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Author Topic: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th  (Read 50792 times)
Jason_H.
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Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« on: 08/05/08, 09:53 PM »

***This is an epic story, so I hope you have a cup of coffee and plenty of time. This story will be up on my site in a few weeks with more photos as I find time to work on them. For now a few. Enjoy...BTW, due to the length of the story and how many days we were out, Charles was nice enough to allow me to break the photo rules on TAY, slightly. Thanks Charles! You keep a good, clean site here with lots of stories rather than just photos. I tried to make this a good mix of both.

PTARMIGAN TRAVERSE: via Lake Chelan and the Blue Glacier

Sorrows gather around great souls as storms do around mountains; but, like them, they break the storm and purify the air of the plain beneath them.
~Jean Paul


---

INTRODUCTION

The Ptarmigan Traverse has a history with me. In 2005 with no available partners, I decided to make a hike, climb, kayak and bike trip out of a classic. In a 74 hour period I completed the traverse and returned all the way back to my car in a round trip. My ultimate goal then was to see the area in potentially calmer summer conditions than a winter or spring adventure would likely entail. That way I would have familiarity with the area in case of deteriorating weather. Already I had made 3 ski trips into Dome Peak and vicinity via Downey Creek and 3 others into Spider Mountain and area with limited success. I had no doubts in my abilities to escape via either of these routes and now that I had tied the entire traverse together in my head, I wanted to reach a little further into my imagination and try for an adventure more daunting, something I had been dreaming and agonizing about for many years. By skiing peaks along the way I could add further dimension. In years past traversing the route was pushed impressively when brothers, Lowell and Carl Skoog linked the entire traverse together in a 24 hour period. This was quite the feat! But not the trip I imagined. The ultimate adventure for me involves traversing and descending. In this way the peaks, glaciers, rivers, valleys, lakes and all that makes up the great North Cascades range, is tied together in my mind in a way that makes it more understandable. It is my goal to understand everything in these mountains I am beckoned to visit with every moment of free time I have, with every breath of air I take.

In 2007-2008 many floods had impacted the roads leading to and from the Ptarmigan. Not one to give up so easily, I researched alternative entry and exit routes. Nothing really matched with what I was searching for but I was willing to compromise. As June neared I was prepared to go, but Mother Nature was not. She continued to lay down snow and produce weather very unique even by Cascade measures. Our spring was one for the record books in both temperature and snow and in my quest to ski every imaginable thing in Washington, I went into Fortress Mountain in the hopes of seeing certain faces and lines I ached to ski in the area of this proposed trip. Instead I was offered fog and during descent offered humbling education. Just below its summit I broke loose a large slab avalanche which carried me down a steep 40+ degree aspect for 800 vertical feet. After events like these, my head needs time to get screwed back on good and proper. But I didnít have time. Five days later I was to be on the Ptarmigan and there was still much planning to undertake. It was an exciting escape to bury myself in maps and plan strategies. What I came up with was to extend the traverse to Lake Chelan and drop to the east of the crest rather than west. Not only did this extend the traverse over several more glaciers, but it also led me into areas I did not know. Mystery is quite a beast made bigger and meaner, taller and fiercer, uglier and scarier than maybe it really would be if it were a known variable. But I like that. With an open architect that I feel is most advantageous on such trips, I kept in mind routes down Agnes Creek, Spruce Creek and the Hanging Gardens.

Every peak along my route was on the chopping block. Any or all wouldnít be enough for me, but realistically I knew Iíd be lucky to get away with a few. After weeks of waiting a forecast that dreams are made of was finally offered to us faithful heathens. My brothers and I had been keeping an eye on it for weeks and had finally pushed our vacations for the last time. If we were to go on a trip together, this week was it. For years Iíd wanted to bring my little brother Jessy, and twin brother Josh on a ski mountaineering trip into the North Cascades. But getting us together had gotten harder as the years slipped away. Thrilling then was finding little yellow suns spread across the screen. They were as good as gold after so much waiting, but hints of thunder and lightening storms toward the end of the week were hoped to be imaginings of the forecaster, such as Iíd seen reported in the weeks prior. They were foolish to ignore, but weather is a fickle thing. 

On Saturday it required all day for us to park cars at either end of the traverse, for my brother to drive from his house and for us to sort through gear and pack. Along the way, we procured tickets for the boat. The Lady of the Lake is the only way to get from one end of Lake Chelan to the other. The only way communities and tourists venture up its nearly 60 miles of length and our only way to return to our vehicle. It was intimidating to have it so far away. At 11pm, almost 4 hours drive away; we arrived at the Eldorado Peak Gate. The road had seen repair the week before thus eliminating several miles of road hiking, but not all. It was easy to quickly slip into a dream-filled sleep. By then I was already exhausted.


