Goddard from turnaround


[A few other outings have been temporarily skipped, because this one is more interesting. — ed.]

Mount Goddard is a landmark in the middle of the Sierra, a black pyramid rising well above its neighbors west of Muir Pass, which separates deep Le Conte Canyon from the Evolution Lakes. Lying well west of the Sierra Crest, it is moderately difficult to reach from any trailhead; the most common approaches start at North Lake and Lake Sabrina. I had first climbed it in 2010, going out via Sabrina Basin and Haeckel Col, and back over Huxley, Warlow, and Fiske, then down Wallace Col. I was looking for one more deep Sierra outing to end my ski season, and Goddard would take me to a region I seldom visit.

Drained Sabrina

Though the road was well-plowed past the Sabrina campground to the first bridge, it was still frustratingly gated at Aspendell, so I had to start my day with a couple miles’ road walk. Unlike the last time, mine was the only car in the large parking pullout when I pulled in the evening before, and I was again by myself as I readied my pack by headlamp at 4:00 AM. I did not feel like I would save much time biking the road, or spare my feet significant abuse starting off in trail runners, so I clomped up the road in ski boots, walking until the plowing gave out, then skinning the last bit of road to the Sabrina trailhead.

Midnight Lake

The Sabrina Basin approach is tedious even in the summer, with little parking at the trailhead, a long hike along the reservoir, and much rolling terrain on lousy packer-built trails. It is worse on skis, where the terrain is rarely conducive to efficient skinning on the approach, or fast gliding on the return, and I found it even worse than I remembered. They had drained the reservoir in anticipation of massive snowmelt, so instead of a smooth surface to skin across, the empty basin was a mess of dirt and broken ice. It was also late in the season, so the traverse along the summer trail was melted out. Once I struggled past the lake, I found that the woods were too steep for skinning, but the snow was still punchy and melted out in places. I ended up booting most of the way to Blue Lake, where the flat terrain begins.

Haeckel Col

After struggling for so long to cover so little ground, I almost gave up, sitting on my pack in the sun to consider my options. I could try skiing a line on the north side of Powell, but that was not inspiring. Reaching Haeckel Col required an annoying side-hill and more rolling skinning, but I ultimately decided to continue that way and see how I felt. I made my meandering way to Midnight Lake, then skinned across and booted up a couloir to join the summer route to the col. Were I to return this way, this short couloir would be the last good skiing before an hour or two of reversing the misery I had just endured. That fact set my mind to considering other options, and by the time I reached Haeckel Col, I had decided to return via Lamarck Col and North Lake, which conveniently shared a “trailhead” with the road closed at Aspendell.

Far side of Haeckel Col

I found some old bootprints and ski tracks on the other side of the col, but I remembered the route being slightly non-obvious in the summer, and now it was more complicated. The snow had begun exfoliating from the slabs below the notch, which are split by a maze of small cliff-bands. I cut way right, then all the way back, finally side-slipping my way down a semi-scoured chute between rock bulges. Though the snow is still deep west of the crest, it is obviously past its prime, and passages like this are becoming trickier as they melt out. Below the headwall, I slid and made some turns toward the John Muir Trail, enjoying the relatively soft and smooth snow, a marked contrast to the textured ice I had dealt with a few weeks earlier.

Goddard Divide, Goddard at right

Reaching the JMT, I could have turned down Evolution Valley toward the Darwin Bench, but the scenery gave me new energy. Thanks to with my early start, it was still well before midday despite the time wasted escaping Sabrina, so while I had no idea how long it would take to return via Lamarck Col, I figured I had time to do more. I picked out a minor peak with a skiable face in the direction of Muir Pass, and set out skinning in its direction, but soon my ambition soared and I decided to go for Goddard. It would be a long outing that would leave me unable to do anything decent the next day, but it would be awhile before I returned to this area on skis.

Charybdis and Scylla

I skinned up to the low saddle between the JMT and Davis Lakes, then followed the broad ridge south toward the Goddard Divide. There were two ways to reach Goddard: a north-facing couloir leading directly to the southeast slope, and a traverse along the south side of the divide. The couloir was still connected, but looked thin and possibly unpleasant, so I opted for the slightly longer but gentler traverse. Looking at my topo, it seemed I could cut the corner reaching the traverse, so I headed right where my ridge joined the divide, skinning across a cirque and booting up the headwall. This turned out to be quite a bit steeper and harder than I anticipated, and I wasted time kicking steps in the hard crust, and carefully edging my way along exposed rocks. By the time I reached the crest, my drive had been diminished, and Goddard was still over a mile away.

Evolution Crest

Looking for some sort of consolation prize, I booted up the ridge to the next highpoint, which for some reason someone had added to Peakbagger, and decided that was enough. The summit of Goddard looked to be another hour away, and while the southeast face looked like good skiing, I had nearly the same view from my lower perch, recalling pleasant memories of earlier summer outings. Across the Davis Lakes to the north, Mount McGee reminded me of a failed one-handed and successful two-handed attempt. To the southwest were the Le Conte and White Divides, home of remote peaks including Reinstein and Tunemah, which I had visited on a wild backpack loop. To the southeast lay Ionian Basin, with Charybdis and Scylla guarding the entrance to Enchanted Gorge, from which I had emerged on that same backpack. Charybdis itself reminded me of an early Sierra Challenge, when I had climbed it along with Black Giant via Echo Col. And of course to the east lay the whole Evolution Crest, which I had traversed in a day after scouting it piecemeal over several years.

Lake/creek emerging

I did not have much time to linger, though, as home was far away. Switching to ski mode, I dropped down the south side of the divide a bit, then traversed as high as I could to the easier col I probably should have taken on the way out. From there I made a long descending traverse, skated across the northern lobe of Wanda Lake, then traversed again down Evolution Valley, skating across Sapphire Lake and descending more before giving up and switching to skins at Evolution Lake. I had been skimping on water all day, so when I saw several clear rivulets pouring down from the Evolution Crest, I stopped by one to drink my remaining liter and refill. Then I began the climb up to Darwin Bench, first gradually, then in steep switchbacks well south of the summer use trail.

Lamarck Col

I remembered coming this way after the Evolution Traverse, and felt similarly triumphant despite not having accomplished anything of note. I was thinking back to the remote central Sierra basins I had just seen, and forward to an enjoyable ski down the other side of Lamarck Col. The lakes were showing turquoise in places, but still solid enough to cross, making the Bench much more pleasant than in the summer, when a faint use trail winds through tedious talus. I found a well-used but faded skin-track up the col, and followed it as my energy faded and the wind picked up. Behind me thunderstorms were building over the western Sierra, and I could see wind-blasted clouds on the eastern side of the crest, but the storms stayed at bay.

Emerson, Piute Crags, White

Pausing on the other side of Lamarck Col, I put on another layer, but my hands had already gotten unpleasantly cold carrying my skis up the final scraps of rocky trail and removing my skins. I stayed high and right to keep coasting on the initial descent, and just managed to keep my skis on and thread through a few emerging bands of rocks. The snow was wind-sculpted and suncupped like last time, but much softer, so while I was not able to go terribly fast, the skiing was still fun. I threaded my way through the woods to Grassy Lake, then followed the right side of its outflow stream to within a few hundred feet of the North Lake Road.

The rest was ordinary suffering. I thrashed through some brush to reach the partly-melted road, then skated and poled through endless mushy suncups to where the road turns right in its long traverse above Bishop Creek. I had hoped to drop directly to Aspendell here, but that had melted out, so I followed the road, mostly walking to the junction, then slowly sliding down the uphill side to within a few hundred yards of the gate. I passed a guy out walking his dog, who weirdly pointed at me, normally said “hi,” but did not seem to want to talk. That was fine by me, as I was happy, spent, and not feeling a need for company. I pulled my shriveled and battered feet out of my boots and soaked socks — fourteen hours in ski boots take their toll — and drove to a quiet spot to sleep.

Ritter, Banner, Carson Bowl

Skinning across Thousand Island Lake

While the Sierra are known for their white or golden granite, the Ritter Range is made of a much older black metamorphic rock. The granite is generally solid and therefore draws climbers from around the world, but the Ritter rock is fractured and frequently frightening. I first climbed Ritter in 2010, via the route John Muir memorably described when writing about his first ascent of the peak:

Ritter from Banner

The tried dangers beneath seemed even greater than that of the cliff in front; therefore, after scanning its face again and again, I began to scale it, picking my holds with intense caution. After gaining a point about halfway to the top, I was suddenly brought to a dead stop, with arms outspread, clinging close to the face of the rock, unable to move hand or foot either up or down. My doom appeared fixed. I must fall. There would be a moment of bewilderment, and then a lifeless rumble down the one general precipice to the glacier below.

When this final danger flashed upon me, I became nerve-shaken for the first time since setting foot on the mountains, and my mind seemed to fill with a stifling smoke. But this terrible eclipse lasted only a moment, when life blazed forth again with preternatural clearness. I seemed suddenly to become possessed of a new sense. The other self, bygone experiences, Instinct, or Guardian Angel, — call it what you will, — came forward and assumed control. Then my trembling muscles became firm again, every rift and flaw in the rock was seen as through a microscope, and my limbs moved with a positiveness and precision with which I seemed to have nothing at all to do. Had I been borne aloft upon wings, my deliverance could not have been more complete.

I have since climbed most of the Minarets that form the southern part of the range, and with a few exceptions have been struck by their variable and unpredictable rock quality.

Mount Ritter itself is also a classic ski by its southeast glacier, normally approached from Mammoth Mountain via the road to Agnew Meadows. It can be done this way in a long day, but is notoriously unpleasant thanks to the frequently-boggy Meadows and a long road-slog back over Minaret Summit at the end of the day. So when John mentioned an alternative approach from June Lake, I was intrigued. Not only could I check a long-sought goal off my to-do list, but I might actually have fun doing so. Better still, John was willing to do it for a third time and, in classic style, wanted to add on Banner and Carson to fill out the day.

