The Tusk of Defeat: On the Summit of Something
In my continuous exploration of the Crystal Mountain Region I was attempting to find a good route to combine the summits of Black Tusk and Three Way Peak. Three Way Peak from the information that I have received is the toughest summit in the whole Crystal Mountain Area. The sharp peak can be seen from all around and the easiest way up looks like a Class 4, though I have not verified that yet. This trip to Three Way Peak was to serve as a mission to get some more information on this summit.
I invited Jordan, a good friend who I formally worked to join me in this trip. Jordan, who has some good climbing experience from the three peaks he had done in Nepal as well a large number of summits he had done in California. I thought he would be a great add for this trip up the two peaks. For him it would be the first summits he had attempted since moving to the Seattle area a couple of months ago. He had not been glissading or climbing in a while and was really looking forward to this trip.
When the Sun was There
When we pulled into the Crystal Mountain Area it was very sunny in quite warm. Both of put on the sunscreen and put on the sun hats. There was no hint that in less than 2 hours we would be in a nasty fog bank. Jordan and I quickly made it up the valley ski hill up to what looks like a snowmobile path. From the snowmobile path we both bushwhacked over to Hen Skin Lake right at the foot of Black Tusk. This lake was yet another special lake in this area and was quiet pretty to be at. It was hard to believe that we were less than 500 feet from a busy ski area.
Black Tusk Summit
From there we bushwhacked up to Black Tusk first following an awesome snow gully to the base of the small basin at the foot of Black Tusk. The angle of the snow gully was about 35 degrees which was good enough to get the snow climbing feel but not too intimidating. From there we climbed out into the basin just to the northeast of the true summit of Black Tusk. From there we took another 40 degree snow-climb up to the highly cornices ridge-line. We were cautious though here because there was some fairly fresh avalanche debris here. So we space ourselves enough apart so that we both did not get caught in case a mini-avalanche did set off. One we got the ridge-line we traversed the narrow ridge to the summit of Black Tusk. Unfortunately the nice sunny day gave way quickly to heavy clouds and fog while we were in the basin. By the time we reached the summit of Black Tusk we were completely fogged in.
The Quest For Three Way Peak
We thought about stopping here but we hoped the fog would lift and there was a possibility we could get a good ridge walk to Three Way Peak. The snow was great to walk on, however the traverse along the ridge was quite difficult. The visibility was poor and the temperature was dropping as well. We continued though to scramble and traverse the ridge until we had reached the base of something.
The Summit of Something
From there we climbed up the very steep slope to what we were hoping was a summit. At one point we had to go a slope of 60+ degrees which was a pain in the butt going up and very slow going down. Fog kept coming in so we really began to lose visibility. The steep slope really kicked our butt and we were tired. Finally we reached something that look like some kind of summit so we called it there. After studying later photos we were on a sub-peak of Three Way Peak. But at the time it looked good and I really don't think any of us wanted to traverse in low visibility conditions so we called it good on whatever this sub-peak was and headed on back.
Heading down from this sub-peak was a real pain in the butt. Down-climbing this sub-peak was no easy task. It took both of us time to get down this steep snow but thankful the snow conditions were very good and we were able to kick in some great steps. I started cramping up a little here so that also caused us to slow down a bit more. But we continued down the ridge and finally made a safer slope where we could make a safe glissade.
We continued along the ridge going up and down the ridge until we reached back to the summit of Black Tusk. By this time the visibility was barely ten feet and and the temperature was downright cold. In fact it was actually spiting snow on the mountain. We were tired from the trip but we also knew we had to head down quickly so we traversed down the ridge to the spot where we entered the ridge-line From there we did a very slow glissade down into the basin. The fog was somewhat thick here but my memory was that there was not an obstacles on the way down and the memory turned out quiet right. At the bottom of the basin the visibility did improve a little. From there we did another 300 foot glissade down the first snow gully to the base of Hen Skin Lake where visibility was actually much better. From there we went back the way we came and took a couple more glissade back to the base of the car.
All in all, though we did not have great views it was another great day to be in the mountains. Anytime you can have a 60 degree slope to snow climb, some nice glissades, a summit, a beautiful and you make it back safe and sound you can say it was a good day. Jordan was excellent company and had proved himself to be a great climber. I am looking forward to many more awesome climbs with him. Yet again another awesome climb in the mountains. Hopefully the adventures keep on coming.