DAY ONE: Eldorado Gate to Artís Knoll





We decided on an early start and were on our way by 4:30am. High temperatures were expected and would be especially daunting on the traverse over to Cache Col, a steep slope hanging over cliffs below Mix-Up Peak. Our massive Packs werenít heavy enough to dull our moods and I was satisfied to finally be moving. In a sense, it felt like all the hard work was done and now all I needed to do was put one foot in front of the other. This was not the case, of course. By tripís end I wouldíve put more effort into this trip than any other ski mountaineering venture Iíd done in my life. This could be blamed on my way of thinking, which often is bigger than should be advised. I kept imagining a peak plethora of ascents and descents. I brought everything to get up them: rope, harness, safety gear, shovel, extra binding parts (including an extra binding!), avalanche gear, crampons, ice axes, 4-season tent (could survive anything), extra pack (we would be dropping gear and I couldnít think of a way to summit mid-day with skis without) and of course ski gear. It would be foolish to forget the extra food I brought as we really were far from anywhere if caught in weather and forced to stay put or reverse course cause of our inability to ford any number of creeks and rivers that stood in our way. Because of my increasing enjoyment with photography, I also carried 8lbs of camera gear. All tallied my pack weighed 95lbs, Jessyís was 98lbs and Joshís was around 80lbs. I had enough gear for a healthy 11-12 days. If you think I carried too many clothes or whatever, you are wrong. My gear is what weighed me down. Take away my camera and ski equipment and you can lighten my pack by almost 30lbs. But I digress, effort is a catalyst for satisfaction and I donít shy away from it, rather embrace it and wallow in the rewards whether they are big or small. Sweat and struggle is the well of life in my opinion.

At the beginning, branches acted like paint brushes above the green shielded road. Sharp blues of the sky surely their canvas? After 3 miles we broke out of the trees onto the end of the road. There is a direct way up to Cascade Pass that avoids the dozens (Iíve heard over 40) switchbacks. This route is only plausible when there is plenty of snow, which I happily found. Not to start the trip well, we made poor route decisions through the slide alder once off trail, surely nothing too strenuous. Little did I know how much harder it could honestly get? To think I was truly christened from all my adventures in the Cascades by all those approaches Iíd endured up so many verdant Cascade valleys. Not a chance they would measure up by tripís end. A week later near Spruce Creek, we would be humbled and submitted to a religious awakening in comparison to our previous pursuits.

We made good time up to Cascade Pass where we took a break and I went about naming all the peaks for my brothers. With pointed finger, the way beyond was also shown. Convincing them that it would be best to climb high on the ridge and put our skis on for a quick traverse across was easy and it worked beautifully! The snow was intimidating in the early morn where spots were icier than others. With such a heavy pack, it was discouraging to make the crossing. And yet, I was sweating more from fear than effort. My brothers were big grins and smiles. I had taken a pair of skis I never use and one binding, loosened by me was not fixed. Between providing my brother with lighter skis (the ones I regularly use for myself), somehow I had played with the pair I ultimately used. His feet are much bigger than mine and this was not a place I wanted to fix a binding since it is not easily done once on the traverse. Quickly completed, we put on crampons and booted up to a small rise above the Cache Glacier. We continued up the ridge from there where I remembered a nice traverse that avoided dropping overly much. With the sun facing us, we were getting our first tastes of the heat that would plague us over the next several days, in town possibly reaching 100 degrees.



Beyond Cache Col you drop to Kool-Aid Lake and continue to Red Ledges. We decided on avoiding this route and instead climbed a steep chute to the ridge line below the standard route. By then the dayís heat had maxed out and we were dripping, every few feet having to wipe our eyes out so we could see. The slope is over 40-degrees. Afraid of burning badly and too afraid to drop my pack to put on sunscreen, I pushed hard for several hundred feet. It was an incredible workout!!! At the top we decided to camp and enjoy our remaining daylight. We certainly couldíve gone across the glacier and over to Spider-Formidable Col, but our schedule had plenty of room to stop. Not dismissing the fact that we were worked of course! I passed out with a half emptied pack on my mat surrounded by food. I didnít move for several hours. None of us did. The heat was impossible. Heads were covered with cloths and when that didnít work, I used my mat to block it. Most of my friends joke that Josh and I sweat so little. They shouldíve seen me on Artís Knoll that day. How I carried a pack and didnít just melt away, I donít know? Iíd rarely felt such heat as this!!!

Colors bloomed later that day over Johannesburg and left us satisfied. Our first day over, we went to bed wondering what the next one would offer. Maybe weíd be transported to an ice cream factory? Anywhere but this temperature-pegged glaciated desert we were in. Except right then, in the dark, stars shivering in the chilled night air shook from the sky millions of points of light to rain down on me. How could I not forgive Mother Nature? I am just a spectator in this great movie house, and only play at being the actor when Iím out in places like this.

