Forum Index > Trip Reports > Rahm and Custer, Feb 17-20, 2024
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Eric Gilbertson
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Posts: 188 | TRs | Pics
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Eric Gilbertson
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PostMon Feb 26, 2024 9:42 pm 
Mount Rahm (8,480 ft) and Mount Custer (8,630 ft) Feb 17-20, 2024 Feb 17 Ė double carry boat to Ross Lake, paddle to Silver Creek Feb 18 Ė move camp to Silver Lake, climb Rahm Feb 19 Ė climb Custer, hike down Silver Creek Feb 20 Ė finish hike to Ross Lake, paddle back, triple carry gear to trailhead 30 miles hiking, 40 miles paddling Eric Gilbertson and Josh Celli
Climbing up the south face of Rahm
Climbing up the south face of Rahm
The route
The route
The "new" motor (from 2004)
The "new" motor (from 2004)
Some of the most difficult Bulger peaks to access in Washington in winter are the six Chilliwack peaks Ė Hard Mox, Easy Mox, Spickard, Redoubt, Custer and Rahm. Iím trying to climb all the Bulgers in winter and Iíve spent several years scouting and practicing how to access these six peaks. Iíve discovered that the best legal way to access them is to use a zodiac boat with outboard motor on Ross Lake. Then bushwhack up from Ross Lake to the peaks. In December 2023 Nick and I made the first winter ascent of Hard Mox and the second winter ascent of Spickard. We double carried my zodiac boat and motor down to the lake, boated up, and approached via Perry Creek. That left four remaining Chilliwack Peaks. Because of the long approach, these peaks require a long weekend in winter. I only get two long weekends (MLK day and Presidents day), and thus these peaks have been top priority for one of those weekends. Many stars must align for a winter Chiliwack trip to work out, though, as Iíve discovered from multiple failed attempts. The weather has to be stable, snow stable, no ice on Ross Lake, good conditions on the sunday of the long weekend, wind low on Ross Lake, and partner available. It appeared all the stars would align for this Presidents Day weekend. Josh was available, and we decided to go for it. One issue I needed to fix before we left, though, was to make sure my boat motor worked. On the Hard Mox trip in December my 5HP propane outboard motor wouldnít start for the return journey, and Nick and I ended up rowing back for 9 hours. I later took the motor to the only shop in town that will fix a propane motor, and the guys there said they didnít want to deal with it. I suspect the issue is that I stored the motor tilted at an angle for five days while we were climbing, and the water might not have fully drained out. It got very cold, and remaining water might have frozen inside and cracked components. Iím still trying to debug that issue. The guys in the shop said I should really be using a gasoline motor in winter, since thatís what the resort workers on Ross Lake use all winter and it is more reliable. So, I bought a used 4hp gasoline Mercury motor off craigs list. The motor worked fine in a bucket test when I picked it up, but I wanted to gain a bit more confidence before trusting it on Ross Lake in the winter. The gas motor requires a bit different gear and technique than the propane motor. I had to buy an external fuel tank and connecting fittings, and fill it up with non-ethanol gasoline. It is very important that the gas is non-ethanol, because ethanol will mess up the carburetor.
Carrying the motor and fuel down the trail
Carrying the motor and fuel down the trail
Pumping up the zodiac
Pumping up the zodiac
Dragging the boat to Ross Lake
Dragging the boat to Ross Lake
The tuesday before the long weekend I had all the components and I took the boat out for a test ride on Lake Washington. It worked fine for a 5-mile ride, and I figured this was sufficient to give it a try on Ross Lake. I determined that it gets approximately 10 miles per gallon, so my 5-gallon tank would give me a 50-mile range. Our target trailhead was the Silver Creek campground on Ross Lake, and this is approximately 20 miles up lake. So a 50 mile range would be perfect for a 40-mile trip with a little buffer. I was able to reach a max speed of 5.2 mph, which was very similar to my other motor where I could hit 5.7mph. So I anticipated being able to get to Silver Creek in a bit under 4 hours. Our plan was to leave town early Saturday morning, double carry the boat and motor down, then motor up to Silver Creek and bushwhack up to treeline. We would bring snowshoes so we didnít have to worry about skiable snow conditions and wouldnít have to bushwhack carrying skis down low. Sunday weíd climb Rahm, Monday climb Custer and hike out, then Tuesday morning boat out and get home mid day in time to squeeze in some work in the afternoon. This plan intentionally had ample buffer time and moderate days, because I knew there was always a possibility weíd have to row back like on the Hard Mox trip. I think it will take a lot of data points for me to regain confidence in outboard motors