North Trapper - Revisited
The Summit – 9,801’
Route Elevation Gain – 4,378‘
Distance – 7.4 miles (total)
Difficulty – Class 4 (in good weather)
Total Route Time – 10 hours 25 minutes
Ascent Date – 9jun07
Having climbed North Trapper fairly recently, (October 14, 2006), it was surprising that the possibility of revisiting that summit would present itself so soon. Normally I’m more interested in attempting peaks which I’ve never visited. But this was a chance I couldn’t pass up.
When I received the Rocky Mountaineers’ Newsletter a week earlier, I noticed Forest Dean (Mtn Ear) was scheduled to lead an attempt on North Trapper. I knew at this time of year there would be snow on the route, especially in two couloirs which would have to be navigated. I had never climbed on snow and figured this might be a good chance for me to gain some experience. I knew the route, so figured the only “new” thing with which I would be contending, was snow. But I also understood the concept that “snow is no small thing.”
Wanting more information before committing, I contacted a good friend who has extensive winter experience in the mountains, Tim Sharp (T Sharp). Having more faith in my abilities than I, he convinced me to give it a try. He even loaned me crampons (mine were still on backorder).
Because the weather forecast for the 10th was not good, the climb was moved up one day. Unfortunately, most of those who had hoped to go along, had to drop out for one reason or another, leaving a climbing party of three, Forest, Nathan, and me.
Now, let me just point a few of things about our party. Forest, 34 years old, has plenty of winter experience in the mountains, is tall, very fit, and an excellent athlete. Nathan, 30 years old, (a new acquaintance for Forest and me), is also very fit, had been climbing mountains all winter, and is attending guide school. Then there I am, 59 years old, fairly fit (haven’t yet reached my peak summer fitness level), and with limited winter experience in the mountains (no climbing on snow).
Here I was, almost twice their age, and not at my "best." I figured it would be a push to keep up with them. (It turned out I was right.) Of course it didn’t help that I’d decided to lug almost double the amount of weight I normally carry (training for some long backcountry excursions later this summer). On top of that, I would be learning to climb and descend with crampons on snow-filled couloirs. I knew that would require extra effort.
6:55 am – We arrived at the Baker Lake Trailhead and prepared to get moving. It didn’t take long, no more than 10 minutes.
7:20 am – Finishing the steep beginning portion of the trail which ends at Baker Point Overlook, we stopped to shed our extra layers and take a couple of pictures.
7:55 am – We arrived at Baker Lake. Forest pointed out East Trapper to Nathan (he’d never been in this area before) and I pointed out a couple of routes from Baker Lake which take a climber to the Trapper Peak summit.
8:25 am – Half an hour later we were taking pictures at Middle Lake. Of the three lakes along this route, (Baker, Middle, and Gem), Middle Lake is my favorite. In my opinion the views over its waters are superior to those from the other two. On this day, Middle Lake was mostly melted out, just a small portion remained ice covered.
8:35 am – It’s only a short uphill hike from Middle Lake to Gem Lake, past a waterfall full of melt-water. Gem Lake was still covered in ice, though it was soft and ready to disappear during the next warm weather.
8:30 am – We wasted no time sightseeing, but immediately began climbing from the lake toward the col above.
8:50 am – The top portion of the 650’ descent couloir was melted out, so we down climbed until we reached the snow. After offering me a few pointers on how to self-arrest, each of us tested the snow conditions to determine if crampons were needed. Probably not – we decided to try heel-kicking our way down. The snow wasn’t super-hard, and for the most part, our steps held. I slipped a couple of times, and discovered self-arrest is not too difficult if you keep your head. Of course the slope wasn’t more than 40 to 45 degrees most of the time. That helps, too.
9:30 am – When we reached the bottom, we decided to split up as we moved across the mostly-open cirque toward the base of North Trapper. Forest and Nathan preferred to stay on snow and followed the snow fields. I prefer walking on terra firma, so took the more direct path across a mix of bear grass, heather, and rock.