DAY TWO: Artís Knoll to Yang Yang Lakes with ski descent of the South Face of Spider Mountain

Morning was wonderful, even the late wisps of it I captured. Desires to sleep overwhelmed my desire to get up early for picturing it. Pretty soon, on our way, we first climbed well up Artís Knoll and made a high skiing traverse across the steep slopes down to the Middle Cascade Glacier. The snow was a bit icy but soft enough for us to easily stay on our feet. There were a few places to cross rock, most of which we skied across, but one required us to take our skis off.  Halfway across we realized that there would be no more downhill, so Josh and I climbed the snow and put on crampons while Jessy continued climbing the rock. Up at a nice stream with a small waterfall splashing into a moat, we crawled up onto the rock and took a break. It was a spectacular place for one. Views of Formidable and Spider were awesome. The glimpses Iíd gotten of the North Face Couloir on Spider reminded me of my three failed attempts to ski it. I told Jessy how another friend of mine had taken 7 trips into there before he eventually skied it. It was his goal to ski this peak in a day in winter. It eventually took him three days, later fulfilling his angst for a single dayís winter excursion on Formidable, which he skied off the summit with his friend, Ross. A trip Josh and I bowed out of because we thought the distance too much for one day. For us that may have very well been the case. To this day, Sky still talks about the powder conditions he had and I think he still considers this descent among his best. Looking up at it I was impressed. It was very FORMIDABLE.

We climbed above the pass before skiing over to it, in this way avoiding the crevasses, however minor. Foolishly I remembered the pass being on the right, but we found it very steep. Plus it didnít look right. Side-stepping back out we scouted the other pass, which was much, much easier. Thatís why it is the correct way, right? It involved awesome snow and wonderful turns. Yay! It was about time. There was a lone goat far down the mountain, the only one we would see throughout the trip. We decided after some discussion to go climb Spider Mountain via its South Face. I told Josh and Jessy that it should be a fantastic ski. The fact is I knew little about it. Once we dropped our packs and pulled our small daypacks out, we added skis, crampons, and axe before traversing over to the route. It turned out to be much further over than we thought and the entire time going up, we wondered if we were in the proper couloir. By July it was surprising any snow was on the route at all, especially considering it is south facing. The further we climbed, the steeper the route became, at one point pushing my comfort zone. It was over 50 degrees if we wanted to stay on the snow and not wide enough to make proper turns. Once on top we enjoyed the view. We werenít sure which point was the true summit, but it didnít matter much to us. We discussed which way to descend. Beginning down the route we climbed, I changed course thinking it would be better to take Jessy on something easier. I had never taken him on a steep ski descent so naturally I was worried. He is very talented at everything. The climb was no challenge for him and neither was the descent. In fact, however difficult it is to admit, he did better on the terrain than I did, which tends to happen with most things.




Skiing down another route just left of our ascent was much easier. More snow would avoid any of the steeper climbing we did. Also it would avoid the steepest skiing. Jessy and I scouted down this alternate route until it steepened considerably. Jessy continued sans skis down on rock to a bluff overlooking the remainder of the couloir. My heart fell away when he said, ďIt ends in a giant waterfallĒ. Heís not one for exaggeration. Giant meant huge. Climbing back up we mounted our skis on our backs to climb back out, but the snow was deep and the thin snow sheltered many moats. Without a rope, I told Jessy that it may be better if we traverse to the other side on skis and then climb up or down from there. Meanwhile josh had skied over to the route we climbed and was making his way down. Jessy and I were enthralled to watch him ski gingerly through the tiny slot into the main couloir. His turns were mixed with copious sidestepping. He yelled that we should drop a little more and that we could cross 20-ft of rock and ski down from there. We had more wonderful turns before I crossed the rock to where I met Josh. By this time Jessy had flown away, pounding turns all the way to the bottom. I was impressed. It was steep, no fall territory. After several turns a large runnel blocked further progress, but the snow had become very, very good by then. We skied over and enjoyed awesome turns all the way to the bottom where we let out hollers of joy. Finally the beast was off my back. Four times Iíd been in her arms and finally she lets me into her embrace.

The skiing was awesome all the way to our packs. We loaded gear again and continued down to Yang Yang Lakes where we camped on the snow next to the lake. In hindsight, the ridge above the lakes would have been better to camp at, but we were tired and wanted to enjoy the remaining daylight. Plus the lakes are very nice. You canít be too picky. There is always something nicer just around the corner. Best to be happy where you are at.




Soon late afternoon arrived. With it came light that blazed in the brightest reds Iíve ever seen. They were cast against puffy clouds. I stayed with my camera until it was gone, most of the time appreciating its quiet splendor. The storms carrying their fury could ruin our adventure. Those thoughts burrowed into my hopes. These soft-appearing, buoyant-pillowed clouds were hard to imagine so full of fire and brimstone. Going to bed cursing them didnít help and come morning, the prayed for blue skies would be a blessing. We craved for continued goodwill.

