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Soloing The Brothers
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Soloing The Brothers

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Soloing The Brothers

Page Type: Trip Report

Location: Washington, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 47.65375°N / 123.14062°W

Object Title: Soloing The Brothers

Date Climbed/Hiked: Aug 16, 2011

Activities: Mountaineering, Scrambling

Season: Summer


Page By: andrew david

Created/Edited: Mar 16, 2013 / Mar 18, 2013

Object ID: 842485

Hits: 2934 

Page Score: 85.81%  - 22 Votes 

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An Exhausting Solo Trip Up the Brothers yields a new friend

This past summer I spent most of three months living out of my car and climbing mountains.  Or, to placate those of you who use ropes and gear and militantly attack anyone who uses "climb" in the original definitive sense of: moving uphill and gaining altitude steeply, I "hiked" mountains and did some scrambling and light 5th class unprotected, and solo.  Some of my fun will be documented in reports and some will not, but the overall numbers were impressive to me: 47 mountains in a 90 day period.  Out of those, the hardest experience I had was climbing "The Brothers" in the Olympic Range of Washington.  Part of the trouble I had was getting lost frequently, so I am writing this report to try to be entertaining while also helping to provide a public service.  The new page for The Brothers is wonderful and seems far-improved from the information I found last year when I wanted to make my trip.  Start there.  I hope my pictures and story will be of some further use.  The Brothers are a great mountain and a worthy spot to visit, though an ordeal to say the least.

Executive Summary

Now before I write on, I offer the executive summary: The Brothers are a long day however you tackle them.  Route-finding is difficult through slide areas, burn areas, and thick forest.  Goats and insects are plentiful.  Views are wonderful.  When in doubt stray to your left.  A gully will lead you most of the way.  Late season, the climb can be broken into 4 segments: low forest, an open area to an ice cave, the gully from near the ice cave to a second ice cave, and then some more serious scrambling beyond the second ice cave.  If you find yourself doing any hard 5th class, there is an easier way and it is probably not more than 200 feet from you.  You can camp at Lena Lake, the Climber's Camp in The Valley of Silent Men, or even farther up the peak.  The Climber's Camp is probably the most typical option.  The extra 3 miles you cover from Lena Lake to that camp will be shaded, cool, and largely flat, plus the area is pretty, quiet, and has very easy water use and very soft ground.  Higher camps on the mountainside are possible.  I found sign of 2 such camps, but taking a tent would be either insane or silly, or somewhere between.  Use a bivvy sack.  Water flow even in late summer seems to continue very close to the summit, though finding the small flow will be your challenge, and filtering at the high altitudes would be tricky in most places.  Still, it can be done, and with all the false summits and pillars and towers up there, I think a strong climbing team might want to consider that.  Okay, end of summary.

Background and Getting There

Silent Men Waterfall
A cold and secluded waterfall in The Valley of Silent Men
I drove to The Brothers at the end of a 17 day trip to Washington, which included 14 total summits.  The nice thing about Washington is that the elevations are not usually too high so altitude-sickness is out, but the peaks do include a lot of switchbacks and elevation gain, so my legs were cooked before I began.  That morning I had hiked 8 miles out from Heart Lake to my car, then spent the afternoon gorging on fattening foods and driving 5 hours across the Olympic Peninsula to the trail head for the Brothers.  I now had 3 hours or so until sundown, and was trying to motivate myself to re-pack and move.  My plan was to camp at Lena Lake and then make a day run up through the Valley of Silent Men to the summit of The Brothers and back to sleep at Lena Lake.  This seemed like a great idea to me as it meant less mileage to tote a heavy pack.  And did I mention my legs were toast?  However, as I had been told the approach to Lena Lake was a cupcake run, I decided to pack a tent for the first time on my trip.  I normally carry a 17-21 lb army bag (45 liter size) with just a bivvy sack and a sleeping bag, even when I anticipate rain, because the extra giddy-up I have in my legs makes getting cold or wet worth it to me, and usually one can seek out a good camp site that offers between plenty and not quite enough shelter. 

Valley of Silent Men
Trees block most of the sun in the dark and well-named, quiet valley.

