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Joined: 04 Jul 2018
Posts: 183 | TRs | Pics
Blackcap Mountain (8,402ft) Winter Ascent
Jan 26-28, 2024
Eric and Ryan
Friday Ė sled to near Harts Pass, ski to camp at Middle Fork Pasayten
Saturday Ė Climb Blackcap, return to camp
Sunday Ė Ski out, sled out
There was a warm atmospheric river event forecast for the weekend and the only zone that might stay cold enough for snow instead of rain was the east north. Snow looked to be stable throughout the weekend so we planned to climb a few Bulgers I still need winter ascents of in the Pasayten. I wanted to prioritize the most difficult one, which would be Blackcap since it is farthest from a road and requires some potentially tricky scrambling at the summit. If we somehow finished with spare time weíd try to tag a few more also, though in my experience bonus points rarely happen in winter.
We planned to ski in from Harts Pass and climb from the Eureka Creek drainage on the north side and ascend the standard NE ridge route. Iíd climbed this twice before already, most recently in June last year with survey equipment to measure that Blackcap is in fact tall enough and prominent enough to be on the WA Top 100 list. I recalled the ridge was just 3rd class and not too exposed, so we wouldnít bring a rope. By accessing Blackcap from the north side this would put us within striking distance of a few other Bulgers just in case we had extra time.
Harts Pass is one of the more difficult trailheads to access in the winter. The road is generally snowed over starting in November and is a 13 mile snowmobile approach from the Yellowjacket sno park. The main difficulty is getting around Deadhorse Point. This is considered one of the most dangerous roads in the lower 48 states. It goes on the edge of a cliff for a half mile below a steep south face. The face often avalanches, covering the road in debris and making passage difficult on a snowmobile.
Iíd previously snowmobiled to Harts Pass in early April 2021, and we had to dig out a bunch of steep avy slides above the cliffs. One personís snowmobile almost rolled over the cliff since the paths were very narrow. Then a mile before Harts Pass the road was filled in so much that we descended into the valley to the south and then gained the pass from there. More recently, in November 2023 I snowmobiled up to Harts Pass and had no trouble at Deadhorse Point or higher on the road. This time I messaged some friends in Mazama and they gave me up to date conditions beta about the road.
Friday night we left the Yellowjacket sno park around 8pm and sledded up. The road was groomed to near Ballard Camp a few miles in, but then it turned into very deep whoops. Whoops are like washboard on a gravel road, but are created by snowmobiles in the snow. The Harts Pass road has the deepest whoops Iíve ever experienced, sometimes 2ft deep. This makes progress very slow, especially with two people and overnight gear on the sled. We switched from mandem to princess style on the sled so I could balance better. Closer to Deadhorse Point we started encountering avy slides, though luckily paths had already been dug out by other sledders. Ryan would walk through each slide while I carefully balanced the sled through.
On the summit (photo by Ryan)
Yellowjacket Sno Park
On the other side the deep whoops returned, and we made slow progress to the edge of treeline. About 1 mile befor Harts Pass the road got filled in with snow, the trees ended, and the tracks in front of us descended steeply into the valley to the southwest. We stopped and walked around to scout. Proceeding would require steep sidehilling which Iím not skilled enough to do. Descending into the valley seemed like a bad idea since we would likely get stuck in the deep powder with the sled so heavily loaded.
We were just a mile from the pass, so we decided to park the sled there and ski. That would be faster than getting stuck and digging the sled out potentially multiple times. I turned the sled around and scooted it off to the side of the road, then we started up. It had been snowing all night but we got a few clearings with the bright moon out.
We soon reached Harts Pass and continued skinning up to Slate Pass. Thatís one of the highest trailheads in Washington and would theoretically be reachable by snowmobile. But that requires even more advanced skills since that road gets filled in with snow also. I think the place we parked is about the farthest in you can get on a snowmobile without requiring sidehilling or off-road travel.
On the other side we skied the mellow north face, then had fun powder skiing through the open trees. From several previous trips to this area in early April and May I knew the trees on the east side of the creek were open and that was the way to go, even though there was no trail there. We skied open trees until we hit the Robinson Creek trail, then skinned down a bit farther. By 2am we found a nice water source below Ferguson Lake and pitched camp there.