Dawn on Banner

With the stars thus aligned, we set off from the Fern Lake trailhead slightly after 3:00 AM. The Rush Creek trail is never useful: in the summer it is faster to walk up the cograil, while in the snow one can climb straight up left of the creek below Carson Peak. We hiked through the woods for a few minutes, then found the end of a slide path and put on crampons, efficiently gaining elevation while avoiding small cliffs by headlamp. We were looking for a low-angle route above Agnew Lake leading toward Agnew Pass, and found it without much difficulty. Unfortunately part of the west-facing traverse had been wind-blasted, exposing loose and shockingly unstable talus. Traversing this at night in ski boots was unpleasant, and the sound of the slope above me shifting when I stepped on some rocks was disconcerting. Fortunately this stretch was relatively short, and by the end of headlamp time we were skinning through rolling terrain toward the outlet of Thousand Island Lake.

San Joaquin poking through

From near Agnew Pass, we glided generally downhill toward the upper San Joaquin River, which was just beginning to poke out between deep snowbanks in a few places. We reached the lake just as the sun hit us, too late for perfect alpenglow photos of Banner’s impressive north face, but still appreciated the awesome scenery and deep snowpack as we skinned across the lake. We made a few transitions crossing Garnet and Whitebark Passes, finding some strenuous booting up the latter, then made our first good turns past the invisible Nydiver Lakes to Ritter’s base.

Pre-installed bootpack

By now the east-facing snow had been cooking for awhile, but fortunately there was a fresh skin-track and bootpack from the day before. A group of three skiers had apparently come in from Mammoth and suffered mightily, excavating a knee-deep trench up the first steep headwall. We gratefully took advantage of their work, sweating our way up to the flatter section where the pieces of glacier supposedly reside. We continued following the fresh skin-track up the far-left chute, taking off our skis to cross some final rocks to the upper face. Here we rested and admired the view; while the Minarets look like a single steep, rotten mass from this angle, Point 12,821′ and the pinnacles extending south of Ritter are striking. Farther south and down we could see Shadow, Ediza, and Cecile Lakes, all still solid white under snow.

Skinning upper face

We continued following the skin-track up the lower-angle upper face, eventually emerging on the summit ridge east of the peak. At last we could see Ritter’s precipitous north face, and the southwest chute we planned to ski on Banner, which looked in fine condition. We booted the final few feet to the summit, then set down our packs for an extended break. The peaks to the west around Foerster Peak were solid white, being on the leading edge of this snowiest section of the range, and we could see far down the San Joaquin and out to the west. We had vaguely contemplated skiing the north face directly to the Ritter-Banner saddle, and it seemed like there might be a line heading northwest, then booting back over a ridge, but I was not up for that level of steep and consequential skiing on hard snow, so we clicked in and returned the way we had come. With 3000 feet of elevation to lose on a variety of aspects, the skiing was variable, with heavy snow on the upper face, good corn in the east connecting chute and on the shaded side of the glacier, and deep sloughing glop lower down. A couple of skiers were just about to start up the lower headwall as we skied down it, but they wisely thought better of that after watching the small wet slides we kicked off.

Back at Ritter-Banner saddle

Sliding as far toward Banner as we could, we put skins back on for the long, hot, sheltered climb back to the Ritter-Banner saddle. I anticipated this being grim, but it felt surprisingly painless, perhaps because I was distracted by the scenery and company. The final climb through the choke next to Banner got a bit sketchy, with non-supportive slush over a hard crust, and I had to make a precarious transition to skis near the top to get enough support not to slide back from whence I came. From below, we confirmed that the north line on Ritter would go, but it looked less fun than what we had skied. From the saddle, we booted across some terribly slick talus to reach the southwest couloir. This was frustrating, as it would have been easy and mindless wearing running shoes in the summer. We must have looked like newborn colts stumbling across it in ski boots, and John took a solid fall, though he suffered no permanent damage.

Good turns on Banner

Once past the rubble, it was a straightforward boot to just below the summit, where we stashed our skis for a bit of boot-scrambling to the summit block. I was disappointed not to find the 2010 register from my first climb, but I signed the new one, and took an identical photo of Ritter’s north face, albeit with much more snow. Looking the other way, I could see all the way to Carson Peak and the head of Rush Creek, the white expanse of Thousand Island Lake, and the two thousand rugged feet of Banner’s steep north face. By now the sun had cooked the southwest-facing chute, so the ski down was soft but not yet sticky. Unlike John’s previous two times, the constriction at the base of the chute was filled in, presenting little difficulty.

Banner and San Joaquin

We continued northwest to Lake Catherine, finding good skiing beneath Banner’s north face, then had a gloppy skate across the lake to North Glacier Pass. The south side of the pass was scoured mostly bare, but the slope on the other side was buried, and we had a fast ski back to Thousand Island Lake, in my case marred by a wipeout when I caught an edge on the somewhat grabby snow. Though it was strenuous to skate back across the lake, it was much faster than skinning, and avoided a transition before descending the upper San Joaquin back west.

Carson Bowl view

Finally switching to skins, we roughly followed the summer trail back to Agnew Pass, gaining a long ridge and plateau leading back toward Carson Peak. We were over twelve hours into the day, and I was beginning to feel worn down, with tired legs, sore feet, and a probably-burnt nose. There was one final battle with krummholtz and scree beyond the pass, as the southwest side of the ridge had been melted and scoured. This part began to feel endless, and a final descent and 300-foot climb to the head of the Carson Bowl had us both retreating into our own heads.

Devil’s Slide

The view from the head of the bowl, however, instantly cheered us up. June Lake is at the southern end of an odd valley with exits at both ends, wrapping around Reversed Peak. From this vantage, it looks almost like a photo taken with a fisheye lens, and the afternoon light on the lakes, with Mono Lake in the distance, gave the terrain more definition and warm colors. The bowl had just gone back into the shade, and the slightly-refrozen snow made for fine skiing. The traverse around right to the head of Devil’s Slide was slightly obnoxious, but we were both blown away by the perfect corn in the 1500-foot gully. From the top of the bowl to the avalanche debris at the base was twenty minutes of the day’s best skiing. I hardly even noticed my fatigue or the subsequent minor swamp-thrash back to the trailhead. We savored the day for awhile, then John took off to drive back to the Bay Area, while I happily crawled into my car for the evening.

Buddha Temple

Buddha from Schellbach


Buddha Temple is one of the major landmarks looking north from the tourist part of the South Rim. It and Brahma Temple are the highest buttes on either side of Bright Angel Creek, and unlike Brahma, which is partly obscured by shorter but more dramatic Zoroaster Temple, Buddha stands by itself. I had seen much of the approach via Utah Flats when doing Isis Temple last fall, and Pete had mentioned a loop going in Utah Flats and out to Bright Angel Creek. It is a long haul across fairly serious terrain, though, with climbing up to 5.5 and several rappels to avoid downclimbing closer to 5.9, so I was apprehensive. I reached out to Pete, and he helpfully provided me with a detailed description so I would at least know what gear to bring, and probably not waste too much time route-finding.

O’Neill Butte, with Buddha just in the sun to its right

I knew it would be a long day, but I was camped outside the park, and did not get started until almost first light. I was surprised to learn that there is predawn shuttle service, so there was already a small crowd of people milling around the trailhead. Starting down the familiar trail, I carefully picked my way through the ice, then tried to run as best I could. Carrying just a light running pack, I made it rim to river in just under an hour when I did Brahma Temple last year, but I had much more weight on me this time, in the form of a 60-meter cragging rope (the only rope I own), harness, and rock shoes, so running the rough and eroded trail was unpleasant and exhausting. Just past the ice, I found a nicer headlamp than any I own lying in the trail, a positive sign from the Booty Gods at the start of what I expected to be a long day.

Verdant cactus-lawn

I passed various hikers, a mule train, and the trail crew working on the inner gorge trail, crossed the bridge, and continued to Bright Angel campground to fill up on water, as I had started with almost none. The use trail out of the campground leading to Utah Flats was easy to follow, and I noticed a few sets of recent footprints. When I was last there in the fall, the flats were a dense cactus-lawn, healthy but dry. This time they were lush and green, with flowers and grass sprouting around the cacti, whose lobes were noticeably fat with water. I continued on the nice trail along the south side of Phantom Creek, which I found more pleasant than the Kaibab mule highway, then dropped steeply into the upper creek. This was my last good water source for awhile, but it was cool enough that I had hardly drank since Phantom Ranch, so after a snack I hopped the creek and headed out cross-country toward a Redwall break between Buddha and Schellbach Butte.

Back down Redwall break

My pace instantly slowed dramatically, as I began the expected side-hilling through loose rubble and spiny plants. I tried to contour as efficiently as possible into the wash leading to the break, but progress remained tedious. The wash itself was depressingly brushy at first, but soon became somewhat more efficient, containing mostly loose river rocks with occasional steps to be overcome. I again saw some recent tracks, and wondered who else would be taking advantage of the fine weekend to tackle such an obscure objective. The wash climbs gradually until it is deep between two Redwall arms, then turns steep but seldom difficult. I ran into only a couple of steps that required fourth class climbing, and most of the elevation gain was on relatively stable talus. This surprised me as one of the easiest Redwall breaks I have taken, little harder than the Boucher Trail, and much less treacherous than the one leading to Isis.

