Boy has been a great month to head for the mountains. For the last couple weeks the weather was favorable in the mountains and I have been trying to climb every day that I could. The weather forecast again was perfect Thursday and since I had a day off of work that means it is time to climb. Ever since I went to the summit of Grindstone I have been eyeing Big Lou. The double summit peak has intrigued me and I knew I had to go there. The peak looked very attractive and I could not stop thinking about the peak over that time. I knew this peak was one of the lesser climbed in region which enticed me more to go to the mountain.
For this trip I invited two of my most trusted hiking friends along, Gimpilator and Zephyr. I have known Gimpilator for the last 4 years and we have done at least thirty summits together during that time. Zephyr and I have known each other for three years and have summited over thirty mountains as well with a very successful summit rate of around 95%. For Gimpilator this was going to the start of an amazing weekend at Leavenworth. For both Zephyr and I this was going to one of our tougher summits we have done together.
Heading UpWe decide to go up via the Chatter Creek Trail. It should be noted that the road going up to Chatter Creek is repaired from a wash out two years ago and is in great shape. So is the trailhead. We took the Chatter Creek Trail all the way up to the 4600 foot mark. The trail was in great shape all of the way to the gap. The last 300 feet of the trail through the gap by the stream was in very poor condition from some sort of washout two years ago. This makes the trail hard to follow and stream crossing very difficult. All of us had to struggle to find a good route over the water without getting our feet wet. Route finding was very tough. We managed well but others should take note if they plan on heading to Grindstone, Lake Ida or Big Lou this way.
Once at 4600 we went a boot path that was supposed to lead to Lake Ida. This was a steep boot path but a good part of was easier to follow. At about 5000 it went right into 30-40 degree snow and boulder filled couloir. At first this section was tough with us at times post holing whenever we got close to a rock. The snow was beginning to soften rapidly from the heat of the sun around the rocks and moats got larger while snow-bridges got smaller. This was less of a problem on the way up than it was on the way down but we still needed to use caution at this section. Once we got above 5500 feet the snow became much firmer. This made climbing up the gully much easier. Still though the gully a perfect 30-40 degree slope for glissading, we took note that there were plenty of rocks in the gully making a glissade a death-trap.
Once above 6400 feet we headed to the south ridge of an unnamed high point. Gimpilator continued to lead the way up here and was really able to find a very good route up this mountain. To be honest summiting Big Lou wouldn’t have been much tougher to do without his help and route-finding. Once we got to the other side of this ridge we noticed a huge cornice wall on the eastern side. This forced us to walk up the ridge to higher ground in order to find the safest way down to Lake Ida. We decided to traverse over the north side of Lake Ida. At this part we were sinking in the snow fairly deeply. This was probably the only section where snowshoes could have helped but the extra weight would have slowed us down everywhere else.
Crossing over the two highpoints of Big Lou
From there we traversed over to where we decided to tag a north high point on Big Lou Mountain first. This was a fun walk up light scramble to the highpoint where incredible views awaited. There were a couple of cool summit boulders that were ideal for picture taking. On peakbagger.com this is just listed as Point 7760 whereas when we were on it the summit had a height of 7783 feet according to Gimpilator’s GPS. I have heard this peak mentioned as a just a northern sub-peak of Big Lou and at times its own mountain. Whatever this summit point was it clearly had potential to be the highest point on Icicle Ridge. Thankfully all of us took the time to tag this summit so that this way we could draw attention to it. The views from this summit were incredible to the north toward Big Jim Mountain as well as to the south with Mount Stuart and the Enchantments.
We were very tired but it was time to head to what is listed in many pieces of literature as Big Lou and the highest point on Icicle Ridge. Luckily the traverse over to this summit was relatively simple because by this time I was wearing down. The gentle snow free summit ridge was actually the easiest hiking we had done all day. We got to the south summit and signed the summit log where we realized we were the first people to summit Big Lou this year!! The last people to sign were a number of familiar hikers on NwHikers last year. YEAH BABY!! We also realized that this summit registered on Gimpilator’s GPS as 7768 feet. Hmmmm….on that note, a) what is the true summit of Big Lou and b) what is the ultimate summit on Icicle Ridge. Food for thought….
Dropping off Gimpilator and heading down
From there we split with Gimpilator who was going after a number of other mountains in this area before knocking off a couple Enchantments and some rock-climbing crags in the upcoming days. He brought his camping gear and probably camped at Lake Augusta or Ida that night. For Zephyr and I summit time was over. We had over 7 miles and 5600 of cumulative elevation loss back to the trailhead and were tired as heck from the trip up. Both of us were hurting and we could not wait to get off the mountain.
Heading down was faster but at times harder. We spent some time looking for the right route off of Big Lou towards Lake Ida. We kept running into a number of sections coming off the mountain that did not look right. Finally I broke out the camera and took a look at some pictures I had shot earlier the day and from there I was able to spot that route. After looking back at the past photos we were able to find our footstep back and soon were on the other side of Lake Ida.
From there though we had what turned out to be the toughest 200 foot incline we could have ever made. The snow was combination of sloppy and icy and we were totally beaten from our climb up. Thankful this was last uphill climb we had to make for the rest of the trip. We took another small break on the top of the ridge knowing that the worst was yet to come for us. That section, the couloir, was yet to come for us.
Going down the at first couloir was quiet easy. The now was soft enough to heal step down and the snow was still firm overall. Post-holing up high was not even an issue and the rocks here were easily avoidable. The further we went down though the sloppier the snow became. The hardest part of going down was the lower part couloir which was now a hazardous and sloppy and both we were post holing towards the bottom. We took our time through this hazardous area trying our best not to punch in and risk injury. To our relief though we finally found our boot-path which lead us down to the trailhead. It was not easy getting down this boot path but much better that the alternative couloir which had now slide alder growing on it.
Once on the trail we had to go back over that same stream crossing again. I just decided to walk into the stream and cross it that way while Zephyr retraced the steps to carefully maneuver himself over the stream without getting wet. After the crossing we had a couple of issues with the trail due to the blow-down that happened two years ago. The sun was going down rapidly and we knew that we had the move fast down the mountain. We put our headlamps on then moved down the mountain at a fairly quick pace. Finally around 10 pm we made it to the trailhead.