Sunday, June 14, 2015

6 Bulgers in 3 days and 2 Failed Attempts

I left Edmonds early Wednesday morning and drove to the Eightmile trailhead near Leavenworth. By 9:15 I was bounding up the trail relishing a gorgeous day. Parts of the trail near Eightmile Lake were difficult to follow because of deadfall of burned trees from fires past. I struck off uphill and intersected the trail a few switchbacks up.

The trail to the Caroline lakes was snow free and easy. I found the basin just above Little Caroline and ventured off in the direction of Cashmere's imposing looking summit. I drank from a meandering meadow stream swollen and icy with snowmelt. It was getting hot. The rolling slopes up toward the summit were a beautiful landscape of wildflowers. Turning around I could see the Enchantments and was already looking forward to the next day!

I gained the summit ridge and followed the bootpath over to the row of jagged gendarmes. My directions said to climb up and weave between them. However, a row of tracks led straight across the snow ahead of me and I started to follow them. It seemed to make much more sense to traverse low rather than climb up into the rocks. I detected movement and looked up to see the originator of the tracks dashing ahead of me.

Never follow goats.

I climbed up into the rocks. My route descriptions mentioned weaving back and forth across the ridgeline, but I checked the other side a few times and it looked awful. So I more climbed up and down as I traversed doing a few class 4 moves. I eventually reached the summit.

Looking down I could clearly see the goat tracks below me. For once my rule of thumb about following goats had been wrong! I scrambled down the intersecting ridge and hopped onto the snow. I was surprised to find that this particular goat had apparently been using an ice axe...

I followed the melted out human tracks/fresh goat tracks right back to the boothpath in about 10 minutes. Easy peasy. Oh well, at least I got an upper body workout from the scrambling.

The run back to the car was fun. At one point, descending the alp meadows amidst the flowers and butterflies and songbirds I had a bit of a Disney Princess moment. At least, if there was such a thing as a sweaty, mountain running Disney Princess who can't carry a tune in a bucket.

I got back to my car and ate some food, swapped essentials from my running pack into my overnight pack and drove the mile to the Stuart Lake trailhead. Less than 7 hours after heading up the Eightmile Trail, I was hoofing it toward Colchuck Lake.

Aasgard Pass is always a bear and it was especially so in the brunt of the evening sun after a 16 mile trail run up Cashmere. I ran into two goats near the top. Luckily they were not defensive nanny's like I'd run into on Rahm last week. The wind picked up as I scurried around the rocks near Tranquil Lake looking for a campsite. I finally found something flat, but definitely not out of the wind. This proved to be problematic since I am a light sleeper. The wind made the fabric of my bivy flap loudly all night. I barely slept.

When my alarm went off at 4 I felt like I'd just laid down. I packed up the essentials and weighted everything else down with rocks. Sleep or no sleep, there were mountains to climb!

Luckily there was a nice trench through the snow across the basins as I headed toward Cannon. Unfortunately, the snow was much icier than I had anticipated and I had to use my crampons much of the day. They work on my trail runners, but certainly not ideally as the abrasions on my maleolus can attest.

I reached Prussik Pass and looked down toward Shield Lake. The routeline I had drawn on my map showed a descent toward it. The slope was snowy and steep. I opted instead to contour high and follow a snow gully I could see that led toward the lakelets below Druid Plateau. I headed over there and soon intersected some melted out tracks. I was obviously not the only one with this idea.

The route was mostly snow covered, with one semi-disconcerting snow bridge crossing between lakelets. I removed the crampons to climb up to and cross Druid Plateau. What a fascinating place!
I climbed up the summit boulder and reversed immediately. It was windy! I hunkered down in some rocks just below and ate a snack. I was hours ahead of schedule and feeling pretty good about my chances of completing the 4 summits I had planned for the day.

Back at Prussik Pass I headed up toward Enchantment. I mostly snowclimbed with some rock travel here and there. There were multiple sets of melted human tracks that I intersected here and there. I reached the summit rather quickly and enjoyed the "ladder" climb to the summit proper. This summit was wide and flat enough that I sat for a few minutes enjoying the view despite the wind.

