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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.