Forum Index > Trip Reports > Fernow, Copper, Buckskin, Martin, Bonanza, Dark, North Star ~~ July 3-7 2019
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freddyfredpants
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PostThu Jul 11, 2019 7:56 pm 
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I took a 5 day stroll through the Glacier Peak Wilderness during the first week of July to tag some peaks.  I wanted to avoid the lake ferry to maximize the bag to travel ratio, and avoid Swamp Creek to maximize the fun factor.  Crucially, Matt Lemke had commented a while back that the Bonanza Dark Traverse could be soloed.  I wanted to go and check out whether that would be true for me.

Itinerary:

Day 1: Phelps Creek TH to Fernow
Day 2: Copper, Buckskin, and down to Holden Village
Day 3: Hike up to Holden Pass and Martin Peak
Day 4: Bonanza via MGG, traverse to Dark, and make my way towards North Star
Day 5: North Star and hike out to Phelps Creek TH

Day 1: Phelps Creek to Fernow 

9:30 am start from Phelps Creek, taking the trail up to Leroy Basin.  A few years ago I had tagged Fernow going over the 7600’ col above the lake to use the snowfield, so I ended up doing that again.  Later in the season I gather that going down the 7200’ col NW of the unnamed lake to pass the toe of the buttress and cross the moraine is the better way to get to the waterfall area on Fernow’s W face.  Snow level on Gloomy Glacier was a little lower this time but workable.

The unnamed lake.  Cousin of Gloomy Lake?
The unnamed lake.  Cousin of Gloomy Lake?
Gloomy Glacier crossing
Gloomy Glacier crossing

I was carrying a lot of stuff for a 5 day trip, so took my time to reach the top of Fernow around 5.  I had considered doing the Fernow-Copper traverse, but with the late hour and heavy pack I figured I could use a rest.  I dropped down to the east to kick out a flat spot around 8700’ on the shoulder above the (E Fernow?) glacier.  Turns out there is cell service here so I checked the weather forecast to find it had worsened slightly from the 20-30% chance of precip forecast I had set out with.

Just below summit of Fernow, looking towards Copper and Bonanza
Just below summit of Fernow, looking towards Copper and Bonanza
Maude and 7FJ
Maude and 7FJ

Day 2:  Copper and Buckskin, down to Holden CG

I nixed the high traverse to Copper in the morning, still not feeling it with the heavy pack.  I instead decided to cross the glacier below over to the standard east route.  After packing up I continued down to access the snow and work my way across to a 7200’ saddle on the SE ridge of Copper.  Sometime before reaching the saddle, about 10 minutes apart a couple of tennis court sized chunks of glacier rumbled a hundred feet down the slabs just above my intended path.  The glacier was alive!  I looped a little lower across the flat spot below the icefall, but still moved quickly.  From the top of the saddle it was straightforward snow travel and scramble to the east route of Copper and the top around 10.  Weather check in produced a worse forecast for the coming days.

Dawn from camp.  Buckskin on left.
Dawn from camp.  Buckskin on left.
Looking back up to the camp ridge.
Looking back up to the camp ridge.
Looking towards the 7200' saddle
Looking towards the 7200' saddle
Last ~1500' of Copper
Last ~1500' of Copper
Buckskin in clouds
Buckskin in clouds
Last bit of Copper
Last bit of Copper

Next I wanted to get over to Buckskin, but because of the cliff bands below Copper really only had the option of dropping way down and directly across Copper Basin, or doing a high talus and snow traverse above 6200’ around to the west side.  I chose the high route, but in retrospect think it might have taken more effort.  Not having researched much I also wasn’t exactly sure which way to get to the top.  A map inspection also had me considering the SW ridge, but seeing it in person dissuaded me.  I saw some promise in a choss gully slanting NE up the W face to gain the N ridge.  Beckey mentions a 1978 route of class 4 and 5 on that side.  Because I don’t think I got more than some occasional class 4 I probably started the same place they did but took a different gully from the talus.  To get over there I reversed the approach to Copper back over the 7200’ saddle, then did a descending traverse as low as 6200’ around the toe of a large buttress.  Up close the gully looked good and chossy.  Up I went.  A few hundred feet below the ridge I headed more directly up a west facing gully over class 3 terrain with one or two class 4 moves, but not very exposed.  On the ridge it became more serious as the rock became more loose and the gullies more tortuous.  Nothing outrageous.  By 3:30 I had reached the top of Buckskin and took some time to admire the views.  Weather check in produced a worse forecast for the coming days.

