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Michael Lewis
Taking a nap



Joined: 27 Apr 2009
Posts: 601 | TRs
Location: Lynnwood, WA (for now)
Michael Lewis
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Taking a nap
PostFri Sep 04, 2020 2:36 pm 
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2020 needed more charm. Josh talked me into the Ptarmigan Traverse. There was no escaping destiny. It had to be done.

8/29

My brother Kyle graciously allowed us to use his car to shuttle our bikes to the Downey Creek trailhead. Rex came along for the ride. Josh treated us to burgers at the Glacier Peak Eatery.
Cascade Pass was packed with cars parked on the side of the road half a mile from the trailhead.
Somehow we lucked out and found a newly vacated spot 40 feet from the trail.
From the crowds I was certain we'd see several parties on the glaciers. Most were wearing masks but few would yield to uphill climbers. They were still polite otherwise so not sure if it's weariness or trail etiquette eroding in the souls of youth. About a mile in my pole broke near the tip but we carried on. Winds picked up near Cascade Pass but the threatening clouds never materialized into anything. Temps stayed in the 40's. Leaving the pass, we ascended Cache Col in twilight.
From the pass forward not a soul was encountered. We descended loose talus to Kool Aid lake by moonlight where we stayed for our first camp.

8/30

The next day we got a late start and continued that trend for the rest of the trip for softer late-season snowpack.
Clear skies enticed us to Red Ledge and beyond.
Lies.
Cirrus clouds exploded from nothing at the Spider Formidable col. There were only a few crevasses to navigate. Key was to head up left and traverse.
Descending the col was not as enjoyable as I had hoped. 45 neve required about an hour of kicking steps as apposed to a nice glissade that would have been available in sunshine or earlier in the year. A gloom filled sky enshrouded us by the time I reached the bottom at about 7100 and started raining. My feet were in pain from the kicking. Both Formidable and Spider were looking to be super sketch having lots of loose dirt on the late season route now turning to mud. We decided to orphan them for another time and continue to Yang Yang lakes to weather the worsening storm. It hailed a little but thankfully no lightning.
Again we had camp to ourselves. Krumholtz, heather and easy water access. A gorgeous camp site to weather the storm in. Visibility was less than 100 yards by dusk. The wind did not relent. Rum burned our bellies and helped us sleep as waves beat the lakeshore and the rainfly whipped around like a sail.

8/31

We awoke to partial clearings in the morning but temps were chilly and visibility never really improved. Josh mentioned how when he had done the traverse 8 years ago they just went over snow and scree below LaConte but this year it looked cliffy with from lack of snow cover so we climbed up over point 7004 in a fishbowl and continued below LaConte from the 6500' col.

LaConte
LaConte

Wind really picked up here so we moved swiftly onto the LaConte Glacier and Josh lead a nice route that weaved through icefall and crevasses to the LaConte Col where we setup camp. I broke down my pole into segments and made t-anchors for the tent against heavy winds. We piled our stuff in and set out for a sunset scramble of Old Guard.
South Cascade glacier
South Cascade glacier
Sentinel
Sentinel
Rum on Old Guard
Rum on Old Guard
Old Guard Sentinel col
Old Guard Sentinel col

The moon kept us company and the wind had died down for the evening. Best sleep to this point and with a great view.

9/1

Unfortunately the next day we were socked in again which didn't bode well for Sentinel. The weather was looking to be a little trashy for climbing.
Still, I thought with a GPS track I could summon the courage to follow Fletcher's footsteps. This turned out not to be the case. The glacier had retreated considerably and we spent much of the traverse on slabs. Once we hit snow it was still very solid by late morning even with some sun poking through. We kicked steps almost to the bottom of the route but the snow had pulled away from the rock creating a razor thin edge to the moat and exposing nasty wet, loose gravel covered down sloping slabs. Josh and I tried to scout routes for an hour but couldn't find anything we felt comfortable down-climbing. Holds just popped right off if they were given too much weight. Guess we were just too late in season to make it go with fresh water on it. Bummer.

We had a schedule to keep so onward we pressed over to Lizard Mountain. Beta said class 1-2 staying on the ridge but there were definitely some class 3+ moves unless you left it for grassy slopes on the NW side. I opted for the 3+ when it was solid and grass when it was loose. Would have been a fantastic view but clouds once again veiled the surroundings. Wind was constant throughout the day. A goat stood guard on the summit eyeing us until we got close then took off towards White Rock Lakes. This led to some inspiration to skip the South Cascade glacier col and drop South directly to the lakes over grassy duff and loose scree. It went easily though would have been nicer with snow-cover.

