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Author Topic: May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse  (Read 8468 times)
danpeck
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May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse
« on: 05/21/13, 08:55 PM »

More to come, but I wanted to post a few brief observations before a more complete TR.  This may be the prologue to a longer story.

This trip was epic for me on so many levels.  First, it was a reunion with two of my closest friends since childhood.  The three of us haven't skied together for approximately 18 or possibly even more years.  We've dreamed of trips like these together and it finally turned real.  So, the company and the good times were epic.

The weather and conditions were epic (as in Odyssey epic).  Rain, Snow, Sun, Whiteout, Clouds billowing over Cascadian peaks, waterfalls crashing down towering cliffs. Wet slides. Deep slush and mank.  Fun creamy snow.  Steep climbing, rappelling.  Long couloirs.  Wide open glaciers.  Towering peaks.  Bushwhacking through remarkable forests of giant trees and soft loamy earth.  Complex terrain, shifting conditions, changing itinerary. 

Our guide was epic.  Truly.  I was amazed to see Forest continually guide us through challenging whiteout conditions and nail our desired location perfectly. 

This trip will live long in my memory as one of the greatest adventures ever.

We went south to north.  We hit snow in the Eldorado Drainage at about 5100 feet and were never off of it until our decent into the Pyramid Lake basin at about 3900.

Here's a Hillmap approximation of our route:

http://www.hillmap.com/m/ag1zfmhpbGxtYXAtaGRychALEghTYXZlZE1hcBictGkM

Pictures here:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/danpeck/sets/72157633587267470/

I plan to include a few here, later, with the upcoming narration.

Edit--insertion of the final narration below:
« Last Edit: 05/27/13, 07:20 PM by danpeck » Logged
telemack
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Re: May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #1 on: 05/21/13, 09:20 PM »

Excellent, Dan!
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Lowell_Skoog
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Re: May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #2 on: 05/22/13, 06:32 AM »

Eager to read your story.

Looks like you went south to north.
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danpeck
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Re: May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #3 on: 05/22/13, 08:00 AM »

Eager to read your story.

Looks like you went south to north.


Doh!  Your right.  I just edited the text.  A little brain fogginess from the trip I suppose.
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jesski
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Re: May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #4 on: 05/22/13, 11:14 AM »

Holy glacier-blue OR cirque pants, batman...
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danpeck
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Re: May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #5 on: 05/22/13, 11:44 AM »

Holy glacier-blue OR cirque pants, batman...

Yea, we all laughed when we showed up with the same pants.  Definitely awesome pants!
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jtack
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Re: May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #6 on: 05/22/13, 01:35 PM »

Screw  work Dan, we need a report! Looks like a fantastic trip, nice work with the camera as well.
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danpeck
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Re: May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #7 on: 05/22/13, 05:04 PM »

Screw  work Dan, we need a report! Looks like a fantastic trip, nice work with the camera as well.

Patience my friend.   Grin

The narrative will come.  I've got St. Helens planned for this Thursday/Friday so I'm hoping for Sunday writing Smiley

Funny about the photos--my camera's LCD went out on the first day so I was guessing at what I was actually taking pictures of.  I'm glad you approve.
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Forest McBrian
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Re: May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #8 on: 05/22/13, 07:56 PM »

Quote: "epic (as in Odyssey epic)". That is wonderful.

It was a pleasure to show you fellows around one of the very best places on earth.

This was a strong effort all around--probably about 75% whiteout for the alpine portions of the tour, with heads-up wet slide conditions in the steeps. I think we each had a few pounds of water weight in our gear by the end.

I'm working on my own esoteric trip report, but Dan's will no doubt be better reading.

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danpeck
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Re: May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #9 on: 05/27/13, 07:21 PM »

The Narrative:

I was raised at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains.  When I was in middle school I did a couple of reports on the states of Washington and Oregon.  Why?  I wanted to be a geologist and was drawn to the volcanoes and glaciers.  I was amazed to learn of the glaciers still present in the Olympic range and stunned by the jagged peaks of the North Cascades.  An image of Shuksan torn from a calendar hung on my walls for years.

