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geyer
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PostTue Oct 06, 2020 5:42 pm 
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Dates: October 1-4, 2020
Distance: 55.4 miles
Accum. Elevation Gain: 18.1k'
Peaks: Rolo, Osceola, Dot, Ptarmigan
Lakes: Fred, Doris, unexpected Monument Creek source lake under Lago (aka Bluebz Lake), Dot Lakes, Buckskin Lake, Silver Lake
Total Humans Seen: 24 (including two elusive Gilbertsons in their natural habitat)

In a year where nearly everything got cancelled and postponed, it was nice for one thing that's been on the calendar since the Monday morning after 2019's larch trip to actually pull through. But man, was this rough. The smoke did its very best to shut us down the first two days...

Day 1: Slate Pass to Doris Lake + Rolo
Distance: 16.1 miles
Elevation Gain: 4200'
Elevation Loss: 4100'

After a 5am Seattle departure, we got to the trailhead at about 9:30am with outstanding views of Silver Star and the valley below. Eve and Surafel decided which footwear they would don for the next four days; Surafel chose his Mutants ( up.gif ); Eve decided to wear the boots she got and subsequently didn't use again from 5 years ago in hopes of suddenly changing her original opinion of them. (Bold strategy Cotton! Let's see if it pays off for her.) A light haze from the California wildfire smoke gave the view a majestic feel but it didn't seem too worrisome because it looked to be staying away from us in the valleys to the south. But then we did the 20' climb to the pass and realized how wrong we were.

smoke. everywhere.

subaru ad
subaru ad
downed sign
downed sign
Slate peak lookout
Slate peak lookout

Or was it? Maybe it was just cloudy. Little reassurances to convince ourselves that we weren't intentionally causing permanent lung damage in search of some yellow trees. Ignoring the smoke for a bit, it was nice to look at the meadows and red blueberry patches on Buckskin Ridge before dropping deep into the Middle Fork Pasayten river valley.

Over the course of the next three hours, I have absolutely no idea what we talked about. But there was a lot of chatter. And it seemed interesting at the time. It was probably the kind of chatter Jerry Seinfeld would have with George and Elaine at the café before cell phones existed and you were tempted to fact check everything everyone says before even attempting to have a decent conversation about it. I digress.


After a while, we started uphill toward Fred Lake. Here, we really began sucking air and Eve started moaning about how her boots didn't fit and were giving her blisters (I am shocked! Shocked, I tell you!) Day 1, ladies and gentlemen.

When we got up to Fred Lake, it was pretty majestic, but we all lamented how the smoke seemed to desaturate everything. Reality started to set in here that we could be in for a long weekend.

Fred Lake
Fred Lake
Pika!
Pika!
Surafel's photography 101 class
Surafel's photography 101 class

We huffed it past Fred's and made our way to camp at Doris Lake where we were met by Chili the dog. I convinced Eve to ignore her ailing feet and join me up Rolo while Surafel stayed back and caught our dinner at the lake. We returned to camp on the cusp of needing to turn on our headlamps. The full moon rose soon after and lit up the night like a giant flashlight in the sky. Surafel had a rainbow trout dinner waiting for us over an open fire. What a treat!

crossing the pass
crossing the pass
Doris Lake
Doris Lake
Chili!
Chili!
Going up to Rolo
Going up to Rolo
ew
ew
smokey summit views
smokey summit views
traverse from wildcat
traverse from wildcat
spooky full moon views
spooky full moon views
Courtesy of Surafel
Courtesy of Surafel

Day 2: Doris Lake + Osceola to Dot Lakes
Distance: 11.9 miles
Elevation Gain: 5100'
Elevation Loss: 5000'

I woke up early and walked around the lake to take some sunrise pictures while the others slept. I somehow again convinced Eve to ignore her blisters and take advantage of the morning smoke inversion by sauntering up Osceola. The views were spectacularly sinister with absolutely no discernable features of Blackcap and Monument except a smokey grey outline. The view of Doris Lake and the grove of larches around it was spectacular. Each of us commented that the smoke made it nearly impossible to take a deep breath and I began to develop a dry cough. When we made the summit, there was a register, but no pencil! Are you kidding me?! Whoever signed it on 9/11/20 needs to climb it again and replace the pencil they forgot to put back in the canister. I'm not kidding.

