Deception has the only class 2 route I know of from which people have fallen to their deaths.
- Norman Clyde
Mount Deception is big and dangerous! Do not bother climbing it after snow has melted from it, as it would become one giant choss heap and you would most certainly die.
- Chris Willett
That's just a sample of what can be found written on-line about climbing Mount Deception from Royal Basin. For whatever reason though, I didn't do any extra research before my trip and just took the OMCG's class 2 rating for granted - and ended up having a very educational experience.
Nothing bad happened, but I made some poor choices along the way that definitely narrowed the margin for error. In what's only my second trip report I probably shouldn't be admitting in public to making some embarrassing mistakes. But live (preferably) and learn, eh?
Mount Deception - September 11, 2011
The moon was full, but ruddy brown as I drove road 2870 high above the Dungeness. I'd pulled an all-nighter and was pumped on coffee and the pleasure of cruising 101 on a summer evening with the windows down and only the late-night truckers for company.
The peaks across the valley appeared dim and two-dimensional through the haze from the fire on the Duckabush. I could even catch the scent of smoke in the air and doubted the feasibility of hiking under these conditions. But, after dropping down to the trailhead by the river, the air smelled cool and clean so I forged ahead hitting the trail at 2.30 a.m.
The long trail through deep old growth was a bit spooky alone in the dark. Distant patches of moonlit ground flickered between the tree trunks at the edge of my peripheral vision, repeatedly tricking me into thinking baleful eyes were lurking in the darkness. In fact, the only wildlife I saw was a tiny ball of fur that dashed ahead up the trail and ducked behind a tree. Coming around the tree, my light fell upon the littlest crouching bunny. I moved along quickly as it was obviously in mortal terror.
I made Royal Lake by 6 in pre-dawn light and enjoyed sunrise in the upper basin. It had been so long since I'd last been there, I'd forgotten just how beetling the towering spires surrounding Surprise Basin are at close range. I wished then for a good camera with a tripod, but I did my best to capture in memory the violet, lilac and salmon colors in the east and the rose and peach hues flooding down the fortress-like rock walls to the west.
I prepared a replacement liter of water with my new Steripen. (I love the idea but, like other reviewers, found the performance finicky so the jury is still out.) By the time I was ready to roll again, the summits above were blazing orange and the first skeeters were already out hunting. I moved on toward the base of talus slopes below Martin Peak. The route above looked stiffer than the 2 rating in the climber's guide, but I reminded myself it was probably the effect of foreshortening. It wasn't.
As I gained elevation, the stable talus gave way to loose scree. The grade became ever steeper and solid footholds ever fewer. Above ramparts I could find brief stretches of safe rock, but each of these invariably gave way to more delicate work in dirty, shallow gullies that had unnervingly short run outs before shooting off cliffs.
All this time I kept thinking that I must have missed the class 2 route which I expected to pick up as I approached the saddle. I hadn't.
Finally, not far below the ridgeline, the rock got more solid but the exposure was just as bad. I discovered that the proper notch through which to cross the ridge is actually above and to the south of the "lowest point" as described in the guide. The descent onto the stagnant glacier under Gilhooley Tower seemed like a cakewalk by comparison.
Expecting the snow to be hard on a September morning, I'd brought along a pair of instep crampons that I'd bought years before and wanted to try out. With my axe, they did perform well as long as the slope kept below 30 degrees and I could use the suncups as stairs. But as it got steeper, it became clear that real crampons would be required as self-arrest on that rock-hard, dimpled slope would have been an impossibility.
It seemed as good a time as any to make a stupid mistake, so I worked my way east over to a steep, narrow gully, left behind the crampons and started climbing. I'd made about 20 very steep feet up the slot when it flared open like a funnel, still some way before topping out. Climbing up out of this was ticklish - I didn't want to think about how it was going to be going back down.
But, for better or worse, it was finally clear sailing for the last 500' to the top. Surreal acres of seemingly uniform melon-sized blocks stretched ahead - truly a delight to walk on. On the last snow field below the top I met a sweet little female Horned Lark having trouble standing on the snow. It would leap up a foot or so to nab cold-numbed insects, but landing each time did a little slip and skid until getting a purchase so that it could pick apart its bug. It was remarkable in that the bird was barely ten feet away and so pre-occupied with hunting that it didn't seem worried about me at all!
A few more steps brought me up onto the enormous summit - a party of a hundred or more could fit on the top. And the view was of the kind reserved for only the highest peaks in the range! Mount Anderson stands prominently to the southwest, and to the west Olympus beyond the Elwha. The watershed of the Dosewallips north fork sweeps below, and Mount Cameron seems near at hand. Directly north is a superlative view of the Needles, and to the northeast lie all of the familiar peaks in the Quilcene watershed, culminating in the massive bulk of Mount Constance and her satellites. Mount Mystery looked just splendid towering above the sparkling lake at the toe of its glacier, but the Brothers were a bit hazy from the smoke of the Duckabush fire.
It seemed I had caught a perfect window as an approaching system had swept the skies mostly clear of smoke, while the actual weather was still holding off the coast. The straits and all of the Puget lowlands were blanketed by a thick marine layer, but that only enhanced the feeling of being on top of the world!
I lounged for over an hour and a half before facing the grim trials involved in descending. Had I carried the crampons up that nasty gully, I could have (as was obvious from this vantage point) swung around the west side of Gilhooley Tower. As it was I got to do a good impression of an ant trying to carefully descend through an hourglass - suspended above a meat grinder. This was no fun at all. In the moat above the snow, I had to excavate the crampons out from under a pile of debris that had come down with me. By comparison, backing down the icy slope below seemed almost safe.
