We (Tom = Bechtt, Augie = Mountain Impulse & me = Travis_) started our trip to Bear Creek Spire the morning of Saturday, October 7, 2006 at 7:00 am from the Mosquito Flat Trailhead. It was a beautiful, clear, cold morning. The frozen mud made for easy hiking and the spectacular views of the mountains and amazing fall colors made the time fly by. We had clear views of our destination all the way along the trail, the views impressed us at the same time the apparent great distance intimidated me. We hiked along the stunning Little Lakes Valley Trail past Long Lake where we picked up a use trail that followed the small creek that feeds Long Lake. The trail follows a rocky gully up over a ridge to Treasure Lakes, where we set up camp. We camped here rather than Gem Lakes for closer proximity to Mount Dade for our Day 2 planned hike (which ended up not happening). We set-up camp and had lunch, the sky was so clear and the weather so perfect that we didn't see the need to put the flies on our tents nor cover our packs. The campsite had beautiful views of Bear Creek Spire, Pipsqueak Spire and Mount Dade. We discussed our route, and decided to climb the easier Ulrichs Route rather than the Northeast Ridge. This was my first hike on snow/ice and with my good views of the intimidating, snow covered Hourglass Col to Mount Dade (class 2?) I was not comfortable with the class 4 northeast ridge. So we packed up our daypacks and left camp for Cox Col.
Treasure Lakes to Cox Col:
View of Bear Creek Spire and Pipsqueak Spire in morning Glow
We left our camp at Treasure Lakes under blue, clear skies, hiked along the west side of the lakes up a large boulder field to a chimney leading to Dade Lake. The chimney was not difficult, but the rocks were very loose, and a couple very large boulders shifted uncomfortably under our weight. The safer option is likely the bergshrund to the west (which is what Tom and Augie did on the descent). We went up around Dade Lake and followed the shoreline to a snow field, which we crossed and started gaining some serious elevation along the rocks bordering the snow. We continued up the rocks, scrambling and climbing up to the bottom of Cox Col where we donned our crampons and ice axes and headed up the center of the col. The snow was hard and icy; the crampons did not penetrate very far. We progressed up the col fairly quickly up until the last stretch before reaching the rocks. We went up the (southern) left chute and the snow/ice got very steep near the top. I did not feel very secure on the hard, icy snow and let Augie lead the way. We ending up dead ending up against some serious rock that neither of us could climb. Tom had stayed more to the right and was able to climb the rocks and get above us. Augie and I had to backtrack and hook up with Tom's route. From that point it was fairly simple class 3 rock climbing to the top of Cox Col. We took a break, ate some food and noticed the first snow flakes. The sky had clouded over fairly quickly, and it was already 12:30 pm. A sense of urgency fell upon us.
Cox Col to Bear Creek Spire:
Travis on top of BCS Summit Block
Traversing Summit Ridge in the snow
Tom climbing Class 4 section
From Cox col we made our way up the class 2 and then class 3 rock in the light snow. Tom and I were hiking together at this point, and we both made it up pass the class 4 sections fairly easily and quickly, taking time to snap a few photos. The elevation had been slowing us both down, plus to add neither of us had properly hydrated nor ate enough on the way up. Even though BCS is not a 14'er, at 13,713 ft it is up there. We went up the second chimney (first one seemed too narrow to fit) and ascended up on to the summit ridge. The view was nonexistent; I considered it near whiteout conditions at this point. The worsening weather made us question whether we should try to traverse the very exposed ridge and gain the summit block, the snow was accumulating fast which made the rocks very slippery. But we decided to press on, and after the very short, but tricky traverse along the ledge and after taking into consideration the extreme exposure of the summit block and the holds, one quick move and I was on the top. I was thankful that I could not see very far down in the whiteout, otherwise I might not have had the guts for this final class 5 move. Anyway, no time hang around, I stayed long enough for Tom to take a photo, descended (even trickier than ascending) and took a few pictures while signing the tattered summit log with a large, felt tip marker (note: someone should bring a new log book and pencil for the log).