Finding my way over to the base of Little Annapurna was easy. By this point the snow was soft and smushy, so I started ascending without the crampons. It was tedious work and so I put them back on. I made short work of the climb, thankful for the snow. While taking pictures on the summit a gust made me take an involuntary step back. Luckily, there was more summit to step back onto! It was definitely getting windier as the day went on.

I arrived back at camp and ate lunch. I packed up and headed over to Asgard. I descended a short ways to where I wanted to veer over to the route up Dragontail. I cached my bivy and whatnot again there and headed up. I was surprised at what an easy route it was to the summit! I have wanted to climb Dragontail for years. I love that I am constantly finding that things are often not as intimidating or difficult as I had thought they'd be.

I enjoyed some caffeinated chocolate after attaining the summit in celebration of finishing all the Enchantment Bulgers (and to help propel me down Aasgard).

I reached my car at 7 pm. Pre-made Indian food packets, ftw!

I drove to the Nineteenmile Campground on Chiwawa River Road and made camp. I was nestled alongside the river, peaceful and comfy, listening to frogs by 11.

Shortly before 6 am a familiar green car pulled into my campsite. Adam brought me a thermos of hot coffee and snuck a Ghost Chili chocolate bar into my shoe when I wasn't looking. Lucky girl I am!

I was in a daze from lack of sleep and lots of hiking, so I'm really not sure what all was actually said. He was going over Spider Gap to somewhere and Michael and Josh were riding with him to go somewhere else. Or something like that. Either way, I got coffee, chocolate, and hugs. Then they were gone.

About 20 minutes later the caffeine kicked in and I was able to coherently form thoughts. I packed up and drove to Trinity. I was hiking by 7:30.

The climb to Chiwawa Basin was easy and uneventful, but I was somewhat disconcerted by the clouds I could see along the ridgetops. Adam had assured me that the forecast was good through Monday, but I had a gut feeling that this was not going to turn out well.

The Chiwawa River ford was about ankle deep and cold. I walked across the meadow toward Point 5971 and consulted my beta. One source said to enter the forest and climb a gully. I went into the woods and didn't see a gully. I did, however, see a highway climbing the ridge to my right. It was heavily trafficked by deer. I looked at my other source and it said to climb the other side of this ridge.

I don't follow goats, but I do follow deer.

Up, up, up. Easy to follow trail to the top of the ridge. Then I was promptly dumped into a deadfall maze. Off to the right I could sort of make out the upper basin I was supposed to be in. I read my beta from this point onward and decided not to fight my way into the basin. I simply crossed over to the ridgeline that I was supposed to attain, found a gully, and went up. Again, following deer tracks. There were a few steep veggie belay moments, but overall not bad.

I traversed the ridge feeling more and more anxiety about the dark clouds blanketing Fortress's summit. Chiwawa remained in the sun as the wind whipped the clouds over the crest and the arid east side air dissipated them. I fought through some krumholtz and popped out at a nice stream right before I would need to don crampons to reach the Fortress-Chiwawa Col. I was feeling nearly panicked when I realized it had been probably about 4 hours since I'd eaten or drank anything. I got out of the wind, drank and ate and instantly felt better. I was still uneasy about the weather, but no longer feeling desperate. I need to start using my timer system like I did on the PCT to remind me to eat when I'm out climbing!

Reaching the col was straightforward, but as I started to climb Chiwawa I discovered that the snow slopes were very, very hard. I was only able to kick tiny steps even with repeated bashing of cramponed boot into snow. I was thankful I'd climbed Buckner a couple of weeks ago, because otherwise the steepness of the slope would have turned me back.

I reached the rock several hundred feet up and scrambled to the summit(s). The wind nearly blew me off my feet and more than once I had to squat down and hold onto boulders. I spent all of about 5 seconds on each summit before hustling back. I managed to find a way to eliminate about 200 feet of snow by scrambling down more to the south and then traversing back. But the downclimb of the remaining snow was definitely scary as the wind tried to throw off my precarious balancing act.