after that trip. Iíd never done the Silver Creek bushwhack approach before, but John Roper said it was easier than the Perry Creek bushwhack. I got a GPS track from Jenny Abegg and she confirmed the approach was mostly open forest. By Thursday the forecast looked acceptable and we decided to go for it. Feb 17 Saturday morning we left Seattle at 4am and were at the trailhead by 7am. Iíve done nine trips so far with the zodiac on Ross Lake so I have the technique pretty well dialed now. Josh went down with climbing gear and boat accessories while I strapped the motor to my Gregory Denali Pro pack and hiked down carrying the 5 gallon fuel tank in my hand. The motor is 60 pounds and the fuel 50 pounds. We dropped the gear off at Frontage Road a half mile down then returned. For the next trip Josh took my climbing pack and I carried the boat down (about 70 pounds dry). At the road we inflated the boat, mounted the motor and wheels, and put the climbing gear in as far back as possible over the wheels. Then we tied a rope on front and dragged it down the road to the waters edge. Luckily the resort workers have started parking their truck a little off to the side so the boat squeezes by on the road. In the past Iíve had difficulty carrying it around when the truck is in the middle of the road. Perhaps theyíve seen me there enough in the past dragging the boat up and down.
Dragging the boat down the road
Dragging the boat down the road
Putting in
Putting in
Broken oar lock fixed with bungees
Broken oar lock fixed with bungees
We put in, pushed off, then I paddled into open water. The motor started fine on the first pull, and we were soon cruising up lake. We got just past the resort to near the opening in the water fence, but then the motor died. I tried the trick Iíd learned of taking off the cowling, unscrewing the carburetor outlet, draining the fluid into a rag, spritzing the carburetor intake with some fuel, then putting everything back together. The motor then started fine on the first pull, but after 30 seconds it gave out again. I repeated the same trick, and the carburetor was flooded again. Three more times I had the same results of the motor running for 30 seconds then stopping. I suspected something was wrong with the carburetor, but I wasnít equiped to fix it right there. We paddled to shore and considered our options. We could possibly switch objectives to other Bulgers nearby, but we hadnít brought any rope or technical gear. So that limited it to hiking peaks. Or, we could stick to the same objectives and just paddle up lake. I figured if we gave ourselves all day we ought to be able to paddle to Silver Creek. We could just start early Sunday and still maybe tag Rahm. We could also start earlier Monday and tag Custer, hike out, and get a few hours of paddling in. Then start super early Tuesday to paddle the rest and still be on schedule. If we just cut down on sleep each night it seemed like it would work. These peaks were high enough priority and this was the only weekend left this winter to go for them, so I really wanted it to work. Josh was on board so we decided to go for it. Unfortunately there was a strong headwind from the start, but we pushed off and I started rowing. Before we even reached the water fence, though, the starboard oar lock broke off. This is the piece that connects the oar to the boat. Back in December the port oar lock had broken and Iíd lashed the oar to the boat with bungee cords and still managed to paddle out. I suspect what happened was I hadnít cleaned all the salt water off the oar locks last year when I boated out to Blake Island in Puget Sound (and, incidentally, the motor didnít work for the return journey so Iíd paddled back). The salt and exposure to UV over many trips might have worn down the plastic. At least I knew a solution with the bungees. So this time I took three bungees and lashed the starboard oar to the boat. It seemed to work, so we proceeded. I paddled up into the stiff headwind until just before Cougar Island, and then we switched. The techniqe was the person not rowing sits in the bow and directs which way to point the boat. Then the rower looking backwards in the stern picks a point in the distance to aim the back of the boat at to maintain a constant heading. Rowing takes a little bit of technique, and itís not necessarily a skill I thought Iíd need to develop for mountaineering. But, as it turns it, it is indeed an important skill for climbing Bulgers in the winter. Iíve found itís important to not splash the paddles on the back stroke, and to always engage both paddles in the water, even when doing a course correction. I just pull one paddle a bit harder than the other to correct direction. Then I like to paddle at a moderate, sustainable rate (like zone 3 heartrate) so I can go for a long time without getting tired out. To get past Cougar Island I usually take the long way around the east to avoid stumps. But the Ross Lake water level is set surprisingly high now (probably related to a lower than normal snowpack), and the west side of the island looked deep enough to cut the corner. It was important to reduce distance as mush as possible now that we were rowing. So I directed us through the gap, then on a beeline course for Roland Point. Around the corner the wind died down, and it would stay nearly calm for the rest of the day. This was a welcome relief and inspired confidence that we might actually reach Silver Creek that day. I measured with my watch that we were moving at 1.9mph, which would put us at Silver Creek a bit after sunset if we didnít stop at all. That sounded reasonable.
