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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Mount Hinman - Southwest Ridge, August 2015



Mount Hinman is one of those peaks for me where the appeal lies more in the journey than in the destination itself. I’d heard the approach via the East Fork Foss River and Necklace Valley is a particularly scenic one and well worth the effort. From the head of the valley there’s that classic shot with Tank Lakes in the foreground looking across the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River Valley towards the spires of Chimney Rock and Overcoat Peak, the Overcoat Glacier cradled in between. If not for this view I’d probably not have bothered with Hinman. With so much more to see here, I’m glad that I did.

Despite the peak’s modest elevation (~7500ft), the surroundings to the west, north and east encompass an extensive area of uplift and alpine terrain indicative of significant glaciation within recent geological history. The massif also cradles at least two rapidly retreating glaciers - Hinman Glacier on the northern flank, and a smaller lobe to the east facing Mount Daniel. All of the above seems very much out of place for this part of the Central Washington Cascades and impressed upon me a newfound appreciation for the Alpine Lake Wilderness within which Mount Hinman is located.

What was to be a solo outing became anything but after unexpectedly running into friends and fellow peak baggers at upper La Bohn Lakes camp late in the afternoon the day I hiked in. Welcomed to join their party, together we made a quick evening jaunt up onto the summit of nearby La Bohn Peak. Several of us previously climbed and skied Mount Daniel together and it was fun catching up and enjoying each other’s company later at camp.

All were Hinman-bound the next day and seemed to take delight in the casual trek along the gentle yet aesthetic Southwest Ridge. Crossing over onto a saddle low on the North Ridge, our fortunes would soon take a sudden and horrific turn for the worse. We decided to avoid the glacier ice entirely and took to scrambling up along the crest of the North Ridge instead. Our party now dispersed both along the crest and just below on the East Face, we proceeded in search of the highest point of rock. Just as I was scrambling over a small tower and wondering if it wasn’t the actual summit, my focus was suddenly interrupted by shouting and the chilling sound of rockfall. Though much of what transpired those next few moments occurred behind me and on the other side of a minor rib of rock blocking my view, I’d certainly seen and heard enough to fear the worst.

When the dust settled, two of our party was found to have sustained potentially serious injuries and being unable to move obviously needed to be rescued and transported to hospital. By a stroke of luck, not only did we have cell phone coverage, but another party about 30 minutes behind had EMT experience and selflessly spent the next several hours tending to the victims. Despite thick smoke in the valleys, we convinced the King County Sheriff’s Office to dispatch a Huey to our location and by 3:30 pm both victims had been airlifted and were en route to Harborview. They’ve since been released from hospital and are expected to make a full recovery. I believe I speak for us all when I say not only did the experience heighten our awareness for hidden dangers that lurk in the mountains, but also how appreciative we are for Seattle Mountain Rescue and the King County Sheriff Air Support crew in mobilizing and coming to our aid. Thanks for all that you do!








Thursday, October 22, 2015

Pigeon Spire - West Ridge, August 2015



Leaving Lake Louise, we continued our westward journey to the Columbia Valley and Golden, BC. We had plans for climbing Pigeon Spire in Bugaboo Provincial Park about 30 miles south as the crow flies, but a chance of thunderstorms in the forecast convinced us to wait a day and check out the scene around town instead. Nearby Kicking Horse Mountain Resort was not to be missed and a gondola ride to the 7,700ft ridge top offered great views and a welcome respite from the buggy Rocky Mountain Trench over 4,000-ft below. In addition to a killer mountain bike park, the resort also sports a via ferrata course on the North Face of Terminator Peak. This made for an exhilarating if not pricey prelude to the Pigeon climb.

Off to the Bugs the next morning. Unlike my previous Bugaboos trip, the Conrad Kain Hut was fully booked, so we made arrangements with the custodian for 2 nights at nearby Applebee Dome Campground and continued on. Wow! Talk about a tent city for rock-jocks from all over the globe! We slinked past appraising eyes and were fortunate to locate one of the few remaining sites along the edge of the dome with a fine view overlooking Bugaboo Creek Valley and the peaks beyond. We settled in to camp, enjoying beer and sips of tequila before calling it a night.

The normal approach to Pigeon’s West Ridge via the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col was in horrible shape and very much discouraged by the park rangers. All Snowpatch, Pigeon and Howser bound parties were now taking the safer Pigeon Fork-Bugaboo Glacier route. A first for Agata, the PFBG is a respectable glacier climb unto itself and featured hard ice, crevasse end-runs, thin snow bridges and several mandatory crevasse jumps. Summer hasn’t been kind to the Bugaboos glaciers, and the route probably had a week or two left before it became impassible. Though indirect, the PFBG is very scenic and has an aesthetic quality not found on the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col route.

