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IanB
Vegetable Belayer



Joined: 21 Jul 2010
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IanB
Vegetable Belayer
PostThu Oct 06, 2011 10:11 am 
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This has been my second season back in the Olympics after a 10-year absence. (A neurological disease that set in after knee surgery took forever to overcome.)  Hiking in these mountains was the most enjoyable pursuit in my life when I was 35 - losing it was simply devastating.  Last year, when I finally revisited Zion in the spring, the emotions were so strong that I actually sobbed with joy and relief.  A long-time hiking buddy who'd come along for the occasion told me to, "Quit sniveling, ya wuss!" (Or something like that.)  I haven't looked back since.

So, enough with the teeny violin.  Here's my first trip report...


Mount Worthington - August 12, 2011

I arrived at the Big Quilcene trailhead at 10 a.m. hoping to catch a sunny day for a solo recon of Mount Worthington.  Following the advice of Schmidt Altitude, I opted for what appeared on the map to be the easiest approach to the summit.  Just beyond Shelter Rock Camp, I headed up north and west through mature timber with pretty easy travel.  A short band of easily bypassed cliffs marked a transition into brushier vegetation.  Game trails gradually coalesced into a way path arriving on a sub-alpine bench at 5800'.  The path went through a little hunter's camp (obligatory charred ham-tin cooking pot), dodged cliffs below Iron's east ridge, and then dissolved into meadows that continued all the way up to Worthington's west ridge.

Beautiful meadows.
Beautiful meadows.

I was rapidly losing the clear skies as I reached the ridgeline at about 6800'.  With vapors beginning to swirl up from the Quilcene, I hustled on through the most beautiful and surreal of landscapes toward the summit block.  Dozens of tilted, contorted stone formations were transformed by the mist into Neolithic menhirs.  It was like hiking along the spine of a lush and mossy Stegosaurus.

Through these ranks of goblin minions the 30' summit block loomed into view, a twisted black tooth rooted in a lightning-blasted cockscomb of a ridge.  Climbing up, alone in thickening fog, it was a little too easy to conjure images of a concussion, compound fracture, or worse.  My summit register entry broke a stretch of nearly two years that the mountain had apparently been left in peace.

Summit of Worthington.
Summit of Worthington.
View west from just below the summit.
View west from just below the summit.
View east of Copper Peak.  The West Shaft entrance is located just above the smaller triangular patch of snow.
View east of Copper Peak.  The West Shaft entrance is located just above the smaller triangular patch of snow.

Once off the sphincter-tightening summit, drinking beer and dozing in sunny meadows would have been next on the to do list.  Too bad that the "sunny" part was awol.  Making do, I descended to the point on the ridge above my exit route and had a murky lunch, hoping for clearing that never came.  At about 5 I gave up waiting and headed down, dropping out from the cloud deck around 6000' and retracing my steps back to the car.


Mount Worthington - August 17, 2011

A few days later Rob and I were at the Tubal Cain trailhead at 7.30 a.m. with prospects for a "mostly sunny" afternoon.  We pushed along the first 3 interminable miles and, beyond Copper City, opted to explore the old trail grade that cuts off an enormous switchback in the modern trail.  This path is in surprisingly good condition with only a couple of down trees and is a worthwhile shortcut to know about.

We then turned down the Buckhorn Lake trail, which was also new ground for both of us.  The lake itself was nicer than I expected with a beautiful green tint, but no open shore.  Then the fun began, crossing the inlet waterfall and thrashing through a nasty bit of avalanche-broken trees to a talus clearing not far above.  The open rock soon led to an algae-choked pond at the foot of a broad scree ramp ascending to the east.

As we proceeded up the ramp, consolidated talus gradually gave way to steepening scree.  Staying to the left, we toiled up between rock and shallow scree before hopping onto the adjacent spur and enjoying some big rubble the rest of the way up to the summit ridge.

Looking down the scree ramp.  Buckhorn Pass and the Needles.
Looking down the scree ramp.  Buckhorn Pass and the Needles.
Basalt approaching the ridge.
Basalt approaching the ridge.
A sunnier view of Worthington's summit.
A sunnier view of Worthington's summit.

