An Exhausting Solo Trip Up the Brothers yields a new friendThis 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.
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
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
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:
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.
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.
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...
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?
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.