Nice calm water looking up towards Desolation Peak
Nice calm water looking up towards Desolation Peak
Sunset near Little Beaver
Sunset near Little Beaver
Taking a break near Little Beaver
Taking a break near Little Beaver
We took one-hour shifts and the weather was nice and sunny enough that the person in the bow never got too cold. It was actually kind of fun and relaxing rowing at a moderate pace through the calm water. We were the only ones on the whole lake, which is a nice perk of boating there in the winter. By May when the resort opens and starts renting out motor boats I bet it gets kind of crowded. And if they ever fix the Silver Skagit road coming in from BC then personal motor boats will return to the lake. But that road has been washed out for a few years, so Iím not confident when it will ever get repaired. We made good progress up lake, passing Little Jeruselum Island and May Creek, then rounding Rainbow Point. We next passed Tenmile Island and Lightning Creek. Around the corner near Cat Island I could first see Little Beaver in the distance. Darkness finally hit as we reached the point across from Little Beaver, and we stopped for a bathroom break. From there it was a few more hours of night paddling, and luckily the moon was out. We could generally navigate by moonlight, but it was important to occasionally turn on a headlamp to scout for logs and stumps. The water was high enough that the stumps were mostly submerged, but there were occasional large floating rogue logs to avoid. By 10pm we neared Silver Creek. This area of the lake has very gradual shore slopes, and the water was receded quite far from the summer shoreline. As we got closer we encountered many stumps. I recalled from the most recent sentinel hub satellite image that the water was likely too low to get up lake far enough to actually reach the silver creek takeout. Indeed, with so many stumps and the water so shallow we decided to row to shore and walk from there.
Taking out at Silver Creek
Taking out at Silver Creek
Taking out
Taking out
At Silver Creek
At Silver Creek
Bivying
Bivying
Once close I jumped out into knee-deep water in my dry suit and water shoes, tilted the motor up, and pulled the boat in. We then took the gear out, and I deployed the wheels and dragged the boat on shore. I was careful to tilt the motor back so it was perfectly vertical (so all the water would drain), and I wrapped it in a tarp to help keep it warm. I still held on to a sliver of hope that I could fix the motor for the return journey. I left all the boating gear (dry suit, life jackets, pumps) with the boat, then we packed up and hiked to Silver Creek camp. It felt pretty luxurious with picnic tables and an outhouse. Too bad thereís no shelter like at Little Beaver. We quickly cooked up some Ramen, then laid our bivy sacks out and went to bed by 11pm. Sunday We needed to make up for lost time from the motor not working, so we got up at 4:30am and were moving soon after. Iíd read from the summitpost page by Klenke that there was an old abandoned trail to a cabin on the north side of Silver Creek, so I knew it was important to get to that side. The official camp where we slept is on the south side, and I had originally hoped to boat up to the north side of the creek to avoid having to wade across it. But since that plan hadnít worked we resolved to just cross by foot. We cut through the woods to Silver Creek, and unfortunately all the rocks were iced over. So we couldnít rock hop across. We just took off our shoes and made the quick and cold crossing. On the other side I soon picked up the abandoned trail. The woods were not too dense but it still made sense to try to follow the trail. It was in tough shape, but I generally managed to stay on it. After about 2 miles we reached the remains of an old cabin and a filled-in mine shaft. The cabin had no roof and was dilapidated, but it was interesting to investigate. There was even an old wheel barrow nearby.
The old cabin
The old cabin
Typical open forest
Typical open forest
The headwall
The headwall
