IntroductionThis year has not been kind to EastKing. Throughout the year there have been a lot of cancelled trips, and a lot of lonely weekends. Add on that my health has not been 100%, and neither have my finances, and you have what can only be described as a rough 2013. Two weeks ago I was within 100 feet of my first Bulger of the year only to have my hands freeze on a Class 5 move in the middle of a rock climb. Coming close close yet being so far really shook me up. Now with my conditioning being the poorest it has been in six years I will just have to make due with whatever mountain that I can get. This past weekend though, with help from my friends Cyohma and Jimbopo I was finally able to summit my first Bulger of 2013, Little Annapurna. Hopefully this will be the climb to turn my year around.
Going into the ClimbI got the call that the Little Annapurna trip we were planning was a "go" literally five hours before we left for the trip. As soon as I got the call, I quickly put on my gear and took the bus over to Lynnwood where I met Cyohma and Jimbopo to get ready for the climb up Little Annapurna. We all quickly got our gear ready and jump in Cyohma's car to head over to Leavenworth. Three hours later we were claiming one of the last remaining campgrounds on Icicle Creek Road. We wanted to get there and rest the night before we began any hiking in the area. By the time we got to Icicle Creek road we found that many of the camping areas were already full from others coming up with the same idea. We did find a good campsite after spending thirty minutes looking fr it and spent the night there resting up for the next day. We knew the next day would be a nice moderate backpack to our camping destination on Colchuck Lake.
We woke up the next day well refreshed. I was a little nervous about the backpack into Culchuck Lake due to the fact that I have not been able to hike as much as I did in the past, and I seem to still be gaining weight despite some major changes to my diet. We parked at the Stuart Lake trailhead at 11 am and quickly made our way up the trail. By 12:30 we were at the junction with the Colchuck Lake trail and at 2:00 pm we were had managed to find one of the only snow free campsite available. It was a great campsite complete with a super large rock that provided a great place for us to protect our belongings.Despite my weight gain I handle this section very well. We didn't need to take too many breaks here and all of us were feeling very well for the climb which was going to happen the very next day.
The weather on the first day was cloudy, windy and drizzly to say the least which is what prevented us from continuing up the mountain. We also took note of the warmer than average May temperature. The early June like conditions at Asgard Pass exposed a lost of rocks not normally in the gully on May, which meant there would not be a 2000' safe glissade time around. We also were able to talk to a couple at our campsite who gave us a rundown on the conditions that we were going to have to face on our way up Little Annapurna. They did warn us about some areas of possible post holing above Asgard Pass. After talking to them we decided to bring our snowshoes. Once camp was set, we all thought of continuing to the summit of Little Annapurna, but we decided it was better to stay at the campsite and wait until early morning to start the climb up Little Annapurna. We quickly got the campsite ready and were all in our sleeping bags by 6 pm.
Starting to Head Up Asgard Pass
Early at 4 am in the morning we began our climb up to Little Annapurna. The weather had cleared out from the night before and we were really happy that we had waited for this day to make this climb. The first part of our trip was the scramble across the big boulders that lie along Colchuck Lake. This is a cairned scramble, but it was no fun with the pockets of snow which lied between rocks. It was hard to judge if the snow was stable, or if there could potentially be post holing five to ten feet below. Travel for us across this section was very slow, but the early morning cold at least made much of this snow stable.
As soon as we got fully across the boulder field we put on our crampons for better traction with the snow. We soon got into Asgard Pass where we slowly ascended the steep gully up the mountain. Views immediately opened up back toward Eightmile Mountain and Cashmere as we quickly rose up the mountain. Heading up Asgard was slow but steady as we headed up the snowy section of the climb up. During the climb up Jimbopo spotted pebbles coming down the pass so we quickly tried to get ourselves out of the middle of gully and onto a small ridge inside Asgard Pass. We took a couple breaks along the way up this rough section. For me this section was kicking my butt, which quickly made me want to change the name to “Assgard Pass”. Near the top, the snow gave way to a rocky scramble so we stored our crampons and continue to climb up the rocky sections of the pass. The sun did come out in the last section which made the final snowy section to the top of Asgard Pass easy to kick in step to get to the top.
On To Little AnnapurnaOnce we got to the top of the pass we knew it would be easier to get to the summit of Little Annapurna. I was tired, but I still had enough energy to snag that summit. After all I was not about to be stopped on what many consider one of the easiest Bulgers in the Cascade Mountains. We put on our snowshoes and crossed a frozen lake and headed directly for the summit of Little Annapurna. Our pace while going down was very fast but heading back up slowed up considerably.
We went up to within feet of a false summit at first. Then after realizing that it was not the true summit we decided to head over to the true summit. At first we were traversing down a hundred feet or so to the col between the false summit and the true summit of Little Annapurna.