Doris
Doris
Fred & the full moon
Fred & the full moon
blackcap/monument
blackcap/monument
sunrise
sunrise
tent views
tent views
going up Osceola
going up Osceola
looking back at Doris
looking back at Doris
this is definitely good for the lungs...
this is definitely good for the lungs...
route up Osceola
route up Osceola
somehow all smiles
somehow all smiles
valley holding all the smoke
valley holding all the smoke
Carru/Lago
Carru/Lago
Name that Peak? lol
Name that Peak? lol
Oscy Couloir
Oscy Couloir
heading down
heading down

We tediously came back down to the lake to where Surafel had padded his fishing stats. We packed up and headed out toward Shellrock pass at a casual 12:30 pm start time. It's not like we had a lot of miles to go anyway...  shakehead.gif

The trail had a neat view of Blackcap but things got really interesting once we were in the basin below the peak, with its source pond, golden grasses, yellow larches, and wild smoky lighting. The further up we went, the denser the larches became. Soon enough, we entered a golden palace, emanating larchy grandeur.

valley smoke
valley smoke
smoke clearing a bit
smoke clearing a bit
Getting up Shellrock Pass
Getting up Shellrock Pass

The last leg to Shellrock Pass was brutal though. The smoke was getting to us again. We all had scratchy dry throats and were almost out of water. The view was rather perplexing, since we still couldn't see the route to Dot. Everything started to feel much harder than the topo map made it out to be.

Once again, we left our high perch and headed down into yet another valley, starting to lose daylight and hope of getting to camp before sundown. In the basin below Lago, the ground began to turn red from blueberry patches and our spirits were lifted again as the trees turned into dense larches and a small pond that wasn't on the map appeared! Is this heaven??

east view from Shellrock
east view from Shellrock

After a decent break here, we continued into a burn scar with zero growth that was thankfully damp from previous rains and not bursting into clouds of ash with every step. We ascended Butte Pass and dropped down, not realizing there was a trail that went down into ptarmigan creek. Our brush-bash down to the basin was embarrassingly close to where the USFS map shows a trail, but the maps we all had didn't show this trail. This was actually the beginning of our problems with maps not matching the actual trails  rant.gif

Burn zone
Burn zone
Lago east ridge
Lago east ridge
The route to Dot Lakes
The route to Dot Lakes

There were probably 20 minutes until sunset when we began to climb up the gully over to our final traverse to Dot Lakes. I was officially out of water and my filter had become far too slow for the limited daylight we had left, so I drank some water from the creek unfiltered, along with everyone else. Many choice words were shared by all in this gully. By the time we got up the gully, there was hardly enough light to see our feet and we each threw our packs off in disgust at the challenges the terrain was throwing our way. WHY DID WE PACK SO LUXURIOUSLY??

I led the final contour in the dark to Dot Lakes. The traverse was nice (thank god) and had some decent slabs with running water over them - a traverse superhighway! When the moon came out Eve and Surafel got really excited and wanted me to get my tripod out to take shots of the moon. Frankly, I was a little surprised they wanted to do anything other than get to camp, but I obliged. At one point, exhaustion kicked in big time and I hit an absolute wall. I stopped to take a drink and finish the last quarter mile to the lakes all the while, feeling nauseous. Once we got there, we threw our tents on the first patch of flattish ground we could find and crashed...

"BRAD GET YOUR CAMERA OUT"
"BRAD GET YOUR CAMERA OUT"

Wellllll... most of us did. I still felt nauseous and suddenly burped that horrid feeling when you know your stomach isn't going to hold anything down, ran behind a tree, and ejected the 2L of pure water stomach contents. I've never thrown up on backpack before. 11 miles is nothing extraordinary. WTF was going on with me? Could I blame this on smoke? Dehydration? The unfiltered stream? I'm going with smoke. I've never so violently been thrown to exhaustion by such a mediocre effort. Soon, I was shivering in my sleeping bag despite wearing all my layers and presumably pale as a ghost - my body doesn't react well to vomiting at all. I went to sleep without eating any dinner, wondering how many people had been heli-evac'd due to extreme mountain flu.


