Joined: Tue Apr 14, 2009 9:31 am Posts: 259 Location: a vanagon somewhere in WA
last weekend i had a bit of a dilemma between two conflicting addictions. on one hand, i had a chance to buy yet another syncro vanagon... on the other, i really wanted to enjoy the fine weather by going out camping with my snowboard.
scott was in seattle picking up his friend forrest at the airport, so i met up with them at a bar to mull over my options. they were joining with jason hummel and kyle miller to head out to the base of columbia peak for the weekend, and i sorely wanted to join, but i knew that i needed to handle the registration of my new van on friday morning.... so we hatched a plan. scott gave me a pretty good overview of the lengthy approach route on his phone and i convinced myself that i could complete a good portion of it in the dark.
it felt strange to sleep in on what i knew was going to be a big day. i was at the vehicle licensing office when they opened at 9, and after some minor hassles was on the road. i made it out to the end of the rather icy index-galena road by just after noon and began my first real struggle of the day--fitting 3 days worth of supplies and camping gear into a 35 liter pack. with some creative use of straps, i was packed up and on the trail by 1pm. i did my best to ignore the ominous reality that the sun had not yet risen when my friends started this approach.
the 4.5 miles of road and trail went by relatively quickly, and i still had a bit of daylight left when i turned out of the pleasant skykomish river valley and began bushwhacking up troublesome creek. the genesis of that name was forefront on my mind as i broke into the forest. i immediately lost sight of any tracks on the icy snow surface and found myself fighting through almost impassable brush. the gathering dusk filled me with urgency that bordered on anxiety. soaking wet branches whipped at my face. i skinned where i could, but found myself hand carrying my skis often, as my haste prevented me from stopping to attach them to my pack as i should have. my mood was not such that i took many photos, so i'll leave this singular shot to describe those stressful and frustrating few hours during which i, at times, doubted that i would ever find my way from the lowland morass.
but my perseverance paid off. just as darkness fell, i turned again, this time leaving the main branch of troublesome creek for the west fork that drains twin lakes. the underbrush thinned and the intermittent boot prints were replaced with a smooth skin track. as i skinned along happily in the dark, for a few short minutes it seemed the challenges were over.
i did not count on climbing out of the trees so quickly. nor did i expect that the sun-warmed south facing skin track would have become a trail of glare ice. i followed it where i could, and sought alternatives when i began to slide backwards. i could stomp through the thick crust in many places to create a new skintrack. booting the deep, rotten snow was almost impossible. i alternated between travel methods as i grew frustrated with each. but every time i fell and struggled to climb out from under my awkward pack, i took a moment to be grateful that i was at least no longer bushwhacking. by 9:15, just over 8 hours from leaving my van, crossed the lower twin lake and found myself entering a quiet, sleeping camp. cheery, muffled voices greeted me from sleeping bags and tents, and i set about digging myself a hasty bed.
it was a strange night, filled with dreams that the rest of my party had risen in the dark to begin a big day. around 4am i realized that the smell of woodsmoke was not coming from my subconscious. what the hell kind of alpine start involves a campfire, i wondered as i sprang from bed and quickly donned my boots and packed up my sleeping bag. imagine my surprise when i found that scott and forrest had gotten cold in their open bivys and spent the night digging a snow cave and starting a fire as i slept. they were just turning in, so i unpacked my bed again and crawled back in to enjoy the stars and wait for sunrise.
it came soon enough, and we were off across the lake.
the views to the west were impressive, with the olympics rising through the inversion cloud that covered the city and sound below.
as we gained the west ridge of columbia, jason spotted scott r and brian f nearing the top of columbia peak.
i did my best to get a photo of them with my tiny lens. see those 2 tiny specks in the shadow near the top?
as we traversed the seventysix glacier, we encountered eric & eric on their way to the summit. after a brief chat, we spotted a little couloir that just begged to be climbed... but what would be on the other side?
scott scrambled around and decided that there was "kind of a way" down onto the columbia glacier. as we stood peering into the void and scratching our heads, he quickly proved his assertion by disappearing below us, only to reappear minutes later, alive, on the glacier below.
jason peers down at scott's track, pondering its viability for a second descent.
kyle and i opted to descend back down the short couloir we'd climbed and traverse to another col near wilmans peaks. from there we dropped onto the "glacier basin" glacier, finding some of the day's best snow.
with a short climb, we were able to reach the top of the columbia glacier, which we rode down to find scott and forrest still marveling at the imposing line they had just ridden. their descent started in the sunny snow just left of the peak in this photo.
we enjoyed some hippie turns down the remainder of the columbia, and began climbing to the southwest from near blanca lake. this brought us to a col where we began a slow traverse back towards camp. despite the approaching darkness, we all stopped numerous times to photograph the sunset.
we gained sight of twin lakes with the last bit of daylight and donned our headlamps for what turned out to be a rollicking powder run down to the lake.
soon we were back at camp enjoying a fun evening of consuming warm jetboil concoctions.
forrest and scott retired to their cave, jason and kyle to their tent, and i decided to spend another night under the stars.
there had been some ambitious talk of an alpine start for some exit gnar, but by the time we had packed up camp, it was approaching 9am.
we headed east, debating the merits of climbing a couloir we had seen yesterday.
the line, running from point 5558, looked to have been ravaged by some wet slides, so it was filed away for future reference.
we still had plenty of miles ahead of us. no trip is complete without some downclimbing!
the shenanigans began before we even finished riding.
jason was a little frazzled. he did not take the easy way down!
soon we were back by the creek. somehow this phase did not seem so bad by daylight!
no messing around trying to skin this time--we hiked the whole troublesome section and made good time back to the skykomish.
some burly truck had driven over portions of our skin track, but we still managed to get back to the cars just after dark, and were on our way to beers and burgers at a reasonable hour, wrapping up another great weekend in the cascades!
Joined: Fri Feb 17, 2006 10:10 am Posts: 1074 Location: Denver
Fun weekend. Good to get out with you guys and meet some new faces. No shortage of spectacular terrain around there. Especially if you are willing to work for it. Thanks to ale_capone for showing a bro around. Guys got the cascades pretty dialed.
Kyle on the approach
Ale looking on to part of the next days traverse
Ale with Spire Mtn in the background
Ale almost to camp on twin lakes
Kyle with Hubbart back left
The crew traversing the 76 glacier with Wilmans looking on.
Joined: Fri Jul 11, 2008 2:49 am Posts: 105 Location: mt ruapehu new zealand
great trip bs, mean effort to leave after the others and hike into the night..hanging out for winter we are experiencing hot dry drought conditions this summer so hopefully a hot dry summer means a cold wet winter!!...looks like a very busy winter for you, surely its time you settled down and got a mortgage and kids..seriously!