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off_the_hook

best of cc.com [TR] Ptarmigan Speed Traverse - 8/14/2008

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Trip: Ptarmigan Speed Traverse

 

Date: 8/14/2008

 

Trip Report:

Colin Abercrombie and I completed the Ptarmigan Traverse in 18:10 from the Cascade Pass parking lot to the Downey Creek trailhead. We set out at 2:05 am and reached the Suiattle River Road at 8:15 pm. The weather was perfect and the glaciers were in great shape. We did the Ptarmigan in 2004 which was very helpful for routefinding purposes.

 

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Location (Elevation): Time Elapsed / Split / Real Time

Cascade Pass TH (3,600 ft) : 0 / 0 / 02:05

Cascade Pass (5,392 ft) : 55:03 / 55:03 / 03:00

Cache Col (6,920 ft) : 2:13:13 / 1:18:09 / 04:18

Spider-Formidable Col (7,320 ft+) : 4:59:33 / 2:46:19 / 07:05

Yang Yang Lakes (5,830 ft) : 6:20:09 / 1:20:36 / 08:25

White Rock Lakes (6,194 ft) : 9:50:45 / 3:30:35 / 11:56

Spire Col (7,760 ft+) : 11:54:44 / 2:03:59 / 14:00

Cub Pass (6,000 ft+) : 13:41:32 / 1:46:48 / 15:47

Bottom of Bachelor Creek (2,440 ft) : 16:29:45 / 2:48:12 / 18:35

Downey Creek TH (1,415 ft) : 18:09:36 / 1:39:50 / 20:15

 

[Car at Milepost 12.5: 20:48:24 / 2:38:48 / 22:54]

 

After doing the car shuttle Wednesday afternoon and evening, we rested at the Cascade Pass parking lot. At about 1 am we were awoken by icefall from the hanging glaciers on Johannesburg. The thunderous noise persisted for over 5 minutes. We set off at 2:05 am and after 55 minutes of walking and jogging we were at Cascade Pass. We continued up Mix-up arm and then ascended to Cache Col arriving while it was still dark at 4:18 am. On the descent towards Kool Aid Lakes we descended a little too low instead of traversing boulder fields. Once we realized the mistake we began an ascending traverse meeting up with the route heading towards the Red Ledge. The Red Ledge was straightforward with no moat issues yet. Once we rounded the corner, we saw the magnificent icefall of the Middle Cascade Glacier as the sun was rising.

 

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Mount Formidable.

 

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The Middle Cascade Glacier icefall.

 

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Sunrise over Formidable.

 

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On the ascent to Spider-Formidable col, we had to make a small backtrack due an open bergshrund spanning from rock walls to the right to the center of the glacier. Ascending left of center was straightforward and we were at Spider-Formidable col in under 5 hours from the start.

 

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Buckindy Region

 

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The steep snow from Spider-Formidable col was quite hard in the early morning and we downclimbed for a couple hundred feet before beginning a fast traverse down to mosquito infested Yang Yang Lakes (the only spot we encountered any mosquitoes). At Yang Yang we were met by a couple climbers who had fallen very ill and could not complete the traverse. We took their contact information and passed on their desire to be rescued to the rangers and sheriff’s office.

 

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A quick ascent up to the saddle north of Le Conte Mountain brought us to the awesome traverse over to the Le Conte Glacier with up close views of glacial ice hanging over the rock buttresses and the wild Flat Creek basin.

 

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Flat Creek Basin

 

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Old Guard and Sentinel

 

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At Sentinel Saddle we met Cascade Climbers JoshK and Ivan who were doing a south to north traverse. We chatted for a few minutes and then I continued the walk to Lizard Pass which was amazing with views in every direction. We took a break at the spectacular White Rock Lakes for photography and refueling.

 

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South Cascade Glacier

 

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Lizard Pass.

 

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Gorgeous White Rock Lakes.

 

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Dana Glacier

 

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Re-energized, we made great time up to Spire Col on the Dana Glacier, which was also in great shape.

 

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Sweet contrast.

 

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Taking the third gully on skier’s right from the col, we made it down to Itswoot Ridge fast.

