Mount Olympus

Just below the summit

Mount Olympus (7,969ft)

Eric and Katie

May 26-28, 2017

I had tried to climb Mt Olympus in March 2008, but was thwarted by thick rime ice plastering the summit pyramid, and had to settle for the false summit. In May 2016 Katie and I tried to summit, but had to turn back half way up the summit pyramid. We decided to try again this Memorial Day weekend. The weather looked sunny, which is rare in the wettest part of the continental US, and we drove out of town on Thursday night. By 11pm we found a trailhead pulloff and went to sleep for the night.

Friday morning we picked up a permit at the Quinalt ranger station, and were on the trail in the Hoh Rain Forest by 10:30am. The trail is mostly flat for the first 13 miles, crossing through rainforests with massive 500-1000 year old trees dripping with moss. We made good time, and by the evening reached the Elk Lake shelter.

A hiker warned us about difficult snow conditions on a traverse above Elk Lake, but having been there in March I was fully prepared for the worst possible snow conditions. Another group of 6 guys had just reached Elk Lake and were planning to summit the next day, but given the bad news about the trail they decided to camp there for the  night instead of higher up at Glacier Meadows.

Katie and I continued ascending, and soon hit snowline and put on gaiters. However, when we hit the steep traverse the snow had mostly melted away. There were only a few sections that were sketchy, and they were very short. We eventually hit the ladder descent in the washed-out zone, and beyond this point the trail was covered in 5ft of snow.

By 8pm we reached Glacier Meadows and had the campsite all to ourselves. The weather was forecast to be warm and sunny the next day, and we planned to get up reasonably early at 3am to start our summit bid.

At 1am the group of 6 passed through camp, but we kept sleeping in, knowing that they would be breaking trail for us. (We had told them we’d be starting at 4am anyways). By 4am we were suited up and hiking up to the edge of the Blue Glacier.

We followed the other guys tracks down onto the glacier, and wrapped around to the base of Snow Dome as the sun started rising. It was easy climbing up Snow Dome in the other group’s tracks, and when we crested the top we saw them cresting the col between the summit and the false summit.

They had taken the direct route, which often has a gaping bergschrund later in the season. We saw them standing at the edge of the col for a long time, and I guessed they were having trouble crossing. To play it safe, we took the longer, but more reliable, route through Crystal Pass to the left, and then traversed over the false summit to the col.

Here we saw a small snow bridge over the bergschrund, and vowed to take that way on the descent. Five of the other climbers were climbing up the east face of the summit block, and one had decided to not summit, and was instead resting in the col. I wasn’t sure why they had climbed the longer east face, when the north ridge was very short.

Katie and I climbed up a steep snow ramp to the base of the north ridge, and started flaking out the rope. We’d brought a 60m twin rope, and I tied in the middle and Katie belayed me on two strands. The climb was mostly steep snow with some rock moves, and I put in three cams before I reached the belay anchor 100ft up.

I belayed Katie up to here, then belayed here the rest of the way to the summit, only 50ft farther. It was tricky, though, because one half of the ridge was icy snow and the other steep loose rock, and by now the other team was cresting the summit and trying to descend the north ridge.

We figured things out logistically so Katie summitted, came back down, then they all came down, then Katie belayed me up to the summit. I bet Olympus hadn’t seen a single person since last October, and now there were 8 people up there all at once!

We all carefully rappelled down the north ridge, and easily hiked back down over the bergschrund. We followed our tracks back to Glacier Meadows, and arrived by mid afternoon. This year nobody got a sun burn, due to diligent sunscreen and face covering.

That night we went to bed early, and were out early the next morning hiking the long 17.5 miles back to the trailhead.

Primus, Austera, Eldorado Peaks

Aaron on Austera

Primus Peak (8,508ft), Austera Peak (8,334 ft), Eldorado Peak (8,868ft)

May 19-21, 2017

Eric and Aaron

A sunny weekend was in store, and we decided to get in one last ski tour before too much snow melted out. We arrived at the North Cascades visitor center Friday morning and easily got permits to camp in the Eldorado and Klawatti zones, remote regions of the park on huge ice caps above treeline. I’ve heard it described like it looks like alaska up there and I agree.

