This Solo Went Platinum
Sunny days in the Pacific Northwest during the heart of winter can often be quiet rare. When you do get lucky with these days you have to take advantage of them and make the most of the beautiful mountains around you. Thursday January 27th was one such day and the warmer nicer day was a perfect set up for a good mountain to climb. The only thing was despite calling many friends, most were working and the others could not take the time to get to the mountain. I am not one to typically go solo mountaineering but it was either that option or I would waiting for a long time to get a chance to tackle some mountains. Since I would going to be solo I decided to go to a mountain that had decent cell phone range, good views, and a well kept up road to the “trailhead” I decided on Bullion Peak near the Crystal Mountain Ski Area right off of the Bullion Basin.
Because of prior commitments I knew I going to end up being at the trailhead by around noon. I did not have to go up far to run into beautiful views of Crystal Mountain and the nearby mountains around it. I came well prepared and I knew the area around Platinum Peak fairly well. I was greeted at the parking area with a nice warm partly cloudy day. From there I got myself ready and off I went up Bullion Basin. The trail up Bullion Basin was in great shape from all the snowshoers and cross country skiers. I found myself making very rapid speed heading on up this section and never hit anywhere where I post-holed or need snowshoes. Within an hour I was all the way to Bullion Basin staring at Platinum Peak on my left hand side. The trail the whole way was well compacted enough to make me put on my micro-spikes. But from there to the summit of Platinum Peak I was going to encounter much more in the way challenges than I did to Bullion Basin.
From Bullion Basin I decided to first head directly to the ridge-line. This idea would later turn out to be a mistake but at the time it seemed a lot better than climb straight up a 45-50 degree slope. Luckily the snow was hard packed from no snow falling in the past couple of days because if the avalanche danger was high I would not even venture to try this mountain. I decided to do a rising traverse on the side slope of Platinum Peak. Just to key my skills fresh before I went too high up I took a couple control falls so that I practice some ice axe self arrest. My feeling is that you can never practice that too much and when you get a shot you should take it. I followed a pair of ski track all the way to the ridge.
Once on the ridge I knew to head north for the summit. I stayed on the ridge-line for the most part but there was one section where I noticed the ski track head to the right of thickly vegetated knoll on the ridge-line. I followed as it side traversed the ridge-line I noticed though to the right of me was another 55 to 60 degree slope that dropped many hundreds of feet. By now the snow at first seemed good. But once I was crossing I noticed myself quickly sinking in deep in the snow. The snow was warming here in rapidly and I knew I had to be fast in order to cross this small section. I was past the point of no return and heading back would probably be more dangerous than continuing on. The last thing I wanted to do was be in the formation of a possible slab avalanche though I saw no cracks in the snow or any other hints of a possible avalanche. I also knew that the other way back was probably going to be substantially safer so I continued quickly across the short section until I reached steadier ground. That all being said I think I was am cured from wanting to do too much in the way of snow-climbs solo for a while. Once the ground leveled more and the possible danger subsided I put on my snowshoes and continued to the summit.
I hit a nice level area between a some southern sub peak and the main bulk to the north. I took a small break here and then pulled in and headed for the true summit. I actually was shocked to see some bald around near the 6700 foot summit. Keep in mind these summit see at 500 inches of snow a year and already the nearby ski resort has seen 235 inches of snow to date. By this time I was slowly rising to the summit of Platinum Peak. Views had opened up on all sides and I was starting to experience the eye candy of this wonderful mountain. But I did not get distracted too much because the summit lied just ahead.
Greeted By The Cross
I hit the summit in a little over two hours which was much faster than anticipated. I was very happy for that because there was a good chance that I was going to make it back to the car before dark. And yes I had that summit all to myself! I don't think many people come to this despite how close it is to the Crystal Mountain Ski Area. I was greeted by the summit cross which looked like it had writing on the other side but the other side had a steep drop-off so just touched the cross and checked out the entire summit area. I honestly think that this mountain has the best views of the Crystal Mountain Ski Area in the foreground and the giant Mount Rainier in the background. Mount Rainier looked as if was having a storm on it, because either it was covered by a lenticular cloud or had a foggy top. I would have not wanted to climb that peak that day! Though the northern neighbor of Norse Peak seemed to block some of the northern peaks I could at least make out Mount Stuart sitting in the northeast. To the south was a spectacular shot of Mount Adams and many of the other small peaks in the region. Views here were very abundant and this mountain more than granted me wish or scenic views!
After a while of enjoying this amazing beauty I knew I had to head on down. This time once I was on gap between the small sub-peak and Platinum Peak I was going to head down the slope to Bullion Basin. I decided to check out the sub-peak and see if it came me any better views but though the views were still impressive they were similar to the top of Platinum Peak. From there I decided to carefully make myself down the mountain. Once I hit a few open area I decided to check the snow. The snow itself was compact but soft enough to make a safe glissade down to the Basin. So once I saw a good area I decided to a number of controlled glissades down to the Basin. The slope was steep but it was very easy to control the speed and I maintained a very slope glissade down the mountain. I did a couple of self arrest just to keep it in my mind for future trip. I made it down to Basin in very good time and I knew I had a good shot at making the car before sunset though I packed THREE headlamps just in case (along with plenty of the other 9 essentials on the trip). I quickly made it down the Bullion Basin Trail which was still surprisingly compact despite the above average temperatures. Quickly I made it back to the car in a little more than an hour from the summit. I was actually surprised that I made it back before 4 pm but was happy to be back to the car after this trip.
There are a couple things I want to note here. I felt very lucky that I took advantage of the weather today. I doubt that there are going to be many more days like this in the Pacific Northwest for a long time. As for the mountain I would only climb this peak in winter when there is low avalanche danger because there are a lot of open slope especially on the east side along the ridge-line. I would also try to go straight up to the gap between Platinum and the sub-peak if snow conditions are good. The other way is a little more spicier. Also I will probably do more solo stuff but this type of mountain I would rather do in a group. It was good though to be solo for a change and be able to have a mountain all to myself. It was a great mountain And I was glad to be up there to enjoy it.