Category Archives: Washington

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.

Clark, Luahna

Clark from Luahna

Clark and Luahna are the highest two peaks of the Dakobed Range, extending southeast from Glacier Peak on the drier east side of the cascades. Despite being on the dry side, they are high enough to hold substantial glaciers on their north and east sides, and also to appear on the Bulger List of Washington’s highest 100 peaks. I had been struck by Clark’s glaciers while climbing Seven-Fingered Jack back in the pre-Doctor, pre-Dirtbag days, but have only now finally gotten around to climbing it. Both peaks can be done in a long-ish day from the White River trailhead, via a non-technical route with only modest brush-bashing. The hardest part is probably the long, steep side-hill between the two peaks. It might have been quicker and easier to descend Thunder Creek, but trails tend to get eaten quickly in the North Cascades, and I was not confident that I would end up on a use trail instead of an extended alder ‘schwack lower down.

Mount David looking like a boss

I should have started early for a long-ish day, but it was cold in the White River valley, the kind of damp cold that turns my hands stiff and stupid. It was also humid enough for all the brush to be wet. Neither the White River nor the Boulder Pass trail has been brushed out this year, so I got a thorough leg-washing crossing the slide paths along the River, and the soaking intensified once the Boulder Creek trail exited into the open. The cold and wet encouraged me to jog off and on along the river, pausing to admire its milky glacial tint and the big old cedars in the valley. I have grown used to steeper trails, so the endless, gradual switchbacks along Boulder Creek were unusually irritating. Unfortunately there was just enough deadfall in the open woods to make cutting them impractical.

Upper Boulder Creek

Boulder Creek was low enough to make for a dry crossing, but the stepping-stones were slick, making me glad to have branches to grab. I topped off on water, then continued wading through the brush toward Boulder Pass. The turnoff toward Clark is obvious — the unofficial trail seems to see about as much traffic as the official one to the pass. After circling across the valley, I finally reached my first sun around 9:30, and stopped to wring out my socks and insoles. Continuing along the well-built trail to nowhere, I immediately got another soaking before leaving the trail just before a stream crossing. The trail continues in steep, well-built switchbacks to the ridge near Point 6320+’, which may be a nice vantage point at the junction of Boulder Creek and the White River, but is a strange place for a built trail to end. Perhaps it was considered as a lookout site.

Pinnacle before Clark

I headed up and back cross-country toward the unnamed spire southeast of Clark, reaching the ridge just below 7000 feet. Far below on the other side, I saw a large herd of perhaps 20 mountain goats, safely grazing in their inaccessible alpine pasture. The northwest side of this ridge is mostly sheer, but the goats (and occasional climbers) have beaten in a sort of path down the one break in the cliffs. I followed this, carefully edging down mud and choss, then made an ascending side-hill across the basin toward Clark’s south ridge. There is a sort of hump in the basin that holds some snowfields and provides flatter ground, making this section a good warmup for the full-on side-hilling to come. There were a couple of snowfields blocking the path to the ridge, so I headed more or less straight up the basin toward the summit, finding only a bit of class 3 here and there.

Glacier and Luahna, with Baker etc. behind

Like nearby Glacier, Clark is high and sits near the middle of the North Cascades. Summiting on a clear day, I could see everything from Rainier and Stuart to the south, to western outliers like Sloan and White Chuck, to eastern peaks like Seven-Fingered Jack, to Baker, Shuksan, and even Slesse around the Canadian border. It was a good reminder that while the North Cascades may be complex, they are not large. I also saw the small Moe Fire, which I had first spotted from Kyes, still smouldering away to the south, promising more smoke once the hot, dry weather returns.

Luahna from traverse

The traverse to Luahna turned out to be annoying. I descended southwest a bit, passing two remarkable scrub pines growing above 8500 feet, then cut down a garbage chute to lower-angle terrain north of the peak. I returned to the ridge to see if I could traverse the glaciers east of the ridge, but the snow was too hard and steep for me with no crampons. So I was forced to take the normal east-side route, an endless side-hill around a subpeak along the way (aptly described in Alden Ryno’s trip report as “low-viscosity sand and scree”). There is an easier way to Luahna’s summit if one continues traversing up the east side, but I cut back to the ridge and finished that way, with a bit of exposure and fine views of the glaciers below.

Level traverse on return

Some small part of me had contemplated traversing on along the Dakobed Range, but it looked far and hard from Luahna, so I almost immediately abandoned that thought. Instead I reversed the side-hill, which was just as annoying, but at least balanced the asymmetric use of my legs. Once past the subpeak between Luahna and Clark, I followed a flatter line holding some permanent snowfields, then crossed Clark’s multiple west and southwest ridges. The terrain felt like it might cliff out in the steep gullies between them, but following the natural line and looking for goat prints turned out well.

It’s blueberry season

Back on familiar ground, I returned to the access gully to Boulder Creek, picked up a faint trail on the other side, then rejoined the trail system after a bit more cross-country. I grabbed some water just before the Boulder Pass trail, then started having less fun than I had hoped on the descent. The upper part is often too overgrown to run, since the footing is uneven and you often can’t see your feet. The parts in between are obnoxiously flat, and I was tired enough to trip and face-plant a few times. I cut a couple of the switchbacks in the woods lower down, more to express my frustration than to save time, then hike-jogged the White River trail back to the car. The blueberries were mostly ripe, so I stopped frequently to pick some despite their having very few calories compared to my half-dozen PB&Hs and four Clif bars. This trailhead is blessed with no fewer than three trails, so I decided to make my drive worthwhile by exploring another one the next day.

