Sunday, August 26, 2012

PNW 2 - Glacier Peak Wild - High Pass Traverse

Short Info

Hikers - Ladybird & Ridgewalker
6 days, 63 miles (1/2 RTM Route of Glacier Peak)
2 Wilderness, 2 National Forests
(Glacier Peak Wild, Henry M. Jackson Wild)
(Mt Baker-Snoqualmie NF, Wenatchee NF)

Full Trip Narrative
Wilderness is a beautiful thing... It is like that secret lover that sits in the back of your thoughts always luring you in.... Once tempted by this siren, hearing her sweet melody played out along the high ridgelines, you feel compelled to follow lost trails deeper into her realm... 

What began as a 3 day trip up into the Glacier Peak Wild then to return to Kayak the Sound, turned into an epic 6 day, cross-country/overgrown route. With initial hopes of completing the RTM (Round-the-Mountain) Path of this wild Volcano at 110 miles. We kept on track, with only cut up legs, dislocated knee and a scaled foot keeping us from completing our charge. Even at the moment of decision to exit the route, the siren's call was hard to resist... For now this rest of this route still remains in the column of "unfinished business".

Through the range, the mountaineering skills, route-finding skills, river-fording skills and first aid skills all came into play. I would call this section of Glacier Peak Wild, "The land of Forgotten Trails". What really amounted to Mountaineering boot-paths accessing Traverses and High Routes, leading our eyes up towards rock and ice routes. Each day picking through lines off possible discovery for future trips when we had rope, crampons and axe. Wandering the large U shaped glacial valley of Napeequa, where very few souls descend it's steep slopes to enjoy lush meadows. 

Our only encounters with others in this place was a party of 3 mountaineers, who walked around us, eyeing our UL packs in bewilderment, searching for our Axe and Traction for the coming glacier crossing. Plugging us for info (beta) on the route we had traveled, and rattling off a healthy list of High Routes that surrounded us. In essence, schooling us about the land before we were crossing... For Ladybird and I, this was exactly what we were looking for out of this trip. A taste of a corner of this Remote North Cascades Wilderness...

Day 1 - N Fork Sauk to Mackinaw Shelter (8 mi)

Leaving our car from N Fork Trailhead at around 4pm, I found my thru-hiker legs right were I left them, on the trail. Powering through ancient groves of Cedar and Hemlock, rounding valley floor bends through miles at a good solid 3 mph pace. Fading light of day, bring darkness to the moss covered floor we arrived at Mackinaw shelter to make first camp. An old shell of a building there is a haunted sense to this forest that brought thoughts of other travelers who had past this way towards the coming highcountry meadows. Feeling good of our 2.5 hr progress up the valley, it was here that the RTM Route began to be seriously discussed as a possible choice for this week of travel. Miles were added up, routes choosen and rationing of our 3-4 days of food for a 6-7 day journey began.

Day 2 - Mackinaw Shelter to Thunder Cr Camp/White River Route (15 mi)

Morning found us refreshed and ready to stomp... After coffee, we were soon ascending the switchbacks out of the N Fork Sauk towards the Pacific Crest Trail Jct on the Alpine Mdws above us. With each switchback the variety of Alpine flora began to define themselves. From the early whites of Pearly-Everlasting, to deep reds of Indian Paintbrush, to finally the vibrant indigo of high alpine Lupine. At the Jct of the PCT at White Pass (a place both of us had visited on our thru-hikes), the decision to go clockwise on the Crest or challenge ourselves with the hardest section first came to question. For our part, the Crest Trail was know territory, so we decided to make for the "unknown route first"... 

Wandering through glorious miles of Alpine Meadow below the view of Glacier, Ten Peak Ridge and Indian Head we came to the trail jct at White Pass. It was decided, that rather then continuing to head down to Indian Pass and the horse-trail there we would take a look into the White River Valley and see what the trail there had to offer. We believed it worth the extra 6 miles shaved off our journey to be worth a little brush... We looked so happy at that junction, completely oblivious to the hard fought reality of our chosen course. As a warning, within 100 feet we lost the trail... Should have realize this and returned... But instead, route-finding skills in play we found what amounted to a series of game paths from meadow to water down the side of this slope till the first ford of the White.

Form here, I could detail each hard fought mile... But needless to say, it can be explained with the need to keep going forward regardless of the fact that we could not find the trail through slide alder tunnels, twisted log blow-downs, repeated river fords, leg-ripping thickets, and bewildering disorienting fire scars... Recently, I picked up a Rating Guide to Brushwacking. This route would rate somewhere between a BA3 (chainsaw) and BA4 (agent orange) level... If only we had atleast brought the BA1 (machete), that might have kept the moment of the full round the mountain...

