It is official!! Cabin fever has taken EastKing by storm!!! It has been almost a month since I have done even a remotely decent summit. The weather has been miserable and brutal at the same time. The avalanche danger and the snow conditions in Washington have been ever changing and winter really has shown this area its ugly head. I was supposed to go to Little Annapurna earlier in the week but I do like to live and I knew from all the snow coming in that I was just putting myself in a potentially dangerous suffer fest with no potential chance at the summit. Gimpilator and I have been trying to pull a trip together in the past three months but the weather the last two has been nothing short of a total nightmare.
Well we decided to taking on Low Mountain, which by no means is a small mountain but compared to its neighbors Kaleetan, Bryant, and Granite Mountain. The forecast was looking somewhat decent with snow in the early morning clearing out with sunshine in the afternoon. Okay, that is not the best forecast but it was heck of lot better than what had been going on the last couple of weeks. And with that forecast we decided to go for it.
On the trip was yours truly, Gimpilator, JacobSmith, and Jordan Halas. We were concern that we would have to walk in to capture the trailhead to Low Mountain but luckily that was not the case. We were able to drive up to about a quarter mile from the true trailhead. This probably earned us at least an hour of time not to mention saving us serious effort all in which we would need for the main part of the climb. Jordan Halas could only stay with us for a little of the trip. He had to be at work at 2 pm but really wanted to get some exercise in for the trip. Jordan and I also have not hiked in almost a year and his cabin fever had become overwhelming.
Heading Up To Hemlock Pass
Map of Our Route
The weather at the trailhead started out with moderate snow and the temperatures were seasonally cool but we were expecting that. All the “weather experts” were calling for it to clear out in the morning and decent in the afternoon so we all just layered up and headed into the wilderness. The trail started out well used and turned out to be bootable all of the way to Denny Creek. All of us made very good time getting to that point. JacobSmith and I both put on our snowshoes early but that was for us just to get used to them and so we could have traction in the slush. Once past Denny Creek we all had to put on snowshoes. From there the slog up began. At first Gimpilator led up the mountain and he did it at a torrid pace. It is probably the first I have ever been on snowshoes where the guy breaking the trail in deep powder was leaving everyone else in the dust. After a mile to a mile of leading we all took a break.
From there on Jacob and Jordan lead much up of the way up to Hemlock Pass where we would have to traverse the pass over to the true summit of Low Mountain. The rough snow had really slowed us down here and at 11:30 Jordan turn-around point we had not even made Hemlock Pass. We continued past Jordan’s turn-around point all the way to the past when we arrived there just 20 minutes later. By this time the weather should have been clearing but it clearly was not clearing. It was brutally snowing and the trees on top were filled with rime ice. From there it was supposed to be an easy ridge walk to the summit.
Hemlock Pass to the Summit
This traverse became anything but an easy ridge walk. The ridge itself though treed on top was narrow with steep slopes on both sides. To make matters more interesting there was a cliff on the north side with a drop-off though it was treed in. Jacob did a damn good job leading us over some very sketchy terrain. Though Gimpilator and I helped out from time to time, Jacob did the bulk of the hard work here, especially on the toughest sections of the traverse.
After the first tenth of a mile or so it mellowed out. At this point it was an endurance test through the nasty slog and the brutal winter conditions. All of us were very wet and very cold and the pounding of the harsh winter made this trip a real struggle. I felt bad because when it was finally my turn to help out breaking trail I could only go a couple hundred yards and body was spent. Not hiking in a while really had hurt me here. The powdery unconsolidated snow did not help any here making very move a workout in its own. At this point the only thing that kept me going was the desire for that summit and the thought that I would never have to come back here ever again. Of course our grand finally still awaited us.
Icy Summit Block
The snowy summit! Notice the lack of views due to the weather High on Low!
When we finally reached the summit rocks we were greeted by what looked at first like a Class 3 or 4 scramble covered in rime ice. Luckily I had read enough to know that there was an easier way on the backside but this a little discouraging at first. JacobSmith again led this section as he did on most of the tougher sections. After a little discussion and route experimenting we decided to traverse over the south slope to the other side where we were greeted with a walk up to the summit. I never was happier to see the summit of a mountain. This brutal struggle through the unconsolidated snow and the constant one foot forward and two feet backwards on the final approach nearly caused me to throw up. The weather might have been snowing heavily, with a nasty wind and brutally cold but was really happy I made it to the summit.
The Struggle Back: Fighting Extreme Fatigue
Heading down from Hemlock Pass
Unfortunately when you make the summit you are halfway there. The good thing about the way back is that we did not have to break trail on the way down. The bad thing was though that we only had two hours left. So after ten minutes on the mountain it was time for us to speed on down the mountain. About twenty minutes down from the mountain the weather began to clear up. The only though I had about this was anger and wondering why it just couldn’t clear up twenty minutes earlier. Views of the distant mountains never opened up completely though. We at this point were just cruising down the mountain as quick as we could. I was a little slower than the rest due to the fact that at this point I was getting a little weak. The struggle up the mountain had really taken its toll on me and I was very weak and tired for the downhill. We cruised making it to Hemlock Pass in little time. The narrow ridge traverse now was much easier that we had good boot-prints in the tougher sections. Once passed Hemlock Pass we were on cruise control. Of course this was where the views did open up a little bit which slowed us up so that we could take pictures.
Gimpilator started to notice that on the way down I was getting noticeably weaker at that point he quickly stopped all of us so that we could all eat up our food for the last round. We knew we were not going to make sundown so now our major concern was making it down safely. We took a little time to eat all of our food and rehydrate our bodies for our last stretch down to the car. That break made all the difference in me as my body regained much of the strength it needed to finish up this grueling trip. We head lamped the last 30 minutes back to the car. Though all of us were soaked from head to toe, despite changing most of our gear plenty of time throughout the climb, we were glad to make it safely back to our car.
I want to thank everyone who came on this amazing struggle of a trip. This was a tough climb and it reminded me how important it is to get out as consistently as possible. I want to thank Gimpilator and Jordan Halas. for his strong initial snowshoe trail-breaking early and JacobSmith for his strong route finding and trail breaking in some of the sketchiest sections of the traverse from Hemlock Pass to the summit. This was a heck of a trip and I would not have been able to make it or have an enjoyable time without you all. I am looking forward to the next adventure.