The Tahomas

[Another out-of-order entry. — ed.]

Rainier (Disappointment Cleaver)

Oh how cute…

The route lived up to its name… so perhaps it didn’t.

Little Tahoma

Little Tahoma from DC

Rainier and Little Tahoma were two of Jason’s last peaks on his crazy Bulger quest, and I had wanted to do Little Tahoma for awhile. We had originally planned to do them both in a day, but the crossing of the badly-crevassed lower Ingraham Glacier, and the subsequent crossing of the dirt-ridge between it and the Whitman, looked dicey and unlikely to work. So instead we returned the next day to do the standard route on the peak, via Fryingpan Creek and the Fryingpan Glacier. This turned out for the best, despite the extra driving and elevation gain, as the standard route up Little Tahoma is more fun than either route I have done on Rainier (DC, Emmons). The glacier travel is non-threatening, the rock is surprisingly good where it gets steep, and the summit view from between the Ingraham and Emmons Glaciers is hard to beat.

Dawn on Rainier

Unlike last time, we got a proper alpine start, leaving the Fryingpan Creek trailhead by headlamp at 3:00 AM. This part of the Wonderland trail is wonderfully smooth, and we both looked forward to running it on the way down. The trail follows the creek, then leaves to switchback south toward Summer Land at 6,000 feet. From there, the route leaves the trail to climb steep talus to Meany Crest before finally reaching the glacier beyond a knob at 7,500 feet. It was still full dark when we left the trail, so there was a bit of the usual faffing around that comes with nighttime cross-country travel, but we did not lose much time, as we were soon on open terrain.

Sunrise on Fryingpan

At the knob we met half of the film crew, Lauren and Anna. The other half with the cameras, Luke and Baxter, were already somewhere up on the glacier, setting up to get some sick sunrise footage. Having expected us to come down this way the previous afternoon, they had been forced to sleep huddled together under a rock on Meany Crest when we bailed. If they were angry and frustrated, they did a good job hiding it. I had met them briefly in the dark before Rainier, and dismissed them as cool beautiful people, but they seem to have some fortitude. This project has been part fastest known time (FKT) and part adventure film, with the expected tension between the needs of these sometimes conflicting objectives. It was strange to observe, and probably even stranger to participate.

Sun behind smoke

I hung around while Jason got mic’d up, then we continued to the glacier, where I stopped to put on crampons. The crew had put in a crampon track across the Fryingpan Glacier the previous day, so the route-finding was mostly mindless. There was one brief crevasse maze on bare ice, with treacherous light-white stripes plugging some holes, but it was not too complicated. The guys with the camera had timed it just about perfectly to get a sunrise shot of Jason crossing the glacier, though we had to wait while Baxter changed the camera battery. Shooting complete, the four of us continued to the notch between the Whitman and Fryingpan Glaciers. There was a bit of a use trail through the choss, then we were back down on snow and ice, which gradually steepened between Little Tahoma’s east and southeast ridges. The surface consisted of broad suncups, and the snow was fairly solid, making for easy travel as long as one did not slip. Toward the top, as the angle steepened, I decided that the rock to the left looked easier, so we put away our snow gear and continued there.

Luke near summit

Little Tahoma looks like an absolute choss-pile from most directions, and the east ridge is in fact rubble held together by dirt, but the southeast ridge consists of some harder volcanic rock. As the two ridges joined, we hiked on some talus and dirt, then scrambled a bit of fun class 3 (or 4 if you looked for it) rock. The route description mentioned a tricky notch to the true summit, but it was no harder than class 3, though terribly exposed on the north side, which drops 2000 feet almost vertically to the Emmons Glacier. From the summit, which has a nice old Mazama register box, Luke and I watched the line of ants going up and down Rainier, admiring the broken-up glaciers with their crevasses laid bare.

Lesser peaks to the east

The smoke was much better than the day before, though still noticeable to the east and south, so I admired the views of layers of steep, forested mountains fading into the haze below while they shot summit footage. Afterward Jason and I took off, leaving the film guys to fend for themselves. We shortly regretted this, as one of them kicked off a toaster-sized rock that bounced straight down the route. There was nothing to do except make myself small and hope for the best, but fortunately the rock bounced over me and did not dislodge a shower of smaller missiles. The snow on the Whitman was still a bit hard for fast boot-skiing, but soft enough not to be too treacherous. The Fryingpan was easier travel, though a couple of the snow bridges on the crevasse maze were no longer usable.

I made awkward smalltalk with the other half of the film crew while they retrieved the mic, then we took off for the trail. Though no one else was climbing Little Tahoma, there were plenty of day-hikers and backpackers on the Wonderland Trail, and one guy who looked like he might be running the loop. Jason’s legs were predictably toast after 49 days and 98 peaks, but I was feeling good, so I took off at some semblance of a run toward the trailhead. I think I even managed an 8:30 mile, which pathetically counts as “fast” compared to most of what I have been doing. I chatted with Ashly until Jason got back, then they took off for Mount Adams while I made lunch and figured out what to do after my brief brush with fame.

