I met Douglas on CascadeClimbers.com looking for a person to do some summer mountain adventuring with. He and I are planning an Olympic-Mountain-trip-of-a-lifetime in July involving a traverse of the Valhallas, Olympus, Bailey Range, and High Divide. We wanted to meet each other before setting out on this ambitious adventure, so in April we planned a weekend trip in the Olympic Mountains. Douglas – much more familiar with the Olympic Mountains than I – planned a 2-day trip beginning with the Tubal Cain trail, climbing Buckhorn, traversing over to Marmot Pass, spending the night at Boulder Shelter, climbing Warrior Peak, and then hiking out via the Dungeness Trail. There was lots of snow up there this time of year - keeps the crowds away and makes for more interesting routefinding! The trip was fun, Douglas was an enjoyable and athletic guy to hike with, and judging by the way this trip went, I think Douglas and I will have a great time on our Valhallas trip this summer.
(FYI: We started hiking at 9:30am Saturday and got back to the car at 4:30pm Sunday.)
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|April 21, 2007||BUCKHORN MOUNTAIN|
|April 22, 2007||WARRIOR PEAK|
Day 1 - Buckhorn Mountian
Note: Due to the wet weather, my camera was having some condensation issues, so unfortunately most of my photos from the climb of Warrior Peak are kind of blurry....
The following is Douglas' trip report from our spring climbs of Buckhorn and Warrior. It's a fun read. Enjoy!
I'd never started a hike from a ferry dock before.
But I'd also never gone on a trip with a partner that I hadn't actually met before, so this was just an all around new experience. Making a friend through cascadeclimbers.com, planning big things this summer, and planning a small adventure just to get to know each other, was all novel. Strange the mixture of the Internet and the mountains that has become such a part of the modern climbers life. Lot's of e-mail and on-line research leading up to taking a walk in the snow.
Steff was un-mistakable when she walked off the ferry. Well-worn ice axe and crampons on a Cold Cold World pack, fleece jacket and wool hat, feet already wet from wandering around in a swamp taking pictures of birds before the boat left. She looked like the perfect companion for a hard trip in the mountains. Sometimes first impressions are accurate.
So we hopped into my decrepit old van and drove up to the Upper Dungeness trail head, leaving the rig there. Our plan was to hike a loop starting at the Tubal Cain trail, scrambling Buckhorn Mountain and Marmot pass, than down to boulder shelter for the night. Make a try for the summit of Warrior Peak on the second day before beating a hasty retreat down the Dungeness trail to the car. Our hope had been to hitch a ride on the road portion, but so far there had been no traffic headed that way. We decided to walk the four miles of road and take a ride if we could get it.
We briskly booted it up the road for about an hour or so before being overtaken by a shiny SUV; thinking we had finally found some good fortune we talked the three guys inside into letting us ride along to the trail head, which turned out to be all of 200 feet further. We had a chuckle about this, speculating that it took longer putting our packs into and out of the SUV than it would have to keep hiking. I set a new personal record, shortest ride ever hitched. After getting back out of the car I discovered that one of my trekking poles had gone on strike and was refusing to lock, so I stowed it and continued single pole.
The three and a bit miles to Tubal Cain went by quickly and mostly snow free. We walked through a bit of white stuff around the camp area and stream crossing but when we got out of the trees on the SE facing ridge it was quite clear, and we enjoyed good trail and good conversation until we hit snow around 4000 feet or so. This slowed us down a bit, and as we got higher up we started to encounter some of the interesting snow layers that would entertain us for the rest of this adventure. A layer of new snow anywhere from 4''-18'' thick depending on wind transport over a pretty firm and slippery crust. Sometimes the top layer would hold you and sometimes not. We put our ice axes in our hands and continued merrily onward, I with my axe in my uphill hand and a pole in my downhill hand, which worked pretty well actually. I'll probably use that technique in the future.
We lost all track of the trail once we were on snow, and frankly we didn't much care. It was easy navigation at this point on familiar terrain (for me). We gained the ridge crest and followed it around to the east, kicking steps pretty easily in most places. The wind was building and a bit of snow fell from an overcast sky. Weather is always an issue in the Olympics, and the locals consider this "normal climbing weather," especially in spring.