Once again in the faerie land of contorted stone and sweeping meadows, we pushed onward as the first snippets of cloud were beginning to twist overhead.  In (mostly) sunshine and the company of a good friend, the summit scramble seemed much easier but still merited cautious respect.  After signing the register we headed back down with brewing clouds already conspiring to steal the view.

Sharp things to fall on.
Sharp things to fall on.
Groovy tree.
Groovy tree.
Rob in vegetation.
Rob in vegetation.

We ambled back along the ridge before dropping to the saddle between Worthington and Iron for lunch.  We were below the fog, and kept company by 14 ravens socializing on the meadows above.  My beer was followed by a welcome nap, which was followed by being kicked in the shins by Rob who pointed out that it was clear and sunny again - and a few minutes before 6 o'clock.

Rob asleep.
Rob asleep.

Packing up, we then hustled off the saddle into what I'll call Iron Basin - an exquisite little Shangri-la of sun-cupped snow, enclosed by the bluestone pinnacles of Iron and the rusty cliffs of Worthington burning in the late-afternoon sun.  Regretfully, we dropped over the lower lip of the basin and down a partially wooded headwall before emerging onto a large talus field which led back to the dank little pond completing our loop.

Iron Basin.
Iron Basin.

A cool, quiet evening had already settled over the meadows as we trundled down the high trail towards Copper City.  Ruddy light still bathed the summit ridge, seeming so impossibly high above.  Rob picked out the black rectangle at 6,400' that marks the entrance of the West Shaft, occupied by the silent ghosts of miners that have witnessed night's fall nearly 40,000 times.  Maybe the destination of some future ramble?


Copper Peak, Mount Worthington & Iron Mountain - August 28, 2011

So, to finally settle some unfinished business.  I had visited Copper Peak in '95 and could tell from the top that it was Worthington's false summit, but was forced to retreat by approaching thunder.  I really wanted to connect the missing link between the two summits and continue on to Iron.  Another friend, Sean, was available for adventure.

We started hiking up the Big Quil at 7 and left the trail just past Shelter Rock Camp to hoof our way up to Tull Pass.  From there, our route angled southwest up Copper Peak to a small patch of hanging meadow and the entrance of a shallow gully that broached the lowest cliff band.  From there a rising traverse to the northwest led to the ridge just north of Copper's summit.

Sean on Copper Peak.
Sean on Copper Peak.
Worthington from Copper.  Iron and the Buckhorns behind.
Worthington from Copper.  Iron and the Buckhorns behind.

Then on into the unknown, we scrambled along the ridgeline between the summits.  I opted to drop a little to the south over a corduroy series of rock ribs and scree chutes, while Sean went straight through the worst looking stuff up on the ridge.  We rejoined just to the east of Worthington's summit.  On top I had the honor (?) of signing the register for the third time in a little over two weeks.

Finally, the view with no clouds!  Gargoyles, Brothers, Constance & Co., Anderson, Mystery & Deception.
Finally, the view with no clouds!  Gargoyles, Brothers, Constance & Co., Anderson, Mystery & Deception.

After descending, I was finally back in those amazing meadows - this time with perfectly clear skies.  I would have chosen to actually sit down and take a few minutes, but no such luck - having lacked the foresight to fill Sean's pack with rocks while he was striking Herculean postures on the summit.

The traverse of Iron offered plenty of fun scrambling.  The multiple tops of Iron are a chaotic fantasy of twisted pylons and balanced blocks, and the area just southwest of the summit is a delightful zone of talus to hop-scotch around on.  We found a nice-looking perch for lunch, and savored our well-earned beers while gazing out over the Gargoyles toward Mount Constance.

Looking back over Iron toward Worthington.
Looking back over Iron toward Worthington.
Only one cloud in the sky - but what a stunner!
Only one cloud in the sky - but what a stunner!

The imposing face of Northeast Buckhorn loomed above us, ending any speculation we might have had about continuing in that direction.  I'd read that climbers occasionally pass that way - but not me!  I scrambled out along the Iron-Buckhorn aręte as far as was rational and redoubled my certainty that I never, ever want to tackle anything that scary.