All I'll say about the descent off the Deception-Martin ridge was that it was everything as unpleasant as on the way up. For what must have been an hour or more, the perception of time simply disappeared as my brain focused completely on each and every step. I arced towards the south to get off of the rock as soon as possible. When I finally set foot on soft afternoon snow, the relief of exiting onto terrain that wasn't trying to kill me was very, very welcome!
A few standing glissades, some plunge stepping, and a bit of scrambling through boulders brought me back to the little lake at the end of the trail. Within moments squadrons of mosquitoes were all over me, making water prep tedious and urging me not to linger too long. As I shouldered my pack to head off down the trail, the mountain bade me farewell by tossing a big chunk down the center gully on the northeast face. I watched for ages as it shattered and re-shattered into a thousand foot-long rock avalanche and dust plume. Hmmm, so that's what I'd look like?
The trail back out was both beautiful and calming. I'd certainly had my fill of exposure, UV and insects and was truly very happy to unsaddle my pack, change into some fresh clothes, and begin the long drive home at about 8 o'clock.
Having returned safely, I can say that I am glad that I went on this hike - mistakes and all. It'd been a long time since I'd had a hike that didn't go quite as planned and the lessons learned from dodgy situations are well-remembered ones.
The OMCG states that routes are rated for ideal climbing conditions. In this case the class 2 rating would apply when mature, mid-season snow (that can hold kicked steps perfectly) covers all of the crumbling rock. With no snow, this is certainly a class 3 route - and a difficult one at that. The expectation of a relatively easy summit was a key factor in choosing to undertake an 18-mile hike with +5,000' elevation gain on no sleep, which certainly impaired my decision making capabilities.
By the time I had reached the Deception-Martin saddle, fatigue and the long stretch of (unanticipated) exposure had definitely narrowed my vision. I was no longer thinking on my feet, but was merely following the guide. I am certain that had my head been clearer, the alternative route around Gihooley Tower would have been intuitively obvious.
And, given the assumption that there was only one way to proceed, the choice to leave behind the crampons (in order to save a couple minutes of packing and a little bit of weight) prevented me from adapting - even when a better alternative became available.
It's good to be thus humbled on occasion. The mountain deities saw fit to let me summit and return in one piece - but kept things just dicey enough that I would remember to pay them more respect in the future.
-------------- "Forget gaining a little knowledge about a lot and strive to learn a lot about a little." - Harvey Manning
Nice TR. I've never tried Deception. I did climb Mt. Clark. It took a couple tries before I succeeded. It was earlier in the year than your trip so there was decent snow cover and it was soft enough for good kick stepping.
One year, it might have been Labor Day weekend, I backpacked into Deception Basin. I crossed the divide near Mt. Deception and descended into Royal Basin. While I was never in fear for my life I remember that being...tedious at best. It was like walking on ball bearings at times.
One of the most beautiful experiences I've ever had was a moonlit ascent of Mt. Fricaba in fresh snow in early November. Just enough to cover the loose crappy rock but not so much as to make traveling particularly difficult. It wasn't a full moon but it was putting out plenty of light to see by. Looking across at Mt. Mystery and the little lake below it was stunning.
Joined: 12 Oct 2006 Posts: 942 | TRs | Pics Location: Edmonds, WA
Tue Oct 11, 2011 10:48 pm
Thanks for the report! For my first attempt at Deception I went with my Olympic Ranger friend Bridgett. The slope in question was melted out and we got about half way up before we realized we were in trouble. All we had with us was an exceptionally long runner so we tied ourselves together and took turns downclimbing. Several years later she was involved in a helicopter rescue on the peak to save a fallen teen climber. Class 2 my A$$!
Joined: 15 May 2007 Posts: 1045 | TRs | Pics Location: Bainbridge Island
Wed Oct 12, 2011 6:00 am
Great report and pix. And thanks for sharing how you felt after you'd gone past your comfort zone. While I can't say I've undertaken something like this with zero sleep, I'm familiar with the thought processes revealed in this line: "The expectation of a relatively easy summit was a key factor in choosing to undertake an 18-mile hike with +5,000' elevation gain on no sleep". Hope springs eternally, leading us back into the mountains time after time. The OMCG has given cllimbers cause to complain about being "sand-bagged." As a precaution, it does not hurt to assume that routes billed as 2nd or 3rd class may include challenges as much as 2 classes above those ratings. Not that that is always the case. I'm glad your adventure turned out well for you.
olderthan...: I too love Deception Basin - have camped there twice. Unforgettable sunset light through cotton candy clouds on an evening scramble up Hal Foss. From what I've been reading it sounds like Clark is the safest summit to get into the Needles proper.
Gimpilator: Having a real climber tell me that he backed off what I naively pushed through doesn't make me feel very clever. Love this pic of the glacier:
AA: Constance, Stone and Worthington each included a few brief sections of sketchy terrain and moderately challenging summit scrambles. I was beginning to think that I was getting a handle on what the guide meant by "class 3". (A couple others felt even easier.) This "class 2" experience on Deception turns all that on its head.
I have a friend in OMR that I'm looking forward to taking this up with. I'd like to suggest an "Olympic Decimal System" where the 2's and 3's get standardized and subdivided for weenies like me.
-------------- "Forget gaining a little knowledge about a lot and strive to learn a lot about a little." - Harvey Manning
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