Isis from Schellbach

Trending left, I emerged on the saddle between Schellbach and Buddha, where I found more tracks… and some stashed gear! Not only had someone been up here recently, but they were likely climbing Buddha at this very moment. However much I disliked my heavy pack, it was nothing compared to theirs, as in addition to climbing gear they had lugged sleeping bags and over a gallon of water up from Phantom Creek. Had I not been day-hiking, I would at least have done the butte in a day from Phantom Creek to avoid such needless suffering. Dropping my hateful pack, I took a “twenty minute” (at Pete speed) detour to tag Schellbach Butte, though I suspected I was already in for a long evening. There was a bit of trickiness finding my way up the first cliff band to the right, but all was fairly straightforward after that. The summit held a small memorial for Preston Schellbach, who may have been a ranger, and a register with the usual suspects. It also had great views of Isis and Buddha Temples to either side.

Returning to my pack, I trended up and left through the Supai toward the day’s main event. The lower Supai bands were short and easily breached, but one larger one near the top, sheer and overhung beneath, promised more of a challenge. Contouring around its northern base, I was worried that I would encounter slick snow, but it had mostly melted, and the resulting mud rarely caused trouble. After passing one bay, I rounded a corner and found that the single cliff band split, and with some class 3-4 climbing, I was able to reach the base of its steep but much shorter upper part.

North fin of Buddha

Pete mentioned a handline on this part, Tomasi’s book described a “shallow, loose chimney,” and I could follow the tracks ahead of me in the snow and mud to get some idea where they had climbed. They seem to have used a steep but fairly clean fist crack, and I started with that, first in my trail runners and pack, and then in rock shoes and packless. Neither felt secure, so I backed off and, as I changed back into trail runners, watched a chipmunk wall-jump and chimney his way down the crack, perhaps curious if I had food. I wasted much more time traversing right and left near the crack, and almost gave up and turned around. Instead I continued farther left, where I found what was probably Tomasi’s chimney. It was full of mudstone and loose flakes, and after a brief attempt I decided it was not for me. Looking even farther left, I saw that the upper band seemed less sheer. I thrashed my way through the woody brush at its base and, after considering a few options, made my way up via a short lieback into a foot jam where, had I fallen, it would merely have hurt.

Route on Buddha

By this time I had come so far north that, instead of following the standard route around the south side, it seemed quicker to go up and around the north prow. Reaching it involved the expected loose dirt and brush, but was not difficult, and contouring around the base of the Coconino on the other side was reasonably pleasant. Coming from the other side, I had a bit of trouble identifying the ledge and dihedral that start the route, but did not waste too much time. My guess was seemingly confirmed when I found a pair of climbing shoes on the ledge. Had one of the party decided to leave his shoes because the climbing was too easy? Would they bomb me with rocks and dead branches on rappel?

Trailhead from Buddha

I put on the rock shoes I had dragged all this way, and stemmed my way up the dihedral until I could exit left. I checked out a few options, then made an awkward mantle onto a ramp back right, and continued on a ledge around the corner into the shade. Another dihedral here, this one fairly loose and brushy, led me to a manzanita-covered ledge with a slung tree. I bashed through more brush on a stepped ramp, then recognized the awkward chimney/corner from the route description. It would not have been particularly difficult had I not been carrying a giant pack full of rope. I removed the left shoulder strap to make chimneying a bit easier, then made my way up to get a no-hands rest where, with much grunting, I managed to put the pack back on. None of the climbing beyond that was particularly hard and, with rock shoes, I took a more direct line to the summit plateau. While I was occasionally glad for the shoes, I feel like the climbing would have been manageable in good trail runners, especially had I been carrying my normal daypack.

Brahma and Zoroaster, with Clement Powell and Hillers below

Buddha’s summit is underwhelming, a small cairn in the dirt with scrub pines obstructing the view. I popped open the register canister to find that the party of two had come and gone, and I had probably missed them by going around the other side of the butte. I signed in myself, then made three rappels to get down, the lowest from a tree that required some thrashing to reach, and that just barely got me to moderate ground with a stretched 60-meter rope. I coiled my rope, shoved it and the other party’s shoes in my pack, then headed east toward Clement Powell. Just as promised, there was a rappel anchor on the north side of a small saddle, a couple of middle-aged slings and a rap ring around a tree. I lowered myself gingerly, coiled the rope again, and continued to the base of Clement Powell to again drop my pack.

CP tunnel

While not difficult, Clement Powell was a fun “adventure scramble.” Just north of the prow, I found a narrow slot behind a detached flake leading to a corner up the first Supai band. Returning to the south side, I climbed another corner with an awkward start leading to a tunnel beneath a giant balanced rock. From there, I followed a broad ledge around the south side of a subpeak, then crossed some flats to the summit blob, mentally apologizing to the cryptogamic soil I crushed with every step. I found the register in a cairn on the highest boulder, which had much better views of upper Bright Angel Creek and Brahma and Zoroaster Temples than the higher Buddha. I would have had a great view of Buddha’s climbing route as well, but the sun was already low enough that it was in the shade. It was time to move.

Potholes before Hillers

I returned to my pack, then diagonaled across to the ridge connecting to Hillers Butte and Johnson Point. I made a short rappel off a sturdy- but dead-looking sagebrush (hey, it had a fairly new-looking sling…), then stopped to suck water out of the large potholes on the plateau. I eventually found the awkward chimney leading to Hillers’ summit, with the large and teetering cheater step beneath it, but did not even give it a try. I wanted to do all the cross-country navigation by daylight, and changing into rock shoes, trailing my pack, and rappeling off the summit would be time-consuming. Also, I was mentally done for the day. Continuing around to the butte’s southeast side, I scouted the side of the plateau and found a tree with a fresh cord attached. I added a carabiner I had bootied earlier, then made a short free-hanging rappel to easier ground. Thankful to be done with the day’s rappelling, I coiled the rope a final time, took off my harness, and shoved everything into my pack.

Ridge off Powell

The hike out to Johnson Point was long but pleasant, with excellent views of the setting sun and rising moon on Deva, Brahma, and Zoroaster Temples. The ridge down from Johnson Point was surprisingly easy, with excellent position and views. I found a large cairn where one leaves the ridge, and a few more winding down through the cliff bands below. I even found a bit of a use or game trail on the talus fan leading toward the Tonto Plateau, but soon lost it, and made an unpleasantly loose and spiny descending traverse to the head of the creek to the north. This at least was easy going, and I picked up the game trail along the base of the Tapeats leading around the corner to the final drop to Bright Angel Creek. The final descent was again wretchedly loose, and it would have been difficult to spot the correct line by headlamp, but it was just slow going in the evening light.

Final Bright Angel descent

I had hoped to rock-hop across Phantom Creek, but after finding a braided section, I partly soaked one foot when a rock rolled, and stupidly waded the other branch with my socks and shoes on. I wrung them out on the side of the trail, figuring the desert air would dry them quickly, but I would regret the damp feet on the hike out. I made it to Phantom Ranch right around dark, grabbed two liters of water, drank one, then hit the trail as the guests wandered off to their cabins. The Grand Canyon, and Phantom Ranch in particular, are filled with nostalgia for me. Growing up, I would have been one of those guests headed back to the cabin after eating my fill of beef stew, to relax and play cards. Now, I was putting on a headlamp I had found on the trail to hike out of the canyon while eating a bag of peanut butter pretzels. Where I had once experienced type I fun, I now sought Type II.

The Phantom

The moon was close to full, and I quickly realized that outside the shadows, I could easily hike the well-maintained trail without a headlamp. I turned it on though the tunnel and on shady slopes, but mostly left it off, enjoying the Canyon drained of its color. The winds of an approaching cold front began hitting me on the Tonto Plateau, but I was comfortable hiking in a t-shirt until just below O’Neill Butte, where I put on my hoodie and gloves. The wind became fierce near the Hermit Shale toilets, where the Kaibab switchbacks across an exposed ridge. A powdery mix of sand and mule manure intermittently blew into my eyes, forcing me to squint and shield them with my hand. The gusts were strong enough to make me stumble, and at one point the sustained wind was strong enough that I had to stand still with one hand on the wall next to the trail for balance. Fortunately the upper traverse through the Toroweap, and the final Kaibab switchbacks, were at least somewhat sheltered.

I had expected to see at least one other crazy person on a Rim-to-Rim mission, but no one else was out on this lovely night. I hobbled the road back to my car, threw my pack into the front seat, and stripped off my filthy and still-damp shoes and socks. I prefer not to stealth camp in the Park, but it was after 10:00 PM, and I felt I had earned it. I had deliberately put this outing off until the end of my stay, because I knew it would leave me physically and mentally drained. These type II fun outings make meaningful memories, and allow one to profoundly experience a place, but are not sustainable.

Valois, Florida, Bullion, Kennedy

Valois from Trimble Pass


Several of my remaining Weminuche 13ers are unfortunately “orphans” I skipped on various long dayhikes, meaning they are both deep in the wilderness and cannot be easily combined with other peaks. Of these, Peaks Eleven and Twelve are probably the most interesting, and could be combined on a loop of Chicago and Ruby Basins out of Purgatory, but the short days and recent snow put that long grind out of reach for this season. Two others, Valois and Peak Twenty-Two, are only a couple miles apart in the less-visited southern Weminuche, so I thought I might be able to combine them. I have previously reached the area from the Endlich Mesa trailhead, but I do not have the vehicle to drive that road, or the energy to hike it again.

Sunrise on La Platas

I decided instead to come in from the Lime Mesa trailhead to their southwest. This is a ridiculously long drive on dirt roads, and not worth repeating, but it is easy driving for any car up to Henderson Lake. I started the drive in the evening, finished it in the morning, then hung out until around 8:00, when it was finally warm enough to ride with mitts and a down coat. It is peak redneck season in Colorado, the time to harvest meat and wood between when the hikers leave and real winter sets in, so there were several large, aggressively-styled trucks with horse- or ATV-trailers parked at various pullouts.

