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Joined: 04 Jul 2018
Posts: 183 | TRs | Pics
Monument Peak (8,592 ft) Winter Ascent
Eric and Paul
January 6, 2024
34 miles, 9,000ft gain
The sweet spot for the weekend with the most stable snow and best weather looked to be as far northeast as possible. I still have a handful of Bulgers in the Pasayten that I need to climb in winter, and we decided to go for Lake and Monument.
I previously climbed these peaks in July 2018, approaching via Monument Creek and Eureka Creek. In 2018 the bridge over Eureka Creek was washed out and I had used a packraft to cross. I’ve been a bit reluctant in the past few years to go for these peaks in winter becuase of the Eureka Creek crossing, though I have done other winter packraft crossings like that (like for Primus Peak in winter 2021).
However, in summer 2021 a new bridge was constructed over Eureka creek, and some kind trail mainenance workers started clearing out the trail on the other side. This past summer 2023 I hiked in and verified the bridge was done and the trail cleared. (That was a trip to survey Blackcap Peak and verify it is in fact prominent enough to be a WA Top 100 peak, contrary to quad surveys).
Our plan was to ski in to camp below Monument and Lake and climb Monument via the SE ridge Saturday. Last weekend I’d used snowshoes to climb Hard Mox and Spickard, and I looked forward to moving a lot faster on skis this time.
This route up Monument would avoid avy terrain. Sunday we would climb the north ridge of Lake Mtn (also avoiding avy terrain), then return. Interestingly, these are two of the only six Bulger peaks in the winter that have trailheads less than one mile from a plowed road (the six are Rainier, Little Tahoma, St Helens, Snowfield, Lake, and Monument). This meant I wouldn’t bring the snowmobile and we’d just skin directly from the Yellowjacket sno park.
There had been a decent amount of snow falling the previous few days, so we expected trail breaking might be slow. And the mileage was kind of high for those conditions, at about 15 miles from trailhead to Monument. So we decided to give ourselves plenty of time to summit Monument by sunset. I usually estimate about 1mph speed ascending while breaking trail, so that would mean 15 hours to Monument. That meant starting around 1am to beat sunset. We decided to give a bit of buffer and start at 11pm Friday.
We reached Yellowjacket sno park at 6pm, then took a nap for a few hours and were moving by 11pm. We had to skin on a snow-covered but plowed residential road for a half mile until just after the monument creek bridge, where it is then closed to wheeled vehicles and open to snowmobiles. We skinned a quarter mile farther along the Harts Pass road, then turned off on the Monument Creek trail.
The snow was thin but skinnable and we made good time to Eureka creek, 2 hours after starting. I recalled that was the last running water for a long time, so we chugged and topped off. It was snowing as predicted, but luckily not too windy, also as predicted. NWAC was forecasting very windy conditions in the zone, but the zone is very big and we were far enough northeast to avoid much of that.
We crossed the excellent new bridge and took turns breaking trail up switchbacks on the other side. The snow got deeper but we were mostly able to follow the trail until it crested the ridge around 6000ft. It was very cold and damp getting snowed on for hours, but the trail breaking kept us warm.
On the summit after sunset in a snow squall
Skinning up in the dark
Above 6000ft we mostly abandoned trying to follow the trail and just stayed on the ridge crest. At 6500ft we found where the trail left the ridge to the west, and were able to follow the trail as it traversed around Pistol Peak. We were mostly in dense trees and not exposed to avy danger. Sunrise finally came along the traverse, and by 9:30am we crested Pistol Pass. There we got a partial view of Lake Peak to the north. There’s an intimidating spire (The Sentinel) on the south edge of the peak, but luckily that’s not the summit. The summit is farthe north.
Lake Mtn looked close and tempting, but we knew the smarter plan was to tag Monument Peak first since it was farther away. I’ve had a few winter trips over the years where I did an ambitious ascent on the Sunday of the weekend and got back super late afterwards (like 6am Monday morning, just barely in time to make it in to prep for my morning lecture), so I now try to always make the Saturday be the most ambitious day in case things take longer than expected. That seems common in winter.
We thus planned to go for Monument via the standard route. This route crossed a few steep slopes, but they were short and in the trees so not a problem. Pit tests also showed a nice right-side up stable snowpack with no signs of wind slab. Indeed, as forecast it was less windy in this area.
We skied off the northeast side of Pistol Pass into the trees then traversed north towards Lake Mtn. Above Lake of the Woods we ascended to the 7200ft notch south of the Sentinel, then traversed north and skied off down low-angle slopes. Amazingly, we found a small stream of running water to top off, and we found a small flat area in the trees at 6500ft.
We ditched overnight gear there and started up Monument by 12:30pm. We had about 4 hours of light and 2000ft of ascent, and we hoped that would work. To avoid avy terrain we made a descending traverse and gained the southeast ridge at 6300ft. There we zig zagged up gentle slopes in the trees up the ridge. By 7000ft the ridge narrowed and became steep enough that skis no longer made sense. The snow was still very deep, though, and postholing would have been way too slow. Luckily I’d brought two pairs of ascent plates for just this scenario. This scenario arises all the time on winter Bulger climbs, and ascent plates are some of the most useful gear items I own.
Traversing around Pistol Peak
At Pistol Pass
Traversing towards Lake Mountain
I wore my ultralight custom homemade carbon fiber plates and Paul took the super durable aluminum plates. I kicked steps up the trail and progress was great, with one kick per step. As we gained elevation the ridge became partially scoured to rocks with deep snow in between, with cornices on the east side. It was a tricky situation since ascent plates would sometimes catch on the rocks, but mostly prevent deep postholing. We kept them on to increase speed.
