To Glissade or Not to Glissade?? That is the Fourth of July Question!!
Well finally summer has come to the Pacific Northwest. You would not know it from all of the snow on the mountains but the weather is finally starting to warm up and good weather for climbs are starting to happen. Unfortunately I am still in a two job trap so many of my long term mountain plans are going to have to wait a little while. But for every downfall there is an upside and for that is the smaller yet very beautiful summits around Big Tahoma. Tahoma the grandmother of all the mountains in this region often makes people overlook many of the special gems in the region. Yakima Peak was clearly one of them. Despite being literally right off of Highway 410 and only requiring 2 miles round-trip and a 1000 feet either snow-climb or low Class 2 + scramble, this summit did not even show up in a lot of literature. The peak is not all that far to drive to and with Chinook Pass now open. It was time for me to check out this awesome peak.
I invited Jordan who is currently training for his climb up to the summit of Mount Rainier. Yakima Peak was not going to be able to help in much in endurance training but would definitely help him on ice axe practice and usage as well. My gut was that the north side gully would be in great condition for a snow-climb and the snow would be soft enough for an ascent without crampons but firm enough for a safe ascent if we hit it in the morning. Honestly I would have picked something larger but I had to be at work later that day.
Heading Up and Running Into Obstacles
Jordan I got to base of Yakima Peak around 9 am and were greeted with nice sunny skies. It looked like we were going to have perfect condition has we quickly rose over the ridge from the highway. The snow at least on this side was in perfect condition all the way up to the ridge. I was able to kick good steps uphill easily and things were looking real good. In fact I started eying other summit possibilities on the way up the ridge. Jordan was really making a good clip even with his plastics on and all was looking very good here.
Unfortunately once we got to the northern gully things really became hard as a rock and somewhat icy. I looked back at Jordan and asked him what he thought. He gave a shot with his plastics and though the snow required some kicking all system were a go here. I shall note that in the future, in late spring the snow is usually very firm in the morning and either require crampons or a later arrival. Jordan and slowly made our way up the gully that is covered in very firm snow. At times it was tough to kick in and we had to use the axe to loosen the snow enough for the deep steps. The snow itself was at about 40 to 50 degrees and the cornice on top was a little intimidating to look at. At one point I looked back at some skiers below who were thinking of skinning up the mountain and within the first ten feet they decided to turn around. This snow turned out to be perfect for crampons. Unfortunately we did not bring them.
But we kept on kicking the steps in. As we were going up the sun was finally starting to hit the north gully and loosen up the snow. Jordan was getting a little tired at the kicking in of the steps and so when the snow finally began to loosen I decided to take over and kick them in all of the way to the top of the ridge. What was only a 500 foot maximum snow-climb turned out to take us over an hour to get up there safely. Luckily whoever came up behind us had great steps to follow us. The good thing though was that the true summit of Yakima Peak was only a couple hundred feet to the east of us.
Victory was near but it was going to require yet another slower icy snow-climb to the true summit. This time I kicked in the step all the way to a narrow snow ridge which led to the true summit. This section was yet again quiet icy and was much tougher for me in my Asolo climbing boots than Jordan who was kicking in deep steps with his plastics. Crossing the narrow snow ridge though was not back because the snow had softened up a little from the sun pounding on it. The snow ridge led right for the flat rock top summit of Yakima Peak. Soon both of us were this beautiful mountain and enjoying the summit views.
Waiting On Paradise
Now that we were on the summit we knew that we had to get back down the mountain rather safely. We also knew we we on a time-line that that there was no chance for us to get another summit with me being seriously late for work. Judging by the pounding sun on the snow my decided to wait 45 minutes on the summit for the snow to soften up. With the beautiful sunshine on us, the perfect temperature and the terrific views of Mount Rainier, St. Helens, Hood and Adams as well as hundreds of other peaks I could not think of a better place to be for 45 minutes. For Jordan it was a great place to really see his goal in the next couple of week Mount Rainier. For me it was a good place to reflect on this climbing season and to see what other summits I can hit until my two-job 80 hour a week tour is done.
To Glissade or not to Glissade??
Once the time was was up Jordan and knew that it was time for us to head on back. Would the snow be soft enough for us to glissade or were we going to have to down-climb the 40-50 degree slow. The slope had a great run-out below but there is no reason to take a chance and possibly spoil my friends opportunity at Mount Rainier. So we slowly down-climbed back to the base of the gully. Jordan went back the way he came up while I found another path which looked like slightly better. We met back up on the ridge and got a quick look down at the moderately steep gully. The thought that was hitting my head here was “To Glissade or Not to Glissade??”.
Every year roughly 3 to 5 times a year at least I have practiced my self-arrest skills. I personally and very comfortable with steeper snow in the right conditions. I know how to arrest on a dime and knew that the best way for me to check out this snow was to give a quick check right on the top section of the gully. I got myself and quickly did a quick mini arrest to check the snow. From the sun heating it up the snow was in good condition, somewhat firm enough to get a good glissade but easy to steer and keep yourself in good control. I look back at Jordan and gave in the okay and then turned around and let loose. Slowly I headed down the gully with Jordan himself cautiously heading down the gully. At one point the snow did get hard again in the gully in which I made a quick arrest but soon after the snow soften up and soon became a glissading dream. Jordan took great advantage of the snow and was able to do a number of practice self-arrest on the way down the gully. What took us over an hour to go up took us only five minutes to go down.
The Rest of Trip
From that point on it was just a quick jaunt to the ridge-line where we were greeted by a group of snowboarder heading up to do the same gully. Lucky for them there steps were well kicked in and the snow had softened up quiet a bit. Once we hit the ridge, it was 500 more feet of glissading action all the way back to the car. The snow here was nice and soft all the way down. It was great watching all the tourist in the parking lot having a snowball fight on the Fourth of July. They look at us in amazement and some asked us about the trip. We got back to the car in good time and were heading on our way back.
Jordan's plastics clearly saved the day here. I am very glad he came on the trip for we probably would have not made the summit without them. A very special will be sent to him here. In the future though I plan on bring crampons for these kind of climbs if I do them early in the morning. That spring super firm snow was a real task kicking in. After the climb the I am convinced that this peak should be done right when 410 to Chinook Pass opens up. The north gully makes an incredible snow-climb and a great glissade in good conditions. Look for me to bring my wife there next year after I train her on the ice axe!!