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earthspirit

best of cc.com [TR] - Isolation Traverse with Alternate Finish

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Trip: Isolation Traverse with alternative finish down to Thunder Creek to get back to our car.

 

Date: 8/26/2013

 

Trip Report:

Dates: July 10–15, 2013

 

Robert Crouse and I (Doug Walsh) took 6 days to complete the Isolation Traverse in North Cascades National Park, with an alternate finish so as to avoid a car shuttle. I dropped Robert off at Pyramid Creek Trailhead, and then drove the car to Thunder Creek Trailhead at Colonial Creek Campground. After hitching the 3.5 miles back to the Pyramid Lake Trailhead, we started up the trail around 1 pm, following the Isolation Traverse route for the next 3.5 days to get to a camp at the col between Dorado Needle and Tepeh Towers on the McAllister Glacier. From here, we hiked to Klawatti Col and then north around the Austera Towers and over Primus Peak down to Thunder Creek, which we followed back to our car at Thunder Creek Trailhead. We found the scenery on this route to be stunning, while the travel was 90% casual and pleasant. The remaining 10% of travel was not very pleasant or casual, but such is the price one pays for getting to see country such as this.

 

Day 1: We hiked up the relatively pleasant Pyramid Lake Trail for 2.5 miles. Once at the lake, we followed a relatively well worn climbers path steeply up the ridge toward Pyramid Peak. After 3 hours of grunting up the steep and often overgrown “trail” beyond Pyramid Lake, we cleared treeline and found a nice spot on the ridge close to a snowmelt stream.

 

First_day_s_camp_edit.jpg

 

Day 2: (8.5 hours)

We broke camp around 8:30am and worked our way over to the glacial lake at the base of the Colonial Glacier. It was relatively easy going up the Colonial Glacier (no visible crevasses) to the col that separates this glacier from the Neve Glacier.

 

Colonial_Glacier_edit.jpg

 

From this col, the view of the Neve Glacier was surreal, as we witnessed a number of big crevasses visible during brief clearings in the mist. We took a nice break here, hoping for some clearing in the weather to facilitate easier routefinding on this crevassed glacier. Once we did get moving again, it was a relatively steep descent onto the Neve, where we roped up. Fortunately for us, the weather cleared as we proceeded, and routefinding was easy as we climbed southward towards the pass between The Horseman and Snowfield Peak.

 

Robert_on_Neve_Glacier_edit.jpg

Robert on the Neve Glacier. Col separating Neva and Colonial Glacier visible above him.

 

Once at this pass, we took another break and contemplated a side trip to summit Snowfield Peak. We were both feeling the weight of our still loaded packs, and decided to skip Snowfield. This was a good decision, as we promptly ran into some unexpected challenges after leaving the pass. Our goal was to gain the ridge running between Snowfield and Isolation Peak. We headed S–SE hoping to reach an obvious flat area on this ridge, but ran into a huge gash which was hidden from our view back at our break spot. This gash was deep and with near vertical walls, and thus stopped all forward progress. It appeared that our only option was to turn around and gain all the elevation we’d lost in an attempt to detour around this feature. Fortunately, as we were climbing back up, Robert spotted a gully leading SW onto gentle snow below that looked like it would go. We gave it a shot and found this path to work – only a short section of easy 3rd class scrambling at the bottom of the gully to gain the snowfields below.

 

Day_2.jpg

 

IMG_0305_edit.jpg

Solid line shows our path. Dashed line is standard route followed south of Horseman/Snowfield col.

 

Once on the gentle section of ridge between Isolation and Snowfield, we headed down SE a few hundred feet to a nice bench with great views and running water for a camp.

 

Camp_north_of_Isolation_Peak_edit.jpg

Camp at end of day 2

 

Day 3: (9 hours)

This was a tough day. Not much distance traveled, but a lot of up and down, with much of it very steep. We started out on a gradual descending traverse to the beautiful tarn east of Isolation Peak.

 

Isolation_Lake_edit.jpg

 

From this tarn, one can follow a snowfield (40–45 degree snow) up to a bench on SE shoulder of Isolation Peak.