By the end of the day, we came to Thunder Cr Camp. Ladybird, had made a slight dislocation of the knee, that would grow in the days to come and I had a brused calf from falling from a log. Our legs had been cut to shreds, and blood trailed from each like they had been attacked with a cheese grader. Later I would add a scaled right foot to the list of injuries as the pot of boiling tea water feel from my hand. But, both in high Spirits at the adventure we had found, with views abounding we decided to press on with the RTM.

Day 3 Thunder Cr Camp - Napeequa River Camp (15 mi)

Morning arose and roused us out of camp, with 3 miles left of the White River Route, we pushed our way though thickets again. But soon, we meet the Boulder Pass Trail Jct. Here the trail revived itself back into a High Hunt Horse Route, with easy traversing grade to ascend without need to thrash ourselves. At the jct, the fabled PCT Detour Signs pointed the route directly into the tree... Ladybird and I hypothesis that it we ran at the tree, like a page from Harry Potter we would emerge at the Jct of the PCT at Miner's Creek... Ahhh! If that were only the case. 

Ascention of Boulder Pass was a relief, and soon we gained views out towards Davis Peak, Saul Mtn and Cirque of Three Towers above us. Alpine Meadows graced themselves again, going through the White-Red-Purple alternations of elevation gained. New towards the top were the Positilla (Western Anemone), what I called the Tina Turner Plant with it's mop-top seedlings. There were a few places where the peaks that lay before me seemed familure, realizing that after years of studying Vol 2 of the Cascade Alpine Guide (by Fred Beckey), I had seen these mtns cast in B&W with route-lines erupting from there base. Yet the grand view was yet to come.

From the crest of Boulder Pass, the full view of the tight glacier valley of Napeequa lay before us. It is hard to completely describe this place. A drop of 3000' below, a long meadow with a meandering glacial-fed river, complete with braided channels and till sandbars emerged. All attempts at capturing this scene with photo failed to give the sense of depth that was before us. Across the valley Napeequa Wall glistened with the days light, hints of mica and schist capturing and refracting back gave a dazzling sense. North the valley wove up towards hanging glaciers and ice-caped peaks. It was a PNW Shangarla...

With swirling switchbacks descending from the pass, near overlapping to a prominent meadow, we felt confident about our path of descent. Yet arriving at a Horse camp below the pass, the injuries of the day before began to weave there pain. Ladybird's knee showed bruising and my foot began to swell in my boot. Loosing the trail to brush soon after the horse camp, we descended towards the Napeequa on undulating veggie clogged trail-tread. We made the valley floor, a little destroyed, but pushed on through the meadows and slide alders to set up for our next days ascent of High Pass. Yet the miles made up this valley were all in awe, with passing of two towering cascades from hanging glacial valleys above.

Day 4 - Napeequa River Camp - Buck Cr/Chiwawa R. Camp (15 mi)

A chill kept us bundled up that night. Winds out of the high glacial cirques blew down the valley, bringing a touch of frost to our sleep. Morning was late as we waited for the sun to arc over the high vaulted walls. Realizing that our journey was a day behind our projected destination, our primary focus was to make it over High Pass to Buck Cr Pass. Our route info was scattered, from passing info I remembered from hikers years before and brief lines from Beckey's commentary of this region. We left camp, with only a hit of a route before us...

With in minutes we were again off trail and pushing through a sea of slide alders... Knowing UP was our direction, we decided to follow the tunnels created by water paths through the brush. With many climbing moves as the path steepened, and heavy use of veggie belays, we pushed up 1500' vertical feet in 2 hrs.. Hard fought, but well worth it, we emerged a little higher then we expected and had to weave our way down to the snow-fields below. 

Once out the valley ascending to High Pass was before us. Towers lined the side, each holding rivers of ice. The feel of remoteness abounded, and we hopped from snow-field to rock ribbons. Direct lines of ascent keep us climbing, with the marmot's whistle greeting us at each turn. Funneling us up through rock bands and cascading waters we found the final bench of High Pass. Here Rock and Ice was all that abounded, having left the realm of green far below. Bundling against cold and wind, sat pondering which of the three "doors" through the rocky crown was our pass. Having convinced ourselves it was the one to the right, we began ascent only to see a trio of climbers emerge to the left... 

Changing course we traversed three snow-fields and meet up with this band of Mountaineers. Jovially they greeted us atop High Pass. Each equipped with Ice Axe, Crampons and Helmet, they rounded us and eyed our packs for what we had for the coming descent. One named, "Big Steve", began to as I said before school us on the myriad of High Routes. His excitement was infectious, and we caught the bug. Soon maps were out, and fingers pointing, weaving through the peaks, and glaciers that lay before us. We would have spent all day there plugging him for more tales of high routes, but the rest of his party getting cold decided to push on, leaving him trailing to catch up. 