The trail disappeared beyond the cabin, but the woods were nice and open. I maintained elevation and roughly followed Jennyís GPS track. Soon snow started around 3000ft and I switched to my Olympus Mons 8000m boots. These were way overkill, but are my only double boot thatís not a ski boot. I find for multi-night winter trips itís very important to have a double boot so the liner can be warmed up and dried out overnight inside the sleeping bag. I led the way through the mostly open forest, and at an obvious stream crossing I tied my hiking boots to a tree. Itís important to tie them to a tree so an animal doesnít steal them. (This has happened to me before when a critter stole my shoes out of my vestibule, though I did manage to recover them. We made steady progress to 3600ft, when the trees opened up and we had a good view of the headwall below Silver Lake. There was an obvious line through the cliff bands on the right in the trees, and thatís what we aimed for. We hiked up the icy creek a bit, then cut right and followed a steep drainage up. This was an obvious avy path, and we were happy conditions were very stable.
Silver Lake
Silver Lake
We kicked steps steeply up through the trees, and at one point scrambled up a narrowing chasm with a topout that required pulling ourselves up on branches. From there we cut up and left, and by 5400ft the slope eased and we were above the headwall. We switched to snowshoes then and snowshoed up and left to the outlet of Silver Lake by 3pm. I pitched the mega mid on a flat bench next to the outflow, and as hoped for there was running water next to camp. That would save a lot of time melting snow. By 4pm we were rested enough to give Rahm a try as planned. It appeared we might be able to top out by sunset if we were efficient. The clouds were starting to clear so there was even a chance weíd get a view from the top.
Camp at the outlet
Camp at the outlet
Using ascent plates in the gully
Using ascent plates in the gully
Exiting the gully looking back towards Custer
Exiting the gully looking back towards Custer
I led the way snowshoeing across the frozen Silver lake to the steep south face of Rahm. There we ditched the snowshoes and switched to crampons. I kicked steps up the steep face and the snow was stable as predicted. After reaching a bench at 7500ft I got a good view of the two ascent options. Thereís a western gully thatís class 4/5, but looked completely filled with snow. Then thereís an eastern gully that Iíd had previously taken in July 2018 and I recalled was easy class 2/3. I decided to go for the easier gully since I knew it worked.
Summit view
Summit view
I climbed up into the gully, and then the snow got deeper (still stable) and progress slowed. That was the time to upgrade to ascent plates. Nick had just tested out his new CNC mill and custom water bath by making me a pair of 2mm thick carbon fiber ascent plates. Iíd brought his pair and my old ultralight 1mm pair. I donned the new pair, but Josh opted to just stick with crampons and follow my tracks. My speed soon doubled as I flew up the slope with the added floatation. I exited the gully, then turned right and gained the south ridge of Rahm. I made it up to 8300ft, then encountered rock and ice, so switched back to crampons. I finally topped out at 6pm, just at the edge of civil twilight. By then the clouds had cleared and I got amazing views of Spickard to the south, Hozomeen to the east, and Custer to the west. Mt Rahm actually has two summits and it has not been surveyed which is the true highpoint (thatís on my to-do surveying list this summer). So I made a quick trip over to the west summit and returned to meet Josh on the East summit. We took some pictures, then Josh tagged the west summit and we headed down. Progress was fast, and within an hour we were back to camp. I cooked up a mountain house, balancing the stove on the ascent plate, and we got to be by 9:30pm.
On the summit
On the summit
Alpenglow heading up Custer
Alpenglow heading up Custer
Crossing over the south ridge of Custer
Crossing over the south ridge of Custer
Monday Our goal for the day was to tag Custer, hike down to Ross Lake, and get a few hours of paddling in. So we wanted to start early. We were moving by 3:30am, and I led the way snowshoeing straight across Silver Lake to the west. There are three main routes up Custer, and I wasnít sure which one would be best in winter. One route is to follow the ridge directly from Rahm to Custer. This has a bit of 4th class but would theoretically be free of avy terrain. However, with prevailing SW winds I suspected it would likely be corniced and sketchy. Indeed, from the summit of Rahm Iíd seen big cornices and wanted to avoid that route. Another option is the south ridge route on Custer. This has one 5th class step and Iíve read it has turned many parties around. It would also very likely be corniced in winter and I wanted to avoid it. The last route, the one Iíd previously climbed in July 2018, was the southwest face. This is an avy slope, but would likely be scoured by SW winds and would not have a cornice risk. Given that the snow on similar aspects on Rahm was stable we expected this would be the ideal winter route this time. To access it we planned to climb up and over the south ridge then wrap around to the base of the SW face.
Sunrise on Redoubt
Sunrise on Redoubt
The SW face of Custer
The SW face of Custer
On the summit
On the summit
On the south ridge
On the south ridge
