Joined: 05 Sep 2013
Posts: 54 | TRs | Pics
Location: Bellingham, WA
Via previous TR we reviewed Euro satellite imagery in late June showing Bernice Lake frozen over with snow in the basin to the south of the lake. Thinking this would stay that way a while and before the heat dome, we thought there’d be some snow and the bugs will have yet to hatch…
Driving over 20 near Cedar Creek I noticed some significant smoke about a ½ mile south of the highway. At Early Winters I saw a Huey with water bucket and several looky-loo’s. Fire on the ridge west of Cedar Creek. Fire season had begun! Gulp. I met my cousins and friend at Three Bears Cabin. It was hot. We dined on steak and tots, Ceasar salad and downed a few Tropes and R Dogs.
We awoke at dawn. Drove south and did not see any smoke toward Cedar Creek. Was it out or was the fire still asleep? We quickly made it to Twisp River Road and West Buttermilk turn off and up we went toward Black Pine Lake and then the trailhead. We started hiking up the East Fork Buttermilk at about 8:45 AM on Sunday. Within minutes mosquitoes and deer flies were buzzing us. The trail an old road but there were many blowdowns from the Crescent Mountain fire which died out 3 years before about a mile up the trail. One single car at the switchback parking lot. It was a truck with significant pellet poop in the back. Was it Alpaca? About 3 miles up the trail we met the truck’s owner with 3 goats and a dog. He didn’t say much, just mumbled something about bugs. What did he mean?
At the second main valley creek crossing we headed up paralleling a creek to the south. The way was brushy and thick. Unsawtoothish. The mosquitoes had their way with our foreheads, triceps and ears. The ringing of their wings in our ears incessant. We made it to an opening. A creek bisected deep into the meadow. Flowers just starting to bloom. We took a break in the hot sun, drank a lot of water and marveled at the first Larch sightings. LARCH!
In my head we were to skirt a rock glacier up and right. We checked maps briefly but did not take any compass readings. Up and right we went side stepping angle of repose slopes, mild schwack and boulders. Ankle level schwack. Sawtoothish! To the ridge and we thought we’d see Crater Lake. Then we saw an upper ridge about 500’ above us. Ugh. Then, a trail! What the? We dropped our packs and determined we were back on the East Buttermilk trail toward Hoodoo Pass. Sure enough, we crested the pass and took a break to decide on what to do.
The plan was Upper Crater to Upper Eagle for night 1 and 2. We had split our trip destinations in half with our poor map reading. The pass had snow for water and higher winds. The meadows to the south had to have water but, bugs? We did an exploration. With some wind the meadows looked OK and there was flowing water. We back and forth-ed to the pass and set up camp in a nice treed hole west of the trail.
As the sun hid behind the west ridge the wind died down and the mosquitoes clouded above us and our thoughts. I cracked and dove into the mosquito net of the tent. Jim and Kirk lasted another hour before entering their tent. The buzzing of mosquitoes just outside my head on the netting annoyed me but I was thankful to be safe from bites. A bummer to have to hide at 7:30 versus wander the meadow and look for wildlife until dark. By about 10:30 the mosquitoes left and it was quiet. The stars were bright and encouraging. No wind. Very still at nearly 7000’.
The next morning, we were up and eating breakfast of granola and eggs while simultaneously getting eaten alive. We developed a “carpet bomb” technique of multiple hits to our backs and likely killed 30 mosquitoes per double palmed series of whacks. The single hand record of kills with one whack, 8! This defined terrible bugs.
We decided to skip the first half of our trip to be as high as possible with the ultimate goal, Bernice Lake. We decided to go trail route, down toward Boiling Lake, Chipmunk Pass, then the way trail to Bernice. Our first break that morning at Chipmunk Pass regained our bugged-out sanity. Constant wind and only a few bugs. This was the Sawtooths we knew! At the pass we marveled at the eroded slope of the Bernice Lake outlet. No vegetation. Barren slope very visible from Chipmunk Pass. Our theory was an ice dam built up at Bernice Lake and then unleashed likely causing the flooding of the Boy Scout Camp at the Prince Creek outlet to Lake Chelan. Anyone able to confirm?
We continued down and marveled at the trail condition across talus slopes with imported gravel to pad the sharp boulders. There was a large avalanche debris field with hard snow and large logs near the trail low point. Some bear poop. Then we crossed the Bernice outlet creek (beginnings of Prince Creek) and had lunch at the trail junction. Up we went in shade, crossed the creek in Slide Alder and then up in full sun. We paralleled the creek to a wide green meadow. A nice hunter’s camp with fire pit and low hanging tree branches was found in the middle of the meadow. We took a break in the shade. Bugs now more deer flies. Not terrible.
We continued up and southeast of the outlet to Bernice. We immediately dropped our packs and went for a swim at the Lake’s outlet. Sharp rocks. The top 1’ of water was not bad but a dive down 5’ revealed sub-40-degree water. Cutthroat Trout trolled the shore jumping at flies. We felt anew.
We set up camp with a nice bench, fire pit, flat kitchen rocks and the shade of Larch and Noble Fir. We explored the west shoreline. A beach (we called it South Beach)! The beach shore went about 10’ above the shoreline. We theorized avalanches in Spring disturbed the slopes with snow and potentially waves. The east shoreline was “Marmotville” with a Hoary Marmot sunning himself on top of a boulder. He never whistled at us but did sound the alarm from afar presumably because of eagles or falcons which we saw later in the trip.