[continue reading below]
« Last Edit: 08/18/08, 06:42 PM by Jason_H. » Logged

Jason_H.
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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #1 on: 08/05/08, 09:54 PM »

DAY THREE: Yang Yang Lakes to White Rock Lakes with ski descent of Hoch Joch Spitz

The weather woke to a gentle breeze and perfect skies. Ah, the fortune weíd become familiar with! It was our plan this day to climb another steep chute to access the ridge above Yang Yang Lakes. Kicking steps was brutal in the heat which was fantastic even in the early morning. Once on the mellow ridgeline that traverses to steeper slopes above Le Conte Lakes, we rested next to wonderful tarns which float seemingly above everything else, with long views down deep valleys stretching toward Eastern Washington. Le Conte Glacier and Peak appeared larger than life and, as such, more difficult than it really is. With large cliffs looming above us and melt water dripping off of them, we kept a high ski traverse all the way to a rock nose and a large moat where a flat place to load our skis and don crampons was found.

Snow was quickly softening making the climb easier the higher we went. Josh was far ahead as he took a more direct route. Jessy and I managed to put skis on and skin a fair amount of the glacier above the initial steepness after the traverse. I really wanted to ski Sentinel, but there really wasnít a lot of snow on it. Once we arrived at the pass above the South Cascade Glacier, we saw Hoch Joch Spitz. It stole our love and we were set on going there.

Leaving the pass behind, we took another high traverse above the glacier and were able to ski without skins all the way to the next pass above White Rock Lakes. We left our packs there and took up some water and a little food for the ski and climb ahead. The glacier wasnít much of a ski by looks. It is very flat, but just being there and skiing, so far from everywhere was an awesome feeling. When we arrived below the route, Josh and I booted very, very fast, almost running. Josh finally took over for me and finished the final steep climb to a ridge, whereby he continued up easy/exposed rock to the summit. Jessy and I took a different route via snow and rock. What a satisfying place, so very satisfying!!!




The ski down was beyond words. Better snow would be hard to imagine and flying down the slope was magical. Not knowing what this peaks name is for, I would like to think there is some fantasy-based reason for it. If so, it is very much deserved. Soon, much too soon, we landed on the South Cascade Glacier with a round of smiles and joy that would be among our most memorable moments on this trip. Climbing back toward the pass through long shadows, we seemed to mar their perfection. Josh and Jessy cut a track right on the shadows margin and I stood back with my mouth open. Shadows are a fascination of mine. They swam here and I swam in them.




The ski down to White Rock Lakes continued on great snow and each of us milked tracks to the bottom. We found a nice camp among the group of camps found there. Taking up a few of them, one for napping under a tree, another for the tent was nice. No one was there. In fact, we would see no one until we arrived at trips end. Spending time among the lakes was a promise I had made to myself last time I passed through and was unable to visit. Carved as they are into bedrock, one lake set above the first lake, with the most spectacular view near the outlet of the first lake where a stream courses perfectly toward the valleyís edge. Glaciers across the valley dominate and their stares are intimidating, so very prominent. They prick your skin and crawl underneath and become a part of you in memory and soul.



That night we glared at the maps and wondered if bad weather would finally eke its way toward us, overwhelming and blinding everything. This was a day I didnít want that to happen. I so feared it would, but I still had my faith. We would awaken to blue skies again, yes we would. If only blue was a favorite color of this place, I wouldnít have to worry. In places here it rains well over 100 inches a year and is one of the snowiest places on the planet.

DAY FOUR: White Rock lakes to Dome Col with a summit of Dome Peak



The ski down was scouted the day before. We found that it was best to climb to the upper lake and descend from there. Our descent was great and the traverse perfect. We climbed slightly different ways up the Dana Glacier, but our routes merged and we decided to climb up until we were beneath Bulls Horns. I had thought this would make a great descent, but it appeared a bit much and terribly exposed. Maybe I wouldíve thought differently had I tried for it? At this point our plan was to traverse off the standard Ptarmigan Traverse and continue to the southern lobe of the Dana Glacier. In this way, it was my hope to bypass Itswoot Ridge and its traverse back toward Dome Peak, thus saving several hours of effort. Yet maps can be tricky and they donít always tell the truth. That and eyes can lie surely as well as maps can. It was my hope they werenít. The climb was easy once we finished traversing. It was steep in a few places. With such heavy packs, an error was not a good idea. In fact, on many occasions on this trip it was best to keep the waist belt unbuckled. This was not the case once we were on the glacier. From here we were able to ski up and eventually made our way a unnamed pass (maybe call it Bullís pass for Bullís Horn). Josh was already there with a smile on his face. We were on the Dome Glacier!!!

To get to Dome Col was just a matter of time. It was so hot and Josh really wanted to go ski something fun, as we had tons of time to do so. It had only taken 4 hours or so to get there. Unfortunately we put off our plans and instead expanded an established campsite there, making it friendlier to climbers who manage to get overnight gear there (we even built a lowered kitchen). This took a few hours. By then it was later than we expected! And storms were coming in. They looked dark and foreboding and we were afraid we were in for a zinger. Josh and Jessy managed to get calls out, but this took time and effort scrambling for service. We managed to get a forecast after several attempts. Along the entire traverse this was the only time we got any service at all and it pretty much sapped the batteries. We learned the weather wasnít going to improve for a long time. This was a huge disappointment for me, for all of us. So much work to get there. Everything was perfect, but now it wasnít. Again, like every time before, Dome Peak was sending me home. Nearly dark, I tell Jessy and Josh we should climb Dome Peak that night. The weather was already getting colder, but to give you an idea about how warm it was that day, my brotherís skins had rubber bungees on the top to hold his skins on. Temps had been so warm the metal melted through both of them!!!