Parking the sled a mile before Harts Pass
Skiing up through the moonlight
At Harts Pass (photo by Ryan)
We got a few hours of sleep between 3am Ė 6:30am, then were up and moving by sunrise. The plan was to leave camp there so we could do a fast and light summit push and return to the same camp. We first followed the trail, then tried to shortcut it diagonally in a more direct line towards Freds Lake. The trees ended up being dense with lots of blowdowns, though, so itís unclear if we saved any time.
It started raining and the snow started glopping on our skins, and stoke was low. But we eventually hit the trail, which was high enough for the rain to turn to snow. I had my skin wax and we put that on the skins and the glopping stopped. Morale definitely increased then.
We followed the trail to Freds Lake, where it was very windy, then crossed the lake and zig zagged up the slopes above. Up on the ridge the wind picked up and we couldnít get any view. We had hoped to scope out the routes up Osceola, Carru, and Lago, but couldnít see any of them.
On the other side of the ridge we ripped skins and skied down through the trees out of the wind. We had fun turns in the powder and approximately followed the trail all the way down to Eureka Creek. We then skinned up to the basin north of Blackcap. The trail breaking was a bit tougher than we had hoped for, and it looked like weíd probably just have time for Blackcap that day. We hoped we could tag it before sunset at least.
We cut up through a steep band of trees to a gentle shoulder, then skinned into a small basin NE of Blackcap. There we climbed up to the saddle connecting to the south basin and ditched skis there. The NE ridge above looked spicy, and skis would definitely not be useful. The ridge had enough rocks sticking out that ascent plates would not be helpful, but the snow was still deep. The right side had intermittent cornices that we would need to watch out for.
Crossing Freds Lake (photo by Ryan)
Dropping into Eureka Creek basin
I took the lead with my ice ax out. Trail breaking was at times tough, requiring clearing with my hands and knees, but there was rock scrambling interspersed. As we got higher and intersected the NNE ridge the cornices got bigger over the steep north face. We were careful to stay far enough left to definitely be on rocks. We took turns breaking trail, and by 4:30pm, just before sunset, we finally topped out on the summit.
The visibility was pretty low, and we didnít stay long. We snapped a few pictures, tagged the summit cairn, then headed down. The descent was much easier with a boot track to follow. We reached the skis just in time to turn the headlamps on. The skiing down the NE bowl was very fun, and we made fast progress down to the should and lower to Eureka Creek.
We then skinned back up to the ridge south of Osceola. By then it was a windy whiteout in the dark, and we were exhausted from the tough trailbreaking. We decided to skip Osceola and just get back to camp to rest. As usual, a winter bonus point is rarely achieved.
Skiing up the NE basin
Climbing up the NE ridge (photo by Ryan)
Nearing the summit (photo by Ryan)
Interestingly, the slope down to Freds Lake had some fresh rollerballs on the top, and the precipitation switched to rain shortly below the lake. This meant freezing levels must have jumped much higher than forecast, which was not good news. Freezing levels had been forecast to be around 4000ft all weekend, but here they had jumped to close to 7000ft!
We skied back down the trail the whole way to the Middle Fork Pasayten, and this route was much better than the bushwhack. By 11pm we returned to camp in a light drizzle, and retreated into the megmid.
Ryanís wife texted him on the inreach that the avy forecast for Sunday was high at all elevations! That was quite a change for the previous forecast of moderate at all elevation Sunday. Apparently the temperatures were projected to get much warmer than previously thought, and there would be a lot of rain Sunday morning. We were a bit nervous about getting out. The slope getting back up to Slate Pass was less than 35 degrees so shouldnít slide, though there might be some cornices above it that could release. Then if we got to the snowmobile we were worried about getting through Deadhorse Point if a lot of fresh avalanches covered it.
We considered several options. The first was to abandon the snowmobile and ski out Robinson Creek. That would stay below treeline, though still crossed a few avy slopes. Another option was to stretch our food and wait another day so hopefully snow would stabilize by Monday. That would not be ideal for me missing work. I checked the weather forecast on my inreach and the temperatures seemed about the same Sunday and Monday, so it was unlikely Monday would be any better.