Looking forward we saw our "crux move" of the trip. A 60 degree slope of snow, with a 500' run-out far below leading to the ice-choked Triad Lk 1000' below. The party before had left a step-kicked path across the 100' ft exposure. But without Ice-axe or microspikes, the crossing was unnerving. Remaining focused placing one-sure-step after another, the crossing was made. At one moment I had slipped, but a sure pole placement kept me from the rock-bounding doom that would follow below. A vitality is felt in such moments, making the crux movement across alpine paths. Watching Ladybird follow with the confidence of a NOLS Instructor, I knew I was in good company. We took in the crossing, then made our way through the rest of the pass down to the meadows at Buck Creek.

Taking in all that had happened the last 4 days, we struggled with the decision to pack-out, leaving the RTM Route behind. In reality, we had passed through what we sought to see, and all that lay before us was know trail from year before. But still the allure of those wild trails can even sometimes make you forget the pain you are in... In the end, we decided to make our way down Buck Cr and the coming hitch and hike up and over back to N Fork Sauk TH. 

We pushed far that night to stage ourselves for the upcoming transit. Figuring a two day hitch, we rested 1.5 miles from Trinity TH at the end of Chiwawa Rd. Sleep came quickly that evening, tired and spent...

Day 5 - Buck Cr/Chiwawa R. Camp to Sloan/Cadet Cr Camp (14 mi)

Morning brought luke-warm coffee due to the failing Iso-Pro canister. Note to self... bring two, or just plan for seven days in the first place... We pounded out the last 1.5 miles and watch our 1st possible hitch drive out of the parking lot. It would be 2.5 hrs of road walking and 5 miles walked down the Chiwawa Rd before we finally found a driver heading our way. The first hitch was Yoko and her lab Maya. Having just completed the Spider Mdws - Lyman Lks Traverse, this hiker gave us our longest ride. Covering the distance over Stevens Pass to Skykomish and the end of paved road up the Beckler River. Being a fellow hiker, the ride was a constant trade of hikes and alpine routes, giving each "best of" lists and choice backcountry meals... 

She dropped us off on a little dusty road, headed towards the N Fork Skykomish River. We had decided on this route, as to make the full hitch around would leave us in the realm of the suburbs, were every thru-hikers know is the "Black Hole of Hitches". So we again needed to with hobbling legs make our way across yet another Wilderness, this time the Henry M. Jackson. To our surprise, it was not but 4 mins before we were in the back of a pick-up truck of loggers, speeding up towards Beckler Pass. Peaks sailed past us as we talked about all that had happened, enjoying the lure to return to explore the peaks passed. 

At Beckler Pass, it was like a relay hand off of Hitches, from one to another. This time a local with two Greyhounds named Harley and Echo. Watching there excitement as we neared our destination, charged us and as we two desired to get back into those highcountry Meadows.
The drop off was quick and we again were on trail. 

Following Quartz Creek trail up towards Curry Gap, we passed through an old growth valley of tall cedars and glowing moss. Creeks fell in cascades into emerald pools just trailside. Fern grottoes graced the path, and soon a meadow below the ice capped Kyes Mtn emerged. This was the back-side of the Monte Cristo Peaks, heart of the Henry M. Jackson Wild, and gateway to Bald Eagle and Cady Meadows. There was a special sense to that place as we rose towards the Gap. 

At the final meadow a lone tree of many arms held the junction signs, below N Fork Sauk TH and the end of journey. We lagged our pace and slowly enjoyed the towers of Cadet Pk and Sloan Mtn before us. A beautiful deep forest evening... 

Sauntering down the trail soon we left the wilderness unexpectedly, following a miners road turned loggers access. The evidence of past clearcuts were apparent and a shock to the system. At Sloan Creek we made camp, in a grove of ancient Cedars, but the echos of the saw still reverberated from the moving waters. A fire cooked our food and warmed us, seeming to bring a close to our circuit. 

Day 6 - Sloan/Cadet Cr Camp to N Fork Sauk TH (3 mi)

The rest of this road walk was spent recapping our journey. Already plans were being made for the next trip into the Cascades. While we did not complete the RTM Route of Glacier Peak, the spell of High Places has sparked a fire deep in our hearts. For when a journey comes to an en for a wilderness traveler, they know that they will return soon, for there very nature feels revitalized by the presence of these high places... 

For they are truly our home....

"When I look to these mountains, 
my eyes draw up to heaven, 
where the earth and the sky meet. 
My life it leads, is in between, 
with a spirit that guides me forward.
Humble eyes I look on to their beauty, 
Gifted as it seems with their presence,
Knowing the wisdom they hold..." 

-- Yamabushi Prayer

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