Having a tent at Lena Lake was wonderful.  A luxury after months in several states, all of which offered me mosquitoes about my ears, but the hike to Lena Lake is not so easy.  It is grievous and tedious, especially with the extra 8 lbs for an alpine tent (or at l
Ferns and Moss
Ferns and moss adorn the trail through the Silent Men Valley, but just try and get the right light for good pictures.
ast one which does not cost an arm and a leg).  No views, plenty of sweating.  Lots of switchbacks.  I heard some other hikers complaining also, so I mention this not to sound like a wimp, but just so you are mentally prepared.  It only takes a few hours to reach the lake and plenty of blimp-sized people do it, but some of them sprain ankles, many turn back, and even fit people will grunt and suffer some.  I slept great but woke up feeling even more weary than I had been when I began.  I doubted my ability to summit The Brothers but wanted to try anyhow, as I live in Utah and when one drives 1,000+ miles to do something, its at least good to try.  And The Valley of Silent Men carries a wonderful name and a wondrous reputation, so I knew I could do that at least.  I never found a good map of the area and so had just topo in comically useless 100,000:1 scale.  It could only reliably tell me that there was a mountain named The Brothers and that I was somewhat close to it.  So this was another reason to doubt my success.


Huge Leaves
Some huge well-watered leaves near the foot of The Brothers
I headed out around 8 am without bothering too hard about hiding my bear container of food.  Look about you at other camps if you are ever at Lake Lena, and you will realize the silliness of trying to hide the fact of food from nearby bears.  I watched one family try to hang their food in a knapsack with a little rope from a tree about 2 feet off the ground.  But this error does not only happen at Lake Lena.  Later in the morning when I reached the climbers' camp, there were some gear-heads who had done the same thing- they ought to know better as they were in the real wild. 

The Valley of Silent Men is startlingly silent and dark in places.  Beautiful to behold, very cold, still, and easy to get lost in.  However, the whole trail was blazed with pink ribbons when I went.  Parts of the trail were washed away, and the area sees surprisingly little traffic for being just past a very popular lake.  I had the whole valley to myself, watching about me regularly for big cats as it seemed like a good place for them.  I never saw an animal however.  The Valley of Silent Men is a great destination in itself, with a remarkable cloistered waterfall.  I think the best time to visit would be noon or around there, as the lighting for photographs would be at its peak.  I have seen a good picture of this waterfall but could not get one myself.  The hike through warmed me up and I got loose and felt stronger.  I passed a tent of oblivious climbers with huge racks of gear hanging from trees, as well as the previously mentioned food safe from no bear at all.  Almost immediately after crossing the shallow creek and leaving the climber camp behind, the slopes get steep and the woods thicken.  There were occasional pink ribbons which were helpful as footpaths went in every direction and most fade away leaving you to stare at some rotting red wood or an anthill the size of a passenger car.  Move a little left when in doubt and you should make the next stage of the trip just fine.

After 1,000 ft elevation gain or maybe a little more the woods break and I entered sunlight.  The day grew instantly hot and I shed a layer.  Then yellow jackets came around with curiosity so I put the layer back on.  Pick your poison, as the saying goes.  There were also prickles, thistles, branches, rocks, and other challenges.  But for a while the trail is obvious.  It disappeared again when I found this ice cave:

Lower Ice Cave
The snow had melted out into this hollow ice cave where the trail traverses due West, or to your left.
I spent 30 minutes snacking, filtering water, arguing with myself about how much I wanted to do for the day, and looking for the trail in every direction, but to no avail.  After sitting for a spell inside the ice cave which was very cold and refreshing, I decided that going up was the best possible solution, as I would either see the trail if there were one to see, or learn that the trail had ended and I was at the point where climbing began.  My trip descriptions suggested that I would eventually be on cliffs, so I expected this.  This is the kind of reasoning that gets an intelligent, logical person to start climbing on wet, flowery, mossy, crumbly cliffs without a partner or any protective gear.  And here is the thinking that made me realize I should not be where I was: "while it is possible other people are stupid enough to be doing what you are doing now, they could not possibly do it for very long without taking a fall or giving up: therefore, there must be a trail down there somewhere."  I still could not see it however.

