Clark Mountain (8,602ft) and Luahna Peak (8,400ft)
October 28-29, 2017
I had attempted these mountains on Tuesday with Duncan, but had to turn back at the edge of treeline because our progress was too slow in the deep crusty snow. Luckily there was another weather window during the weekend, and I hoped to return to take advantage of the broken trail.
I had no luck finding a partner, so just went solo. Because it would be slow-going doing all the trail breaking myself, I decided to break the trip into an overnight trip. I left town at 5am Saturday morning, and was at the trailhead by 8am. The first section of trail was flat, so I brought my mountain bike to save time. Unfortunately, despite the sunny days all week, there was still a decent amount of snow all the way down at the trailhead. However, since the snow was compacted from my earlier footprints from tuesday, it was actually just barely bikeable.
I biked in to the vicinity of the wilderness boundary, and then proceeded on foot. Surprisingly, much of the higher levels of the trail toward boulder pass were actually melted out to the ground, probably because they were south facing. The snow eventually returned, though, and I reached our previous turnaround point around 11:30am. From here I donned my snowshoes and started the tough task of breaking trail through 3ft of slush.
I crossed through a big open meadow area, then started ascending toward the southeast spur from Clark Mountain. It was tough going, but eventually I reached an upper basin, whose steep heather walls were only lightly covered with snow. This was actually pretty sketchy, because steep grass with a light covering of snow is extremely slippery.
After traversing the slopes to a waterfall, I carefully climbed up to an upper bench just below the southeast ridge. I gained the ridge at the rightmost of a set of double notches, but got cliffed out on the other side. So I scrambled northwords along the ridge a few hundred yards, and here found the correct class 2/3 descent gully.
The gully was filled with snow, but luckily it was very slushy so I plunge-stepped my way down to the base. From there I traversed steep snow slopes to the broad
southeast face of Clark Mountain. There were plenty of melting snow-water runnels, so I actually just carried 1L of water the whole day and refilled it frequently.
I snowshoes up to the south ridge of Clark Mountain, and then took off the snowshoes and scrambled up the fun
class 3 rock ridge to the summit, reaching the top by 4:30pm. I briefly considered camping right there on the top, but there was still daylight left and I wanted to make more progress towards my next goal, Luahna Peak.
I was a bit nervous about how to get to Luahna, because one route description I’d read recommended rappelling down the west face of Clark to get to Lulahna. However, when I inspected the west face it actually didn’t look too bad. I scrambled down the ridge about 100ft to a big notch, and then easily scrambled down the notch and traversed north onto easier terrain.
From there I continued descending and traversing, until I reached rocky, melted-out slopes on point 7970. I traversed around this small peak, until I reached a rocky ridge, with my first good view of Luahna Peak. There didn’t
appear to be any easy way up Luahna, but I’d read there was a 3rd class route on the west face.
I just happened to be on a small flat section of the ridge, and noticed that the sun would set in about 20 minutes. My spot was actually a perfect campsite, because it was out of any danger zone of falling rocks or ice, so I decided to camp right there. I leveled out a spot with snow just barely big enough for my tent, and set about preparing camp.
After a nice dinner of ramen noodles while enjoying the sunset over the snowcovered cascades, I crawled in my tent and went to sleep around 7:30pm.
The next morning I poked my head out of the tent at sunrise, and was met with brilliant morning colors behind Clark Mountain. It was pretty amazing to see sunrise and sunset from above treeline in these wintery conditions. I quickly packed up and started moving. Unfortunately the snow was still icy and firm, so I had to either stay on the rocks, or carefully kick good steps into the snow. I had a whippet as my ice axe, and an extra pole to plunge into the snow, so snow traverses were pretty safe.
I traversed over to the west face of Luahna, and eventually ditched my pack to go faster. With just my jacket and whippet, I scrambled up steep rocks, kicked steps in the icy snow, and eventually found a 3rd class gully leading the rest of the way to the summit.
The views were amazing of Glacier Peak to the west, and Baker and Shuksan to the north. I recognized a bunch of peaks to the east that I’d done back in September before the snows started. For reference, the summit of Luahna is not actually big enough to pitch a tent, though you could sleep in a bivy sack up there if you wanted (that had been my original hope if I’d been faster hiking on Saturday).
After a brief break I carefully downclimbed my route back to my pack. To get back to the trailhead I planned to descend directly down to Thunder Creek to make a big loop. This would have been an excellent time to have skis, because it was one giant snowfield basically all the way down. However, I just had my snowshoes, so had to make do.
I hiked down as far as possible on rocks to the edge of the last melted-
out area, then stopped to take a break.
Surprisingly, I found an ice axe laying in the scree right where I was resting! Someone must have dropped it long ago, but it had now found a good new home with me.
I donned my snowshoes, and carefully walked down the icy slope a few thousand feet to treeline. Once in the trees the snow got slushier and the going easier. There was supposedly a faint climbers trail in these trees somewhere, but the undergrowth was so open and there was so much snow I didn’t bother looking for it.
I soon made it down to Thunder Creek, and then picked up an old trail down to the White River. The trail was covered in snow down in the valley, and was actually very difficult to follow for a few miles where it had been wiped out by avalanches and now covered in alder bushes. Unfortunately for me, the recent big snow event had matted down most of the bushes, but was now melting enough that they would randomly pop out of the snow as I walked by. I actually got smacked in the face quite a few times, making this one of most annoying
bushwhacks I’ve ever done.
After a few hours of bushwhacking on what I expected to be the trail, I eventually reached my bike, and cruised back to the trailhead through the snow. I made it back to seattle late that afternoon after another exciting mountaineering trip.