Bushwhacking in ski boots

By 1pm we started up from the gated Cascade River Road parking lot, and were soon following the rough climbers path through the woods. There’s no official trail up to this region, but there exists a well-enough trodden route through the bush that navigation isn’t too tough.

We had decided to hike in our ski boots, which wasn’t super comfortable until we hit snowline at 4,000ft and transitioned to skinning up. We passed a 12-person NOLS group slowly postholing through the snow with massive packs, and that was the last group we would see for a while.

Clouds started descending as expected, and by 6pm we crested Roush Ridge and the plateau above us was socked in with clouds. Wanting to avoid navigating in a whiteout, we pitched camp there for the night.

Climbing up the Eldorado knife-edge ridge

It rained pretty hard for much of the night, but by morning the skies cleared, and we had clear weather the rest of the trip. We skinned up to the southeast ridge of Eldorado Peak, dropped our extra gear, and continued up towards the summit. After weaving around a few minor crevasses I ditched my skis near the top and proceeded on foot. The summit ridge was an extremely narrow knife-edge ridge, and I actually had to scoot up it like a cowboy riding a horse, but managed to tag the summit. Later in the year after it sees more traffic the route gets much easier, but I was obviously the first one up there in quite a while.

Traversing with Forbidden Peak in the background

We skied back to our gear, and continued traversing to Klawatti Col to set up camp for the night. I briefly considered climbing Klawatti that evening, but the only routes went up 5th class terrain or avy slopes, and the snow didn’t really have a chance to stabilize with such high temperatures in the day.

The next morning we rose at 5am to make progress while the snow was firm, and skinned over to Austera. We easily crossed the Klawatti-Mcallister col (which was filled with snow so did not require the usual rappel), and skinned up to the false summit of Austera.

Looking back at Eldorado

From here we traversed across the top of a corniced ridge, dropped into a col, and had a decision to make. One route to the summit ascends a narrow steep, snow-filled chimney, and the other ascends the somewhat exposed ledges on the north. We checked out the ledges, and they looked reasonable, so with a little belaying we took turns climbing to the summit.

On the way back, we realized one of the massive cornices on the ridge was actually a quadruple cornice! It was a cornice on top of a cornice four times! I’d heard of double cornices on Mt Logan, but never one like this. The area must get some crazy wind and snow.

Campsite at Klawatti Col

We skied from the summit of Austera down to 6,800ft and traversed around some cliff bands to Primus Peak. It was amazing how we descended so much that the snow changed from solid and icy to deep slush.

We easily skinned up the gentle slopes of Primus to tag our 3rd 8,000ft peak of the trip. The ski back down was amazing, but the skinning back to camp was quite difficult in the deep slush. We took down camp, then carefully skinned back to Eldorado, and skied the rest of the way back down to snowline at 4,000ft. The walk back in the woods in our ski boots was not extremely comfortable, but we made it back to the car before sunset for the end of another awesome trip.

Yakima River Packrafting

Yakima River Packrafting

Katie paddling the Lower Yakima River

Eric and Katie

May 13, 2017

We drove down to the town of Thorp Saturday morning and deposited our bikes at a bridge crossing on the Thorp Highway. We then drove back up to South Cle Elum, parked near a baseball field, and inflated our packrafts. There were a handful of other boaters out on the river, mostly trout fisherman.

The paddle was pretty fun, with mostly easy floating but a few class 2 waves to splash us. We even saw a bald eagle on the way We paddled for about 4 hours back to the bikes, then packed up the boats and biked up the Iron Horse bike trail back to the car.

That night we camped at the Vantage climbing area, and climbed some fun cracks on Sunday before heading back to Seattle.