Buckskin's improbable W face.  A chossy gully can be found on the left.
Buckskin's improbable W face.  A chossy gully can be found on the left.
Copper seen from partway up Buckskin
Copper seen from partway up Buckskin
Lots of this was encountered.
Lots of this was encountered.

Just below the summit I had come up a disagreeably loose bit of north ridge, so to descend I opted to follow an even more disagreeably rotten gully on the east.  While I had come up the N ridge mostly on the west side traversing gullies and gendarmes, on descent however I perhaps more efficiently dropped about a hundred feet and stayed on the east side in less steep terrain.  I returned over the N ridge about where I originally had gained it, only instead continued north for another few hundred feet.  With a little bit of downclimbing I arrived at the top of the main gully, then rode scree down over 800’ to its exit and beyond in SE Copper Basin.  I made my way down as the talus gave way to boulders, heather, larches, scrub, and eventually marsh where I found a faint trail and thousands of hungry mosquitos.  I switched to trail runners too soon, not really finding the trail proper until the NE corner of the marsh near a campsite around 6pm.  From there I pounded down the trail to Holden Village, reaching the Holden Forest Service campground at 8.


Day 3: Up to Holden Pass and Martin

With the crappier weather forecast in hand I figured sooner was better than later for Martin, take it as a kind of rest day, then hope for the best on Saturday.  I left Holden camp by 5:30, reaching Holden Pass at 9:30.

I will echo others opinion that finding the climber’s trail on the east side of Holden Lake is tricky.  There are a few social trails, which lower the certainty that any one of them is really the correct one.  I got on a good track for a while, then sucked into a marsh-encircled boulderfield before reaching the last BS cairn.  I think those cairns are there for the unfortunate souls traveling from the west side of the lake.  Or they really are just useless and confusing, placed there by a previous party off the main path.  Anyway, it appears the best approach is to find the trail on the far climber’s right of the marsh (due north of the lake and just SW of the “5400” on the USGS map), and follow it to talus.  I did this for a while, but ever-wettening stretches of mucky trail and numerous uphill diversions to the right of a social trail appearance convinced me that uphill was the way.  This was wrong.  Probably better to slog through a little more flat and wet terrain on the east edge of the marsh to reach the talus ramp.  Also the “middle path” referred to by others eluded me.  I ended up ascending a couple hundred feet too soon and doing some sidehill brush bashing until reaching the edge of the talus.  Still wearing trail runners while traversing to the climbers path (which I could now see), I managed to lightly roll my left ankle with a big downward step onto a large rock that wasn’t as level as it looked.  So that was fun.

There were about a dozen tents at Holden Pass but nobody home.  Not surprising considering how many parties I had been able to see on the route from the lake.  I scouted out a decent bivy spot and set about dropping all the gear I didn’t want to carry up Martin.  After collecting water and relaxing for a while I headed up around 11 am.  My optimism for getting the traverse was low at this point, feeling quite unenthusiastic about the weather and the now diminished flexibility of my ankle.  I began to contemplate my options to return to Phelps Creek without going over Dark.  Hated it.

By 2 or 3 the rain clouds had rolled in from SSW, darkening the sky.  Near the summit block I ran into Trace, Kyle, and Jake on their way down.  Turns out they had gotten Bonanza the day before, hitting Copper the day before I did.  Not liking the look of the loose gully just right of the ridge a couple of hundred feet below the summit, I scrambled directly on the ridge for as long as I could.  The last few class 4 moves to the summit were actually quite fun.  I got a few shots at the top but didn’t stay long as I could see sheets of rain falling in seemingly every direction.  To feel justified in bringing my 30m rope which I was beginning to think might not see any action on Bonanza I rapped the summit block and reversed the route to the pass.  I have read a lot about the horrible looseness of Martin.  I can agree it isn’t optimal, but the route is comparatively obvious and cleaned compared to the one I used on Buckskin!  Rain came and went a couple of times on the way down.