Maybe they won’t chew your face off

The road remains decent for a few miles beyond the lake, then deteriorates into a mix of slabs, jumbled rocks, and ruts. I had to push my bike in a few sections. I was impressed to see a bad-ass old Mitsubishi van parked at the top of the final climb, which looked like Jeep terrain. I sort of wanted to meet its owner, but he seemed to be just waking up, and you don’t disturb someone in their home like that. The road remained terrible as it rolled across the mesa to the trailhead, and I debated stashing my bike, but pushed and carefully rode all the way to the trailhead, where I found two stock-looking Tacomas. Clearly my judgment of what a vehicle can handle has become poor.

Chilly junction

I stashed my bike in the trees, then started out north along the Lime Mesa trail. There were a couple sets of footprints in the fresh snow, but they seemed to be going out and back, so I did not expect to meet anyone. I soon turned east on the City Reservoir trail, which joined the Burnt Timber trail to meander east toward said reservoir through gentle ridges and valleys. I saw a large tepee-shaped tent in the woods off the trail, and was surprised not to see a horse to carry it nearby. Soon after, I spotted a hunter couple talking to each other on the trail ahead. I half-waved as I approached, but they did not notice until the woman turned around and startled. I found it funny that they hoped to track and surprise an elk, but had not noticed a middle-aged guy traipsing along the trail listening to a podcast.

Slabs up Valois

The human tracks soon gave out, and soon after I saw fresh tracks of elk using the trail, though I neither saw nor heard the animals themselves, despite passing through several meadows that seemed like ideal places for bull elk to scream their aggression and lust. I eventually reached the reservoir, noting that the hike from Lime Mesa was only about a mile longer than from Endlich Mesa. I continued up the trail toward Lake Marie, then left it near Logtown (a very Mad Max-sounding name) to make my way up Valois’ south ridge. I found an old trail at the start, then followed a mix of game trails and common sense through the grass and granite outcrops to the upper talus. I felt pathetically slow on the climb, weakening my will to add Twenty-Two to the day.

Valois catwalk

Valois’ summit plateau is connected to a false summit by a narrow catwalk, which I enjoyed despite the lingering snow. Once past this bit of fun, it was an easy plod to the summit cairn. The peak is utterly unimpressive from this side, but its steep north face is more dramatic, and it has an excellent view of Johnson Creek to its north, bounded by the Grizzly-McCauley-Echo ridge, descending to the deep Vallecito. I looked across Castilleja Lake toward Peak Twenty-Two, but it was hard to even pick it out among the Emerson Peaks and other unnamed bumps. I lacked the will to put in the work to tag it, especially since my late start would put me at risk of a headlamp bike descent.

This sucked

I decided instead to make a loop, traversing over Florida and Bullion to Mount Kennedy before returning to the trail via what looked like easy terrain on West Silver Mesa. The ridge to Florida started out miserable, with slick talus lubricated by fresh and softening snow. In my worn shoes, it made for tedious and cautious climbing, moving crab-style along the ridge. At the saddle, the ridge turned so that the snow melted, and the minor climb to Florida was much easier. From its summit I could clearly see the Trimble Pass trail, covered in snow, traversing toward Columbine Pass. I also saw a well-trodden elk- or sheep-path near Lillie Lake to the south.

Valois from Trimble Pass

I followed what might have been a faint trail to the pass, then climbed more easy talus along the ridge to Bullion, another unranked 13er. I had already somehow done Aztec on a previous outing up Johnson Creek, so I skipped the tricky ridge, dropping to the grassy plain to its south. The descent off Bullion was the day’s misery crux, a steep slope of large, shifting talus covered in slick snow. Too many things moved that should not have, and even crab-walking, one boulder bit me on the back of the calf. It shredded my pant leg, but fortunately I was wearing tall socks, so I got off with no more than a small bruise on my Achilles.

Big NM skies and storms

Relieved to finally be on low-angle grass, I was heard rushing water, and was surprised to find an old pipe sticking out of the ground, with water still burbling out. I saw a tailings pile below the Bullion-Aztec ridge, but no ruins of a building or other detritus nearby to justify the effort of improving this spring. I stopped to fill my water, then hurried on with an eye on the increasingly serious-looking clouds to the south and east. The forecast had called for a slight chance of showers, and it seemed increasingly likely I was going to feel some precipitation.

Pigeon through Eolus

Kennedy has an exceptional view of the central Needles, from Pigeon to Windom, and I took some time to admire and photograph them in the dramatic partly-cloudy light. It also has cell service, from which I learned that a couple of prolific Colorado peak-baggers had been just behind me on my White Dome excursion a couple days earlier. The weather was deteriorating as I descended West Silver Mesa, but fortunately the travel was as easy as I had hoped, with mostly open country and very few willows. I was surprised to find quite a few more boot-prints on the trail, but met no one on my return to the trailhead.

Needle Creek to Animas

It started graupel-ing a couple of miles out, and gradually grew more intense. I was not looking forward to the ride back to Henderson Lake, especially since the clay-rich soil had turned to slick mud. The two trucks were still at the trailhead, and the Mitsubishi van’s resident waved as I passed, riding cautiously over the mix of mud and limestone. I was impressed at how well my bike’s tires handled the surface, despite their lack of aggressive tread. I initially tried to avoid the puddles and the worst of the mud, but gradually gave in to the fact that both me and the bike would be filthy no matter what. My hands ached with the cold, and I needed to get back to the car before dark.

Aftermath of bike descent

I managed to ride most of the upper rocky section, picking my way cautiously and riding the brakes. I put on a bit more speed on the lower, smoother part, as the graupel turned to rain and my brake pads wore down from the grit. Finally reaching the car, I leaned my bike against the side to deal with later, and was happy to find I had just enough manual dexterity to unclip my keys from my pack and unlock the doors. I crawled inside, frantically stripped off my wet clothes, put on a dry t-shirt and sweatshirt, started water for cocoa, and curled up in my sleeping bag. I had a painful ten minutes as my hands came back to life, but suffered no permanent harm. I made dinner, read a bit about Harvey Butchart, then went to bed early, leaving the problem of dealing with my wet, muddy bike and clothes to the next day.

Hunchback through Peak Two

West Trinity, Vestal, Arrow


[This writeup skips several quality outings over the past two weeks, which I hope to return to, but the blog is getting badly behind. — ed.]

Cunningham Gulch

Climbing all the Weminuche 13ers has been a late-season, low-urgency project of mine for some years. Most of them are fairly remote, which makes them appealing but also hard to day-hike, especially late in the season when I normally visit. One of my last mother-lodes of peaks was the group north of Vestal Basin and south of Elk Creek, from Hunchback to Peak Three. I had expected this to be a truly grim outing from Molas Pass but, while doing some last-minute research, I realized that it would be significantly easier to reach the peaks from Cunningham Gulch. I had somehow never visited this trailhead, which is a viable 2WD alternative to the slow and punishing drive to Beartown for accessing the northwest Weminuche.

Dawn on Guardian, Silex, and Storm King

I was not sure how long the outing would take, but I had to be back by dinner, so I set my alarm for a painful hour and started by headlamp around 4:30, planning to do the trail approach by headlamp. It is no longer summer, so I began hiking in mitts and a down jacket. While I eventually stowed the jacket, I remained borderline cold on the long, rolling commute south along the Continental Divide above 12,000 feet, and had to put it back on above Kite Lake when my hands got too cold. I finally turned off my headlamp near the top of Elk Creek, continuing south on an old but clear trail to the saddle between Hunchback and White Dome.

White Dome

Hunchback Peak is made of some kind of crumbly shale, so it is not particularly steep, and its west ridge is mostly easy. The snow on the north side was sometimes supportive, but more often the expected breakable crust over ankle-deep sugar. I dodged a couple of small pinnacles near the top, and reached the summit in time for sunrise. I watched the light hit familiar peaks to the south and west in the Needles and Grenadiers, then retraced my steps as Hunchback’s shadow descended the east face of White Dome, my next goal.

Vestal Basin peaks from White Dome

Near the saddle between the two peaks, I transitioned from dark choss to the Grenadiers’ lighter quartzite, which is particularly light-colored in this part, giving White Dome its name. This rock can be solid and pleasant to climb, but because it is hard and breaks along smooth planes, it forms terribly unstable talus. I therefore stayed along the right-hand ridge where possible, opting for solid rock with a few class 3-4 steps instead of shifting boulders. By the time I reached the summit, it was warm enough to ditch the mitts and jacket for the rest of the day, though I would keep my hoodie and thin work gloves for several hours. The Vestal Basin peaks began to come into view here, with their strikingly bent uplift layers.

Descent from Peak One

From White Dome I followed an easy ridge to its junction with a minor spur, then turned south toward Peak One. This was the first north-facing terrain I had to deal with, and it was as unpleasant as I had feared, with unpredictable ankle- to calf-deep powder between protruding rocks. I tried to hop from rock to rock where I could, which was slow but far less aggravating than postholing. A combination of fatigue and altitude also had me plodding and gasping more than I should have been. Peak One was not particularly interesting in itself, but it offered a clearer view of the main Grenadiers. Notably, the east side of neighboring Peak Three shows the same layers as Arrow and Vestal, though the eroded valleys are in the wrong direction to make for good climbing. I also had an excellent view across Stormy Gulch to Trinity Lake, the long Trinity-Storm King ridge, Silex, and the Guardian. Looking north, I could see most of my descent route to Elk Creek and the Colorado Trail, which looked easy if a bit tedious from this angle.

The Trinities

I dropped down the ridge to the head of Stormy Gulch, then followed a rib on Peak Three’s east side to its summit. I had suspected for years that this peak would be an ideal spot to view the main Grenadiers, and it did not disappoint. I sat for awhile admiring Arrow and Vestal, whose Wham Ridge looked tricky with a dusting of snow on the steeper upper half. Through the gaps in the quartzite ridge I could see Jagged, Eolus, and Pigeon poking through. Peak Two looked like a slog, so it took me a minute to steel myself to get going. It was every bit as tedious as expected, unstable quartzite talus mixed with a bit of choss, with the usual sugary snow on north slopes. I slogged it out, admiring the high plateau to the left and my scree descent to the right. From its summit, I had a clear view up and down the deep trench of Elk Creek. I had only been as far up this drainage as the Vestal Basin cutoff, and was both looking forward to traveling its upper reaches, and dreading the long climb out.