East Blanca Lake, Kyes

Kyes from EBL

Kyes, Columbia, and Cadet are the three high peaks of the Monte Cristo region, connected to Monte Cristo itself by ridges chossy and serrated enough to be useless. I had found this out to my frustration when trying to tag Kyes from Monte Cristo recently, later learning that Kyes is a straightforward climb by the normal southern approach. Armed with this information, and finding myself along Highway 2 on the last good weather day for awhile, I decided to return for Kyes. I decided I preferred riding my bike to simply coating it with dust on the back of my car, so I also rode the last ten miles of Forest Service road from Skykomish, gaining a thousand feet both ways to cross a low pass between the Beckler and Skykomish Rivers.

Orange light on old-growth stump

I started at dawn, turning on my blinking taillight to warn any cars speeding up the dirt road through the dim forest tunnel. It was early on a weekday, though, so I had a quiet ride, and while there were several groups camped at pullouts along the rivers, there were only two cars at the trailhead (yet another fee area). I locked my bike to the sign, then took off at a brisk hike up the moderate trail. The trailhead notes had warned that there were few water sources, and that they should all be treated, but I found a nice spring less than a half-mile from the trailhead, where I stopped to drink and top off my two liter reservoir.

Columbia, Kyes, and Blanca Lake

The trail steadily gained elevation in wooded switchbacks, passing old-growth stumps and eventually standing old-growth trees. Smoke from the California fires turned the morning light bright orange, but it was all well aloft, so I was breathing clean air. I passed a solo Asian man headed up to the lake, and two women just past their tent, but the area was pleasantly quiet. The trail enters more open ground on a ridge, then drops slightly to the disgusting puddle called Virgin Lake, where I left it.

A faint climbers’ trail follows the ridge north toward Kyes Peak, staying mostly on the crest. A rock step and some pinnacles in the woods are probably the route’s crux. I tried going left, found ground I did not like, then traversed right, eventually regaining the crest after quite a bit of steep side-hilling and hand-over-hand climbing up evergreens and huckleberries. The ridge eased above this, with mostly decent trail leading through a nice camping area to a junction.

The standard route to Kyes traverses left below East Blanca Lake Peak, but I stuck to a faint trail along the ridge. EBL was mostly a walk-up, with just a bit of scrambling crossing a couple of false summits. While not much of a peak, it does have a nice unobstructed view of Kyes. The track I had downloaded from Peakbagger returned south to the standard route, but I thought I saw a bit of a boot-pack continuing along the ridge, and it all looked navigable, so on I went. There were a few third class shenanigans this way, but nothing harder than the rock step lower down, and I was soon back on the standard route.

Upper Kyes

The climb from the saddle to open country southwest of Kyes was steep, alternately climbing open swaths of heather and bashing through evergreen scrub. The trail dissipated here, with multiple faint paths blending into game trails. Once in the open, I made an ascending traverse over boulders to reach some lingering snowfields, traversing under some chossy subpeaks on Kyes’ south ridge. The upper mountain is made of what looks like layered, welded tuff, which forms sticky slabs in one orientation and unclimbable choss in the others, and breaks to produce sketchy marbles. The route to the summit gains the ridge after the subpeaks, then stays either on the crest, where the rubble is flat enough to walk, or to its right, where the rock is clean-ish slabs.

Typical rock

The day was uncomfortably hot, so I was pleased to note some snowmelt streams below the ridge for future use. Not having crampons or an axe, I stayed more on the rock than I would have otherwise, only crossing the lower-angle parts of the upper snowfield east of the ridge. The final scramble looked tricky as I approached, but proved easy on the way up. Looking north toward Monte Cristo, I was glad I had aborted my attempted traverse early. There are multiple breaks in the ridge, and the rock layers are angled wrong to climb Kyes from that side. I noted a few parties in the register climbing Kyes, Monte Cristo, and Columbia from the Columbia Glacier between them, but they did so in early season when snow would cover much of the awful rock. I am still curious how the one person I noted on my previous trip had “traversed” to Monte Cristo. I took in the views in all directions, noting the distinct high smoke layer to the north and west, lower smoke to the southeast nearly obscuring Stuart, and a small new fire (Moe Creek) to the east.

Summit scramble

The summit slabs were much more intimidating on the way down, with the occasional friable edge or pocket of marbles feeling much more treacherous. I carefully downclimbed, then took more snow on the way down, carrying a sharp rock for self-arrest. I took the bypass around EBL Peak, finding some moderate thrashing and steep side-hilling with intermittent faint trail. Back on the ridge, I found a different, equally-bad way past the rock step, and was relieved to finally reach the trail and shake the pine needles out of my shirt.

The trail was surprisingly crowded mid-afternoon, with a remarkable number of people driving 20 miles from Highway 2 to hike to a large blue-green lake. I passed parties headed both directions, quickly topping off my water at the spring on the way. There were over a dozen cars at the trailhead when I returned to my bike, even a few with out-of-state plates. Fortunately there was not much traffic on the road out, so I had a quiet ride back over the pass and down to my car.

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.


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.

Illabot Peaks, North Mountain

Illabot from correct route

Illabot Peak and North Mountain are two peaks notable only for having more than 2000 feet of prominence, and for being near where I was. I had hoped to do the Twin Sisters southeast of Bellingham, supposedly one of the Cascades’ better scrambles and a fun bike-n-hike, but SR 9 was closed for some reason. Looking around for a last-minute substitute, I settled for these two.