As we made dinner and hid in the shade the mosquitoes made their return. Less than the night before but a squall of 20 or so per person circled us. Cup of soup, freeze dried goodness. Our bellies full. We held out until about 8 before calling it an evening and dove in our tents. By 10 the crickets were out. We awoke to the sound of a hoofed animal at 10:30. A soft orange hue lit the west ridge edge and we had just enough light to see. It came close not seeing us in the tent. A four-point muley licked a log stool and came close to our tent sniffing. He then jumped and ran off. He returned two more times in the dark investigating us politely. My cousin and his friend did not hear or see the buck in the other tent so wanted warning if he came back again. I heard him breathing at night two, but he did not get close enough for me to see him again.
The next day was a fun day. We did some fishing and hiked the west ridge to a high point looking north to Star Peak and a snow field in the next valley. It was nice not to have an agenda and not be bothered by cell service! A true get away. We swam at South Beach. Dinner again including grape Kool-Aid as an aperitif and freeze-dried banana chips with chocolate covered marshmallows for dessert! Innovation! After, we decided to go back to South Beach as the wind made for fewer bugs. To bed again at 8 as the mosquitoes buzzed our heads. An eagle and a falcon circled the lake and east ridge. Marmots and Pika’s blared their siren whistles.
We awoke and decided a scouting mission was necessary to see the way out and climb to point 8067’ to the southeast of us. After breakfast we hiked east to a knoll with granite, Larch and meadows and then further east to a pass. Before the pass a network of marmot trails and burrows were seen on the edge of course talus boulders and meadow. The pass was an easy up. We then followed the ridgeline south and up to the summit. The summit was broad. Found an old can and pieces of nylon intentionally held down by cobbles. Not sure what that was about. We spent a long time at the summit seeing fire smoke to the east and mild bands of smoke blowing west towards Hoodoo Pass. A rock glacier northwest of the summit feed a swampy area above the meadow where the hunter’s camp was found two days prior. On the east flank a series of tarns in a meadow surrounded by Larch draining toward East Buttermilk. Animal tracks were spotted crossing the biggest tarn. We called this area Moose Flats and planned to see it up close on our way out. The way looked open, with steep but doable slopes down from the pass south of 8067. We contemplated the name 8067’ and came up with 2 alternatives: Hunchback Peak and Stupa Peak. You decide!
We went south to check out our exit route and then cut down into mild cliff and vegi-belay west and back to Bernice. The way back to Bernice was hot. Talus slopes reflected the sun’s heat. We crossed a gushing creek and took a big drink. Once back at camp we immediately and instinctively went to South Beach for a swim. Anew again! We joked about having 2 fun days in a row. This was not our family’s style. But we liked it. There is a lot of room to explore around Bernice. Gardens of Larch, Scrub Pine, Noble Fir, Indian Paintbrush, Arnica and Kinnikinnick.
For the final day we got up early. There was dew on the ground! The mosquitoes were slow to attack us. We fueled up with instant cream of wheat and eggs. White trash mochas woke us up! We were hiking by 7:30 with a rising traverse below 8067’ to the south pass above Moose Flats. A short 2 step of light class 3 with vegi-belay and we were at the ridge. We went one at a time to reduce rockfall and rested in the wind of the pass.
Going down the steep scree on the southeast face was easy and remarkably stiff. We were expecting boot cleanouts at the meadow. The tracks in the tarn were moose. Some extraordinarily large old Larch in this basin. Always a pleasure to schwack thru Larch with their soft needles. We continued down following the creek. It was clear the creek flowed beyond its banks a few weeks prior. Debris lodged here and there far wider than its rocky banks. The bugs got worse. The schwack got worse. The slope was steep. Still, moose tracks were seen all the way down. We rejoiced when we hit the East Buttermilk trail! The bugs were done getting to our brow, ears and arms as we had the chance to swat them on the trail.
Two water breaks and dreams of grape soda and pizza got us down the trail. The small log bridges kept us on our toes about 3 miles from the car. As we descended the heat intensified. The blow downs slowed our progress. The car! One other car. From a lady in a tank top and short shorts heading up. We pitied her. She’d for sure donate to the mosquito cause. She asked if we saw a camera. We had not and wondered if it was left above where we crossed and got on to the trail well below Hoodoo Pass.
The smoke got thick about three miles west of Twisp. We stopped at Hanks for Wild Huckleberry Soda (no grape) and ordered pizza at Hometown. We devoured two larges in the air-con of Twisp River Suites. Back to the cabin in Winthrop for a shower and change of clothes. We were delirious. It was nice to rinse off the grime and have fresh uns. With Highway 20 closed due to the Cedar Creek Fire we reluctantly headed toward Highway 2 and home. On the way seeing air dumps of water from two pontooned crop duster planes and an old 727 jet flying around the Red Apple Fire near Orando.
Gotta have more Sawtooths!
--------------“Let the refining and improving of your own life keep you so busy that you have little time to criticize others." - H. Jackson Brown
reststep, RichP, Tom