OMG this sucked

After a couple minutes on the summit, I retraced my tedious steps a bit, then happily plunge-stepped east, crossing some sheep-trails in the pliant scree. The bottom of this drainage was blessedly willow-free, so I was expecting an easy hike down to the Colorado Trail. Unfortunately it also contains a couple of bands of slabby cliffs which are hidden from above. I did not have to do anything sketchy to get through them, but they did cause some frustration and delay. Below, I followed game trails to the right, aiming to hit the trail high. These eventually disappeared, and I found myself hopping and thrashing through a mess of deadfall above the creek junction. Looking back, I did not see a better path.

Bench lakes above Elk Creek

Once back on the trail, I was surprised and impressed by how steeply it climbed toward the Divide. I slowly ground out the 1800-foot climb, mostly appreciating the trail, but cutting straight up through some turf where it turned to maddeningly-flat switchbacks. I was ahead of schedule, but still tried to jog the flats and downhills on my way back north. Though it was late in the year, it was also a weekend, and I saw a group of three hunters who had probably driven to Beartown, a couple of day-hikers, and a pair making camp near one of the high lakes. Given the forecast for snow the next day, these last seemed either masochistic or oblivious, but they were too far from the trail for me to say anything. I jogged down to Cunningham Gulch, quickly rinsed off at the car, then drove into Silverton to grab water at the fire station and cook some real food.

Mount Taylor (Quad-style)

Mount Taylor is a prominent mound north of Grants, named for President Zachary Taylor, a president who is mostly skipped in High School history and, given his period, was probably warlike and otherwise mediocre. Amid the current trend of renaming peaks, I note that it has also been named Cebolleta (tender onion) by the Spaniards, continuing the food-themed naming scheme demonstrated by nearby Sandia (watermelon) and Manzano (apple tree). The Navajo named it Tsodzil (blue bead mountain), one of their boundary peaks along with Blanca, Hesperus, and the San Francisco Peaks. The other local tribes, the Acoma, Hopi, Zuni, and Laguna, predictably gave the large stratovolcano their own names as well. People like to refer to landmarks, and therefore give them names; take your pick.

As it is a big tree-covered mound with Forest roads all over it, one must get creative to make it a challenge, and the best way to do that is the Mount Taylor Quadrathlon, an event almost as old as I am. Starting from the town of Grants, participants (or teams) bike 13 miles to the end of the pavement, run five up graded forest roads, then ski and snowshoe about two apiece to the summit before reversing the process to finish back in town. I was in the area and had the fitness, and in addition to enjoying racing, I believe it is healthy for the mind and ego, so I signed up.

Though I did not take it seriously enough to, say, do intervals, I did want to actually be a contender, so I borrowed my friend Mike’s fast carbon bike, and gave some more thought to gear choices. With six transitions, I focused on minimizing the time they took, which meant using the same shoes and clothing for every activity. To do that, I put flat pedals on Mike’s bike, and borrowed a pair of Altai Hok skis from a friend in Albuquerque, which have both snowshoe-style strap bindings and built-in kicker skins for the steep ascent. I also wore plastic bags inside my running shoes to protect my feet from the starting cold and snow higher up.

In retrospect, I should have focused more on performance, particularly on the ski. I may have saved about a minute per transition, but those six minutes were easily lost on the downhill ski, which was much slower than it would have been on my AT skis. Also, a one-minute transition probably costs 30 seconds or less, since it doubles as a one-minute recovery. In the future, I would still use flats, because it is a mass start and therefore easy to hang with the lead pack on the bike up, but would use aero bars for the descent. I would also use AT skis, which would make the downhill ski both much faster and a semi-recovery period. I would need a spare pair of shoes for the snowshoe, since doing it in my AT boots would be painful and slow.

All those changes might have saved me about ten minutes, enough to place higher, but not to be a contender. I was about 15% off the winning pace, far too much to be made up by better tactics and nutrition, and probably more than I could make up through better training. As I have written before, it is important to know your place, and that is mine. Interestingly, I was not beaten by a bunch of younger guys, but by four men around my age (the winner was 50!) and one woman who I gather has been utterly dominating local races recently. There were plenty of younger participants, but all ended up farther down the leaderboard. While age and place are positively correlated as expected for the top 100 (corr=0.12), they are negatively correlated for the top 20 (-0.20) and 10 (-0.34). Whether this is due to experience, interest, or equipment (i.e. money), I cannot guess.

In any case, conditions were near-ideal for this race through a wide range of ecosystems. A recent storm had added a few inches to the meager La NiƱa snowpack, but the day was sunny and calm, and the roads had dried the day before. Grants being subject to the high desert’s huge daily temperature swings, it was still in the low 20s for the 8:00 AM start. I easily hung in the lead pack on the flat roll out of town and the gradual lower climb. I seemed to be working slightly less hard than most of the guys (and one woman) around me, so I liked my chances. Unfortunately I had tried to adjust my seat beforehand and, fearful of breaking Mike’s fragile bike, failed to sufficiently tighten the seat post bolt. Therefore by the time we neared the end of the bike, the seat was far too low, slowed in its descent by the tyvek number taped around the seatpost.

A couple of stronger cyclists turned up the pace where the climb steepened, and I made the mistake of trying to keep them in sight. This made no difference in placing, as I passed them in the transition, but did put some hurt in my legs. I lack experience pacing for multi-sport events, but immediately noticed my mistake as my legs were sluggish on the run. I had expected multiple runners from teams to pass me, but only one did on the gradual five mile climb to the ski transition. About half of the road was bare dirt, the other half packed snow.

I liked my chances at the ski transition, and was happy with the Altais, which had just enough grip for most of the steeper parts of the climb. I was passed like I was standing still by one skimo guy, and saw another person behind me going up Heartbreak Hill, but still made decent time. I started losing on the snowshoe, where I walked some gradual uphills that I should have been able to run. I laughed passing the Viking aid station, then started the hike up the summit meadow with the next person just behind, who turned out to be a ridiculously fast woman. We chatted a bit on the climb, then she took off jogging where it flattened out, while I continued walking.

After a brief side-trip to touch the summit sign (I am, first and foremost, a peak-bagger), I ran the down-trail as best I could, singing “We come from the land of ice and snow…” to encourage the Vikings as I passed. I caught the woman ahead of me in the transition, but she was gone by the time I was gone, and since she was on AT skis, I knew I would never see her again. I had expected to lose some time descending on the Altais, but it was far worse than I had hoped. Not only were they slow and hard to control, but I had to work kicking and poling where I would have coasted on real skis, obliterating both potential recovery and any time I gained in the transitions.

I found a decent rhythm on the downhill run, but my legs were toast on the short uphills before the transition. Partly they were just fried from too many similar activities back-to-back, but partly I was running out of energy. I had brought only solid food, and was too dehydrated and breathing too hard to chew and swallow much of it. Between the sinking seat and my fatigue, my bike performance was fairly pathetic, but I made decent time on the downhills and flats. The one climb reduced me to a pathetic grind. I was glad for the race to be nearly done, as my feet and calves had begun to cramp, but I was passed with authority by a guy on aero bars with a TT helmet only a couple miles from the finish. Like everyone else ahead of me, he was in my age group, but I did not have the energy to jump on his wheel.

I ended up sixth overall, fifth man, and fourth in my age group. (Results here.) I was happy with my overall place, surprised to be crushed by an amateur woman, and disappointed by my age group place. As noted above, there are some easy ways I could improve my place and time via only gear and nutrition, but I would be hard-pressed to train well enough to podium. Still, I would like to return to a wonderful race to see how I could do with more refinements, and am sad that other priorities will probably send me elsewhere next winter.

Wyoming 13er speed record (8d23h)

As some readers may already know, I have spent most of the past two weeks climbing all of Wyoming’s 13,000-foot peaks. These 13ers consist of five peaks in four isolated clusters (Francs in the Absarokas, Cloud and Black Tooth in the Bighorns, Wind River Peak in the southern Winds, and the Grand Teton), and the remaining thirty packed together in the northern Winds. The four clusters are all reasonable dayhikes on well-defined routes, although the Bighorn pair are a grind.

The northern Winds, however, require multiple days and, unlike the California 14ers, there is no established, clearly optimal route. In addition to topo maps, I went in with photos of Joe Kelsey’s guidebook, and Eric Gilbertson’s well-written and thorough trip report from his climbs last summer. Both were helpful, but neither was sufficient to plan a complete route ahead of time. Route conditions in the northern Winds depend upon the time of year, the previous winter’s snowpack, and global warming’s inexorable march. An easy couloir in June can be be blocked by a gaping bergschrund in September; north-facing class 4 slabs can be covered in treacherous ice and snow from a late summer storm; and certain routes in Kelsey’s guidebook, last updated in 2013, have changed beyond recognition.

The previous record for doing this, set by Gilbertson in 2020, was 16 days, 18 hours. Beforehand, I expected to complete the peaks in 11-12 days, and was pleasantly surprised to do so in just 8 days, 23 hours, about 4 days and 13 hours of which were spent on foot. My route involved approximately 220 miles and 82,000 feet of climbing. The time I saved all came in the northern Wind River Range, where I was able to link more peaks together than I had expected, and to hike out the same day that I completed the northern ones. With support (e.g. car shuttles and horse packers), it should be straightforward to cut a day off my time. With less sleep and better link-ups, it may be possible to cut off another either with or without support. However, since relatively few mountaineers have the skills, free time, and desire to attempt this record, I suspect my effort will remain the fastest for some time.