At some point we donned windproofs, and we discussed crampons in one icy patch that was pretty much blown free but decided not. We stopped to eat in the shelter of some boulders in the saddle just below Buckhorn's summit. The wind was truly fierce and it was snowing quite a bit, now beyond the realm of "normal climbing weather" with around 200ft visibility. I was thoroughly out of blood sugar at this point goldfish crackers with chocolate covered raisins never tasted so good. We had a brief discussion of weather to scramble the summit or not and decided to go ahead. Ten minutes later we hopped up on the summit block and took in the view of the inside of a cloud. Goofy pictures are a requirement at such times.
We scrambled down to our packs and headed for Marmot pass following the ridge line. The wind played hide and seek with us. Mostly trying to blow us over and turn us around by tugging at our packs, than disappearing so suddenly behind some terrain feature we would almost fall over because of the sudden lack of side pressure.
We eventually crossed Marmot pass sideways and headed southwest towards boulder shelter, our intended camp for the night. This was thankfully sheltered from most of the wind but the snow continued merrily. Of course we didn't even bother to look for the trail and followed my habit of traversing up high and dropping down when I thought it might be the right drainage. We did find a stream, which was much desired, but we conclusively ruled out their was neither boulder field nor shelter in that gully. So after some play with the map and compass (Steff is into that, I learned, and good at it too) back up and onward we went, past a couple of other gully's with fascinating fracture lines from past avalanches. Much of the winter's history was there to be seen. We dropped down into what all evidence would indicate was the right drainage and soon found the trail and at last our home for the night, Boulder shelter.
I had not thought of using the shelter, and had packed along a tarp. But no one else was around and with the snow coming down a three sided wooden shed seemed the height of luxury. So in we moved. Their was something quite novel about standing next to the table where the stove was, watching the snow come down, quite dry and comfortable. We both agreed that this was "snow camping in style."
Morning dawned clear, beautiful but perhaps dangerous for snow pack stability. After breakfast we headed southwest for Warrior, as usual eschewing the trail and traversing higher up. We threaded through the trees for a mile or so before breaking out just below Cloudy Peak. There were some clouds rolling around, obscuring the summit of Warrior but giving hope for more stable conditions through the day. We began to traversed around the West side of the mountain, wallowing in snow and sometimes fighting with the icy layer. Eventually I decided to crampon up while conveniently perched on a 50 degree slope that I couldn't stick in boots. Steff made it up to a flat spot to put her spikes on. We continued with our "circle around the mountain" route with a bit more security.
The snow was slowing us down to much, and we were on tight schedule because of Steff needing to catch a ferry. We had to turn around just in the transition zone between snow and rock, a couple of hundred feet below the summit.
So back we went, crossing all of those same slopes again. The sun decided to put on an appearance at this point, at least in places. This was cause for concern, as the slopes started "sun balling" dramatically within minutes. We moved fast, crossing fifty and sixty degree slopes with chunks of snow rolling down them as quickly as possible. We had no better route option available than how we had come, which did have the advantage of being to steep for slab formation. We had moments of stress reduction as clouds blew in front of the sun and certain slopes were shaded by terrain. All in all we were glad to get back to the safety of the trees.
Hiking back to the shelter was pretty un-eventful, save for the interesting observation that quite a bit of snow had melted that morning. Things looked quite different. We found trees and downed logs that hadn't been visible just hours before.
So we packed up, figured out what was the right trail out of there, and scooted on down it. Our only obstacle on the way out was the broken bridge over the Dungeness River. I was expecting wet feet, but Steff managed to cross the remnants of the old bridge with dry boots, so I decided to test the idea of crampons on logs and it went very well. I was able to walk down one side of the broken log, negotiate the gap in the middle, and walk up the other side with little problem.
Overall, I had a great weekend. We didn't tag the summit on Warrior, but it will still be there next time. We did deal safely with a variety of difficult conditions and get to enjoy the sheer luxury of a back country shelter in the snow. I got a new friend and climbing buddy. We'll be headed to the Western Olympics this July to explore the Valhallas, Olympus, and the Bailey Range. You can look for that trip report at some point.