Sunday, October 27, 2013

Colchuck and Dragontail Peaks via Colchuck Glacier

Colchuck Peak (8,705 ft.) and Dragontail Peak (8,840 ft.) via Colchuck Glacier
Easy snow, Class 2-3 (depending on the season)

This fall has been unusually mild in the Cascades and a lot of late, late season climbing has been easily accessible. So last week, my friend and I decided to watch the weather and make a quick trip from Pullman to the Enchantments area in the eastern Cascades.

We hiked up to Colchuck Lake and set up camp on Friday night.  It was a pleasant, yet steep ~4.5 mile hike to the lake, which took about 2 hours.  We were in our sleeping bags by 6 pm, as soon as the sun went down.  We left camp at 7:30 am on Saturday as the sun came up.  We climbed up the moraine and Colchuck Glacier to the Colchuck Col on soft snow without crampons or even an ice axe.  The glacier is not very steep and the softness of the snow cover prevented us from being concerned about falling.

Colchuck Lake and Dragontail Peak.  Colchuck Glacier is to the right on Dragontail Peak

The col is the low point between Dragontail and Colchuck Peaks.  We scrambled up the "east route" of Colchuck Peak and were at the summit by 10:45 am.  Just as Fred Beckey suggests, it is a simple scramble from the Col on the south side of the crest to the summit.  No major route find-finding issues should occur.

Approach and route up Colchuck Peak in black.  "West route" up Dragontail in red.  

We descended back to the col and made our way up the "west route" variation described by Beckey of Dragontail Peak. This was a little more involved but it went fairly smoothly and quickly.  The route climbs a narrow couloir all the way to the summit ridge.  The couloir was mostly filled with nice firm snow.  We climbed the path of least resistance on both solid rock and snow (class 3 tops). From the ridge, we dropped into the large southern basin/cirque and traversed towards the East ridge. From here, we easily climbed to the summit of Dragontail Peak.

Dragontail summit picture of Will and I
View from Colchuck Peak - Stuart Peak on the right, Mt. Rainier in the distance
Great views of Mount Stuart, Mt, Rainier, Mt. Adams, Glacier Peak, Mt. Baker and hundreds of other peaks in the Alpine Lakes wilderness were enough to make the long drive worth it.  We spent a half hour at the summit, enjoying the perfect October weather.

Enchantment Lakes Basin

We were back at the Lake by 2:30 pm.  From the lake, we climbed both peaks and made it back to camp in about 7 hours (we were not moving very fast). There was a total elevation gain of about 4,000 ft. to climb both lakes from the peak.  This was a great introduction to the Enchantments.  The views of Mt. Stuart definitely increased my desire to climb it.

Dragontail Peak, overlooking Colchuck Peak and Mt. Stuart

We brought the bare essentials due to the great weather forecast:

  • 3-season mountaineering boots
  • Wool socks
  • Gaitors
  • Soft shell pants
  • Base layer
  • Light fleece
  • Arctyeryx atom shell
  • Fleece beanie and gloves
  • Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice axe
  • Grivel 14-point crampons
  • 2 liters of water, snacks

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Wonderland (Sept. 2013)

Wonderland Trail attempt in 2 days
93 miles 
22,000 ft. elevation gain

The Wonderland Trail is aptly named.  The trail circumnavigates Mt. Rainier on a 93-mile loop through dense temperate rain forest, up through alpine meadows and tundra, over energetic glacial rivers and glacial moraines, and usually over some leftover snow.  The loop trail is challenge for anyone, because it gains over 22,000 vertical feet.  The giant volcano offers a unique view from every angle, many of which can only be seen by those who venture onto the Wonderland Trail.    

My 2nd attempt* to circumnavigate Mt. Rainier via the 93-mile Wonderland Trail in 48 hours was a failure, yet was a large accomplishment, much like last year.  Hiking light, which lends itself to a faster pace and more distance, is clearly the superior form of hiking.  This is what we did on the Wonderland Trail. In fact, on Saturday September 7, 2013 we saw the entire south half of Mt. Rainier in a single day, which takes most backpackers several days.

*Last year, we made it 80 miles in about 38 hours.  