At about the same time my friends, Justin, Adam, and I found a common interest in backcountry skiing.  Some of the best skiing in the world was only 15 minutes away from my house.  We skied every weekend and often after school during the week.  We were those crazy kids seeking snow in Utah in August.  The years have gone by, we went to college and years of residency.  We've married and are draped with children.  I moved to WA 6 years ago drawn by an opportunity to work, but more-so by the Olympic Mountains and the North Cascades.  Adam found himself in Jackson Hole, WY.  And Justin recently made it to Denver completing his residency recently.  The last time we skied together was around 18 years ago.

As soon as I moved to WA I knew I needed to get these guys on a ski traverse in the North Cascades.  I've been sending them eye candy and trip reports.  I've spent as much time as I can gaining knowledge and skills for these mountains.  

About 3.5 years ago I took my family to Lake Chelan to find some sun and do a little recon of the area.  I discovered the Ptarmigan Traverse.  My wife saw it in my eyes.  She wanted me to go.  With her support I have made the time to acquire the skills and knowledge under the tutelage of Forest McBrian, and blocked out time for a ski traverse that coming spring.  Last year I completed the Forbidden tour.  This year I had the Isolation traverse on my agenda.  Justin was aching for the mountains after a grueling residency.  Adam had been well settled in the mountains of Jackson Hole and had just finished a nordic race in Sweden.  He wasn't sure if he could squeeze in another ski trip.

The stars aligned in April and we were committed.

May 16:  The long high pressure of open, clear skies is drawing to a close.

Adam's flight arrives at 6:25.  We pick up the conversation as if we had seen each other yesterday.  We discuss gear options as we laugh till we cry from old jokes and a common fascination with Nacho Libre.  Justin Arrives at 8:09 and picks up with the Nacho Libre quotes seamlessly.  The biggest question of all.  "Do we really have to use those blue bags?"

On our way to Marblemount we slam down some "mexican" food from Qdoba.  Still hungry we stop at Taco Time where Justin and I order the burrito that sounds the biggest.  Something "mexican."  They literally filled the burrito with tater tots.  That was my first and likely last time eating at Taco Time.  But I certainly picked up some calories.

We arrived at Marblemount around 11 pm.  Gear spread all over the Buffalo Run Inn.  We managed to keep all of our packs to roughly 30 Lbs for the planned 4 day traverse.

May 17:

We met Forest at 6 am at the Ranger Station.  We had a good time going over our packs, adding some fuel and making last minute gear decisions.  With the forecast of rain and potentially ugly weather, I'm glad I ended up taking my Gore-Tex jacket.  



It took us about 1.5 hours to complete the car shuttle.  Dropping one at the Pyramid Lake TH near Diablo lake.  We drove back to Marblemount and up the long cascade river road to the Eldorado TH.  



We made it the entire way along the road without a interference.  We threw our packs together, put on our ski boots, made last minute visits to the pit toilet and we were off.  Being Wasatch boys Adam and Justin had yet to experience the blessed approaches the Cascades offer.  It was awesome to see their amazement and sense of adventure grow as we climbed the steep climbers trail.





We hit snow a bit later than we had hoped and so were able to enjoy a small sampling of Slide Alder/Maple and Boulder Scrambling.



We were fortunate to have a small window or two open in the clouds to afford us a view of the lower dominions of Johannesburg.

Within minutes of skinning a flaw was uncovered in our gear selection.  Justin had borrowed a pair of my skis we thought the O1 bindings would be easily adjusted to accommodate his larger boot.  The heal throw was adjusted without problem.  But the heal riser was in a bad position and was catching on part of his binding as he skinned up.  This would not do for a 4 day traverse in isolation.  Luckily moving the heal riser back to the smaller position and putting tension on it with a ski strap to prevent it from falling down did the trick.  One hour into the trip and we already employed two of our ski straps from our repair kits :-)





As we climbed we entered into the clouds and soon were able to experience God's ping pong ball.  Steep, long approaches and thick whiteouts--We were doing great in living up the cascadian experience.  