Once we got to this point we took out all of our unnecessary gear, took off our snowshoes and went up what was supposed to be an easy 300 feet to the summit of Little Annapurna. It was definitely easy but I was getting very weak heading up the last leg of this trip. I had gotten very tired from all climbing, and lack of conditioning the last couple of months was really beginning to show here. I was weak and my stomach was hurting as I was rising the last little bit to the summit. When I finally made it up to the summit, I nearly collapsed on the final summit rock. I just sat there for roughly ten minutes refueling my body from the climb we endured on the way up. Clearly the lack of hiking has made a huge impact on me. But that all being said I finally made it to the summit of Little Annapurna.
The Wonderful Summit Views
What I am about to say many others have said many times over but it is worth repeating, Little Annapurna delivers with excellent views. We only stayed on the summit for 30 minutes, but during that time all summits in the region could be scene. The summits that could be viewed were Glacier Peak, Cashmere, Enchantment High Point, McClellan Peak, Dragontail, Colchuck, Prusik Peak, The Temple, Wedge Mountain, and many summits in the Teanaway Region, including Earl and Navaho Peaks. Without question this view made on the struggle worthwhile knowing that we were rewarded at the very end with these great views. I was able to get some food into my body with a number of electrolytes which brought my health back to a better condtion. We wanted to stay longer and enjoy the views but we were on a time schedule and we really could not spend too long on this mountain. So after thirty minutes of enjoying the excellent views on Little Annapurna it was time to head on off.
The Tough Trip Back to CampHeading down Little Annapurna was actually very easy thanks to Mike spotting an excellent glissade back down to the frozen lake below. It was nice being able to slide down the mountain and knock off 600 feet in mere minutes. Plus it was a good consolation prize considering that we were not going to be able to glissade down the entire Asgard Pass area. Once we got to back to the lake we decided to boot it all the way back to Asgard Pass. We had used snowshoes before but didn't think it was needed this time around. This section was done with mixed results. For the most part we were able to walk right on top of the snow. But there were a number of times where we were post holing quiet deep into the snow. All in all though, we were successful in traversing the lake and heading up to Asgard Pass without the snowshoes.
The tougher section came from Asgard Pass heading down. From the top we were able to make a couple of small glissades until we reached the rocky area. From there it was a lot of slow travel for the next hundred feet or so. At one point we hit a section that was some very loose and greasy snow which led us to the edge of a small 10 foot cliff. In summer when this is snow free this is not a problem but now with the loose snow this way iffy at best. Jimbopo comfortably heel steeped down this terrain while Cyohma and down-climbed it. I also started to heavily cramp up despite three liters of water. The cramps led me to be cautious while I was scrambling down this section.
Once we did hit the glissade section we had to continue to be very cautious. There was death a couple years ago where a woman glissaded into a hidden hole which fell into a stream. She was then swept down the underground stream where then she was wedged by the creek into the snow and died from a combination of drowning and hypothermia. The conditions today looked like they could be potentially similar so we decided to take it slow down the mountain. On the way down Cyohma actually hit a very deep hole which raised our concerns even more. He thought he might had nearly suffered the same fate. From there we slowly glissaded down the pass to the base of the Asgard Pass. I was able to cleanly glissade the last 800 feet to near the base of the lake but even that was not a fast glissade. Once we all got to the bottom of Asgard Pass we knew we still were not done.
The last boulder field was right there waiting for us. By now the few solid snow walks across some of the boulder field had now opened. Every step in this snow seemed as it could end in a nasty, leg breaking, 10 foot posthole. I felt as if I was walking across a booby trap and this section made both Cyohma and I very nervous. The boulder hopping that was there seemed unstable right now with one large rock nearly crushing my hands. We slowly and carefully had to make our way through this nightmare of a boulder field which was painfully just hundreds of feet from our campsite. But with Jimbopo leading the way we somehow made it successfully made it through this tough section and soon we were back at camp.
Let’s Pack Up and Get the Heck Out of HereOnce back at camp we knew we had to get something to eat and pack up camp as soon as possible. We were all tired and thought it was sunny throughout most of the trip the clouds had really moved in towards the end. We were also tired and getting cold and with us running out of daylight we knew it was time to head on down to the trailhead. We pulled ourselves together, drank up a lot of water, ate all the food we had, and then packed up camp in a hurry. It took us less than an hour to have everything ready to head down the mountain. On our trip down the mountain we began to book it back to the trailhead.
Outside of one major break we were really able to gather all of our strength together and power ourselves down the mountain. What took us three hours to get to Colchuck Lake only took us a little more than two hours to get back to the parking area. That was considering all of us were very blasted from the climb up earlier in the day. We just chose to ignore our pain and continue through to the trailhead. Once down at the trailhead we all changed our clothes and headed back home.