Forum Index > Trip Reports > Enchantments: Cannon and McClellan, Feb 2, 2020
Previous :: Next Topic  
Author Message
Eric Gilbertson
Member
Member


Joined: 04 Jul 2018
Posts: 36 | TRs
Location: Seattle
Eric Gilbertson
  Top

Member
PostTue Feb 04, 2020 10:36 am 
Reply to topic Reply with quote
Enchantments: Cannon Mountain (8,638ft), McClellan Peak (8,364ft)

20 miles, 10,000ft gain

Sunday Feb 2: 2:15am to 5:30pm, Eric Gilbertson (solo)

My favorite time of year to visit the Enchantments region is the winter, when the views are great but the summer crowds are gone. On one trip in September I had to hike in a mile along the road packed with parked cars just to get to the trailhead! But of a half dozen trips in the winter I've never seen another group.

Access to the Enchantments is much more difficult in the winter, however, with the last three miles of the mountaineers creek road to the Stuart Lake trailhead closed. Also, stable snow conditions are generally required to access the plateau. This past Sunday looked like stable snow conditions and sunny weather. I still had a few peaks in the core zone that I hadn't yet climbed in winter, Cannon and McClellan, so planned a trip in.

On previous trips I'd climbed Cashmere, Colchuck, Dragontail, Little Annapurna (twice), and Enchantment as ski or snowshoe trips. This time the snow conditions were an interesting combination that made me decide to bring both skis and snowshoes. Saturday had been a rain event up to around 7,000ft, followed by a hard freeze Saturday night. So by Sunday morning I expected all low-elevation snow to be solid and icy, with possible powder conditions up high.

On Cannon approaching the summit boulder
On Cannon approaching the summit boulder
The route
The route
Cashmere in the early morning alpenglow
Cashmere in the early morning alpenglow

I decided to ski in on the road and flat trail, then use snowshoes and crampons up higher in case it was steep and icy. I planned to climb Cannon via the direct west ridge route which was the shortest route to the summit, though it did require some bushwhacking. One advantage of this route is the only steep avy-prone sections are down at or below treeline. These elevations would have very stable snow conditions after the Saturday rain event. The normal route up Asgard Pass seemed riskier to go solo since it was a steep slope closer to Saturday's snowline elevation, and the route was longer.

Saturday night I slept in the car on Icicle Creek road at the plowed winter parking area, then was up and moving by 2:15am. I wanted to give myself enough time to tag McClellan if I was feeling motivated, so wanted to start early. I skinned from the car around the gate at the bridge and up the Mountaineer Creek road. It was icy with a small bit of powder on top so my skins could grip. There were a lot of post hole tracks and a few snowmobile tracks.

After 90 minutes or so I reached the Stuart Lake trailhead. The trail was broken by some postholes and I continued into the woods. After about a mile I reached the horse ford sign and turned left into the woods. I ditched my skis and ski boots behind a tree and changed into my mountaineering boots and snowshoes. I had contemplated just hiking up in ski boots, but both McClellan and Cannon have sketchy summit scrambles that I felt could be awkward in ski boots.

The terrain immediately got steep, and I was glad I had the snowshoes. It would have been too icy and steep to reasonably skin up, but the snow had a crust that I broke through in bare boots. Snowshoes were definitely the right tool for the job. I generally ascended southeast aiming for the basin between Cannon and Enchantment peak. I had studied the satellite images of the route and was prepared to cross a big snowfield around 4,500ft, but it was very melted out so was instead a tricky partially-filled-in talus field.

Just above the steep section at 5,200ft
Just above the steep section at 5,200ft
Sunrise looking towards Stuart
Sunrise looking towards Stuart
Mt Stuart in the distance
Mt Stuart in the distance

By 5,200ft I reached a steep section that I had heard from Ryan Stoddard's peakbagger report was the site of an accident this past November on a steep cliffy section. Luckily the sky was just barely becoming light enough to see the features above me, and I picked out a reasonable route through the cliff band. I didn't need to do any sketchy scrambling, just hiked up to some frozen waterfalls and cut right through the trees.

Above this band I entered a flat basin at 6,200ft and the snow got more powdery. I ascended the trees all the way to the west ridge of Cannon. The sun was rising on Stuart and Cashmere across the valley, making for great photos. In hindsight the region from 6,200ft to 7,500ft up that slope would have been very fun glade skiing in powder snow.

Once on the ridge the snow got icier and wind scoured with rocks pointing through. I eventually switched to crampons and scrambled up 3rd class boulders and kicked steps up some steep rime ice sections. By 9:30am I finally crested the end of the ridge at the base of the famous summit boulder. This would be the crux of the climb on Cannon, a big boulder on the very summit that required some semi-exposed slab scrambling. I'd done this scramble in the summer, and it was fairly easy in my trail runners on dry rock. I'd also done the scramble in snowy october conditions in hiking boots. I remember that being kind of sketchy but doable.