Navigating up the Eldorado Glacier was probably the most mentally taxing experience of the trip.  We were fooled into seeing a false horizon for what seemed like ages of time.  The slope seemed to level off 30 feet in front of us for probably 1000 vertical feet.  It was an eternity in God's ping pong ball.  Finally, we saw the jagged rocks of Eldorado's South East Ridge shatter the madness.  



As we crested the ridge and prepared for a transition to roped glacier travel on the Inspiration Glacier… the clouds continued to open up and we were in awe as we viewed the Tepeh Towers, Klawatti, and the lower portions of the Forbidden Glacier.  Our spirits instantly refreshed… we had passed through the first test, and in my experience, often the most difficult, of adventure in the cascade wilderness.  It was as if the mountains, sensing our humble honesty, had permitted us to make entrance into one of the grandest traverses on the planet.



As we skinned across the Inspiration Glacier our hearts soared and camera's were unleashed.  We found an excellent spot to set up camp at the Mcallister/Inspiration cole--sheltered from the wind and surrounded by amazing views.  Tired, we refueled with good dinner and hot drinks and finally dozed off after an hour or two of conversation (we had a lot of catching up to do).

Our plans remained uncertain.  If the visibility didn't improve, we considered plan B, which would be to remain where we were and explore skiing possibilities around Eldorado, Klawatti and Austera.  The morning would give us the clue we needed.


May18:

We slept a good 10 hours.  Unusual for all of us.  Light streamed into our tent.  We were awakened by Forest's gentle brushing off our tent.  I asked if it was sunny.  He said no, cloudy.  It had snowed 2-3 inches during the night.  However, the golden sun had lit up the clouds so we were enveloped in a golden light.  Crystals were falling out of the sky.  The clouds lifted and we were blessed with great views of Forbidden, Klawatti, and more especially of the Mcallister Glacier, Dorado Needle and the Backbone.  With that visibility we were encouraged to pack up quickly and commit ourselves to the Isolation.







We skied the Mcallister carefully, one after another, staying in one another's tracks.  Forest educating us on glacier travel and hazards.  The fresh snow added a nice touch to our first turns.  We skied down to about 7600 and began our traverse up the Mcallister to the small notch North of the Dorado needle that would give us access to the west side of the Backbone.  





We stayed away from the steeper slopes north of Dorado needle keeping a close eye on some rather large cornices.  We were able to skin fairly high up the slope and finally but up about 50 feet to the notch from which Forest belayed us as we rapped/down-climbed for another 50-75 feet.  





We had sun on the East side of the Backbone.  Big white snow flakes and closing clouds greeted us on the West side.  The long descending traverse with occasional linked turns along the backbone was truly exhilarating.  The visibility was fair to absolutely nil.  The sense of movement through truly grand surroundings made me feel as though I had filled the measure of my creation.  This was it.  This is what I was made for.  For those long moments where the visibility was gone and vertigo was off I was amazed to see Forest skillfully and adeptly manage the terrain, keep us safe from hazard, and land us exactly where we needed to be at the north end of the Backbone where we transitioned back into skins, made several ascending switchbacks, and again booted 100 feet or so to gain a ridge just south of Stout lake.  





Once we gained the ridge we made yet another transition into skis.  Once Forest was comfortable with the lay of the slope, he carefully ski cut across the slope and I watched as slow moving wet slides oozed down the mountain side.  We let those run their course and had a few short linked turns to enjoy before we transitioned back into skin mode and made a rather enjoyable ascent around Peak 7148 and gained the upper portions of what Forest referred to as the "Icylation Couloir."  This zone was truly magical.  The fog had lifted enough to give us a view of towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and we skinned across occasional rocky areas that had been scoured by high winds.  The rocks and vegetation were clearly battered.  I felt as though I were in a netherworld or alternate reality on a distant planet.  





Transitioning back into skis, the giant snow flakes returned.  We skied carefully watching slow wet slides move beneath our skis which we easily out skied.  We skied one at a time down the couloir.  As we descended, the cliffs towered and the waterfalls grew in magnificence and size.  Words can't describe what it was like to ski smooth snow for over a thousand feet and then to look up and have your breath taken away by dozens of waterfalls.  

