Equipment UsedEquipment Used:
Winter Painted Perfectly on Painted Mountain
This year has provided some of the most unusual climbing conditions ever in the Cascades. This year there has only been a flurry in the Seattle Metro Area and very little snow below 3800 feet. Many trailheads in Washington State that are normally closed have open and people are doing mountains that are normally saved as May and even June climbs. Despite having little snow below 3800 feet all elevations above 5500 feet are actually at near normal snow accumulations. Add on that the weather is supposed to be beautiful and you know it is time to climb one of these mountains that on normal winters in not easily accessible.
This trip report is of one such peak that is not very accessible on normal winters but this year is very accessible. Painted Mountain which is home to normally a very long approach issue when the Mountain Loop Highway normally closes not to mention the 3rd class scramble early on in the climb up to the summit. Normally this peak would be very rarely summated in winter but this winter with the snowline being higher than the 3rd Class scramble and with the Mountain Loop Highway open completely and free of snow this mountain has become a great destination. Knowing this Josh., Mike, Joanna, Joe and TrailPair from NwHikers decided to take a shot at Red Mountain.
The Beginning and the Early Crux
TrailPair and Joe arrived 10 minute earlier while the rest of us got started at 8:30 from the trailhead. It did not take us all for us to catch up them thanks to Mike’s very fast pace in the beginning. Soon we ran into the other and headed up the trail to our first major obstacle, the 3rd class scramble. This section was essentially a 100-foot side traverse along the edges of a cliff. Though the area was wooded you knew that if you took a serious fall you would risk loosing at least a leg if not your life. Though the scramble was a bit nerve racking everyone in our group made it through the first major obstacle on the trip.
Continuing the Trip Up
Once past the scramble section the trip then goes on a well-marked bootpath. We hit ice at 3800 feet. Some here elected to go with crampons, others with micro spikes. After going up 1000 feet of ice up the ridge of Painted Mountain. The crust was completely slippery and icy until roughly 5200 feet. We ascended through this wooded and icy very slowly. There were no serious drop-offs but the ice here was bad so we had to go in this section.
Luckily though as we got higher the snow became much easier to manage. We hit the lake at 5600 feet where the trees began to thin out and the slope began to open up. Josh and I decided to go with snowshoes here in order to kick some steps in the sometimes-loose snow. Josh led most of the way here set a good path for others below to follow. At about 6400 feet Josh and I ditched the snowshoes and put back on our crampons while the others ditched them much earlier. From there we continued our track to the summit. View were really beginning to open up of hundreds of mountains in the region and we were blown away by how clear it was on this amazing February day which felt like anything else but.
We made up to the false summit only to discover a corniced ridge. I let Josh take lead here because he is a little better at finding the safe route to the summit. Though the ridge looked scary at first, the actual traverse across this ridge was much easier than expected due to the fact that the snow was soft, the ridge was less narrow than what it first appeared, and the drop to the right actually had a very safe run out. From here we were only 80 feet to the summit and though the snow was firm on the last little bit, it was still very ice axe friendly. Within minutes later all of us but Joe who stopped at the frozen and snow-covered lake, had made the summit.
The Amazing Summit Views
Once on the summit we were greeted by some of the most breathtaking views that I have seen in a long time. Literally hundreds of mountains were within views and they all had their perfect snowcaps. Glacier Peak looked most impressive. With the weather clear and wind staying relatively light we decided to stay on the summit for a little bit and enjoy the impressive views. The mountain clearly should be saved for a clear day because the views here are simply legendary. Today this mountain gave us the greatest reward and I fell so very lucky to see it. Unfortunately though after 20 minute we had to leave.
Heading Down The Mountain
Heading down in snow is always much faster than coming up. All of us booted down from the summit. Along the way we all enjoyed a number of small glissade. The only problem is that the snow began to soften and you could barely get much speed on the small glissade. Still we went down the mountain at a very rapid pace. Once we returned to about 5000 feet our pace began to slow again due to the icy conditions. There we put on the crampons and headed down the icy section much more slowly.
Once past the icy section (3800 feet to 5000 feet) we maintained a good pace until we hit the small 3rd class scramble. Heading down here was a little more interesting than heading up because you could actually see the others on your trip literally 50 feet below you. Though the footing was good here, you knew one wrong slip and you could go flying right of the 50-foot cliff. I personally was tired and this section on the way down made me a little nervous but Mike stayed close and that helped me down this section. Once past this section we were home free. The rest of the way down was nothing more than uneventful trail walking and we were soon back at the car.
I just want to say that this team did very well in supporting each other and helping each other get to the summit. I want to thank Joanna for the ride and the others for the great company and the awesome decision making on this trip. The trip came out incredible and today was a great day to be in the mountain in Washington.