It has been 5 years since Bob, Duane, and Joel made their epic journey to the summit of Bonanza Peak, so I thought it was time for another Trip Report for this marvelous mountain. Bonanza Peak is located in the North Cascades in north central Washington. It is one of the key climbs necessary to complete several peakbagger lists in Washington. It is a demanding peak that requires both glacier skills and rock climbing skills along with endurance, a 3 day backpack, good weather, good timing, and a good climbing team. The place to begin planning for a trip to Bonanza is assembling a team. I was fortunate to join 3 others whom I had climbed with previously. With Grant, I climbed Diamond Peak in Idaho in 2008. With Greg, I climbed Mt Olympus in Washington in 2007. And with Adam, I climbed Grand Teton in Wyoming in 2008. In their real lives Adam is webmaster at County Highpoint Organization and Greg is webmaster at Peakbagger. I guess both these guys could be considered “computer geeks” but their secret lives as mountain climbers blows that stereotype away. Grant is a normal working stiff like me who uses the mountains for recreational therapy.
We decided on our team months in advance and then had to decide on the optimal time for our expedition. One of the limiting factors in Washington is the weather. Another is that the climbing season really doesn’t begin until the 4th of July because of the northern location and massive snow load at higher elevations. On Bonanza Peak, a third limiting factor is the Mary Green Glacier. Mary Green is small in comparison to other glaciers but her location is critical to climbing Bonanza Peak. She lies on the east side of the peak and the climbing route requires the team to cross her. Mary Green is on a steep slope and in the summer her surface is laced with many crevasses and is much more difficult and dangerous to cross. Our timing for climbing Bonanza must be while the winter snow is still solid enough to cover the crevasses, but late enough so that the rock climb above Mary Green is free of snow and ice.
We decided on 2 time frames in early July. July 1-3 will be our first choice because we should be ahead of other climbers who may opt for a weekend climb, and as a back up for a weather delay, July 5-7.
Time passed and each of us tracked the weather patterns. The week before our expedition we all agreed the weather ahead looked good, so we made final preparations and agreed to meet in Fields Point on Lake Chelan. I drove up early and met Adam on June 30th at Lake Chelan State Park where we camped for the night. The next morning we were up early and drove the short distance to Fields Point. At Fields Point we met Greg and Grant. We decided on group gear and who would carry what. We repacked our packs and carried a couple extra duffle bags for stuff that doesn’t pack well like ice axe, hiking poles, crampons, and rock helmets. We each paid our $6/night to park at Fields Point and then we each purchased a $39 round trip ticket on Lady of the Lake for our transportation up to Lucerne Point/ Holden Village. The folks at Fields Point are very efficient and helpful and it didn’t take long to get loaded once the Lady of the Lake docked. We were finally on our way up the lake to our destination. The boat ride was smooth and scenic. It takes 2 hours to get to Lucerne so we all brought a snack and we bought snacks and refreshments on the boat. When we got close to Lucerne we could see some mountains to the northeast that still had snow patches on them. The anticipation was building for our grand adventure.
We docked at Lucerne Point and the bus was waiting for us. There were several other passengers who got off the boat and were heading up to Holden. We climbed on this converted school bus and they loaded everyone’s stuff and supplies into the back of the bus. The bus trip up to Holden was not quick, but with the sharp hairpin turns and cliffs at the beginning, I was happy the driver was taking his time. It took about 45 minutes to get up to Holden which serves as the trailhead for Bonanza Peak. We did go in to the main building in Holden and paid the $15 for a round trip bus ticket from Lucerne to Holden and back. We asked permission in the hiking activity office to store our extra gear and duffle bags in their gear storage area and they accommodated our request. Nice people here in a beautiful area.
It was a warm afternoon, so we were in no hurry to shoulder our packs and hike up to Holden Pass our destination for the night. Holden Pass can’t be found on the topo map. It is the saddle east of Bonanza Peak between Bonanza Peak and Martin Peak. We found a water source and tanked up with enough water to get up to Holden Lake. It is only about 4 miles and a 2,100 ft elevation gain, but in the middle of a hot afternoon will a full pack it is work. We finally got our gear together and couldn’t procrastinate in Holden any longer, so we shouldered our packs and headed up the road that served as our trail for the first 1.25 mile. The fork in the trail heading up to Holden Lake is well signed an up the hill we went.