As we ate lunch Forest noted that the snow had indeed changed to rain.

After a short break we began a steep skin up to a cole to the east of Newhalem Peak (Peak 6684).  This is where gear failure #2 came into play.  Our skins were saturated with water by now and peeling at the edges.  Justin's skins (actually mine that I had lent to him with my skis and bindings) had fully lost their adhesive quality.  They were useless.  Out came my last two ski straps and Justin's Voile ski crampons.  Problem solved.  But ice building up under the kins can become quite a heavy burden.



We gained the cole just above Wilcox lakes praising the utility of ski straps.



One final ski down for the day to Wilcox lakes was enjoyable.  We felt like cattle coming home--only not to be slaughtered.

This camp site was excellent.  The trees added to the diversity of the traverse and the plenitude of fresh water refreshed all of us.  Once again we enjoyed good company and dozed off to sleep around 8:30 pm.  The visibility was manageable, but not conducive to a lot of side skiing.  Adam had to make it back to Sea-Tac on Monday, the final day of our traverse, by 3:30.  With the long car shuttle we would have to wake up around 3 am the final day of our traverse.  We began to consider the possibility of shortening the 4 day traverse into 3 in order to accommodate the weather and a safer exit.



May 19th.

We arose at 7 am to light, misty rain.  I set started the log function on my watch curious to know what this day could hold for us in terms of distance travelled and vertical gained and lost.  We were uncertain whether we'd decide to spend the night on the Colonial Glacier for a third night or complete the traverse that day.  Conditions would largely dictate as well as the need to catch a plane the next day.

Our path initially meandered through trees as we sought to gain the southern flanks of Isolation Peak.  Soon we were putting on ski crampons to help with our failing skins and the steepening slope.  Somewhere along this section Adam's skins failed to adhere to his skis.  Another set of ski straps were procured for the fix.



After 5 or 6 steep switchbacks up the slopes of isolation we opted to boot the rest of the way.  We moved steadily up the SE slope of Isolation and made another transition to skis at about 6800 feet on the SE ridge.  






We made some fun turns down and around the shoulder and into the basin of an unnamed lake in a bowl on the E face of Isolation.  From 6800 down to 6300 feet the snow was firm and fast.  Below that the snow was warm, sticky, and slow.



Another transition to skins brought us out of the basin.  We headed up to the ridge line north of Isolation Peak that would take us to the basin SW of Snowfield peak.  As we made kick turns to gain the ridge crest, my skins failed.  We used our final set of ski straps to secure my skins.



As we crested this ridge line we entered another whiteout.  Clouds lifted as we rounded the basin and began to ascend the long slope SW of Snowfield.  This was a slog.  Justin's old T2's were bruising his shins.  Skins were saturated with water and ice was building up on our skis.  Yet the fog, the cliffs, and the occasional glimpse of jagged spires from the Needle to Snowfield Peak made us feel otherworldly.  



We joked about the ice planet of Hoth or journeying with the Fellowship of The Ring to Mount Doom through the Misty Mountains.  Next trip I'm going to order one of these, thanks to Forest's suggestion:

http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/bb2e/?itm=tauntaun_sleeping_bag&rkgid=274551046&cpg=ogty1&source=google_toys&gclid=CKHHjajitrcCFUlxQgodpSIA8w

Suddenly we found ourselves on top of the Neve Glacier.  We rested, refueled, and hydrated.  Checked out maps and confirmed that we ought to complete the traverse on this day.  The whiteout didn't appear to be lifting and any hopes we had of side skiing were gone.  The prospect of crossing two more glaciers in whiteout ascending another col, descending the NE ridge below Pyramid peak and engaging in a classic cascadian bushwhack called to us an authentic adventure.  



The descent down the Neve Glacier was not what I had anticipated.  1500 vertical feet of lower angled skiing on smooth snow turned into 1500 feet with incredibly low vis, careful skiing, and relief when we were free of significant crevasse hazard.  The snow was great--about 2 inches of new cold fluff on a firm base.  But Alas, we chose to reign it in and take it carefully.

