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  1. Trip: Ptarmigan Traverse FKT - Date: 8/16/2012 Trip Report: Uli Steidl and I completed the Ptarmigan Traverse in 12:17, a new FKT (fastest known time). It has been three years since I last enjoyed the Ptarmigan Traverse so it was time to come back to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the Cascades and refresh the prior FKT, which was set by Colin Abercrombie and me on July 28, 2009 (14:36) . This time I was joined by distance running legend Uli Steidl who has innumerable running victories and accolades to his name from road marathons to mountain running to ultras. Conditions were very similar to 2009 with nearly identical weather (hottest days of the summer). Prior to this run I figured somewhere in the 12 hour range was possible and we were able to hit that target finishing the traverse in 12:17. We started at the Cascade Pass trailhead at 4:49 am and finished at Downey Creek Bridge at 5:06 pm. Overall, the 2 hr, 19 min improvement from the 2009 time was due to a consistently faster effort throughout the traverse (see comparison below). I attribute this to more route experience and dialing in on nutrition and hydration, which helped keep energy levels high especially in the second half of the traverse. Bachlor Creek was as lovely (brushy) as ever although we avoided making any time consuming errors in the brush and the Downey Creek Trail felt as long as I had remembered. The 8.5 mile jog along the Suiattle River Road seemed especially needless because there were five forest service vehicles parked at the Downey Creek Bridge. In fact, the closed portion of the road is in better shape than the open part! It seemed like they were prepping the road, perhaps for opening? [video:youtube] Comparison: 2012 vs. 2009 vs. 2008 (difference 2012 to 2009) Cascade Pass TH (3,600 ft) : 0 / 0 / 0 Cascade Pass (5,392 ft) : 43 / 48 / 55 (- 5) Cache Col (6,920 ft) : 1:39 / 1:50 / 2:13 (- 11) Spider-Formidable Col (7,320 ft+) : 3:26 / 3:40 / 5:00 (- 14) Yang Yang Lakes (5,830 ft) : 4:10 / 4:26 / 6:20 (- 16) White Rock Lakes (6,194 ft) : 6:25 / 7:11 / 9:51 (- 46) Spire Col (7,760 ft+) : 7:52 / 8:54 / 11:55 (- 1:02) Cub Pass (6,000 ft+) : 8:55 / 10:16 / 13:42 (- 1:21) Bottom of Bachelor Creek (2,440 ft) : 10:51 / 12:48 / 16:30 (- 1:57) Downey Creek TH (1,415 ft) : 12:17 / 14:36 / 18:10 (- 2:19) Location (Elevation): Time Elapsed / Split / Real Time Cascade Pass TH (3,600 ft) : 0 / 0 / 04:49 Cascade Pass (5,392 ft) : 43:10 / 43:10 / 05:32 Cache Col (6,920 ft) : 1:38:34 / 55:24 / 06:27 Spider-Formidable Col (7,320 ft+) : 3:25:37 / 1:47:02 / 08:14 Yang Yang Lakes (5,830 ft) : 4:10:17 / 44:40 / 08:59 White Rock Lakes (6,194 ft) : 6:24:54 / 2:14:36 / 11:14 Spire Col (7,760 ft+) : 7:52:01 / 1:27:07 / 12:41 Cub Pass (6,000 ft+) : 8:54:49 / 1:02:47 / 13:44 Bottom of Bachelor Creek (2,440 ft) : 10:51:23 / 1:56:34 / 15:40 Downey Creek TH (1,415 ft) : 12:17:15 / 1:25:51 / 17:06 Gear Notes: Axe and crampons Footwear: La Sportiva Nutrition: First Endurance EFS and Ultragen, energy bars Approach Notes: Typical Bachelor Creek brush
  2. Trip: Ptarmigan Traverse FKT - Fastest Known Time Date: 7/28/2009 Trip Report: Colin Abercrombie and I completed the Ptarmigan Traverse in 14:36 from the Cascade Pass parking lot to the Downey Creek trailhead, a new FKT (fastest known time). In 2008, Colin and I did the traverse in 18:10 so we were extremely happy to do it 3 hours and 34 minutes faster this time.The prior FKT was by Joe Stock and Andrew Wexler, who completed the traverse in 15:40 on September 4, 2004 (or 2001? Or 2002?). Since the upper part of Cascade River Road was closed for repairs due to a washout from severe thunderstorms we got an extra warm-up period and set out from Eldorado TH at 3 am reaching Cascade Pass TH in 55 minutes (the road should be repaired by now). We started the watches at 3:55 am at Cascade Pass TH and reached the Suiattle River Road