Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Oregon Volcanoes - 06.27-28.10

Yet again I found myself with a free weekend and no partners wishing for similar objectives. So I headed south for better weather and mountains I could easily solo...on skis.

I Took a casual drive down on Saturday and decided there is no way to avoid traffic in the Seattle to Tacoma corridor. Hit a little traffic between Portland and Salem too, but not as bad. If traveling off hours, I5 is the way to go for speed, although a bit boring. Highway 22 in Oregon was not boring, and was pretty enjoyable and scenic. Stopped once or twice to take in views of Mount Washington.

South Sister
5000' elevation gain
12.5 miles RT
Left car: 6:15 am
Summit: 12:15 pm
Back at car: 3:15 pm
9 hours car to car

Arrived at the Devil's Lake camp area with surprisingly little amount of cars (5.) I was expecting more of a Mount Adams parking lot scene. But I guess people don't care about the third highest peak in Oregon like they do about the second highest peak in Washington. Barely slept due to the combo of 45° bag and below freezing temps. (Water puddles in the parking lot completely iced up, and I had glaze ice on my skis when I took them off the car in the morning. Alarm went off at 5:30am.

Very cold hiking through the southern end of the trail by the lake. (Trail? more like hiking a stream or bog.) After crossing the street, patchy snow made it difficult to stay on trail. Continuous snow started within 500' vertical of the road. I started skinning at that point. The snow was firm, but better for skinning than booting. Popped out of the trees, and crossed the flats. Very annoying sun cups and runnels on the flats made progress a little slower than I would have liked. Near the end of the flats I took a path climber's right that wasn't my favorite. Steep side hilling with some step turns before crossing a thin bridge over a moat to gain higher ground. (Never would have held if I was bare booted.) Once on higher ground I noticed there was an easier way, and vowed to take it on the way back.

I started making my way climber's left to an area that did not look climbed. The area with all the tracks looked dirty and had multiple glissade chutes down it which I knew would not be fun to ski. So I followed the rule of backcountry skiing and went up what I intended to come down. I was starting to get a bit sluggish on this steep section and opted to boot up the last bit before taking a break. This is around the point I saw the first other people on route. (A man and a woman who were bare booted, passing me.)

Here is where I fail as a scientist. I recently read that ginko can help with AMS. So I had brought some along. I took a rest above this section and drank water, ate snacks and ingested ginko. The last 1500' to the summit I felt significantly better, but I cannot attribute that to the ginko. But I'll try again.

The last go up was fairly routine, although a touch icy as I made what seemed like endless switchbacks up the south ridge. Within 1000' of the crater, I started seeing some people descending, on bare boots, snowboards and skis. Then I had the mountain to myself for the last 500' or so. Popped into the crater and skinned across. Booted up the rime covered summit and snapped some pics before returning to my skis and returning to the south rim of the crater.

Views were amazing. I could see most of the northern Oregon volcanoes and perhaps a hint of the Washington volcanoes. Looking to the south provided more views of volcanoes and a great view of the Rock Mesa obsidian flow. The summit was completely rimed up so I was robbed of the opportunity to see any fulgurites. Since it was also early season, the Teardrop Pond had not started to form in the crater either.

I Took a good break for food/water and started to descend. Dropped the first 1000' of corn snow in about 10 minutes then I had to start picking my way down. The snow got to deep mashed potatoes quickly and slowed me down. Cut some wet slides off the section only I had come up and then had to slog the flats back out. It took me half the flats before I realized it would be easier if I released the heels on my bindings. I also developed a blister again, although I am not sure it happened on the flats, but it started to hurt then. I then skied the continuous snow as far to the road in the woods, and then had a short hike out.

I met up with an old timer, Jeff, in the campground, who inquired about beta on South Sister. After hearing my tale, he decided to join me on Bachelor the following day. (We figured north aspect would have less sun cups, and more corn.)

Mount Bachelor (Bachelor Butte)
2800' elevation gain
6 miles RT
Left car: 7:00 am
Summit: 9:00 am
Back at car: 10:00 am
3 hours car to car

Next morning we drove over to the Sunrise Lodge parking only to be blocked by the gate. A few minutes hiking got us to the parking lot and continuous snow. Other than having to take our skis off to cross a road they had bulldozed into the slope, we had continuous skinning under the Sunrise Express and then Summit Express chairs.