Climbing to the top was a wonderful feeling for me. Finally after 7 years I would get there. Looking down the south face lovingly, I thought of other reasons to come back to this place and looking at everything in every direction, there were so many more excuses. The summit ridge is sharp and with snow and rock abutted to each other, we climbed mostly between them. We left our skis on the ridge and once reaching as near the end as I was comfortable with, we climbed back to our skis and skied the narrow ridge back down. Sunset blazed on the horizon and the shafts of light and dark on the hills were like mosaics or paintings, so surreal. It was hard to comprehend the storms coming and what it would bring. Like the others, we were hoping it would miss us. But after skiing back down toward the tents, Jessy and I yo-yoed a few more turns before going to camp, where we were greeted by our first rain drops. Soon drizzling, the grumbling sky felt like the very Earth was hungry, as if it had missed lunch and was yearning for super. Would we be its meal? I wondered, but crossed my fingers that itíd find bigger fry before us.



That night was the most fearful Iíve ever spent outdoors. The fury couldnít have been expected. It was violent. Lightening and thunder played tag, but they were as fair as two children perhaps, a peek here and there? Maybe lightening cheated, too? Youíd think something was wrong if thunder came before lightening, one strike on top of another and another and another and another with lightening mixed between. As a kid I remember being told every second meant the lightening was a mile away, another second meant two miles, so forth. Flashes above my head didnít need any rough mathematical calculation to know how close the lightening really was. Everything metal that we had was piled on the snow far away from camp. Whether or not that had helped is lost on me, but soon between storms the rage let up. No sleep came easily. I went outside to see what was to come and what had gone past. In the sky, brighter than it shouldíve been, I could see flashes every few seconds. I could feel the thunder. Nowhere in all my climbing days had I felt so much power as this! Could I stay forever, then would I understand the power? Would the lightening snuff me out where I stood for my insolence? I could lie and say I wasnít scared, but I donít give a damn. I was scared as hell and it was awesome. Everything, all I could see appearing like a planetary battle, lightening like bombs illuminating the night, thunder like explosions trembling the ground. High above, a spectator to it all, I felt like I was in the atmosphere and that far beyond I could see the curve of the planet and that maybe I was not tied to the earth at all. What a feeling it was.

Little did I know, or my brothers, the next day would be one of the most difficult weíve ever had and that this storm was only a precursor to the price weíd pay for visiting such wild places. So what, it was worth it. Yes it was.

[continue to Part III]
« Last Edit: 08/06/08, 04:16 PM by Jason_H. » Logged

Jason_H.
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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #2 on: 08/05/08, 09:55 PM »

DAY FIVE: Dome Col to Agnes Creek (between slide alder paths)

Morning drizzle had continued unabated until we figured it was nice enough to go. To the east there appeared to be hope, but further west was not promoting desires to stay put. It wilted slightly before withering away entirely. Without much said, we packed up and skied to the edge of the Chickamin Glacier and dropped off toward Gunsight Peak. With so many days of food remaining, it was sad. So much effort to carry it all and now I had to go. Damn. I knew it could happen, so I shouldnít mope so much. Better to try than to live every day wishing you had. Iím sure one day Iíll be back. Such lessons learned here will be good for me.



The ski began with a few very large crevasses that spanned nearly the entire slope. We managed to skirt around the left of one and continued down past many more, continuing in a downward-right traverse. The clouds had broken up and as if to spite me, actually let the sun out a time or two. I had been to this area to ski Sinister Peakís North Face with Carl and Lowell Skoog, John Mauro and my brother, Josh. We had just escaped a thunder and lightening storm that time. On the way back over Dome Col our ice axes buzzed. When weather turns, itís best to run for cover and in this case, for home.

We were unsure exactly which was the correct pass over Gunsight to the Blue Glacier. I canít imagine many people have ventured to this place? Josh was climbing to a pass on the right and I yelled at him to change course and go to the left one. It looked better and to our relief, it was the right one.



Skiing down from the pass was amazing. The Blue Glacier is a crazy place lost among the multiple valleys that guard it. There is no easy way to get there, especially when snows dominate these high up places. At first we traversed far left to see if the ridgeline would go. There appeared to be cornices and other nastiness that we werenít interested in. Maybe a closer look was warranted? Had I known what was to come, I wouldíve spent much longer exploring. Another climber had told me of an alternate route which climbs up the ridge above the lake. He had taken this and had told me it was very nice. Looking far down the valley, the hanging cliffs below the blue-encircled outline of the appropriately named Blue Lake, it appeared feasible to go down the valley. Iím unaware of anyone going this way before. In Tom Millerís book, THE NORTH CASCADES, there is a photo of them at Blue Lake in the 1950ís. I tend to think from other photos in the selection that they came in along the Hanging Gardens, a route that continues traversing around a few more cirques toward Holden Village. This is the same route that Skoog and party skied several years ago, probably the first and only ones to do so. As far as I know, no one had ever skied to Blue Lake and skiing above it was amazing. In the mountains you often have the feeling that you are in a special place. I had that feeling here.

