Saturday, October 31, 2009

Hibox Mountain - South Route - 10.31.09

Elevation Gain: 3900'
10 miles RT
Left car: 11:30 am
Summit: 2:30 pm
Back at car: 5:00 pm
5.5 hours car to car

Since it looked like my chances of skiing in October were going down the drain I contacted a few people to see what they were doing. Matt was talking about hiking up to McClellan Butte. I told him I wasn't interested as I didn't want to get snowed off the top, which has happened to me before. I suggested Hibox, and he and Josh seemed amiable to the idea, so it was planned. A late start was planned as the other guys were out late. (Well that is the excuse I am making for them.) We agreed to meet at the Mercer Island P&R at 9:30am. Due to difficulty finding it, we didn't actually leave until around 10am, or even a little after.

It was sunny in the morning, but was chilly and cloudy at the trail head. Matt told Josh and I that he and Shari would head for Rachael Lake while Josh and I headed toward Hibox. It started raining almost as soon as we hit the trail. The trail at times looked like a creek and at other points was heavily flooded. (6"+ of standing water) We stopped to admire Canyon Creek raging where I was able to walk across just a month ago without getting my boots wet. During one long stretch of deep water Josh and I ran across and to our amazement did not get any water in our boots. At that time Matt said he would meet us back at the car as they were going a bit slower, and attempting to navigate the big puddles with a minimum of wetness.

Josh and I continued onward. After a few more creeks/trails we reached the cutoff trail to Hibox in a hour from the car. This trail gets down to business quickly with steep elevation gain and quick switchbacks in the forest. Fortunately there was lots of old growth Douglas Firs to keep most of the rain off us. The trail was pretty good except for a few sections of overgrowth, and a waterfall we had to traverse. Shortly afterward we broke from the trees and it was starting to be a Wintry Mix of precip plus a bit of wind. The elevation was 4700'. We donned our shell jackets and continued. It became more difficult to follow the trail due to the light dusting of snow on the ground while it rambled through grassy slopes.

We kept getting closer, but the summit block was just a shadow in the thick haze of clouds and snow. We reached a point where the grass gave way to talus and snow, and the going got more difficult. It was starting to get slippery. I had doubts we would make the summit. We finally regained the trail and stopped to add another layer as the wind had picked up and it was even colder. I swapped my light liner gloves for a heavier fleece glove. (Which was still not waterproof.) We stashed our poles and continued to the summit block.

We surveyed the first gully we met. Josh thought it might go. I told him if that was the way, I wasn't going to summit. We checked the Peggy Goldman beta. It appeared we needed to keep going around to the right to reach the SE Ridge. Before reaching it, we got a good look at the final gully before the ridge. It was snow filled near the bottom and was less exposed than the ridge. We gave it a go. Josh was making quick time of it while I lagged behind a bit. After the deep snow in the gully, we had to climb some third class rock covered with snow, ice and slush. No moves were that difficult, but it was stressful grabbing the wet cold rock and trying to see which rocks were permanent, and which were removable.

We made the summit, and didn't stay long. We started making our way down as quickly as possible as both of our hands were numbing from the cold and wet. After a slightly more difficult down climb, we were back on more level ground making our way back to our poles. My hands warmed up immediately after I stopped grabbing snowy rocks, while Josh's took a bit longer. We hustled back down the grassy slopes as the snow started to fall more intensely. Back in the woods, we were once again sheltered from the precip and waited until we got back onto the Rachael Lake Trail before losing a layer. The hike out from there was uneventful except for the clever navigation of the wet trail.

If I had this to do over again, I would have preferred a helmet. This was just the sort of alpine experience I was looking for. A small bit of snowy/icy scrambling to reach a summit. There were no views, but that's not what we were after. I think in dry weather, the SE Ridge would be a nice alternative. The rock is supposed to be a little better, but there is more exposure.

My pics are here.

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