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Eric Gilbertson
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Eric Gilbertson
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PostMon Feb 01, 2021 9:10 pm 
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Reynolds Peak (8,512ft)

Jan 30, 2021, 2:45am Ė 4:15pm

13 miles skiing, 17 miles snowmobiling

Eric Gilbertson and Fred Newman

Reynolds Peak is a pretty significant peak for me because it was my final Bulger peak in October 2018 when I was working on the Bulgers speed record. That season the standard route up Reynolds was closed from forest fires so I ended up approaching from Highway 20 for a big 57-mile day hike climbing up from the west. I had previously also climbed Reynolds another time in June 2017, but climbed it again in 2018 to tighten my finishing time.

Skiing down the SE face (photo by Fred)
Skiing down the SE face (photo by Fred)
The route
The route
At the trailhead
At the trailhead

Now Iím working on climbing Bulgers in winter, so needed to return to Reynolds again. I couldnít find any reports of winter ascents of Reynolds, but have found some spring reports of groups skiing the southeast face route in April or May. Both Fred and I had done that route in the summer, so it made sense for us to try that route in the winter.

The weekend weather didnít look great for above-treeline travel anywhere, but the snow conditions looked favorable in the east north zone for Saturday, so we figured weíd give Reynolds a shot. It looked like it would be snowing and socked in the clouds all day, but I recalled navigation on Reynolds to be straightforward, so it might be doable in low visibility.

Bushwhacking up to the SE basin
Bushwhacking up to the SE basin
Brief views towards the summit
Brief views towards the summit
Heading towards the rightmost gulley
Heading towards the rightmost gulley

In the summer Reynolds is generally climbed via a 14-mile route starting at the Reynolds Creek trailhead, but in the winter the closest plowed road is at the Twisp River trailhead, 8.5 miles away. So a winter climb basically adds 17 miles round trip on snowed-over roads. Iíd been to this sno park several times in previous winters to climb Bulgers in the Sawtooths like Oval, Courtney, and Star. Each of those times Iíd skied up the snowed-over roads to get to the trailheads, but this time I could snowmobile up instead.

Fred and I met at the Twisp River Sno Park Friday night, slept a couple hours, then were packed up and moving by 2:45am. I was a bit nervous about the road conditions because the grooming calendar listed the last grooming as Jan 13, but the daily updates on the washington state park website didnít mention any grooming all year. As it turned out, the road conditions were about the best Iíve experienced all winter. The road hadnít seen much snowmobile traffic recently and thus was nice and smooth with no huge snow waves in the middle. There were a few fresh blowdowns, but they were easy to go over. And there were about 8 inches of fresh powder on top so I didnít worry about overheating (though I had just installed some duraflex ice scratchers just in case - thanks for the recommendation from some nwhikers folks!).

A bit of undercast
A bit of undercast
Williams Butte in the distance
Williams Butte in the distance
Back in the clouds
Back in the clouds

We were able to cruise up at about 20mph and reached the Reynolds Creek trailhead within about 30 minutes. I was a bit concerned about the last 0.5-mile turnoff since it doesnít get groomed, and Iíd brought a new towing setup for Fred just in case it was rough, but I made it up there with no trouble.

We quickly packed up and started skinning up the trail by 3:45am. There was no evidence of any other skiers so the trail was kind of hard to follow in the dark. Eventually we kind of gave up and just headed up the valley through the mostly open forest, occasionally intersecting with the trail. At about 4,800ft we crossed Reynolds Creek and headed into the southeast basin. I recalled the creek being wide and deep back in June, but it was trivial to cross now with numerous good snow bridges.

We stayed on the right side of the creek heading up into the southeast basin, and the forest was generally very open. Shortly after sunrise we emerged in a large open meadow at 5,600ft. The edge of the Reynolds summit pyramid crags loomed above us and surprisingly they were sticking into a big blue hole in the clouds. We had expected it to be snowing and socked in all day, but it appeared we might luck out with the weather.

Looking towards Camels Hump
Looking towards Camels Hump
First view of Reynolds
First view of Reynolds
Skinning up to the summit crags
Skinning up to the summit crags

To climb out of the meadow we took the rightmost of three prominent gulleys heading west. There were old chunks of avy debris in the gully, likely from the January 12 storm, and these made upward progress a bit slippery. Luckily weíd each brought ski crampons, which helped quite a bit. As we climbed higher we popped out above the clouds and were treated to an undercast to the east. It was kind of a sandwich, with clouds below us and above and the sun low enough that it shined right through the middle.