Martin seen from partway up W ridge
Martin seen from partway up W ridge
Bonanza from Martin
Bonanza from Martin
Pano from top of Martin.
Pano from top of Martin.

Back at the pass around 5 I took advantage of the break in the clouds to dry out my stuff.  About the time I was fed and sorted the wind and rain started to pick up and I jumped in my bivy.

Day 4: Bonanza-Dark Traverse and descent to upper Glacier Creek

It rained off and on all night, especially after midnight.  When my alarm went off at 3, it was raining lightly.  Fuuuu….  I hit the snooze button I thought the day is stuffed for sure.  Still I pushed myself upright anyway.  I got moving by 4:15 under ugly skies, carrying everything just in case.  On the way up I thought I might still be able to access the Company Glacier on a shoulder around 8200’, then cross over to gain the ridge between Dark and NW Bonanza.  Although it looked ok from the Mary Green Glacier side, this option however didn’t really seem too appealing considering the unknown condition of the CG access or the glacier itself.  Having spied the ridge from Martin I didn’t see too many options to get past the cliffs on the east side.  That would have put me going up the west lobe of the CG to get the ridge, just a huge amount of vertical gain and potentially sketchy rock and glacier travel.

Yet as I ascended MGG, a miracle.  The skies cleared.  The sun was unshrouded.  The stoke was brought.  I was on the rock by 6:30, up ~400 hundred feet directly, then an ascending leftward traverse to the knife edge ridge and at the top by 7:30 in great weather.  The traverse to W Bonanza now in view was intimidating.  I signed the register, fueled up, and scouted out the ridge to locate the rap anchor, revving myself up to give it a go.  A party of three, Eric, Tobias, and (damn, forgot) reached the summit around 8:30.  I had not only brought a rope but some small gear in case I need to rope solo, (hopefully) including for myself the option to retreat from the traverse back up the final pitch in case I was too sketched.

Waterfall section
Waterfall section
Mary Green Glacier
Mary Green Glacier
Behold!
Behold!
Edge of the marine layer
Edge of the marine layer
The first 100' of ridge from the gully to the south
The first 100' of ridge from the gully to the south

I rapped from the anchor at 9 into hideous chossy looseness and insistent second thoughts.  Very quickly after pulling the rope are the two hardest exposed 4th / low 5th sections that I remember.  The first is a ~15 foot lateral stretch along the south side of the ridge with terrifying exposure that I can only liken to Obi-Wan’s tractor beam catwalk.  Right after that is a fin with a slightly blank 20 foot slab requiring delicate moves to reach the relative safety of multitudinous holds in the fractured rocks at its top.  From the summit this appears to be the most intimidating section of the ridge, though less so when viewed from its base.  A little tweaked by the catwalk, and imagining Josh Lewis’ fall from an exploding ledge as described by Matt Lemke, I debated for a few minutes whether to set up a rope solo system.  Ultimately I decided against it and made several delicate moves to reach the top and continue on.

From there it eased, but it wasn’t easy.  The rock really wants to be good.  It occasionally is, but is in many places ice-rotten and fractured.  I stuck to the ridge though downclimbing sometimes required some north face travel where the rock was looser.  I took it slow, testing all holds, stepping lightly, pushing down rather than pulling out, and avoiding overcommitment to any one placement.  Along the ridge I had the opportunity to perform at least one au cheval on rock and another one on a snow patch.  A little after 10 I arrived at the west summit.  I took a long break to stow gear and generally collect myself.