We reached the inlet of the Silver Lake, then cut up north towards Custer. We soon ditched the snowshoes and I found a weakness in the cliff band to crampon up through. Then we reached the crest of the south ridge of Custer just as an orange ribbon of alpenglow was forming on the eastern horizon. The west side of the ridge was scoured down to rock and firm snow as Iíd suspected, and avalanches were not a concern. We carefully downclimbed the icy snow facing in, dropping all the way to level terrain at 7400ft. As the sun rose it illuminated Mt Redoubt to west, and we got some great pictures. There were traversed around to the base of the SW face, which mostly covered in snow. I recalled in July the face was extremely chossy (some people call the peak ďChosterĒ) and I was happy it was covered in snow instead. Based on the shaded relief maps the lowest-angle aspect was a west aspect gaining a notch in the south ridge. That looked like an excellent snow finger with the least amount of exposure, so we decided to give it a go. I cramponed to the base, then ditched one pole and continued with an axe and whippet. The snow was nice and firm and I just sank in to my ankles. I made quick progress up to the south ridge. From there it was mostly firm snow with a few short rocky sections. I had to make one sketchy move up a chossy rock face but then easily kicked steps to the summit by 8am. The weather was nice and sunny and I got excellent views all around. I could see Hard Mox to the south and was very happy to have already climbed that one in winter. It looked pretty difficult from that angle. I could make out the pickets, Shuksan, Slesse, and a bunch of other peaks. Josh soon joined and we took some summit shots. The downclimb was a bit delicate getting through the rocky parts, but then we made quick progress back to the bowl at the base of the face. From there we retraced our route traversing south, then climbing steeply back up to the south ridge. We then dropped back to Silver Lake and crossed back to camp.
Descending to treeline
Descending to treeline
We took a nice break at camp to refuel, then packed up and headed down. By then the clouds were starting to gather and we were happy to have nailed great views and conditions for both summits. We cramponed down to the top of the headwall, but then the snow was balling up enough that we just bare booted. As we descended it started snowing, and then it turned to rain. We soon reached the old growth trees at 3600ft and started hiking out. Josh had hurt his leg so our progress was a bit slower. Darkness soon caught us and it got harder to follow our melted-out tracks, but I mostly managed. Eventually we reached the old cabin and the abandoned trail, and then made good progress down the valley. Unfortunately we werenít able to make it all the way to the lake, and by 11:30pm we decided to just bivy a few hours in the trail. I laid out my sack and was soon asleep. Tuesday We were moving by 3:30am for another short night, and reached the edge of Ross Lake by sunrise. The fog was thick, and we took a short break at the Silver Creek campsite to retrieve some gear weíd stashed in the bear boxes. We then walked back to the zodiac and pushed off into the lake by 8am. I gave it another shot to fix the motor, but I encountered the same issues. At one point I did get it running for a full five minutes and we made quick progress, but then it cut out again. It appears the carburetor was malfunctioning and needs replaced. By 9am I finally gave up and we started paddling. This time I reinforced the bungee straps with a ski strap that secured the starboard oar even more solidly to the boat.
Back to the boat
Back to the boat
Paddling out
Paddling out
Triple carrying to the trailhead
Triple carrying to the trailhead
The weather started out clear and we even caught a glimpse of Custer up from the lake shore! But it soon clouded up and we got hit with intermittent rain squalls. This time I decided to pull the motor up out of the water to increase efficiency. I measured in calm water we were moving at 2.3mph. Thatís a big improvement over 1.9mph! I wish I had thought of that on the way up. With the mix of rain and sun we were treated to a few nice rainbows to our north. We took one hour shifts, and halfway down lake we enocuntered a stiff headwind and waves that were starting to break into whitecaps. I directed us to the eastern shore, since I knew there was a good trail there in case we got into trouble. We hugged the shoer to Rainbow point and then to Roland Point, and luckily the wind died down after that. After Roland point we decided to take 30 minute rowing shifts and row harder, and that definitely increased speed and efficiency. By darkness we had just rounded Cougar Island, and by 7pm we finally reached the takeout at the road. It had only taken 10 hours to paddle back instead of 12, and I think this is largely due to taking the motor out of the water. We dragged the boat up Frontage road, then triple carried the gear back to the truck by 11pm. Then we made it back to Seattle a few hours later. 71/100 Winter Bulgers

