Scramble

S Wedge Mountain

With a weekend planned in Leavenworth with Mel and Katie, we decided to find a local scramble. We discovered Wedge Mountain on the Mountaineers website and decided to check it out. The top promised views into the enchantments on a trail that was dog friendly so we could take Mel’s Golden Gravy.


mileage

5

elevation gain

2,450 ft

location

Central Cascades

drive time from Seattle

3.5 h

useful gear

Helmet

permits/passes

N/A

Researching this peak proved to be one of the biggest challenges. Turns out there are two Wedge Mountains. One labelled on topographic maps as Wedge Mountain (5781′) and the other as the highest point on McClellan Ridge at 6885′. We were after the higher of the two ‘Wedge Mountains’ which involved a scramble to the summit. Point 5781′ is more of a hike and is prominent from the town of Leavenworth.

The second challenge was the drive to the trailhead. There was a maze of logging roads we had to navigate making the drive almost an hour from Leavenworth! Not to mention we had conflicting information on the location of the trailhead. South Wedge and Wedge have different trailheads so depending on which website you look at you get different directions. We ended up having to direct using Gaia to get to the one we wanted (GPS 47.49893, -120.68948). As the logging road got further up the mountain the road got worse we huge ruts and washed out sections. We took these slow in Mel’s SUV and at one point I got out to guide her.

After the drive, we were all pretty happy to be out of the car and walking on the trail. It was hot and dusty, we didn’t start until 1:20. The trail was steep and pretty much ran straight up to McClellan Ridge at around 6200′. We got good views out to Wenatchee as we got into a burnt-out area from an old forest fire. The view from the ridge into the Enchantments Snow zone was really beautiful. We spent a little while eating a late lunch, soaking in the views.

The trail didn’t continue onto our summit so we bushwhacked over down trees mostly following the north-trending ridge until we reached a viewpoint with an obvious notch before us. The true summit was across the notch which required a scramble to get to. I decided to follow the ridge which involved one very ‘airy’ move which I didn’t recommend Mel to follow me on. The summit had a register and worse views that the overlook point (due to views of snow lake being obscured by the ridge). Gravy didn’t love that she couldn’t join us on the scramble so Katie stayed back with her.

We were only an hour going back down to the car, not needing to stop much we made it back by 5 not looking forward to the drive ahead.

GPS Track

Resources

Scramble

Kaleetan Peak

Recently I’d taken some time off from strenuous adventures after Mount Rainier so I was keen to get out into the mountains and push myself physically this week. I had a climb planned for the weekend and with some dodgy weather forecasted for the week prior I settled on a day scramble. Kaleetan Peak was an easy choice. It’s been on my radar for a while, being nice and close to Seattle and offering 360 views of some of the Snoqualmie peaks.

mileage

~ 14

elevation gain

5,000 ft

location

Snoqualmie Pass

drive time from Seattle

1h

useful gear

Shoes with grip

permits/passes

NW Forest Pass

Katie was still off work and joined me for the day. We left Seattle early (6:15 am) to beat any peak hour traffic. It was nice to have a pretty short drive and we were hiking by 7:45. Due to government funding, they have closed the Denny Creek Trailhead which added an extra half mile each way to our day as we had to park in the new Franklin Falls lot. The trail leading up to Melakwa Lake is really nice. It’s obviously a popular spot so they’ve done a great job with the trail. The first half you climb through an old forest (under the freeway) crossing the river a few times. The second half gets rockier and follows a waterfall and gorge.  The climbing is all gradual there are plenty of features along the trail to keep you entertained in the 4.5 miles.  

We made Melakwa Lake in just under 2.5 miles where we decided to take a break for a snack by the lake. The views from the lake looking up at Chair Peak were fantastic and when I walked to the Southern end of the Lake I could see up to our destination of Kaleetan Peak. It looked so far up!

After refuelling we located the climbers trail up to Kaleetan peak. The trail just happens to go past the backcountry toilet so we made use of it. The trail heads straight up the ridge, being pretty steep and some sections requiring using the vegetation to pull ourselves up rocks. Now it really felt like a scramble!  About halfway up the ridge, we cleared out of the trees to a talus slope. We got our first views of some of the peaks to the South which run along the i90. We had fun pointing out the ones we’d climbed already. (Granite, Bandera, Defiance).

The boot path was super clear, even across the talus and there were cairns to follow when in doubt. The wildflowers in this section were in full bloom providing a nice kaleidoscope of colours. We made quick work of the climb to the peak at 5700′. Here there’s a big rock pile indicating it’s the summit and we took a chance to catch our breath before continuing. 

Just along the trail, we got a great view up to the summit of Kaleetan Peak. From this angle, being below it, the scramble looked steep and terrifying. We hoped that all the trip reports we’d read saying it looks much worse than it is was right. The trail we followed now dropped in elevation down the east side of the ridge to skirt some rugged terrain. The drop-down was very steep and we had to veggie belay often. Next, it traversed some talus slopes before climbing towards the summit up a trail in the vegetation that ran between talus fields. Before we knew it we were at the base of the summit block looking back at the point where we thought the climb looked terrifying. The final climb up the summit block went up some large ledges through a gully to the top. There was plenty of loose rock in the gully so I was glad to have a helmet just to protect from rockfall. 