I was a bit sluggish from the previous day and probably the altitude. We reached the top in two hours. Views were just as nice as South Sister. Jeff pulled out binoculars to confirm we could see Shasta all the way up to Hood, and perhaps St. Helens or Rainier. Wind was brutal. Jeff tested out the snow for the cirque runs with a few turns. Knee deep glop, so our fun steep runs were not going to be had. We skied back to the lift house and hammered the blue runs down. Snow was pretty good most of the way with some areas that were a bit gloppy. The low angle stuff near the parking lot was still pretty solid and sun cupped. Must have been an inversion the night before.

This was a great trip and marks the first time I skied the backcountry two days in a row. Both mountains were a lot of fun, even if Bachelor was developed and has lifts on it. The weather was better than in Washington, but that may have contributed to less than stellar snow conditions. It was also really nice to be in an area I had not been in before. I also tried out my new $40 helmet cam. It wasn't aimed well, and mostly just looks like snow, so I won't be posting any video at this time. I drove back east of the mountains. Aside from it being hotter, it was significantly longer, or so it seemed. But better than trying to fight traffic in the cities on the way back.

My pics are here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

City of Rocks - 06.17-21.10

Sabrina invited me to join her, Anne and Rod for a long weekend in City of Rocks. Contrary to what I previously believed, the area got its name from early gold rush settlers on the California Trail who thought the area looked like a city made of rocks. They left their marks on the rocks in axle grease, some of which can still be seen today. City of rocks is also known geologically as having the oldest exposed rock on the continent of North America with rock up to 2.5 billion years old. The area is a national park preserve, which means it is still used for ranching and hunting, as well as preserving the historical features of the area. Unfortunately for climbers, that means not being able to climb on the Twin Sisters formation due to view preservation.

The drive into Southeast Idaho was around twelve hours, a mere three hours from Salt Lake City. We left rainy Seattle and eventually arrived to the clear warm skies of the high (6000') desert. We drove around "The City" before exiting to our campground at Smoky Mountain. Advantages to camping at Smoky Mountain include showers, flush toilets, and readily available water. Disadvantages are that it has no views and is RV friendly. Camping in The City has better views, and closer climbing, but lacks easy access to water, or bathrooms. Either way, make reservations in advance.

Day 1:
We headed to Window Rock to get in some easier leads to get a feel for the place. After some trail wandering, we located the east side of the rock. Sabrina started on the one star Summit Route (5.5) while Rod led up Good Times (5.6**). The climbing proved fairly easy, and soon we were all on top. The summit was wonderful. There were a few pools with brine shrimp in them, and we gawked at the views from up top. Soon we were scrambling back to the top of Summit Route to rap off with a single 60m rope.

We hiked back to the van, and drove to Elephant Rock where there were numerous routes we were looking to get on. I balked at the idea of leading Rye Crisp (5.8****), and decided to lead Wheat Thin (5.7***) instead. This route started easily and didn't really ever get too difficult. The guide warned of protecting the crux, but I'm not entirely sure I know where that was. I had a mental crux a little more than halfway when the climbing was getting steeper, and I had to commit to the section above me. For me, the climb finished with some run out face climbing. While I was bringing Rod up, Anne had led The Pygmies got Stoned (5.10a***) and Sabrina top roped it. Rod and I explored the nice views from the summit, and then got a lift on someone's 70m rope to the ground. I top roped Pygmies (with a fall) to clean the anchor, and we were done with Elephant Rock for the day.

We decided to finish the day with Theatre of Shadows, a 5.7, three star bolted four pitch route. To get there we drove up to the Circle Creek Overlook. There was a well defined trail that within and hour brought us under Steinfell's Dome before reaching Jackson's Thumb, a spire to the left of the dome.

Sabrina and Anne went first, and I was hot on their tales for the first pitch. The climbing was fairly easy and got easier as you got near the top. We climbed fast as we had started the route after 4pm. We all topped out in about an hour and a half. We opted to rappel the route, as we were not sure about the back side descent, and it would give Anne and Sabrina some rappel practice before their Infinite Bliss attempt. After about an hour and a half of rapping, we were all back on the ground hiking out, then driving back to camp to prep and eat dinner.