Below the lake are many cliffs. We traversed far to the south to see if there was a way down. Any route down looked committing and could easily cliff out. Skiing freely at first, I changed to a more gingerly approach as I dropped in and kept going until I was very far below the others, far out of sight. Every roll was intimidating but the route went easily and there was just enough snow to cover the raging streams. With a short carry I put my skis on again and skied down to a point above a waterfall, so I could look back up. With copious amounts of searching, I spotted Josh and Jessy above a big cliff, next to a narrow, steep chute. They had picked a wise route and with direction from me they finished their descent and skied over to where I was waiting, happy they had taken one of the few ways through the cliffs.

From there on was skiing next to a raging creek. What looked to be easy turned out not to be. With skis soon off and crampons and whippets out, we climbed down the shore on mud-covered rock and the tenuous plants clinging to temporary homes. With helpful branch belays and careful work, we arrived at more snow which we walked down to yet another bluff. After drinking as much as we could, Josh scouted far down the right hand side. Since we were worried about crossing the creek, we decided to stay on the left hand side. Lots of steep down climbing and slippery bushes were climbed down. Battles with bush and tree, rock and water were played out over and over until we were relieved to be at the valley bottom. How happy we were. If weíd only known how badly it would be for us?



The map showed several miles of reasonably flat ground which was thanked for. But all that green we saw became more defined. More slide alder than Iíd ever seen in all my days was there, verdant old growth forests of slide alder. Send me to hell; itíd be a better place than this!!! Hours passed. Every foot was a conquest. No mountain had ever challenged me as this place was. There was no ground. I didnít know where it was, I lost it hours ago. At one point I felt like a monkey in a spider web. A mammoth spider like youíd see in a Disney cartoon or a horror movie. It had me in its grips. I joked to my brother that maybe weíd end up stuck here for the night, that theyíd find our dead bodies (yeah right, who would come here?), skeletons perhaps attached to these packs with skis caught in the branches, ski poles caught in the branches, foot caught in the branches, hair (!) caught in the branches and this scream immortalized on our faces with branches caught in our teeth!!! The funny part was, I wasnít really joking.



We did find some comparably easy terrain in the trees. Each time we would hope it was the end, but our island in the ocean of terror was just that. Escape necessitated more evil to overcome. I think my mind was discombobulated and thusly removed from my body. It would be floating above looking down at me, pondering my dilemma. At one point, trees 30-40-50-60 plus feet round were passed, some even bigger??? It was hard to tell. Iíd seen the biggest Western Red Cedar in the world on the Olympic Coast of Washington. One tree Iíd swear could be compared to it! I was in such misery I didnít bother to photo. It was so surrounded by slide alder; you couldnít even walk around it. I clung to the side, hoping to see beyond the waves of green. It was like a buoy.

Darkness was nearing and the going hadnít gotten easier. It appeared better to follow anotherís path, but I had lost Joshís. He was a hundred feet away but I couldnít see him. Jessy was behind me. We had taken turns pushing through the branches, our backs straining to keep the weight from tearing us from our perch and casting us as near to the ground as the branches would allow. Many times Iíd hear the thump of someone falling, but no yells of misery. They didnít help anymore. We were beyond that.

It was dark now. We had escaped the branches and found a place to camp that was flat enough for our liking. A hill with any dirt at all wouldíve been thanked for! We passed out and I dreamed of big spiders and webs.

DAY SIX: Agnes Creek to Stehekin

We planned to wake up early. In our optimism we thought we could find our way from this place, across the river and down to the trailhead in time to catch the bus at 9am.

Once camp was broke we continued downstream. We needed to keep close so as to see Agnes Creek come in from the right. After a time and surprisingly easy going (for the most part), we saw the creek come in but no logs nearby to cross. We continued downstream in search of any that would work. It was a time before we found one, but we thought it would be wise to search for something better. We continued on and on and on, but nothing. Not a damn thing. As a whitewater boater for many years, I know the power of water and what I can get away with. This river was not something to mess around with. Iíve had many terrible swims, but without the proper gear and the speed of this river, it would be hard to get to shore. In fact, I doubted I could at all if I were to fall in. Once we reached a wall of slide alder far downstream of our first sighted log, there was a chorus of horror as we collapsed in disgust. We knew we had to go back, which wouldnít be a joy at all. To submit ourselves to more slide alder was not an option. Weíd rather forge the creeks higher up or cross that single log we saw earlier. There was no way we could manage the slide alder we saw ahead. It was a ways back and when we got there, we pulled out the rope and harnesses, dropped our packs and set up a safety line. It took several carries, but in the end I untied the rope and they belayed me back across. It is better to not stare down at your feet and the rushing current. Its speed throws your equilibrium off and makes your head spin. You certainly donít need that!