Illabot Creek road

To make Illabot a bit more of a challenge, I decided to bike from the base of the Illabot Creek Road, only a few hundred feet above the sea. From there, the road gently climbs to nearly 4000 feet at its end, with the Illabot Peaks Road petering out in various spurs at a similar elevation. The ride is pleasant, being gradual, mostly well-graded, and shady in the morning. As I turned from the well-maintained Creek to the brushier Peak road, a work van paused behind me, then followed, passing me as I labored uphill. The man inside asked if I was headed for Illabot, shook his head at my extra approach, and offered me a ride, which I politely declined.

After a long climb that would have been painfully narrow and brushy in a car, I followed various spurs generally left to a saddle at 4100 feet, corresponding to the “NW approach” route description on Summitpost. I locked my bike to itself, then began hiking down a clipped path on an older logging road. The clippings showed that someone still cared about this road, but they seemed to peter out in about half a mile. I turned back, thinking I might have passed a climbers’ trail, to find the man from the van headed down the same road. He was looking for the same route I was, so combined forces to head back down the road.

Where the clippings seemed to cease, we interpreted some old downed trees as “the second logpile” and headed toward the peak. Reminiscent of Bob Burd, the man pulled on a pair of gardening gloves and proceeded to thrash through the pines and brush with remarkable speed. I was hard-pressed to keep up with him in my new Dick’s Sporting Goods shoes, which both loosened up around my feet and failed to provide much traction. As the slope steepened, we hauled ourselves from bush to tree, yarding on plants and leaning back to gain traction. After plenty of this and a bit of third class mossy rock, we reached the crest of the peak’s northwest ridge.

The route description mentioned a “sloping meadow,” and we found something vaguely like that after awhile, but we slowly realized that we were not on the correct route. The ridge was a classic Cascades horror, with chossy rock blobs on top, steep sides, and dense shrubs and krummholtz everywhere. I lost track of my companion, downclimbing a couple of rotten steps before giving up on the ridge. I eventually traversed right to a notch where I could downclimb left into the bowl north of the summit, from which a chute led to the saddle west of the summit where the two posted routes supposedly meet. I might have found a faint path, but it was really just more, easier thrashing to the summit.

After the hardest 2 miles and 2000 feet I had suffered in a long time, I was thirsty and unhappy with how my day was going. I looked around at the views a bit, then descended the north side a short ways to a snowpatch, where I lay down to drink a liter of water and eat the rest of my Chex mix. Somewhat cheered, I continued northeast, then cut back with only a short section of grievous brush to descend to the north drainage.

This, clearly, was the correct route. I found a couple of meadows/bogs along the way, connected by stretches of relatively open woods. Only in the last half-mile leading back to the old logging spur did I encounter more hideous brush, with chest-high thorny berry plants growing out of uneven snags and rocks. I thrashed and cursed my way back to where the road was shown on my map, and found it to be the expected “anti-road,” a swath of dense alders. Dodging through these, I eventually found an old fire ring and evidence of clipping, which increased until I reached the spot where we had deviated from this wonderful route. At least the ride back down was fun.

The next morning I rode up North Mountain, just outside Darrington. The old lookout is still intact, and has good views across the Skagit, Sauk, and Stillagaumish Valleys, though it is unfortunately locked. The true summit lies a half-mile to the north, and used to be difficult to reach. Fortunately the town has installed a network of bro-friendly mountain bike trails with artificial jumps and such, and one of those passes within a few feet. I hiked it to tag the summit, then road back down the lookout road, being passed and dusted by the bros’ trucks as they shuttled their full-suspension downhill bikes to the top. I felt that I had exhausted my options for fun in this area.

Blum, Hagan, Bacon

Traverse from Blum

The peaks between Baker and the Pickets were an island of unexplored terrain to me. Bacon Peak in particular had drawn my interest, with its remarkable volume of glaciers for a peak barely over 7000 feet. Cut off from the rest of the range by the Baker River to the north and west, deep Goodell and Bacon Creeks to the east, and the Skagit River to the south, these peaks are difficult to reach, with one high trailhead at Watson Lakes, and other approaches generally being cross-country from below 1000 feet.

Blum Lakes trail

I had initially thought of doing just Bacon, but someone I met mentioned that there were longer options. Looking around the web, I found the Watson-Blum High Route, which runs between the Watson Lakes and Baker River trailheads, connecting four of the area’s high peaks. Most people go south to north to take advantage of the high start, but they also have two cars. With only one of me and one car, I decided to do it as a bike shuttle instead, in which case it made more sense to hike low to high. The whole process took about 17 hours: 15 for the hike and 2 for the bike. I was going fairly hard, made only one significant route-finding error, and skipped Watson Peak, so even going south to north, the traverse would be a significant day.

More trail

After an easy day out of the Watson Lakes trailhead, I locked my bike to itself, set it in some bushes, and drove around to the inlet of Baker Lake. I set my alarm for a punishing 3:15 AM, then tried to get some sleep. I knew I would have to start the off-trail approach by headlamp, but I can do such things at need, and sometimes the faint tread of a climbers’ trail is almost easier to pick out by headlamp. I started out around 4:00, hiking the broad Baker River trail, crossing the bridge, then backtracking south to just north of Blum Creek, where I plunged into the jungle on something path-like.