Some au cheval on snow
Some au cheval on snow
Bonanza from West Bonanza
Bonanza from West Bonanza
The Can
The Can
Edge of the marine layer and Glacier Peak
Edge of the marine layer and Glacier Peak

The descent to the NW was a little harder than I had expected it to be, mostly a challenge of safely moving past large, poised blocks.  I made my way down the ridge finding I had to be careful not to move anything too large.  Snow in the shade was bulletproof, so useless without crampons. As soon as I could access the snow in the sun I used it as much as I could, down to about 8500’.  From there the ridge scramble really began, up and down multiple fins, towers, and gendarmes.  In many spots the lichens look a little cleaned off by the traffic, which helped with the routefinding.  I stayed mostly on the ridge with two notable exceptions.  I encountered a couple spots of manky looking exposed ridge right next to some inviting goat paths to the right.  Before the NW Peak (8599’) I took one for a couple of hundred feet where I found some snow to top off my water.  But felt I was dropping too low and soon located an ascending path to return to the ridge.  After the NW Peak I encountered a few moves of especially nasty exposed climbing.  By this point I was feeling a little over-scrambled, sort of like choking down the last 10 oz of a 72 oz steak, just trying to get it over with.  The goat path option at that point was so particularly inviting that I took it more than several hundred feet this time, bypassing a lot of the ridge up and down.  However again I could see I was dropping too low so I made an ascending traverse back to the ridge over fun class 3 terrain.  Towards the last several hundred feet before emerging onto Dark’s summit talus slope I used a series of west-facing gullies to bypass yet more towers.  I finally emerged on the upper slope and reached the top of Dark at 2 pm, 5 hours after leaving Bonanza.

Dark
Dark
Looking up the ridge towards West Bonanza
Looking up the ridge towards West Bonanza
Lots of this
Lots of this
West Bonanza
West Bonanza
A seductive goat ledge
A seductive goat ledge

I had by this point around 3pm not really settled how I was going to get down from Dark.  I really needed to be back at the car by the next evening and didn’t want to add a lot of unnecessary mileage.  Swamp Creek, besides sounding horrible, was for me heading in the wrong direction.  Fletcher Jordan’s description of heading down Granite Creek by Dark Fin Tower sounded much better, but still too far north for me.  I really wanted to head over North Star, so I looked the SW for an exit to the headwaters of Glacier Creek.  There are few good options.  Death gullies, cliffs, and buttresses mostly, but one possible funnel-like slope starting on Dark’s west shoulder.  I figured I’d check it out.  As I neared the top of the slope I found it was pretty reasonable choss with a good sized goat track leading down.  And if goats can go that way, I can go that way.  I worked down the slope, made a right, then further down until it narrowed to less than 200’ wide around 7200’, at which point it is separated from the cliff wall to the skier’s right by a deep cleft.  I realized before too long that I actually needed to be on the vegetated slope to the left which ultimately runs out onto well-textured class three exposed rock, and then polished slabs.  A rock dike in the polished area and descending gently left provided a classy exit onto heather.  Success. (**edit - I found out later that this upper section is exactly what FJ had described in his Dark TR)

Some gully choss
Some gully choss
Looking down on the exit apron
Looking down on the exit apron
Looking back towards the exit from Dark
Looking back towards the exit from Dark

I still wanted to avoid dropping too low into forest or brush, so contrived to stay high.  I could see I needed to make a descending traverse to get around the NW Bonanza buttress.  Nearing the base of the rock I was once again enchanted by the siren song of a well-trod animal path to guide the way.  I followed this trail for some time around a number of rock outcroppings, melt streams, and deeply inset gullies never dropping below about 6400’.  Some time around 5:30 I was really ready to call it a day.  There were no good options in the area.  I finally spotted a decent sized boulder embedded in the talus and scree that looked promising.  After rock gardening a flat-enough spot between the boulder and the slope I made some chow, got in my bivy, and passed out.