White Rock Lakes had many camp sites, again all empty. What a gorgeous view too! I wasted effort to photograph some of it while I wrung out my wet socks. We debated staying there but the clouds continued pouring over the Dana Glacier at high speed. It was almost certain if we tried tomorrow that we'd get caught in a whiteout on icy glacier so we pushed down the valley and up the climbers's trail through waterfall slabs. The map indicated we were on glacier at 6600' but the rock continues on until about 7400'. We crossed a rib indicated on the map which extends further now. From here the wind was nearly intolerably cold even with all our coats on. We roped up and Josh led through the now whiteout conditions to the Spire Point col, expertly passing several crevasse fields along the way. We booked it down to Itswoot ridge via head-lamp in near-zero visibility fog. The familiarity of the place made me feel safe and although everything was soaked, sleep came well.

White rock lakes outlet
White rock lakes outlet

9/2


The mist was here to stay. My feet were looking pretty damaged now so I reluctantly bandaged them up knowing full well they would be getting soaked repeatedly throughout the hike down. Ironically, our body heat had actually dried out the tent in the rain but this wouldn't last. We packed up and left at a late hour down running creeks and to cub lake. A quick break to admire the grey and we stormed up the 500' to Bachelor Creek trail. I wrung out socks and insoles in vain to get some of the water out. We descended through wet brush to the basin at 5400' where I again wasted time squishing water from my feet. We rocked Welcome to the Jungle through the slide alder mess at 5-4k. We lost the trail at some point but decided to head North when we were parallel with the old trail on the map around 4k. The trail was littered with blowdown adding hundreds of yards and obstacles. Definitely exhausting. The sun finally came out but I was definitely not enjoying it. The brush was soaking wet and refused to dry. By the time we got to Downey Creek my feet were sponges. Once again I impressed Josh by squeezing out a pint of water from my socks and shoes. We filled water one last time and cruised out to Downey trailhead, arriving about an hour after sunset. We met some horsemen setting up to section hike from Rainy to Suiattle. They said they were doing the PCT in sections based on what was cleared for horses. We tried not to spook the horses while we grabbed our cached gear for dinner. They kindly offered us some beer and we chatted for a bit. Then it was on to the task of trying to dry out our clothes and gear. We found a well established designated fire pit and had a nice small fire going. I cooked us up some chili mac and Josh kept the fire lit until I burnt a hole in one of my socks. I conceded that lightly damp was good enough and we put the fire out, finished off the rum and slept like stones in damp bags under a wet tent.

9/3


Clear skies promised good fortune and we wasted little time prepping for the long bike out to Darrington. On the other side of the first bridge we noticed smoke on Downey Mountain from a fire that had been suppressed by the rains the past few days. The dry weather seemed to threaten to make it worse. I hope it doesn't get out of hand. A little ways down the road we found a campfire that had not been fully extinguished on a log way too large for the pit it was in so we flagged a driver to help put it out. We poured some water on it until it had stopped smoking then I chopped the remains into small pieces and placed them fully within the fire ring. Glad to see people are still willing to help out but wish campers would be more aware. We got back on the road and made pretty good time down Suiattle Road despite tired legs. Hwy 530 went smooth but the heat began to pick up and at Darrington it had become sweltering in the 90's. Burger Barn satiated some big appetites and allowed us to stay at one of their benches until our bus arrived at 7pm for our exit.

All in all, it was just as adventurous as everyone says. Found it tough and captivating. I was very glad to have Josh as my guide given his experience. But I wish we had gone earlier in the year when snow was in better condition to make some of the objectives we had to skip. Some day I guess I'll have to go back there. For now I'm taking a breather.

*edit*
must've been tired because the dates were a day behind
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neek
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PostFri Sep 04, 2020 3:30 pm 
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nice, guys.  we did formidable late season, wasn't bad.  thanks for putting out the fire.
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Jake Robinson
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Jake Robinson
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PostFri Sep 04, 2020 3:52 pm 
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Nice, glad you got it this year! I also skipped Spider and Sentinel, might have to go back someday. Those views from Old Guard are pretty grand.
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Fletcher
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PostFri Sep 04, 2020 4:36 pm 
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Excellent Mike!
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pula58
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PostTue Sep 08, 2020 2:19 pm 
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I did the Ptarmigan traverse my first year in WA: 1993. It rained...a lot!
We climbed Spider Mtn (approach: after passing the Spider-formidable col, we went East, then climbed headed North- I think that is the most common route ), and I vowed never to climb again after Spider -loose, crappy, terrible (and many other adjectives)!

I, of course, climbed a whole lot after that, but I would never go back to Spider again.
Anyhow, by avoiding Spider you really didn't miss much IMHO.
Great photos, great story, and great foods with Ptarmigan Traverse themes! :-
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