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GaliWalker
Have camera will use



Joined: 10 Dec 2007
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GaliWalker
Have camera will use
PostTue Feb 27, 2024 6:05 am 
Eric Gilbertson wrote:
Sunrise on Redoubt
Sunrise on Redoubt
What a shot! up.gif

'Gali'Walker => 'Mountain-pass' walker bobbi: "...don't you ever forget your camera!" Photography: flickr.com/photos/shahiddurrani

Eric Gilbertson
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Stefan
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Stefan
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PostTue Feb 27, 2024 9:58 am 
Man. You have had so many motor problems! And you persevere!!! Maybe borrow some ocean kayaks....

Art is an adventure.

Eric Gilbertson
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TrumOnTop
Scenic Pisser



Joined: 02 Feb 2024
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TrumOnTop
Scenic Pisser
PostTue Feb 27, 2024 5:37 pm 
inspirational!! What an awesome combination of skills up.gif up.gif

Beep borp

Eric Gilbertson
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mbravenboer
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mbravenboer
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PostTue Feb 27, 2024 9:04 pm 
Very interesting! This must have been the longest trip report I read end-to-end. So captivating! I had no idea that motorboat engines are so difficult to work with (I also didn't know that about snowmobiles until your earlier reports). Impressive perseverance.

Eric Gilbertson
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tNguyen
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tNguyen
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PostWed Feb 28, 2024 4:37 pm 
Wow! Congrats!!!

Eric Gilbertson
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The Ghost of Bear 380
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Joined: 15 Dec 2022
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The Ghost of Bear 380
~SJ~
PostThu Feb 29, 2024 10:13 am 
mbravenboer wrote:
This must have been the longest trip report I read end-to-end.
Same! This is so amazing! Thank you for showing us the beauty of this area in winter.

Eric Gilbertson
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snowmonkey
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snowmonkey
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PostSat Mar 02, 2024 7:15 am 
Wow- your tenacity is out of this world. Thanks for the report.

Ocian in view! O! The joy! William Clark

Eric Gilbertson
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trent
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trent
Suffering fool
PostSun Mar 10, 2024 8:45 pm 
Congrats! Thanks for posting; Your TRs are always motivational.

It's all downhill from here!

Eric Gilbertson
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Matt
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Matt
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PostThu Mar 21, 2024 11:59 pm 
Well, that's one way to mitigate the loose choss on the SW face of Custer.

ďAs beacons mountains burned at evening.Ē J.R.R. Tolkien
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