The views from the summit were just as spectacular as I’d hoped. We had about 30 minutes admiring the peaks, naming them, finding new ones to climb. We ate lunch and signed the summit register. There were great views down to gem and snow lake which I’m hoping to explore soon.

The trip back was uneventful, we were tired and the weather started to close in. We saw a few people heading up to Melakwa lake as we were on the way down. As we passed under the freeway for the final mile the weather finally changed and the rain started. I was glad we missed most of it so managed to be relatively dry by the time we made it back to the car.

GPX track

Scramble

Navaho, Three Brothers & Freedom Peaks

This trip had been booked in for a while by my friend Ananth who is trying to bag all the peaks on the Teanaway 20 list on peakbagger. I’m not as big into lists but love the Teanaways so was happy to join for the trip. This would be a scramble of 3 peaks along a ridge with a trail approach of 3 miles. There was a lot of elevation and miles in between to make this a pretty big day.

mileage

~ 14

elevation gain

6,300 ft

location

Teanaway

drive time from Seattle

2h

useful gear

ice axe, spikes

permits/passes

NW forest pass for upper trailhead

We started from the Stafford Creek Trailhead which is used to access Navaho pass. The trail follows Stafford creek, apart from the occasional switch back the elevation gain is moderate. There were some small creeks to cross and a few blowdowns along the way. We made quick work of the trail and were just over an hour to where we deviated from the trail to gain the ridge between Navaho and Freedom (also known as Little Navaho) Peaks. We left the trail where a dry creek bed crosses the trail, approximately 3 miles in. As we climbed towards the ridge we hit snow maybe 500ft below the ridgeline.

On the ridge, it was obvious the snow that remained formed some rather large cornices which we were careful to stay away from. We continued our climb up Navaho, gaining some false summits along the way but eventually reaching the true summit at 12:30. Here we got views of the Stuart Range and peaks from the bean creek basin.

We took a short break on the summit of Navaho before heading down the way we had come up. On the way up we scouted a way to connect the shoulder of Navaho to the ridge with Three Brothers. We ended up dropping more than 1000ft before we started climbing up the Three Brothers. There was still snow as we first started dropping down towards the saddle with Three Brothers which we used to glissade on and make quick work of the descent. There seemed to be a faint boot path up to the summit of Three Brothers which we were able to follow. The way was mostly snow free and we climbed to gain the 1000ft we’d lost from the Navaho summit. The ridge required only a little use of our hands to climb over some rocky obstacles, other than that it was pretty much a straight walk up.

On the summit of Three Brothers, we got similar views to Navaho peak but clouds seemed to be looming larger making a little cooler. There were a few mounds at the top, we found the true summit by finding the Mountaineers summit register which we filled out. The last entry was November last year. As we started our descent off of Three Brothers we set our sights on Freedom Peak.

Freedom shares a ridge with Navaho and where we gained the ridge originally was the saddle between Freedom and Navaho Peaks. To start our route up Freedom we needed to get back to this saddle. Instead of backtracking along the ridge of Three Brothers and Freedom, we dropped lower into the Etienne Creek Basin underneath this ridgeline to cut some of the distance. Here I took the opportunity to refill my water bladder for the remaining climb.

To get back to the saddle of Navaho and Freedom we decided to climb a ridge leading to one of Navaho’s false summits just north of the saddle we wanted to get to. As we skirted around this ridge we were hoping to traverse to the saddle. Unfortunately, we ran into some steep gullies blocking our way. It then took some route finding and we decided on traversing a snowfield and gaining the ridge at the top in between two cornices. The snow was soft so easy enough to make steps. I was one of the last to traverse and climb the snow wall and by that time the rest of the team had made some bomber steps. We affectionately knick-named the feature ‘Ananths Wall’ and were glad we all got through safely.

From the saddle, it was a short scramble up a few hundred feet to the summit of Freedom Peak. This was the most fun scrambling of the day because of the steep cliffs and the narrower ridge leading to the summit of Freedom. The summit was a smaller block than Navaho and Three Brothers giving you a better 360 view. From the top of Freedom, it was great to look across the saddle and the valley to our other objectives for the day and marvel at how far we’d come.

We started the climb down to the saddle again at around 4 pm and descended back to the trail the way we’d come up that morning. I was thankful for the long days we are having now because the 3-mile walk back to the trailhead was all in the light of day. The day turned out to be a really rewarding scramble and I was glad we had such a strong team to make it possible. My Garmin indicated over 14 miles and over 6000ft of elevation gain after all the ups and downs. We were all dreaming for food on the way back so stopped for Thai in Cle Elum before driving all the way back to Seattle.

