Forum Index > Trip Reports > Mount Formidable, Sept 15-16, 2016
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neek
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PostSat Sep 17, 2016 6:21 pm 
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No doubt I was not alone last week watching the weekend forecast turn from OK to bad to worse.  On Tuesday, right around when my weekend plans started changing from hiking to housework, I got an email from Jon about some crazy plan to head out Thursday to climb Mount Formidable.  Yeah right, I thought, and went back to work.  The next morning I was emailing him about what equipment to bring.

The last (and first) trip I had done with Jon was an attempt on Jack Mountain, where I learned I could sit back and leave all the routefinding to him (and to cartman who masterminded that adventure).  For this trip we teamed up with Philip who also proved capable of keeping us on track and likely made the return hike (in the dark) much less stressful through the setting of one strategic GPS waypoint.  On my own I probably would have spent the night running around like a rat in a maze--this one with no food at the end, since all the gas stations we passed on the drive home were closed.

Starting around 10:30 AM on Thursday, we made quick time up to Cascade Pass.  Didn't run into as many people as the full parking lot suggested--all on Sahale Arm perhaps.  Headed up the trail labeled "toilet" which in my opinion isn't the best description of the Ptarmigan Traverse but maybe that's how the park service keeps people from wandering out of the national park.  The views improved as we climbed higher (they're already pretty great from the parking lot), and after a combination of good trail, reasonable gully crossings, and talus wandering, we reached the edge of the Cache Glacier.  Slushy at the bottom, the glacier was not heavily crevassed, and we did not rope up.  The location of Cache Col was obvious and we reached it around 2:00 PM.

1. Sahale in the middle (trail up the arm visible). Eldorado and Forbidden to the left, Buckner to the right
1. Sahale in the middle (trail up the arm visible). Eldorado and Forbidden to the left, Buckner to the right
2. Cache Glacier and Col
2. Cache Glacier and Col
3.
3.
4. Part way up, looking back
4. Part way up, looking back
5. Holes that little streamlets flowed into
5. Holes that little streamlets flowed into
6.
6.
7. Nearly at the top
7. Nearly at the top
8.
8.
9. Mix-up Peak
9. Mix-up Peak
10. At the col
10. At the col

From here we made our way down to Kool-Aid "Lake", across Red Ledge, and to the Middle Cascade Glacier, which is a bit more serious than the previous one we ascended, but still relatively straightforward.

11. Heading south from Cache Col
11. Heading south from Cache Col
12. Looking back an hour later
12. Looking back an hour later
13. Icefall on the Middle Cascade Glacier
13. Icefall on the Middle Cascade Glacier
14. Philip in front of the glacier (we still had not yet set foot on it)
14. Philip in front of the glacier (we still had not yet set foot on it)
15. Johannesburg
15. Johannesburg
16. Roped up for this one
16. Roped up for this one
17. At the top
17. At the top
18. Sahale now looks far away
18. Sahale now looks far away
19. Spider-Formidable Col, first view of Sentinel Peak
19. Spider-Formidable Col, first view of Sentinel Peak

The descent from this col was not nearly as pleasant as from the prior one.  Steep dirty gully then steep snow that was firm enough to require front-pointing.  When we got down it was clear that we needed to find a camp spot soon.  We didn't expect to find a flat spot on the slabs, but did in fact come across one that was quite nice.  It was so idyllic that I didn't really mind being kept awake all night by the wind.

20. Looking for a camp spot
20. Looking for a camp spot
21. Moonlit shot, best I could do with a point-and-shoot camera balanced on a rock in the wind
21. Moonlit shot, best I could do with a point-and-shoot camera balanced on a rock in the wind
22. Sentinel sunrise
22. Sentinel sunrise
23. Doesn't get any better
23. Doesn't get any better
24. Sentinel Peak and Le Conte Mountain
24. Sentinel Peak and Le Conte Mountain
25.
25.
26.
26.
27.
27.
28.
28.
29.
29.

It was time to get a move on.  We contoured west and climbed to a pass at about 7000 ft to finally get a view of the ascent route.

30. Head for those two snowpatches in the upper left
30. Head for those two snowpatches in the upper left
31. Sloan, Pugh, Buckindy ... too many to name
31. Sloan, Pugh, Buckindy ... too many to name
32. Glacier Peak is almost directly south.  Dome Peak has come into view as well
32. Glacier Peak is almost directly south.  Dome Peak has come into view as well

The ledge route described at summitpost was not as bad as expected although we did set up a belay while crossing the gap due to the exposure.

33. Jon getting his belay on
33. Jon getting his belay on
34. Philip getting his climb on
34. Philip getting his climb on

The remainder of the ascent was fairly straightforward 3rd class scrambling.

35. You'll see this point with the white band; summit is a ways to the right
35. You'll see this point with the white band; summit is a ways to the right
36. Almost there
36. Almost there
37. Topping out
37. Topping out
38. Middle Cascade Glacier
38. Middle Cascade Glacier
39. Summit group shot
39. Summit group shot
40. Looking north over much of the territory we covered the day before. The trail near Kool-Aid Lake is even visible if you zoom in
40. Looking north over much of the territory we covered the day before. The trail near Kool-Aid Lake is even visible if you zoom in

We began descending a little after noon, knowing very well that we didn't have enough daylight to make it back to the car before dark.