We transitioned back into skins where the Neve Glacier flattens and bifurcates to the NW and SE and skinned up a very nice slope to the col that would lead onto the Colonial Glacier.  Once there we knew the rest was mostly down hill from there.  Relief for Justin's bruised shins.  The snow on the Colonial was warm, sticky, and slow, but we managed a few fun turns.  We rounded the bowl to the north and made a descending traverse next to towering cliffs and cascading waterfalls.  



One final boot took us up to the knob just east of Pyramid peak where we made our final descending traverse on skis, a few fun turns, but all the while aiming to get on top of Pyramid lake and avoid as much bushwhacking as possible.  








Once we were in the trees we met the traditional sticks, pine needles, and moss with icey crusty snow to manage.  We had a great time showing off our quick turning capabilities here.  If we weren't able to do it on the Neve Glacier, we were able to do it in the thick forests and steep slopes above Pyramid Peak!  

We were forced to put our skis on our backs at about 3900 feet and we enjoyed a long decent in soft loamy soil, steep slopes with occasional tree belays and a few exciting stream crossings.  We barely overshot the lake and had to hike up 200 feet or so to gain the trail.  2.1 more miles on a dirt trail and we made it to the car at about 8 pm.  



Our travel time was a total of 12 hours.  It was non stop.  Looking back it is amazing to contemplate the terrain we covered in a day.  The variety of conditions.  Multiple transitions and modes of travel.  Evolving hazards in the weather and snow pack.  Gear failure and adaptation.  Camaraderie, fatigue, and renewed energy.  When we piled into Forest's car we were elated, satiated, and content.  High with adventure.  Contemplating the next adventure.  We sent off messages to our spouses that we were okay and that we were on our way back.  
« Last Edit: 05/28/13, 09:57 AM by danpeck » Logged
ND
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Re: May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #10 on: 05/29/13, 10:16 PM »

Nice report and pics! It's great to see an old group of friends put in the effort to get something of that magnitude together.
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Jonn-E
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Re: May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #11 on: 05/29/13, 11:30 PM »

Having recently ascended that 'schwack and then slide alder/boulder field, I cannot imagine doing that in touring boots!

Also experienced the total white out up there.  It was either a stairmaster in a sensory-deprivation chamber, or at it's worst, a total vertigo-inducing hallucination that is unfortunately very real.
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n16ht5
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Re: May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #12 on: 05/30/13, 09:19 AM »

nice
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danpeck
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Re: May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #13 on: 05/30/13, 01:02 PM »

Having recently ascended that 'schwack and then slide alder/boulder field, I cannot imagine doing that in touring boots!

Also experienced the total white out up there.  It was either a stairmaster in a sensory-deprivation chamber, or at it's worst, a total vertigo-inducing hallucination that is unfortunately very real.

We debated about bringing tennis shoes.  I have to say it wasn't so bad in the boots.  It's always a plus to have comfy boots.  Blisters just started during the last 2 miles from Pyramid Lake to hwy 20.  Probably mostly from swamp foot.

I've learned to never underestimate whiteouts.  It was fun to successfully work our way through a few of those.
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jtack
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Re: May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #14 on: 06/02/13, 09:19 PM »

Dan, it's overused but awesome, awesome, awesome, it would seem that the weather built character in all of you! thanks for the report
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danpeck
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Re: May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #15 on: 06/03/13, 11:38 AM »

Built Character for sure.  Better than Church  Wink

It also deepened my reverence and respect for the mountains.  I felt like I was on sacred ground.  As I look back I see how we were listening and observing more than imposing ourselves--taking in all the data that surrounded us and adjusting here and there.  It felt like a dance with the mountains at our lead.

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Vince Lamphier
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Re: May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #16 on: 06/20/13, 10:37 PM »

What can I say? badass photography of the camps especially. Thanks!
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alecapone
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Re: May 17-19, 2013, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #17 on: 06/21/13, 08:16 AM »

Thanks for the epic write up of your oddesy! That went great with my coffee this am.

Way to push on. Couldn't have had a bettter man to guide you theough then forrest. Sounds like a great adventure.
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scott
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