Scramble

Mount Ellinor – Winter

Mount Ellinor was my second scramble ever and the first one that I needed my ice axe to travel on steep hard snow. On that trip I was super nervous, I didn’t really have the right traction and the conditions meant we couldn’t glissade which is what this route is popular for. Now finding myself with a bit of time off I jumped at the chance to do this mid-week on a scramble led by one of my Mountaineers friends Jordan.

mileage

~ 7

elevation gain

3,300 ft

location

Olympic National Forest

drive time from Seattle

2h

useful gear

crampons, ice axe

permits/passes

NW forest pass for upper trailhead

We left Seattle early to avoid some of the weekday traffic of Tacoma and Olympia. We stopped for coffee in Hoodsport before grouping with the other scramblers in our group. We drove the forest roads (which a completely pot-holed) and decided to park at the lower trailhead. I’d heard the way to the upper trailhead was mostly snow free but we decided we’d like to do the extra mileage of the lower trail. It was at this point that one of the guys who got a ride with Jordan accidentally locked Jordan’s keys in his truck! We were so shocked we didn’t really know what to do. We decided to worry about it after we finished the scramble.

We started out just after 9 am and headed up the lower trail. It slowly works it’s way up along a ridge for about 2 miles through the forest before meeting the upper trail junction. After the junction with the upper trail, it gets pretty steep switchbacking until you reach a junction of the winter and summer trail. Just before this junction, we met the snowpack which was pretty hard and consolidated on the trail.

We took the winter route and the trail opens up to reveal a snow-covered couloir which looks long and steep from the bottom. The glissade tracks were well defined snaking down the mountain like a toboggan track. Here we put on helmets and crampons and got out our ice axes. The snow conditions were pretty great, hard enough to make walking up in crampons easy but soft enough you didn’t have to drive your feet in too hard. Some sections of the climb up are narrow in the couloir so the steps are right next to the glissade chutes, and no room to make switchbacks just keep climbing straight up.

Once you reach the top of the couloir the route heads to the left for two more (much shorter) slopes uphill to reach the summit. We had amazing weather on the summit and you get 360 views into the Olympics, out to Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and the Puget Sound. We could see all the way to Seattle! We hung around on the summit grabbing a bite to eat and taking lots of photos before taking off our crampons and putting on our rain pants to prepare for the glissade down.

Some of the group were new a glissading so before we started we had a recap on technique. Steve went first and I followed. There were about 5 chutes that we connected on the way down. Some were very steep and cut into which made controlling speed pretty tricky. One of them near the top of the couloir had a tree poking out of it which all of us tried to go left or right of but ended up just going over the top of it. We all had a great time with the glissade and I was glad I got to experience it this time around.

When the trail was snow free we stashed our ice axes and removed our waterproof layers used for the glissade. The hike back to the parking lot went fine and we all went at our own pace. When we got back it was time to worry about the key locked in the car issue. Thankfully on the way up to the summit, Jordan got cell service who was able to contact his girlfriend. She met us at the trailhead at 3 pm and brought some tools to get into the car. The wire coathanger worked a treat and we weren’t delayed too much by the whole thing. We stopped in Hoodsport on the way back to Seattle for some burgers before making it back to Seattle

Scramble

Cowlitz Rocks – Winter

Another weekend another mountain adventure. This weekend Ananth and I decided on a last minute Scramble to Cowlitz Rocks in Mount Rainier National Park in the Paradise area. This isn’t a very popular route outside the Mountaineers and I don’t really understand why because it was beautiful. We did have fantastic weather and got views of Mount Rainier, Little Tahoma, the Tatoosh range as well as other cascade volcanoes like Hood, St Helens and Adams.

mileage

~7

elevation gain

2,400 ft

location

Mount Rainier NP

drive time from Seattle

3h

useful gear

Poles, crampons, snowshoes, navigation, avy gear

permits/passes

America the Beautiful

We left Seattle around 6, grouped at Longmire before heading up to Paradise. There had been some fresh snowfall overnight and the road up to Paradise was pretty icy. We took the drive really carefully. The parking lot at paradise was covered in a thin layer of ice which made walking to the bathroom a bit of a challenge! We made the call at the cars to leave our snowshoes but 3 of us who had avalanche beacons donned those as we would be travelling through avalanche terrain.

The route to Cowlitz rocks starts from the closed Paradise road, downhill until the ‘Fourth Crossing’ trail. The way heads uphill to the Mazama Ridge and follows the paradise glacier to Cowlitz Gap. The fresh snow from the previous day meant we had to break trail and at some places was hard to tell what the surface was like under the powder.

When we got past Mazama Ridge we lost the trees and it is completely exposed from then on. It was pretty hot in the sun and we made sure to reapply sunscreen hourly. I forgot my glacier glasses and my eyes were watering even though I was wearing regular sunglasses. When we reached Cowlitz Gap we saw the steep slope up to the rocks and we stopped to discuss the best route.

We decided to hug the ridge, being mindful of the cornice and using an exposed rock line to make our way to the summit. The snow turned to hard ice pretty quick and the rocks were pretty unsteady and easy to posthole into the rocks through the top layer of snow. We donned crampons and pushed the last 100ft, working our way up the steep hard ice. Our stopping point was a rock tower along the ridge that we deemed the top. The clouds had come in and were now covering our view of both Little Tahoma and Mount Rainier. We still had great views out to the Tatoosh Range.