What follows is a brief description of each day; I will write my usual detailed/verbose trip reports as I am able.

  1. Summit of Francs

    Francs: This was a dull hike to a dismal peak. Smoke from burning California marred the views, which were mostly barren choss reminiscent of the dry Andes. The road to the trailhead is Element-able, but has a few stream crossings that may short-circuit your Prius.
  2. Black Tooth from near Cloud

    Cloud, Black Tooth: Cloud by itself is a long, rocky pack trail followed by a long, easy boulder-hop. Adding Black Tooth spices it up with some class 3 and adds some distance. The hike back down the valley to Cloud’s northwest is interminable, passing endless lakes while losing little elevation.
  3. Wind River Peak from Tayo Lake

    Wind River Peak: Like Eric, I came in from Block-and-Tackle Hill, using a bike beyond the Forest boundary. ATVers have cleared the road of deadfall to the Wilderness boundary, but a microburst over Labor Day weekend 2020 has covered portions of the trail all the way to Little Sandy Lake with downed trees. The standard route from Worthen Meadows Reservoir may be faster in the future, as this trail seems unlikely to be cleared.
  4. Ugh

    Bow: Backpacking sucks, but is sometimes necessary. I lugged 16 pounds of food, both cold and wet weather gear, and crampons and an ice axe from Green River Lakes along the Highline Trail and over to Shannon Pass, at which I dropped my pack to tag nearby Bow Mountain via easy slabs and talus.
  5. American Legion from Henderson

    Henderson to Whitecap (6 peaks): There were two question marks on this leg: the ridge from American Legion to Knapsack Pass, and the one from Split to Whitecap. Kelsey speculates that the first is class 5, and says nothing about the second. Both were indeed low fifth class, though the descent from American Legion was fairly spicy with fresh snow on its north-facing aspects.
  6. Harrower/Ellingwood

    Ellingwood (Harrower) to Jackson (4 peaks): These make a natural loop from the Indian Pass trail junction. Ellingwood’s standard route is only class 4, but the 5.6 north ridge is amazing and probably no slower if you feel comfortable at that grade. The route from Ellingwood to Knife Point is somewhat convoluted, crossing broken, deglaciated slabs and gullies.
  7. Fremont, Sacagawea, Helen

    Fremont to Febbas (8 peaks): This was pretty wild, and saved me a day. Kelsey’s couloir from Fremont down to the Upper Fremont Glacier was too hard and steep for my gear, and also ended in a massive bergschrund. Fremont’s east-northeast ridge is not mentioned in Kelsey’s guide, but goes at class 4-5 on and south of the crest, and leads to the glacier. The normal route on Helen looked too steep and icy, but the east ridge is straightforward and not much longer. Spearhead Pinnacle has a short class 5 crux on the east side of its north ridge, but is mostly easier scrambling. Warren is a mix of scrambling and choss. Turret is a bit tricky, especially with snow descending the north slopes to Backpackers Pass. I started up the “west ridge” route (not really a ridge), then made a tricky downclimb into the “west gully” used on the first ascent. Sunbeam and Febbas are not hard. The long return down Blaurock Pass and over Bonney Pass was depressing, crossing endless moraines while staring at the much-diminished Dinwoody Glacier.
  8. Woodrow Wilson from Pinnacle Ridge

    Woodrow Wilson to Desolation (5 peaks): This was a last-minute plan that worked fairly well. From camp at the Indian Pass junction, I hiked up to the Sphinx Glacier, thus making my time climbing the Sphinx two days prior mostly a waste. I then traversed around to Wilson’s (dry) west chute, ascending that and descending the north chute to reach the upper Dinwoody Glacier. The upper glacier was crevassed but, as I had hoped, not too steep and retaining some new and old snow. I stayed high on the way to Glacier Pass (a horrible scree field on both sides), with a detour to Pinnacle Ridge. From the pass, I reached Gannett via class 4-5 climbing east of the ridge leading to the standard Gooseneck route. I then descended and crossed a col to the Minor Glacier, which was flat and easy, and the slabs below it, which were not. Koven is, as Eric indicated, low fifth class by its south ridge, which can be reached from the lake below the Minor Glacier. Beyond, I found a good camp at the Desolation-Rampart col, then made a quick evening side-trip to Desolation, setting up a potential exit the next day.
  9. Winds from Downs

    Bastion to Downs (6 peaks): Starting at first light, I climbed to the plateau, walked around Rampart, and tagged Bastion. From there I headed north, roughly following Eric’s route all the way to Downs over a mixture of talus and tundra. The stream south of Downs leads to a high plateau with many lakes and gentle undulations, though this valley may be impassable earlier in the season. I then followed a pleasant path I had plotted on the topo, passing high above Bear Lake before dropping to Faler Lake, which lies at treeline. The steep descent to Clear Lake was slightly ugly, and things only got worse going around Clear Lake, then down Clear Creek to the maintained trail at the Natural Bridge. From there it was a simple slog to the car.
  10. Dawn on the Grand

    The Grand: I was hoping to finish on the Upper Exum, but needed to be down by 10:00 to finish under nine days. I therefore went up and down the Owen-Spalding, which is easier to do in the dark.

Statistics

Since I recorded everything on Strava, I have the moving time, miles and elevation gained, and even a dubious count of calories burned for each day:

Day mi ft time cal
Francs 15.67 5338 5:32:08 2839
Cloud 29.01 7799 11:14:23 4919
Wind R 22.34 4963 8:38:41 3609
Bow 23.46 5564 9:29:14 3765
Henderson 15.74 11332 11:54:21 3810
Ellingwood 24.62 9040 12:50:15 4486
Fremont 23.14 13774 15:25:56 5023
Wilson 20.29 9010 13:04:33 4355
Bastion 27.46 7472 14:11:57 5021
Grand 15.05 7584 6:03:33 3078
TOTAL 216.78 81,876 4d12h25m01s 40,905

A few things seem worth noting: First, the mileage is close to Eric Gilbertson’s estimated mileage for his previous record. Second, I spent just over 4.5 days moving out of just under 9 days total. Given that some of the remaining time was spent driving, this is a sustained effort, but nothing extreme. Other than the last night, before the Grand, I did not seriously short myself on sleep. Finally, if the whole thing required about 41,000 calories (plus base metabolic rate), the $100+ I spent on food seems about right, since I ate cost-inefficient things like pepperoni and Clif bars. I probably spent slightly less than that on gas to drive 600 miles during the record, so the driving cost less than the hiking, as it should.

Thanks and reflections

Thanks of course to Eric G., who planted the idea of doing this in my mind, and whose detailed trip report simplified my planning. I would especially like to thank Renee for her infectious drive and positivity, which were crucial in overcoming my doubts and lack of motivation before trying this. She and my friend Dan were both a source of motivation during the effort as well, thanks to a surprising amount of cell coverage. I spent some time with friends both before and after this attempt, some of whom I probably could have prevailed upon to provide support, but that is not the kind of effort I wanted. This needed to be all me.

As mentioned above, I think this could go much faster with a full “Cave Dog”-style (or “Hamiltonian”…) effort, involving extensive scouting and route optimization, and a full support crew. That is not something I want to do, and I do not have many ideas for major time-saving route improvements, but I hope someone makes it happen. This could also probably go faster for an unsupported individual, but I don’t know anyone right now with the skill, time, and interest. I would also like to see a women’s record, solo and preferably unsupported, but the necessary skill and especially interest seem even rarer.

Wind River Peak (S-E loop)

First view of the peak


Wind River Peak is the Winds’ southernmost 13er, standing alone some 35 miles south of the rest, with only a handful of significant peaks between it and the high plain south of the range. I needed to retrieve my car near Lander, and Renee wanted to do something semi-big with her last day in Wyoming, so we settled on running Wind River. By historical accident, the traditional fastest known time (FKT) for the peak follows a counterclockwise loop from the high Worthen Reservoir, as the peak is a similar long trail and class 2 boulder-hop from both the south and east. The men’s record is far beyond my reach, but the women’s record (as usual) looked soft, so Renee went for that while I ran the loop clockwise. I wanted to see a lot of new territory, to hedge my bets lest another early storm ruin my future plans, and to see if I still had some speed in me despite advancing age and a lack of focused running this season.

Choo-choo!

Temperatures felt ideal as the near-full moon set and the sun rose around 6:30 over the reservoir. I felt energized starting off in shorts and an overshirt, carrying my little running pack with about 3000 calories and a liter of water. As the trail gradually climbed through the woods, I stashed my overshirt on my pack, where it would remain for most of the rest of the day. What a contrast with conditions only two days earlier! There were two significant water crossings along the way, of Roaring Fork and Stough Creeks. Most locals seem to bring horses or wading shoes for such things, but I found acceptable dry crossings downstream of both, as it was too early in the day to splash through and soak my shoes.

Wind River and maybe Lizard Head

I got my first glorious view of Wind River Peak at the unnamed col around 10,600′, where the trail descends to Stough Creek and the Middle Popo Agie River. After an hour or so spent in the woods, the sudden sight of acres of bare granite was inspiring, though Wind River Peak looked distressingly far away. Feeling a strong runner’s high — those are some good drugs, self! — I took off at a respectable run down the other side of the pass, maintaining a decent jog through the flats past Stough Creek and down to the Popo Agie. This section of trail was moderately annoying, consisting of gradually-climbing rollers. The trail crosses the river in a meadow/swamp before Tayo Park, and here I did not find a dry crossing, though it looked like someone had tried to build one using some stepping-stones and a too-thin log. I made it to the log, then took off my shoes to cross the last bit, losing a sandwich from my pack as I bent over to put my shoes back on.

