Camped high atop a snowy peak, a rare crux of springtime fortune graced us with both clear winter light and warm summer sunshine.
Early in the morning, pastel light above the rising sun blended across the sky into deep blue shadows below the setting moon.
On this morning before Easter, the world seemed to sing out Gloria in Excelsis, glory in the highest.
Our target destination was Sourpatch Mtn, the 6607 point that rises northeast of Sourdough Lake.
But really I'd take any excuse to camp high on Stetattle Ridge again, and enjoy the great views overnight.
As it worked out, all of us camped atop Sourdough Mountain, three of us went to Sourpatch, and Steph went to both the Sourdough Lookout and the south summit of Stetattle Ridge.
Sourdough Mountain Trailhead (900 feet) to Lake 5916 (9:45am 3:15pm)
We took the winter route to Stetattle Ridge follow the Sourdough Mountain Trail as far as possible, then go straight up the ridge crest to Lake 5916, which lies right at the junction between Sourdough Mountain & Stetattle Ridge.
Circa 2800 feet we lost the trail in snow, and circa 3000 feet had to put on snowshoes. The narrow rib at 5500 feet was almost entirely hidden by snow, which made for an easy ascent on that part.
Along the way, we were treated to views of the Snowfield Group behind us and then the Pickets out ahead of us.
Lake 5916 to Sourdough 6140 (4:00-4:30pm)
On the way up, Steph & Dicey had been moving much faster, so Mike & I hadn't seen them since we stopped to put on snowshoes. When we reached the crest (just above the totally invisible 5916 tarn), we found Dicey waiting for us there, while Steph had departed on a side trip over the top of Sourdough Mountain to visit the Sourdough Lookout site.
When we arrived, Dicey took off her extra coat in anticipation of moving onward to camp. Foolish Dicey. She assumed that we would actually make a decision in a timely matter. Instead we stood by our packs debating for almost another hour.
We originally had discussed camping atop Point 6308 on Stetattle Ridge. But that was farther away from where we wanted to start for Sourpatch early in the morning. Our current location was closest to the start, but it didn't have territorial views for the sunset and sunrise. But what about going up in the opposite direction, and camping on top of Sourdough? Its summit was close by, and none of us had ever camped there.
So finally we set off toward Sourdough, dragging Steph's pack partway up with us. However, she was so fast that she soon arrived from the 3-mile round trip to the lookout before we completed the half-mile trip to the summit. Steph reported that the lookout was so totally buried that it was completely invisible. She had identified its location based on a previous visits and GPS.
Stats: 5 miles, 5250 gain, 6:45 hours (includes 0:45 of dithering)
Evening at Sourdough Camp
We set up camp just off the summit in order to avoid the wind.
I wandered off to admire the scenic tracks that Steph had left along the ridge.
Earlier, Steph had arranged a band of Peeps in the snow. Dicey added smaller chocolate bunnies, but they short of looked like Peeps droppings. When I returned, I found that Dicey had added her whiskey to the tableau.
The sunset mostly faded out behind western clouds, but it left some soft colors on the snow.
Morning at Sourdough Camp
We all got up early to watch the combined sunrise and moonset.
What I liked best was how the light blended across the sky, from the growing glowing glow in the east around to the fading darkness in the west. First the light brightened behind Jack in the east, then the orange rise chased the blue depths across the southern curve of the sky, and finally the glowing band of morning colors descended onto the Pickets in the west.
And then the peaks lit up with alpenglow. From southeast to northwest:
Bonus question: Can you find Baker, Shuksan, & Triumph hiding in the previous photos? (Answer is after next photos)
Last to light up was the center of our own ridge, which stood in Jack's shadow except for the summits at our end and the other end.
Bonus Answer: Triumph is to the right of Davis, tucked in the corner by Ropers Roost. Baker & Shuksan are to the left and right of the Sothern Pickets.
Sourpatch Mountain 6607 (7:30am - 12:30pm)
Unfortunately, one can't just traverse from Sourdough 6107 to Sourpatch 6607. In between, you have to descend to the Sourdough Lake Col at 4950 feet. So it's 1200 feet down and then 1700 feet back up. Or maybe that's fortunate after all, because the vertical topography along the way is gorgeous to look at, and hiking down and up gives one a great feeling for the shape and size of the ridges around Sourdough Lake.
A more serious problem is the steep southeast-facing snow on the descent ridge. It directly faces the morning sun, and one has to walk on the slope rather than the crest, due to rock outcrops and cornices on the crest. And the problem isn't just getting down it safely, but coming back up several hours later in the morning.
Our original plan was to start hours before sunrise, in order to return before the snow got too hot and loose. However, on Friday atop Sourdough, the snow seemed not to have heated up much, so we allowed ourselves to start later in the morning. We were wrong, and the snow was very hot.
We were also lucky, and found a much safer return route. On the east end of Sourdough Lake was a much more gradual ridge, with a wide bench higher up that would connect back to the top of our descent ridge. In summer, it might be inaccessible, but right now we could simply walk across the lake and go up the far side.
We departed camp with early light casting long shadows across the crest. On the descent ridge, nothing was breaking loose yet, but the snow was very warm and soft. At the Sourdough Lake Col, Steph decided that she would return upward immediately and explore Stetattle Ridge instead, since she hadn't been there. The rest of us continued farther, scoped out the alternate return route, and decided it would work.
The ridge up Sourpatch was in very different condition. Lying at an oblique angle to the sun, it had a firm crust and moderate angle that let us walk easily uphill on our snowshoes. At 6450 feet, we reached the western edge of the summit, which had a bit of dry rock and a fine view back across the face of Sourdough & Stetattle ridges.
Then we walked another third of a mile across the broad summit to the high point at 6607. It was one of the finest viewpoints for the northern North Cascades, with peaks laid out in every direction.
The only problem was that the summit was so broad that you have to walk a ways out to each side in order to see down and out to everything else. I walked out on the north end and took photos for a panorama of that side, but then I got distracted and forgot to go over on the south edge fro the view down to the Skagit on that side.
Dicey & mtnmike headed back to the lower part of the summit for a less windy lunch, while I found a pleasant spot for my summit soup and tea. Alas I had left my spoon back in camp, but I discovered that you can bend a Power Bar into a scoop shape that works well enough as long as your soup is rather thick.
Northern half of the view from Sourpatch: Pickets, Chilliwacks, Prophet Range, Hozomeen, Ross Lake, Jack
Then I headed back to catch up with the others at the west end of the summit, veering back and forth to admire the cornices on the north side of the peak.
Another incomplete report! I'm out of time tonight, but I'll post the rest soon. Stay tuned for our return to Sourdough and Steph's trip on Stetattle.
-------------- As beacons mountains burned at evening. J.R.R. Tolkien
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