The trail up to Holden Lake is easy to follow and there were workers on the trail who were doing maintenance. I always thank these volunteers who are doing a thankless job of trail maintenance. They were doing a good job of clearing the spring growth and opening up the trail. This trail is in full sunshine with a southern exposure. I was sucking wind trying to keep up with my younger teammates and soon I was dropping back. I knew it was a long way to Holden Pass and we had all afternoon to get there. Tomorrow was going to be a big day and there was no sense on me burning myself out before we got to camp. My teammates slowed down and waited for me in places and I was grateful.
About half way up the hill to Holden Lake there was a large debris field from an avalanche that came off of the Martin Peak ridge. This avalanche must have been huge. It was at least a quarter mile across and I couldn’t see the top of bottom of the debris field. The trail has been flagged through the field, but it still required climbing over lots of logs, branches, and stumps. What a mess!! There was still ice in portions of this debris filed left over from the avalanche. This avalanche knocked down thousands of trees.
We followed the flagged trail up and down and through the avalanche area and then continued on to Holden Lake. Fortunately the trail seemed to lose some of its steepness and entered a more forested area. I appreciated the shade. At Holden Lake we stopped for a break and filtered some water for the rest of our hike today. The mosquito’s soon found us and it became more miserable sitting there swatting the damn bugs than to shoulder our packs and move on. The trail deteriorated quickly and we followed a climber’s trail around the north side of Holden Lake. There were patches of snow now that obscured the trail in places but soon we were at the northwest end of Holden Lake where the trail was submerged in the high lake water in spots and disappeared in brush and downed trees in other areas. We knew where we wanted to go, but getting there was becoming increasingly difficult. At the northeast end of the lake we lost any trail completely and we started bushwhacking with full packs. This was no fun, but we kept going and soon broke out onto a more snow covered brushy area. It was easier walking on the snow than breaking brush so we tried to stay on the right side of the little valley heading up to Holden Pass. Fortunately we finally found a climber’s trail on the right side of the creek and followed it upward. I was soon falling behind again and I took my time climbing the 1,000 ft up to the pass. I knew that was where we were going to make camp and it was still early in the afternoon.
About 200 ft below Holden Pass we stopped and filtered water out of the creek we had been following. There was not going to be any water on the pass, so we filled all our water containers for the evening meal and the next morning. We should be able to find some melting glacier water for our climb to the summit the next day. I was just grateful to stop hiking for a while….
After our water hike, we continued to Holden Pass. The pass was 90% covered with snow and we had very few options for tent sites. We finally decided on 2 sites that would work and we set up our tents. You can see Bonanza Peak from Holden Pass so we spent considerable time gazing at what our objective was for the next day. Beautiful area!! Dinner was next on the agenda and we all made our meals and indulged our appetites. You really can’t eat too much before a big climb. We ate until the mosquito’s found us and then we retired for the evening.
We had an early morning wake up for the morning. July 2nd has a lot of daylight and there was no sense in getting an alpine start when we could plan on 16 hours of daylight. The morning was full of anticipation and no time was wasted on a lingering breakfast. We were hiking before before the sun was over the horizon and found a climber’s trail going up from the saddle towards Bonanza Peak. Everything is steep from here to the summit, so we made good progress upward. Soon we were out of the trees and on rocks, scree, and talus. The trail ends in a slabby area heading out to the toe of the Mary Green Glacier. We knew we didn’t want to go out onto the slabs at the toe of the glacier and we had read enough trip reports to know that there was a way to go up a steep slope to an area east of the Mary Green Glacier. Greg finally located a route up and Adam followed. I was lower on the slope with Grant and saw them climbing up. Grant wanted to explore a little more, so I climbed up and followed Greg and Adam. Climbing up was not too difficult, but it was exposed. After climbing 50-60 ft I could see Greg and Adam waiting above and I could see an anchor position with slings off to my right where other parties have rappelled down from this location. Grant soon gave up his quest for an easier route and we set up an anchor and dropped the end of the rope down to him. Grant scrambled up and joined us and then we continued up the rocky slope as far as we could go before encountering the east end of the Mary Green Glacier.
