Two days is injustice in the North Cascades especially if you are a hiker, scrambler or a full style mountaineer. With mountains such as the Pickets, Eldorado, Boston, Sahale, Johannesburg and so many more summits, two months might feel like an injustice here. To some the North Cascades are some of the most rugged and technical mountains in the Continental United States. Many involve severe bushwhack, 4th and 5th Class loose scrambles and heavy glacier travels. My trip unfortunately didn't involve much of these challenges THIS TIME. I want BearQueen to rediscover this region while going up a short of challenging scramble myself. For me I had to make the most out of the situation and luckily the trip became a major success.
Day 1: Hiking Bears and CampingBearQueen, Josh Lewis and I got a late start to the day. I had worked a number of straight days and needed a little extra rest while BearQueen need some extra rest from her past week. We picked up Josh Lewis after 1 pm and quickly made the drive all the way to the Thunder Knob Trailhead in order to take an easy leg warmer for ourselves and get BearQueen to her 51st different summit.
BearQueen struggled a little at first but soon got the hang of the easy Thunder Knob Trail. The switchbacks are gradual and the trail well-paced throughout. Josh Lewis either got a little ahead her to set a good pace or stay behind her so that she could concentrate on her own pace as slowly rose up the mountain. Towards the end BearQueen got considerably faster and found her second wind.
We made to the top in well under an hour which for BearQueen is very encouraging. Once on the top all us took in all the viewing areas around the summit. The summit did not have any views but there were a number of other areas with good views. After walking around the summit for a little bit we knew the sun was going to set soon so we knew that we had to head off.
We speed up the pace a little on the way down due to the falling sun. Though dusk came quick and it kept getting darker and darker we made it just in time to the camping area to not put on our headlamp. We were though greeted with a nice surprised. At the edge of the camping lied a fairly large black bear. As soon as it saw us it ran but it scared the heck out of BearQueen. Luckily neither BearQueen nor the rest of showed any signs of panic. Once we saw the bear and knew that our best way to avoid conflict was to talk at a relaxed pitched moderately loudly and the bear probably wouldn't bother us. So that is exactly what we did. Thankfully it was not a mother bear!!
Once the bear stayed fairly clear of our path we walked back to the car. My wife did not tell us at the time but she noticed that the bear was still within sight and kept an eye on us as we crossed the campground. We quickly got in the car and crossed the street to the campground where we were greeted with a wonderful surprise; the Colonial Creek Campground was officially free for the season!!! We set our tents up put our food in a bear box and spent the night under the stars.
Day Two: Wallaby Peak-The Main Event
I was on a major time deadline for the second day and had to be at work that evening back in Kirkland. So whatever peak we did had to be on the shorter side. Both Black Peak and Silver Star were tossed around but both were going to be too long to be considered. We decided on Wallaby because the peak was nearly 8000 feet, well above timberline and the fact that Kangaroo Pass was home to tons of larches. This was of course the first week that the larches would be out which worked perfectly according to plan.
For BearQueen this day would be meant for nice relaxation. She dropped us off at the Kangaroo Curve just east of Washington Pass while going back to Washington Pass to pick up a quick nap and a take a short walk on a gravel trail to a nice overlook of Washington Pass area. She had some nightmares the night before because of the bear that she saw the night before and she needed some extra rest during the day. She dropped us off at the Kangaroo Curve at around 10 am and knew to pick us up at 5 pm. She executed this perfectly and it made for our ride their and back easier.
Once Josh and I got to the trailhead we had a hard time spotting the trail. I for some reason could not find a number of the cairns set aside so instead we started the first half of the trip going off trail up to Kangaroo Pass. As soon as we hit a talus field we quickly found the cairns and quickly made our way up the trail to Kangaroo Pass. On the way up we marveled at the many wonderful larch groves, many now that are in full fall color. These trees looked amazing against the dramatic landscape of the eastern North Cascades. Once we found the boot path we realized that the boot path was in decent shape and the boot path became easy to follow as it rises up to Kangaroo Pass.
Once we hit the pass though the real climb to the summit of Wallaby Peak began. The first part of the scramble was in very decent shape. This section was all Class 2 with sections of boot path as we continued to rise. Footing on the beginning sections was actually good for the first little bit. The larches began to thin as we slowly rose up the South West Ridge.
