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Author Topic: June 17-21, North Cascades NP, Isolation Traverse  (Read 5041 times)
iluka
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June 17-21, North Cascades NP, Isolation Traverse
« on: 06/22/16, 09:27 PM »

The brothers Kellett (Tyler and Luke) and I headed out this past week to do the Isolation Traverse from south to north. We recognized it was fairly late and with the warm spring the snow levels would be on the high, but work schedules constrained us to this period and recent reports suggested the coverage up high was still good so we opted to give it a go. There ended up being a fair amount of ski carrying on the front and tail ends of the trip as well as on two climbs in the middle but it was all worth it as the terrain was just spectacular.

The short story in pictures can be found here:

https://picasaweb.google.com/102283054014409600427/6298871719583126641

The long story:

Day 1: After doing the car shuttle, we were on our way up the Eldorado Trail at about 1:45PM with plans to get as high as we could towards Tepeh Towers. The trail to the Boulder field didn't have many blow downs and was easy to follow. The boulder field was completely snow free and we didn't end up putting on skis until about 400-500 feet below the Roush-Eldorado divide. The short descending ski traverse down to the Eldorado Glacier from the ridge was no longer in so we took the climbers route down to the glacier. The Eldorado Glacier was well-filled in and as we climbed the high clouds that had built up through the afternoon parted leading to some beautiful late afternoon-early evening light and great views of the peaks in the distance. Knowing the weather was supposed to change that night, we opted to set up camp at below the rocks just below the top of the Eldorado Glacier and take advantage of the shelter.

Day 2: We knew heading out at the start of the trip that the weather was supposed to be poor this day so we planned to stay put for the day. It ended up being a good decision as the original forecast of perhaps an inch or two of snow turned into a full day of snow, blowing wind and zero visibility that eventually put about 6 inches of new snow on the ground. A good day for reading and catching up on sleep.

Day 3: The snow and wind died down in the early morning but we awoke to another whiteout. As expected, however, the clouds broke up and we were on our way by 8AM. Once on the Inspiration Glacier, we skinned above the clouds on fresh packed powder towards the Tepeh Towers... an absolutely stunning morning. The Inspiration Glacier was nicely filled in along this entire stretch, with more open crevasses lower down. The McAllister Glacier on the other side was also nicely filled in and we enjoyed a great descent to the area below Dorado Needle on soft wind-buffed powder. From there, it was skins on again as we headed over to cross Backbone Ridge. Forest McBrian's description in Martin Volken's book describes two ways to cross the ridge, one just north of Point 8401 and the other further north at a more obvious saddle on the map. We opted for the latter. The climb up to the ridge was a mix of steep snow and rock above an opening bergshrund, which we handled by having Tyler belay Luke and me up. We then rappelled off the other side without difficulty (~ 30-40 feet) and then started off on the great traverse along the west side of the ridge with a fun descent of several hundred feet on more nice soft snow. From the map we thought we might be able to do a continuous descending traverse toward the Coccyx but found that there were enough ridge features and ups and downs that we ended up doing a lot of skinning and deskinning along the way to the southwest ridge of the Coccyx in what eventually became very wet schmooey snow, a theme for much of the remainder of the trip. Once over and around the ridge, we made the easy ascent to the top of the Ice Elation couloir which offered a great 1500 foot descent down to the now open creek on very soft but easy to ski snow. Once at the bottom, it was time for skis on the pack as the slope up from there to the next col was completely snow free for nearly all 1000 feet from bottom to top. The initial part was just steep heather and rocks but up near the top, we found our fair share of trees and brush that made gaining the col a bit difficult. Eventually we popped out on the ridge and worked our way climbers right where we found another great ski down to Wilcox Lakes and set up camp on dry ground with running water above the lakes.