at 6:31 pm. A big concern was the potential for extreme heat along the traverse and descent through Bachelor Creek. Fortunately, there was a cool breeze on all of the glaciers and cumulus clouds provided some shade as we descended Bachelor and Downey Creeks. [video:youtube] Alternatively, you can watch the movie on Vimeo (faster stream). Location (Elevation): Time Elapsed / Split / Real Time Cascade Pass TH (3,600 ft) : 0 / 0 / 03:55 Cascade Pass (5,392 ft) : 47:47 / 47:47 / 04:43 Cache Col (6,920 ft) : 1:50:18 / 1:02:31 / 05:45 Spider-Formidable Col (7,320 ft+) : 3:39:54 / 1:49:35 / 07:35 Yang Yang Lakes (5,830 ft) : 4:26:06 / 46:12 / 08:21 LeConte-Sentinel Saddle (7,200 ft+) : 6:10:46 / 1:44:40 / 10:06 White Rock Lakes (6,194 ft) : 7:11:00 / 1:00:14 / 11:06 Spire Col (7,760 ft+) : 8:54:06 / 1:43:05 / 12:49 Cub Pass (6,000 ft+) : 10:15:47 / 1:21:40 / 14:11 Bottom of Bachelor Creek (2,440 ft) : 12:48:15 / 2:32:28 / 16:43 Downey Creek TH (1,415 ft) : 14:36:10 / 1:48:00 / 18:31 Comparison: 2009 vs. 2008 (difference) Cascade Pass TH (3,600 ft) : 0 / 0 Cascade Pass (5,392 ft) : 48 / 55 (- 7) Cache Col (6,920 ft) : 1:50 / 2:13 (- 23) Spider-Formidable Col (7,320 ft+) : 3:40 / 5:00 (- 1:20) Yang Yang Lakes (5,830 ft) : 4:26 / 6:20 (- 1:54) White Rock Lakes (6,194 ft) : 7:11 / 9:51 (- 2:40) Spire Col (7,760 ft+) : 8:54 / 11:55 (- 3:01) Cub Pass (6,000 ft+) : 10:16 / 13:42 (- 3:26) Bottom of Bachelor Creek (2,440 ft) : 12:48 / 16:30 (- 3:42) Downey Creek TH (1,415 ft) : 14:36 / 18:10 (- 3:34) Several factors contributed to the faster time this year. First, we had even more experience on the traverse allowing us to take the most efficient route and avoiding time and energy consuming errors we made last year on the way to Kool Aide Lake and the Middle Cascade Glacier (stay climbers left of the center of the glacier to avoid large crevasses). Second, we were more consistent with our pacing and took shorter breaks. Third, we significantly improved our “transitions,” which is the time it takes to put crampons on and off – there were at least a half dozen transitions along the traverse. The glaciers are still in good shape with few crevasses. However, despite being 2.5 weeks earlier than our trip last summer, they have noticeably less snow and more ice revealed. This hot and dry summer is taking its toll and glacier travel will become more circuitous soon. Bachelor Creek seems to deteriorate a bit more every time we pass through. The heavy rains from the thunderstorms along with the high humidity appear to have generated explosive growth of the brush in the last week. We battled a bit with the brush, but fortunately it’s a relatively short section. Unfortunately, the Downey Creek trail has also deteriorated with many new blowdowns and obstructions over the trail making that section a bit slower than last year. It seems like the Downey Creek trail goes on forever and we were happy to finally reach the Downey Creek bridge and immediately put our legs in the cool waters of the stream. We didn’t relish the 8.5 mile walk along the road, but it went by pretty fast and we reached the car before dark at 9:15 pm. Many more great photos of the traverse can be found on last year's TR. As usual, Colin was a great partner for this undertaking. We both had the route dialed in and shared the same goals and objectives. Colin would also like to note that in addition to covering the Ptarmigan in a new FKT, he also set the record for least calories consumed on the Traverse and the greatest caloric deficit at the end of the Ptarmigan Gear Notes: Axe, Crampons, Trail Runners, SaltStick, ShotBloks Approach Notes: Road was gated at Eldorado TH due to a washout from the severe thunderstroms. It was slated to be opened on Wednesday morning, but we went ahead with our plans to do the traverse on Tuesday and walked the road to the start. Bachelor Creek is very brushy and Downey Creek has additional blowdowns and impediments this year.
