Destination: Mt. Price (5587F, 1467P) Date of Climb: Monday, December 13, 2004 Party members: Stefan Feller, James Hamaker, Paul Klenke, Jeremy Goins (a peakbagging newbie) Weather: Overcast but no rain (or snow) Conditions: Springlike snow, sparse in most places, muddy trail where not snow covered
I met the others at the truck stop in North Bend at 6:00AM and piled in with them in Stefan's Honda Accord. I was a little curious as to the conditions of the Middle Fork road since I hadn't been up it for over 5 years. Stefan informed me that the forest service had regraded it earlier in the year all the way to the Dingford Creek Trailhead. I was surprised to see the road in great condition. The last time I was up that way I had to wallow the car through multiple mud holes. The only real problem was Stefan's low-riding vehicle--especially with four people in it. My butt received the full vibrational grind of rocks scraping along his running boards. We encountered one washout at the Mt. Garfield "trailhead" (2.3 miles beyond Taylor Junction). Thank god for the abandoned TV in the road acting as a sort of warning marker. Fortunately, others had created a bypass around the drop off. We three passengers had to get out of the car to raise Stefan's car on its suspension to get through the bypass.
We began hiking up the trail at 7:25AM. Stefan, Jeremy, and I had snowshoes; James had his shorty skis. In about an hour we found ourselves at the Goat Creek crossing contemplating whether to do the cross-country Northwest Route. The snow was more or less solid now on the trail but not deep. James suggested we go all the way around to Hester Lake. Stefan went ahead up the trail, apparently to help us make the decision. Yep, to the lake we were going. In hindsight, we should have done the Northwest Route. But that's under the bridge now. Also, at this point, James, Stefan, and I did not see Jeremy again until the end of the day. He had been slowed down by something. And since this is December where time is of the essence, we didn't wait for him to catch up. He knew the deal: stay in our tracks and don't do anything stupid.
In about 3.5 hours we reached the outlet of Hester Lake (3,886 ft). It had taken an hour longer than I had anticipated. All that muddy trail had slowed us down. I had leather boots on so had to be more diligent on where I stepped. Even so, I found myself making that squishy goopy sound we all know so well when we step wrongly.
When were we going to don our snowshoes? Now was the time. James had left his skis at one of the small ponds before Hester Lake. It was obvious to him then that he would be doing no skiing that day. Stefan zoomed ahead and I followed, never quite catching up. Perhaps it was the crossing of the outlet log jam that slowed me up. That was interesting to say the least wearing snowshoes while stepping from log to log, praying this log or that wouldn't sink or move enough to throw me off balance. But, ah, no kerplooshes this time.
The forest on the north shore slopes rather steeply at times right into the lake. One slip and into the water you'd go. Fortunately, the snow was not icy (but we weren't sinking into it either). Finally, at the far end, we had to cross a big boulder slope with just enough snow to obscure the holes but not enough to support your weight. At that point it became obvious snowshoes were useless (we should have left them at home). Half-a-mile of snowshoeing is not worth the weight.
With unnecessary gear left behind, Stefan and I made haste for the summit. James was following us several hundred yards behind. Our first objective was Little Hester Lake (4,220 ft). This we reached rather quickly. The snow only really sucked in open talus areas (snowy pitfalls). Little Hester Lake was also passed on its north shore. Our second objective was the 4,640+ ft saddle northwest of the lake. However, since we couldn't see it through the trees, we wound up veering too far left, thus gaining the crest at around 4,800 ft by way of a steep snow gully. Not that this was a problem since that meant we had shortened the distance a little.
By this time Stefan and I were sucking as well as sucking wind. It seemed like neither of us could sustain the sharp end of the slog for very long. So where was James to do his share? Man that guy's smart. He must have learned from Greg Koenig the proper lollygagging technique.
Once we got on the ridge (the North Ridge of Price) spirits lifted a bit even if our energy was trending toward a flatline--an S-N curve for our bodies. The first half of the ridge we ascended on the left (east) side. A cliffy depression on the right side forced us left. There were two enjoyable steep snow and rock gullies to climb through (Class 3 max). After a short steep gully we crossed to the right side and contoured a semi-forested slope until we were under the northwest side of the summit. One final steep, panting push got Stefan and myself to the final, open ridge to the top. James trudged his way up shortly thereafter, using a different final route. I guess he was too cool--or too tough--to use our slog tracks.
It was now after 1:00PM. It had taken about 5.5 hours to make the summit (a half-hour longer than I had anticipated). Hmmm; only 3.5 hours of light left and soooo far to go.
We all signed the register, whose booklet was nearly frozen solid. Our names were entered in a non-frozen margin. I took my usual photos and off we went. Stefan had left earlier.
Back at Hester Lake Stefan and I didn't bother putting snowshoes back on. We liked the idea of using James' bootpath instead. We managed to make it all the way back to the Goat Creek crossing and then some (2 miles from the car) before stopping to turn on our headlamps. At just after 5:30PM we plopped back onto the road (10+ hours round trip). Jeremy had been there about an hour. It turns out he had made it all the way to Hester Lake. It sure was nice that he had warmed the car for us. I hate putting on cold clothes. Don't you?
It started to rain as we departed. By the time we got to North Bend the weather had turned to bile. And by the time I got back to Seattle it was total crap.