After a quick break on the summit, we started to head back down the steep ice, using crampons and ice axes to move down onto the softer snow at Cowlitz gap. From here we hiked most of the way back to the parking lot without needing a break. The way down was a little slippery with the snow had softened a little from the Morning. Also, the way up Mazama ridge was obviously covered in boot holes that were covered in the new fresh layer of snowmaking foot placement crucial on the way down. We got back to the cars with the whole trip taking just under 6 hours.

Scramble

Mount Saint Helens – Ski

This winter season (even though it was shortened by my trip to Australia) I got into backcountry skiing. My main goal was to prepare for spring and the volcano skiing season. I was comfortable with the idea of a Saint Helens ski seeing as I’d summited it twice last year so I was stoked to be joined by Melanie and Katie in the goal. We grabbed permits and crossed our fingers for the weather.

mileage

~11

elevation gain

5,600 ft

location

South Cascades

drive time from Seattle

3h

useful gear

Poles, crampons, ice axe, skis

permits/passes

Permit required from recreation.gov

To make a weekend of it we went Saturday to camp out along the trail before pushing for the summit Sunday. From the trailhead, there was snow most of the way to our chosen campsite at chocolate falls. The snow at the start was a little patchy so we had to take our skis off a couple of times to cross. Apart from that, the gradient was very gentle which made for some easy skinning. It was 1.5 miles to camp which took about 3 hours. We got into camp a bit after 4, giving us time to set up a tent, make water and ready for an early night. Unfortunately, we discovered that Katie had left her food in the car and I left my fork at home. Melanie and I were happy to share our extra food and we all had to share Melanie’s spoon. It was a surprisingly cold night I was grateful to have my warm sleeping bag and down booties!

We woke just before 6 with the tent and everything left outside covered in ice. The snow had completely hardened up and it was really chilly I had to put all my layers on as we got ready. There was a lot of people coming up the trail as we left camp at 7:15 so we joined in on the conga line. The worm flows route from this point is pretty unforgiving it gains a ridge right near chocolate falls (3700ft) and the treeline ends at (4800ft). This was not a great day to forget my sunscreen but after my recent trip to Hawaii, I’d taken it out of my bag. I had to borrow some from a climber along the way.

The sun was out in full force so it was really warm climbing. A low cloud stayed in the valley which made it feel like we were on an island surrounded by a sea of clouds. Pretty early on we swapped from skinning to just boot packing up the ridge because the boot tracks and hard ice made it hard work. We had to stop several times on the way up for a break, taking our heavy packs off for a break. Melanie and Katie weren’t feeling the climb and separately called it before the summit. I continued on by myself. I didn’t realize what we’d been aiming for was the false summit so I was pretty dismayed when I saw how much further I had to climb right at the end.

At the crater rim all the other skiers were hanging out on the rim (keeping away from the corniced edge) it felt like a big party. They were all waiting for the snow to soften a little more for the descent. I started the descent at 1 and took a line adjacent to the climbing trail to see if I could meet up with Katie on the way down. It wasn’t steep skiing but I did have to get used to skiing with sore legs (thanks to the climb) and a bit of chatter in my skis because of the snow being a little hard still. About halfway back to camp, I was surrounded by the low cloud which made route finding extremely difficult. Not being able to tell which side of a ridge I should stay on I took off my skis to climb over some rocks to realize it was a narrow corniced ridge so I was much better off where I was. As I climbed back over the clouds lifted to confirm this. I had so trouble much trouble putting my ski back on, the snow was soft and steep and I kept sinking into it. I got ski on then manage to fall down the slop a little out of reach of my other ski. I walked back to get my other ski. Only to drop it and it happened to land in a glissade shoot running all the way to the bottom of the bowl I was in, maybe like 20m. Pretty fed up with all of it I glissaded down using my poles and holding my ski. Reunited with my other ski I put them both on to continue my ski down. Some of the more narrow points of the trail up I was worried about the ski but I managed them all fine.

Katie and Melanie were both back at camp and we packed up ready to finish the ski out. Skiing down the trail with our 30 lb backpack was new but the easy gradient made it manageable and we got back to the car in no time.

Overall it was definitely harder than I thought. The added weight of carrying the skis made the climb much more exhausting than I anticipated. The sun didn’t help because my lips, nose and arms were absolutely fried by the end. We were really lucky with the weather, in bad visibility, it would be so much harder. For the split second of no visibility, I was seriously worried I take the wrong line and get stuck somewhere. Despite the added challenges, I can’t wait to ski this mountain again.

Scramble

Sourdough Mountain – Winter

This trip is not really for Sourdough Mountain but really for peak 6308 because the summer route goes through a lot of avalanche terrain so to get the same fantastic views you turn off the trail early and head up the ridgeline for a little more elevation.

mileage

~11

elevation gain

5,500 ft

location

North Cascades NP

drive time from Seattle

2h45

useful gear

Poles, microspikes, snowshoes, navigation

permits/passes

n/a

I went out with a group of mountaineers in search of epic views and conditioning elevation and we got both in spades. Unfortunately, the long drive and the shorter daylight hours meant we had to leave Seattle before the crack of dawn. We planned to start on the trail by 8 but were a little late at 8:45. My calves certainly remembered the trail from when I did it in the summer and in fact I remember thinking wouldn’t be back to do it again for a while! In the first 2 miles of trail, you climb 3000ft which comes in the form of very steep switchbacks. Pretty much from the beginning, there was intermittent snow on the trail, hard sheets of ice at the very bottom getting much softer after the first few switchbacks. We set a slower pace than I did on Teneriffe last weekend which made the climb bearable.