Before we started down, 2 other climbers summited, the only other climbers we had seen that day. They were in sneakers, only small hip packs and one had no gloves, definitely unprepared for the weather. Tom was nice enough to lend one guy his extra pair of gloves and I gave him a couple of my chemical hand warmers, he was very appreciative. We chatted for a bit and all headed down.
Descending Bear Creek Spire:
Augie Decending BCS after weather turned "bad"
Sunset over Bear Creek and Pipsqueak Spires
Augie descending Cox Col in the snow
I was amazed at how quickly the snow had accumulated since our ascent. It was hard to find the correct route; everything looked different under the fresh blanket of snow. The class 4 that was relatively easy to go up was a lot tougher descending with snow covered rock. Everything was slipperier and every step took much more care. One slip and it could be bad. In near whiteout conditions we continued down pass the class 3 and class 2 and on to the top of Cox col. The thought of descending the col was intimidating, it was tough coming up in good weather, now there was fresh snow, poor visibility and descending is always tougher. We donned our crampons again and descended the section of mixed rock/ice/snow climbing to the hard packed snow/ice. At this point I took this photo showing Augie trying out one possible decent. We ended up basically following our ascent path for the upper traverse, then crossed the rock section and continued down on snow rather than rock as we did on our ascent. Once the grade lessened, I took off my crampons and hastened my ascent. Whereas the snow was not very steep, traversing it was difficult. In the near whiteout conditions my depth perception on the white snow was terrible. I would step expecting a 6" drop, and find out I was stepping into a small bowl in the snow which usually resulted in a tumble onto my ass, over and over. I kept my ice axe handy and descended basically all the way to Dade Lake in this manner. Once I neared Dade Lake the visibility improved and the snow stopped. From Dade Lake I basically followed my ascent path, taking more time to traverse the freshly snow covered rocks, being careful not to slip. Once back at camp I cleared the snow off of the tents and bags, it was cold enough that our gear did not get wet, just snowy. The sunset made for some beautiful photos on the nearby peaks with reflection on Treasure Lakes . But with the sun gone, the temperatures dropped quickly, we boiled some water, ate and got into the warmth of our tents/sleeping bags. It was cold, but as John Muir said, "You may be a little cold some nights, on mountain tops above the timber-line, but you will see the stars, and by and by you can sleep enough in your town bed, or at least in your grave."
The next morning was crisp, cold and awe inspiring. The sunrise presented some more impressive photo opportunities as we waited for its warm rays to hit our camps and evaporate the layer of frost over everything. In the relative warmth of the sun we packed up and prepared for the hike out.
The hike out was even more beautiful then going in, the fresh layer of snow in the morning sunlight was serine. Especially beautiful was the meadow at the south end of Long Lake, the meandering creek and meadow with a light snow dusting was another unforgettable photo opportunity. We were going to hike Mount Dade before leaving, but with the fresh layer of snow over the route and the difficultly maintaining traction we decided against this climb and headed for the car. Our earlier than planned departure allowed me to get home in time for a spare of the moment Canadian Thanksgiving Dinner with my Beautiful family, a great end to a great weekend.
View climbing up Cox Col before the weather turned "bad"
Living in southern California has a way of screwing up my internal clock, not having clear seasons to differentiate and segregate the year. This trip had a way of calibrating my internal clock. As John Muir said, "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while care will drop off like autumn leaves."
I feel refreshed and invigorated, and ready for winter. The natural beauty of the area and ruggedness of the mountains is already calling me back. I am eager to plan another trip, but at the same time I must maintain the delicate balance between family, work and adventure.
Video Descending Cox Col:
Below is a video of Augie looking for a good route down Cox col. As you can see, the snow was basically solid ice. You need to click the play button twice to play