The nastier side of Northeast Buckhorn.
The nastier side of Northeast Buckhorn.
From a little closer to the saddle.
From a little closer to the saddle.

Dropping down the gullies to the south was technically easy but we went slowly to avoid sending rocks rolling down on to Sunday crowds on the trail somewhere below.  It took much longer than necessary to pain-stakingly pick our way down and rejoin the Big Quil trail about a mile above Shelter Rock Camp.


Redux


I've been fascinated with this area ever since having come across a copy of Eva Cook Taylor's book, The Lure of Tubal Cain.  In some ways the remaining evidence of the mining activity from nearly a century ago only accentuates the sense of remote wilderness that exists today.  The chance this summer to finally walk these hills after ten year's dreaming has been more than I could've ever hoped for!

If one's goal is simply to visit the summit of either Worthington or Iron, the easiest route is the first one described - from Shelter Rock Camp to the saddle between the two mountains.  However the traverse, particularly if done from the Dungeness side, offers a very pleasurable mix of beautiful scenery, scrambling and route-finding challenges.

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"Forget gaining a little knowledge about a lot and strive to learn a lot about a little."    - Harvey Manning
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reststep
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reststep
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PostThu Oct 06, 2011 10:30 am 
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Thanks for the report and pictures Ian.  I really like that area.

I have not done it but another approach to Worthington might be from Tull Canyon.

I think I met you on Mt. Townsend several years ago.  You had taken the off trail ridge route to the top of Townsend on the Townsend Creek side.  Since then I have also taken that interesting route to the top of Mt. Townsend a few times and really enjoy it.  Thanks for the tip.

You also told me about going up Milk Creek towards Mt. Fricaba.  I have not managed to work that hike in yet but hope to sometime.

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"The mountains are calling and I must go." - John Muir
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Phil
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PostThu Oct 06, 2011 11:08 am 
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IanB wrote:
Redux


Cool map, well done.  I especially like the mine shaft markings.  Were you able to see the west shaft?

Congratulations on your happy return to the Olympics.  Looking forward to future reports of your adventures.
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NWtrax
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PostThu Oct 06, 2011 8:00 pm 
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good for you ian! the healing power of nature can't be overstated, welcome back.
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Fletcher
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PostThu Oct 06, 2011 8:55 pm 
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Cool report. I did Buckhorn in August. Looks like some gnarly terrain towards Iron and beyond from Buckhorn.
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puzzlr
Mid Fork Rocks



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puzzlr
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PostThu Oct 06, 2011 10:02 pm 
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Great report. Too bad your photos got partially redacted. Did you piss off the TSA?

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Mid Fork Rocksflickr
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Ancient Ambler
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PostFri Oct 07, 2011 4:53 am 
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IanB wrote:
I was rapidly losing the clear skies as I reached the ridgeline at about 6800'.  With vapors beginning to swirl up from the Quilcene, I hustled on through the most beautiful and surreal of landscapes toward the summit block.  Dozens of tilted, contorted stone formations were transformed by the mist into Neolithic menhirs.  It was like hiking along the spine of a lush and mossy Stegosaurus.

Through these ranks of goblin minions the 30' summit block loomed into view, a twisted black tooth rooted in a lightning-blasted cockscomb of a ridge.

Once again in the faerie land of contorted stone and sweeping meadows, we pushed onward as the first snippets of cloud were beginning to twist overhead.

Packing up, we then hustled off the saddle into what I'll call Iron Basin - an exquisite little Shangri-la of sun-cupped snow, enclosed by the bluestone pinnacles of Iron and the rusty cliffs of Worthington burning in the late-afternoon sun. 

Now that's some impressively powerful writing!  Congratulations, IanB, on your amazingly well-crafted debut TR and on the perseverence that allowed you to return to the mountains after such a prolonged recovery from illness.  I can only imagine how sweet it must have been to be on Mount Zion after being restricted to so many years in the lowlands.

