Mt. Townsend in May
Saturday May 13 is beautiful. Mt. Rainier is out with the 6:10 Ferry to Bainbridge Island. Driving across the Hood Canal Bridge, The Brothers and Mt. Constance and Mt. Townsend are bright white with a bright blue sky. We park at the fire road's snow line. No matter about driving farther as a giant conifer has fallen, blocking trailhead access to the road.
Our goal is Mt. Townsend, the Northeast cornerpost of the Olympics, and a class 1 climb (a walk up). I expect perhaps deep and soft snow on the summit ridge, but nothing requiring an ice axe.
As our party of 8 ascends through white forest, snow falls from the trees, hitting us wet and cold. I don't have adequate insulation and am still dragging with some sort of malady.
The trail disappears in the hard, consolidated snow and the grade is avalanche steep. With a white out forming, I worry about route-finding and ill-preparedness as no one has ice axes and certain party members are poorly prepared (i.e. cotton t-shirt and cotton/poleyester sweatshirt and nothing else).
On the bright side, there are no fatal run outs. Still, I feel like I may have underestimated this class 1 trip, though I did warn all the invitees to expect conditions more intense than a hike. Specifically, I maintained significant snow would make it feel like a mountaineering trip.
We're fogged in on the summit. Alas, in clear weather, one has a commanding view of the Olympics, and from Baker to Glacier Peak to Rainier, the Cascades, and perhaps some Canadian peaks across the water. We did see Glacier and Baker lower down under the clouds too, before even gaining the summit ridge. Below is another summit view. While we contended with lots of snow on the SE slope, the summit ridge had mostly melted bare by May 12. In fact, Mt. Townsend is suppose to be a snow-free hike as early as June.
While the snow was quite tough, and my toes hurt kicking steps on the ascent, I'm surprised with the ease of descent as we plunge step down. I suppose it makes sense with gravity and the heel of my boot helping, verse the non-strengthened boot toe which is used on the ascent. Well, some of us glissaded, seated. I did shout out a warning about not glissading with an ice axe due to difficulty in self-arrest if the glissade goes 'bad.' A protruding rock caused one minor glissading injury, but nothing serious, as the injured party walked out fine.
The three other guys in our party lead the way on the descent with the sitting glissade. I never glissaded. No ice axe, and little insulation. Interestingly, the guys tended to lead the trip both up and down, being the most type A, and the girls tended to follow. I'm glad the girls came, because they are just as fit and enthusiastic as the guys, and they also tend to have a moderating influence on the guys. Specifically, their moderating influence prevents the trip from degenerating into one raw race to the top.
Overall, Mt. Townsend is definitely a worthwhile experience, though I would recommend July or August for the better views and ease of ascent. Also, I feel our trip was a bit ill-prepared for these sketchy conditions, but it worked out since we all had fun and no serious injuries. I think our prior mountaineering experience helps and our level of fitness too. Essentially, all party members had gaitors (except for the one minimalist) and some sort of basic snow clothing.
On the trailhead register, other parties retreated, writing, 'need snowshoes for summit.' We signed out, 'reached summit - no snowshoes.'