Argonaut Peak

Matthew nearing the summit

Argonaut Peak (8,453 ft)

Eric and Matthew

May 5-7, 2017

Matthew flew up for the weekend to climb a hundred highest mountain, and the big blue hole of good weather happened to be located east of the crest. Coincidentally, the Wenatchee National Forest had just updated the road conditions page for the first time in a month on Thursday, and said the road to the Argonaut Peak trailhead was open to within a mile or so of the trailhead. This was one of the few open forest service roads this season (it’s been a cold and snowy spring), so it sounded like the optimal choice for the weekend.

Starting the hike

We drove out of town Friday morning and reached the end of the driveable section of the Beverly Creek Road around 11am. Patches of snow blocked our path for the last mile, but we packed up and easily walked this stretch.

We hiked up the increasingly snow trail following tracks from some backcountry skiers. At one point we had to ford a small thigh-deep stream, which was undoubtedly higher than normal given the 80+ degree temperatures the previous day in the valleys.

After a few hours we hiked over a 6,000ft pass and saw the imposing south face of Argonaut passing in and out of the clouds. It looked impossibly steep, but this is a common illusion of the face appearing 2D when, once you get closer, you can make out the 3D relief.

We dropped down the pass, and then encountered our biggest obstacle of the trip – Ingalls Creek. The

Argonaut Peak in the distance

water was raging at waist-level or higher, but we had to cross it. We split up, going different directions on the stream to look for a crossing, and Matthew ended up finding the best log to cross upstream.

Unfortunately the log was sticking out of an undercut snowbank, but we dug out an access trench and took turns carefully scooting across the log to the other side. Safely across, we soon found a flat spot to pitch camp.

That night we had a roaring fire, and got to bed just as the sun was setting around 9pm.

Tricky log crossing

In the morning we started hiking while the snow was still firm, and some easy bushwhacking brought us into the south gully leading up to Argonaut. It looked like the gully had seen some major avalanches a few days earlier in the heat wave, but everything was frozen pretty solid today, and expected to stay solid in the colder conditions.

We marched up as high as we could in boots, then switched to crampons and frontpointed in the icy snow all the way up to the base of the rocky south face slabs. Here we roped up, and I led up a short 4th class pitch onto the ridge, and belayed Matthew up. We were close enough to the summit that we dropped our packs here, and simulclimbed up another 40m to the top.

Matthew on the summit

To gain the summit we actually walked through a small tunnel formed by a big leaning boulder, and

found a flat sheltered place just below the top that would have been an awesome campsite. We signed the summit register, then hung out for a few hours enjoying the sunshine, calm wind, and amazing views. We saw Mt Stuart to the west, and the cliffs of Colchuck and Dragontail to the east. Rainier occasionally poked through the clouds too. It was amazing to see snow squalls in the mountains to the west, but perfectly clear skies above us and to the east. This was the power of the rain shadow effect of the mountains, and we’d chosen our objective wisely to stay dry.

By 3pm we started heading down, simulclimbing all the way back down to the snow. The top of the snowfield was steep enough that we simulclimbed down, placing gear occasionally in the rock. But eventually the slope eased and we

Descending the steep snow slope

plunge stepped the rest of the way down the gully back to camp.

As we were drying our gear next to another big fire that evening, we saw a mother bear and two cubs wander by, and then start approaching the tent. When they saw us stand up, they quickly ran away. I’d thought the bears were still hibernating, but the heat wave must have woken them up. We diligently hung our food in a tree that night.

The next morning we had to recross Ingalls Creek to get back out of the valley, but this time we had to crawl up the undercut snowbank, which would be difficult with big packs. To solve this problem, I went across first with no pack, but just a rope and ice ax. I used the ice ax to climb up the snow, then tied the rope to a tree and put a handle loop on the end. Matthew scooted across and used the rope to pull himself onto the snow, then I retrieved my pack and used the rope to get back.

Crawling back up off the log

We easily hiked back up the pass and down to the car. By now the road had melted enough that there were actually three trucks parked at the parking lot! There were about 8 more cars parked on the side of the road near ours. Despite the crowds we still had an excellent wilderness experience, and made it back to Seattle in time to catch Matthew’s flight.