It took us around 2 hours for the first 2 miles, at this spot you get a view of some of the peaks through the trees and we decided to put our snowshoes on because we’d already started slipping a little climbing in the snow. The day was warming up and the snow already felt pretty soft. At around 3 miles the route breaks away from the summer trail and here the navigation got a little tricky. It seemed like there were tracks going in every direction so we followed some we thought were heading the right way. They veered too much to the right and we discovered we’d gone ~400m alone the summer trail instead of heading up the ridge. To get back on the route we cut up from the summer trail to try and intersect with the winter route. It was really hard going and in hindsight, we should have just backtracked. The snow wasn’t consolidated at all and breaking trail was exhausting. The soft snow on the slopes was sliding a lot making some of us a little nervous. It probably took us 30mins to get onto the ridgeline and intersect with the winter route.

As we climbed up the ridge the trees thinned out and the sun started to beat down on us turning into t-shirt weather. We continued climbing, the sun was warming up the snow and we saw lots of signs of wet loose avalanches that the forecast had predicted. Getting on to the top of the ridge required snowshoeing up a knife edge type ridge. From there it was 360 views of many of the North cascade peaks (colonial and pyramid being front and centre) the views down to Diablo lake were also spectacular where you could see it was partially frozen.

We were starting to run really short on time as we move along the ridge so we decided to stop just before making it to peak 6308. We had a quick lunch break and had to start heading back down to make it back in a reasonable hour. The knife-edge ridge was sketchier on the way down, we were worried about the wet slides so took it one at a time.

The trip back to the car was pretty uneventful we were all pretty tired, the sun really taking it out of us. The wet snow made snowshoeing the steep slopes difficult as it was hard to get good traction. We didn’t make any wrong turns on the way down, we stopped a couple of time for a break and to take off snowshoes returning to the car at 5:30.

Scramble

Mount Teneriffe – Winter

I needed a butt kicker this weekend and boy did this one deliver. I was planning on taking the old trail up Mount Teneriffe (past Kamikaze falls) getting the most bang for my buck with the elevation gain. Unfortunately, when I drove to the trailhead the car park was closed because it was still covered in snow from the snowpocalypse! Quickly changing my plan I thought I parked at the Mount Si trailhead about half a mile down the road. From here I used Gaia to map a route to Teneriffe and it still seemed reasonable just a few more miles.

mileage

~8

elevation gain

4,500 ft

location

i90

drive time from Seattle

40 min

useful gear

Poles, microspikes, snowshoes

permits/passes

Discover Pass

Daylight savings got me this morning so I was moving pretty slow. It took me a while to talk myself into getting ready and getting on the trail. For training for bigger things to come I loaded my pack up with extra water and was carrying around 27lb. There was pretty much snow the whole way from the bottom, it was crunchy this early in the morning so it wasn’t long before I put on my microspikes.

Thankfully Gaia was showing me the way because I forget how many interconnected trails there are between Mount Si and Mount Teneriffe. I took the Taulus loop trail to connect with the Teneriffe trail then I got on the Kamikaze connecter. Thankfully I didn’t have far to go on this trail because there were only 2 or 3 sets of footprints. I was post holing every few steps, getting stuck in trees and trying to stay on the trail. Finally, I met up with the kamikaze trail which was pretty well packed down.

The falls were looking great covered in snow with icicles coming off the rocks. I took a few photos before joining the trail again. Here the trail goes straight up which was pretty exhausting moving over that much snow. It was still pretty hard but the traffic was less than the Kamikaze trail so I had to do a bit more trail breaking. I broke the ridge from here it was another mile at 2000ft elevation to the summit. I was worried it had taken me too long to get to this point (about 90 mins) and I had to do a lot of mental pushing to not turn around. closer to the top the snow got much softer and I had to swap to snowshoes because I was exhausting myself slipping after every step.

When I finally broke the tree line I moved through the open sections as fast as possible because there were some obvious signs of small slides due to sun warming. The snow in these sections was super icy that I was glad my snowshoe crampons were biting into it. When I got to the summit there was one other guy there who had come up the other ridge from Si which was about 8 miles one way. He headed back and I had the summit for myself.

I debated avoiding the steep descent by going back another way but it seemed like the quickest way down and I was already slower than I thought I would be. I headed down the same way, had some troubles with my snowshoes in places where the snow was really icy and found my butt in the snow a few times! I was glad I still had them on though because further down the trail it was still soft snow. Almost at the end of the ridge where it gets really steep and narrow, I swapped back to microspikes.