However, speed was still slow, and I worried about topping out before sunset. Up ahead looked like what might be the summit, but from the map we noticed it was a false summit at 8000ft. It had what looked like a huge cornice facing us, though, and continuing south along another ridge. I was kind of worried we’d have to bail since we hadn’t brought a rope or ice climbing gear for something like that.
As we got closer, though, it got less intimidating. At the base we realized it was merely vertical (not overhaning) and only about 10ft tall. So we decided to go for it. Paul took the lead with two ice axes, digging out steps and plunging them in by the shafts in the snow. He climbed with ascent plates to get more purchase in the snice. Once over the top he handed the ice axes down and I followed. It was actually pretty fun.
On the top we could see the true summit in the waning light, passing in and out of clouds. We thought there just might possibly be time to tag it before sunset still. The terrain along the rest of the ridge was much rockier, and I foolishly left my ascent plates on. The ultralight plates are great for snow but more vulnerable to rocks, and I ended up cracking one of them. So I took them off and continued in crampons.
Crossing over to the Monument-Lake basin
Switching to ascent plates on the steep SE ridge
The rockier section higher on the ridge
Visibility was low but the route was easy to follow along the sharp ridge. I reached a point just below the shorter northeast summit, then traversed gentle snow slopes to the base of the true western summit. By then it was 5pm and I finally gave in and turned on the headlamp. We had just barely missed not needing them, but would summit nevertheless. I’m not too strick about turnaround times in the winter when a peak takes so much time and effort to approach. That’s probably why I often end up summitting at sunset (which has amazing lighting in winter).
The last 50ft up to the summit looked steep, and no cake walk. I ditched my hiking pole and proceeded with whippet and ice ax. It was rock thinly covered in snow with a cornice on the north and steep snow slopes on the south. I managed to scramble directly up the rock, hooking holds with the tool and balancing on ledges with my frontpoints. By then a snow squall hit, but luckily it wasn’t too windy.
By 5:15pm I made the final delicate scramble to the summit, which I tapped with my hand. I held my head high enough to glimpse that it was definitely downhill in all directions, and verified with my GPS watch. There was definitely no view, but it was still a fun ascent. I then downclimbed and Paul took his turn tagging the summit.
We didn’t stay long in the tough conditions, so after a few pictures we retraced our route back. It was kind of tricky descending in the lightly snow-filled rock slopes. You would never know when a step would plunge in snow or scrape on rock. Our up tracks were completley blown over, but we were able to follow the ridge back so navigation was not hard. We took turns delicatly down-climbing the snice step, then plunge stepped back to our skis.
The ski down through the mellow trees was super fun, and we followed our tracks all the way back to camp by 8pm. It had been a long and tiring 21hr push with breaks only 5 minutes max (because of the cold), and I was very ready for bed. I set up the mega mid tent while Paul melted some snow, and we were in the tent by 10:30pm.
The plan the next morning was to tag Lake Mountain early enough to be back to camp shortly after sunrise. This would give us time to get back to the trailhead before too late to start the long 5 hour drive back to Seattle. I needed to be up at 5:30am Monday to go in to work to give a lecture, so ideally I’d get back not super late.
The short vertical snice step
On the summit
Downclimbing the snice
Unfortunately with the unconsolidated snow our trail breaking speed had been much slower than hoped for. We estimated we’d need to wake up at 3am to have time for Lake Mountain. This didn’t sound super appealing. We’d each just gotten 2 hours of sleep Friday evening, then did a 21 hour continuous push, then were planning to just get 4.5 hours of sleep before another tough day. It was also supposed to drop to 8F that night at camp, and much colder on the summit. We probably should have gone for it anyways, given how hard it was to get ourselves in there, but at the moment it sounded like too much. So we decided to get a full night’s sleep and head straight back at sunrise, skipping Lake Mountain. At least Lake Mountain was the easier and closer of the two, and could probably be done in a car-to-car winter trip in the future. That sounds kind of fun.
Sunday morning we were up and moving by 7:45am. We took a slightly modifed return route to go on lower-angle slopes, and soon broke out above treeline. The weather was much better, with no wind and nice clear skies. We finally got a good view of Monument Peak and it looked kind of intimidating. That was definitely a good one to get in winter.
We continued up to the 7200ft notch, then skied some amazing turns down the east side. I rarely ski good snow like that in winter, so it was a real treat. We followed our previous tracks back up to Pistol Pass, then got a bit more skiing in down the south side. The traverse went smoothly, and we got to do a bit more skiing down the south ridge until it got too crusty and melted out to be safe. We then postholed back down to the Eureka Creek crossing.
From there it was a fun 2 hour skin back to the sno park by 5:45pm, and we made it back home at a reasonable hour.
63/100 Winter Bulgers
Back at camp
Skinning out with good views of Monument
JasonK806, jaysway, jsb, SeanSullivan86, LukeHelgeson, lopper, puzzlr, zimmertr, neek, awilsondc, Prosit, GaliWalker, mike, RichP, brewermd, Bronco, Now I Fly, sooperfly, fffej50, jstern, dave allyn, John Mac, Waterman, Gimpilator, rubywrangler
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|Slide Alder Slayer
Joined: 14 Jan 2002
Posts: 1960 | TRs | Pics
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Joined: 23 Jun 2021
Posts: 77 | TRs | Pics
Add Tupshin and Devore.
Paved plowed road that's the same in summer or winter to the trailhead.
|Eric Gilbertson wrote:
|Interestingly, these are two of the only six Bulger peaks in the winter that have trailheads less than one mile from a plowed road (the six are Rainier, Little Tahoma, St Helens, Snowfield, Lake, and Monument). This meant I wouldn’t bring the snowmobile and we’d just skin directly from the Yellowjacket sno park.
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Joined: 17 Dec 2001
Posts: 5068 | TRs | Pics
Art is an adventure.
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