This is more a document of my failure than a trip report. I had the goal of heading up Bryant Peak from what I believe to be the standard route today. (The gully to the east and take SE Ridge to the top.) I should have known things would not go well when I viewed Mount Rainier from the I90 bridge and realized I had left the camera at home. Oh well. I continued to Alpental.
I arrived to find only one other vehicle in the parking lot. My guess is they were headed to Chair. I loaded up and headed up the trail and noticed there was what appeared to be two sets of bare boot prints heading up the trail. The groomed section was less icy than last week, and when I left the groomed area, that was less icy as well. I was making good time. In thirty minutes I had arrived at the turn to head up to the hanging valley. This is where I started to realize the foolishness of my decision not to bring floatation.
Last week the snowshoes were great. But I incorrectly assumed that with more traffic up there and subsequent freeze/thaw cycles that I would be fine without any floatation. I was very sadly wrong. When I first left the trail it was not so bad and I was sinking in ankle depth. As I headed up I tried to stay on downhill ski tracks or faint boot tracks. It didn't make much difference. Soon every step was calf deep. By the time I was near the top I got some breaks by following a previous boot track. This track ran out and I was now going knee deep on most steps, with occasional steps going thigh deep. I persevered. I told myself it would get better once the angle eased in the bowl. This may have been the only thing I was right about. It did ease, and I picked up another boot path where I enjoyed respite from the post hole nightmare. Of course this had to end as the path went to the head of the bowl and I needed to head toward the gully that would start my climb.
The snow was deep mash potatoes. I picked a line and headed up. Being a lower angle, it was nicer than coming up from Source Lake, but I was expending energy at high rate just to move ahead. I finally came to a stop to put my pack down and investigate the slopes. There were plenty of wet slides that look like they probably happened the day before. I also saw some sloughing and heard rockfall periodically. I put my pack down and attempted to hike up into the shaded slope to dig a pit. I moved about 40m uphill (about halfway to the shadow) and it took me more than five minutes! I stood there with the gully in front of me and realized it would have to wait for another day. I figure in the conditions the snow was in, it would have taken me about two more hours to summit, and I just wasn't interested in that wallow. As it was, it took me an hour and a half from leaving the trail to reach my high point.
So I turned around and gathered my pack and plunge stepped down to the trail. While significantly easier (it took me less than 25 minutes to descend what took me 1.5 hours to ascend.) The plunge stepping was still somewhat difficult even if it did take less energy. I was sinking knee or thigh deep on every step. When I got home I read this trip report where they had snow shoes and still were sinking calf deep. The snow was actually skiable and if I had brought floatation I think things may have turned out different. Although I could not have used it during the technical portion of the climb and that would have still been a wallow.