Trip Report
We started at Box Canyon on the east side of the mountain in clear skies, despite the previous nights rain.  We hiked clockwise on the wonderland trail for 48 miles to Mowich Lake where we had a tent and some food waiting for us.  We left Box Canyon at 4:40 am carried a light day pack with food, water, and emergency materials.  We made the climb up to Reflection Lakes in time for sunrise.  The trail and brush along the trail was still damp from rain that had just passed through.  However, we still made it to Longmire in about 4 hours, keeping on our 3 mph pace goal.  At this point we mentally prepared ourselves for the 35-mile wilderness between Longmire and Mowich (there are no roads and no easy access to this portion of the trail, so full commitment is a necessity).

We made the climb up to Indian Henry meadow as we talked about geology, NBA basketball, books, movies, climbing, the task ahead, etc. The group of 3 was great for pacing, conversation, and killing time.  We cruised down to the Tahoma suspension bridge and up to Emerald Ridge. Unfortunately, the mountain became enveloped in clouds at this point and for the rest of day - but at least it didn't rain! We hiked down past a group of slow-moving elderly backpackers with huge packs.  

We crossed the wooden bridge over South Puyallop and climbed up to Klapatche Park.  This was a long, foggy climb.  We took our first significant break (20 minutes) here, looked at the map, filled up our water bottles, ate some food, and talked to a couple more slow-moving backpackers.  We had hiked 30 miles in 10.5 hours - a little less than 3 mph.

We then hiked down the steep trail to the North Puyallop bridge, which crosses a dramatic, high-energy glacial melt waterfall.  We speculated how long it would take to die if we were to jump in.  We decided to experience a long, slow and painful death on the hike up to Golden Lakes instead.  This section is, simply put, demoralizing.  Conversation was as hard to come by as each step but we kept moving.

We finally reached Golden Lakes and we were still alive...barely.  We filled our water reservoirs one final time and prepared for the final 10 miles and the dark.  Conversation picked up a bit as we made our way over and down towards the Mowich river crossings. The sun was down and our headlamps were out AGAIN.  We made it the Mowich river crossing and quickly realized that the "bridge" was no longer serving as a bridge, but had been washed downstream by the high-energy river.  Luckily there was a giant tree that was wedged across the largest branch of the river that allowed us to cross without doing too much fording.

All we had left now was a 3-mile, 2,000+ climb up to Mowich Lake and a tent to sleep in!  A surge of energy charged me as I led the way up the trail.  We made it to the campground and quickly put dry some layers on before our sweat could get us cold.  We did the hardest half of the Wonderland Trail from Box Canyon to Mowich Lake in about 18 hours -a little less than 3 mph.

We hiked 48 miles and climbed ~14,000 ft.  That could be compared to walking from Tacoma, Washington (sea level) to the summit of Mt. Rainier in 18 hours.  None of us had any desire to do it all over again and complete the loop the following day.  We threw in the towel, once again.

4:40 am group photo at Box Canyon
Reflection Lakes, Mt. Rainier
Crossing Nisqually River
View from Kautz Creek 
North Puyallop crossing, just before the long climb up to Golden Lakes (Photo by Michael Davidson)
St. Andrews Lake, near Klapatche Park
Sunset from near Golden Lakes (Photo by Michael Davidson)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mt. Adams September Climb

Mt. Adams via South Spur (South Climb - trail 158)
    12,276 ft. 
    Steep snow 
    11 miles round trip, ~6,000 ft. gain

Mt. Adams is the 2nd tallest mountain in Washington and is an active volcano.  The volcano is 12,276 ft. high and is located 31 miles east of Mount St. Helens.  The volcano is less active than Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier, and Mt. St. Helens but it still has the potential to erupt.  Landslides and lahars could happen without any warning.  The volcano is located due north of Hood River, Oregon near a small town called Trout Lake. A climbing permit is required to climb the mountain, which can be obtained at the ranger station in Trout Lake.  The trailhead at the Cold Springs campground is about 30 minutes from Trout Lake.  

For more information on the geology of Mt. Adams, check out THIS WEBSITE

Trip Report
Will and I climbed Mt Adams on Labor Day as a quick day trip.  Next week we are GOING to do the entire Wonderland Trail (93 miles) in 2 days (we made it 80 miles last year).  We have been planning and preparing for a couple months.  A quick gain of 6,000 ft and back down over tricky terrain seemed like a good last minute test on our joints and endurance.

