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Eric Gilbertson
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Eric Gilbertson
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PostFri Mar 10, 2023 7:25 pm 
Black Peak (8,970ft) March 7, 2023 11 miles skiing, 48 miles snowmobiling 61/100 Winter Bulgers Black Peak is one of the Bulger peaks with the farthest trailhead from a plowed road in winter. There are two main approaches from Mazama up Highway 20 from the east or from the Ross Dam gate up Highway 20 from the west. The east approach is 20 miles but requires crossing the Liberty Bell slide paths near Washington Pass. This can require tricky sidehilling above a cliff. The west approach is 24 miles and does not cross any slide paths. However, it tends to get melted out within the first 5 miles, often necessitating riding long stretches on pavement. This can be tough to do on a snowmobile without overheating. In early February I snowmobiled up Highway 20 from Ross Dam to Swamp Creek to climb Tower and Azurite, and the first 10 miles had many long melted out sections. I had to stop and deploy my retractable wheels each time and it slowed things down. Luckily, though, this March has been unusually cold with lowland snow almost down to Seattle. Based on satellite images it looked like good snow coverage the whole way on Highway 20, which was great news for that approach.
On the summit ridge (photo by Nick)
On the summit ridge (photo by Nick)
The route
The route
Unloading at Ross Dam trailhead
Unloading at Ross Dam trailhead
The weather and snow conditions looked stable, so Nick and I decided to go for Black Peak as a day trip. Id previously climbed Black Peak a few times in summer, and could get it in around 5 hours round trip. There is a climbers trail almost the whole way to the top. Then the upper route traverses an exposed ledge on the south face before going directly up a steep 4th class bit to the summit. Nick had previously climbed Black Peak in April, and was familiar with snowy conditions on the route. He had done a slightly different variation than I had. As far as I know Black Peak has just been climbed once in winter, on December 22, 1989 by Carl Skoog and Brian Sullivan. I couldnt find a report of which route he took on the summit block, though. The Volken backcountry ski guidebook lists the peak as a spring ski tour and recommends following the direct southwest ridge to the summit for the final section. It mentions some au cheval sections and big exposure. We planned to follow the ridge proper and brought a light rock rack and 30m rope to protect it. After work we drove out to the Ross Dam trailhead, unloaded the sled, and slept in the truck. The next morning we were up and riding by 3:45am. I was able to ride on a snowy shoulder from the parking lot to the gate, then found deep continuous snow after the gate. The snow was a bit wooped out from people on Saturday, but I was still able to maintain a constant 30-40mph. This was much faster than in early February when I was towing a rider behind and had to go much slower. There were also long pavement and ice sections, and even one tricky rock slide to get past.
Skinning up from Rainy Pass
Skinning up from Rainy Pass
Crossing Heather Pass
Crossing Heather Pass
Approaching Wing Lake
Approaching Wing Lake
We made excellent time up to Rainy pass within 45 minutes. I did a lap around the parking lot to rev the engine, then we were packed and moving by 5am. The full moon was very bright, illuminating cutthroat and other peaks across the valley. We shortcut the first switchback then generally followed the trail all the way up to the Lake Anne turnoff. The standard route from there traverses the hill above that to heather pass. But we decided it would be more efficient just to cross lake anne and avoid sidehilling. We skied across the lake, then zig zagged up through the trees directly up to Heather Pass. The sun was just rising then and we got an excellent view of Black Peak in the distance. We then took turns doing a descending traverse across the big open slopes on a low-angle bench between cliff bands. We kept skins on to reduce transitions. On the other side we skinned up across Lewis Lake to Wing Lake and stopped for a break. The northeast face above us to the left had enormous cornices overhanging, but luckily it looked like our route up to the south col of Black Peak was less corniced. Around that time the clouds rolled in and visibilty dropped. We skinned up to the basin above Wing Lake until it started getting steep, then booted up the remaining bit to a gap in the small cornices to the south col. Interestingly, we heard a helicopter then and saw heli skier flagging at the col. I can see why this would be a popular place to heli ski. Though we never actually saw the helicopter so Im not sure where it was.
At the south ridge
At the south ridge
Climbing up in ascent plates
Climbing up in ascent plates
On the summit ridge
On the summit ridge
The south ridge was scoured down to rock so we ditched skis there and transitioned to crampons. It was a bit tiring making progress because sometimes we would sink in snow between the rocks and others wed unexpectedly step on a submerged rock. We soon traversed into the southwest gully and met continuous snow. There we switched to ascent plates. I had my aluminum billy goats and Nick had his custom carbon fiber pair. We made fast progress up the gully, though we were increasingly in a whiteout. We soon hit the southwest ridge and peered over the very steep north face. We cut right on a bench to get around a gendarme, then when the bench got more narrow and exposed we regained the ridge. Visibility was low but based on our GPSs we were very close to the summit. So we decided to follow the ridge crest from there. Nick led the way, doing a beached whale move over the first boulder, then staying on the increasingly sharp ridge. Soon the rope reached me and I started climbing. I managed to find a small foothold to mantle up the first boulder and avoid the whale move. From there I kind of wished Id brought the technical tools instead of my mountaineering ax. But I was still able to hook a ledge with the ax and pull myself over the next move. From there I reached an interesting sharp boulder in the ridge that was overhaning on the sides with huge drops. I couldnt tell how Nick got around, but I ended up bear hugging it and smearing my knees on the side to inch around. On the other side I needed to do some proper au cheval moves to scoot across a narrow knife edge. Beyond that required some crawling, more au cheval, and some balancing on the snow ridge. Nick said he had to do a lot of karate chopping cornices off the north face, and it sounded much more difficult for him in the lead. By 12:45pm we were both on the summit, with a solid deadman anchor of a buried ice tool in the snow. It was still a whiteout, but I did recognize the 4th class route down the south face that is the standard summer route.
On the summit
On the summit
Descending down the SW gully
Descending down the SW gully
Skiing out
Skiing out
We snapped a few pictures, but the view never opened up in that brief 5 minutes. I already had the gear so I led back down the ridge while Nick belayed. I put in a few extra gear pieces, including a few cams, nuts, and slung horns. Back at the bearhug boulder I noticed there was a safe ledge below. So I belayed Nick over to there. Then we looped the rope around the boulder and rapped directly down 10m to the ledge below. No need to leave any rap anchor. From there it was a short traverse back to our stashed gear. We packed up, then plunge stepped back down the gully. There were occasional clouds breaks revealing fleeting views to the Woody Creek valley below, but it soon clouded back over. We made it to the col, strapped on skis, and started down. The first bit down from the ridge was kind of steep and I just side slipped, but lower down I made some fun turns. We made fast progress down to Wing Lake, then scooted across the lake and skied down to Lewis Lake.
Skiing out
Skiing out
At Rainy Pass
At Rainy Pass
Sledding out
Sledding out
Sledding out (photo by Nick)
Sledding out (photo by Nick)
From there we transitioned to skins and skinned back up our tracks all the way to Heather Pass. It was kind of nice to not have to break trail on the way back up. After Heather Pass the snow was nice deep powder, and we had our funnest turns of the day getting back down to Lake Anne. We then skinned back across the lake to the trail, then skied back to the snowmobile by 4:15pm. Amazingly it was still light out. This was the first time this winter Ive been able to snowmobile out in the daylight. We packed up and soon started cruising out. We made excellent time in the daylight, averaging around 40mph. The lighting was excellent and we were back to the truck by 5:30pm, then soon driving home. Link to more pictures: https://www.countryhighpoints.com/black-peak-winter-ascent/

