Joined: 05 Sep 2013
Posts: 46 | TRs
Location: Bellingham, WA
|We had planned for years. Diamond Creek Fire stopped us two years ago. McLeod Fire (Crescent Complex) stopped us last year. This year, not the September of recent memory. The Methow is still pretty green!
My cousin and I fueled up at Carlos 1800 in Winthrop Wednesday. We drove north in the evening with several deer scattering away from our path up the West Chewuch and 8-Mile to Honeymoon camp. It had one other customer, a larger trailer and truck. We pitched the tent, had a Bastard Kat and watched the stars twinkle and disappear behind faint but moving cloud cover. We slept well for the first night out. The sound of an owl hooting at 5:30 woke me. We packed up and drove to the Copper Glance trailhead for a semi-alpine start. There we breakfasted on Naked Bear Dark Chocolate Granola and instant milk. Delicious!
The view of the red needles from the trailhead was a shock. I had hiked to the meadow above the mine in May last year before the dry lightening that caused the McLeod fire in July. We hiked it last year as a consolation prize for the lack of morels. The Diamond Creek fire was too high in elevation, Spruce and Nobel forest. Bummer. But the view of Isabella Ridge from the meadow etched into my psyche. Steep cliffs and talus slopes. Rock glaciers, Larch.
We started out at about 8. High overcast. The trail is wide and steep. We imagined trucks full of ore heading down this road in the 50’s. Rock with quartz and iron pyrite littered the adits. A small adit is also up the trail south of the main adits and another with blue rock near the lowest tarn before the trail turns south toward Copper Glance Lake. Pika and a Marmot alerted others to our presence.
The recent trail work was great. No blow downs to hop over of any size all the way to the Lake. Thanks WTA, USFS, whoever. Appreciated! The trail is well worn and easy. The map was checked and we confirmed our goal, the top of Isabella Ridge. Now, we headed up and west-northwest. The lower talus was stable. The two lower tarns in our way were dry. We were almost out of water but decided to keep going. It wasn’t hot. Endless talus. Steeper and at the angle of repose. Every step we lost some elevation. The rock was clean of lichen, angular and freshly laid. Limestone chunks showed their brightness in the rotten gullies to our south. We proceeded up the north side of the main gully in a mix of solid rock and choss and sometimes hopped on to the talus then remembered why we moved to the solid rock and choss. The cloud ceiling was at 7,000 feet and rising. A good sign. We chased it up to the pass. We called it Semi-suckish Pass due to the choss and general 2 steps forward 1 step back nature of the ascent. It was easier than anticipated. Having cloud cover helped.
Near the pass, in what appeared to be metamorphosed mudstone was an Ammonite. From the Pass looking west was our objective, Lake 6501. It was partially hidden by a thick Noble Fir grove. To the east and the orange needles of the forest north of Copper Glance Lake. Towering cliffs to the south. Peering down and west we could not see the slope. Would we cliff out? We started down to see it was doable. The direct line in well graded very angular gravel and cobble. Every step down we rock skied. We pushed a wheelbarrow load of the rock 5 feet down the hill with every step. About halfway down the rock went large but still unstable. Several boulders weighing 3 times what I did moved underfoot. We spotted a meadow and headed for it. Big, angular boulders ended in a thick flat meadow which would be a tarn in Spring with all the snowmelt and frozen ground. My Cousin crashed to the ground. Soft ground! We called it Stinger Meadow for the Stinger Honey wafer snacks we enjoyed. The sun was out! What a beautiful place! No bugs. Nobody! We relished the grass and snack.
Beyond the meadow was a mix of granitic bedrock, swampy benches and light schwack. We headed down and a bit north. We checked the map after spooking some Grouse into flight. We headed back south and there it was, Lake 6501.
No sign of humans anywhere. No old fire pits, no beaten paths. Just Lake, trees, grass, shrubs and rock. We checked for campsites and settled for the southwest quadrant. A perfect kitchen rock on the lake shore and a slightly sloped patch of grass. The Lake was deep! We contemplated naming the lake. Kitchen Rock Lake keeping with Copper Glance and No Dice as a theme – related or not? You decide.
The trees were amazing. The north side all Noble Fir. The south side all Larch. The cliffs and talus south of the Lake limit sunlight and nutrients giving Larch the advantage. Larch are so Dr. Seuss. They also make perfect bear hangs with their hook shaped branches. My first rock toss over a limb and the rope was up.
