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.

Snowfield Peak

Ascending from camp on summit day

Snowfield Peak (8,347ft)

Eric and Aaron

April 28-29, 2017

With a tight weather window Friday evening through Saturday morning, we decided to try to climb a big peak in the Cascades. Snowfield peak is one with a road open and plowed to the trailhead, and looked like it might be feasible. Almost every report we’ve found of climbs of Snowfield have been in the summer, so we didn’t anticipate crowds.

Snowfield Peak is a classic Cascades climb with a little bit of everything. You hike through mossy forests on a trail down low, then bushwhack up to treeline, then cross huge glaciers, and finally get a short rock climb to the summit. Our big question was whether to bring skis or snowshoes. Skis would be fun and fast on the glacier, but would be heavier to haul up on the bushwhack, and our packs would already be

Hiking up to Pyramid Lake

heavy with overnight gear and glacier gear. With the tight weather window, we opted to take snowshoes to speed up the bushwhack.

We left town Friday morning, filled out a self-registration permit at the national park ranger station (which still hasn’t opened for the season yet), and started hiking up the Pyramid Lake trail at 12:30pm. Within an hour we hit an intermittent snowline around 2000ft, and continued following the trail to the tiny Pyramid Lake.

I led the way to the right of the lake, occasionally seeing

Looking up at Pyramid Peak from high on the ridge

a faint climbers trail in between snow patches. The ground was soon completely covered in deep snow, though, and we ascended steeply to the ridge above the lake. From here we generally followed the ridge, occasionally traversing right around cliff bands.

The snow was soft and slushy, but too steep for snowshoes to do any good, so there was quite a lot of difficult postholing. By 7pm we reached a flat shoulder around 5400ft and called it far enough for the day. The projected weather window still hadn’t materialized, and Pyramid Peak above us was enveloped in clouds as a cool wind blew across the ridge . Aaron set up the tent as I started melting snow, and by 9pm we were both in the tent ready for bed.

Hiking up from camp in the morning

I poked my head outside at 4am and saw perfectly clear skies. The window had materialized as expected! We were suited up and moving by 5am as alpenglow came across the horizon. Our first challenge was what we expected to be the sketchiest part of the route – traversing a long avy slope beneath the overhanging cornices on Pyramid Peak. This was the safest time to do it, though, when all the snow was frozen up

from the night and the sun was not yet out to warm anything above us.

We soon made it across the slope in crampons, and switched to snowshoes in Colonial Basin. From here we followed gradual snow slopes up to Colonial Col,

Our first view of Snowfield Peak

and finally got our first view of Snowfield Peak.

It didn’t really look like any pictures I’d seen. In all the pictures it’s a black rocky pyramid sticking up out of the glacier, but today it was almost completely white. This year had been a cold and snowy March and April, and this high in the mountains it still looked like winter. So it appeared as though the whole summit pyramid was still plastered in snow and ice.

We descended about 200ft onto the Neve Glacier, then started marching up toward Snowfield. By 9am we reached the base of the West Ridge of Snowfield, and were treated to amazing views of other glaciated peaks in all directions. El Dorado and Mt Baker stuck

Aaron ascending the Neve Glacier

out as massive white peaks to the northwest and southwest, while the jagged black Pickets caught our attention to the North.

The bad weather was supposed to start coming in around 11am, so we had to hurry to not get caught on the glacier in a whiteout. We marched up the easy low-angle west ridge until the ridge ended in a small cliff. Couldn’t piece together where we were based on any route description, but that’s probably because the whole summit was covered in rime ice and deep snow, and I’d never read any report of anyone climbing in these conditions.

Aaron on the summit

We put our harnesses on and got the rope out, but I couldn’t see any rock exposed to put rock gear in, so we decided to just climb up with ice axes. I traversed around left and ascended a gully to an obvious notch, and this matched a route description that said to then downclimb the other side of the notch. But the gully on the other side was steep and choked with rime ice feathers.

I climbed steeply up the ice slope to the left, and there met an exposed knife-edge traverse on more rime-covered sharp blocks. Aaron didn’t like the sounds of

Climbing up to the Notch

those options, and I downclimbed back down the gully. I next looked over to the north face, which is normally a steep rock cliff but was now covered in snow.

This looked doable, and I traversed onto the face, being careful to kick in good steps and firmly place my ice axe in each time. I climbed up and soon reached another notch, with easy lower-angle terrain to the summit. Aaron followed, and I crossed back onto the south face, then climbed up an icey/snowy ramp and found myself on the summit.

The scenery was even more spectacular than before, with the whole North Cascades National Park opening up below us. We spent about 10 minutes on the top, and noticed that Mt Baker, which had previously been cloud-free, now had low clouds forming on the summit. It appeared the weather was coming as forecast, and we reluctantly started to descend.