ozzy, gumby, geyer, NWtrax, rstoddard24, Bronco, SeanSullivan86, mosey, Eric Hansen, Schroder, williswall, silence, Roly Poly, GaliWalker, RichP, The Ghost of Bear 380, fourteen410, yukon222, rubywrangler, Bramble_Scramble, Bowregard, Now I Fly, LukeHelgeson  awilsondc  Cyclopath, Tom
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Roly Poly
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PostFri Mar 10, 2023 9:21 pm 
Incredible adventures you have!

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hikerbiker
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PostSat Mar 11, 2023 6:06 am 
Black Peak was first climbed in winter on December 22, 1989 by Carl Skoog and myself. Lowell was not on that trip so I'm not sure where you got your information but it is false. Perhaps Fred got it mixed up during his final guidebook revision. The highway was open till about new years day that year due to low snowpack We tried Mesachie a few days later and were deterred by deep powder on the summit route. Good luck!

ozzy, geyer, jared_j, rstoddard24, SeanSullivan86, mosey, Now I Fly, silence, Cyclopath, RichP
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BirdDog
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PostSat Mar 11, 2023 8:41 am 
Congrats on another excellent winter summit!

"There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country." Teddy Roosevelt August 6, 1912
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GaliWalker
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GaliWalker
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PostSat Mar 11, 2023 4:27 pm 
Some stunning pictures here!

'Gali'Walker => 'Mountain-pass' walker bobbi: "...don't you ever forget your camera!" Photography: flickr.com/photos/shahiddurrani
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Eric Gilbertson
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Eric Gilbertson
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PostSun Mar 12, 2023 9:14 pm 
Quote:
Black Peak was first climbed in winter on December 22, 1989 by Carl Skoog and myself.
Sorry for the mistake. I've corrected it now. My source was Lowell Skoog's compilation of FWA's in the book "Snow and Spire: Flights to Winter in the North Cascade Range", so maybe I had his name on my mind. That must have been nice being able to drive all the way to Rainy Pass in winter! Do you know of other winter ascents of Black peak since your climb?

hikerbiker
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hikerbiker
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PostMon Mar 13, 2023 7:20 am 
Thank you for the correction. Everyone loved Carl and when we lost him it was a blow to the local mountaineering community. He would approve. Yes they used to keep the highway open from the west to Rainy Pass until it got too deep. DOT even plowed it. Was a great early season ski area back in the day. I am unaware of any WA's of Black since ours but you never know. Certainly it is harder to get there in winter now. Be safe out there; I enjoy reading your winter climb reports immensely!

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