Love at First Sight
The first time I saw Mount Thomson was on top of Kendall Peak. A friend of mine invited me along on a hike he was planning to the Kendall Katwalk. I’m not much into hikes without summits, so fortunately Kendall Peak summit is very close to the Kendall Katwalk and I was able to convince my friends to hit the summit while we were there. They agreed, although reluctantly. I was the first to the summit and was greeted by a most impressive view of Thomson. I instantly fell in love with the mountain. I loved its profile, its sheer ridges, and its vertical relief from the surrounding scenery. I knew I was going to find my way up to the summit sooner or later, and turns out it was sooner. Three weeks later I set off from my home town of Chehalis, WA at 5 am for the 2 hour drive to the trailhead.
To Bushwack or not to Bushwack?During my research for the trip I had read about a couple of shortcuts. The first involved taking the Commonwealth Basin Trail instead of the PCT for the first leg of the hike to save about a mile worth of trail. This was a no brainer since I had been on the Commonwealth Basin trail twice before and it’s a great trail even though it is “abandoned”. The second shortcut I was contemplating was a cross country route that involved some bushwacking but supposedly saved 2 miles. I had read several trip reports of people attempting this route without much success. Here are some excerpts:
- ”...The first shortcut follows Commonwealth trail and is nice but the second one is a complete bushwhack and not recommended. This shortcut not only did not save any time it also wasted us.”
- ”...There is no boot track heading down to the Commonwealth Creek. We bushwhacked up and climbers left and it was awful, dangerous bushwhacking and 4-5th class loose veggie cliffs before we finally got to the trail again.“
- “...I took Alternate Shortcut 2 up to Kendall this past week. I am not sure if its really the much "shorter" in that it takes a while to bushwhack… I ended up up and down climbing to make my way around cliff bands.“
- ”...After some more brush-battling when the talus slope petered out we ran into more snow covered slopes, and then after a short steep section we finally stepped onto the PCT. Great success! By this point we were about 6 hours into our adventure, and an aging hiker who passed by as we were regrouping on the trail told us that it had taken him just 4 hours on the PCT.”
So did I listen to all this sage advice? Of course not… I took the bushwack route! I made quick time up the Commonwealth Basin trail, up to the PCT, and to the big switch back where the bushwack route starts. As I stared off into the brush I kept trying to convince myself that this was a good idea. Eventually I took the plunge and stepped off into the foliage. The going was slow and tedious, in fact it was miserable. About 10 minutes in I contemplated turning back and cancelling the trip all together but I pressed on. Tired of forcing my way through shrubs on steep sidehill, I decided to just head straight up the mountain. I had seen pictures of the west side of Kendall and I knew that eventually the terrain would open up. After another 10 minutes of plowing through bushes it opened up! Right into some cliffs! There was a nice looking class 3 gully across the way, but alas, it was blocked by a 30-50 foot ravine with no possible way to downclimb. Again I considered turning back and I was reminded of a quote from Jim Birdwell: “A sense of uncertainty that is potentially fatal is what makes climbing an adventure. Anything less is just working out.” I certainly felt the uncertainty part, although if I had actually though my life was at risk I would certainly have turned around. Instead I pressed on and up the mountain dealing with multiple route finding challenges up the class 3 rock and vegetation covered slopes. I would make my way left, back to the right, and back left again several times before the terrain became largely dirt and talus and shortly after I reached the trail!
I was pretty excited to reach the trail again. The bushwack route had taken me about an hour and certainly was an adventure. I was happy I took the bushwack route, but in hind sight I doubt I would do it again. I hiked the PCT a short distance to the Kendall Katwalk where I took out my GPS and looked at my stats: 2 hours and 2.8 miles! It WAS a shortcut!!! I saved about 30 minutes and about 2.7 miles of trail. I was pretty happy about this, and my legs still felt fresh.
From this point on I was feeling pretty good. The weather was perfect, mid to low 50’s with a slight breeze, sunny, and clear cloudless skies. Great weather for a hike. I recall a trip report by mvs commenting on how much he liked the trail from the Katwalk to Ridge Lake and I would agree, this section of trail is lovely! I was so happy gently floating down the trail towards bumble bee pass. This is what life is all about folks! Soon after I reached the sharp turn in the trail that marks the boot path up to bumble bee pass. The trail was steep and climbed up a couple hundred feet and upon reaching the pass the views of Mount Thomson and the basin below were stunning! As I reached the basin I noted a small trickle of a stream coming from some remaining snow in the basin and was grateful that I would have somewhere to fill up with water on the way back. I eyeballed out a route through the boulders up to the notch on the east ridge of Thomson and started the hike up.
Lost and Foundlatest entry was from Josh Lewis who stated “Did this one with Gimpilator. Sad to say I lost one of my water bottles on this one. This is certainly one of the better I-90 peaks.” Well, on my way across the base of the cliffs towards the notch I looked down about 30-40 feet and spotted a water bottle! The thing was pretty beat up and looked like it had taken quite the fall with nicks and scratches all over it. I thought “I wonder if this is Josh’s lost water bottle?” and tucked it away in my pack. After I got back I PMed him a picture of the water bottle and sure enough, it was the one that he had lost on the belay ledge near the summit! Crazy, huh! :)
The SummitI continued up a steep boot path and reached the notch, then continued on more steep boot path towards the summit. After a few minutes of this I longed for some class 3 rock to scramble up as the steep class 2 boot path was getting annoying. Unfortunately there wasn’t much scrambling up until the last couple hundred feet. I made my way up some easy class 3 and was searching for the 20 foot section of class 4 I was expecting to find. I reached a wall and sure enough, a 20 foot section that looked class 4ish so I climbed up. It was fairly difficult and I had to be careful and remember my holds for the downclimb. Once I reached the top I was disappointed to find nothing but cliffs. I had climbed the wrong section of class 4! Oops. I carefully made my way back down and followed left around the base of the rocks where I found another 20 foot section of class 4. Not wanting to repeat my last mistake I continued left around this route where the terrain got seriously exposed and there was no obvious way up. I turned back and scrambled up the last section of class 4 I had seen and it turned out to be the right route. It wasn’t too difficult. More challenging than normal class 3 climbing but there was not much exposure at all or at least much less than I was expecting. After this a little more scrambling and I was at the summit!
The summit was amazing! Perfectly clear skies and a light haze of smoke from the fires off to the east made for some great scenery. The views of Overcoat, Chimney Rock, and Lemah were amazing and I could see Rainier, Glacier, and Stuart off in the distance. Chair and Kaleetan peaks looked good from this vantage point too. I spent close to an hour on the summit having lunch and soaking in the scenery. It was one of the best summits of 2012 for me by far. I signed the summit register and made my way down. I had no trouble downclimbing the class 4 although I did have to do that section facing in. As I made my way down the boulder field I ran into another party of three older gentlemen on their way up. They were pleased to hear that I was able to make it without protection since they did not bring any rope. One of the men said he had climbed it as a teenager without problems. I wished them luck and we continued on past each other. I hope they were able to make it up and down safely.