It didnít last long, though. Eventually the lower clouds rose and the upper clouds dropped and it started lightly snowing. Those conditions would remain and intensify the rest of the day. We zigzagged up the southeast basin as the snow changed from powder to icy slab, until we reached the ridge below the summit pyramid at 8,300ft. There we ditched the skis and switched to crampons.

Gaining the south ridge
Gaining the south ridge
The start of the climbing
The start of the climbing
On the summit
On the summit

The previous two times Iíd climbed Reynolds I recalled scrambling up to the east ridge and following that to the summit. But in the winter it looked potentially easier to just climb a snow gully directly up the southeast face to the summit. I led the way up scrambling over some exposed talus then kicking steps up increasingly steep snow. The gully eventually pinched down to about 6ft wide and the snow got thin enough that I was scratching my way up the rocks underneath and pulling on rocks on the sides. The climbing was fun, but steep enough that we agreed not to downclimb it. It was probably mixed 4th class.

By 11:30am I kicked the last steps up to the summit, which was marked by a small cornice over the north face. Unfortunately there were not really any views other than into white clouds. It was windy and snowing still, so we didnít stay more than a few minutes. Fred led the way down the east ridge, and after some delicate downclimbing on thinly-covered rocks we found a
better gully to kick steps back to our skis.

Downclimbing east ridge
Downclimbing east ridge
Downclimbing
Downclimbing
Skiing down the SE face
Skiing down the SE face

Then the real fun began. We strapped on the skis and started cruising down the southeast face. The face was pretty icy up high but turned to fun powder as we descended. We roughly followed our up tracks, shredding powder down the face, down the gully, and back into the trees. Back in the trees we stayed in our up tracks, scooting, gliding, and sometimes sidestepping uphill. I bet it would be possible to ski completely downhill on the way out, but we hadnít set our uptrack carefully enough to do that, unfortunately.

We got a final few more turns in just before reaching Reynolds Creek, then put skins on after the creek crossing. Interestingly, on the other side we saw another fresh set of ski tracks going up. It appeared they were headed up to the valley below Rennie Peak, though we never saw the skiers.

The way out went smoothly as we skinned down our tracks. In the last half mile it was steep enough we transitioned back to ski mode and made some turns back to the trailhead. Now there were two other snowmobiles there from the other skiers, interestingly the exact same model as mine but a few years older (ski-doo summits). We quickly loaded up and headed out. The ride out went very smoothly, and I was moving around 25mph the whole way. By a little after 4pm we reached the cars and loaded back up.

Skiing out
Skiing out
Skiing out
Skiing out
Back at the snowmobile
Back at the snowmobile

It was amazing to get back to the cars so early in the day, while it was still daylight. I think Iíve put most of my snowmobiling hours in this winter in the dark, either going in to a trailhead before dawn or riding out late at night. This makes me think Reynolds is actually one of the easiest winter Bulgers (assuming a snowmobile is used on the approach). We got it done car to car in about 13 hours. Perhaps only St Helens would be a significantly shorter day trip in the winter.

The snow intensified in the evening so it was a slow drive home to Seattle, but I still made it back before midnight.

Link to more pictures
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RichP
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Joined: 13 Jul 2006
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here and there
PostTue Feb 02, 2021 6:02 pm 
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You guys are tearing it up out there. That's a novel idea to do the Bulgers in winter.
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Kat
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PostWed Feb 03, 2021 10:41 am 
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That's the way to Doo it  lol.gif
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Brushbuffalo
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Location: there earlier, here now, somewhere later... Bellingham in between
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PostThu Feb 04, 2021 3:59 pm 
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Eric Gilbertson wrote:
"huge snow waves in the middle"

I have often wondered why snowmobile tracks develop these large waves of ridges and troughs. I wonder if it's some type of positive feedback mechanism, similar to the rhythmic bumps often encountered on the inside of tight switchbacks on steep gravel roads, or even like washboard.

Bushwhacking up to the SE basin
Bushwhacking up to the SE basin

That looks a lot more pleasant than negotiating the jumble of fallen trees or the overgrown trail. Yay snow cover!

--------------
Passing rocks and trees like they were standing still
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