Trip: Bear’s Breast + Summit Chief - SE Face on Bear’s Breast; E to W ridge traverse on Summit Chief Trip Date: 09/01/2022 Trip Report:
On Thursday I climbed the slab on SE face of Bear’s Breast (BB). From a bivy at Shovel creek, the next day I hiked to Chief creek and followed it to a lake below Summit Chief (SC), climbed the east side of the massif, traversed the ridge to the summit, descended south back to the lake, then went back down Chief creek to trails leading eventually back to the car. This involved tons of hiking but the mega slab on BB was really fun and the process of discovery made the SC excursion especially rewarding.
Early Thursday morning I had driven an hour in the direction of the N cascades before I remembered to check the forecast one last time. I didn’t like what I saw. I had somewhat bold plans for 3 days in the Eldorado area. It seemed like a fair bit of smoke was forecast. The area’s main draw for me is the view, so I shelved that plan for another day. The smoke forecast looked clearer further south so I turned around and headed that way.
Jason’s mega slab TR came to mind. I took screen shots of his unusually detailed beta before leaving service. Neighboring SC was also in the back of my mind. I didn’t know anything about it, but was pretty sure it had a scramble route.
To make up for the comically long drive I did a mix of fast walking and slow jogging on the trail to Waptus lake, reaching it in 2.5 hours. I kept going until I found the Shovel creek campsite. I put my harness on to save space in my tiny summit sack and headed to the wall, reaching it about 4.5 hours from the car.
I got water at the base, but partly due to the tiny pack I deluded myself into thinking 2L water would be enough for the climb. I would have probably run out even if it took 3L. It was a hot day and the route was in full sun. And the climbing, though easy, was pretty physical. The movement was close enough to hiking that I would invariably go too fast and have to stop to catch my breath.
I found mostly class 4 (felt like 3 as long as you didn’t look down) and felt like I had to go out of my way to find low 5th bits, which I did seek out. High up on the face I found a repeating pattern of perfect horizontal foot/hand rails that I used to traverse right, trying to find a little shade. I eventually reached a crest and continued on to its apex, but cliffed out there. I backtracked a little and downclimbed suspect choss to the west side of the ridge, finding a gravelly path leading to the notch by the summit block. I was bonking pretty badly at this point and still hadn’t realized that I was becoming massively dehydrated.
I put my rock shoes on at the the notch N of the summit block. I found the climbing just barely difficult enough to justify bringing these, my harness, and some rap cord this far. The chimney pitch might be cruxy if you’re a wide person. I’m pretty slim and I managed to wedge my torso quite snugly.
The summit views weren’t great. It was hazy enough that I couldn’t make out much of the Chimney rock area. To the east I saw a landscape comprised mainly of dirt.
On the descent I climbed down past the first rap to the station above the chimney pitch. It took me forever to set up my rap due to my growing exhaustion. After the rap I downclimbed exposed ledges to the skier’s left of where I began the climb. Back at the notch I had no choice but to sit and rest for a while despite noticing that I was beginning to fall behind schedule.
The snow was firm coming down the E side of the mountain, so I used my axe. Crampons would have been nice but they didn’t fit in my tiny summit sack. At the first seeps I found I took another long rest and began guzzling water. As I drank and drank I finally realized how dehydrated I was. A few liters later I started to come back to life and picked up the pace. The scrambling on this side had pleasant solid slabs and ledges. I was racing the fading light. The darkness won but by the time I had resort to headlamp I had less than 200 feet to descend to reach Shovel lake. I did a bit of controlled veggie assisted sliding down the final slope, stumbling out at the exact spot where a single big river shoe sat.
Descending Shovel creek in the dark turned out to be nontrivial. It wasn’t terrible but there was a little bit of everything, from dry log jams to bushes to gravel bars to boulder fields. The highlight was running into a small patch of berries that I wasn’t familiar with. Seemed to be delicious small red salmon berries, cap-like, almost as thin as thimble berries.
I reached my bivy near 10pm, about 13 hours after leaving the car. It was a longer and more difficult day than I anticipated. I tried to eat and continue rehydrating. I slept poorly and felt physically and mentally sluggish the next morning. I considered hiking back early, or the grim prospect of relaxing by Waptus lake for a couple hours
Instead I adopted a low commitment mindset to exploring for a way to Summit Chief. I crossed Waptus river and hiked to the junction with the DMG trail. Maybe I could take up the hill for while, and then traverse west at around 3600’. I’ll probably never know how that works because I was enticed by Chief creek. When I reached it I saw that it was perfect for rock hopping. Given the hour and the unknown, a summit seemed unlikely, so I decided to just go up the creek for fun and see what happened. It felt good to explore with this low commitment mindset, but it also weighed heavily on my mind that every step forward was a step further from pizza.