The way back was pretty uneventful from the falls, the connector trail was still crappy and I managed to posthole up to my hips on one leg which was pretty exhausting to get out of. Back on the packed down Taulus loop trail and Mount Si trail it was warmed and was getting pretty sloshy.

I made it back to the car on the 6-hour mark and was pretty tired!

Backpack

Mount Anne Circuit

I was pretty excited to get out and do some hiking in Australia for my trip back over January. The week before the Three Capes Track, Mum and Dad wanted to take a shot at the Mount Anne Circuit in South West National Park in Tasmania. They’d been wanting to do this one for a while but were always waylaid by bad weather (notorious in this part of the world). After it was suggested, as soon as I saw some photos of Mount Anne and read a few trip reports I was in.

Mount Anne is the highest mountain in Tasmania’s South West. At 1425m it doesn’t seem like a very imposing mountain but the view of the range and from the summit is nothing short of spectacular. The circuit which includes a summit of Mount Anne as a side trip is typically done over 4 days and follows the ridge along an ancient glacial cirque which surrounds Judd Lake.

Day 1

As the circuit doesn’t start and end in the same place, they are separated by 9km along the entrance road. We got dropped off at the trailhead at Condominium Creek by Andrew who would be taking the car while we were walking. The swampy trailhead was full of mosquitos so we rushed to get ready and leave the hungry pests behind. Like a lot of trails in Tasmania, it starts with a boot cleaning station to prevent the spread of disease to the native flora and keep out invasive species.

The trail started flat for about 2 minutes before heading straight up the shoulder of Mount Eliza the first peak of the cirque, at a gradient which wouldn’t give up for most of the day. The weather was beautiful, we couldn’t have asked for better. As we climbed we got amazing views of Lake Pedder and the Western Arthurs. The vegetation was pretty thick made of low lying shrubs which gave us little protection from the warming sun. On the way up we stopped for a couple of rests, before making it to High Camp. High Camp Cabin is half a kilometre under the summit of Mount Eliza and is a small stone structure built for shelter and has surrounding campsites. We stopped here to fill water from the rain tank, eat lunch and read through the cabin visitors book. Not sure this was the best idea as I started reading about how many people failed to reach the summit of Mount Anne or couldn’t complete the circuit because of the dreaded section know as ‘The Notch’. I started feeling a little anxious about some of the climbing to come.

We set off on the trail and the gradient increased yet again. Now instead of a trail, we were following cairns and pulling ourselves up large boulders. The Mount Anne cirque is geologically unique because it is red dolerite on top of a white quartzite base. These boulders marked the beginning of the quartzite which we would be on for the next few days. As I pulled myself (and my heavy 4-day pack) over the boulders I started to realize how dangerous this trail would be if the weather was bad, it was hard to follow even when we could see.

Finally, we made the summit of Mount Eliza where we took many photos of the beautiful view and had a celebratory fruit tingle before continuing along the ridge towards Mount Anne. Now in the high alpine, we started seeing small tarns, cushion plants and pandanus palms giving the landscape a Jurassic theme. It was 2km from the summit of Mount Eliza to the fork in the trail with the Mount Anne summit trail. From a detour off the path along this ridge, we got our first views of Lake Judd 400m below the dolerite cliffs. As we continued towards the nights camp, we had to skirt Eve Peak which meant more boulder hopping. This was proving to be a pretty exhausting task keeping balance with the heavy packs as you moved from rock to rock. I was tired and happy when we reached the junction of the Mount Anne summit trail. We looked down and saw the camp for the day with one other tent already set up. It took about 15 minutes to walk down to Shelf Camp where we set up our camp for the night.

Shelf Camp was an amazing place to spend a night, we were incredibly lucky with the calm weather because it is high and very exposed the wind can rip right through it. The location provides great views of Mount Anne and Mount Lot. To the north, it seems like an endless drop into the valley below and the cliffs of Eve Peak loom over to the south. The tent sites are rock slabs so you need to set up tents without pegs (there was plenty of small rocks around to help) and there was a very small running stream we used for water. The camp is also surrounded by tarns which we took a dip in to wash off the days’ efforts before dinner. An early night was had by all of us to prepare for an early wake up to attempt the summit of Mount Anne the next day.

Day 2

I woke early on day 2 and I was able to watch the sunrise over Mount Lot while packing up camp. The weather was just as stunning as the day before, no wind, blue skies and we could tell early it was going to be warm. We started out backtracking along the trail from the day before, heading for the Mount Anne summit junction. We were all appreciative of being able to carry our day packs and leaving the heavy ones back at Shelf Camp. We followed the trail, getting amazing views towards Lot’s Wife and down the Lake Pedder in the other direction. We boulder hoped following the cairns until we got to the bottom of the summit block. Here was the hardest part of the trail. The route was pretty exposed requiring scrambling up 3m chimney, traversing to the left, then up a very exposed 3m shelf (thankfully with bomber handholds) followed by a traverse right over some rock slabs which had a little bit of water running over them. The route then goes over boulders along the exposed south-east ridge to lead up to the summit. Overall it was nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be after reading peoples description in the log book the day before and when we reached the summit I was surprised there wasn’t anything worse. Having said that in worse weather conditions it would be much harder and I can see why people would turn away. The views were amazing from the top and we spent some time taking photos and soaking it all in. We took the descent off the summit block carefully and made it down with no issues.

