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[TR] Damnation Peak- A Southern Gully then the South Ridge 3/1/2004

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Climb: Damnation Peak - A Southern Gully then the South Ridge


Date of Climb: 3/1/2004


Trip Report:

We were damned. Tony Tsuboi (Toast) and I were damned to climb in the North Cascades today. What did we climb? Why Damnation Peak of course. Why Damnation? If the name alone is not a good enough reason, then to get a nice view of Mt. Triumph from the area (Damnation is 3 miles southwest of Triumph).


Some facts for Damnation Peak:

Height: 5,635 ft

Prominence: 715 ft

Has a USGS Quad named after it even though it isn't the highest peak in the general area (and nowhere near the highest on its namesake quad).

Drainages: Damnation Creek on the south, Triumph Creek on the north.


Tony agreed to join me on a climb of either Trappers Peak or Damnation, both of which provide nice close views of Triumph. The trailheads for both of these use the same approach road (the road to Thornton Lakes Trail), so if one wasn't accessible, the other could be done. Well, about 2.2 miles from the highway (c. 1,500 ft) there is a sizable blowdown blocking the road. Right away, this ruled out a climb of Trappers, and Damnation would now require an extra 1.5 miles of logging road walking to get to its normal start at 2,245 ft. As it turns out, the road was snowed over about 0.7 miles from the blowdown so it was no big deal.


In half-an-hour we made up the distance to the old overgrown road that junctions off of the Thornton Lakes Road. As soon as the snow started, we noticed many snowshoe tracks (plus some odd animal tracks we thought could be a cougar's but were probably some dog's). The snowshoe tracks went up the old road too. To my surprise, the overgrown road was not so bad despite the impressions Stefan had left me with concerning it. The old road turns north around the mountain and parallels the east side of Damnation Creek, whereupon it ends at about 3,200 ft closely south of the rising bulk of Damnation. On the approach, an outstanding view of the cliffy east side of Oakes Peak can be had. Some nice winter alpine routes on that side of Oakes.


We kept following the tracks up the old road. With my camera's zoom lens, I could see tracks high on the South Ridge of Damnation. As I kind of expected, the snowshoers from the weekend had themselves gone up Damnation. Though this took away from the pristine feel of the outing, it would nonetheless be nice to have a track to follow all the way up. Makes routefinding easier. Plus, with the steepness now becoming apparent for the lower half of the peak, the snowshoe steps would be really nice to have. It would save us a lot of energy.


After crossing the creek, we snowshoed in the tracks into a 40-degree gully. The weekend's party had glissaded it. It was beginning to be a leisurely outing and, being ahead of schedule due to the better than expected condition of the overgrown road, I began entertaining the idea of additionally running the ridge 0.8 miles northwestward from Damnation to another summit called Salvation Peak (5,560+ ft). It would feel good to be absolved shortly after being damned. However, dark clouds were forming to the south. Was it going to rain? We hoped not.


All leisure soon ceased, as the tracks we were following suddenly vanished in glissade tracks. Good God Almighty, Class-4 snowshoeing! What are we doing in this gully? Arrrggh! (I want to give a well-deserved thanks to Tony here for making mostly nice steps in the firm snow with his MSRs. My Too Ungodly Big Blundering Snowshoes were not cutting it. Yes sir, I was at the limit of my climbing abilities in those snowshoes. After a bit of sketch, we finally relocated the track then shortly took the snowshoes off to do some pseudo-ice climbing (without proper equipment, of course). Beyond that, we made it up to the 5,200-ft false summit with minimal problems. The snow was staying hard, which meant snowshoes were not necessary. We also enjoyed our first fanstastic views of Mt. Triumph basking in a small pocket of sunshine. The skies were otherwise cloudy. Further, it started to snow very lightly (the snow looked like little white insects flitting around). Fortunately, the weather did not bug us beyond that, although the lack of sunshine had cooled the air to a few degrees below perfection.


We ditched our packs at the false summit and quickly booted it up to the main summit. With our four poles, I then erected a tripod (quadpod really) for my camera in order to take a group photo. Additionally, we waited at the summit for about 20 minutes while a light snowshower drifted off of Triumph and Despair so I could get some better photos of them. Meanwhile, Mt. Blum and Bacon Peak were cool looking from this angle. The former reminded me of a Canadian Rockies peak; the latter looked like a worn down volcano with vast open slopes. Both these peaks are on my tick list. Oakes was quite a sight too. To the southeast, Teebone Ridge looked real nice for skiing (if you could get to it). There weren't many other views due to the many upper-level snowshowers idling about. There was no wind, so the snowshowers were not in a hurry to drift off and thus provide me my desired photo subjects.