We arrived at the Cold Springs Campground and the south climb trailhead around 10 pm and got to sleep quickly. We left camp at 5:15 am the following morning.  We made our way up the trail quickly and reached the "kitchen counter" around 7:15.  The summit was covered with a rather ominous lenticular cloud. Hoping it would blow over, we headed straight up the south face over some snowfields and talus.  We avoided using crampons by sticking to the rocks as much as possible.  By the time we reached the false summit at 9:15 am, the lenticular cloud had dispersed and the winds had picked up. We bundled up and made the final climb to the summit over some loose volcanic scree.   The summit was clear and beautiful, yet windy and cold.  We hid behind the old hut and pounded some food and enjoyed the views of Rainier, Hood, and St. Helens, which were all clearly visible.  After 20 or 30 minutes, the cold wind made us descend.  It took us 3 hours to get back to the car - an 8 hour trip, 11 miles, 6,000 ft. gain.

The summit from the "Lunch Counter"
Scrambling on the rocks above the Lunch Counter 
Slopes above Lunch Counter
Will near the false summit
Looking east from the false summit
Looking down on the "Lunch Counter" from near the false summit
Looking south towards Mt. Hood from Mt. Adams summit

Box Lake, Idaho

Box Canyon Hike, near McCall, ID
August 29, 2013
8 miles - round trip
~2,000 ft. elevation gain

We hiked up to Box Lake in the Lick Creek Mountains located just east of McCall, Idaho on the western edge of the granite Idaho Batholith.  The trailhead is located on the west (left) side about 10 miles up Lick Creek Road. The trail climbs steeply from Lick Creek Canyon, closely following a small drainage through a recently burned forest.  The trail is well-maintained and offers great vistas of the canyon below and the granite peaks around. After 4 miles we reached the picturesque, clear blue, alpine lake. The lake is surrounded by several jagged 8,000+ ft. peaks.  My dad spent a couple hours fishing at the lake- with no luck. John was kept busy by the wailing baby he carried up to the lake. Stefanie and I scrambled up a nearby peak and then we all met up and hiked out.  This is a great day hike for the family if you are near McCall, Idaho.    

Box Lake, looking North-northwest

Monday, August 12, 2013

Gannett Peak via East Couloir

Gannett Peak via Elkhart Park Trailhead
Gooseneck Glacier (variation) route via "East Couloir", Glacier travel, Class 4 snow, Grade II
August 9-11


Gannett Peak, at 13,809 ft., is the tallest mountain in Wyoming and perhaps the most challenging.  It is certainly one of the hardest state high points that I have done (Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier, Borah Peak, Kings Peak, etc).  The standard approach and route is a 42 mile haul roundtrip from Elkhart Park Trailhead and is anything but direct and straight froward.  The trail meanders up through forests and high mountain meadows to "Photographers Point," down and up and down and up around several mountain lakes until finally reaching Titcomb Basin.  Titcomb Basin is a long glacial valley with shear walls and peaks on either side.  At the head of the valley is Dinwoody (or Bonney) Pass.  Gannett Peak is only visible once you reach the top of the pass, which is where the climbing route begins.  Various climbing routes exist on all sides of the mountain.     
Island Lake with high Wind Rivers and Titcomb Basin in the background
I was first introduced to the Wind Rivers as an 18-year-old when I did a 50-mile backpacking loop with my dad.  With peaks on all sides, I knew I would be back for more.  I have been to the Wind Rivers to climb 4 times since (I am now 28 years old), including a trip to the Cirque of the Towers a couple weeks ago.  Trip report HERE.

Titcomb Basin in May 2011.  Photo taken by my brother-in-law
Gannett Peak has been eluding me for the past 3 years. I first attempted to climb it in May 2011 on skis. Don't be fooled, this was nothing close to a summer hike, it was a winter expedition. Trip report HERE. My second "attempt", if you want to call it that, was last summer. After climbing the Grand Teton and Mt. Owen in 2 consecutive days, we hiked in to Titcomb Basin (~15 miles) and I strained my achilles tendon. So I limped out the following day. My third attempt was this past weekend. We hiked in from Elkhart Park and summited via the Gooseneck Glacier (variation) route. It took us 3 days.