 

Isolation_Peak_edit.jpg

 

From this bench, we contoured west below cliffs until we reached the top of a steep grassy ramp that lead down SW into a drainage running SE off of Isolation Peak. We hugged cliffs to our right and above us as we descended down this ramp on very steep heather. I wouldn’t want to go down this way if this slope was wet. As it was, we slipped and landed on our butt every couple of minutes. Fortunately, this only lasted 45–60 minutes or so. This ramp led us into 100 yards of so of dense schwacking as we crossed the head of the drainage. Then we contoured (steep side¬-hilling) SW thru forest until we were able to gain the ridge running SW off of Isolation Peak.

 

In retrospect, we thought it would have been better to avoid the steep ramp descent and simply climb Isolation from the bench on SE shoulder, and then descend directly to ridge (see dashed line below).

 

Day_3.jpg

 

After a short distance on this ridge, we contoured over to the snowfield south of Wilcox Lakes. From here, we climbed SE up to a col. From this col, we descended on very steep forested and then rocky terrain down to a large snowfield at the head of an arm of McAllister Creek. This was another VERY steep descent, from which we got great views east towards the double pour off of the McAllister Glacier.

 

McAllister_Glacier_2_edit.jpg

 

From the snowfield, take the obvious couloir that leads S–SE up to backbone ridge. We bypassed a section of very steep snow in this couloir about 2/3 of way up by climbing onto rocks on left side. We followed the rock to the top of the ridge on left side of couloir and ran this ridge to the top of the couloir where we camped.

 

Couloir_to_Backbone_Ridge_edit.jpg

 

Day 4: (9 hours)

 

The_Devils_and_Baker_edit.jpg

The Devils and Mt. Baker from camp on morning of day 4

 

Routefinding on this day was easy. After leaving camp, we contoured SW over to a spur ridge running SW off of backbone ridge.

 

Day_4.jpg

 

As we turned this spur, the beauty of backbone ridge was laid out before us.

 

Backbone_Ridge_edit.jpg

 

We contoured SE across gentle slopes on SW side of Backbone Ridge into the head of the Marble Creek drainage, and then followed an easy snow gully (25-30 degrees max) up to the col between Dorado Needle and Tepah Towers for a camp (take the right most of two distinct notches at top of this snow-filled gully to get onto McAllister Glacier). This was a pretty mellow and pleasant day with easy routefinding and gentle terrain. We passed through a short section of beautiful old growth in the Marble Creek drainage as we turned NE up the snow gully towards our camp, and found the shade a welcome respite from all the snow and sun.

 

McAllister_Glacier_Camp_2_edit.jpg

Camp at edge of McAllister Glacier on day 4

 

The standard route for Isolation Traverse on Backbone Ridge goes up the Marble Glacier and climbs up 5th class loose rock to a rotten col from which you must do a long rappel onto 50–70 degree snow above gapping crevasses on the McAllister Glacier. Doesn’t sound like much fun to me. Unless one is on skies and looking forward to skiing the McAllister Glacier (or the marble Glacier if you do the Isolation Traverse in opposite direction as we did), I see no reason to take this route over what we did. Our route was elegant, scenic, zero stress and quite pleasant.

 

Day 5: (5 hours)

 

This day’s agenda was to cross the Eldorado Icecap and climb Austera Peak. I had done the Eldorado Icecap Traverse in 2010, and climbed Klawatti, Eldorado, Dorado Needle and Primus, but missed Austera due to bad weather. I’ve been wanting to get back and climb Austera ever since to see what I had missed, so I figured what better way to approach Austera than the Isolation Traverse? Why climb a mountain in only 2 days when you can do it in 6 and see some new gorgeous country in the process?

 

Day_5.jpg

 

We left camp at around 8am and wandered over to Klawatti Col (flat area west of Klawatti Peak).

 

Eldorado_from_Klawatti_Col.jpg

Eldorado Peak from Klawatti Col

 

We crossed over onto the Klawatti Glacier via a col that required maybe 15–20 feet of steep downclimbing (low 5th) on East side. We slung a boulder with a runner and rapped this to be safe. From here, we headed NE and then N to highest point of Klawatti Glacier at base of Austera Peak. We then dropped our glacier gear and scrambled north towards the summit towers. Once at the base of the twin towers, we worked right on a ledge on right most tower, wrapping around to NE side of the tower. From the end of the ledge, climb up steep class 3–4 to top of this tower. Descend into notch between towers on steep 4th class rock. From this notch, we walked up some remnant snow (not visible in photo below) until we were able to get onto rock on left tower at a good spot. From here, 20–25 feet of rock (class 4+, maybe a couple of 5.0 moves) put us on the summit.