Day 2:
With little planning at dinner or breakfast, we bounced around in the morning attempting to find a location in the shade with multiple desirable routes. It would be helpful if there was no lines. Since it was after 9am, the shade was cool, and almost cool enough to want sun. After a brief stop to take a look at Scream Cheese and see a line up under it we got back in the car and attempted to find the trail head for Flame Rock. After locating the trail head we had to find some parking and parked about 50m away. The hike in was interesting because it went into the shaded valley forest in the center of rocks much different than the sagebrush outside the rocks. There is a creek there, and it was comfortable hiking in the shade of aspens, pines and junipers. We arrived at Bumblie Rock to see a father/daughter combo finishing up Too Much Fun (5.8***). We got in line. Anne went to quickly check out New York is not the City (5.10a***) which had a longer line.

Rod led up Too Much Fun and I followed tagging a rope to set up a top rope. The route was 18 clips, and probably about 38m to the chains. The crux appeared to be at the beginning, but after hauling that rope up the steep route, it was feeling like I was dragging an anvil up the upper portion. Rod and I set up and anchor, and rapped. Anne belayed Sabrina on top rope while Rod went to hold a place for us at New York...

We had good timing, and Anne set about leading New York is not the City. While Rod belayed her, Sabrina and I checked out some other routes nearby, but were not enthusiastic about them. We came back to find Anne pumped out and lowering off of the cruxy moves about a bolt from the finish. Fortunately Rod was able to get on the sharp end and finish the route off. I got the first top rope, and had to hang in two places feeling pretty pumped from the previous route. I'm sort of bummed about this as I should have just fell instead of failing. Sabrina and Anne made quick work of the top rope, and we packed up to move on.

At this time, it was raining ever so lightly. (Nothing was getting wet.) But clouds were rolling in quickly and the sky was getting darker. We thought there might be some thunderstorms in our future. We took this time to check out historical areas of the park and drove around reading signs on the side of the road before stopping at Register Rock and Camp Rock to look at the gold rush graffiti. Then we drove into town to stock up on firewood and talk to the ranger before returning to the park to climb.

We headed back to Elephant Rock where I still wasn't prepared to lead Rye Crisp. This was fine, because Rod was prepared to lead Columbian Crack (5.7****). After our talk with the ranger, we discovered it was no longer on private land. We scouted out the walk off before preparing to climb the route. The first 15' or more is an unprotectable chimney, and we threw a rope over the block that creates the chimney so the leader could be on top rope. Rod led it facing away from the main wall, and eventually climbed on top of the block so he could step across to the main wall. After that, it was slow going as he had to leap frog gear to keep the run out sensible until rounding a corner where the climbing got easier. He brought me up and I found the chimney to be the most difficult part. Although I climbed it facing the wall and never had to do a step across. We then wandered around the slabs finding the least difficult way off the rock. Fortunately Anne and Sabrina were available to help guide us to the spot we had earlier scouted which involved some minor down climbing. After the "walk off," we were done for the day.

Day 3:
I think we made the plan at breakfast to go to Morning Glory Spire to climb Skyline (5.8****). It is usually crowded, and the guide book implies a social affair waiting to get on it. When we showed up, there was no one there and we started gearing up. I got the lead and Rod belayed. There were some interesting moves down low climbing a scalloped hand crack. There was good gear, and some knobs for feet. Once through this section I was on a ledge below a leftward traverse. The guy on the .10b next to us gave me unsolicited advice of placing a .5 Camalot to protect it. But I didn't like to make the move to place the cam as my last piece was out of sight (but probably only three feet below my feet.) I placed a tiny nut to protect placing the cam. Then placed the cam and removed the nut. Then I decided I didn't like the cam too much and fiddled with it a bit. I still didn't like it and took it out and opted to use a gray alien in the same place. Once again I placed the nut to place the cam. I liked the alien placement better, but decided in the end to leave the nut in as well for back up.

Once satisfied with the protection, I stepped up and started the traverse. It is only a few moves of undercling with one of the best holds ever. This is supposed to be the crux of the route, but I found the crux to be ending the traverse and "turning the corner." The moves at the end of the traverse got you to a finger crack, but transitioning from counter pressure to face climbing required a bit of skill. Once I had gained the crack I quickly put in a piece and moved up. The crack was thin and required small gear. I followed it until the end, and then got out on the face for some sparsely protected climbing to the top. It was a lot of fun. I then brought Rod up, and Anne pink pointed on my gear and then Sabrina joined us.

There was still no one waiting to get on the route. We set up a double rope rappel, and rapped to the base, where our knot got stuck when trying to pull the ropes. After a bit of rope swinging Rod and I pulled together and freed the ropes. We then sat on a rock eating lunch while watching a guy climb the classic 5.11c Crack of Doom. After lunch we hiked back to the car.