Baker and Shuksan

I found and lost this path for awhile, making my way around devil’s club, through lesser brush, and over and under deadfall as I approached the valley wall, keeping the creek within hearing. At one point I found a bit of flagging tied uselessly to a tree with no hint of a path nearby; at least it cheered me up by indicating that other humans had passed this way. Cutting back and forth, I eventually found a faint tread as the valley steeped. It rivalled the Crescent Creek approach in obscurity, despite having been in regular use for a long time: I saw both new flagging and old notches in logs. The trail skilfully weaves through cliff-bands lower down, then fades as the angle eases around 4000 feet. The days are getting noticeably shorter, so I made it to more open woods in time to see the morning light on Baker and Shuksan, dimmed by a dark stripe where smoke was drifting over from the rest of the West.

Blum, ledge leading right up high

I found bits of trail as I continued up the broad ridge, skirting the Blum Lakes, then crossing before Lake 5820′ to reach Blum’s northeast ridge. I grabbed some frigid water here, then hurried uphill in the shade, briefly cold between the sweaty low-elevation climb and the long, sunny traverse. I followed the ridge until it got narrow, serrated, and mossy, then dropped down to the east face to crampon up snowfields. There seem to be several routes to Blum’s summit, but an obvious grassy ledge leading right from the upper snowfield to the southwest ridge seemed the easiest. The snow became precarious as it steepened, being neither solid enough for crampon points to stick, nor soft enough to kick deep steps, so I was happy to finally reach rock. My ledge worked wonderfully, depositing me on a broad ridge a short boulder-hop and snow-walk from the summit.

Pickets from Blum

I found the an register can, battered into uselessness and perforated by multiple lightning holes. I suppose it protects the contents from marmots and mountain goats, and the triple-bagged register inside went all the way back to 2012. The summit sees a few parties per year, many doing the traverse. However, Blum is an obscure and hard-to-reach summit, so those who climb it are often doing something interesting. I noted a party continuing to Pioneer Ridge, perhaps via Berdeen Lake and Mystery, and an email correspondent climbing Blum’s north ridge, a 1500-foot buttress separating two lobes of a glacier. I also saw that someone else had signed in earlier in the day, hard to imagine since I had not heard anyone, and did not see fresh tracks in any snowfield.

Hagan spires and glaciers

Looking south, I saw the rest of the day’s objectives from their scenic, glaciated sides, with Watson looking distressingly distant. The views northeast to Baker and Shuksan continued to impress, but the view of the nearby Pickets was spoiled by smoke thick enough to smell. Being in the northwest corner of the country, I have largely been spared smoke so far this summer, but I have experienced brutal smoke in the Cascades from an easterly wind or fires in British Columbia, so my luck will eventually end.

Blum south side

I headed off down Blum’s southeast ridge, finding generally delightful travel on or near the broad ridge. Near a notch, I found and destroyed some cairns leading to the class 3-4 bypass. Popular high routes like the Ptarmigan Traverse are basically trails at this point, and this area felt like it should stay wild awhile longer. A big part of their appeal to me is the constant attention and thought necessary to choose a good path, and I want to preserve that for others. I stayed on the ridge for awhile, contoured right across snow above a large glacial lake, then continued on the ridge past where a spur heads east to Lonesome Peak.

Left bypass ledge

Peak 6800+, anchoring the north end of Hagan’s large glacier, is a more formidable obstacle. Based on others’ online trip reports, most people seem to drop around it to the west. However, I saw a potential ledge to the east and, putting my faith in Goat, followed the hoof-prints, turds, and tufts of hair across generally-safe outward-sloping dirt to a notch. This could easily have stranded me above the Hagan Glacier, but instead I found a series of steep, chossy ramps leading down and left to where I could easily cross the moat. The broad glacier was flat enough that I did not even need crampons to cross it, traversing under Hagan’s northern subpeaks to the col north of its twin summits. From this notch, I got my first view of huge and colorful Berdeen Lake, buried deep in this part of the range and unseen by all but a few adventurous souls.

Hagan true summit

According to both my map and Peakbagger, the true summit is the eastern one, reached via an easy class 2-3 scramble from the notch. However, standing on that point, the other looked to both be higher and have a cairn. It also looked much more challenging, which appealed to me at this point in the day. I sketched my way down the connecting ridge a bit, then dropped onto the right side to traverse into the notch, where I found rap garbage (and me with no knife…). From there some exposed class 3-4 climbing led up the ridge to the summit. Looking back, I can’t say for sure if this one is higher, but it is certainly more worthy.

Hagan glacier

Looking at my map, it seemed like the best route south would descend the snowy valley emanating from between the two summits, then make a descending traverse southwest to the saddle near Lake 4560′. To enter this valley, I returned to the other summit, descended its south ridge a short ways, then cut back northwest down a choss gully to the snow. Once the angle mellowed, I had a pleasant hike and boot-ski to some tarns around 5900′, where I began my descending traverse.

Bacon and Green Lake

This saddle at 4560′ is the lowpoint of the route, in both elevation and fun. As I descended, the brush got higher and thicker, and trees began to appear. The last part was a full-on forest bushwhack with cliffs, with me descending trees and blueberries hand-over hand while fighting for purchase with my worn-out trail runners. I found no sign of a trail, and few useful bits of game trails. Finally emerging at the saddle, I found a clear path leading to a well-used fire ring, which I badly wanted to destroy. Returning to the alpine on the other side was a similar battle, though less steep and vicious. There are two bumps in the ridge leading west of Green Lake to Bacon, each adding about 500 feet of elevation loss, and I resented them in my increasingly hot and tired state. The scenery was hard to beat, with beautiful Green Lake (blue, actually) below and Bacon’s retreating north glaciers ahead, but the heat was brutal, and this is the longest stretch between peaks.