 

Austera_Summit_edit.jpg

 

Eldorado_Icecap_from_Austera_Peak.jpg

Eldorado Icecap from Austera Peak

 

After some time gawking at the amazing view of the Eldorado Icecap and the McAllister Glacier’s twin pour off, we rapped off the summit and scrambled back to the rest of our gear at top of Klawatti Glacier. From here, we descended the Klawatti Glacier, heading east along edge of Austera Towers, until we reached a nice snow free ledge overlooking Klawatti Lake at around 1pm. We decided to take a break here, and eventually decided to make this camp. There aren’t many opportunities to spend time enjoying a place like this, and we had two days of food left, so there was no need to push on to the glacial lake at base of Borealis Glacier as we had originally planned for the day.

 

Klawatti_Lake_edit.jpg

 

Camp_above_Klawatti_Lake_edit.jpg

 

Day 6: (11.5 hours)

 

After a bit of a lazy morning, we left camp at 9am and headed up the North Klawatti Glacier towards Primus Peak.

 

Day_6.jpg

 

A mere two hours after leaving camp, we were on the summit.

 

Robert_Summiting_Primus_edit.jpg

Robert summiting Primus Peak

 

Klawatti_Lake_from_Primus_edit.jpg

Klawatti Lake from Primus Peak

 

After some time taking in more crazy amazing views (especially loved the gaping maw of the Thunder Creek draninage some 7,000 vertical below us to the north), we headed down the east ridge of Primus (class 2 if you stay to the south of a prominent rocky outcrop on this ridge just below the summit) to Lucky Pass.

 

Primus_from_Borealis_Glacier_Moraine_edit.jpg

 

From Lucky Pass, we traversed NW across the Borealis Glacier until we could find and easy way down into the glacial lake basin below the cliffs. We walked past this glacial tarn on the east side, crossed an outlet stream not shown on the topo, and then worked our way north on a prominent moraine to the top of the forested ridge that leads N–NE down to McAllister Camp on the Thunder Creek Trail.

 

After a lunch break, we began the descent down this ridge around 2pm. The descent began gently, on a well-defined climber’s trail. Soon however, we entered forest with brushy undergrowth and the trail became much more difficult to follow. At one point, we got off the ridge crest and into dense brush on the west side of the ridge. Once we realized our error, we had to schwack up steep slopes to regain the ridge proper. From that point on, we were much more careful to stay right on the ridge crest, although this was not always well-defined enough to be obvious.

 

As we reached point 4835, the ridge steepened considerably. At 4,200 ft, the ridge steepened even more, and we were both glad we were going down instead of up. There were a number of very steep sections to navigate, some of which required we turn around and face the slope using tree limbs and roots as handholds as we downclimbed slowly.

 

At one point, I found myself going down a very steep climber’s trail full of gravel and dirt. I looked down below me and realized that if I slipped here (a very real possibility), I would likely slide/tumble down a couple of hundred feet and over a minor cliff band. A bit unnerved, I noticed what looked like a trail contouring off to the left. We took this “trail” as it contoured beneath a small cliff band, and thankfully it led to easier ground.

 

After what seemed like an eternity to our feet and thighs, we finally reached the bottom of this ridge and the Thunder Creek Trail around 6:30 pm. As the bugs were biting fiercely, and our car was only 6 miles by trail away, we went on autopilot and cranked out the remaining trail to our car. Nothing like 6 days of off trail travel in the North Cascades to make one appreciate the ease of mechanized travel. :o)

But oh what a glorious trip this was!

 

 

Gear Notes:

– one 60 meter rope (30 meters would have been sufficient)

– helmet

– standard glacier travel gear

– ice axe and crampons.

 

Edited by earthspirit
  • Rawk on! 2

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What a great trip. I like the extended version over Primus down to Thunder Ck. Loop trips are always gratifying.

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OK, this is back on my list!  I'd been on either end many times over the years, but I can see that I need to connect them.

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