We drove back out to the overlook to hike out to Lost Arrow Spire. The book states it is a 3/4 mile hike, but it felt a bit longer, perhaps a full mile. It was early afternoon, and the hike is mostly treeless through the sagebrush and was quite hot. Trees started appearing as we got closer to the spire, and by the time we were at the base, it was downright cool with a breeze blowing in the shade.

Once again, Rod and I would climb and Sabrina and Anne would climb. But while Rod was leading the first pitch, Anne's stomach was acting up and she decided to sit this one out. That made me the monkey in the middle and I hauled a rope up so Sabrina could follow. Rod led the first pitch competently but slowly. I followed, but not much faster and then we brought Sabrina up.

I was to lead the second pitch which has a short traverse and then huge run out (25'+) up a slab to the summit. I led out placing a few pieces before arriving at the corner. At the corner I looked up and noticed the lack of protection anywhere and the step around the arete I had to make to complete the pitch. I balked, and then climbed back to the anchor. I took a breather and gave it another try. This time I was able to place a #1 stopper in a small crack above my head, protecting the move out onto the face. But my thoughts were clouded. All I could think of was falling, and the anchor blowing and the three of us plummeting to our deaths while I was screaming "Tell Jennifer I love her!" So I once again climbed back to the anchor and asked if Rod would give it a go.

We switched our ends of the rope and Rod headed out. I gave him the rack and slings, but this was "just in case" there could be pro. There wasn't, but that didn't stop Rod. He climbed up the arete a bit before stepping out onto the face and speeding his way to the top. On top rope, it still felt a bit unnerving, but I got to the corner and up I went. Sabrina soon joined us. After a few summit pictures it was time to rappel off the other side. Since the guide book was really unclear, we did a double rope rappel. It is a sit and spin start that goes to semi-free-hanging most of the way down. Big Rod went first and was quickly down. I had a touch of difficulty getting the spin right, but was soon rapping and on the ground. Sabrina followed. Once back on the ground I kept saying things like "I'm never going up there again." Truth is, I'd probably do it the next time I go back. One of those "type 2" fun situations. Our hike out was our last of the trip and we headed back to camp for our final dinner. We did make an attempt to go to the hot springs, but found out they were not open on Sunday.

Overall, this was a wonderful trip. It was not a place I was looking to go to, but didn't want to skip out on the opportunity. We had a lot of fun and climbed some really nice routes. This is what we learned:

Things to know:
-The guidebook is a bit sparse (beta is not great)
-It can be hot, find shade
-About 90% single pitch climbing/75% trad
-Pitches are long (bring a 70 or 80m rope, or double 60s)
-Pitches are long (bring a double rack to avoid run out or leapfrogging)
-Clouds/wind seem to roll in most afternoons, they may bring precip
-Getting off some rocks requires 5th class walk offs or sketchy exposed trips to the rap anchors that need more than a single 60m rope
-Compared to Leavenworth, routes felt steep for difficulty
-The two 5.10a clip ups we did felt stiff
-Cruxes usually at bottoms of routes
-Some run out common on gear routes
-Plenty of 5.6-5.8 two to four star routes
-Elevation is above 6000' so don't be surprised if you are huffing and puffing on a trivial approach

Rock was amazing and had wild holds on many faces. Didn't feel a need to tape up for cracks, but due to holds on the face, not a huge need to jam cracks either. Rock always felt damp in the morning which may be due to condensation overnight. We had swimsuits for the hot springs, but found out they are only open Wed-Sat, so we were unable to participate in that activity.

My pics are here.
Sabrina's pics here.
Anne's pics here.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bryant Peak - 06.16.10

Adam and I made an attempt at Bryant Peak via the "winter route."

It was cold and raining in the parking lot when we first arrived. By the time we started moving it had reduced to a drizzle and after a few minutes of hiking, it appeared to subside altogether. The first bit of the trail was mostly snow free. But then we started encountering bits of snow and the further we got the more hazardous the snow became. We saw signs of fresh snow at 3600'. Then we had to negotiate some bad moats and snow bridges as the snow was very soft and unsupportive.