Trip Report:   
My brother-in-law finished residency and his medical board exam on Thursday and I have to drive back to graduate school on Tuesday so we gave ourself a 3-day window to climb Gannett from Friday to Sunday (takes most groups 4-6 days).  So Thursday evening we drove to the Wind Rivers with a couple of our friends.  We camped at the trailhead and started hiking Friday morning.  The 18 mile hike in to our Titcomb Basin base camp took 8 hours.  We were all pretty pooped after the long haul.

Dinwoody Pass from basecamp in upper Titcomb Basin
Basecamp in upper Titcomb Basin
Gannett Peak from Dinwoody Pass at 6 am
We left Titcomb Basin at 4:15 am on Saturday morning.  We climbed up to Dinwoody Pass in a little less than 2 hours in the dark.  From there, we scrambled down the other side, put our crampons on and traversed the Dinwoody Glacier to the north towards Gooseneck Glacier.  We climbed onto the ridge that divides the Dinwoody and Gooseneck Glaciers and scrambled up the rocks towards Gooseneck Pinnacle.  The standard route climbs up a snowfield just to the north (right) of Gooseneck Pinnacle.  However, the conditions looked sub-par on the snowbridge covering the large bergshrund so we opted for a more difficult, yet more stable variation up an A-shaped couloir further to the north on the east side of the mountain.  I think an appropriate name for it would be the "East Couloir."

We traversed the Gooseneck Glacier towards the East Couloir at the apex of the Gooseneck Glacier.  The ~10 ft. wide bergshrund had a solid snow bridge and soft, yet steep (~60 degree) class 4 snow all the way up.  The snow runs out at the top and turns into steep, wet rock.  I scrambled around on the rocks looking for a way around.  Finally, we found a way to climb onto the rocks on the south side of the couloir and then made our way north up the ridge to the summit.  We spent an hour on the summit with great weather and then down-climbed the way we came up.  With a group of 5 with varying levels of acclimatization and experience, it took us all day to do the route.

Our route from Dinwoody Pass in the south, across the Dinwoody Glacier, up the ridge dividing the Dinwoody and Gooseneck Glaciers, up the East Coiloir, and north along the summit ridge (the standard route is in yellow).
The A-shaped "east couloir" can be seen on the left
Traversing the Gooseneck Glacier 
Climbing the "East Couloir" above the Gooseneck Glacier
Two of our group are on the edge of the glacier near the rocks for scale

We did not rope up for this climb, given our comfort level on the glaciers with relatively small and visible crevasses and our comfort level on the steep couloir.  We did, however, have crampons and mountaineering ice axes.

The summiteers 
Looking south along the summit ridge
Me on the summit

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Grand Teton via OS in a day

Owen-Spalding route - 5.4, Trad, alpine, 3 pitches, 1560 ft., Grade II

The Owen-Spalding route, or OS for short, is the standard route to the summit of the Grand Teton.  Getting up to the beginning of the route involves hiking and scrambling up 6,400 vertical feet and 7 miles to the upper saddle between the Enclosure and the Grand Teton.  From the there, the route traverses south across an easy, albeit very exposed, ledge called the "belly crawl."  After the exposed traverse, the route climbs up through a couple easy (5.4) chimneys to the summit.

On any given day, you will encounter several guided groups on the OS route.  If you are up there early enough, you can just follow them to the top, but that means you have to wait in line.  If you are courageous enough, you can solo this route and down climb, eliminating the need to carry gear and rope.

I am planning on attempting (again) to circumnavigate Mt. Rainier via the Wonderland Trail (93 miles) in under 48 hours with friends, MD and KD.  So KD and I decided to try the OS route on the Grand Teton in one day for fun and for training.  14 miles and 7,000 vertical feet is a tough day for anyone and we were no exception.