Ice Cave From Inside
Here is the view from inside the cave, which was a refreshing 38 degrees F or so, and offered shade.
Ice Cave 3
Looking deeper into the cave as I rested.

Going back down was worse as I tried to find a better way, which meant hacking through some steep hillsides of burned and blown-down trees to the West/left of where I had gone up the cliffs.  Several scratches and a wasted hour later, I stumbled across the trail where it traversed at the South of the worst burned section, for a mere 100 feet!, before feeding into the famous gully the new page mentions so often and so well.  That gully is a giant staircase and you can follow it pretty much the whole way up the mountainside.  Believe me, because I kept expecting the trail to end and kept giving up on it when it seemed to.  But each time I would cliff out somewhere, turn back, find a cairn or a ribbon, and curse myself and vow not to make the same mistake again.  A second ice cave was a great spot to cool off again and mull turning around again.  But I felt close and I was in a combative move by this point, with nothing else to do, and I was hiking more from anger than joy now, determined to get the best of this massive mountain.  Eventually I just gave up on the trail all together and followed a little waterfall for several hundred vertical feet, doing upper 4th and lower 5th class climbing- always a pain with an ice axe- but I knew water could find its way directly up and down, and was right. 

Climbing Up
If all else fails, follow the water: it will at least show you the most direct route if not the safest one.

Going Up Two
Still heading up. Pretty good exercise.

The weather was not ideal when I finally made the summit, but the views are still impressive.  I am jealous of others who have pictures without the haze and with clouds far below though.  The summit area is very cool, with hoodoo-type forms.  I was surprised to find water available almost the entire way, though often a mere trickle.  I saw evidence of a pair of high camps, and this is certainly a viable option for other stout climbers who have the time.  Going in a group makes any excursion to the Brothers much more palatable, as when the trail disappears, you can all go in different directions and call when someone finds it.  I had to move around like a dizzy ant, wasting much time. 

Looking up
A view of the summit. False summits and the sheer size of this mountain make orienting by sight very difficult.
Summit View A
A view from approximately the summit. Looking west toward the rest of the Olympic Range.
Summit Block
This is the final assault to make where both the climbing and the views finally get a little serious.

More Summit
Looking west at the Olympics with a little zoom.


The saddest part of The Brothers summit is realizing how far you have to go down.  6,000 ft about!  As if going up that wasn't bad enough.  I knew the way now though and divided it into little blocks.  "Just make it to that second ice cave and sit down for a bit," I said, for example.  Near that second ice cave I saw a mountain goat shedding all by herself far away.  I took a zoomed picture and then slipped and slid my way through some scree with the goat watching me, as if to say, "what is that noisy three-legged goat DOING?"  (I had my ice axe and was using it like a third leg.)  But once in the ice cave, I heard a massive rumbling overhead, and leaped off my seat, not knowing if I should leave my cave or hope it would stop whatever avalanche was coming my way.  I chose to stay put as I couldn't see anything.  When the noise stopped, I walked out and looked up.  What had the noise been?  The goat had taken that scree slope after me, kicked off a lot of loose rock, made much more noise than I, and was now standing on the top of the snow above me.  So I stopped feeling bad about my skills.  The goat crept cautiously around to the mouth of the cave and stared in at me, breathing heavily and swarming with flies.  Remember the next time that you hate on a hunter that wild animals spend their entire lives being sweaty, dehydrated, desperate for salt, and bitten by flies.  If goats or deer could talk they would mope more than your sickly cousin, I promise you that.  She looked at me like I were in her spot, so I packed and left, giving a wide berth.  But it turned out, she was not so much into the ice cave and cooling off as making a new friend.  I guess my beard was a little too long...

The Goat Appears
A mountain goat makes her first appearance.