On the other side we had one stroke of luck. The trail was right there, just 100-ft away. Now it was only a matter of time, right? I think not. No, not for us.

At least the trail was great; with an occasional log every eighth of a mile or so our only challenges. This was childís play by our retooled reckoning of things. We pounded out all 9 miles or more of trail with one very rushed (maybe a minute) break to look at the map. A few creek crossing were slightly challenging but only cause of big packs. In the end Josh had gotten far ahead of Jessy and I somewhere along our 9-mile exit. It was quite an effort to keep moving when our feet hurt so much from all the pounding. They were sore and getting sorer by the mile. Left of us is a massive canyon where Agnes Creek continues down. It is an amazing sight. Jessy and I hurried because we were sure the bus would be there soon. If we missed it we would be spending the night because we needed to catch the boat which only went once a day to Chelan. After numerous switchbacks, we came upon Josh who had an expression that explained it all. He pointed to the sign in front of him. On it was a nice note stapled to a signpost. Its message was so very comical, I could hardly believe it. Were my eyes lying to me or was someone playing a joke? We were less than a few hundred feet from the end when we read this: ďThe bridge is out for the season, bushwack 5 miles along the shore; expect to take a full day.Ē

DAY SEVEN: Stehekin to Chelan and finally home



With the adventure mostly done, we spent the next day in Stehekin and very much enjoyed it, all the rest and relaxation. It was like a vacation after a vacation, separate from our first in its stark differences. We ate out every meal and had pie and cinnamon rolls. Iím sure many wondered who these guys were who walked funny. Our feet hurt so bad, the best way to get around was to waddle. In fact we even took the carts they have for tourists to pull our packs around town and during the lazy afternoon, from our vantage at a nice spot of grass next to the waterís of Chelan, we could see the dark clouds massing over the mountains. We certainly didnít feel so bad about leaving them then. Reaching for a cold drink and soaking my feet in the cold waters of the lake, I forgot the heat we endured and the slide alder that flogged us. What I remembered was the good things. They were so much clearer in my head now. I think the difficulties forge them out of stronger metal than other memories would, not as fought for as these. There are so many I will never forget, too hard for me to put into words these 1ís and 0ís in my head. But I know this; the Ptarmigan is truly a special place, only meant for us to visit. We can never stay. And if you go there, you will know what I mean. And if you never go there, I hope this story serves you well.

« Last Edit: 08/06/08, 04:31 PM by Jason_H. » Logged

Snow Bell
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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #3 on: 08/05/08, 11:21 PM »

Excellent TR Jason!

You had mentioned this trip pending with your brothers some time ago and I had forgotten that I had not seen a report.  Better late than never.  You clearly put a lot of energy into this one.  Thank you.

BTW-
Perhaps the next time that you muster a 95lb pack you might as well add a machete.  You probably wont even notice it.

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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #4 on: 08/05/08, 11:25 PM »

Yes, I did put a lot of effort in this yesterday and part of today. Ha. It actually went pretty smoothly for me and probably only took 12 hours or so. Not bad for 7500 words!!!

And a machete would not have been sufficient. I am talking verdant forests of slide alder!!! Damned if I didn't get a picture of it. Ha. Maybe one day a fool will follow our route and get a photo for me Smiley

I'm glad you liked snowbell. I really enjoyed writing it. As it is rare I get to write something longer like this.
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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #5 on: 08/06/08, 07:20 AM »

VERY nice read, Jason.
And an impressive trip and knockout impressive photos.
Thanks for sharing it.
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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #6 on: 08/06/08, 03:11 PM »

Beautiful trip report. An amazing adventure and the writing about the slide alder hell made me feel I was there.
Congratulations.
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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #7 on: 08/06/08, 04:24 PM »

Thanks Scotsman. That slide alder was hell. Ha. But I'm not afraid of suffering if the venture is potentially worth it. I can't say I'll ever go down that valley again though. That'd be crazy talk Smiley
« Last Edit: 08/06/08, 04:34 PM by Jason_H. » Logged

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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #8 on: 08/06/08, 06:58 PM »

Quote
But I digress, effort is a catalyst for satisfaction and I donít shy away from it, rather embrace it and wallow in the rewards whether they are big or small. Sweat and struggle is the well of life in my opinion.

Congratulations, amazeing trip, and thanks for the great tr!

I remmember how severe those boomers were down in Ashford, must have been quite an adventure to endure in a tent up in the hills.



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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #9 on: 08/07/08, 09:25 AM »

Looking far down the valley, the hanging cliffs below the blue-encircled outline of the appropriately named Blue Lake, it appeared feasible to go down the valley. Iím unaware of anyone going this way before. In Tom Millerís book, THE NORTH CASCADES, there is a photo of them at Blue Lake in the 1950ís. I tend to think from other photos in the selection that they came in along the Hanging Gardens, a route that continues traversing around a few more cirques toward Holden Village. This is the same route that Skoog and party skied several years ago, probably the first and only ones to do so. As far as I know, no one had ever skied to Blue Lake and skiing above it was amazing. In the mountains you often have the feeling that you are in a special place. I had that feeling here.

