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[TR] The Ptarmigan Traverse - North to South (with 4 summits) 8/25/2017

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Trip: The Ptarmigan Traverse - North to South (with 4 summits)


Date: 8/25/2017


Trip Report:

A few friends and I hiked the Ptarmigan Traverse over six days (August 25-30), and we were able to climb Old Guard, German Helmet, Spire Point, and Dome Peak along the way.


The first day to Kool Aid Lake was cloudy and windy; lots of traffic, of course, to Cascade Pass.




We hiked up the Cache Glacier, and the route to Cache Col was on easy snow right up to the col (we stayed right, whereas I've usually gone all the way left to the wall).




We slept in and waited until the clouds started to clear around Formidable.




Since Magic and Hurry-Up Peaks were engulfed in clouds, we elected to skip the climbs and head south.




The snow brought us easily into the moat, which we traversed a bit and then climbed dirty rock about 40' up to Red Ledge. Once we gained the ledge it was an easy trail across.




The clouds continued to melt away as we hiked, and after the second morning we had perfect skies until smoke rolled in a bit on the fifth day.




Here's Josh and the Middle Cascade Glacier under Formidable




Cool lighting as we ascend the Middle Cascade Glacier




Ascending the Middle Cascade Glacier; we elected to stay climber's left and do it unroped, and there were no snow bridges or noteworthy crevasses on this section.




Brennan crosses the top of the Middle Cascade Glacier with Johannesburg looming in the background




After a lunch stop we passed through Spider-Formidable Col; you can see Old Guard and Sentinel Peaks and the Le Conte Glacier (above Le Conte Lake) through the col




Two Italian climbers we had met at Kool Aid Lake told us that the snow on the south side of the col was very hard and steep, but by the time we descended it was plenty soft. It is steeper than it looks in the photo though.




We traversed around the basin underneath Formidable




And dropped down to lovely Yang Yang Lakes, where we jumped in and camped for the night. The water was not warm.




The next morning we located the shitty talus gully to bring us up under Le Conte (wear helmets, yikes!)




Heading toward Le Conte Mountain




Leo and Mt Formidable




We dropped down under Le Conte and headed toward the impressive Le Conte Glacier




More Le Conte cracks




There were several rock bands to cross toward the bottom, which I'd never seen on my previous trips through this area.P1011138.jpg



We finally roped up once past the last rock band, and there was a very icy section with some steep snow. Leo's crampon broke so we had an interesting improvisation with an axe and a whippet for about 50', but after that it was easy glacier travel up to the Sentinel saddle.




Looking far down toward Le Conte Lake; it really is that color




After lunch we headed up to climb Old Guard




It's a fun scramble with a bit of loose rock down low (the usual snow finger start was melted away)




There's a great view of Dome Peak from the summit of Old Guard




Here it is again




Brennan descends Old Guard, with the South Cascade Lake far below




We dropped through the Sentinel Saddle to find nice little tidepools of water in the rocks; then we traversed on easy snow for a few minutes. You can see the Spire Point ridge on the horizon, which is more impressive in black and white.




Then intermittent rock and snow for awhile




Josh crosses the top of the South Cascade Glacier toward Lizard Pass




Brennan and Leo checked out the giant stakes planted in the snow on the South Cascade




Then we had an annoying downclimb on very loose rock to White Rock Lakes. The view of Dome Peak from the Lakes is always unbelievable.




Tobiah improvises a jacket




These were the only goats we saw on the trip, although we did see tracks a few feet below the summit of Dome




Sunset on Gunsight




Leo welcomes the day. We built in a free day on Day 4, as I had always wanted to stay an extra night at White Rock Lakes. (I forgot to switch from the "sunset" filter mode on my camera so the next two photos feature some very red skin...)




Fortunately Brennan and Tobiah remembered to bring eclipse glasses so it was a great spot to watch the eclipse... for most of us.




Tobiah is making a pinhole with his fist here, and you can see the little crescent eclipse moons in the shadow.




After the eclipse, three of us headed up to climb German Helmet




Rock shoes on




On top of German Helmet. This is a fun little climb.




White Rock Lakes from the top of German Helmet




Agnes Mountain and the largest of the White Rock Lakes




We took a dip before dinner




Dome Peak




The next morning we dropped down beneath the lakes, then gained the Spire Glacier to head up to Spire Col




We climbed Spire Point




Then went back to Spire Pass for lunch (photo by Josh)




The plan was to traverse under the south side of the ridge to head up Dome Peak, but with most of the snow gone it didn't look very fun




So we dropped down to Itswoot Ridge




We hastily repacked full packs into daypacks and set out to climb Dome Peak in mid-afternoon




On top of Dome Peak




A view north toward the peaks around Cascade Pass, from whence we came




Leo drops down toward the saddle beneath Dome's summit




The dirty top of the Chickamin Glacier




Headed back to camp, trying to beat the sunset




We made it back to our Itswoot Ridge camp just before sunset




I took these three photos of Glacier Peak at sunrise, about ten minutes apart




The sixth day we headed out... but not before one last tough-guy pose from Leo








Blueberries aplenty on the way out made the bushwhack tolerable




Cub Lake




Wildlife! Frog on log.




Brennan gets the shot




One last alpine view along the Bachelor Creek trail before we dive into the bushes. Anybody know what peak this is?




Log crossing above Bachelor Creek. All five of us got multiple yellow jacket stings on the hike out.




The "trail". Bonus points for finding Brennan.




Waterfall break just above the confluence with Downey Creek, about three hours from the car.




Thanks for reading!

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Wow what a trip and what a memorable place to view the eclipse! Splitter weather and all. Congratulations and thank you for sharing the stoke!

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The Skag crew representing!


That is an interesting peak list. The first thing I thought is that these guys have done this before....because that is pretty much my peak list for the next time I do the Ptarmigan!


Love the photos too. I'm biased, but I like the attention to the craft. Good photos in a beautiful area aren't totally without work.

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The peak list originally included Mixup, Magic, Hurry-Up, and Le Conte. The first three we skipped because of weather, and the last we skipped because of time (and/or general laziness).


This was my fourth traverse but the other guys were all on their first. I had climbed all 4 peaks that we did on this trip before. Dome is a must-climb; German Helmet and Spire are the closest fun, easy alpine rock climbs on the route; and Old Guard is a much more fun scramble than Sentinel... that was the rationale. I'd really like to take a side trip of Hoch Joch Spitz and also climb Formidable on a future trip.

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Very nice. I haven't seen reports of folks going this late. For the uninitiated, would you generally recommend earlier in the season?

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Going earlier in the season definitely makes for easier travel for almost the entire route (minus the Bachelor bushwhack). Part of the reason we went this late was so that White Rock Lakes would be mostly melted out, because the lakes are so much prettier when you can actually see them. Obviously this all depends on the snowpack for a given year, but June is a great month to ski the route, and late July is good for easier hiking snow travel.


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