So thus begins the exciting part of this trip report where I get stalked by a lady goat for 2 miles, from the upper ice cave to the lower ice cave.  I moved as fast as my beat legs allowed, which was pretty fast, and put huge gulfs between us at times, but every time I stopped to breathe, she would hop to the rock just above me and pause.  Possibly, I have animal-magnetism, or possibly the overpowering salt-smell of my sweaty body was luring her like a pheremone or the scent of warm fudge.  I waited her out at last near the lower cave and she moved down below me, admiring the kingdom below.  I still had so far to go!  It was depressing.  In this picture the Valley of Silent Men is all the way down at the low point between the slope the goat and I are on and the mountain facing us.  It was getting pretty late too.  I made a sudden, fierce, fast move down a big boulder, determined to leave this goat in my dust once and forever, and she got spooked at last and decided I was not so great after all.  So that was something.  The burned section of the forest was prettier in the afternoon without the hornets and as I found orange and pink flowers all over me.  The trail was hard to find back to the climber's camp however.  I kept ending up on those dead end false trails, and I was in no mood for it, though who ever is? 

Upper Ice Cave
This upper ice cave will only exist late season. Early summer you'll be in crampons making good time and not needing a break.

Hidden Goat
In this pic you can try to spot the goat on the roof of the cave looking down at me after triggering a small avalanche.

Goat Up Close
Here she is with me cornered inside the cave. I got my ice axe ready for defense if she rushed me, but she was friendly.
She Poses
Here my friend poses after catching up to me yet again.

The Valley of Silent Men was cool and quiet again.  I passed 2 hopefuls for the next day, dressed in poor footwear and who said they'd tried once before and gotten lost and given up.  I knew the feeling, except for the bad footwear part.  I was glad to be in heavy thick boots.  I slept great at Lena Lake and let myself doze late next morning, though I still had 3 miles to go down to my car, and then several hundred miles to drive that day on the way home.  It was startling to come out of the Valley of Silent Men and find dozens of people fishing and laughing and barbecuing as if in another world.  And here I was grime-y and haggard, and probably they all wondered how people manage to get so filthy in the wilderness so close to a lake, having no idea there were mountains nearby.  Indeed, I got the very question a few weeks later at Glacier Park: "you can climb the mountains here?"  "Uh yes," I replied.  That is another story though.  A pretty young college student working the summer as an Olympic National Park Ranger was taking surveys on my way back to my car and also did not know there was such a mountain as "The Brothers".  She was very impressed that I had put it to use, in a "pat on the head, gold star sticker" sort of condescending way that only kindergarten teachers and government officials can get.  And of course, as this is in Washington, state law required at least 1 in every 3 hikers with an 80 lb pack to sneer at me and ask, "do you really need that ice axe?"   As if I were the yuppy.  I kept a heavy man company as he descended, having given up before
reaching the lake.  He was envious of my adventures and I told him to do
a little bit more each week.  He was recovering from a heart attack and
so could not push himself much.  Then we both passed a heavy whiny girl who'd sprained her ankle and wanted everyone in Washington to know about it and pity her.  Also her 4! helpers could not convince her to move out of the way for anyone trying to make time. 

I hope you either enjoyed this or had the sense to stop reading.
Flowers brighten the afternoon as I descend through the burn zone.
Last Pic of the Goat
My last view of the goat, surveying all below us. I finally ditched her in a minute.
Burn Zone
Flowers Brighten the Charred zebra bark of the trees around me.


Last Pic of the Goat


[ Post a Comment ]
Viewing: 1-11 of 11    

jacobsmithGood Climb


Voted 8/10

Brothers solo is a fun scramble, although i've only done it in spring when there is plenty of snow and you can glissade much of the way down, how hard was the rock scrambling on route? around class 3 or harder?
goats in the olympics can be weird sometimes, i've never had problems but i know people who have had run-ins with that one on Mt Angeles that killed someone a couple years ago, probably smart to be careful.
"pat on the head, gold star sticker" - i know the feeling, that "oh you climb mountains, isn't that cute" reaction gets pretty old.
also, un-roped rock scrambling is totally climbing.
Posted Mar 17, 2013 11:35 pm

andrew davidRe: Good Climb

andrew david

Hasn't voted

It is possible to stay at all 3rd class, though steep in spots, if you find the correct route. More likely anyone not familiar with the mountain is going to be doing a lot of 4th class. Going off the "trail" by about 30 feet means you'll be facing 5th class stuff. I did some 5th class because I got sick of looking for cairns on the way up and just went straight up but I cliffed out doing that a couple times pretty quickly. Mostly the whole way is solid footing, unless forced out of the gully by the spotty snow-melt caves.
Posted Mar 31, 2013 2:09 pm

JoelSkokYes, you bet I enjoyed it!