North Star
North Star

Day 5: Over North Star to Cloudy Pass, Spider Pass, and Phelps Creek

It rained lightly after midnight.  I emerged from my bivy around 5:30, taking my time to get started around 7.  I continued slowly on the scree and talus slope.  As the amount of scree dropped my pace quickened a little.  I was aiming for snowfields to access Grant Glacier and make an ascending rightward traverse to a snow finger I could see on the N ridge for most of the way.  This part was pretty straightforward.  From the top of the finger the ridge is a simple boulder hop to the top, which is where I was by 9.  I took a long break, then headed down to the saddle just west of North Star to gain the snow and start cruising SW towards Cloudy Pass.  Travel was fairly easy, reaching the trail at Toilet Camp just below Cloudy Pass by 11.  From there it was mostly uneventful trail walking around the W side of lower Lyman Lake (the bridge at the outlet is out), over Spider Gap, and down Phelps Creek Trail.  Spider Meadows was a welcome sight.  There might have been a little trail running.  I was back at the car by 4:30 pm.

Crossing Grant Glacier to North Star
Crossing Grant Glacier to North Star
Moody hills
Moody hills

N Ridge of North Star

Lyman Lakes
Lyman Lakes
Chiwawa and upper Lyman Lake
Chiwawa and upper Lyman Lake
Spider Meadows
Spider Meadows
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raising3hikers
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PostThu Jul 11, 2019 8:14 pm 
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Impressive trip in iffy conditions. Look forward to see what you do next

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Eric Eames
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Jake Robinson
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PostFri Jul 12, 2019 7:36 am 
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Thanks for the detailed writeup of this incredible trip! I've only covered a little of the ground you did but it's enough to know how much determination and skill it took to pull this off.
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Brushbuffalo
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PostFri Jul 12, 2019 10:50 pm 
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Very bold trip, nicely accomplished.

freddyfredpants wrote:
reaching the trail at Toilet Camp [ from sign Toilet>Camp>]

Love it!

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Passing rocks and trees like they were standing still
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RichP
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PostSat Jul 13, 2019 1:30 pm 
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Man, you really move.  up.gif

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iron
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PostSat Jul 13, 2019 2:11 pm 
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burly.

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silence
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PostSat Jul 13, 2019 2:28 pm 
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Wow! Impressive!  Great write up and photos too up.gif  up.gif  up.gif  up.gif  up.gif

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Justus S.
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PostSat Jul 13, 2019 9:37 pm 
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Enjoyed the report. Solid work!
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KTizzle89
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PostSun Jul 14, 2019 11:05 am 
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Epic trip man! Good bumping into ya on Martin
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Zinge
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PostThu Jul 18, 2019 8:57 pm 
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Awesome trip!  Great to run into you on top of Bonanza, here's a pic of you heading over to the west summit (zoom in):


-Eric G.
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Matt Lemke
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PostFri Jul 19, 2019 7:33 am 
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Dude nice work getting the Bonanza-Dark traverse! That was fun eh? That section immediately after the rap off Bonanza was indeed the toughest part, good you didn't have a ledge blow out on you! Perhaps Josh and I cleaned the bad ones off...but it sure was good I belayed Josh across that part and I had a bomber cam very close to where he fell so the pendulum fall wasn't too big.

Interesting return route you had...I will look into that more in case I ever feel the need to repeat Dark  dizzy.gif

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freddyfredpants
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PostFri Jul 19, 2019 3:58 pm 
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Thanks everyone for all the encouragement, photos, and route cleaning!

Eric's photo shows me on about the most blank section of that foreshortened fin/gendarme that I mentioned.  That's a spicy meatball!
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RynoA
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PostTue Jul 30, 2019 4:12 pm 
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Extremely impressive and enjoyable to read!
I love seeing routes "cobbled" together to fit the need.

I've toyed with the idea of the Dark-Bonanza traverse, yet I think that I've developed other plans for each of them. Kudos!!
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backpacker92out
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PostTue Jul 30, 2019 4:56 pm 
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Epic trip. Great work and great pics.

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Forum Index > Trip Reports > Fernow, Copper, Buckskin, Martin, Bonanza, Dark, North Star ~~ July 3-7 2019
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