 

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The classic view of Dome Peak

 

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Dakobed and Glacier Peak

 

Traversing the basin down to Cub Lakes took longer then expected and the short but steep climb up to Cub Pass in the 90 degree heat was physically taxing. We thought gravity would take us down Bachelor Creek, not so fast! The upper part of Bachelor Creek is actually in decent shape and you can reasonably follow the path through the slide area. The most difficult section was the lower Bachelor Creek where thick brush made travel very slow. The brush, consisting of salmonberry, slide alder, and a sprinkling of nettles, has gotten thicker since our last visit and affecting a greater length of trail. We finally reached Downey Creek and knew the Suiattle River was not far. After a break, we jogged the final 6.5 miles, arriving at the Downey Creek trailhead at 8:15 pm.

 

We were not looking forward to the extra 8.5 miles of road walking due to the washouts at MP 12.5 and 13, but the road is flat and it goes by fast. Once we started walking we were able to reach the car in less than 2.5 hours, arriving at 10:54 pm.

 

Four summers ago after spending 4 nights on the Ptarmigan we would have never thought to do it in a single push, let alone 18 hours. In discussing this trip, we had hoped to go under 20 hours, but knew it could run longer a la Mount Fury last week. We were able to exceed expectations on the traverse portion, and despite Bachelor Creek taking longer than expected, a steady, consistent effort throughout the trip allowed us to make great time. Knowing the route and the smooth conditions on the glaciers were helpful. We left just enough energy to navigate brush-choked Bachelor Creek.

 

The Ptarmigan is a classic traverse for good reason - the terrain and scenery are amazing! To traverse all of it in less than one day was very rewarding.

 

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Gear Notes:

axe, crampons, sunscreen

 

Approach Notes:

A few snow patches left on the traverse to Cache Glacier.

 

Stay left of center on Middle Cascade Glacier unless you want to jump an opening bergshrund.

 

The brush on lower Bachelor Creek is indeed getting worse.

 

The 8.5 mile walk on the Suiattle River Road is flat, easy, and fast. It is possible to drive around the washouts but it is dicey and definitely not suitable for larger vehicles unless you want to park in the Suiattle River.

Edited by off_the_hook

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I don't understand how you guys climb so fast while taking so many awesome pics.

 

:rawk:

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I think off just has a hi-def helmet-cam, from which he painstakingly pulls frames to tease us n00bs with.

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Glad to hear that you took a partner. That's good. Amazing that anyone can keep up with you after reading some of your other speed record accounts.

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Sweet pics, and nice hike!

 

Giving due credit to the original Ptarmigans, however, it's important to note that they actually climbed 10 peaks on the original traverse. Not to take anything away from your speed record, but I think that's where the meat of the trip lies. Did you guys climb anything, or was this just a hike?

 

 

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The philosophy for this trip was inspired by the Skoogs' one day ski of the Ptarmigan in June 1988.

 

From Alpenglow Ski History:

http://www.alpenglow.org/ski-history/notes/ms/lds-journal.html

 

p. 462: 1988, June 24, Ptarmigan Traverse, one-day ski crossing

With Carl Skoog. Starting at the end of the Cascade River road around 2 am, we climbed by headlamp to Cascade Pass, then cramponed to Cache Col. Descending to Kool Aid lake at dawn, we found shady frozen slopes, so we continued on crampons to Spider-Formidable col, where we switched to skis. We stopped for a late breakfast at Yang Yang Lakes (about 8:30 am) and continued to the Le Conte glacier. We stopped for lunch at White Rock Lakes (about 12:30 pm) and climbed tiredly to the col next to Spire Point (about 3 pm). No summit side trips were made on this trip. After a 45 minute rest, we traversed toward Spire Lake and dropped into Bachelor Creek where we removed skis. We struggled with the overgrown trail and finally reached the Suiattle River road around 11 pm.

 

From Outside Magazine:

http://outside.away.com/outside/magazine/200003/200003disp1.html

 

Lowell, on the other hand, may be the country's foremost long-and-far thinker, creating punishing single-day sojourns across some of the continent's most rugged terrain. Adapting psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's idea of flow, a state of optimal experience, Lowell invented his own "flow day" by linking separate routes into a single marathon. The Skoogs' first flow day became a legend: Twelve years ago they compressed the Ptarmigan Traverse, a classic multiday summer mountaineering route in Washington's Glacier Peak Wilderness, into a single 21-hour randonnée siege. "On a whirlwind traverse like that," says Carl, "the mountains don't get smaller, they get more connected. You feel how the range flows together and get this sense of a whole that's missing when you do multiple camps."

 

We definitely experienced the "flow" of the range on our trip. This was our purpose for the trip, not peakbagging, which we had already accomplished on our traverse in 2004 when we climbed many of the summits along the way. Having done it both ways, I can say that both philosophies yield incredibly rewarding results and I wouldn't give up either experience.