Peak from Tayo Lake

From here, I continued on a clear trail past mysteriously-named Poison Lake, then took the faint but signed fork up toward Tayo Lake. Here the climbing began in earnest, and while the trail was never hard to follow, it became little more than a use trail, with a faint tread in the woods and cairns leading through open meadows. I stopped for water at Tayo Lake, taking an extra couple of minutes to plot my route up Wind River’s south side and admire the sheer face and unnamed pinnacle to the west. From the lake, I found no more than an occasional and faint boot-pack weaving through the krummholtz and up the tundra, and a couple of cairns, which I destroyed.

Temple from summit

I made good time up the flatter lower slope to the peak’s eastern snowfield, then began to struggle as the steeper slope, bigger talus, and elevation took their toll. As I neared the summit, my eyes were drawn to Temple Peak, a more impressive-looking summit that falls just 28 feet short of being another 13er. Crossing the summit plateau, I was a bit surprised to see two guys sitting by the high point with overnight packs. They turned out to be hiking the Wind River High Route from south to north, just about to get into the Serious Business descending the peak’s steeper northwest side. I noted that I had made the summit in just under four hours, but felt sociable despite my steady effort to that point. We talked for “approximately” 18 minutes, and I learned that one of the guys had done the Great Divide Trail, a rugged route from the Glacier/Waterton border in the Rockies to Mount Robson Provincial Park. I was duly impressed, more so after learning that he had suffered near-daily rain. I must be lucky to have had so many clear days on my summer trips to the Canadian Rockies.

Descent to Deep Creek Lakes

I thought I might see Renee after spending so long on the summit, but she had not appeared by the time I got antsy and started down the peak’s east side. The route circles around Chimney Rock, then follows a broad plateau down to the trail network at Deep Creek Lakes. The upper section is large talus that is slow on the descent, while the lower section is runnable tundra. Unfortunately this is a Wind Rivers plateau, so glaciers have taken a couple of deep bites out of its east side. Not looking at the route on my phone often enough, I strayed too far left and had to regain some elevation to get back on the correct path. In addition to losing some time, I must have missed Renee on this part, as she is generally better at paying attention to maps.

Looking back from Deep Creek Lake

I refilled on water at the highest Deep Creek Lake, then spent another 5-10 minutes talking to a guy from Missouri out on a backpacking trip. He was trying to puzzle out his position using a printed map and compass, which was understandably difficult given that the lakes all look the same, and some of the trails on the USGS map have ceased to exist. Less-used trails in the Winds seem to be in constant flux, with new ones being created by fishermen and climbers while old ones quickly fade. Thus I found it helpful to load my phone with both USGS maps for older trails, and OpenStreetMap-based maps for newer ones. Of course, I also found trails both old and new that appeared on neither map, such as the one leading down from Middle Mountain.

The trail down Deep Creek and the Popo Agie to Sheep Bridge was largely pleasant running, with occasional climbs long enough to walk, cram down food, and look at the map. I was starting to feel my lack of running this summer, but kept a respectable pace. The 500′ climb from Sheep Bridge back toward Worthen Reservoir was a slog, but less than half the climb out of the Popo Agie going the other direction. It passed quickly at a determined walk, though I had to wait for a couple of minutes while trail workers from the Montana Conservation Corps blasted rocks to re-route the trail. This part is outside the wilderness boundary, and is therefore being made more comfortable for mountain bikers. I passed more hikers in the final mile, including a group of four women with identically-huge packs, a sure sign that they were with NOLS.

Reaching the parking lot, I was pleased to see Renee’s van was still there, and that she had not been forced to abandon the effort and drive for home. The whole thing was a bit over 32 miles the way I went — about a mile longer than the most efficient route — and took 7h43m. Subtracting my ~30 minutes of socializing, that is on the order of Gabe Joyes’ original FKTs in 2014 and 2015, though nowhere near his 6h19m 2016 effort, or the newer, faster times going up and down via Deep Creek. I was encouraged to see that while I am likely a bit slower than I was in my thirties, I am also uncompetitive on these kinds of courses because standards have risen. Running the route in the opposite direction would probably be faster because the east slope route is easier to follow on the way up, and because one can just splash through streams toward the end. However I prefer my way, for the sudden first view of the peak, and the more pleasant running down Deep Creek. In any case, the loop was worth doing, even if I did not stand a chance at a record.

Buck Loop (NE face to Buck Pass)

Buck and Cleator from jog home


Summitpost describes Buck as “one of the man-mountains of the Washington Cascades.” Though only three miles from the Trinity trailhead to its southeast, and only class 2-3 from the southwest side, a high and rugged ridge extends north and south from Buck, and there is no road or even trail up the lower Napeequa River to the west. The “normal route” is therefore shockingly roundabout, approaching the peak’s west side either over Little Giant Pass to the south, or on a high route from Buck Pass to the north. There is also a direct class 3 route from the east near Alpine Creek, involving a river ford and a savage bushwhack through steep and brushy forest, that is recommended for descent but can of course be done both ways. The Summitpost page also mentions that the northeast ridge is “class 4 or 5,” which sounds like my kind of route.

Easy bushwhack

With these options in mind, I made the long drive up the Chiwawa River Road to Trinity, and started off around dawn planning to do at least one of these routes. Passing the place for the Alpine Creek route, I decided that I did not want to do that to myself. I continued after the split toward Buck Pass, finding that the bridge was not “out” as advertised, but was probably no longer suitable for my horse. Nearing the turnoff for King Lake and the northeast face, I entered the burn area for the 2016 Buck Creek fire. The forest was in a near-perfect state for cross-country travel, with the trees and underbrush incinerate, but the nasty things that follow a fire not yet established. The main type of plant was fireweed, a bush that is easy to whack. I contemplated the route while I ate a sandwich, then took off across the wasteland.

Near the cleft

The first obstacle was crossing Buck Creek, but I found a perfect log bridge almost exactly where I needed it. There was even a sort of tunnel through the otherwise-impenetrable alders. Beyond, I followed various deer tracks up the burn, staying on the left side of the drainage and well away from the unburnt alders to the right. I eventually entered steep woods above the burn, and the deer trail faded. Not sure what to aim for, I decided to traverse right to reach open terrain I had seen from below. This turned out to be a savage hell-schwack, variously fighting my way through alders, steep scrub pines, and cliff bands littered with fallen burned trees. After avoiding some of these cliffs, I realized that the rock was fairly solid with a grain that worked well for climbing this way, and simply headed up some class 3 crags, grateful to finally be making upward progress again.

Miraculous open gully

Reentering the woods higher up, I found myself on the left side of a deep cleft with a healthy cascade running through it. This was rocky enough to discourage the plants somewhat, so I stayed near the edge as I made my way upward, hoping I could cross the cascade easily higher up. I saw what I thought was a cairn in an open, slabby section, then a few cut branches and a bit of boot-pack higher up. Success! I lost and re-found the ancient fisherman’s trail a couple of times, taking my time and eventually ending up in an open, grassy ravine leading easily almost to the east side of King Lake. I have no idea what this “trail” did lower down, and that part has been obliterated by the fire, but I was grateful for what I found.

King Lake and upper mountain

King Lake proved as spectacular as I imagined it would. Buck’s small northeast glacier sits perched in a bowl above the lake, sending cascades of milky melt-water down the cliffs that ring the lake to its southwest. I found a couple of fire rings with fresher-than-expected ashes in them, but I can’t imagine this cirque sees much traffic. Making my way around the lake’s north side, I climbed rubble and easy slabs to the toe of the glacier, putting on crampons to cross one hard snowfield. I avoided the snout and broken-up lower glacier to the right on decent rock that became grittier as I progressed, then returned to the glacier where it was a bit more continuous. The travel was mostly easy, but it was surprisingly possible to fall in a crevasse if one were oblivious, as opposed to having to find one and jump in it.

Enter the choss

The top of the glacier is separated from the mountain’s east ridge and south face by another wall of cliffs, the only potential exit being at the upper right side. I made my way for the highest tongue of snow, passing someone’s father’s ice axe on the way. This tongue probably used to extend into the gully above, but it was now separated by an expanse of steep dirt and scree. I sketched my way up this, aiming for the obvious gully to the left. The gully was made a bit more obvious by an ancient piece of tat, originally yellow and now bleached completely white. I was once again annoyed at Cascades mountaineers for leaving garbage on routes (who would rap this?!), and at myself for not bringing a knife to remove it.

Choss gully

There was a bit of easy fifth class to pass the webbing, but above it looked like the angle eased. If only… Earlier in the season this would probably be a steep snow climb to the summit ridge, but now it was wet gravel, choss, and gritty slabs that often angled in the wrong direction. I worked my way up the right side of the gully, using the wall for handholds or to stem against the dirt. After a failed attempt to exit early to the right, I exited out the top, making a few wide stems against some reddish rock. Above that, I finally managed to traverse right on improving rock, and soon popped out between the north and south (true) summits.

Buck’s summit from ridge

The south summit looks incredibly imposing from this saddle, showing only its narrow east-west profile. I scrambled up the layered slabs to the summit, where I quickly pulled the register out of a cairn guarded by flying ants, then sat a safe distance below to look around in the remarkably clear air. To the west were recently-climbed Clark and Luahna, along with the rest of the Dakobed Range, showing the glaciers that clearly make them a better ski than scramble. North was Berge, across a weirdly broad and flat saddle. I also had great views of the Entiat peaks, Bonanza, and even Baker and Rainier at the far ends of the range.

Berge with Glacier behind

Descending from the summit, I crossed the small, flat glacier nestled between Buck’s summits, then descended toward the saddle with Berge, entering a surreal landscape of pumice and larches. As this region demonstrates, the Cascades’ geology is incredibly complex. Between Buck’s ancient dark rock (schist?) and Berge’s Sierra-esque white granite lies a small region of pumice reminiscent of a recent volcano. This is presumably from the same event that created Glacier Peak, but does not seem to connect in an obvious way.

