Sunday, August 30, 2009

Mount Thompson - West Ridge - 08.29.09

Sabrina and I finally got to go out together this summer. This is one we had on the list for last summer and never coordinated to make it happen. But now we were going to make it happen.

The forecast was for morning showers tapering to sun. I guess with all my good weather this summer, I didn't even consider a possibility of getting rained out. I did not check weather alternatives anywhere else and only checked the weather for the Snoqualmie Pass area. When I arrived at her house in the morning, her husband asked what our alternate plan was. "Alternate plan?" we said to each other. We got down to discussing that in the car. Sabrina said she brought along the Leavenworth climbing book in case we decided to go there. Of course, mostly we just caught up while chatting in the car. Before we knew it, we were at the pass and pulling in the parking lot.

It was raining in Seattle, and about 50% of the places along the way, but was just foggy and misty at the trailhead. We agreed to do some discussion while in the parking lot and planned to have a decision by 6:30am. I told Sabrina that the decision was hard because we are not gamblers. I then said let's put this discussion in different terms, like possible outcomes. So here is the list I presented that we made our final decision on:
(In order of best payoff outcome to lowest payoff.)
1. Hike in and climb Mt. Thompson
2. Drive to Leavenworth and go cragging
3. Hike in and not climb Mt. Thompson
4. Drive to Leavenworth and it is raining

It is a simplified list that eliminated other options such as driving to Vantage to crag, or driving over to Ingall's to climb the east ridge. Because in reality we weren't too fond of those options. We didn't know the weather forecast for Leavenworth and so rain in Leavenworth was a possibility. So after presenting the choices this way, we stuck with our original intent and hoped that the forecast for the day was correct.

Under foggy skies, we set off into the woods around 6:45am. We made good time. At one point before the Commonwealth Basin turn off, I put on a shell jacket over my t-shirt as the wetness and sweat was keep me cool. We stopped a few times for snacks and short breaks. In two and a half hours we were at the Kendall Katwalk. We continued further and soon were at Ledge Lake. At that point there are way trails in all directions. We confirmed with the map that we were supposed to continue on the right (east) of the ridge to get to Bumblebee Pass. (Although there is an alternate approach that goes to the west of the ridge it was a little too foggy to deviate.)

After some more hiking Sabrina stated she thought we went too far. I told her she was just being impatient. Then we hit a small "pass" near the trail. It was too steep on the other side, and we were too far being able to see Edds Lake. We had to hike back about ten minutes before finding Bumblebee Pass. It was not particularly obvious, but noticeable. Our problem was we were expecting the pass to be much closer to the trail level, and not a vege belay scramble up from the trail. At this point the fog appeared to be lifting. We had nice views of Alaska Lake but the upper reaches were still in the clouds. We grunted up Bumblebee Pass and then carefully picked out way through the loose rock on the other side.

We headed for a trail we could see in the bowl between us and Thompson. Since we had little or no visibility higher than the floor of the basin, we headed for the trail. Once near the bottom we made our way to the right of a tower that we thought was the first on the ridge. As we ascended the talus, the fog started getting worse again and our visibility was now limited to 75 feet. The talus was horrible, loose and bowling ball sized. Some times you would step and the a swath of rock would start moving from ten feet above you. It was slow going. We came to a rock wall at the top. There was a small gully feature going up and to our left. We went up it a bit to see if we could figure out where we were. It was now 12:30, and there were three possibilities before us. We could continue up the gully to see where it led, we could attempt to scramble the 4th class wall of the gully to possibly get on route, or we could call it a day and head back to the car.

With the dense fog and the not so dry rock, it made sense to turn around. Since we were in a moderately safe spot, we had our "lunch" on a stepped slab at the base of the gully. Then began the tedious task of descending the talus field. Sabrina and I originally intended on taking the alternate way back. But at this point, we were having difficulty even locating the saddle to head that way as the fog was so thick. We realized we'd have to go back up and over Bumblebee Pass and hike out the PCT to return to the car. Once back on the trail, we removed our helmets and headed south.

The funny thing about this trail is that the eight miles in seemed to take no time at all, while the same distance out took what seemed like forever. The sun started poking out as we were traversing below Kendall Peak. (A little late.) By the last few miles Sabrina and I were done. Our legs tired and our feet hurting, all we wanted to do was get into more comfortable shoes and off our feet.

Overall this was a fun trip. We didn't summit, and basically did everything but the rock climb. Had it been a little more clear, or the rock a little more dry I think we would've went for it. Unfortunately after looking at a pic of Thompson on a clear day we realize where we were at and why the talus was probably so difficult. (We were below the peak about two pitches in to the West Ridge route.) Anyway, they say you learn more from the non summits, which usually is true. (Steve and I summited on Forbidden and that was probably one of my biggest learning experiences.) I think it was just nice to catch up with Sabrina and for us to push ourselves in less than ideal conditions. Sure, we didn't summit. We didn't even see the mountain! But it was a good time, and good exercise.

My pics are here.

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