Bacon summit glacier

I stayed mostly on rock climbing Bacon, then cut left on snow to pass between the northern two of its many false summits. Crossing the col, I was confronted by its startling summit glacier, a small, thick cap of ice nestled in a bowl to its northwest. I put on crampons again to make my way up the partly-bare left side, then followed the crest to the small, rocky summit. In addition to its large northeast and small northwest glaciers, Bacon holds a large southeast glacier falling to a lake above Diobsud Creek. Across that valley, another remote ridge leads from Electric Butte south.

The slog home

I returned across the northwest glacier, then began heading out the standard Bacon approach, for which I had fortunately downloaded a track. The first part was logical if painful, losing a bunch of elevation into the head of Noisy Creek. From there it reclimbs the south side, passing under some pinnacles to regain the ridge around 5100′. I would have dismissed this route as a horrid bushwhack if I had not had a track to encourage me, but it is actually not bad, largely climbing open woods and boulder-fields. The trees in some of these woods are impressively goosenecked, testifying to the brutal snowpack they must survive on these steep north-facing slopes.

Gooseneck trees

I was tired and dreading the bike back to the car, but probably would have rallied to tag Watson if I had not screwed up the route here. Finding what I thought was a boot tread on the ridge, I stopped looking at my track for awhile, only to cliff out on a subpeak. Belatedly looking at the track, I saw that the route passed along the south side of the ridge here, side-hilling under the difficulties before returning to the north near Elementary Peak. Demoralized, I retraced my steps, then descended to get back on-route, sliding and cursing as my treadless shoes failed to find any grip on the compacted pine needles. Fortunately the steep, vegetated traverse was dry, and I made it back to the saddle without any mishaps.

Warranty time?

I thought I was nearly “home,” but I was also wearing down. My shoes were beyond done for after a month of hard use (we’ll see if Salomon honors their two year warranty), and my feet had been wet for hours. The final traverse to the trail at Watson Lake was a complicated post-glacial wilderness of valleys, snowfields, and slabs that was a grind in my depleted state. Even the trails were a nuisance, with enough branches leading to campsites that at one point I had to ask some campers how to get out of here. The mosquitoes were also hellish if I stopped for more than five seconds, making me wonder why anyone would camp out here.

I was elated to find my bike where I had left it. I quickly unlocked it, then immediately started riding before the mosquitoes and biting flies got too intense. I stopped several times on the first part of the road to complete my transition to bike mode, making an adjustment, then riding a short distance to escape the bug swarm. The 3000-foot descent to the Baker Dam was much more fun on a bike than in a car, as I could dodge and weave around the potholes and runnels. From there, the ride was just work, pushing half-heartedly to minimize headlamp time, then pedaling listlessly along the dirt road by headlamp. Finally reaching the car, I propped up my bike, threw my stinking shoes on the hood, and almost instantly fell asleep.

Monte Cristo

Monte Cristo from Glacier Basin

Monte Cristo was a mining boom-town active between 1889 and 1907, linked to Everett on the coast by a railroad during its brief life. Monte Cristo is also a mountain behind the town, a lesser summit between the higher Kyes and Columbia Peaks, with the Pride and Columbia Glaciers to its southeast and southwest. Not having any information on any of these peaks, I ended up stumbling upon the surprisingly hard (5.6) standard route on Monte Cristo, and discovering that the peak is some of the worst Eiger-level choss I have climbed this season, with most of its summit consisting of outward-sloping blobs covered in gravel. Dreams of linking it to Columbia and/or Kyes were beaten out of me by what felt like hours of sketching around looking for a feasible route.

Some more history

I camped a short distance from Barlow Pass, then returned to the old rail-bed, this time by bike. The first part flew by, but I was forced to hike-a-bike as the route turned into a twisting, rooty trail where the line had been washed out. I was beginning to regret bringing the bike, and almost left it where the route crosses the Sauk on a big log, but the old rail-bed resumes on the other side, and is mostly rideable to the town site, where I found a bike rack with a half-dozen other bikes already locked to it. I spent some time reading the interpretive signs and looking at the locked buildings, then began hiking up the Glacier Basin trail.

Wilmans Peak and Spires

Despite all the bikes, I saw only three other people on the trail, one still asleep under a tarp, and a couple returning from a mountaineering trip. I was tempted to ask them about the route up Monte Cristo, but did not want to reveal myself to be the unprepared idiot I was. Monte Cristo looked like a mess from the valley, with no obvious route on this side. However, I saw clear paths to the saddles on either side, and chose the left because it looked less snowy and therefore slightly easier without crampons — I had foolishly only brought an axe. The route worked as well as one could expect, and I was soon separated from the saddle only by a short dirt-chute.

Here began the theme of the day. The dirt-chute was crumbly garbage and outward-sloping dirty ledges, which I ascended carefully on all fours. I had hoped to find gentle heather, or a glacier, or something else nice on the other side, but instead found more steep choss leading to snowfields below. I started up the left side of the ridge, then thought better of it as things got worse. I retreated nearly to the notch and headed right, finding some goat tracks and eventually, after some sketchy traversing on outward-sloping dirt and gravel, returning to another notch closer to the summit.