The Mary Green Glacier at this point is not very steep, so we tried to just hike out to the steeper section without roping up. We soon discovered this was a mistake because it was icy. For safety purposes we roped up, put on crampons and broke out our ice axes. I felt a lot safer and I think my team mates did too. An icy fall in this location could have taken us over the end of the glacier, off a cliff, and onto the rocks far below.
We crossed the Mary Green and picked up a climber’s track leading up the glacier. We grouped up in a place that looked safe and gave Grant all our pickets. The plan was for him to lead and set a few pieces of protection across the top of the glacier. That plan worked well and we were all soon off the glacier and on the rocks. We were early enough in the season that there was no difficulty crossing the bergschrund next to the rocks. We dropped our crampons here since it was a rock scramble from here to the summit.
Climbing the rocks was mostly Class 3 scrambling and lots of route finding. Since there were 4 of us, we had 4 sets of eyes looking for the easiest route up. It worked well and while we took different routes at times, we all kept coming back together and picking our next objective. We kept going up and we could see the summit coming closer. It was exciting to finally approach the summit. This is a long climb from the glacier gaining about 700 ft. We finally all managed to find a route up to the little summit ridgeline and were happy to walk the short distance to the summit. We made it! No one needed a belay on the way up the rocks, so we made good time.
The summit views from Bonanza are stunning! It was a beautiful day and we could see for a hundred miles in all directions. Glacier Peak is fairly close to the southwest and was still beautifully clad in its white winter coat. We could see all the way to Rainier in the south and Baker to the north. This has to be one of the most beautiful viewscapes in the continental U.S.
We still had work to do, so after lunch and a rest, we headed down. We downclimbed for a while and then set up an anchor for a rappel. We did this a couple times. Once I needed it because I had dropped one of my water bottles and during the belay I retrieved it. At the bottom of the rock portion of the climb, we roped up and put on our crampons for the Mary Green. It was afternoon now and the warmth of the day was making the top of the glacier kind of slushy. It was good to finally get across the glacier and on to the rocky dirt area again. One more rappel down from the ledge we climbed up earlier and we were home free.
When we got to Holden Pass there were a couple of groups of climbers who were going to attempt Bonanza the next day. We gave them the benefit of our experience. Our plan was to spend another night at Holden Pass, climb Martin Peak in the morning and then race down the hill to meet catch the bus to take us back to Lucerne Point and then catch the Lady of the Lake to take us back to Fields Point. The Lady of the Lake only makes one trip a day on the lake, so if you miss the boat, you have really missed the boat and you have to wait until the next day for her to return. When we got back to camp at the pass, I told my climbing partners that I was done and would pass on climbing Martin Peak. It would require an early start towards Martin Peak and a quick ascent. I was tired enough that I knew I wouldn’t have the legs to do Martin and then race to catch the boat. After dinner, we all hit the sack early.
The next morning all my partners had decided to pass on Martin Peak also, so we had a leisurely breakfast and then headed down to Holden. In Holden, Grant and I went to their community dining hall and joined them for lunch. It was great to have fresh food. Cold cottage cheese and a great bean soup sure hit the spot. The bus took us down to Lucerne Point, but the boat was late. This was a great opportunity to take off our boots and soak our weary feet in the lake. If someone could open an ice cream stand at Lucerne Point, they would make a fortune. I know I would have paid $10 for a nice double cone. I was almost sorry to see the boat coming across the lake. Oh well, all good things have to end sometime. We boarded the boat and were soon motoring towards Chelan. About half way back to Fields Point the boat slowed down and the captain pointed out some mountain sheep on the nearby cliffs. This was a fitting end to our trip.
I calculated that we had covered 18 miles and had 6,300 ft of elevation gain on our climb.