The Hike to Base CampMy wife and I had been planning for this trip for two months now. We had scouted out the routes last month in the hopes that when we returned over Labor Day weekend, we'd be prepared to take on Daniel. As we stepped out of the car at the Cathedral Trailhead, we could tell we were in for some fun. The clouds had begun to crowd around Cathedral Rock and Mount Daniel from what we could see. Wind was blowing us all over the place in huge gusts only ten feet from the trailhead. No worries...weather can change quickly and, after having studied the weather forecast for the last week, we were confident that as the day went on, things would lighten up. As we moved up the all-too-boring trail to Squaw Lake (always my least favorite part), things seemed to calm down a bit and, upon reaching the lake, it seemed like the sun was on it's way out to warm us up. This was short-lived and we soon got the first of the snow upon entering Spinola Meadows.
As we headed over Cathedral Pass the wind and snow started to pick up. This wasn't the nice, happy, dry snow, but rather the obnoxious, wet, heavy snow. By the time we made it through the pass, we were chilled to the bone and wishing that Peggys Cabin was actually still standing and harboring a nice fire by the time we passed it. We reached Peggys Pond to find only two other parties camping there. One was a couple who was leaving and offered their campsite to us, if we were willing to wait for them to pack up. They said that they were planning on spending another night, but that the weather was making it not worth their while, so they decided they'd pack it out through the now, much heavier snowfall tonight. As it was already 5:30pm, it seemed that they would be dealing, at least for the last little bit of the trail, with darkness. We wished them well and hoped that they made it out safely.
The tent went up easily and we settled down for some warmth and food. That night, we were snowed on almost constantly and suffered through winds in the the 15-20 mph range, with gusts that seemed to top out at around 30-40ish mph. The tent took it like a champ, as always, but not without making a lot of noise and shaking a fair bit. As we huddled in our sleeping bags in the relative safety of the tent, we discussed the plans for tomorrow morning. We decided that we'd set the alarm for 5am, in the hopes that the weather will have subsided and we could get a good, early-morning start up Mount Daniel.
The ClimbThe next morning, we woke up at 5am as planned to find the wind howling and the snow still coming down, although now it seemed to be more like slushy rain. Resetting the alarm, we decided to see if this particularly bad patch of weather would leave us before venturing out onto the mountain. About an hour later, we were up and getting our summit packs ready. It was cold and still very windy, but luckily the precipitation had subsided for the time being. We left camp at around 6:30am and headed towards Mount Daniel's Hyas Creek Glacier Basin.
On our way up the Hyas Creek Glacier Basin, the weather appeared to be calm. The clouds were still rolling in over the north side of the mountain and descending into the basin at an alarming pace, but there was no snow or rain with which to contend, which was a marked improvement over our trip up here the day before. We made it up passed the first, prominent hump (on climber's left), marking the entrance into the basin and thought we'd actually make it most of the way without weather hassling us, as the clouds had begun to clear up further west, revealing the East Peak and East Spire for the first time that morning. Time would tell that we were wrong...
After getting ourselves into the lower basin, we strolled at a leisurely pace across the flat expanse between "The Hump" and the sheer and polished wall that separates the lower portion from the upper portion. This particular portion of the climb brought on a rather profound realization, that namely being the existence of the wall that I just mentioned. Through the last two months of planning and staring at countless maps and photos, it had not become clear to me that this terrain feature even existed. Some of the Hyas Creek Basin photos on SP show it clearly once you know what to look for, but with no perspective, it looks as if one could simple stroll across the lower basin to gain the glacier remnants at the foot of the headwall. This was, indeed, not the case.
Marnie and I surveyed the wall, which appeared to tower approximately 100 - 200 feet above the lower basin floor on which we were standing, depending on where along the length of it you looked. There seemed to be three options for climbing it. The left was a 30 - 35 degree slope of small-to-medium sized rock interspersed with boulders, with a few steep patches of snow, the middle was what seemed to be a fairly vertical and smooth face of rock, and the right was a long, sandy ramp. After considering our options, we decided to go for the left side.
At this point there was very little snow in the lower portion, so we moved across the jumble of rock and glacier sand without much trouble. The few glimpses that we got of the upper basin seemed to suggest that there was still a significant amount of the frosty stuff left over from this crazy snow year. As we made our way over to the left (southeast) side of the wall, the clouds started to come in from behind us and the sky darkened considerably. Still no precipitation...we pressed on.
The entire inner portion of the basin was peppered with a thin layer of rime, likely from the night before. This made things a bit more tricky as we began our ascent up class 3 (I'm assuming it was about a 2-3ish, based on my limited experience) slope to gain the upper basin. It almost looked like the rocks had frosting on them...very beautiful, but also very disconcerting. About halfway up the scramble, the clouds dropped much lower than before and the wind started to pick up. Little ice crystals seemed to be entrained in the airflow coming down from the upper portion of the Hyas Creek Glacier Basin.
At this point, the sky was much darker than it was before and the clouds had thickened in all directions. Looking back towards Cathedral Rock and Peggys Pond, we could see the clouds moving in and changing shape right before our eyes. Spinning veins of cloud reached out from above and, at times, seemed to touch the ground far below. The wind was now picking up and the snow came shortly after. We quickly assessed the situation. While this wasn't a blizzard by any stretch of the imagination, the concern we both shared was that, while this portion of the climb was, in and of itself, not of high commitment or difficulty, the rime ice and wind made it so that a retreat down to the lower basin via this route would be slower and more tricky than in good weather, thus exposing us to the nastiness for a greater period of time. That was it...we called it and headed back to camp.
By the time we made it back to the tent, it was snowing pretty heavily, although it happened in bursts rather than constantly now. Having only reached a measly 6200', we felt defeated and spirits were low for an hour or so, as we moped around camp and gorged ourselves on freeze-dried lasagna and chili-mac. After eating, we broke camp and started the hike back out. The trip back afforded us a fair amount of time during which to reflect on the events of the weekend. In the end, we felt that it was a great experience, despite the turn-around. Good fun, good scenery, and the mountain is still there for us to try again. What more can we ask for? We'll be back, Daniel!