By the time we were above Source Lake progress had slowed to a crawl. We were probing the whole way. Poles and axes could be driven down to the handle, but then you had to assess if it was all snow or not. I found (fell into) a few bottomless holes on the way across before Adam retook the probing lead. Things were a bit easier after we crossed the basin and headed straight up to the hanging valley. We had the outlet creek to cross, but this actually proved easier than crossing the snow covered talus field below.

Once in the hanging valley, we eyed our target gully and headed in that direction. There was an additional 3" or so of new snow to contend with on top of the gloppy old snow. Within a few steps, we were experiencing near whiteout conditions and there was a light snow falling. We wandered uphill until we were close enough to see the gully again. Then we noticed fresh wet slide activity seemingly coming from the gully area. We turned around and descended to the outlet of the hanging valley. The sun came out briefly as we had lunch sitting on our packs.

Having done all the probing work on the way in, the descent was mostly a breeze. We dodged the same moats and sketchy snow bridges and hiked out on the trail.

On the way out we saw a family of 3 wearing jeans heading up the Snow Lake Trail.

What a difference a few days make. Although the temps were high and the sun was shining, the snow pack this weekend was a much better Spring snow pack. With a few days of cold and precip, it turned into glop. At least Adam and I got some exercise.

My pics are here.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sliver Peak - 06.13.10

After reading trip reports from earlier in the week touting the remaining snow on Silver Peak, I wanted to give it a try. Due to commitments, I had a late start, and also wanted to be back home before dinner, which is why I decided on this destination. I figured I could be house-to-house in five hours if all went well.

It turns out the ski guide book wasn't a great choice for finding the trail head. It leads you to the winter trail head which is near the Hyak ski area and not the summer trail head at Windy Pass. Once near Hyak I drove around a bit trying to find the road which I did finally locate through the private development to the right of Hyak. This was a poorly maintained road that crossed the ski slope before passing by a private residence on the other side. It then joined the main road which I followed around Mount Catherine before reaching the point where everyone was parked due to snow on the road. (This is actually a continuation of the road Hyak is on.) I could have driven a little further, but I could not tell if there was parking available, so I parked pretty far down the road. Apparently, many others had the same idea I did.

I got out and geared up. Once I walked past all the (20) cars, I walked through the first snow and stopped at the continuous snow on the other side of a dry patch on the road. From there I started skinning following the skin track through the clear cut. Some areas where real thin, but there was pretty decent coverage. It of course got thicker as I got higher. Clouds were rolling in and out keeping the temps manageable as well. The route got steeper as it headed into the lower basin, and views of the Snoqualmie Peaks began to show from the north. The snow was soft, and a little weak on some of the steeper traverses making me slow down a bit.

I arrived at the ridge an hour after leaving the car. There were a bunch of people up there, many doing laps on the Annette Lake side of the ridge. I took my skis off and stood a bit before attempting to head up the ridge to the summit. I hopped over the ridge and scrambled some talus before getting back onto the ridge proper. I was no more than 20 meters from where I had gained the ridge on skis. Due to the time and my desire to be back before dinner, I decided not to make a summit bid. I was also feeling quite clumsy scrambling in my ski boots. If I was to try again in the upcoming week, I'd bring some trail runners for the summit scramble. Clouds also appeared to be rolling in from the west, so I didn't want to dawdle too much.

I went back to my skis and ate some snacks before setting up to head down. Not having been there before I discussed descent options with a guy before making my decision. The drop in point was fairly steep and so I hit that and made a bunch of turns down to the upper basin which I attempted to cross and head over a rise. I didn't carry enough speed, and had to side step up before descending the other side. Due to me breaking one of the rules of backcountry skiing to never descend what you haven't come up, I was slow coming down. I had to pick my way through some steep terrain with trees that I was concerned would cliff out. I eventually made my way to the drainage that most people were using for descent and followed other's tracks down from there. There were a few points where I had to do a few side steps to gain ground. Especially right before reaching the clear cut and the skin track in.

Once back out in the clear cut it was controlled skiing through the trees to avoid bare spots. At one point I wasn't quick enough to make a decision and had each ski go on the opposite sides of a small tree which resulted in me crashing. I skied out from that point making sure I could see where I wanted to go well in advance. I returned to the point where I had put my skis on in the morning and walked back to the car.

Overall, this was a super enjoyable and easily accessible ski outing for this time of year. I wish I had more time and I would have made an attempt on the summit. Or at least brought different shoes, so that attempt would have been quicker. Due to the nature of this trip, it could easily be done after work sans summit for a less than two hour car to car trip. Although it is staying light until after 9pm right now, so it wouldn't hurt to do a summit, or a second lap. The skiing was pretty good and I had a fun day.

