Monday, October 5, 2015

First Mother, Fay, Pleasant and Hessong - 09.24.15

4000' of elevation gain
~8 miles RT
Left Car: 8:15am
Returned: 4:45pm
8.5 hours car to car

I had two days available and was thinking big. I had settled on a plan to attempt two mountains on the Bulger list. But then when the time came, the weather wasn't going to cooperate for two days of scrambling. Closer to the date, it was looking like rain might even come to the North Cascades Thursday afternoon. So I thought of something different that would be adventurous and could be completed in a day. However, with no partner, the Tatoosh Traverse would be a very tall order. I scaled back and came up with scrambling peaks in the Mowich Lake area northwest of Mount Rainier. This plan afforded me the ability to wake up a bit later, and didn't involve a bicycle.

There were a few people camping at the Mowich Lake sites when I left the car and headed toward Knapsack Pass. As soon as I passed the ranger cabin, I regretted not bringing a bear bell. Alone in the morning on a trail through blueberries was just the place to run into a bear. And I wasn't really up for whistling or singing to myself, but did my best anyway. As I made quick work of the trail up to the pass there was only one delicious blueberry left that I could find, but the bushes were on fire with shades of red.

I paused at the pass to view Mount Rainier before heading on to First Mother, a somewhat impressive looking rock form sticking up from the ridge. I donned my helmet and scrambled up the first rock outcropping after some confusion of Peggy Goldman's description. But I soon realized I was too low and headed further toward First Mother still believing it was something different. (It looked steep and third class from where I was.) I eventually read another part of the route description and realized that the tower was First Mother. Once below it, it was not steep and was a simple walk up loose rock to the summit. I paused on top to view the route to The Castle, which looked sort of mundane. Then I looked toward Fay, my next objective. I descended back to the pass and then a few switchbacks below to gain the ridge leading toward Fay. This was fairly easy and I was moving well enjoying some cool rock formations near Knapsack Pass.

I kept going on the ridge until I ran into a cliff off one of the higher bumps on the ridge. So I turned back and found a bypass on the south side of the ridge. It started as a bit of a climber's path, but turned into goat trails pretty quickly and I wandered in the direction of Fay. At some point it was looking a bit more difficult and I turned back to gain the ridge once again. Then it was a quick trip up to the summit where I sat and ate around noon. Two smaller hawks flew by me and one larger raptor that I could not recognize also flew above. I sat and watched (and photographed) the clouds pushing over the summit of Mount Rainier mesmerized. I then started the trek over to Mount Pleasant.

I dropped down off the ridge again and must have missed the location where I originally left the ridge and was now wandering goat trails in the meadows. After traversing under a rock outcropping I decided I should head up to the ridge again. I couldn't attain the ridge. Or perhaps found it too difficult, or too much of a bushwhack, so I traversed at my new higher elevation. It looked like I could descend by following goat trails, so I had to back track and drop low where I eventually crossed under a cliff band and continued to wander the meadows on a goat trail that perhaps humans have also used. I kept looking for a logical place to regain the ridge, but I was not finding one that made sense (was simple and easy.) So I finally made a decision to traverse the basin and ascend to the saddle between Pleasant and Hessong. This proved simple and easy and in no time I stashed my poles and hiked to the top of Pleasant. The view was nice, I ate a chocolate bar and then headed toward Hessong.

After I returned to the saddle I headed up Hessong. Some more confusion with the map from Peggy Goldman had me ascending the ridge ascending from the saddle between Hessong and Pleasant. This quickly got too difficult and I retreated back a bit to read the description which stated to ascend the Northwest Ridge. I started out to get there, but realized there may be a descent off the ridge and I wouldn't need to return the way I came. I then back tracked to my poles at the saddle before finding a climber's path across the talus to the ridge. Again, I covered this terrain/distance much quicker than it had looked from farther away and I was soon standing on the summit and trying to find the "south facing 2nd class gully" to descend. I couldn't find it, so I descended the ridge I so quickly came up. Back at the saddle I quickly found the trail that heads to the Wonderland trail and in no time I was in the meadows of Spray Park. I turned onto the Wonderland and headed toward Mowich Lake.

I made a few quick side trips to Spray Falls and Eagle Cliff before finally arriving back at the car.

When Mirabelle was a bit younger one of the things I missed about the outdoors was night hiking. Whether it be heading up the Palmer Snowfield under a full moon, or hiking Tiger Mountain with some friends.  It was just not possible with a toddler. But after climbing Mount Thomson earlier this year, I realized what I miss even more is off trail travel. The adventure that comes with picking your way through a talus field or the mystery of leaving the maintained trail to seek out the path before you. From the time I left Mowich Lake to the time I got back into the woods on the Wonderland Trail, I did not see another person. While the paths I were on gave me some direction, I did have to make route finding decisions and choose what worked best for me in the conditions I had. This is something I have missed since Mirabelle was born. Hopefully I will get to do more of it in the coming year.

Some pics here