41. Arch
41. Arch
42.
42.
43.
43.
44.
44.
45. Getting cloudy
45. Getting cloudy
46. Ready to descend the glacier
46. Ready to descend the glacier
47. Red Ledge
47. Red Ledge
48. From Red Ledge
48. From Red Ledge
49. Talus, very typical of the entire route
49. Talus, very typical of the entire route
50. Kool-Aid Lake area
50. Kool-Aid Lake area

By the time we reached Cache Col it was dark.  At the bottom of the glacier, we... well, I wouldn't say we had routefinding issues, but it wasn't always entirely obvious which way to go.  We knew generally of course, but didn't want to get into any sketchy terrain in the dark.  We relied on GPS perhaps a bit too much, and when it started to rain thought that we really would not like to spend another night.  Finally made it back to Cascade Pass, down the never-ending switchbacks that drop you about one foot per minute, and to the car around midnight.

As a first-timer in this area I was struck by its magnificence and hope to return someday to complete the Ptarmigan Traverse.
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Matt
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Joined: 30 Jan 2007
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PostSun Sep 18, 2016 1:01 am 
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neek wrote:

23. Doesn't get any better
23. Doesn't get any better
34. Philip getting his climb on
34. Philip getting his climb on

Nice trip.  That bivy site and that ledge look very familiar.

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“As beacons mountains burned at evening.” J.R.R. Tolkien
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cartman
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PostSun Sep 18, 2016 5:43 am 
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Great trip any time, especially fine to do it in late season.  Thanks for all the good pics.

We did this in two days as well in late Aug 2005, but made the mistake of only going as far as Kool-aid Lake to camp.  22 hour second day, longest I've ever had in the mountains--and no GPS to find that critical trail from the bottom of the Cache Glacier to Cascade Pass in the dark.
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Distel32
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PostSun Sep 18, 2016 6:44 am 
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up.gif
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OutOfOffice
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PostSun Sep 18, 2016 10:06 pm 
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good stuff
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Roald
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PostSun Sep 18, 2016 10:22 pm 
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Thanks, Nick, for posting your pics (so that is what you were doing while waiting for us all that time!) and nice write up.  What a cool trip with cool-headed partners. 

Below are some more pictures from this trip.  This was my second visit to the area, but the first time I visited the Ptarmigan Traverse it was pretty much covered in snow and we were on skis (trip report here).  This time of year the PT is simply delightful, with late season colors and relatively easy travel afforded by a boot path much of the way.

Nick on Red Ledge
Nick on Red Ledge
Formidable's south basins
Formidable's south basins
Dome Peak, from Formidable
Dome Peak, from Formidable
Glacier Peak from Formidable
Glacier Peak from Formidable
Name that peak, looking north from Formidable
Name that peak, looking north from Formidable
Looking Goode
Looking Goode
Philip dancing down Formidable
Philip dancing down Formidable
Nick scrambling down
Nick scrambling down

Here is the chasm Paul Klenke talks about in his description of the "ledge route" on the south face:

Nick on Formidable, "ledge route"
Nick on Formidable, "ledge route"
Philip across the chasm on the "ledge route"
Philip across the chasm on the "ledge route"

Here is the gulley up to the saddle (on the return) north of Pt. 7285:
Gulley up to the saddle north of Pt. 7285
Gulley up to the saddle north of Pt. 7285

This is not a good depiction, but the complexity and variety of rock in the North Cascades is simply crazy:

White rocks
White rocks

And some images from the walk back north toward Cache Col:
Ptarmigan Traverse
Ptarmigan Traverse
Sentinel Peak
Sentinel Peak
Looking south on PT
Looking south on PT
PT walking
PT walking
Red ledge on the return
Red ledge on the return
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Brushbuffalo
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PostMon Sep 19, 2016 10:21 pm 
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Roald wrote:
This is not a good depiction, but the complexity and variety of rock in the North Cascades is simply crazy:

White rocks
White rocks

Complexity is why it has taken many good geologists many years to try to figure out the geology of the North Cascades. It would be a lot easier if the North Cascades was primarily a volcanic mountain range as it is from The Columbia River south.

It isn't just the rocks. The structures ( folds, faults, unconformities) really make the picture difficult to piece together. Add to that the "jungle", ice/snow, and overburden that covers much of the bedrock and it's a wonder that we understand it at all.

--------------
Passing rocks and trees like they were standing still
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Gimpilator
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PostTue Sep 20, 2016 8:04 am 
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Nicely done.   up.gif

Bummer about the rain on the way out.  I went with a 20 percent forecast yesterday and got rained on steadily all day long.

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Matt Lemke
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PostWed Sep 21, 2016 12:38 am 
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Brushbuffalo wrote:
Roald wrote:
This is not a good depiction, but the complexity and variety of rock in the North Cascades is simply crazy:

White rocks
White rocks

Complexity is why it has taken many good geologists many years to try to figure out the geology of the North Cascades. It would be a lot easier if the North Cascades was primarily a volcanic mountain range as it is from The Columbia River south.

It isn't just the rocks. The structures ( folds, faults, unconformities) really make the picture difficult to piece together. Add to that the "jungle", ice/snow, and overburden that covers much of the bedrock and it's a wonder that we understand it at all.

Hey BB are you a geologist as well??

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The Pacific coast to the Great Plains = my playground!!!
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Brushbuffalo
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PostWed Sep 21, 2016 8:03 am 
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Matt Lemke wrote:
Hey BB are you a geologist as well??

Yes. Retired in 2014 after teaching geology, meteorology, and oceanography at Whatcom Community College beginning in 1971.

--------------
Passing rocks and trees like they were standing still
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Blowdown
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PostWed Sep 21, 2016 9:01 am 
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Outstanding! "Doesn't get any better" indeed!   up.gif  up.gif
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Jackal
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PostThu Sep 22, 2016 6:08 pm 
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Neek, thoroughly enjoyed slowly going through all your photos. Really nice compositions and exposures. And what a fantastic first-time trip in the area.

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