Thursday, July 26, 2012

Island Peak – 75 Days to Departure - Steamboat Prow

Once again the weather forecast changed on a short notice just before the weekend and shattered our plans to attempt Mt. Rainier. What to do? Being in the “Rainier” mood, ideas such as Echo Rock, Observation Rock, Hessong Rock, and Skyscraper Mountain came to mind, but as Friday evening rolled in, we found ourselves exhausted after a long week of juggling between work, and preparations for the climb, so in the end we decided for an easier, relaxed outing in Sunrise area where the forecast still promised Mostly Sunny.

It did not look mostly sunny when we left Seattle at around 8:00 a.m., and it looked even less sunny when we drove into a downpour shortly past Enumclaw. We still had no plan of which trail we’ll hike, and with the rain getting stronger, we were not quite sure if we wanted to hike at all. 

Surprisingly the sun was out before we crossed the White River Entrance, and with it our hiking spirit. After a brief stop at the ranger station, we were on our way to Steamboat Prow.

The route started on Glacier Basin Trail which was smooth and well maintained an easy walk under the canopy of evergreens with occasional views that grew more plentiful as we approached the trail’s terminus. Flowers bloomed in numerous colors along this part of our hike, and creeks chirped songs of a happy summer day as they rushed down the hillsides.

Then we entered the basin, a meadow of delicate Glacier Lilies which we soon left behind as we hiked into the harsh environment of the alpine zone. Tall crumbling rock lined the walls, occasional rock fall stirred the dust, and evidence of prior slides littered the valley floor.

The views were incredible, especially after we ascended the initial formidable looking slope, our company here were the Burroughs Mountain, Ruth Mountain, and Rainier itself. Looming over its surroundings Rainier grew bigger as we approached the top of Inter Glacier, and made the final push – a rock scramble to the top of Steamboat Prow where it was so near we could nearly touch it.

Underneath us lay Camp Shurman and from there our eyes followed the route to the summit via the Emmons Glacier. It seemed quite straightforward ascending from the camp, then cutting through seracs, and then a long, steep looking slope. 

This vantage point also provided spectacular views of Little Tahoma, the whole Burroughs Mountain and far beyond, and up close and personal view of the mesmerizing Emmons Glacier.

It was hard to leave this gorgeous world of rock and ice and never-ending views but the evening was closing in and finally we had to say our good byes. The 1800 vertical feet glissade helped us make a good time, and even with our later start, we made it back to the car before it got dark.

RT: 10+ miles
Elevation Gain: 5300 feet

Monday, July 9, 2012

Island Peak - 88 Days to Departure - The Brothers

Gorgeous weekend to head out for a more challenging trip. We left Seattle early Saturday morning, and after a short detour (oops, how many times were we in the area before?) got to the Lena Lake trailhead and started hiking around 11:30 ish. 

The first part of the trip took us to Lena Lake, the trail was well maintained, not as busy as I expected it to be, but then we were starting at a time many locals were already enjoying the lake where we arrived around 14:00 p.m. and found many campsites occupied and people enjoying the hot sunny day.  

After the lake, the trail took us up the Valley of the Silent Man towards the climbers base camp.We found it full, and still having energy left, we proceeded higher up first on a well defined path, later navigating our way through a long blown down area, until we found a great camping spot higher up. We moved in and spent the evening by a fire, enjoying some good chocolate wine.

The morning came quickly. Soon after our departure from camp we reached the snow which at first was firm and not too steep; however we had to cross several snow bridges here, most of which did not look in a good shape, and we made a note to be extra careful on our way down.

The route soon got steeper; the snow was still firm, and with crampons easy going. We had to cross a stream and little bit of rock scrambling followed. We turned left little too soon and things got steep fast, so we retracted and followed a lower path that got us around the cliffs to another snow covered slope. 

This one was long and steep, and led us to the last rocky area where we scrambled to what we thought was the summit; however soon we found out we were mistaken. The summit was further on and between it and us lay a 30 foot drop. It was possible to downclimb the section and connect to the summit path but not being much of a rock scrambler, and being tired already, false summit did just fine for me for this trip.

The way down, with snow still firm and slippery at the steep part, was nearly as challenging as the way up but we made it down in one piece, exhausted but glad we had a great trip.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Island Peak - 92 Days to Departure - Hannegan Peak

Hannegan Peak was one of my first hikes along Hwy 542, and with the walk through green picturesque valley full of magnificent views, challenge of a 3000 feet elevation gain, and a treat of 360 degree views from the top, it instantly became one of my favorite trails, a destination to which I always longed to return. Seeing photos from a recent trip my friend David Chatham took up there deepened that desire and with (finally) a sunny day in the forecast I was sure Hannegan Peak will make a great destination to celebrate the Independence Day.

The trail, as I remembered it, was easy 3 miles before any serious elevation gain started, a walk through a valley full of greenery, wildflowers, and views of never-ending line of peaks rising to the sky.

The peaks were there, standing in their rugged beauty, so were the windflowers - bright yellow wood violets lining the left side, the right side filled with blooms of purple hues. What I did not expect, at least not to that degree, was the amount of avalanche debris in the area, multiple slides tearing down sizable trees, shredding them to pieces, depositing them along the way, sometimes as far as the valley floor. 

The slides, crossing the trail in so many spots I stopped counting, slowed the approach significantly. Some of them were easy to navigate but often the slide presented a snow bridge under which the water rushed and rumbled, and often those snow bridges were not in the best shape. Weakened by the warmth of the summer sun, partially collapsed, and too thin for comfort, there was couple of crossings where we chose to scramble down the muddy hillside holding onto the branches rather than risking falling into the ice cold snow melt water should the bridge not hold.

Once we reached area about ¼ miles before the switchbacks, the snow coverage became solid, and straight up we went, following a nicely set boot track. The sun was now out, the sky nearly perfectly blue, and not much breeze to calm us down. After a little bit of huffing and puffing and a whole lot of sweating, we reached Hannegan Pass. We did not linger long; the promise of the great views drove us up the now very steep slopes. The snow conditions were good and we made a quick progress. Soon we were rewarded by first unobstructed views of Granite Mountain, Ruth Mountain, Mt. Shuksan, and many more, and the higher we got, the more spectacular mountain views our eyes could feast on became.

We were in no rush to head down. We spend over an hour on the summit, striking a friendly conversation with a couple who arrived shortly after us, learning about the surrounding peaks and some interesting routes in the area. Finally the lateness of the day, and the fact we had to be back at work bright and early the following day, made us say good bye.

What a day! And the weekend (and more sunshine in the mountains they say) only couple days away!