PROLOGUESummiting Bonanza Peak has been in my thoughts for quite some time. It is not only the highest non-volcanic mountain in Washington, it is also considered to require a range of mountaineering skills to summit. Just thinking about the peak has kept me up some nights, and caused me to shiver with both anticipation and concern at some other times.
Since I first seriously began considering attempting the Washington County Highpoints during the past two years, Bonanza Peak has been in the forefront of my mountaineering goals yet in the background of my mountaineering reality. I knew a successful summit attempt would require not only confidence in my own abilities but also require having a good team, good route conditions, and good weather.
"Gimpilator" Adam, myself, and our mountaineering friend Dave had a successful summit trip at Mount Olympus during the first week of July. We worked very well as a team during that trip, with each teammate having a lot of mountaineering skills but each person also having a specific strong skill to add to the team. My strong skill was planning and navigation, Gimpilator's strong skill was glacier travel, and Dave's strong skill was rock climbing. The team worked so well together that we were hoping to have similar success on Bonanza Peak the following week...
DAY ONE: The Trip To High CampAfter spending the previous night in Chelan, Washington, we drove to the ferry dock at the southern end of Lake Chelan during the early morning of July 10. We caught the "Lady of the Lake II" passenger ferry, which we would be aboard for three hours while en route to a stop at Lucerne. Lucerne was once an old port and homestead location along Lake Chelan, and offered the easiest, most direct access to the old mining town of Holden Village. For many years, with the old mining operations long since ceased, Holden Village has since become a Lutheran camp and facility, but the public is welcome to use their daily bus transportation between the village and Lucerne.
While at Holden we checked into the "Hike Haus" (climbers register) and cached what looked to be unnecessary gear there. We encountered two peakbagging acquaintances, Franklin and Carla, while at the village. We spoke with them for quite a while, before we finally began hiking at 2:00 PM. A deer led us out of the village, before stopping to forage.
The hike to Holden Lake was fairly uneventful. The trail was in excellent condition, the weather was great, and we had time on our side. Within the final 0.25-0.50 miles to the lake we started encountering snow, which we would be traveling on for the rest of our ascent to Holden Pass. Traveling around the lake to its northern end was mostly a combination of swampy crossings, slide alder bushwhacks, and questionable snow bridges. Fortunately, once we were at the northern end of Holden Lake our route became an obvious ascent up snowy slopes along the right side of slide alder forests and snowmelt streams.
As we approached the final snowy slopes to Holden Pass we could see an abundance of waterfalls below the Mary Green Glacier. However, there were fewer waterfalls than we had seen in photos, largely due to the amount of snowpack still remaining on the glacier and mountain slopes. After we found a nice flat area (~6400' elevation) for our tent only a short distance above Holden Pass, we began assessing possible routes for passing through or around the waterfall section.
During our ascent we had found one possible snowy ramp near one nearby waterfall, but once at our campsite we found a snowy slope leading up to the ridge above and seemingly bypassing the waterfall section. Dave scouted out the snowy slope while Adam gathered water and I shoveled out parts of our campsite. Dave returned with good news; the snowy slope apparently led all the way to the glacier, unobstructed except for one very brief walk up a minor rocky ramp and through a couple of evergreen trees. Plus, it appeared the waterfalls could be avoided completely. That was better news than we originally anticipated, as some people consider the waterfall section to be the crux of Bonanza Peak ascents.
DAY TWO, PART I: The Glacier ClimbWe woke shortly before 4:00 AM on July 11. After eating some breakfast and double-checking our gear, we began hiking at 5:15 AM. The beginning of the ascent went very well. Dave's assessment for the beginning of the route was totally correct, and this certainly eliminated the need for spending a lot of time routefinding. Once atop a snowy ledge at ~6700' elevation, we ascended uphill until below a large rock cliff, which we then side-traversed along until reaching a basin located above most of the lower waterfalls. From the basin we began to angle uphill for a while, heading towards the northeastern end of the Mary Green Glacier.
Shortly before reaching what we thought might be the edge of the glacier we encountered one steep rocky section with some easy ramps switchbacking up to the very steep snow slope above it. Or, at least we thought those were easy ramps; Dave slipped near the bottom of the rocks and hit his nose and mouth on a boulder, giving him a partial fat lip. He recovered fairly quickly, and we continued. Once atop the rocky slope, we briefly ascended the steep snowy slope above it until reaching a gentle slope on which we could rope-up for the glacier travel ahead.
Travel along the Mary Green Glacier was surprisingly easy. The amount of deep snowpack filled and covered any crevasses that may have existed along the northern traverse. Although, with that said, we saw plenty of crevasses and seracs towards the southern end of the glacier. We traversed by and through some remnants of some avalanches and cornice-breaks, but those dangers had long since ceased before our visit.
We carefully ascended the steep snow thumb that winds west and then north to a large bergschrund. Considering the amount of snowpack still present on the mountain, I was shocked to find the bergschrund (~8600' elevation) nearly completely opened. We each crossed the bergschrund, one person at a time, needed to take a small step of faith to cross.
The glacier climb was complete. Now came the hard part. We just did not anticipate how hard the final 900' of vertical gain would be.
