This weekend I got my ass wupped-courtesy of the North Cascades.
I went with Tad S. this past weekend and we did Gabriel, Peak 7521 (Joseph), and Elija. We left a bike at the Panther Creek trailhead and proceeded on to Cabinet Creek.
Up we went Cabinet Creek. Then we started to traverse. And traverse. All of a sudden I heard the highway and I realized I made a stupid navigational error. We were traversing some 500 feet above the highway to the east. It took us about 30 minutes to get back on route and up Cabinet Creek. Uggghhh! Following Cabinet creek went really well and the last 1000 feet we basically stayed right on top of the creek. We placed our overnight gear at the 5680+ col between Gabriel and Elija at a wide flat open area and headed on up for Gabriel.
Clouds started out high and the going went well without snowshoes as we did not bring them for the entire trip. Our first and second couloir of choice up to Gabriel were blocked by large cornices so we had to plod our ways to the very head of the cirque southeast of Gabriel to gain the SE ridge. The top of the ridge is where the problems started. The snow sucked on the south facing slopes up high. The snow underneath the top crust was extremely soft and was well situated for postholing opportunities. Post hole we did several times. Tad post holed more than I because he weighed about 15 pounds more-it was like he was doing his own leading. Our energy sapped from our bodies slowly. We mainly stayed on the ridge proper and I recommend that making the summit to not find any register around 3:00ish. We started to have snow showers, but nothing too serious. I was disappointed in the views because this was going to be my last time at viewing a “close” up view of the north face of Ragged Ridge. There is one rocky section of the SE Gabriel ridge and we originally traversed below the crest on the SW side on the way up, but on the way back we went over the top of the rocky section by scrambling which was a much better way. However, I accidently dislodged two large rocks which hit Tad on this rocky section. One rock hit his arm and one hit his hip-he was in a lot of pain and I felt really bad. We made it back to camp postholing ever so frequently and becoming more and more tired. It started to rain as soon as we got in the tent and started making water.
Next morning Tad was feeling okay about his “Charlie horse” and we decided to go on with our plan of traversing Elija ridge with our full packs. Everthing went extremely well until we were below point 7521 when we started to run into the exact same snow conditions we experienced the day before. It sucked the energy out of us. We made the summit of this 401’ prominent peak under windy but high clouds conditions. We placed a summit register and named the peak Joseph going with nomenclature of the local peak names. We decided at the summit to drop our packs at the 7080+ col and we would go out Panther Creek due the frustrating snow conditions and weak legs.
We dropped our packs at the col and headed up to Elija under the exhausting postholing conditions that had consumed our lives for this trip. We made the summit of Elija sometime around 11:00 to find two summit markers, some fabric, and a piece of wood-but no register. Rain was encountered but this shower was brief and views were nonexistent to the south and east.
We got back to the packs and glissaded a long way down out to Gabriel Creek. Here is where we made a time factor error. We decided to go down Gabriel Creek and out Panther creek. My recommendation: Don’t do this! This is a very, very, very, long way without any views-and the going is extremely flat on Panther creek-and I am emphasizing this as a BORING hike out. And then to top it all off, you have to hike the Panther Creek trail which gains 800 feet, only to drop 1000 feet! My recommendation: After you do Elija, glissade down to Gabriel Creek via the same way we did (avoiding a waterfall at 5300-5100 feet) and then go back up to the Gabriel/Elija col and then out Cabinet Creek. It is about 2 miles shorter via Cabinet creek and about the same elevation gain/loss.
We got out to the Panther Creek trailhead at 7:00 where Tad hitched a ride to pick up the car and we had a chance meeting with Mitch who looked like he forgot the use of sunscreen from his foray on the other side of Washington Pass! 5/18-19/2002
P.S. for those folks interested in doing Peak 6763 which lies on the far west of Elija Ridge I would recommend you do it within the next 2 weeks. There is a massive avalanche that has swept down from Ruby totally covering Panther creek for about 25 feet deep with snow and about 150 yards in length exactly where Stillwell creek meets Panther creek.
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