Day 3: Dot -> Ptarmigan -> Tatoosh Buttes -> Buckskin Lake
Distance: 17.4 miles
Elevation Gain: 4700'
Elevation Loss: 5300'

The next morning I woke up sweating, which was a great sign because what kind of non-sick person needs to wear two puffies in a 0 degree bag on a night that probably didn't get colder than 45 degrees?! I saw Dot Lake for the first time and happily ate last night's dinner at the shoreline as the sun rose and lit up the basin. Feeling good again. The smoke appeared to be thinned out which was great because we had a long day ahead of us. This would be the last time we saw running water for another 10 miles.


We hiked to upper Dot Lake and ascended the west arm of Dot before dropping packs and heading to the summit. THE VIEWS!!  eek.gif

Heading up to Dot Mountain
Heading up to Dot Mountain
Ptarmigan
Ptarmigan
Dot
Dot

After Dot, we headed down to the massive ridge up Ptarmigan. This mountain does not seem to fit any of the classic definitions of a Cascadian big boi, but it definitely meets the summit view criteria. On the way up Surafel would let out an agonizing groan every so often to remind us that he was still there and not enjoying every minute of this trip! From the summit, we could see dozens of prominent Cascade classics, even with the smoke.


As we descended Ptarmigan, we were suckered into a scree field too far to the west instead of staying on the ridge and ended up side hilling loose rock for a while, which is not my favorite pastime. Soon enough, we made it to a massive grove of larches laid out on a huge BUTTE  moon.gif The traveling here was easy and kind of relaxing, but kept going on forever and ever and ever. The Tatoosh Buttes trail was not made for quick climber access.

Ptarmigan Couloirs & gullies
Ptarmigan Couloirs & gullies
Tatoosh Buttes & Tamarack Ridge
Tatoosh Buttes & Tamarack Ridge
lake under Ptarmigan
lake under Ptarmigan
colors
colors
more burn
more burn
lots of burn
lots of burn

When we got down to Lease Creek, we realized the trails didn't match up with any of our assortment of maps and to further complicate things, we came across a sign that said there was a landslide making travel difficult, but we could detour a different way. None of our maps showed a crossing at the detour, so we forged on with the hazardous route (which wasn't bad unless you have pack animals). Here, we ran into Eric and Matthew Gilbertson who we chatted with for a few minutes. They had an interesting destination in mind (please post TR  hockeygrin.gif ).

The climb up to Buckskin Ridge was uneventful and mostly in the trees, but we caught the tail-end of sunset from a break and made it to camp by headlamp for the second night in a row. Buckskin Lake already had its two best campsites taken, so we had to camp 50' above the lake, which may have been the hardest 50' of the day. Getting water from that high is a royal pain in the ass. We decided not to set up tents and just cowboy camp since we were lazy and the nights had been warm. Finally, a good decision.


Day 4: Buckskin Lake to Slate Pass
Distance: 13.0 miles
Elevation Gain:4100'
Elevation Loss: 3700'

On the final day, we got up for sunrise and packed our bags. Surafel got a little more fishing in and we were off to the races to greet our car at Slate Pass. I mistakenly believed that it was only 10 miles and thought the trail would be much more of a contouring traverse than it actually was, so day 4 wasn't as much of a cake walk as I was hoping. Especially not the part right before Silver Pass where you contour at 6600' for miles and suddenly drop 500' straight down to the valley below! I kid you not, that was the hardest part of the entire trip right there. My knees were killing me. I'm not sure if that trail ever went through a planning phase or if they were just like "f### it, we already built the traversing trail this far, might as well keep it and drop straight to valley floor."

Buckskin Lake mornin
Buckskin Lake mornin
Buckskin Ridge meandering
Buckskin Ridge meandering
Jack, king of the Pasayten
Jack, king of the Pasayten

Several miles, a peek at Silver Lake, and many grimaces later, we charged back to the car with a sigh of relief that we could finally take our shoes and packs off for good. But what a trip this was!
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Alden Ryno
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PostTue Oct 06, 2020 7:27 pm 
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Woooow, Brad! What a perfect time (smoke aside  dizzy.gif) to be deep in the Pasayten for all those days. Stunning images.
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raising3hikers
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PostTue Oct 06, 2020 7:30 pm 
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Great effort on your trip and in your report!  It was fun to read it and see the pretty pictures

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awilsondc
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PostTue Oct 06, 2020 7:42 pm 
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Great report!  That's weird about your illness, I'm glad it was short lived.  Great freakin' set of photos!  I loved the spooky full moon photo and the larch with red carpet shots.  I really need to get out into some of that prime larch country, maybe soon!  up.gif  up.gif
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John_B
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PostTue Oct 06, 2020 8:44 pm 
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Great looking photos! The smoke looked to be a bummer but they still turned out great!  One little addendum.  The photo of the fish that Surafel is holding is a west slope Cutthroat trout.  They are so bring you'd think they are a rainbow but the lack of spotting on the front belly and the red belly are both indicative of cutthroat.
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Nancyann
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PostWed Oct 07, 2020 8:34 am 
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Fun trip report to read as always, and so many cool pictures!
When we did our loop trip last summer, on day two, I had to haul my heavy pack up that insane sheep run to Buckskin Ridge in the hot sun. That was when the reality of “unmaintained trail, dangerous for stock travel” set in. bawl.gif
We got lucky with the smoke clearing Thursday night in the Chiwaukums, but we could see that it was still bad off to the northeast where you guys were.
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Fletcher
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PostWed Oct 07, 2020 1:49 pm 
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The elusive Dot! I’m very jealous. Excellent photography as well.
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RichP
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PostWed Oct 07, 2020 5:23 pm 
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Some nice, remote areas in that one.  up.gif
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Popcorn
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PostThu Oct 08, 2020 4:07 pm 
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Wow!  How many photos can your camera hold?  A huge-capacity SD card?  Mountain photography sure has changed since the days of carrying a dozen 36-exposure rolls of Kodachrome II  slide film, a big Nikon F2 SLR, and three heavy Nikkor lenses on a ten-day backpacking trip.  You guys are amazing!
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geyer
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PostThu Oct 08, 2020 5:33 pm 
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Nancyann wrote:
Fun trip report to read as always, and so many cool pictures!
When we did our loop trip last summer, on day two, I had to haul my heavy pack up that insane sheep run to Buckskin Ridge in the hot sun. That was when the reality of “unmaintained trail, dangerous for stock travel” set in. bawl.gif
We got lucky with the smoke clearing Thursday night in the Chiwaukums, but we could see that it was still bad off to the northeast where you guys were.

Nancyann - I kept thinking of you out there every time we came across logs that had been cut seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The trails were in pretty great shape for how far they can all be from roads! Appreciate the work you and so many others have put into keeping this area accessible!

Popcorn wrote:
Wow!  How many photos can your camera hold?  A huge-capacity SD card?  Mountain photography sure has changed since the days of carrying a dozen 36-exposure rolls of Kodachrome II  slide film, a big Nikon F2 SLR, and three heavy Nikkor lenses on a ten-day backpacking trip.  You guys are amazing!

Yes digital photography is a whole different ballgame with modern SD cards. Those things can hold thousands of photos and you don't even have to remember whether you've filled it up before you leave for your trip because you can just delete old photos on your camera from anywhere. I think mine is 128 GB. It definitely takes away some of the artistry to take the perfect photo in one shot with film. But on the other hand guys like me can just take a lot of photos and filter out the bad ones to appear as if they're talented  wink.gif
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GaliWalker
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PostFri Oct 09, 2020 11:00 am 
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Spectacular photos, and an enjoyable read too! up.gif

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Photography: https://www.flickr.com/photos/shahiddurrani/albums
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Popcorn
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PostFri Oct 09, 2020 8:34 pm 
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128 GB SD card, and real-time e-mailing of jpegs.  nwhikers.net has revolutionized "trail guides." Really amazing stuff on this website!
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D. Inscho
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PostThu Oct 22, 2020 7:57 pm 
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Well narrated and painstakingly documented trip; something warm and cozy you can snuggle up with through the winter.

I'm familiar with much of the country you travelled but by different routes; and as you noted, the Pasayten seems to proffer a healthy dose of uncertainty with regard to map-routes and distances.

Beautiful, all of it, and difficult.  Thanks.

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The key to a successful trip is to do the planning during work hours.       --  John Muir

“My most memorable hikes can be classified as 'Shortcuts that Backfired'.” --Ed Abbey
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pcg
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PostThu Oct 22, 2020 8:27 pm 
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geyer wrote:

This!
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MangyMarmot
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PostFri Oct 23, 2020 7:10 am 
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Nice trip. Cool photos. What a great area.
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