DAY TWO, PART II: The Rock ClimbThe standard route typically requires Class 3 scrambling, with some brief sections of Class 4 terrain, starting at a large gully above the bergschrund. Unfortunately, due to the near-record snowpack this year the entire gully was covered in snow. There were numerous cracks and moats seen within the snow, as well, making any attempt to use the standard approach a likely futile and possibly deadly choice. We knew some people who had summited Bonanza Peak the previous week with even more snow pack, by ascending up steep slopes, many of which were snow-covered, to the summit. Unfortunately for our team, the conditions had since changed. Looking up the peak, the gentler, more-standard slopes contained a combination of steep snow gullies, icy underlayers, and minor snowmelt streams. This left us with one viable choice: Have a roped rock climb up one of the main rappel routes.
We quickly realized that the remainder of the trip would make-or-break depending upon Dave. That was a lot to ask of one person, but considering his vast rock climbing expertise the conditions put our team in that situation. Ultimately, it would be Dave's decision how we would continue and if we would continue. Having already gone sofar, Dave was determined to reach the summit... but only if the entire team could safely do so.
Each pitch took a long time, both because of having a three-man team and because of searching for the best spots for belays and anchors. Slowly but surely, after several steep snow ascents and nine pitches, we final reached the final summit ridge. This ascent was extremely time-consuming yet as safe as we could be under the circumstances. Once at the summit ridge, Adam followed the brief rocky knife-edge ridge up to a final steep, exposed snow slope to the summit, followed by Dave and then me. We did not use a rope for that final summit ridge, although the amount of occasional exposure made us consider it. Although the final slope was snow-covered, the summit itself was rocky. We found the register box, which only contained a single paper within it.
After taking a few photos, handshakes, and a short video, we turned around to head back down. Just then, I unexpectedly began to cry. I think that was the moment I finally grasped the achievement. I suddenly realized that my quest to summit the Washington County Highpoints would likely eventually become a reality. Bonanza Peak was the highpoint I was most concerned about on that list. I still needed to summit Big Horn and Mount Baker, but neither of those two mountains are considered as physically or technically demanding as Bonanza Peak. I turned back around and shook Gimpilator's hand, thanking him for being my friend, and then headed down.
DAY TWO, PART III: The Long DescentWe still had plenty of daylight and good weather, but the total ascent from camp took much longer (8h30m) than any of us originally anticipated. We figured the descent would be equally as long, if not moreso. Fortunately, it was only 2:00 PM and we were hoping for a consistent yet safe series of rappels down the mountain. Considering we were basically rappeling the same route we rock climbed, we figured the descent would take nearly the same amount of time as the ascent had. Actually, it would take us nearly an hour longer.
We still had daylight when we reached the bergschrund (which had opened-up further during that day) and snow thumb, and after roping-up we descended to the Mary Green Glacier. The sunset occurred as we reached the glacier below the snow thumb, although there was still plenty of lingering daylight. We retraced our route until returning back to near the northeastern end of the glacier, at which point the sky darkened. I grew concerned but had put GPS waypoints and our track log into my GPS. Gimpilator started to get very tired and occasionally questioned our route, but Dave and I remembered much of the route and had our GPS devices as backups if needed.
The descent seemed slow-going but was as safe as we could be. Once below the glacier and on the snowy slopes above the waterfalls, we began our long side-traverse. Suddenly, we saw a light flashing from a location along our intended descent route. We headed towards the light and found two people in a tent, camped only ~300' elevation above our camp. After a brief conversation, we continued to camp. Each one of us made it back to camp safely, both relieved and excited about what we had just achieved that day. We not only summited a technically difficult peak, but we did it using a different approach and much longer than expected.
During that night, the weather took a turn for the worse, raining and hailing seemingly non-stop. The bad weather stopped by 7:30 AM, and we were ready to head back to Holden by 8:45 AM. We quickly realized that a lot of snow had melted-out that previous day. This was especially apparent between Holden Pass and Holden Lake, where most of the climbers path was visible/melted-out (which was completely snow-covered during the ascent 36 hours earlier).
When we arrived back in Holden Village by noon, we celebrated with a nice meal followed by some espresso (Gimpilator, Dave) and ice cream shakes (Dave, me). We departed on the bus, being waved "good bye" by the Holden crowd, and headed to the "Lady of the Lake II" ferry. We arrived back in Chelan several hours later, and then began the long drive home from there.
EPILOGUESummiting Bonanza Peak was a major mountaineering goal for the three of us. For me, personally, it was my 37th Washington County Highpoint and the crowning achievement of that list thus far. We each needed to trust our partners, trust our skills, and trusts our instincts. We were successful in summiting the mountain, working well as a team, and getting back safely.
Here are some trip statistics:
-> Nine roped rock climbs/belays for the final 900' of vertical gain.
-> 12 rappels for the descent of the same slopes.
-> 8h30m to reach the summit from our camp at Holden Pass. Six of those hours were on the final 900' vertical feet.
-> 15 minutes at the summit.
-> 9h30m to reach our camp at Holden Pass from the summit. Seven of those hours were spent rappelling down to near the bergschrund.
-> 18h15m total time on summit day, roundtrip.
TRIP VIDEOSA video created by me:
A video created by Gimpilator: