Black Peak Birthday WeekendWhen my girlfriend, Annie, asked me how I wanted to spend my birthday weekend, I said I wanted to climb Black Peak with her. It is one I have eyed for several years but just never got to. It looked like the perfect one for us as it is listed as a Class 3 scramble up the south ridge with camping by a lake and I had been to the area a year before when I did the Heather Pass loop hike. I really wanted to make sure she enjoyed this one as it would be her first overnight camping trip. She has done a few hikes with me this year and used to hike the mountains in Colorado when she lived there but this would be a step up from ones she had previously done and I really wanted to make it enjoyable for her. She is pretty tough and doesn’t complain on hikes but this would be my chance to show her how great this stuff is and convince her to join me on greater endeavors as well.
We drove up Friday night, stayed in Mt. Vernon, WA and were off the next morning to Rainy Pass. We stopped for lunch at the Buffalo Inn Restaurant in Marblemount which was excellent. Sunny day, things were looking good. I had a new Osprey backpack and was looking forward to the trip.
We left the car at the parking lot and were hiking up the switchbacks about 1 or 2 pm. I knew that Radek and his wife Shirley were going to climb the technical Northeast Ridge route with Haydar and Radek’s brother that day and we were tentatively planning on camping at Wing Lake that night together. I also knew that Tazz was planning on being there as well so this would be a nice first overnight hiking/camping trip for Annie (did I mention this was her first time not car-camping?). We would have friends, the weather was looking great, etc.
I had most of the gear in my pack so Annie would have a nice light backpack too. My new pack was working great and I did not really notice how heavy the pack was. We made it to Heather Pass without incident and took a break for some crackers and salami. This was all good and well but we started noticing how many bugs there were which I thought was strange for how late in the season it was.
Anyway, after our break, we caught the climbers’ path off the main trail towards Lewis Lake which would then head up to Wing Lake. What I did not know was that the path lost several hundred feet of elevation over a large boulder field. Maybe I did not read the route descriptions as thorough as I should have or maybe it is just a bit understated in the guide books but now I was sure Annie was wondering what I had committed her to.
The boulders did take a toll on Annie and of course my losing the trail did not help when we were on looser rock in this section. She tweaked her knee and was hobbling before we got down to Lewis Lake. Because of this, I decided against the more direct boulder-hopping route around the left side of the lake and opted to try to find the “trail” that was supposed to exist around the right side of the lake. It was supposed to be a bit longer but I figured a trail would be better on her knee.
We got around to the right side of the lake and then the trail disappeared on the shore (or at least I lost it). We climbed up and around a small hill and started bushwhacking as the trail was nowhere to be seen. We cliffed out on the left above the lake and had to climb more. We ended up sidestepping down a steep hill/cliff with loose dirt. I about bit it when a log gave way under my feet and that is when the fun really started.
Annie gave a shout, “LOOK, LOOK, B-B-B-Bears!”
Below us about 50 feet was a mother black bear and two cubs. She was herding them into the brush and up a tree slowly keeping an eye on us as she had spotted us first. I looked at Annie and she was near tears and scared. I reassured her that the bears were moving away from us and had no intention of coming at us. All the mom wanted to do was to make sure her kids were safe. We had the superior ground here and she would not be looking to attack us. It took a few minutes to calm her down but we then bushwhacked more into a clear spot at the bottom of a dry streambed/meadow. We were past Lewis Lake now and the ground would soon rise in front of us up to Wing Lake. I pointed out to her where we were going to and it was not that far away. There would be people there, we’d be safe, it’s above the trees and no reason for bears to go there.
No sooner had I said that when she yelled “MORE!”
Above us, maybe 50 yards away on a hillside above the meadow we were in was another mother and a cub and they had not seen us yet. I yelled “HELLO!” so they would not be surprised by us and they both stopped and looked. We stared at each other for maybe 15 seconds and Annie was now clearly not happy with my choice of hikes. I got between Annie and the bears and the mother got her cub on her backside. I told Annie we would slowly arc left away from them but we’ll stay on the edge of the meadow so they can see us.
We started doing that and the bears did the same thing. They clearly were not interested in us all that much as they started munching on the blueberries that surrounded them on the hillside. Everybody did the big circle thing until we were at opposite ends of the meadow and we disappeared into the brush following the rocks in the dry streambed up.
Annie was actually hilarious at this time although clearly not meaning to be. I told her the thing that would discourage any more bears from meeting us was the sound of a human voice. Annie is from Germany and although she has been a US citizen for 15 years and was an English major in college, she still has a slight accent. She boomed out a loud song that went something like “Hello bears, we are coming through! I am too skinny to eat, keep to your berries! Go away, I taste like crap! The guy in front of me has better marbling in his meat anyway!” It was quite funny with the accent.
Also, by now, her knee was really hurting her. She wouldn’t let me take any weight from her pack and just trudged up after me. Also, the black fly and mosquito bites were adding up on her arms, legs and neck. I found out she is somewhat allergic to the bites and her arms, neck and legs now had hard bumps a few inches in diameter welling up. Finally, the trees gave way to open heather and we actually found the trail right before reaching Wing Lake just in time as Annie started to wonder when this day would be over. My wonderful introduction into overnight hiking and camping now had her limping, and covered in welts all after walking into groups of bears. Not exactly what I had aimed for.
When we got to Wing Lake, I spotted Radek’s dog, Blondie. Blondie and I are old friends going back to when we slept in the back of Radek’s truck a few years ago before climbing Mt. Washington in the Olympics. (No man-dog jokes here, you know what I mean.) I actually belayed up Radek and Blondie one time on that climb. Well, I called Blondie’s name and the tail started thumping in the dirt. She was on a leash by the lake next to a water bowl and some packs. I presumed this meant they decided to climb already today and scanned the peak ahead. There was a group of 4 coming down in the scree and I heard Radek yell “Bloooo-ndie!”
They soon got to us and said they started early that morning and did it as a day trip. Seemed Radek was not impressed with the quality of the route though. While they got some food and drink, I went up to drop our packs at a campsite. I had snuck some of Annie’s favorite snacks into the pack and wanted to surprise her. I returned with her favorite jar of Nutella and a spoon and although I had just taken her into an area where she got injured and walked through 5 bears, I actually did get a hug.
Also, when I got back to the group, Tazz and 2 of her friends showed up. They did the south ridge that day and gave me some beta on the best way to go up the scree field beneath the peak. Radek’s group soon had to go back to the car and Annie and I went up to make camp.
(We camped on the small hill left of Wing Lake in this photo.)
We got the tent set up quickly (I love that new Black Diamond Lighthouse tent I have) and Radek, Shirley, Haydar and Tom walked through camp on their way out saying goodbye. Soon after, it was just Annie and I and the darkness around us. I brought some heavier foods to make sure she had a good meal. I was going to make my “chicken surprise” which is canned chicken, dehydrated veggies over Spanish rice, a little concoction I made after eating something similar on a mountaineering course I had taken years earlier. What I didn’t count on was the stove conking out on me….
I could get the thing lit but the flame slowly would die. I could get it to meagerly stay on if I shook the fuel canister certain ways. I took it apart and cleared some gunk from it and managed to get it going enough to where the water would almost bubble. Then it died again. And again. So, we ate cold chicken from a can while the mostly warm water tried to cook the rice. Eventually, it did work out to where we ate tepid rice from the pot. Annie was being a very good sport about it but I think I was still riding the Nutella karma at this point.
The night was beautiful though, if a bit chilly. The summer was winding down and the air was crisp. We watched satellites cross the sky and then turned in. Thank God the new sleeping pad and sleeping bag we got for her worked well that night. I am not sure how much sleep she actually got, I remember my first night in the woods hearing wolves and lions and other monsters every few seconds and was sure she dealt with a bit of that that night as well. I also know the pain and numbness in her arms from the black fly bites was keeping her awake.
We got up in the morning and I had another surprise in store for her. I had brought a civilian version of an MRE for her. These are the tv dinner-like meals that heat themselves on a heating element when you pour water on it. I can vouch for the quality of this one as the blueberry pancakes and bacon actually were kind of tasty.
The morning was bright and beautiful and I got my fanny pack ready to go. We had decided that Annie would not climb today due to her knee but she wanted to hike up a ways with me. A few feet into the hike, it was evident that would not work. She was limping quite badly and I had to hurt her feelings a bit by telling her she was “slowing me down.” It was the only way that she would not follow me. In reality, she was not slowing me down that much because truth be -- I ain’t that fast. But she could barely put pressure on the leg and I did not want her to get hurt further. Call it tough love, it really sucked because she gave me a look like I had just slapped a puppy or something. I could see the realization come over her face though that it was the right thing to do and she turned back to hobble to the tent. Man, that sucked.
I turned and went up the scree field, taking into account Tazz’s advice to cut back right under a rockband to gain better footing. It was true and I got to the saddle above the scree field and at the base of the south ridge in about 30 minutes.
