In a range known for loose rock, Mt. Cruiser joins maybe a handful of other Olympic peaks that offer easy but fun climbing on reasonably solid rock. Approached via Mildred Lakes, Cruiser’s popular South Corner route entails just 3 short pitches - a steep 4th-class chimney, a run-out 5.0 slab/face and finally the exposed ridge crest to the summit. All this can be enjoyed only after 4.5 miles of winding, rooted trail with bad-tempered hornets, a steep, and tedious bushwhack and some footsore side-hilling to boot.
Arriving at the trailhead late in the afternoon, Eli and I reached the lower lake basin at dusk and stumbled around in the dark before locating a suitable camp spot next to another party along the SW shore of the middle lake. Leaving the trail just shy of uppermost-Mildred Lake the following morning, we thrashed through brush heading in a northerly direction. We were aiming for a prominent swath of grass and low vegetation we spied earlier that morning. The swath seemed to offer the easiest route to the upper basin west of Cruiser proper. From there, we angled leftwards over heather, talus and gravel to reach the apron beneath a prominent ‘Y’ chimney.
After a cruxy step in the lower chimney, we scrambled up the left ‘Y’ branch ending with a tight squeeze under a chockstone. The chimney business now behind us, we turned right and walked a short distance to the base of the slab. Stepping out off the platform onto the slab felt a bit committing and is probably the most difficult move of the pitch. Climbing up, I clipped a couple manky bolts and that was pretty much it for pro. I stopped to set up a belay at the newer bolted rappel station near the crest and brought up Eli. From there we simul-climbed the remaining bit to the summit using slung horns and a rusty bolt or two for protection. The summit isn’t a particularly comfortable place to hang out, so we had a quick look around, snapped some photos and started back down.
My camera fell out of my pocket while rappelling down the slab pitch and disappeared somewhere in the bushes or talus below, never to be seen again. Eli started taking photos only after this happened, so unfortunately no snaps of us on route. And what about those hornets you ask? Suffice it to say, they really took a liking to me on the hike down from the lakes. I tried outrunning them after the third or fourth sting and promptly tripped on a tree root protruding from a particularly steep section of trail. My ‘swan dive’ and subsequent tumble was halted only when I narrowly avoided face-planting a tree and slammed into it with my pack instead. The hornets seemed satisfied with this performance and graciously left me to nurse my bloodied knees and wounded pride. Thankfully the rest of the hike down that damned trail went without further issues. Goodbye and good riddance!