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[TR] Isolation Traverse North Cascades Aug 4-9 - 8/9/2011


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Trip: Isolation Traverse North Cascades Aug 4-9 -


Date: 8/9/2011


Trip Report:

This idea for this trip began immediately after completing a traverse of Mt. Challenger with my dad (then 65 yrs old) last summer.

Challenger Traverse 2010

We started looking at the maps and realized the missing link between the Ptarmigan Traverse (2003 with my dad and brother) and what we had just completed, was the Isolation Traverse (red in the pic below).



So after a late spring knee surgery (dad) and an untimely ankle sprain (me) we set out with some hesitation this year hoping that we would be able to complete the trip. We started on Thursday the 4th from the Pyramid Lake trailhead and made quick work of the trail to the "lake".


The climbers trail up from the lake is steep but in good shape. We grunted up the ~4400 vertical with our 6 day packs (did I mention my dad is 66!) to a bivy style camp that we squeezed our tent into at 5400 ft. IMG_3010.JPGIMG_30112.JPG

The next morning was clear and beautiful. We set out to traverse to the Colonial Glacier. The traverse to the lake at the base of the Colonial Glacier is still entirely snow, and we found it fairly straight forward with relatively cold snow. Crampons were necessary.



We continued up to the Colonial/Neve Glacier col and had lunch before descending to onto the Neve Glacier. We also saw some ski tracks that we would ultimately see off and on all the way to Backbone Ridge (I would be curious who was up there before us).



Then we continued up ~2000 ft to the Snowfield col. We considered climbing Snowfield, but it was socked in and getting late in the day. Our philosophy was to do everything we could to promote success on the traverse, all other summits would remain ancillary.


We continued down (and below the clouds) to a camp on the ridge before Isolation peak around 6600 ft. To get there we found it best to descend to the NW from the Snowfield col down the obvious snow ramp to 6800 ft before switching back and traversing to the Isolation/Snowfield ridge.


We awoke to clear skies with valley fog and a thin ice layer on our tent. We set out to descend towards the small lake at the base of Isolation Peak, and then up the ramp on the SE shoulder of Isolation Peak into the fog and a bench at roughly 6400 ft. We ascended the south ridge of Isolation Peak to approx 6700ft before beginning to traverse around to the West ridge. This proved to be a fairly straight forward route and we saw some goats along the way, which were the only creatures weighing more than 10 lbs that we would see for 5 days.


We continued down the west ridge of Isolation peak and across the bench above Wilcox lakes (~5300 ft) before ascending to the "glacial col" just west of the lakes and south of Newhalem Peak. It was getting later in the day, so we decided to set up camp here in a nice level heather pocket on the North side of the col. Looking toward the col from Wilcox lakes bench:


Looking back at Isolation Peak:


We awoke to a morning cloud layer (which was becoming a routine on this trip) and quickly completed a short bushwhack and boulder/snow descent into a very pronounced glacial cirque south of the Stout Lake basin and east of the Coccyx. A 1500 ft climb up an impressive couloir on nice hard snow brought us to the 6600ft ridgeline.


A quick traverse to the SW led us to the north end of the Backbone Ridge traverse. We enjoyed lunch (probably spent too much time here) at a nice campsite before dropping onto Backbone Ridge itself.


We continued a much longer than expected complete traverse of Backbone Ridge in snow that was mostly isothermic mush. Our route the next day would take us up through the Eldorado/Dorado Needle col rather than the high pass from the Marble to McAllister glaciers, so we set up camp at the South end of the ridge (~5700 ft).


The next day we turned up the long gully below Eldorado's north face.


We got to the wind lip at the top before the Eldorado/Dorado Needle col just after the sun hit it. We descended into this wind sculpted snow feature (~25 ft deep) and then up some scree and loose rock to the col and McAllister glacier.


From here we traversed high across the McAllister and Inspiration glacier to the east ridge camp on Eldorado.

The high glaciers were very filled in and we lingered a while at the Inspiration McAllister col to enjoy the views south to Dome peak and north to the Pickets, reflecting on both of those previous traverses.


We continued to our camp on snow in the Eldorado Creek basin at 5500ft. The next day we got up early and completed the trip down through the boulder field and out the climbers trail... finally hitching back to our car at the pyramid lake trail (thanks to the friendly climbers who were in Boston Basin that picked us up). We were all the way out by 10am on the 6th day.






Another great climb with my dad. Possibly the end of an era for committing to long distance climbing traverses together, but what a way to finish!


Psalm 95:4

Psalms 121:1-2



Gear Notes:

2 pickets were brought but not used except to tie down the tent

Crampons were essential for early morning snow 4 of 6 days

Ice axe, 8.8mm 50m rope, harnesses, prusiks, etc.

Route finding was the key on this traverse. It seems that there is now enough information floating around on the web to do a good job of planning for this traverse, but feel free to PM me or post questions.

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I have three things to say about this. I love travelling in the mountains with my son, and I know this trip was a joy for your dad. Wilcox Lakes is one of my favorite places in NOCA, and there was a lot less snow when I was through there. And the ski tracks were Jason Hummel and party.

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Very cool! I'm glad you can do these trips with your dad...that is very special. I hope to be doing this when I'm 66. Thanks for sharing your trip. Too bad you didn't climb Snowfield, it's fun and offers great views. You guys are animals! Also, check out Psalm 19:1...one of my favorites in the alpine. Cheers!

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I have three things to say about this. I love travelling in the mountains with my son, and I know this trip was a joy for your dad. Wilcox Lakes is one of my favorite places in NOCA, and there was a lot less snow when I was through there. And the ski tracks were Jason Hummel and party.


Nope, not us, we did the Isolation between June 4-10. I wish it were though...looks like great conditions still. Awesome. Super awesome you both got on such an amazing trip! You should try one more...the bailey traverse. That would be another great one for you two or even the Chiwakum's.

Edited by AllYouCanEat
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