(Looking down from the top of the scree)
(Looking up the route from the saddle)
Again, I followed Tazz’s advice and stuck to the ridge instead of getting lured into the gully just left of it. It looks like easier ground in the gully but the rock is more solid, the views are better and it is easier going on the ridge. When in doubt, stick to the ridge until the gully and it meet up near the top.
(Point where the routes meet)
I could see down to the tent and kept waving to Annie although I couldn’t see her anymore and I doubt she could see me. Still having guilt about telling her to turn back, I guess. The route is pretty straight-forward and is cairned near the top. You end up traversing out right onto the ledges on the east face and come to a section of about 15 feet of loose ledgy stuff and near vertical rock. At this point, I was REALLY glad Annie was not there. She would not have liked it and would not have liked me doing it. There is a ledge below you on this section so if you fell, it would probably not mean death but it is definitely 4th class, perhaps 5.0??
Anyway, I did the couple or so moves to scramble up it and was finally on top of Black Peak, the first summiteer of the day. I took some shots and then downclimbed the tricky part, then it was just a nice hike down. The scree section was mostly a nice scree ski and I got back to camp by 10:30 am. I found Annie in the tent avoiding bugs.
We filtered some water in the lake and sat snuggling there for a while before packing up. It was the one spot where there was a slight breeze that kept the bugs at bay. We then headed back and what took us about 2 hours to hike in from Heather Pass the day before was about 4 hours going out due to her knee. We just went slow and easy but it was hot that day. I kept taking things out of her pack on break stops and putting them in mine when she wasn’t looking. I bet she only had a 10 pound pack on the way out and didn’t realize it. I just felt like I had tanked on this trip and was just trying to get her back to the car and on to what I knew would be a good rest of the weekend.
That boulder field between Lewis Lake and Heather Pass went on forever. When it did end though, it was extra nice because once back on flat ground, her knee did not hurt. She actually was much faster than me on the trail back to the car. It passed without incident, no bears, no injuries, just the constant hum of bugs in our ears.
The sight of the car with intact windows was very nice to see a few hours later. I had some Hostess Ding Dongs stashed in there and they tasted extra sweet. From there we went to Winthrop where we had some damn fine pizza. After that we drove to Leavenworth, where I had a very nice hotel room waiting for us at the Bavarian Lodge. The great thing about it was that already she was starting to talk about how beautiful it was by the lake and how she actually enjoyed the food instead of the bugs, bears, bad knee, etc.
But wait, it doesn’t end that nicely. Between Cashmere and Winthrop, some knucklehead crossed 4 lanes of traffic in front of us. I had to slam on my breaks to avoid him. I flashed my brights and tried to pass on the left but another car was coming up from behind. The guy now slammed on his brakes in front of me to try to get me to rear-end him. I slammed on mine and he pulled on onto the shoulder. So, I passed him and then he got on my ass with his brights on. This continued on for about 10 miles until we got to Leavenworth. I did not want him knowing where we were going so I drove through to the west end of town and turned to do a loop through the tourist section. He turned with me.
I did a loop through and he followed me again. By now, I was wondering if this guy had a gun or something. He was in a pickup wearing a wife-beater shirt and backwards hat looking like something from Jerry Springer. I decided to play it safe and had Annie call 911 on the cell phone. By the time I was on my third loop down the main strip, the cops said they would come and I waited until the last minute to make a left into another hotel lot. The guy went slowly past hanging out of the truck yelling expletives.
The cops pulled him over out of town and he gave some story about being from a reservation in Idaho going to see his kid on the coast. They told me I could file against him to take him to court but I sort of assumed the whole thing was over when he went past and got his little tirade out of the way. I would have had to go back to court there so I dropped the whole thing. Besides, we had a great hotel room to get to. Needless to say it is a great place to stay and I highly recommend it. They have a free breakfast buffet every morning with homemade biscuits and gravy, omelets, fresh-squeezed juice, etc. And the rooms are beautiful.
We spent the next day in Leavenworth playing tourist. I did not know if Annie would think it was cheesy or nice, seeing that she is from central Germany. But, she said it was very authentic and now wants to move there (although that may have more to do with the 300+ days of sun per year compared to what we have in Portland). She actually brought her dirndl from Germany and wore it around that day. Only problem was that people there thought she was on break from working there instead of being the real deal. No problem though, when she ordered schnitzel or said any German words, even the locals could tell what was authentic.