Your writing shows that the written word can be far more evocative than a photograph, but I enjoyed your photographs as well.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but it appears in some cases that you took multiple adjoining shots of some scenes, printed out hard copies, laboriously arranged the hard copies to depict the overall scene and then photographed the result.  I particularly like your compiled photo of the cirrus cloud.

Looks like you really got to know a seldom-visited area of the Olympics.  Like Phil, I'm impressed by your map.  Did you head out the ridge north of Hawk Peak?  If so, are you going to do a report with some photos of that area?  Thanks for doing the considerable work it took to create your TR.  I'm looking forward to more TRs from you as you continue to roam the Olympics.
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IanB
Vegetable Belayer



Joined: 21 Jul 2010
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Location: gone whuljin'
IanB
Vegetable Belayer
PostFri Oct 07, 2011 10:20 am 
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Thanks so much for the enthusiastic responses!  Since finding this website last year it has proven an invaluable resource.  Having finally figured out the photo hosting stuff, I am excited to become a contributing member!

reststep:  Sounds like that was me on Townsend - proselytizing to any fellow hiker who'll listen about my favorite routes.  After a warm-up hike on Zion each spring, the east ridge of Townsend is my (once again) traditional annual return to the high country.  That was quite some trick connecting this trip report with a chance meeting on a mountain top over ten years ago!

Phil:  Thanks for the compliment on the map.  I've been a fan of the TOPO! software since it first came out and, in addition to routes, I've been trying to systematically add current and historic place names and other details as I come across them.

Depending on the light, the West Shaft is often clearly visible from the long switchback on the Tubal Cain trail.  The entrance is apparently at the base of a small overhang which made it (unexpectedly) almost invisible from on top of Worthington.  The miners camp was at Buckhorn Lake and they traversed at about 5,900' into the cul-de-sac where the shaft is located.  It looks like there may be one line from just to the left of the entrance, up to the north ridge of Copper Peak.  If that route goes, then the "ideal" tour-du-Worthington would visit the West Shaft, Copper, the summit, and continue on to Iron and then drop into Iron Basin via the chute just east of Iron's summit.  Or at least that's my plan.

By the way, I laughed so hard reading your report from Gray Wolf Ridge - "grow some stones", "What a dumbass! Truly is there anything funnier than someone falling down?"  Exactly the same dynamic I've enjoyed with Rob for many years!

NWtrax: The Olympics have remedied more than one illness for me.  Funny thing, if you feel crappy, go hiking.  You'll come back tired, but healthier than when you left!

Fletcher:  Had an absolutely perfect trip to (SW) Buckhorn last week - will post eventually.  The NE summit looks to be significantly more challenging than any of the other nearby peaks - and its east face - made my knees shake just looking at it.

puzzlr:  Redacted - lol!  Didn't see it till you mentioned it, but that's exactly what they look like!

Ancient Ambler:  Greetings fellow Islander!  Thanks for the nice words on both the text and photos.  Used to do some "nature" writing for the Review years ago, but stopped when the knee kept me from getting out for inspiration.  Love this new venue!

The pictures are all just cut and paste on the computer.  (Used to do it with tape and an exacto blade back in the dark ages.)  I don't have that fancy software that "bends" the photos to correct for distortion...  A new camera is definitely on my wish list!

Hawk Ridge was a wonderful loop that Rob and I did last summer.  We went uphill just before the trail crosses Tull Creek and followed the ridge south to that perfect little meadow that looks over the Quilcene.  Returned via Silver Lakes way trail.  All easy class 2 - as I recall only one 10' downclimb in over a mile of fun scrambling.  Will put a retroactive post on my winter to-do list.

Also, what an amazing trip you took deep into the range this year!  I've been following your posts and particularly admire that you value the easy meadow-walks as highly as the craggy summits!

Thank you all for the warm welcome!

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"Forget gaining a little knowledge about a lot and strive to learn a lot about a little."    - Harvey Manning
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Hiker Mama
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PostSat Oct 08, 2011 7:43 am 
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That looks like a beautiful area!  It's so good to hear of folks getting back into hiking after health problems keeping them away.

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My hiking w/ kids site: www.thehikermama.com
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