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[TR] Colchuck Peak - Colchuck Glacier attempt 11/2/2013

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Trip: Colchuck Peak - Colchuck Glacier attempt


Date: 11/2/2013


Trip Report:

This weekend we headed up to Colchuck Lake with hopes of climbing Colchuck and/or Dragontail by the scramble routes from Colchuck Col. With a storm forecast, we didn’t have much in the way of expectations, but were psyched to get out and try something. We drove to the trailhead Saturday morning where light rain was falling but storm conditions hadn’t yet manifested, and set off around 11:30AM.


Rain turned into light snow as we hiked up, and the wind picked up to the point where I put on my helmet in case of falling branches. We met a local solo climber heading down who had bailed on his plan of climbing the Colchuck NBC after requiring goggles at Colchuck Lake. Sure enough it was full on storming when we reached the lake, with very low visibility.



A peek through the blowing snow. This was the best the weather got on Saturday.


We were a little nervous about sleeping in the woods with the high winds so we headed to the boulder field and tried to setup camp at the flat site there that is reasonably sheltered, but tent stakes wouldn’t drive into the ground and we didn’t have enough cord to secure the tent to anything else. We ended up retreating to a site in the woods along the trail where the tree activity ended up being pretty mild that night. We also ran into a pair of hikers heading down from an attempt to cross Aasgard pass, where they reported being blown over several times by the winds. The forecast for Sunday was better, so we crossed our fingers and headed to bed.


We ended up leaving camp around 5:30AM and once we got out of the trees we could see stars in the sky, which lifted our hopes. The boulder field was very tedious, with a thin layer of snow and ice covering everything. This just got worse and more painstaking as we worked our way up the moraine, with all of the scree and vegetation slick and loose. I believe it took us around 4 hours to gain the top of the rocks that go up the middle of Colchuck Glacier, a brutally slow pace for the elevation gained. We stopped here for a break and to pull out the rope. I understand the Colchuck Glacier does not form many crevasses of significant size, but we were wary of any late season openings being covered with the new snow and didn’t want to risk it since we had brought the rope along anyway.



Colchuck as it got light



NBC closeup





We found the glacier to be loaded with fresh snow from the storm, almost always knee deep and sometimes wallowing up to our waists. This was hard work, but we punched it and made rapid progress for the remainder of the climb, at least 2x as fast as we had gone so far. We topped out at Colchuck Col just after 11AM, certainly the longest it has ever taken me to gain ~2500 feet.






Looking south from Colchuck Col



Gully up Dragontail visible in the background


My partner had to pick up his roommate at the airport in the evening, so we had agreed that we needed to be heading down by 12PM. Neither of us had been up Colchuck before, and as we looked at the thinly snow-covered rocks of the scramble up to the summit plateau and reflected on our experience with those conditions earlier in the day, it became clear that we would not be able to make it up and down within that time constraint. With substantial disappointment we turned around to head down.



Scramble up Colchuck, thinly covered with snow


Plunge stepping was easy and we flew down the deep snow in great time. It would have been an amazing ski in these conditions. As we got down towards the moraine, we stuck to the east side of it, in order to stay on easy snow as far down as possible. This ended up being a mistake when the snow started to run out and turn once again into sketchy alternating sections of icy scree and hardpack snow with bad consequences for a slip. We had to traverse back west, climbing a little to gain a rock outcropping, and eventually regained our path through the boulder field from earlier in the day.



Admiring Dragontail on the way down



Ice tools useful for crossing scary vegetated slopes. What a shit show.


Back at the tent and happy to be off of the moraine, we had some food and a 15 minute nap before rushing back to the car. On the way down the trail, we had to cross a number of large blowdowns that had fallen overnight. Maybe we were stupider than we thought to be up there in such high winds. It had also snowed substantially to quite low on the trail compared to the day before.


As usual the hike out seemed to take forever and eventually it got dark. After stumbling around for a while it became impossible and we had to dig out a headlamp. Finally back at the car in the otherwise empty parking lot, I almost had a heart attack when the battery barely kicked the engine over and it immediately died. 2 more attempts got it to start, with a big relief. Revived by Heidleburger, we drove back in time for the airport pickup.


We will be back, but probably not until the boulder field and the moraine are covered. The area is stunning right now and we had a great time.



See ya


Gear Notes:

hard shell and goggles


Approach Notes:

snow and blowdowns on trail, slippery boulders and moraine

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