  3. Climb: Challenger, Luna, Whatcom-Northern Pickets Hannegan to Ross Lake Date of Climb: 7/28/2005 Trip Report: Short Story: Started at Hannegan Pass Sunday night and ended at Big Beaver Landing Ross Lake Thursday afternoon, basically crossing the park. We entered the Pickets via climbing Whatcom Peak. We climbed Challenger/Luna and traversed the Luna Cirque. Amazing scenery and adventure! See more pictures in my gallery here Long Story: The partnership of last weeks Eldorado Ice Cap trip continued into the Northern Pickets. The car shuttle took awhile to set-up, but in retrospect I think it was worth it. After we finished work on Sunday, we set out finally arriving at the Hannegan trailhead at 10 pm. We made it to Hannegan Pass under a beautiful star-filled sky with headlamps at 11:30 pm. Day 1: An early wake up to climb Hannegan Peak for some views. It was nice with a great display of wildflowers up there. We got back to camp and were off down to the Chilliwack River at 8 am. The trail here was great and nicely downhill so we made great time to the cable car. The cable car wasn’t really needed, but we did it anyways for fun. Brush Creek is aptly named right now as there is copious brush to deal with. A small section of washed out trail is easy to navigate through. Finally at Whatcom Pass, we continued up the steep trail to Tapto/Middle Lakes. We first surveyed Middle Lakes, but decided that Tapto fit the bill. A glorious afternoon of exploring around the lakes and alp slopes above concluded with a great sunset. Day 2: Sunrise provided awesome reflections in the lakes, but we knew we had a long day ahead so we packed up and left at 7:30 am. Whatcom Arm and Peak took longer than planned, but we finally made the summit and continued down the ridge to meet the snow. The snow patch from Whatcom to Perfect Pass was one spot that allowed for quick progress. From Perfect Pass down to the glacier, we had to downclimb some slabs that were manageable. Once on the Challenger Glacier, we made good progress once again traversing the Challenger Glacier with few crevasses on the route (although many gaping ones above and below) finally arriving at the eastern shoulder of the mountain. The walk from here to the summit block was straightforward with no bergshrund problem. The 40 foot rock block was a fun bit of rock climbing. From the summit, we made it to the rocks at the foot of the mountain in a half hour. It was nice to have sun here for another few hours to rest and dry things out. Day 3: Departing at 8:30 am. We traversed the eastern section of the Challenger Glacier and then entered Luna Cirque. At first the going was fast traversing heather and wildflower meadows with stupendous views all around. Then there were innumerable streams to cross, loose boulder fields, more loose boulder fields, mega-flies (with stinging bites) and then the mucky glacier above Lousy Lake, another aptly named feature. Refusing to descend all the way to Lousy, we found a reasonable route up a stream in the moraine which put us near Luna Lake. Luna Lake to Luna high pass was a fun route with boulder fields, granite slabs, heather, and finally snowfields, arriving at the pass just before 5 pm. Day 4: We knew Luna Peak was one objective we would wake up for. I got up at 4:45 and set out at 5 am. I reached the summit at 5:30 as the colors of the sky were advancing from the east. The next two hours on the summit of Luna seemed like they past in a flash - a truly amazing morning. I was happy to have cell phone reception at the summit to organize a boat pick up at Beaver Landing. Quick work back to our camp at Luna High pass, packing up, and we were off at 8:30 am. The traverse from Luna High pass to the gully heading down to Access Creek was awesome with wildflowers and the Southern Pickets always in sight. Once we descended the ridge, the grunt work began. We stopped at the head of the valley to fill up on water, but flies prevented us from resting too long. The bushwhacking thru groves of old-growth slide alder sucked, but I disliked the devils club further down even more. Big Beaver River was a pleasant sight to see and we didn’t even bother looking for a log, instead wading right thru to the other side. Laying on the trail on the other side, we were immediately covered by a swarm of flies. The hand I was using to swat the flies was covered in flies! Suffice to say, we were outta there! The walk down the Big Beaver Trail went by really fast despite the blisters on the bottom of my feet. We made it to the boat dock at 4:15 pm with plenty of time to chill for the water taxi that arrived at 6 pm. The Northern Pickets were a great adventure. It seems like the mountains first want to try and keep you out, and once you’re in, they make it hard to get out! It’s basically impossible to accurately describe the highs and lows of the Northern Pickets, but I think the highs definitely win out once you can start to reflect on the boat dock at Ross Lake! My partner for this trip was totally awesome. While our judgment and skills were tested in the beginning, we prevailed resulting in a stronger partnership and friendship. See more picture in my gallery here Gear Notes: Glaicer gear, a couple quickdraws and slings for short section of rock on Challenger. Shoulda had Jungle Juice. Approach Notes: Trail to Brush creek intersection great. Brush creek brushy (!). Big Beaver trail in good shape.
  4. 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. 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. Mount Formidable. The Middle Cascade Glacier icefall. Sunrise over Formidable. 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. Buckindy Region 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. 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. Flat Creek Basin Old Guard and Sentinel 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. South Cascade Glacier Lizard Pass. Gorgeous White Rock Lakes. Dana Glacier Re-energized, we made great time up to Spire Col on the Dana Glacier, which was also in great shape. Sweet contrast. Taking the third gully on skier’s right from the col, we made it down to Itswoot Ridge fast. The classic view of Dome Peak 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. 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.
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