Once we got high up though we entered terrain that changed from once solid and easy ridge to loose gully kitty litter. A part of me wonders if we at this section made the scramble up to the summit Wallaby a little hard than it had to be. We did not want to deal with the loose sand and scree in the gully. A major concern was that the scree was going to be incredibly loose.
Looking below the scree we noticed a cliff below. Josh Lewis quickly thought that this route was not going work. We found out later that this crossing this was not going to be too bad and on the other side was the boot path that leads to last very loose Class 2 gully.
From here we decided to avoid all the loose stuff and go up to the ridge again to find more stable rock. Head up this way would involve a lot more scramble and some Class 3 scrambling but our rock would be a lot steadier. That being said though there was some exposure on this route and some of the moves that we did were clearly Class 3. Going up some of the loose stuff brought be back to my experience up Mount Roosevelt when I was faced with some highly unnerving Class 3 dirt. On the top of Roosevelt I promised my higher power that I would never test him like that again. A part felt I was beginning to test him again with this looser somewhat exposed stuff. At one point high up we hit a very exposed section in which I nearly turned around. That is of course until I saw that the rest of the route was only going to be Class 2+ the rest of the way to the summit.
Once we got around this short but exposed crux we pop into the southwest gully and took it all the way to the true summit. This was a lot easier than what we were on before and finally we were able to get to this top of this beautiful summit. Once on the summit we were greeted with a couple sprinkles. In short time though that we had the sprinkles in seemed to clear the air of all the smoke particles from a number of forest fires in eastern Washington. Because of this clearing we could see peaks for a hundred miles from Glacier Peak to Mount Baker and many other North Cascades. Even more dramatic was the view of nearby Half Moon which looked clearly Class 5.6 plus from our angle. Views on this summit are excellent and though we were on a time deadline we were able to spend a solid 20 minutes on the summit.
Unfortunately the thought of going down just bothered me the whole time I was on the summit. Soon we were on our way down the mountain with Josh again leading the way. We took our time heading down the very loose gully. We decided on heading back pretty much the way we came up trying to avoid the loose stuff as much as possible. Going up the stuff was hard enough but going down it was even harder. Because much of it was loose a lot of care was needed going down the gully to where we went up. When we got back to the tough highly exposed crux move I decided do the quick five foot scramble followed by cheval move across until I was off the hardest step. My nerves were in high gear at that point and as soon as I was in a better place we had to take another 10 minute breather.
From there we continued or descent slowly down the mountain at first sticking to the ridge which was mostly Class 2 followed a little Class 3 back down to the lower gully. We took our time back down to that point. It was there that we finally saw the boot path to the main route up the mountain. We decide to link up with that boot path back to the crossing on the gully. The actual crossing on the scree though lose was actually not too bad. Once past that point though we knew we pretty much home free. Most of the stuff past here was again only Class 2 all the way to Kangaroo Pass.
We took one last stop at Kangaroo Pass then headed down from there to the Kangaroo Curve parking area. After a little bit I let Josh go ahead in order to catch up to my wife in case she passed us by or became worried. We were on a time deadline and I wanted at least him down there so that she wouldn’t worry about me. The trail on the way down was not too bad until the end. At the end there were a number of false cairns and I quickly found myself bushwhacking through some real thick brush, logs and streams. I somehow lost the boot path for a good long bit. Luckily I figured out what direction the trail/boot path was and quickly made myself back to the trail. Soon I was back to the trailhead and waiting very briefly for my wife who picked us up 10 minutes after we arrived and 5:00 pm right on the dot.
From there we drove back and stopped off a tourist overlook that overlooked Thunder Knob, Colonial Peak, Mount Davis and Diablo. We took a bunch of pictures enjoy our fun two days in the North Cascades and headed home. The drive back was long (partly because of the 15 minutes at the Wendy's drive thru) but I was able to make to work on time and ready to go.
ConclusionI want to first thank my wife BearQueen for driving and wanting to get out and camp in the mountains. It was only her third doing any sort of outdoor camping. She was also a real trooper on the hike up Thunder Knob. As some of you know BearQueen struggles with a number of health issues and luckily those health issues did not play any role in the North Cascades.
I also want to thank Josh Lewis for being an awesome leader on Wallaby. He was able to lead us away from a lot of that loose crap in that gully and onto more solid stuff. He was very patient on much of the exposed stuff that I struggled with, and led us to the summit safely and successfully. He always seemed to fine the good handholds when it seemed that there were not any around. If I tried this peak solo I probably would have not summited. It was a great two days in the North Cascades. Hopefully there will many more very soon.