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2012 Backcountry Trip Reports => May 2012 Backcountry Trip Reports => Topic started by: Susan Ashlock on 06/12/12, 12:44 AM

Title: May 26-29, 2012, Ballard & Azurite via Swamp Creek
Post by: Susan Ashlock on 06/12/12, 12:44 AM
I told Charlie I'd post a TR, so here I am, 2 weeks later...

Day 1:
Arrived at Swamp Creek, spent about 30 minutes lowering our expectations and trying to decide if we wanted to do this trip despite the fact that there appeared to be Very Little Snow on the ground in the area.  Decided to give it a go anyway.  Charlie made sure to get video of me saying that it "might be fun".

Swamp Creek to Azurite Pass via Snowy Lakes.  Booted up a short section below Snowy Lakes where small trees + tree wells + steep slopes = very awkward skinning.  Also booted up most of the way from the W fork of the Methow to Azurite Pass after a fun ski down to that point.  It took us about 12 hours to get from Highway 20 to camp.

We had stellar views from camp and along the way there; I hadn't seen those impressive north faces of Golden Horn, Tower, and Hardy before.

Day 2:
After waking up at a reasonable hour (6ish) we optimistically waited for snow to soften to make the trip up Azurite easier.  By 8:30 we more or less gave up on that idea and went for it... we ended up putting on crampons less than 100m from camp.  They were later removed... then put on again.  It was a sunny enough day that the right aspects softened by the afternoon, but even at 1 p.m. some aspects that got only weak sun were still firm.  After some steep snow slope traversals and climbs the summit was reached, register signed, camp broken.

At this point we had to decide weather to head back towards the car or continue onward towards Ballard, with the idea to continue down Mill Creek to Canyon Creek Trail.  The only problem was that we knew this would involve walking about 9 miles of trail in ski boots.  Ugh.  But there was sufficient motivation to play on Mt. Ballard that we took the plunge to the far side of Azurite Pass.

Avalanche debris and a generally healthy snowpack made crossing and re-crossing Mill Creek easy until we found our home for the night on the uber-wide trail (a former dirt road) on the far side of one of the most impressive piles of avy debris (piles of trees).  It appeared that our hike out the next day, even if long, would be extremely straightforward.  (We were wrong, of course, but more about that later).

Day 3:
The trip up to Ballard's ridge was pretty straightforward, despite limited visibility.  Finding the summit from there proved to be a bit of a challenge in the clouds and with the gendarmes and maybe-not-quite-perfectly-accurate route description we were using... but I'm reasonably convinced that I eventually did, despite the fact that an Odwalla-bottle summit register doesn't seem terribly official. 

The ski back down to camp (4600') from 8000' was really quite fun (nicknamed "Scree to Ski" after the Bellingham race that happened the day prior), as was the scooting along the trail/road after we broke camp.

Of course, all good things must come to an end... this time in the form of a trail that we (the next day) discovered was "closed".  Yup, the wide-open former road suddenly turned into a barely-trodden track, occasionally marked with flagging (to warn us that things were about to get very slide-aldery).

Now understanding how utterly demoralizing it can be to battle slide alder for miles without knowing that it's actually possible to get to your destination (e.g. we were concerned that the bridge over Mill Creek might be out), I probably won't attempt a loop trip without researching the trails involved a bit more thoroughly.  :)  But for the record, all required bridges and Canyon Creek trail were passable for our trip.

Day 4 (Bonus Day!):
Finished up the last mile to the car and hitch-hiked the 10 miles back to our car at Swamp Creek.  Lesson learned: there is very little eastbound traffic on Rt. 20 at Canyon Creek at 7 a.m. -- it took almost 2 hours for one of us to get a ride.  At that point my feet were very thankful that they wouldn't be walking back to the car, though!

Pictures/route map:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/susanashlock/sets/72157629979249128/

Title: Re: May 26-29, 2012, Ballard & Azurite via Swamp Creek
Post by: Zap on 06/12/12, 10:10 AM
Great trip memories.  ;)

Title: Re: May 26-29, 2012, Ballard & Azurite via Swamp Creek
Post by: Charlie Hagedorn on 06/12/12, 11:00 AM
What a fun loop. If the Mill Creek trail actually existed, I'd recommend it to friends who don't mind carrying skis long distances. But, the Mill Creek trail isn't really there. Set expectations to "Alaskan Bush", and you'll have fun. Trail would be invisible with more than 1 inch of snowcover. In many sections, a divining rod would be handy, except that it would get hung up in the brush. The trail and mine areas are Federally closed for the mine mitigation activities, something we didn't learn until we reached the Canyon Creek trailhead the following morning.

To find the trail on the Azurite Mine side: go to the lowest point on the Cady Pass road, go downstream (uphill) on the road ~100m, and schwack straight downhill. You're looking for an old roadbed.

The Mill Creek trail was marked on the National Geographic North Cascades Park map as a nice solid trail. We'd planned the trip as an out-and-back from Swamp Creek. We changed our minds on Azurite Pass - the map made it look feasible, but long, and the route looked so fun...  

Susan summited both peaks, I got neither - I'm too slow and lack confidence, especially downclimbing, on the steeper firm snow we encountered. We split up on Azurite after one shady, firm, and occasionally thin traverse on frontpoints prompted a, "Susan! I'm freaking the F out!" moment.  Upside is fun climbing photos!

The rock on Ballard is awesome. It looks so intact, but it's so loose.

We almost didn't get Ballard. Following the Summit Routes description and our noses put us at a high point on the S ridge, upward path blocked by a notch and gendarme. Susan made a snow traverse across the "main" gully to a ledge/notch in a W rib descending from the summit, which made it go.

Thanks to Kevin Steffa for the recent photos of the area!

Can't wait to do a trip like it again.

Title: Re: May 26-29, 2012, Ballard & Azurite via Swamp Creek
Post by: jackal on 06/13/12, 08:35 PM
Way to get back there in and out of the Methow. Nice 3+ day getaway but too bad about the end thrash. Great pics on Flickr Susan. Any hermits living in the mine lodging?

Title: Re: May 26-29, 2012, Ballard & Azurite via Swamp Creek
Post by: Oyvind_Henningsen on 06/17/12, 12:12 AM
saw you guys getting out of the car that saturday and was wondering were you were heading - nice trip - on the list......maybe with a different exit ;-)

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