Another option was to try to take a ridge up to slate pass that appeared to avoid avy terrain. Then we could snowmobile to Deadhorse Point and if it were too covered in avy debris we could abandon the snowmobile there and ski back out, then come back next weekend to retrieve the snowmobile if conditions were safer. A final option was to wait around at Harts Pass until night when the temperature would drop a bit, then sled out when the snow was most stable. Hopefully everything that was going to slide would already have slid by the end of the day and we could sneak out in safer conditions. We decided to go for the last option.
The rain was forecast to continue until mid day Sunday, and it didnít make sense to ski out in the rain. So we decided to sleep in until it stopped raining, then head out. We got to bed by 1am that night.
On the summit
Avoiding cornices on the descent
We slept in and the rain ended by 9am. My updated weather forecast on my inreach had partly sunny weather the rest of the day, so we soon packed up and headed out. It seems like the weather that weekend must have been very tough to predict, because many times a forecast even one or two days out turned out to be very inaccurate.
We made good time back up to Slate Pass, liberating many question mark trees and tupee stumps along the way. We noticed one big D2.5 slide on the steep north face east of Slate Pass. It must have slid that morning in the rain. But the gentle slope up to the pass hadnít slid, and the ridge itself wasnít very corniced. It only had one small cornice in one location that didnít look problematic. The ridge to the west looked tricky near the top. We decided to just follow our ski tracks back up to the pass, since that was a reasonably safe option.
We took turns and soon made it back to Slate Pass without issue. We had a fun ski descent down the other side, and found fresh snowmobile tracks in the meadows above Harts Pass. They must have been just a few hours old, which was good news because that meant Deadhorse Point was passable.
We skied down to Harts Pass by 1:30pm, then took a break. We noticed active roller balls coming down a steep north face near the pass, and that meant Deadhorse Point might still be heating up in the sun and releasing slides. We decided to wait until sunset to start down, to give the snow time to cool down and stabilize.
Skiing to Slate Pass
At Slate Pass
I spread out a bunch of wet gear to dry on my skis and poles, and we admired the sunset. By 4:45pm we headed back down, and quickly skied back to the sled. We decided the fastest, funnest, and most comfortable descent option would be for Ryan to ski down and me to ride down. Going through the whoops with two people on the sled had been tricky, but skiing down and sledding down solo sounded fun.
I was a bit worried that the sled might not start since I had come up so slowly and not been able to rev the engine at all to clear the spark plugs. But it started on the first pull, surprisingly. I loaded up and we soon headed down. The road grade was just right so Ryanís skiing speed was about the same as my snowmobiling speed. Apparantly the whoops are not quite as difficult on skis as on the snowmobile.
The view from Slate Pass
Just before Deadhorse Point I noticed an abandoned snowmobile on the side of the road. I hadnít seen that Friday night. Maybe there was a mechanical issue that the owner is planning to come back and fix.
Deadhorse Point was in the same condition as it had been Friday night, and I was surprised no new slides had come down. Maybe this was because there hadnít been much new snow over the past week, so most snow that would slide off had already slid before we got there. Beyond the 1/2 mile narrowest section of Deadhorse point we did encounter one large new slide in the trees. We quickly dug a path out in about 10 minutes and then made it through.
Near Ballard Camp the road flattened out and I gave Ryan a ride in the sled. I was careful to gun the engine a few times to clear the spark plugs, and we made it back to Yellowjacket sno park by 6:45pm.
64/100 Winter Bulgers
Waiting around at Harts Pass
Last slide to dig out
Comma, SeanSullivan86, Scramblin Rover, simont, rubywrangler, NWtrax, yukon222, Now I Fly, John Mac, RichP, LukeHelgeson, Prosit, zimmertr, neek, lopper, Route Loser, jstern, jaysway Josh Journey
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Joined: 06 Aug 2009
Posts: 396 | TRs | Pics
Impressive! I'd love to check out that area in winter, but the access seems pretty daunting.
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Joined: 17 Dec 2001
Posts: 5067 | TRs | Pics
Art is an adventure.
Now I Fly
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a.k.a Josh Lewis
Joined: 01 Nov 2007
Posts: 4822 | TRs | Pics
A lot of great details here. Didn't know they are called Whoops until reading your TR. Snow "washboard" created by vehicles such as cars/trucks do they qualify as whoops? Digging out the road sounds wild. Truly a winter adventure.
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