East side snowfield

Here I was finally greeted by something pleasant: a moderate-angle snowfield leading up around the summit to the left. The ridge itself did not look promising, so I began traversing across the snowfield, hoping to find an easier slope or ridge around the peak’s southeast side. Midway across, I spotted two parallel chimneys that seemed to offer a route to the peak’s upper slopes. Looking closer, I saw some rappel tat; perhaps this was the way. The chimneys were stiffer than they looked, with some awkward jamming and big moves to get over a few bulges. They were also practically sport-bolted, with a half-dozen or more shiny new bolts showing the way, some with cheater slings attached. Puzzled and reassured-yet-not, I followed the line, a part of me hoping that the other side was easier.

Lots of bolting

Above the chimneys, I followed a good, solid ramp, then scrambled up grass and moderate gravel-blobs to the summit. The damp register did not show much traffic, but did include one guy soloing the “north ridge” (was that what I did?), one party coming up the southwest, and one “traversing” from Kyes. I let the fact that there were other routes off the peak cheer me up for a bit while the register dried, then signed it and headed out down the ridge toward Kyes. After a couple of boulder problems, this ended soon and badly at a steep slope of moss-and-choss above a vertical step in the ridge. I circled around the peak’s east side looking for an unlikely descent, then gave up and returned to the summit. So much for the “traverse.”

Upper choss

Next up, I started down the southwest ridge, encouraged by both the register entry and a mountain goat perched on a knoll below. I had seen goat tracks around the summit, so I knew they had some route. Unfortunately the southwest ridge is all made of the summit’s horrible gravelly crap, which makes even easy-looking terrain feel perilous. I eventually reached a rappel anchor and a cairn beneath it, but I was still short of where I had seen the goat, and the remaining terrain looked worse. Not quite ready to give up, I traversed back along the southwest face, and was pleased to find myself at the bottom of the step that had stopped me on the south ridge.

Lower choss

Unfortunately my torment would continue. I traversed right around another tower, descended some moss-and-choss, then did some low-fifth-class downclimbing in a crack to within 20 feet of easy ground. So… close! Unfortunately my little crack system ended in an overhang without any positive holds, just a bit too high to jump. I traversed a flake to the left onto cleaner granite, but did not have the courage to downclimb a sharp, steep hand-crack with a few flakes to either side. I thought for a minute, then retraced my route to the notch, hoping to descend the gully on its east side. Unfortunately this turned out to be steep dirt below, and guarded by a chockstone above.

Kyes and Blanca Lake

Feeling increasingly frustrated, I almost returned over the summit to the known route, but decided instead to give the hand crack another look. On this second attempt, I trusted the flakes to lean back and smear my feet in worn-out trail runners, got a foot jam or two, and worked my way down the crack to where I could traverse back over and down to flatter ground below. This route felt no easier than the way I had ascended, but at least it left me a couple hundred yards closer to Kyes. I crossed the snow saddle between the Pride and Columbia Glaciers, then headed south on alternating rock and snow. I was mentally worn down, but the peak was close and looked straightforward.

Sadly, easy success would not be mine. The ridge turned to horrible choss again, and was cut by a deep cleft with vertical sides. It looked like I might be able to descend the east side a few hundred feet and traverse, then climb a step snow-tongue, but I could not see the whole route. At this point I had had enough of disappointment, backtracking, failure, and sketchiness. It was time to cut my losses and head home via a known route. I returned to the saddle, then traversed the snowfields east of the ridge to the first chossy notch. The snow below was nice and soft by now, so after a final bit of chossineering, I had a pleasant boot-ski to the valley and the trail. I saw no one in Glacier Basin, but perhaps a dozen tourists near and around the ghost town. I unlocked my bike, then bombed past a half-dozen poor souls walking the road on my mostly-downhill way to the trailhead. I still had food to stay longer, but I had seen enough of this part of the range.

Del Campo

Del Campo from Foggy Lake

Del Campo is the highest peak above Gothic Basin, a popular camping area near Barlow Pass on the Mountain Loop Highway. Lying west of the main mass of the Cascades, it has views of the high Cascades from Baker to Rainier, its fellow outliers like Sloan and Three Fingers, and even Puget Sound and the Olympic Range to the west. Having driven the annoying dirt road south from Darrington, I decided to amortize the time and gas by spending a few days in the area. I knew the area would be crowded on a Saturday, but figured I would be in and out before things got out of hand.

Gothic Peak and Foggy Lake

I drove over to the Barlow Pass trailhead, which was already nearly full before 7:00 AM, finished my coffee, and started along the old railway bed toward the ghost town of Monte Cristo. I could have biked this, but it wasn’t worth the trouble to save only about a mile of road-walking. While the railroad continues up the South Fork Sauk River, a well-used trail follows Weden Creek, then switchbacks up the steep hillside to Weden and Foggy Lakes. Like all good Cascades trails, this one is consistently steep, occasionally very steep, and crosses cascading and eroded streambeds sometimes containing large pieces of snow. A sign at the trailhead warned about collapsing snow-bridges, and I imagine more than one novice hiker has fallen victim to them on this popular route.

Looking down upper ridge

There were already several tents near Weden Lake, where the snow became more consistent. I crossed a mixture of snowfields and slabs on my way up to Foggy Lake, then found a trail around its right side. Since I had not planned to tag this peak when I drove down to Vesper, I had no route description and only a low-resolution map with 50-meter contours, and was forced to actually look at the mountain and figure out a plausible route. I settled on approaching on the right shoulder, then crossing a snowfield and hopefully ascending a gully to the right ridge higher up; this fortunately turned out to be the standard route, as evidenced by some fresh boot-prints in the snow.