Time up = 4 hours, 45 minutes. Distance = 3.5 miles + 1.5 miles of extra logging road walking. Gain (from car at blow down) = 5,635 ft - 1,500 ft + 100 ft in and out of creek + 100 ft miscellaneous = 4,300 ft.


On the way down, we avoided the pseudo-ice climbing section by glissading from the top of the gully. The top of the gully was about 50 degrees, quickly reducing to 40 degrees in the middle. It was one of the more difficult glissades I have done due to the firm (almost icy) snow and my super-slick nylon pants. Man, I really had to dig that ice-axe in to slow myself down. However, I was able to stay in control all the way down to the creek, which we got back to in less than an hour from the summit. In another two hours we were back to the car. Total roundtrip time = 8 hours.


Epilogue: A "comic observation" made while driving home. While on the summit waiting for the photography potential to improve, we killed time by discussing Mel Gibson's new movie "The Passion of the Christ." Tony related to me a story of when he went to see Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ" in 1988. Outside the theater, overly religious Christians exclaimed to him that he would burn in Hell if he saw that movie (even though they hadn't seen the movie so how would they know). Well, Tony said he thought the movie paid a respectful tribute to God, something counter to the zealot's claims. At any rate, it struck me while driving home that we had had this discussion about burning in Hell while standing on a summit called "Damnation Peak." Humorous coincidence.


Gear Notes for winter:

Snowshoes, trekking poles

Ice-axe, maybe lightweight crampons.


Approach Notes:

North Cascades Highway past Marblemount to road to Thornton Lakes Trailhead. Take it 3.7 miles to major switchback at 2,245 ft (0.5 miles beyond crossing of Sky Creek). At switchback, take an overgrown logging road for about 2 miles to get to the base of the peak. It's then another mile and 2,400 ft of climbing to the summit.

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...To my surprise, the overgrown road was not so bad despite the impressions Stefan had left me with concerning it...


You must have a higher level of tolerance for brush than me!

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I think what was "higher" was the snowpack on the road. Though there were some bare spots where we "dry tooled it" with our snowshoes, for the most part there must have been at leat three-feet of snow on the road (more the farther you went in). As is typical, there was snow on the road but the adjacent underforest was almost snowfree. If you did the climb in no-snow conditions (i.e., summer), then I can see how there would be more brush to contend with on that road. There was one trio of huge blowdowns across the road at about halfway that were bothersome, but other than that, twas easy to maintain a good pace.


I'll post a few representative photos of the climb tomorrow.


In my mind, Damnation is a totally worthy snowshoe destination with foudroyant views to offer from the rocky summit. On the other hand, I wouldn't recommend it as a ski tour because of the approach road. You'd have a good 2,500-ft run on the SE side of the peak, but it would be tree skiing, not so much open bowl stuff.

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We did not hit snow until the very end of the road when we did it--when you leave the road to do Damnation. I also remember we did some other peak 400' prominent peak near Damnation....

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Never knew there was a logging spur up towards there. If I had known that, It might not have been one of those peaks in the Beckey guide that were filed under "Not to do". Thanks for the enlightenment and glad you had a good time. Triumph in winter must have been a sight.

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Thought I would add a current post to this thread... The winter drought took us to Damnation yesterday and we found it quite enjoyable in a wet, cold, dreary, brushy kinda way. The old spur road is pretty open for maybe half its distance, then tolerably clogged, the last half-mile or so being the worst. Left the road near its end, crossed the creek easily (easier crossings farther upstream) and headed up the obvious fan and gully SSE of the summit. Passed an easy third class step, then at steeper rock above angled left in a smaller gully branch to the ridge crest where we encountered the first continuous snow (about 4,500 feet). Strapped on the shoes here. The route over the false summit and up is obvious as noted by others. A short scramble at the top led to those wishful views not to be had. Only 2 or 3 feet of snow near the summit.


For variety, we mostly glissaded the NE ridge to the saddle, then down easier terrain about 1,000 feet before angling right to eventually intercept the creek maybe half-mile above the road end. Valley travel here was easy, as was the descent in forest (some brushy places). About five hours up and not quite three and half down. A good off-season trek--if avalanche hazard is low.

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