Back at shelf camp we picked up our heavy gear and started heading off towards the next bit of anxiety ‘The Notch’. The trail was all steep up and downs, muddy in sections, involved a lot of scrambling and required taking off and lowering packs in certain sections. We were mostly on the north side of the ridge but we did climb to traverse across it on a narrower section to give amazing views down to Jude Lake almost 400m below. Back on the north side of the ridge, the trail leading up to The Notch was easy enough to follow. The Notch itself is a saddle with steep dropoffs to both sides. It is important to climb up above The Notch as you approach it for the safest route. Again when we got there it was not as bad as I was expecting from everything I’d read. Some people choose to use a rope to haul packs but we managed to do it without. First, we descended into The Notch via very steep steps to the bottom where it’s level but with steep drop-offs on either side. Next, we were faced with going up again but this time it was not possible to step up and some climbing moves were required. The first being a chimney you have to stem across to the right side followed by a ledge that’s very exposed with a drop off to either side. There isn’t any great hand holds here so we took off our packs lifting them up first before pushing ourselves up using a move that’s not quite a mantle but one that I like to compare with getting out of a swimming pool.

The anxiety of The Notch and was lifted and we continued on the trail which was headed for the summit of Mount Lot. It wasn’t really much of a trail but it traversed the south-east slopes of the Mountain to start climbing directly up a steep gully. In this section there seemed to be two routes you could take but they both ended up in the same gully. The route we took (which veered to the right and down) had some areas of loose rocks you have to climb up. We definitely had to break on the way up these steep gully as it was pretty exhausting work, luckily the views down to Judd Lake were beautiful giving us something to take our minds off the heat, the climb and the hunger from not having lunch yet. Finally, the climbing was over and we reached the top of the ridge of Mount Lot with a short traverse to the summit. We stopped for lunch here after a measurement of the high points to determine which one was the highest and making sure we stood on the summit (in true peak-bagger fashion). Over lunch, we really soaked in the views of Lot’s wife, Judd Lake, Mount Anne and looking down to our night’s campsite of the Lonely Tarns.

Continuing after lunch the trail starts to head almost directly down the narrow Lightning Ridge. We said goodbye to our views of Mount Anne and steeply descended towards the Lonely Tarns. After a descent of 300m, the trail veers to the east and into the scrub. It now becomes an extremely steep, stuffy hike down through the bush to get to the Lonely Tarns. You had to be really careful using trees to help stop from slipping. Even though the humidity in the trees made it really sweaty going I was happy to be out of the sun for a little while. The trail eventually clears out of the bush, gets muddy and hits a ridge between two of the Lonely Tarns (Lake Picone to the north and Judd’s Charm to the south).

Camp for the night was at the east end of Judd’s Charm. When we got there I was so hot, and my feet extremely sore that I went for a swim immediately while Mum and Dad found a campsite. We had plenty of time to set up camp, get water and have a cup of tea because we started the day so early. As it got later it started becoming obvious that the weather was turning. Storms hadn’t been in the forecast but once we finished dinner it became obvious there was one heading right for us. The Lightning coming out of the storm front as it approached was pretty incredible, I hadn’t seen that many lightning forks from a storm in some time. We got ready for bed and headed into the tents early as soon as the rain started. The rain didn’t last very long at all and we were able to get out of the tents again after about 20 minutes. Once we got out of our tents we smelt smoke and saw a fire had started from a lightning strike far to the east of us. We didn’t really know if we could do anything about this, it did seem really far away but we were concerned that we were probably the only ones that knew about this fire. The sun set and we went to bed. I got up again after it was dark to look out to the fire again and saw the red glow of the flames and I started to worry about it a little. Not really sure what we should do I went to bed.

Day 3

We woke in the morning to extremely smokey skies and the smell of burning. Mum’s hope of a side trip to climb Lot’s Wife was dashed with this as Dad and I both deemed it to not be worth it with the poor visibility (not to mention being pretty tired from the activities from the day before). We did take a small detour to Lake Picone in the morning which was lower in elevation and much marshier than Judd’s Charm. The view here was incredibly smokey and if anything it seemed to be getting worse.

We went back to pick up our bags from last Judd’s Charm and we decided to send a message to Andrew on the inReach to keep us informed about fires in the area. The smokey conditions had us a little concerned, not knowing if there were any closer than the one we saw start the light before. We continued on the trail which climbed past some more tarns and gained elevation once again joining back to the ridge which was an open plateau on the North side of Mount Sarah Jane. The views down to Judd Lake were very hazy due to the smoke and we couldn’t see Mount Anne at all. Here we got some phone reception and we looked for information on the fires. Nothing was really apparent so we continued on our way.

The trail continued and got incredibly muddy, passing more lonely tarns on the way around the east face of Mount Sarah Jane. The scrub was thick and spikey and my legs (which were sunburnt) were not loving it. I was very jealous of Mums long gaiters which I’m sure would have been protecting her from the spikes. Just before the turnoff to Mount Sarah Jane summit, there was a boardwalk section which needs to be extended as you had to hop over some huge mud sections to get to it.