We started hiking from the Lupine Meadows trailhead at 3:20 am in the dark.  We passed a pair of exhausted dudes carrying heavy loads down the trail around 4 am.  Apparently, they could wait no longer to get down.  We were moving quickly and we tried to keep talking to avoid any unwanted interactions with wildlife, despite being sleep deprived.  At one point, we saw a pair of eyes shining back at us from the forest.  I picked up a rock and threw it in the direction of the animal.  It didn't budge.  I can't speak for KD, but I was slightly nervous but I kept hiking towards it down the trail...bear? cougar? moose? deer? It was a deer.

Moonlit South Teton
Moonlight and sunrise mix 
KD posing in the moonlight, like usual
We hiked 4.5 miles and reached the meadow campground at 5 am.  We took a quick snack break and admired the mountains plainly visible in the moonlight. We continued up towards the lower saddle as the sun lit the landscape around us.  We reached the Moraine Camp at 6 am and the lower saddle at 6:45 am.  We filled our water bottles at the natural spring along the trail, just below the lower saddle and took care of some business (nowhere near the spring, of course).

Getting close to lower saddle
From this point, "hiking" is replaced by "scrambling."  We slowed down considerably in this section as we meandered up the gully towards the upper saddle.  KD, having come from near sea level, was doing great.  I had no excuses, having climbed several 11,000 and 12,000 ft. mountains in the recent weeks and sleeping at 5,500 ft. daily.  The scramble up to the upper saddle can get scary and sketchy if you get off route.

Scrambling up towards Upper Saddle

Looking down towards the Lower Saddle from the Upper Saddle
We reached the upper saddle at 9 am and took a long break.  I took a look at the beginning of the OS route and I also scrambled to the top of the Enclosure and got a great view of the entire east face of the Grand.  We decided to turn back at this point and make the long trek down to the trailhead.  We reached the trailhead around 2:30 pm. The entire trip took about 11 hours.

East face of Grand Teton - this picture shows the entire OS route.  There a couple groups on the route in this picture for scale.  

Belly crawl section
On our drive back we stopped at a delicious sandwich place in Jackson that KD found and suggested using Yelp. It is called Backcountry Delicatessen.  We, another guy in the store, and the employees, highly recommend it.  I just looked it up and apparently it is a small chain, with 3 locations in Colorado and this one in Jackson, Wyoming.  I ordered "The Grand," which I thought was appropriate for obvious reasons. KD ordered "Hot Springs."  We both loved the food.

Backcountry Delicatessen

Monday, July 22, 2013

Cirque of the Towers

Pingora: South Buttress (5.6 variation) Trad, Alpine, 3 pitches, 500 ft., Grade II
Wolfs Head:  East Ridge (5.6) Trad, Alpine, 5-10 pitches, 1000 ft., Grade IV

A friend of mine refers to alpine, high altitude climbs that have potential of being deadly and disastrous as "THE BIGS."  It's true, "the bigs" can be dangerous and downright scary, but most of the time they are aesthetic and rewarding.  The Cirque of the Towers is the definition of the bigs.

Cirque of the Towers from South near Jackass Pass

The Cirque of the Towers, located in the southern Wind River Range, are famous if you are a climber and unheard of if you aren't.  Hundreds of routes are scattered throughout the area ranging from class 2 walk-ups to 5.11 very committing routes.  Two "Fifty Classic Climbs of North America" are located on adjacent mountains within the cirque; Northeast Face (5.8+) of Pingora and East Ridge (5.6) of Wolfs Head.

My equally ambitious and available climbing friend and I left Utah for the Big Sandy Trailhead to do Wolfs Head and maybe another route in the cirque on Thursday evening.  We fish-tailed our way up at least 60 miles of dirt road to the trailhead, which we reached at midnight.  We packed our things and hiked in 6 miles to Big Sandy Lake in the dark in about 2 hours.  We were spooked by every cracking branch and sound from the surrounding forest but the only living thing we saw that night was a passive porcupine.

The following morning we were able to appreciate the surrounding scenery as we made our way up towards Jackass pass and into "The Bigs."  We meandered across the cirque and made our way to Cirque Lake where we set up our tent within a stroll of the beginning of several climbing routes on the surrounding peaks.