I used some dry open ground to the left of the creek but mostly hopped rocks for 15 minutes until I reached a waterfall. I bypassed it with a bushwhack up to the side then rejoined the creek. More waterfalls followed. One bypass on the S side took me high above the creek and I went for a while through the forest there, trying to find the driest ground I could. I may have crossed the creek once or twice more, I’m already forgetting. At one point on the S side of the creek I realized I was entering a mile long stretch of impenetrable alder, but saw mature forest on the N side, so fought my way down to the creek and crossed again.
There is another creek running S and E from a 5200’ knoll down to Chief creek. After crossing this I gradually moved several hundred feet uphill from Chief creek with relatively reasonable shwacking. This path reached a drainage leading N into the alpine. The huckleberries were out of control here. I contoured around another knoll and reached a beautiful unnamed lake SE of SC only 3 hours after I started up river.
From there I saw appealing rock on the east side of the mountain and took high quality white ledgey slabs adjacent to a water course. I reached a shoulder and found that the nice slabs continued up a broad, barely convex gully-face. I rapidly ascended from the lake to near the top of this face.
The wide face was narrowing to a point and the rock transitioned to blocky choss. The large blocks formed a fun hand crack system that I climbed at 5.5ish for around 40 feet to the first false summit. The false summit wasn’t too surprising given the topo, but I failed to notice how far away the true summit was. I kept expecting the next tower or blob to the west to be the summit. I was fooled about 3 times before I got a view of the real summit, still quite a ways off with several more notches in between. I began to feel concerned about my exit strategy should I encounter a gap too steep to climb. I could downclimb the way I came, but it would be more time consuming and mentally taxing than I would like.
Continuing on I did one short low 5th downclimb on the S side to get around a small tower. I was able to traverse on dirty but sufficiently wide and flat ledges on the N side to bypass a couple more bumps nearing the summit block. At the base of the real summit block I took a ~5.0 left trending ramp to top out. The ridge traverse had been an exciting and interesting way to go, with some pretty fun climbing. I’m really glad it worked out the way it did. I think it took about a half hour from the false summit.
The day was much clearer than the day prior, so I enjoyed the summit views more than the last one. I could see that descending S looked pretty smooth. Going that way I reached more great slabs which led to snow. Even in the warm sun it was firm enough that I had to find a low angle entry (didn’t bring traction on this day) to keep it safe. I glissaded with sharp rocks for brakes then kept down climbing fun ledgy slabs. I gradually trended skiers left to meet my ascent path near the bottom.
I gorged myself on more huckleberries past the lovely lake and found minor improvements to my path traversing slopes above Chief creek. At the creek’s junction with another creek, I found that I could keep my bypasses to the S shorter and nearer the creek, and did more rock hopping between waterfalls than I had on the way up. This was probably a little slower than traversing in the forest but it was downright delightful. I reached my overnight pack 9.5 hours after I left it where DMG trail crosses Chief creek. I was very happy with the way the river travel turned out, with all the nice solid rock, with ‘onsighting’ a ridge I knew nothing of, and all those berries. It was a strange contrast to the day before, which felt a little like the mountain was working against me. This day it felt like the mountain gave way, continually drawing me upward with a steady rhythm of dissolving riddles.
There was the small matter of being I don’t know, 14 miles or so (? I didn’t record it) from the car. I packed up and hiked to Waptus lake. Had a short swim at dusk then marched on through the night. I passed many tents but shared the trail only with nocturnal insects, toads of unusual size, and ridiculous amounts of horse shit.
Autopilot worked well until about 2 miles from the car, when I started to get drunk legs. I finally arrived at the car a little before midnight for a 15.5 hour day.
If anyone has been up Chief creek or traversed the SC ridge I’d be curious to know how you liked it. I rarely set off exploring with no beta. I found it very engaging and rewarding to do so. Easy to say, but I think it was mostly just good fortune that Chief creek ended up being relatively sane and that I wasn’t forced by terrain to settle for some sub-summit on SC.
Axe, rock shoes, rap for BB (crampons would be useful) Approach shoes for SC. Traction for snow is useful but didn’t seem mandatory. Approach Notes:
Follow the creek . . . ?