10:10 am – It wasn’t long before they ran out of snow and were forced to join me on the direct route.
Unfortunately it was at this point that I discovered the GPS was missing from my belt. I backtracked to where I’d last removed my pack to see if that was where it had slipped off. Damn! Oh well, as much as I hated to lose it, a GPS is only a piece of equipment, and on this outing, wasn’t really needed. I’d only brought it along to create a record of our track. No one died or was even hurt. I got over it. We moved on…
10:45 am – Upon reaching the base of North Trapper, we checked snow conditions in the couloir we would use begin our climb – very hard. Because the couloir receives direct sun, the snow had developed a thick crust as the top layers went through a daily routine of freezing and thawing. Finding it impossible to kick boot-steps, we broke out the crampons for the first time.
11:00 am – We began to climb – on toe points. The only route up North Trapper which is classified as a Class 4 scramble goes up this couloir (every other known ascent is more difficult). This, the Olbu Route, was the route we’d agreed to use.
11:20 am – We reached the place in the couloir (about 9,000’) where the Olbu Route exits onto friction slabs. Nathan wanted to continue up the couloir on snow and tackle the rock, which by blocking the route turns it into a technical climb. After all, he’d carried his climbing equipment all this way – he wanted to use it! Forest agreed to go with him and belay. I stuck to the agreed-upon route.
The Olbu Route crosses slabs toward the west as it climbs about 200’ to a ledge system which then follows a dike of black rock back to the east. It is this long switchback which keeps the route out of the technical climbing range.
The dike and ledge system takes you to the bottom of a gully, the top of which places you on the North Trapper ridge-crest. Before climbing the gully, I looked into the ascent couloir for Nathan and Forest, but saw only tracks in the snow going upward. Knowing they were above, I prepared to scramble. I figured there was little or no chance I was going to need the extra equipment I was carrying during the remainder of the climb, so I dumped ice axe, crampons, helmet, and harness in an easily-visible pile.
Continuing upward, I crossed small patches of snow, looking for signs of my partners. None! Knowing it was possible they had avoided the snow while climbing, I kept going toward the summit.
12:00 noon – I arrived on the summit and had it all to myself. Forest and Nathan were nowhere to be seen. I was tired, very tired. I ate, drank, and most of all, rested.
12:15 pm – I heard a shout. Looking over the edge, I saw Nathan and Forest approaching my cache of climbing gear. I yelled instructions about the path they should follow to the summit. Forest complied – Nathan decided to take a more difficult and direct path, of course!
12:40 pm – Forest arrived on the summit.
12:50 pm – Nathan stepped on the summit block. We took pictures, ate, hydrated, and talked about the great day we were having.
1:15 pm – We left the summit. After more than an hour of rest on top, I felt fairly fresh. We descended together. Nathan had fulfilled his desire to use everything in his pack and wanted to see the “official” route. For that day, he was through “looking for a more difficult way.”
The return trip through the Trapper Peaks Cirque was uneventful as we trekked toward the base of the couloir which would return us to the col above Gem Lake. To say we were not looking forward to the ascent would be an understatement.
Forest, in his big plastic boots, led the way up the couloir, boot-kicking steps for Nathan and me. A few minutes into the climb, I yelled up, “Hey Forest. Have mercy on us short guys. Take shorter steps.” Nice guy that he is, he did just that.
4:00 pm – Catching our breath at the col, we looked back toward North Trapper and gained a real appreciation for what we’d accomplished. A bit of rest, food, and water were required. Forest put away his “plastic” boots for the day. The remainder of the return would be on dry land.
4:25 pm – Making the short drop from Gem Lake, we arrived at Middle Lake and took a few pictures while adjusting our packs for the remaining stretch of trail.
5:30 pm – Back at the trailhead, we were quick to exchange boots and sweaty socks for more comfortable footwear. Nathan and Forest were at least polite and “acted” like they were tired. On the other hand, I “knew” I was whipped. Completely!
After congratulations all around for “a job well-done”, we headed home.