This time would be full-on winter summit conditions and I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd heard of experienced mountaineers retreating from the summit block in November. I also could not find any reports of winter ascents of Cannon, so wasn't sure what to expect. (There are many reports of skiers skiing the Cannon Couloir, some in winter, but none of anyone continuing on to do the summit scramble which is a nontrivial distance from the couloir).

The view from Cannon (summit boulder on the right)
The view from Cannon (summit boulder on the right)

The first condition I noted was that snow had filled in much of the base of the boulder, making the exposure less than I had recalled compared to September or October. It was still enough to make a fall unadvisable, though. But most of the boulder was plastered in a thin layer of verglass and rime. The rest of the boulder had a bit of snow dusting, but the holds were exposed.

I took off my pack and started up. With my left foot I delicately balanced my crampon points on a few little features of the slab, while I slowly pushed my right crampon points a quarter inch into the rime, careful not to knock any ice off. I pushed my left palm down on features and balanced with my right. After a few moves I reached the summit, and snapped a few pictures.

The way down was a bit sketchier, but I delicately reversed my moves and made it back to my pack. I took a quick food break and surveyed the surrounding peaks. It was a great view of the Enchantments, with Stuart and the Sherpa Balanced Rock in bright sunshine.

I looked over toward McClellan, and was encouraged by the snow features. The standard route up McClellan goes up a steep but short snow slope on the north face, and requires stable snow conditions in the winter. I saw what looked to be rocks poking out down low, and icy debris on the slopes. If the slopes had slid Saturday during the rain event, they would likely be very solid today. My view was from a distance, but it looked encouraging enough for me to check it out. I had plenty of time left in the day, and thought at the very least I ought to enjoy the sunshine in the enchantments more instead of turning back.

Hiking through Prussik Pass
Hiking through Prussik Pass
Approaching McClellan Peak
Approaching McClellan Peak
On the summit looking down at Snow Lake
On the summit looking down at Snow Lake

I plunge stepped down to the plateau east of Cannon, then descended an icy ridge off the plateau. When the terrain leveled I switched to snowshoes and hiked over to Prussik Pass, then descended to Leprechaun Lake. Much of this terrain would have been skiable, but much of it was also very icy. I followed the ridge just east of the lake all the way to the base of the north face of McClellan. I had taken this north face route in September and in October, and both times it was an easy 3rd class scramble to the ridge, then another 3rd class scramble to the summit. This time the whole north face was a big snowfield.

McClellan Peak was climbed in winter for the first time in 1958 and I assume it was from this same north face route. Luckily for me the snow was icy and solid, as I had hoped. I stopped at a boulder at the base of the snowfield and switched to crampons. I marched up some icy bits, then as the slope steepened I started frontpointing. The conditions were mostly perfect snice, with easy but solid dagger placements of my whippet and solid crampon kicks a few inches in. The slope was solid enough that I wasn't worried about stability, but soft enough that I wasn't too worried about falling.

I quickly climbed up to the ridge, then hiked around to the summit block. It was icier and snowier than I remembered, but a bit less sketchy than the Cannon summit boulder. I ditched my poles at the base of the scramble, and carefully started up. I had to make a few moves balancing my crampon frontpoints on some slabby features, but then reached some thin rime to kick into. Eventually I weaved around to more solid boulder features, and topped out just before noon.

The view of the Enchantments from the summit
The view of the Enchantments from the summit

I had another great view of the whole enchantments area, though low-level clouds were building to the south and pushing into the edge of the plateau. I took a 5-minute food break, then carefully downclimbed back to my poles. From there I retraced my route to the top of the north face, then downclimbed facing in and using my footholds from the ascent.

Back at the pack I loaded up my snowshoes then marched down the icy slopes back to Leprechaun Lake. I had a bit of a dilemma at the lake. I really wanted to hike out down Asgard Pass to make a loop and reduce elevation gain. My plan to hike out the way I'd come in meant I'd have to go up and over Cannon Mountain again. Asgard was about 1,000ft lower, and would require zero bushwhacking on the way out.

However, it wasn't certain that the snow on Asgard would be as stable as on the north face of McClellan. Even if it were, it might be a sheet of ice that I would have to down climb facing in, like on McClellan. Either way, if I'd have no way of knowing til I got there, and by that point it would be late enough in the day I'd feel pressured to descend it anyways. If I just returned the same way I'd come it might be longer and harder, but I knew exactly what the conditions were and that they were safe.

Looking down the north face, with Enchantment Peak in the background
Looking down the north face, with Enchantment Peak in the background
Clouds pummeling into Dragontail
Clouds pummeling into Dragontail
Second time up Cannon before heading down
Second time up Cannon before heading down

I reluctantly headed back the way I'd come. I snowshoed back up to Prussik Pass, across a lake, then up my steps to Cannon. I walked around the base of the summit boulder but didn't bother to climb it again. So by a margin of about 10 ft I only climbed Cannon once, not twice on the trip. At the boulder I switched to crampons and scrambled back down the west ridge, then plunge stepped down to the 6,200ft gully. I followed my tracks down through the cliff band and reached my skis at 4:30pm.