Looking south from near Jackass Pass over Arrowhead Lake

*We climbed in approach shoes

SOUTH BUTTRESS, PINGORA - 5.6, Trad, 3 pitches, 500 ft., Grade II
After taking a nap and resting from the hike in, we decided to go climb the South Buttress of Pingora.  We were at the base of the route within 30 minutes from Cirque Lake.  We climbed the route in 3 pitches in about 1.5 hours.

Pitch 1: I lead this easy pitch up a series of fun flakes and cracks over two large ledges just before the right-facing dihedral.  

Pitch 2: Brent led this pitch up a steep dihedral with several large cracks on the face, very fun pitch.

Brent leading 2nd pitch up right-facing dihedral
Looking at East Ridge of Wolfs Head from Pingora South Buttress

Pitch 3 (5.6 variation):  Downclimbed to climbers left to large ledge and then I led this fun crack to the summit block where we scrambled to the summit.
5.6 variation - final pitch
5.6 variation - final pitch

We spent an hour in the early evening sun on the summit admiring the views and the intimidating East Ridge of Wolfs Head.  We then rappelled down the route with a 60 m and walked off the south shoulder back to camp.  We were asleep by 9 pm.

Pingora summit

Heading down Pingora in the early evening

In bed in the cirque

EAST RIDGE, WOLFS HEAD - 5.6, Trad, 5 pitches, 1000 ft., Grade IV
We left Cirque Lake at 7 am and climbed up the sketchy approach ledges unroped to ridge by 8 am.  From there we roped up and began climbing the East Ridge.  The exposure was phenomenal and the climbing fantastic, the whole way.

We simul-climbed up the narrow, shallow ramp to the where the steepness increases dramatically.

Pitch 1: I lead this sustained 5.6 pitch up the crack on the East Ridge to a ledge where the slope eases.  Talk about having fun!  Brent then led and we simul-climbed to Tower 1.

"Scrambling" up the steep ledges to the East Ridge of Wolfs Head

Top of the shallow ramp

First belayed pitch up steep east ridge

Pitch 2: We down climbed the chimney to the south side of Tower 1 and I led the traverse around and up through the "slot pitch" to a big ledge.  There was not room for me and my pack so I took it off and shimmied through.

Simul-climbing low 5th class rock on ridge crest before Tower 1

Squeezing through tight "slot" around Tower 1

Pitch 3: Brent led this "Piton pitch" across a blank and exposed ledge and up a fun 5.6 crack.  This was the only point on the climb we wish we had brought climbing shoes.  Small foot holds, non-existent handholds, and thousands of feet of exposure below was enough for Brent to exhale audibly as he finished the pitch.

Brent traversing along the very exposed Piton Pitch

Me following the Piton Pitch 

Pitch 4: I led the pitch across the north side of Tower 3 along two parallel cracks and then up along the ridge crest.  This was a very fun pitch, well-protected, and very exposed!

About to climb the parallel cracks on Tower 3

Traversing along the Parallel cracks on Tower 3

Pitch 5:  Brent led this pitch on the south side of the ridge, where a perfect horizontal crack on a vertical face allowed us to climb across by smearing our feet and hand traversing to a chimney and squeeze.  Another excellent pitch.

Brent leading the hand crack traverse
After crawling through the tiny opening to the north side, we simul-climbed up easy terrain to the summit.  We were on the summit by 11:30 am.  We ate lunch, patted ourselves on the back, and rapped down the west side several times and then traversed south towards Overhanging Tower-Wolfs Head Col.  We were back at our tent at 2 pm.  It took 7 hours total from camp, we spent 4 hours on the route.

After the climb, we packed our things and we were back at the car by 7 pm.  Needless to say, it was a long day and we wanted some delicious food.  So we stopped and got a burger at a joint just outside of Farson, Wyoming called BIG D's COUNTRY BURGER.  The food was excellent and the chef took a lot of pride in not using heat lamps, talked up some random fishing rods, and an app called "Urban Spoon."  He told us it's a cool app on the world wide web where you can see what others have said about food in your area (He was shamelessly telling us to rate his restaurant and comment on ho good the food was).  As he put it, "For the fans, by the fans."  He meant well, but I don't think he realized that its the year 2013.  Regardless, I the food was good.

Summit of Wolfs Head

Cirque Lake, Pingora, and Wolfs Head

Cirque Lake