We ditched packs, boots and crampons, slipped-on rock shoes and roped up for the classic West Ridge climb. Using running belays, we made quick work of the lower ridge and reached the first false summit in good time. The intimidating view from here towards the true summit is a classic example of foreshortening over distance and is probably one of the most compelling vantage points in the Bugs. What we thought was the actual summit ended up being yet another false summit, with the true summit just on the other side of a large notch. We made a short rappel and then an easy traverse over to the base of a chimney for the first of two remaining pitches. The final pitch follows a large slab feature just right of a prominent dihedral and then exits left to gain the summit ridge. The short jaunt from the rappel chains to the top of the summit block made for a memorable finish to the climb.

After an unexpectedly long 14 hours round-trip, we returned to camp where the vibe was markedly improved over the previous evening. Various parties trudged into camp well after our return and every conceivably flat spot was soon occupied. Soaking-in the last of the alpenglow, we noticed the portaledge party hanging from Snowpatch Spire’s East Face hadn’t moved since our arrival the previous evening. It got dark and couple headlamps winked on somewhere above the large snowpatch that lends Snowpatch Spire its name. Happy not to be party to the misery in progress, we sat back and watched meteors shoot across the firmament. Satisfied with a successful climb and fitting conclusion to an excellent road trip that for us collectively spanned numerous national parks and monuments across the western US and Canada, we retired to the tent and our dreams with contented mind and tired body.

Miscellaneous photos from various points along the way:






West Ridge climb:










Thursday, October 8, 2015

Mount Temple - Southwest Ridge, August 2015



Following our trip to Glacier and Waterton National Parks, Agata and I made our way up north taking a scenic route through the Alberta prairies and then along Hwy 40 (Kananaskis Trail), which at ~7310 ft is supposedly the highest stretch of paved road in Canada. After a restless night in one of the numerous mega-campgrounds scattered around the outskirts of Banff and a few hours the next day taking in the sights from Sulphur Mountain, we made our way over to Lake Louise for more sightseeing. We had heard that camping permits in Lake Louise can be difficult to obtain, so our first order of business was to secure a campsite for the next two nights. In the end, we felt fortunate to have secured the last campsite some ~20 miles away off of the Icefelds Parkway. Note to self - the enormous gravel parking area at the Mosquito Creek Campground where we would be staying also serves as an ad-hoc overflow camp for those without anywhere else to go. With the tent pitched it was back to Lake Louise for dinner at Bill Peyto’s Café (love that place) located in the LL hostel.

Our objective the following day was to scramble the ever popular Southwest Ridge of Mount Temple. We were aware of the 4-person party minimum (a precaution against bear attacks) and the notoriously scarce parking, and so planned an early pre-dawn start from our Mosquito Creek camp. Among the first to arrive at the trailhead the following morning, we quickly paired up with 2 separate parties of 2 and started up the Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass Trail. From the pass, we continued on the trail leading up Temple’s broad Southwest Ridge. The going was fairly easy, except that we traversed too far across the South Face, only to scramble up through a gully weakness in a minor cliff band before being able to traverse back left on a bench towards the crest of the SW Ridge proper. We took a more direct line through this area on descent and encountered a slightly more difficult step (4th/low-5th). Pick your poison.

With the cliff difficulties now behind us, we enjoyed some fun scrambling up a series of steps on the beautiful yellow limestone of the SW Ridge. An easier bypass exists below and right, but probably isn’t all that interesting. The trail resumes above these steps and continues up through the rubble (and on this particular day – fresh snow) on a broad slope left of the crest. A final stroll along the crest proper leads to the summit. Agata and I were the first up on top and together with one of the twosome’s from earlier enjoyed a few minutes of quiet before the hoards finally caught up with us. As one of the tallest peaks in the Canadian Rockies, the view from the top of Temple is outstanding! I managed to snap off a few panoramas before the clouds, which seemed to come from nowhere, engulfed the summit area. Soon we were cold and decided to start back down. As expected, the Moraine Lake parking area was a complete gong show and so we stuck around long enough to down a beer before leaving.

Dinner at Peyto’s again and then back to Mosquito Creek for libations by the campfire followed by some well-deserved sleep. With nasty blisters to nurse, Agata decided to lay low the next day and left me to jog up to the so-called Plain of Six Glaciers by myself. That’s not to suggest that I would have the hike all to myself. Au contraire! Nevertheless, it was interesting to see Mount Victoria up close, not to mention the Abbot Pass Hut perched there at the col between Mount Victoria and Mount Lefroy. There are also a couple “Tea Houses” along the trail which serve warm food and probably drinks and reminded me a bit of the rifugi found all over the Dolomites. I could really have gone for some polenta al sugo di funghi e salsiccia and a cold Forst, but the place was packed and Agata would never forgive me had I indulged without her! Next time…and I insist that we throw in a climb of Mount Victoria while we’re at it!

Miscellaneous photos from various points along the way:





Southwest Ridge scramble:





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