Great story Jason!

Regarding Tom Miller's 1953 party, they actually climbed UP over the saddle north of Blue Lake and descended Icy Creek to the West Fork of Agnes Creek (whereas you guys went down the South Fork). This is described in "South of Cascade Pass" by Erick Karlsson in the 1953 Mountaineer (p. 38). I refer to this article in the "The Ptarmigan Traverse - Then and Now". Here's the key paragraph of my story:

Quote
In 1953, the end of the traverse was not so easy. No trail existed in Bachelor Creek in those days, so Cole and Hane, who had to leave early, bushwacked out Sulphur Creek to the Suiattle River, the shortest route to civilization. Grant, Karlsson and Miller packed east over Dome Peak to the Chickamin Glacier and down to Blue Lake below Agnes Peak. After a day of rain, they descended Icy Creek and the West Fork of Agnes Creek to the Stehekin River. Karlsson advised future parties against this route, but offered: "If anyone is interested in obtaining information on hanging valleys, waterfalls, slide alder, whip willow, and the latest beaver dam projects on the West Fork, we will be glad to inform him on such matters."

The extended route along the Hanging Gardens and over Totem Pass to Image Lake was completed on foot in 1957 by Ira Spring's party. My story about skiing that route is here.
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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #10 on: 08/07/08, 11:03 AM »

Thanks Lowell. I love the history! That route you guys did through the hanging gardens would be amazing. One day I will follow your tracks. It certainly is the better route to take, especially for a july ski.

BTW, we were thinking about how many of our descents were following Carl's. I really wanted to add Sentinel Peak, but it was more melted out than I would've liked. Smiley I really wanted to add 5 or six more peaks, but I don't know if that will ever happen for me. The energy was so much to carry all that gear and skis. It would be much easier without them. I was surprised how little of the Ptarmigan I actually was able to ski or skin. But it was still amazing to be up there on skis especially the chickamin.
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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #11 on: 08/07/08, 12:01 PM »

I really wanted to add 5 or six more peaks, but I don't know if that will ever happen for me. The energy was so much to carry all that gear and skis. It would be much easier without them.

Yes, that's the balancing act I was referring to in "Steep and Far". To me it's a more interesting problem than just skiing something steep.

Quote
I was surprised how little of the Ptarmigan I actually was able to ski or skin. But it was still amazing to be up there on skis especially the chickamin.

July is pretty late to ski the Ptarmigan, even in a big snow year. The first time I skied it in 1982 we skied or skinned almost all of it. We even skinned the traverse from Mixup Arm to the Cache Glacier, something that's only reasonable when the snow is just right.



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ski_photomatt
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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #12 on: 08/07/08, 04:43 PM »

Wonderful report and photos Jason.† Wow, 8lbs of camera gear -- that's dedication and it shines through in your beautiful photos.† I love the Ptarmigan and enjoyed seeing it through your eyes.

I also love the fact that you did this trip with your brothers.† My brother is a dedicated skier but he winters in Montana so we don't have as much opportunity to ski together as I'd like.† Your report is good motivation to finally plan that extended ski trip with him.
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ryanl
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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #13 on: 08/08/08, 06:46 AM »

Great trip Jason, I'm glad it went so well.

And thanks Lowell for your links- really interesting stuff
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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #14 on: 08/08/08, 02:00 PM »

Great trip Jason, I'm glad it went so well.

And thanks Lowell for your links- really interesting stuff

It would've been rad to have you along Ryan. We'll get back there next year Smiley or you'll have to take me into glacier peak now that you know the area so well.  Cheesy
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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #15 on: 08/08/08, 05:31 PM »

Congrads on a amazing trip and photos you are truely a pionier in Ski Mountaineering in the PNW. I was in a lightining storm up on Rainier that week and the Power was amazing.
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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #16 on: 08/08/08, 07:12 PM »

 Really nice read and great photos...thanks for sharing.
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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #17 on: 08/10/08, 11:43 AM »

Wow, way to nail an awesome trip and those photos are incredible!  I really like the one with 'Jesse and Blue Lake'.  Absolutely inspiring and aweing!
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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #18 on: 08/11/08, 01:27 PM »

Yep, I love that photo of the lake. I'm glad you liked Stugie...
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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #19 on: 09/20/08, 12:16 PM »

I am finally done with my complete TR with pics on my site for those that are interested....

Ptarmigan Traverse

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Re: Ptarmigan Traverse via Lake Chelan, June 29th - July 5th
« Reply #20 on: 09/23/08, 11:29 AM »

Wow, you put a lot of time into your TR's on your page and it shows.  I really like the "dream camp" picture.  Your B&W's have excellent contrast, I really am a fan.  Thanks for the great read(s).  You guys always nail impressive trips!
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"The mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals; the houses where I practice my religion." - Anatoli Boukreev
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