We prepared dinner of cup of noodle soup, Pro-pack Chicken Teriyaki and Raspberry Compote. Delicious. The clouds continued their steady roll over from the southwest. The winds blew in and turned back around in the basin. Evening sun shown on the west faces of Isabella Ridge and West Craggy. Beautiful. No bugs!
As darkness fell, we hung the food. A Pika kept checking out our tent only a few feet from our boots. We theorized she’d never seen a human before. We covered our stuff and dove into our bags giddy as kids on Christmas Eve.
At 11 the rain started. Bummer. But we were undercover and so was our stuff. It let up, then poured at 2 AM awaking us both. Hmmm… Back to sleep, rain, light rain, drizzle, wind. Repeat. 6 AM, light, rain let up. I open up the door and the sky is blue with light fast clouds. Not so bad.
Breakfast of eggs, Spam, cider, hot tang and white trash mochas. Spam is normally my emergency ration, but I decided to give it a try. Edible, not great. We were thankful the bear hang bags were pretty dry thanks to the Larch needles and only our pack rain covers and rain fly were wet. Packing up the same Pika sat on the peak of a boulder and watched us from 10-feet away.
The plan was to hike north-northeast to a steep gully to Slushy Tarn. We’d drop our packs, summit West Craggy then head to Slushy Tarn, over a pass and see the tarn above No Dice Lake and No Dice Lake itself and decide to stay or push on. We easily rose out of the forest and into a moderately sloped gully and meadow toward the ridge crest. To the west big, dark rainclouds lurked over the Lost River Valley smothering the Three Pinnacles and Pistol Peak East. Deer prints were freshly pressed beneath our feet, but we did not see them. The wind was speeding up as we rose in elevation. Would we get hammered by a storm at 8,000 feet?
Above the trees and grass, lichen covered talus of small boulders and cobbles. We checked out 3 gullies and decided we found the best one. Sketchy steep, no snow. If the weather were bad our bail route was the main West Craggy route to the east. We awed at our first views of Slushy Tarn. No picture and no stare at Google Earth could give this place its true perspective. Steep! We decided to summit West Craggy with full packs. Dark clouds and fog blew past us. That last 300 feet of vertical to the summit was eerie and unnerving. The wind pushed us around as we hopped the small boulders. At the summit, the register showed the last person there was August 27, 2 weeks ago. Verizon had 2 bars, so I called my weather expert friend. He said the weather was marginal but no heavy precipitation until tomorrow. We couldn’t believe him. The winds continued to pick up. We put layers on. We contemplated. The safest thing was to bail. The unknown included No Dice, the rock glacier and steep headwall of the ridge between Big Craggy and West Craggy. In rain or snow or whiteout, not a place to be. So reluctantly, we decided to bail.
We packed up and followed an obvious trail in the talus south and east along the ridge crest and down a wide angle of repose slope that looked straightforward. Pushing rock down with every step we reached cliff bands. We bounced around slowly descending and checking each other’s ideas. You could only see 50-feet down and beyond that just talus 500 feet below. Would we get down? Would we have to retrace our steps? Choss, solid rock, not ideal but not what we expected from descriptions of a “magic white ramp” which we saw near the ridge top but not 1/3 the way down it. We took a break. We found a way through the cliffs and then the end, a chimney setup with plenty of choss. One at a time we made it to the talus base elated. The wind continued to howl. We decided on the name Poop Cliff for reasons to remain mysterious. There were a few rock cairns along this route. From the bottom, the “magic white ramp” was more obvious and east of our route. It looked easier mentally but imagine the angle of repose would have been a battle all the way up and potentially spooky going down.
From there it was down the gut of a rock glacier and endless clean, sharp, angular freshly laid boulders and cobbles to large Larch. A flowing tarn, outlet of the rock glacier (?) and a dry and large tarn surrounded in larch with perfect views of Big Craggy. In the McLeod burn, following a creek, over burned logs until the trail was found.
Poop Cliff took hours. We’d thought it would take minutes. The winds died down below 6,000 feet, warmth returned and the clouds lightened. Had we been tricked? Was my weather buddy, right? Did we chicken out? We were at the car at 6:15.
Yep! We stayed in Winthrop which was surprisingly busy post Labor Day with no rain pattering the metal roof overnight. SON OF A! My cousin and I marveled that it had only been 2 days, yet our minds were full of memories. We had gotten our half of a fix and that’s all we would get until next year. Gotta have more Isabella Ridge!
“Let the refining and improving of your own life keep you so busy that you have little time to criticize others." - H. Jackson Brown