I quickly switched to ski boots, strapped on the skis, and started gliding down. The snow was very icy and it was tough work controlling my speed. The trail was a postholed trench so it was best to stay to the side. Unfortunately there were a significant number of slight uphill sections on the way out, but the iciness allowed me to mostly push myself up them with my poles. I occasionally had to take the skis off though. I reached the trailhead a bit before 5pm, then zipped down the road in about 20 minutes, reaching the car a bit before I would have needed the headlamp.

The whole trip I didn't see a single other person, which would be unfathomable in spring, summer, or fall. But that's pretty normal in the winter in the Enchantments.

Link to full report and more pics.
Back to top
View user's profile Search for posts by this user Send private message Send e-mail Reply to topic Reply with quote
NowIFly
Member
Member


Joined: 07 Jun 2018
Posts: 14 | TRs

NowIFly
  Top

Member
PostTue Feb 04, 2020 12:27 pm 
Reply to topic Reply with quote
Fantastic report! Well done, and thanks for posting it!!!!
Back to top
View user's profile Search for posts by this user Send private message Send e-mail Reply to topic Reply with quote
Stefan
Member
Member


Joined: 17 Dec 2001
Posts: 4539 | TRs

Stefan
  Top

Member
PostTue Feb 04, 2020 1:30 pm 
Reply to topic Reply with quote
You sure are choosing to do trips where no one is around!  good on you!

--------------
Art is an adventure.
Back to top
View user's profile Search for posts by this user Send private message Send e-mail Reply to topic Reply with quote
cascadeclimber
Member
Member


Joined: 04 Sep 2006
Posts: 1323 | TRs

cascadeclimber
  Top

Member
PostTue Feb 04, 2020 7:48 pm 
Reply to topic Reply with quote
Solid work, strong effort, excellent reward.

One of the best skis I've had in the Cascades was from the top of Dragontail down Colchuck Lake via Aasgard. The turns from Aasgard were face-shot blower pow the entire way.

And on that same trip, the descent from the lake to the trail in the valley was one of the few times I've removed my skis and postholed down- it was a miserable mine-field of postholes in steep, tight trees.

--------------
If not now, when?
Back to top
View user's profile Search for posts by this user Send private message Send e-mail Reply to topic Reply with quote
GaliWalker
Have camera will use



Joined: 10 Dec 2007
Posts: 4197 | TRs
Location: Pittsburgh
GaliWalker
  Top

Have camera will use
PostWed Feb 05, 2020 7:19 am 
Reply to topic Reply with quote
That was a great report! A good read, and nice pictures too. up.gif

--------------
'Gali'Walker => 'Mountain-pass' walker
bobbi: "...don't you ever forget your camera!"
Photography: https://www.flickr.com/photos/shahiddurrani/albums
Back to top
View user's profile Search for posts by this user Send private message Reply to topic Reply with quote
Backpacker Joe
NWH Joe-Bob



Joined: 16 Dec 2001
Posts: 23504 | TRs
Location: Cle Elum
Backpacker Joe
  Top

NWH Joe-Bob
PostWed Feb 05, 2020 7:32 am 
Reply to topic Reply with quote
How'd you ever get permits?  LOL. doh.gif

--------------
"If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen we must live through all time or die by suicide."

Abraham Lincoln
Back to top
View user's profile Search for posts by this user Send private message Send e-mail Reply to topic Reply with quote
Downhill
Member
Member


Joined: 30 Jul 2018
Posts: 186 | TRs
Location: Leavenworth
Downhill
  Top

Member
PostTue Feb 18, 2020 11:10 pm 
Reply to topic Reply with quote
My first reaction when I saw the title of your post was, "Why?"

Then I read your post and my reaction was "badass!"

Nicely done - gorgeous trip!

Ps. In case you ever decide to do this again, my sled is parked at the Bridge Cr CG all winter so I can at least give you a lift to the TH - hit me up smile.gif
Back to top
View user's profile Search for posts by this user Send private message Reply to topic Reply with quote
xrp
Tactical Backpacker



Joined: 01 May 2012
Posts: 342 | TRs

xrp
  Top

Tactical Backpacker
PostFri Feb 21, 2020 8:35 pm 
Reply to topic Reply with quote
eek.gif

up.gif
Back to top
View user's profile Search for posts by this user Send private message Reply to topic Reply with quote
mrszupke
Member
Member


Joined: 03 Sep 2019
Posts: 4 | TRs

mrszupke
  Top

Member
PostTue Mar 10, 2020 9:14 pm 
Reply to topic Reply with quote
Loved reading this report. Thanks for sharing!
Back to top
View user's profile Search for posts by this user Send private message Reply to topic Reply with quote
  Display:     All times are GMT - 8 Hours
Forum Index > Trip Reports > Enchantments: Cannon and McClellan, Feb 2, 2020
  Happy Birthday weatherman, Lotus54!
Jump to:   
Search this topic:

You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
You cannot attach files in this forum
You can download files in this forum
   Use Disclaimer Powered by phpBB Privacy Policy