Voted 10/10

So well written, the ice cave pictures are superb and the nanny goat episode so amusing. go back and climb more Washington mountains (my home state) and report back to us anytime!
Posted Mar 20, 2013 10:00 pm

andrew davidRe: Yes, you bet I enjoyed it!

andrew david

Hasn't voted

I may get back this summer. I want to do the Pickets. I have the Tetons, the Sawtooths of Idaho, and Glacier National Park penned in though. So its Colorado or Washington for my other 2 free weeks. I will get more albums and TRs for Washington up soon though. Glad you liked it and thanks for the positive feedback.
Posted Mar 21, 2013 12:02 am

2600fromatariGood TR & Pictures

Voted 10/10

Thanks for sharing. 10/10
Posted Mar 31, 2013 1:42 pm

MarshallSThanks for sharing!


Voted 10/10

I'm planning on doing this scramble next August with my father (he's 64, I'm 33). We finally reached the summit of Mt. Stuart last year (second attempt) and that was a real bear. I was hoping The Brothers would be at least a little easier. Hearing class 4 and 5 is a little disconcerting. On Mount Stuart we had some trouble route finding around hollowed out partially melted snow which lead us to a short tiptoe across an exposed ledge. We are not "climbers" and were close to turning around at that point. That was our only experience of class 4.
Posted Apr 1, 2013 5:12 pm

andrew davidRe: Thanks for sharing!

andrew david

Hasn't voted

Well if you go in August it will be scrambling. If you find the gully and can stick to it for as long as possible, which is most of the way up, its just like climbing a staircase. The moves you will have to do are not linked: like you do a climbing move, walk a few steps, do another climbing move. So with a spotter, most of the way is easy. But I will say that on the summit block where I was making the last ascent there was plenty of exposure. You may not be comfortable going the last few hundred vertical feet, but the view from a false summit near the gully is plenty impressive, and personally, I think if you climb 95% of a mountain starting at sea level, you can say you climbed it all. Keep to that gully and don't stray far from it. As you near the summit it turns to scree and thins and you will have to exit it in places, but that's the best tip I can give. And it starts to the left (West) of that burn section.
Posted Apr 1, 2013 11:30 pm

MarshallSRe: Thanks for sharing!


Voted 10/10

Thanks for the info! We made the summit last Thursday. I made a trip report on NWHikers.net. I might make one here later.

The one slightly scary part for us was when we accidentally ended up on a sub-summit just west of the real summit. Rather than backtrack we climbed down the east side of the sub-summit which was about 60 degrees for 30 feet or so. Lots of big footholds so it was a lot like climbing down a ladder, but exposed nonetheless. It's always annoying having to go down to get back up though.

On the way back from the summit we found a fissure just below the ridge line that you can use to bypass the western sub-summit completely. It seems like we always find an easier route on the way down. Same thing happened on Mount Stuart last year. The fissure is just really easy to miss on the way up, and tough to even describe without a picture.
Posted Aug 13, 2013 8:48 pm

andrew davidRe: Thanks for sharing!

andrew david

Hasn't voted

Glad you made it up there. See, now I always try something different on the way down thinking I must have picked the worst possible route on the way up, only the way down is just as bad or worse, and then I feel validated at route finding, but still have to suffer the descent.
Posted Aug 20, 2013 1:52 am

StukeSowleNice TR!


Voted 10/10

Was just up in this area last week poking around. Found the postholing and bushwacking to be a bit much about halfway between Lena Lake and the Climbers Camp but I am making plans to return once the snow melts a bit more.
Posted Apr 4, 2013 11:16 am

andrew davidRe: Nice TR!

andrew david

Hasn't voted

Yeah its a lot of work even in good conditions. Definitely not one I'd want to posthole up!
Posted Apr 4, 2013 12:42 pm

Viewing: 1-11 of 11