High Pass and Baker from Berge

Through this section I began picking up bits of use trail, leading more or less where I wanted, toward Berge’s northeast summit. Most maps incorrectly label Berge’s southwest (easier) summit as higher, but as seems clear to the naked eye, and as Eric Gilbertson demonstrated with a surveyor’s level, it is not the highpoint. I tagged both for good measure, finding the northeast no harder than class 3 and reminiscent of the Sierra except for the green things between the granite boulders and the deposits of black lichen on some aspects. Berge’s north and west sides are cliffy, so it is necessary to circle southwest to a saddle and descend west before circling back around north. Fortunately I had downloaded some other climbers’ tracks, as otherwise I would have dropped all the way to the valley bottom instead of making the improbable high traverse.

Dakobed panorama

I finally reached a trail in this Sierra-like basin, with its clear, shallow lake and white granite, and from there it was a short hike to High Pass. The trail from these lakes to Buck Pass is one of the most scenic and runnable I have found in my years in the Cascades, reminiscent of nearby White Pass but lacking the PCT hordes. I had miles to go before home, but they were all downhill and easy trail, with clear views of the glacier-y sides of the Dakobeds and Glacier Peak.

Easy running

With time and energy to spare, I decided to tag a couple of easy peaks along the way. The first was Mount Cleator, named for Trinity local Cletus McCoy’s tabletop D&D character. Cleator met his untimely end when Cletus’ cousin Brigitte “Berge” Hatfield made him promise to give up his boozy Friday gaming sessions as a condition of their engagement. Despite its unfortunate genetic consequences, the union was a key step in reconciling their feuding branches of the family. Mount Cleator has two summits, a grassy walk-up separated from a fierce crag by a steep notch. The grassy one looks a bit higher and has a register, and I did not have enough curiosity or energy to try to reach the other.

I returned to the trail after Cleator, then took a side-trip to Rally Cap on the way down to Buck Pass. I pulled out my map to find my way through the mess of trails here, but eventually got on the popular Buck Creek trail. I am not a trail runner, but I had been enjoying my jog from High Pass, and the Buck Creek trail was pleasant in its own way, smooth and gently-graded, with good shade and frequent water sources. I started to feel pretty run-down once the trail reached the valley bottom, but managed to mostly hold it together and maintain a jog back to the car. According to my phone, the whole excursion was about 26 miles with 10,000 feet of elevation gain, all in a bit under 12 hours. It was a satisfying use of what may be my last (smoke-free) day in the Cascades this year.

Inspiration Traverse

Hanging on Primus


[This is way out of order, but better late than never. — ed.]

The Inspiration Traverse is a route through the heart of the North Cascades, crossing the Inspiration, Klawatti, and Austera glaciers. While probably more popular as a spring ski, it can also be done as a summer mountaineering trip providing access to five of Washington’s highest hundred peaks: Eldorado, Dorado Needle, Klawatti, Austera, and Primus. It can be done either as a point-to-point route from Eldorado Creek to Thunder Creek, or as an out-and-back. I had previously done all of these peaks, collecting them piecemeal over three outings, but it is possible to do them all in a day with sufficient motivation. Jason’s crazy quest to summit all the Bulger peaks in around fifty days finally gave me the motivation required to bash through devil’s club by headlamp and spend hours slogging across glaciers.

We had agreed to meet at the newly-reopened Eldorado trailhead the night before, but I did not see Jason when I pulled in after dinner. He finally arrived just before dark, having been delayed by his film crew (?!?) on a less-than-exciting outing to Mount Formidable. Knowing we had a long day, we agreed on a slight headlamp start, then I quickly went to bed and tried to get some sleep. Headlamp starts are rarely necessary with the days still so long this far north, and can even be counterproductive when, as in this case, the first part of the route involves bushwhacking, but I saw the need. I was surprised and a bit concerned when Jason told me his friend Anders was coming along, since he is mostly a Colorado guy without much Cascades experience, but he ended up handling the distance, scrambling, and glacier crossings without trouble.

We started out by headlamp, heading back down the road past the new washout and the sadly destroyed old log, crossed the new logjam across the main channel, and plowed into the brush toward the remaining ones. The new way is much less pleasant than the old, but it is already becoming beaten in. There were two minor thickets of devil’s club to manage, but we found dry log crossings, and were soon on the other side and above the swamp. Heading back upstream, we found the “unmaintained climbers’ trailhead” sign and were back on the well-defined Eldorado trail.

Klawatti’s south ridge

The trail, then boulders, then more trail went as usual, though Jason was dragging a bit after going almost non-stop for a month and tagging 78 peaks. The snow on the upper section before the crossover had melted out quite a bit since my last visit, but it was also cloudy and much earlier in the morning, and I was unpleasantly cold wearing all my layers. The normally inspiring view of Johannesburg was missing, and I was worried my hands would be painful and useless once we crossed onto the glacier. The clouds would remain for most of the day, and I would actually appreciate them, as there were no easy water sources on the glaciers, and the day would have been hot and desperately thirsty in the sun.

Why here, deer?

The snowfields and glacier leading up to the ice cap were soft enough that we did not bother with crampons. Near the base, we saw two animals bounding up much higher. They looked like deer rather than the expected mountain goats, and when they returned from their lap to the glacier, they bounded close enough to make that clear. I have no idea what they were doing, as there was nothing for them to eat up there, and I am not used to seeing deer running around on snow in the summer. It was Eldorado, so there was the usual cluster of tents at the rock ridge, one containing another Jason known to Jason.

Eldorado snow arete

None of us had put on crampons yet, so we carefully sketched our way up the bootpack, then bypassed a steeper section on the bare rock to its left. We crossed the summit snow arete, then hung out for awhile on the rock beyond, where I found the bench I had built still intact after 5-6 years. Summit documentation complete, we put on our crampons for an easier descent, then cut across as soon as we were below the major crevasses, following an old bootpack that fortunately led to the Inspiration-McAllister glacier saddle.

Moat shenanigans on Dorado Needle

We were still in the clouds, and I remembered the McAllister Glacier having some sketchy crevasses, but fortunately the bootpack led us right to the base of Dorado Needle’s summit scramble, taking a long detour past it before returning near the ridge. This is not the route I took when I first climbed it, but the ubiquitous rappel garbage showed that many parties had been using it. The first trick was getting from the snow to the rock. After examining a big, gritty rock step at the base of the ridge, I looked along the snow until I found a short jump to a flat ledge, which was safe but felt dicey in crampons. We each jumped, then stashed our snow gear for the scramble.

Scrambling on Dorado Needle

Jason had heard that a block had broken off in the last few years, creating a short crux somewhere between 5.7 and 5.9, which concerned me. The first part, getting up the left side to the ridge, was no harder than scrappy low fifth. From there, a short steep climb led to a wonderful hand traverse, then one more steep step and a slightly convoluted a cheval or hand traverse to a flat spot. Here we found the apparent crux, an angled fist crack leading up a ten-foot vertical step. I tried it first, and after a bit of experiment, hugged the block right of the crack, jammed a foot, step up onto a feature on the right, grabbed the positive edge on top, and was done. It was definitely not 5.7, much less 5.9. Jason and Anders followed, with Jason having a brief moment of panic before he managed the sequence in his non-sticky steel-nubbed shoes. We took in the lack-of-view, then scrambled back down to our snow gear and returned to the glacier.

We retraced our route back to the Inspiration Glacier, then followed another bootpack on a high traverse toward the col between the Tepeh Pillars and Klawatti. I did not remember which was the easiest to its summit, but fortunately Jason had some tracks on his phone, from which we learned that we should climb the ridge from our col, starting to the right. After some initial sketchiness, it was class 2-3 boulders to the summit, from which we had the usual view: glaciers and a lake below, and nothing more than a few hundred yards away at our own level thanks to the persistent clouds.

I want your pee

From Klawatti, we went around to the north and down the familiar and spitefully tricky step on the east side of Klawatti Col, then continued on glacier to Austera’s rocks. There we were met by a mountain goat, calmly checking us out and waiting for someone to pee. He backed off when we headed for the summit, watching from the east slope as we scrambled around into the notch and made the couple of fifth class moves required to reach the summit. Returning to our snow gear, we left some pee for the goat, then returned to snow for the long detour around Austera’s east ridge.

Primus

This part of the day was new to me, and I dreaded it. Primus is only a straight mile north of Austera, but the Primus-facing sides of Austera’s northwest and east ridges are steep and mostly loose. The only reasonable way to get around to the North Klawatti Glacier and Primus is to lose about 1000 feet to get around the east ridge’s toe. This went quickly on soft snow, but all the while I was dreading the return. Turning the corner, we found the glacier to be straightforward and well-behaved. We crossed the flat part, then gained Primus’ south face where the glacier became steeper and broken. The face looks like a choss nightmare from across the way, but was actually not bad, with plenty of slab sections, and mostly stable talus. In far less time than I had feared, we were on the summit.

Goode looks nice

We could have dropped to Thunder Creek and exited to Ross Lake, but we couldn’t get in touch with Jason’s support vehicle, and it would be more scenic and only slightly slower to return across the glaciers. We stitched together snow-patches on the way down Primus, then trudged around the foot of the ridge, switchbacked up the other side, and made a long traverse to Klawatti Col, where we were back on our outbound route. The clouds thinned enough to offer some views, and fresh boot-packs made travel easy across the Inspiration Glacier. From there it was a slide down to the base of Eldorado’s glacier, then a downhill death march to the Cascade River. When it became apparent that we would return right on the edge of headlamp time, Jason found some energy somewhere and bushwhacked ahead like a mad man. We ended up following the route I had found returning from Austera, our feet staying mostly dry on the way to the new logjam, then trudging up the road to the parking lot. Anders had all sorts of delicious food in his van’s fridge, and generously shared chili, potatoes, and cheese with Jason and I before they drove off and I settled in to sleep another night at the trailhead.