When we got to the track junction with the Sarah Jane summit trail we decided to take our lunch to the summit. The trail to the summit was boulder covered and there wasn’t really a clear path, we had to just follow cairns to the top. There wasn’t anything very exposed and the boulders were big enough we didn’t have to be consered about rockfall. We got some views from the summit but they were very obscured by smoke and haze. As we were eating lunch we heard helicopters and finally saw one. It was flying low around the ridge and appeared to be flying above the circuit. We decided it must be looking for bushwalkers like us. It flew around the summit of Mount Anne, circled The Notch then the summit of Mount Lot. It then circled Lot’s Wife, Judd’s Charm and along the east side of Mount Sarah Jane. We thought it would circle the summit of Sarah Jane but it became apparent it wasn’t going to. We had phone reception again and we called the state fire department. They were able to tell us where the fires were. There were several new fires across the state but near us, there was one on Mount Eliza (from day 1) and one near the Anne River (which we were set to cross the next day). They didn’t advise us to change our plan but said not to hesitate to press our SOS button if we got too close. This didn’t fill any of us with confidence but we headed down off the summit hoping the helicopter might do another lap and see us.

When we reached our packs we were still wondering what we should do. We knew the next section of the trail was to descend through a lot of scrub to get down to Judd Lake so we wouldn’t be visible if the helicopter was looking for us. Luckily our answer came quickly, we received a call from Andrew who had been in contact with the Parks Service. He informed us that the Mount Anne Circuit was being evacuated and we needed to contact the parks service to let them know where we were. It really was lucky we had reception and were able to call and give our GPS coordinates. We were on an open plateau so they told us to stay there and put bright things out on the ground so the helicopter could find us. Mum and Dad had some bright orange garbage bags they use to waterproof their pack which we laid out on the ground. Within about 15 minutes the helicopter we saw before was landing in front of us and we were loaded into the back.

We didn’t have a car at the trailhead so we were taken to the Parks Service Headquarters at Mount Field National Park where they were basing the evacuations from. We learned here how widespread the fires were from the storm the night before. It seemed to completely cover the south west of the state and they were still finding them. Because of this they were closing access and evacuating many trails in the area. After completing some paperwork we were given campsites in the campground to stay for our final night, arranging with Andrew to meet us there the next morning. It was so weird to go from complete wilderness to sitting in an office with a cappuccino in about 20 minutes. We were quite the celebrities in the campground that evening with many people having seen us get out of the helicopter when we arrived.

Overall it is a shame we didn’t get to finish the full circuit, but it also didn’t sound like we missed too much. It was one of the toughest backpacks I’ve ever done and I am very grateful I could join my parents for it.

Scramble

Vesper Peak

Vesper Peak has long been on my list of mountains to climb. With summit views such as these its easy to see why. I had been putting off making the attempt waiting for a nice day, waiting for people to be free to join me and being a little unsure if I could do this solo. Finally, I bit the bullet and decided I could do it.

mileage

8

elevation gain

4,200 ft

location

Mountain Loop Highway

drive time from Seattle

2 hr

useful gear

Poles for river crossings

permits/passes

NW Forest Pass

The trailhead for this climb starts off the Mountain Loop highway on the Sunrise Mine trail. This trail was built by miners wanting to mine under Vesper peak back in the 1900s. To begin with, the trail has a few river crossings which I honestly could have done with some hiking poles as there was more water than expected. Then the trail heads up and up and doesn’t give up. It climbs through the Wirtz basin and a narrow couloir to reach the top of Headlee pass (named after the first mining dude). I don’t know what it is about mining trails but they always head directly up. leading up to and after the pass there were open talus fields which require spotting cairns that mark the way. Take care on sections where the trail switchbacks, loose rocks from hikers above could be dangerous.

On the other side of Headlee Pass, you have to traverse up another talus slope until reaching the outlet stream of Vesper lake. From here it was a short walk following the outlet stream to reach Vesper lake. I decided to check out the lake before the summit because I new on the way back I would be tired and want to head out. The lake was a beautiful granite cirque, the water was crystal clear and didn’t seem to deep. It looks like it would be a nice swimming spot a little earlier in the season.

After taking my photos of the lake I headed up the peak, following the bootpath which starts from back near where the trail first met the Vesper lake outlet stream. The trail was easy enough to follow but pretty steep. Above the treeline, the top of vesper peak is made of this really awesome granite rock which is super grippy. I was able to comfortably walk up granite slabs following cairns. There had been a small amount of snow overnight near the top, so the only thing I needed to worry about was keeping away from water puddles which could be icy. Before I knew it, I’d reached the summit! The views were amazing, I could see 4 volcanos, the Olympics and the Seattle skyline!

A bit of wind of the summit made it pretty chilly while I took photos and ate my summit snacks. The weather was taking a turn for the worst so I made the hike down without too much delay. All the talus on the trail made my feet pretty sore by the time I got back to the car.


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