I circled back around and looked up at Fortress. I couldn't see the summit because it was encased in dark clouds. The plan had been to traverse across the mountain and camp at Pass No Pass. My full pack urged me to continue with that plan. Otherwise, why the heck did I carry this all the way up here?!

As I was standing there watching the clouds intermittently cover and reveal the peak as they'd done all day, I found myself thinking that it'd probably be ok. Afterall, the clouds hadn't actually done anything except blow through.

And then it started snowing.

More like little sleet pellets, but enough to send me downhill.

I found a promising looking gully marked with orange tape. It wasn't the one I'd come up, but obviously someone had. So I went down it. At the bottom, I found my footprints. Apparently I hadn't even noticed the two pieces of flagging on the way up! I waded through the deadfall garbage in what I vaguely believed to be the right direction and soon found myself on the game trail. By the time I was sitting at the Chiwawa River taking my second break of the day (at 5:30!) the sun was shining on Fortress.

I was somewhat dejected, but I'd made my decision. Not to mention that if the south slopes on Chiwawa had been that icy, the north slopes on Fortress would probably have been terrible. So, I descended down the pleasant, albeit somewhat overgrown, Chiwawa River Trail.

I reached the junction with the Buck Creek Trail at 7 and decided that since I had a day's worth of food left in my pack I'd just wait to see what the weather looked like in the morning.

4:45 am and the sun was shining! Undaunted by the day before I threw a daypack together and left everything else in the tent. I headed up the Buck Creek Trail.

I reached Pass No Pass without difficulty except slipping off of a frosty log and drenching my feet. So I left my trail runners on a large rock in the sun and continued on.

Finding my way up the heather slopes and through the gully was straightforward. I can honestly say I've never seen so many marmot burrows in my life!

This side of Fortress looked much more inviting, especially without clouds and much less wind. I strapped on the crampons and headed up. The top inch of snow was soft, but underneath it was rock hard.

About the time I was balanced on tiptoes with only the front two point of each crampon dug into the snow and resorting to hastily chopping tiny holds with my axe that I realized that this peak was actually not that important to me.

I was like the proverbial cat in a tree though. I was probably 100+ feet up the steepening snow slope and 25 feet from the rocks. I decided to climb on to the rocks and rest. Perhaps I could even find a way up a short ways before getting on the snow again.

I reached the rocks only to discover that there was a very deep moat separating me from them and that they were covered with ice.

I stood on the edge of the moat only a few hundred vertical below the summit and considered my options.

I could keep climbing this rock hard icy snow and risk falling at any point.
I could loiter here on the edge of a moat for a couple of hours and hope the snow softened.
I could descend and come back.

Given that my ax was only penetrating about 2 inches, it was already after noon and clouds were again building I doubted that going up would be safe and that any softening that might take place would be marginal.

I tiptoed down the slope developing the Elvis Shakes more than once as I struggled to maintain the tension necessary to stay perched on the slope. At one point my trekking pole collapsed and I nearly lost my balance. I inched my way down until at last I felt the slope lessen and felt more than two points bite into the snow.

Back on the slopes above Pass No Pass I sat in the heather and had a pity party for one. I lamented my failed attempt(s) to a very sympathetic marmot, who undoubtedly was hoping I'd share my gummy snacks with him. I didn't.

I found my shoes to be 95% dry and threw them into my pack. Back at Buck Creek trail I headed toward the pass. I wasn't destined to ascend Fortress, but I figured Flower Dome would be a nice place for a late lunch.

I flopped down on Flower Dome and watched Glacier Peak generate a seemingly endless supply of dark clouds. I ate a chocolate bar and let my feet dry. After about 10 minutes I felt the raindrops hitting my bare legs.

I headed back downhill noticing that Fortress was once again surrounded by dark clouds. After the first few creek fords and only remaining snowpatch on the trail I switched back to my trail runners. I felt pretty light and happy...but I think that was more due to the coffee chocolate than the shoe switch.

I was dragging by the time I reached my camp. I crawled in the tent and laid down. Then I remembered that I had Indian Food in the car.

I was wolfing down Chana Masala and Juanitas tortilla chips by 7:30.

Overall it was a lot of miles, a lot of mountains, and a really great time!

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