I climbed a loose gully to a notch in the ridge, made a few exposed third class moves to get around to the east face, then enjoyed some easy third class scrambling up ledges to the summit. I found a seat to enjoy the views of nearby Vestal to the west, Sloan and Glacier to the northeast, and even high Stuart far away to the southeast. Unfortunately the summit was also a meeting-place for flying ants, so I did not feel like staying long before retracing my route. I could have climbed Gothic Peak as well, but was out of food and not too excited about the lesser summit, so I simply headed back down the trail. The tourist hordes marched up in twos and threes, except one group of a dozen attractive young people who seemed to be part of some college outdoor group. Hike-jogging the road back to the car, I decided to stay another day and use the bike I have been carrying around all summer.

Vesper (True Grit 5.8, Ragged Edge 5.7)

The climbing part

Vesper Peak is an unremarkable summit off the Mountain Loop Highway with a remarkable granite north face containing several five- to six-pitch moderate climbing routes, which had been on my radar for awhile. I met Ben climbing in City of Rocks, and when he contacted me looking to do some climbing in the western Cascades, I immediately thought of Vesper. I don’t get to rope up very often, but I still more or less remember how to do it safely, and it helps my scrambling. Since the approach is long (3500 feet) for relatively short climbs (500 feet or less), we did two routes, climbing True Grit, then looping around the convenient walk-off to climb the more popular Ragged Edge. We climbed on a weekday, so the crowds were manageable, but there were still at least three other parties on Ragged Edge, including one guided. The parking lot was jammed with pricey “#vanlife” vans on Friday night, though, suggesting that this area is too close to Seattle to be pleasant on a weekend.

Unnamed glacier and Copper Lake

We got a semi-lazy start from the parking lot around 7:00, each carrying too much stuff: I was lugging Ben’s 70m rope, while he carried an extensive rack with two sets of nuts and cams up to #3 including many small ones. We passed two teams headed in the same direction, and saw one tent at the lake near the head of Vesper Creek. Looking at Vesper from the approach, it seemed like we were hiking too high, and would run out of peak. However we were in fact on-route, and once we reached the saddle with Wolf Peak it became clear why Vesper is so popular: its upper north face is a smooth, triangular granite slab tilted at about 60 degrees. The ledge traverse to reach the base of the climbs can be dicey with snow, but it was mostly clear and easy.

Climber finishing Ragged Edge

Reaching Ragged Edge’s original start, we quickly racked up and got climbing so as not to delay the party behind us. As it turned out, we need not have worried, since they were doing the adventurous alternative start, and since we quickly got off-route and climbed True Grit. Ragged Edge jogs drastically right in the first or second pitch, so this is an easy mistake to make. True Grit is a more direct line, with generally better rock and more interesting climbing. Ben linked the third and fourth pitches, a slab and a long finger crack, using the full 70 meters of rope. I was glad he led this one, as the finger crack would have been intimidating on lead, especially now that the rubber has worn off the toes of my ancient climbing shoes. I finished the final vegetable scramble to the summit, where we chatted with a guide as he brought his client up the final hero pitch of Ragged Edge.

Ben and someone on the two routes

We followed a bit of a trail east, then slid and kicked steps down snow to reach the saddle again. There were already two parties headed for Ragged Edge, but we were moving fast, and they very politely allowed us to go first. Rather than starting in the same place, we did the alternate start, which requires a bit of fourth class downclimbing to reach the base of a lieback flake. I took the first pitch, making the lieback look harder than I should have, then wandered up the class 3-4 slabs and gullies above, looking for the “faint white dyke [sic]” mentioned on Mountain Project. Not seeing any such feature, or many good gear placements, I wandered up and slightly right until I found some clean cracks below a step to build an anchor.

Across face to Sperry and Glacier

Ben followed up, then traversed right to spot some bolts leading to a bolted anchor, then belayed me across to get back on-route via a short and unremarkable pitch. I led the next, which traverses some moderate ledges before climbing the arete past a couple of old pitons. The initial ledges were a bit intimidating, as the only crack that looked like it might take protection was behind a giant loose breadloaf. I was much happier after reaching the first bolt and piton, and continued up to another gear belay on a grassy ledge.

Looking down the Ragged Edge

Ben once again linked the two crux pitches, which head out to and climb along the edge of the face, giving the route its name. The climbing is sometimes face-y, and the exposure feels very real for both the leader and follower, as a fall could leave one swinging over the edge. I took the final pitch, along the easier upper portion of the edge to the summit. The climbing was not very hard, so I got lazy with my gear placements, slinging a horn and placing a cam in a too-big crack. While Ragged Edge ascends a cool feature, we both agreed that True Grit was a better climb.

After hanging out on the summit for awhile, we descended to the lake, passing a couple guides setting up camp. They suggested that we do Mile High Club, a 7-pitch 5.10a on a formation we would pass on the way down. Ben seemed tempted, but we had climbed 9 pitches already, and I did not feel that my skills were up to sustained climbing at that grade. So we just hiked back to the cars, and he headed back to Index while I had dinner and settled in for another night at the trailhead. The weekenders were descending in force, so I was glad to leave first thing in the morning to scramble somewhere less popular.