Day 4: At some point while we were out the weather forecasts changed, as despite the earlier forecast for sunny weather, we awoke to high clouds. We set out on bench that led towards Isolation Peak with great views of the McAllister Glacier drainage in the distance. As we neared Isolation Peak, we got into a bunch of trees and had difficulty eyeing the best way to gain the open slope leading up to the shoulder on the south slopes of Isolation Peak. Skis came off as the way ahead was completely snow free. We opted to traverse around to that slope at an elevation of 5900-6000 feet staying just below the visible cliff bands. This led to a bunch of shenanigans on either steep heather, in the trees or crossing rocky gullies in avalanche paths but we were eventually able to pop out high enough on the final slope leading to shoulder of the peak with only about 600 feet left to climb. Whether going lower would have been easier wasn't clear from anything we could see. From the shoulder, we had a great ski down to the unnamed lake at 5800 feet where we had lunch and then set off for the ridge connecting Isolation and Snowfield Peaks. Once on the ridge, we skied further along toward Snowfield Peak, crossing over to the slopes below Snowfield, the Horseman and the Needle at around 6600 feet without difficulty. Continuous snow was present until within feet of the Horseman-Snowfield saddle. With clouds and wind building and the weather moving in, we set off down the Neve Glacier in flat light without waiting long. The upper part of the glacier was very well-filled in. We were drawn down the area skiers right but that steeper slope had some big crevasses opening up near where the pitch changed so we headed left and found easier terrain to the base of the glacier. Some more crevasses open in that area but all were very easily avoided. From there it was up over the Colonial-Neve col and down to the toe of the Colonial Glacier where we set up camp as more weather rolled in. The Colonial Glacier was also well-filled in and it was still possible to ski across the lake. All of the typical camp sites were still filled in with snow.

Day 5: After the clouds broke off in the early evening the night before, we expected to wake up to clear skis but found ourselves in pea soup yet again. Once things cleared up a bit, we traversed below the east face of Pyramid Peak to the ridge that comes off the peak. The basin between the glacier and the ridge was still largely snow-filled with the exception of one short rocky section. Once on the ridge, we were able to ski down a few hundred feet before picking hitting dry ground and picking up the climbers trail for the steep descent down to Pyramid Lake and the trail leading to the car and the end to a hard, but awesome trip.


* Taking_in_Views_at_the_Top_of_the_McAllister_Glacier.jpg (119.41 KB, 1000x750 - viewed 1566 times.)

* Skiing_The_Slopes_Below_Backbone_Ridge.jpg (183.38 KB, 1000x750 - viewed 1556 times.)

* Entering_the_Ice_Elation_Couloir.jpg (220.02 KB, 600x800 - viewed 1562 times.)
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Yet another trip I've skied up something I can't ski down!
mikerolfs
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Re: June 17-21, North Cascades NP, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #1 on: 06/22/16, 10:17 PM »

Wow! Great trip!
Good for you for planning a tent day. I'm not sure I could have planned that well.
Thanks for the story. I looked at the photos too. Nice!
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powersa
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Re: June 17-21, North Cascades NP, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #2 on: 06/23/16, 10:51 AM »

Right on! Awesome that you threw coverage concerns aside and went for it. Based on the photos there was plenty of snow up high.
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Lowell_Skoog
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Re: June 17-21, North Cascades NP, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #3 on: 06/23/16, 03:17 PM »

Great story and I really enjoyed your photos.

Interesting how the weather forecast changed during your trip. I've had this problem too and many years ago I asked no less an authority than Ed LaChapelle how he would address this problem. His reply was: "If I really wanted to know what the weather is going to do in the mountains, I would bring a weather radio." So that's what I do.

http://alpenglow.org/skiing/high-route-tips/part5-weather.html
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andyrew
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Re: June 17-21, North Cascades NP, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #4 on: 06/24/16, 12:38 AM »

Nice one, Andy!
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danpeck
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Re: June 17-21, North Cascades NP, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #5 on: 06/24/16, 06:45 PM »

Sounds like in spite of the occasional bad weather you had more vis than I've ever had beyond Isolation.  Nice work!  I plan to go back to see the the Snow Peak/Colonial zone for once.
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jtack
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Re: June 17-21, North Cascades NP, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #6 on: 06/27/16, 10:48 PM »

Just another good example of if you don't go you don't know! Looks like a great trip, I have already missed several potentially good trips because I thought it was "too late" nice going
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Midwest2Northwest
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Re: June 17-21, North Cascades NP, Isolation Traverse
« Reply #7 on: 06/29/16, 07:09 PM »

Awesome TR!  Great move on the 'rest day'!
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