 

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I don't understand how you guys climb so fast while taking so many awesome pics.

 

:rawk:

exactly what I was thinkin' :tup:

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I don't understand how you guys climb so fast while taking so many awesome pics.

 

:rawk:

exactly what I was thinkin' :tup:

it's kinda hard to take bad pix on this traverse :)

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is this a sought after record?

i would imagine for a very small number of celerious mutants :P

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is this a sought after record?

i would imagine for a very small number of celerious mutants :P

 

MIDGETS1.jpg

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The Ptarmigan Traverse was first hiked in a day in the mid-1980s, I believe. I met one of the guys who did it, but I don't remember his name. I don't know how long they took.

 

Joe Stock and a friend named Andrew hiked the route in 15 hours, 40 minutes on September 4, 2004. Joe submitted a brief story about the trip to the 2005 NWMJ but we decided not to publish it. (I still have Joe's original story and I also have his address.) I don't know if other people have been trying to set speed records.

 

My brother Carl and I probably did the first one-day ski traverse in 1988. (Story here.) Our intention was just to ski the route in a day, so I don't know if we could have gone faster. I believe the route has been skied in a day several times since then.

 

When Carl and I skied the Ptarmigan in 1988 we did most of the trip in plastic mountaineering boots. I think walking the route in lightweight shoes would be faster and you wouldn't need to take ski gear. But skiing was what we wanted to do.

 

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great pictures, but as Ivan said it is hard to take bad ones on the traverse.

I just think anyone that just cares about speed records and records them to the second is a giant douche-bag.

Wilderness is sacred and can't be enjoyed in any "competitive" manner.

on a serious note, I would be more impressed if you drank a PBR every hour during trip.

 

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I just think anyone that just cares about speed records and records them to the second is a giant douche-bag.

 

I think people who use their first post to call someone a douchebag on their own TR must be pretty dickless.

 

Wilderness is sacred and can't be enjoyed in any "competitive" manner.

 

Thanks for letting us know what can or can't "be enjoyed." You should write a book. :wave:

 

Did you catch the melvins last July? I missed it :(

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i saw the melvins two weeks ago in denver, best melvins show i had ever seen. they are rockin w/yhere new bass player and second drummer. and i got to chat w/king b for awhile after the show and he definitely was not in a hurry.offtopic.gifheadbang.gif2.gif

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"Though we climbed no summits, I felt more satisfaction than on many climbs. Though we saw no new country, the country seemed new to me. I realized that hurrying through the mountains does not necessarily mean losing sensitivity to them. Rather it can be a way to embrace them more fully. It was an experience I would gladly repeat." --Flight of the Ptarmigan

 

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Way to go Leor, that is awesome work.

 

What kind of shoes did you wear? How about Colin?

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The Ptarmigan Traverse was first hiked in a day in the mid-1980s, I believe. I met one of the guys who did it, but I don't remember his name. I don't know how long they took.

 

Joe Stock and a friend named Andrew hiked the route in 15 hours, 40 minutes on September 4, 2004. Joe submitted a brief story about the trip to the 2005 NWMJ but we decided not to publish it. (I still have Joe's original story and I also have his address.) I don't know if other people have been trying to set speed records.

 

My brother Carl and I probably did the first one-day ski traverse in 1988. (Story here.) Our intention was just to ski the route in a day, so I don't know if we could have gone faster. I believe the route has been skied in a day several times since then.

 

When Carl and I skied the Ptarmigan in 1988 we did most of the trip in plastic mountaineering boots. I think walking the route in lightweight shoes would be faster and you wouldn't need to take ski gear. But skiing was what we wanted to do.

 

so then the assertion that this time is a "speed record" is incorrect?

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The assertion was incorrect and I tip my hat to Joe Stock. Sorry for the confusion. I removed mention of record when I found out about it.

 

I agree that it is hard to take bad photos on the Ptarmigan, but I also had 265 photos to select from!

 

Thanks Blake, we both used trail running shoes, although the only consistent running was on parts of the Cascade Pass Trail and the Downey Creek Trail.

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"At Yang Yang we were met by a couple climbers who had fallen very ill and could not complete the traverse. We took their contact information and passed on their desire to be rescued to the rangers and sheriff’s office."

 

I was camping up at Cache Col and ran into a party of four doing the traverse as an out and back. They said the sick climber had pneumonia and was rescued from Yang Yang lakes with two helicopters. Nice work saving his life.

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