This time, instead of traversing and downclimbing the sketchy north face, we dropped farther on the

Traversing back to camp

south face and climbed up the rime-ice-choked chimney back to the notch we’d balked at on the ascent. Climbing up the notch was a lot easier than down climbing it, and a lot safer than traversing the north face.

Safely back at the packs, we quickly descended back to the Neve Glacier and switched back to snowshoes. We reached Colonial Col at 11:30am, just as clouds were forming in Colonial Basin below us. We quickly descended to the basin, traversed the avy slope below Pyramid Peak, and were safely back at camp by 1pm. By now more clouds were developing, but we were back at treeline and were in no trouble if visibility dropped.

We quickly packed up and started descending, as light snow and, lower down, rain started developing. Surprisingly, lower on the ridge we encountered fresh snowshoe tracks from someone else, but they turned around and we never saw the person.

We soon reached Pyramid Lake, and from there had an easy hike back to the car in the rain.

Carrizo Plain

Carrizo Plain

Matthew and Amanda

April 22-23, 2017

Until a few days before this trip, I had never heard of Carrizo Plain National Monument. As we were deciding where to go for the weekend, I browsed the map and spotted a large area of green that I hadn’t previously noticed, labeled Carrizo Plain National Monument. It is situated about 2/3 of the way to LA from San Francisco, about a four hour drive from our place. Next, I did a google image search for it, and came across some spectacular photos of hills covered with purple, yellow, and orange wildflowers. Further investigation revealed that the Monument was near the tail end of a “superbloom” of wildflowers due to the abundant spring rainfall. In addition to wildflowers, it looked like there was the opportunity for some backcountry camping, so that sealed the deal.

We started driving Saturday morning and arrived by mid afternoon. There were hordes of tourists, who probably also saw the same photos that we had. While the flowers were past peak color, there were still endless acres of bright yellow flowers. To get a better view and escape the crowds, we drove about five miles up a relatively steep dirt road leading into the mountains. We set up camp about half a mile from the car on a nice open ridge. After a short hike, we enjoyed dinner followed by a spectacular sunset. From our lofty perch we had an aerial view of the wildflower fields a few thousand feet below, and 100 miles to the east we could discern the snowy Sierra. Soon the stars and Milky Way came out and we spotted the distance hazy glow from Los Angeles.

After a generously long sleep, we headed back to the Bay Area and, after spotting a herd of buffalo along the way, arrived by mid afternoon.

Pineapple Pass BC Skiing

Pineapple Pass BC Skiing

Aaron near Pineapple Pass with The Tooth in the background

April 22, 2017

Eric and Aaron

We drove up to Snoqualmie Pass in the morning and started skinning up from the Alpental ski lot around 9:30am. Rain was forecast to start at noon, but we still wanted to fit in a short tour. We skinned up to Pineapple Pass at 5,200ft and got great views of the surrounding mountains. We also saw the rain coming, so quickly descended. The skiing was pretty tough in crusty snow, then deep slush, but we made it back to the car minutes before the rain started.


Mount St Helens

Mount St Helens (8,333ft)

Eric near the summit

April 21, 2017

Eric and Birkan

The forecast was for sunny Friday, so we headed south from town in the morning to ski St Helens. There is currently snow all the way from the parking lot to the summit, making for an awesome 5000ft ski descent. We skinned up to the summit by 2pm, being careful not to get too close to the edge of the massive cornice. It was very windy, and every other party we saw turned back below the summit.

The ski back to the car was amazing. The snow looks like it will hold all the way to the parking lot for at least another few weeks.

Silver Star Mountain

Silver Star Mountain (8,876 ft)

Aaron skinning up the Silver Star Glacier

Eric and Aaron

April 16, 2017

Highway 20 just opened up to Silver Star gate at milepost 171. We slept at the pullout near the gate Saturday night and started skinning up silver star creek at 6am Sunday. In a couple hours we reached a basin around 5000ft with orange flagging for helicopter landings. It looks like heli skiing is over for the season, though. We cut up gradual slopes on the right, then traversed under Vasiliki ridge. We climbed left under a big cleaver, then zig zagged up to silver star col. We were the first ones up, but about 10 other skiers were following our tracks up.

At the col we ditched skis and took a break as the other groups arrived. We took out ice axes and scrambled up to the summit block. It looked a little sketchy, and I’d brought a rope, so we roped up. Aaron belayed me as I wriggled up the 15ft snow-filled chimney and tagged the summit, then I belayed him up.

By 1:30pm we we back to the col, and started the amazing ski back to the car. We arrived by 3:30pm after a few breaks, and started the long 5hr drive back to Seattle.

Mt Teneriffe

Mt Teneriffe (4788 ft)

April 2, 2017

Eric and Katie

We hiked up to Teneriffe Falls in the rain, then the rain changed to snow as we summitted. We hiked back over West Teneriffe to make a fun 13-mile loop. There’s still a lot of snow above 4,000ft.