My pics are here.

Leavenworth - 06.12.10

The weather turned out too hot for snow climbing, and there was yet another Spring avalanche warning in addition. So Matt and I canceled our plans and I got one day of climbing in Leavenworth with Jay.

The intent was to climb at Pearly Gates, as it is shady (at least in the morning.) But after the five minute walk and one log crossing, Jay and I didn't like the second rotting log crossing. Since we hadn't committed too much time we decided to go elsewhere.

Our first destination was the bottom of Icicle Buttress. I started to lead The Arch, and backed off after my left foot got wet and I got sketched out. I down climbed pulling my gear. I offered it up for Jay and he got farther than I did. But after three falls, the last involving a pulled cam, Jay had had enough. He hung out in the corner a bit before removing gear as he down climbed the pitch. He said the crack up higher was wet and the foot holds were slippery. I'd have to take his word for it as I didn't get as far as he did.

Jay leading The Arch

It was now around Noon, and we decided to head elsewhere. Our new destination was Whutza Point. It is a small crag high on the hillside above Playground Point. After some driving of the road to locate the trail we were hiking toward Playground Point. We did well navigating our way to above Playground Point but couldn't readily see the crag. After some consulting of the book, we could identify the "Birthday Greetings" crag and then were able to identify our target. After some travel on goat trails, we were there hiding in the shade of a ponderosa eating lunch. We figure it is about a 40 minute walk or so.

We decided we would each lead a 5.7 for warm up, and then each lead a 5.8 as well. I was first up and climbed Zerberts. The route started with face climbing and in cut holds and then ended with a 5.7 thin hands crack. The route was enjoyable, and marked the first time I had used my new(er) rock shoes to jam in a crack. We rapped off the ledge and Jay started leading the next route, the namesake pitch of the crag. He got a little off route early, but this was due to wanting more protection. He got back on route and finished up. This route was longer, and we decided to to the walk off from there. Once back around we took a water break, and I headed up the next route.

Jay climbing the crack on Zerberts

"Off Route Rajan" leading Whutza Point

The route, Wedgie, started with an easy fun crack before reaching some easy slabs before the crux. There was some balance moves to get through two bolts in the crux area before some small cracks appeared the the going got easier. I brought Jay up, and we walked off again. (I'd recommend bringing approach shoes for the slippery walk off.) We were both feeling hot and tired, and Jay said he wasn't sure he was up to the last lead. After a brief look at it, he went for it. Again with some slightly off route moves, he finished the pitch and traversed on the ledge to the rap anchor. After bringing me up, we rapped off and headed back to the car.

Just below the crux on Wet Willie

The hike out was a little more tricky than the hike in. It wasn't as easy to find the trail we had come up on, and we had to navigate a few cliffs to get back to a spot we recognized. This time instead of coming right through the middle of Playground Point crags, we bypassed them to skier's right. We arrived at the car tired and hot.

This was a fun trip and a nice new crag. The routes we did are all listed as one star, but they may deserve more. We didn't do the two that had no stars, but one would have made a nice warm up as it is "5.easy." The other route we did not do is a 5.9, but both of us were too hot and tired and we both wanted to get home. I'd recommend this crag, but you may wish to combine it with some Playground Point climbs as it is not a whole day worth of climbing. It was worth the hike though, as we had the place all to ourselves. Although that may have had something to do with the 85° temps and bright sun.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Mount Ellinor - 06.08.10

Adam wanted to do something alpine and was hoping for a scramble. I wanted to head to Leavenworth for cragging and better weather. He nixed the idea of a one day trip to Leavenworth and we decided on Mount Ellinor because it had a better weather forecast than the Cascades.

Mount Ellinor is a hike in the summer, but is a favorite of unskilled climbers in the winter. Recent reports seemed to indicate there was snow from the car to summit so it sounded like a nice time. Adam had not been on top of a mountain in the Olympics, and we were both hoping for views.

After catching the 7am ferry (which was not an express to Southworth,) we were on the peninsula driving south. It took us around three hours to get to our high point in the car, a few hundred meters from the upper trail head parking area. We geared up. I brought skis, and started to put them on on the snow, when Adam who was on ahead said that the snow was not continuous. Turns out there wasn't snow for some distance, and while Adam registered us at the trail head, I put the skis on my pack. Adam put his snowshoes on his pack as well.

The trail was dry and there were no signs of snow as we headed up the initial section straight up a ridge. The trail starts to switch back and we were getting concerned about why we had brought floatation. I was simultaneously cursing bringing skis while enjoying the extra training weight of the boots on my feet. Around 4300' we turned a corner and were welcomed with continuous snow. What a relief. The boot track was firm and we continued with no need for floatation. In short time we were at the base of the chute which is the key feature of this route. Adam and I took turns kicking steps, but were mostly trying to remain in steps that littered the slope. It was warm out, but in the constrictions the snow remained quite firm. The glissade chute running down the middle of the main chute was three feet deep! It looked like a bobsled run. We marveled at it, and I wondered how I could ski the slope without falling into it.

We got to the summit plateau without ever pulling out ice axes. We then headed up the final 250' to the summit where we were greeted with a brief five-volcano view. Clouds started rolling across the sound and we lost site of Baker and Glacier pretty quickly. It was chilly up there and we both donned shells for the descent. I skied off the summit and back to the upper basin where Adam headed off to find a spot to see if we could traverse over to Mount Washington. After much post holing and two falls into moats, we called that operation a failure and decided to head down.

Since I could not find a easy way to get around the large trench (luge run) in the middle of the chute I booted down it a bit. Adam found the glissade run to be too fast and exited it before the steeper constriction and we both booted down a while. The plunge stepping was good, but awkward with skis on my back. Part way through the third constriction I put my skis on and skied back down to the woods. Bummer there was that glissade trench in the way. I removed my skis once back in the woods where the snow was on the icy end, and it was maybe only a few hundred meters before returning to dirt. Once back on the trail, Adam and I cruised out.

This was a fun trip that would be an awesome ski if the glissade trench didn't exist. There were a few options to partially avoid it, but I wasn't feeling good about them. Trying to ski it with the trench in place would have meant sideslipping down the constrictions, or trying to jump the trench between turns. Neither really seemed plausible with my skill level. At the car we talked to a "Ranger" from the Department of Agriculture. We told him about a woman we saw heading up who in conversation alluded to her desire to glissade the chute. Our concern was she only had a stick with her and not an ice ax. The ranger told us they get calls up there all the time for those sort of mishaps. The hiking is easy enough, and I guess it attracts all types.

My pics are here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Snoqualmie Middle Fork - 06.05.10

Having been out late celebrating a birthday the night before, Jennifer and I got a late start. We opted for a drive up the Middle Fork for something new. Hard to believe that I haven't been past the Mailbox Peak trail head before.

Due to a misstep on my part, we ended up at the Middle Fork trail head. No problem, it was already after 11am and we just wanted to get out. We first poked around the "picnic area" which had some large trees, and a good view of Mount Garfield. Then we hit the trail and started walking.

The trail was not surprisingly muddy. There were some bikers on it, and some other hikers too. There is little to no elevation gain early on and the trail wanders from near the river to away from it. Good views of Mount Garfield were once again had, which has now piqued my interest in climbing Infinite Bliss. (It looks pretty cool.) There were quite a few land slide/washouts on the trail, the largest of which had knocked down some sizable trees. The tread of the trail was not yet repaired in that section, and we had to rock hop through the water to cross. In an attempt to make another stepping stone, I picked up a stone to throw into the water and revealed a small salamander, the first I had seen in Washington State.

We continued to hike and started seeing other hikers turning around. We weren't sure why, but we keep going. Around this time me made the decision to head to the bridge at the six mile mark and return by hiking the road back on the other side of the river. It was around this time too, that the trail gained some elevation and went by the Cripple Creek Falls before dropping back to the river in a grove of large Western Red Cedars.

The hike out on the road was fairly boring. Not much to say about that. Nearing the parking area, it turns uphill a bit. Not wanting to deal with a final climb, I attempted to shortcut the road on a footpath through the woods. Unfortunately, it dead ends on a small peninsula and campsite. The creek bed separating the peninsula seemed dry and we made an interesting hike/scramble up the wash back to the road. Jennifer startled a garter snake in the creek bed as well. Once back on the road it was mostly a downhill hike back to the car.

This was a fun trip. Definitely kid/family friendly too. Not a whole lot of views from the valley floor, but a nice easy day trip. It was pretty nice seeing all the big trees tucked back in the valley as well.

Pics are here.