) "Smoke gets in your eyes." That's the song that went through my head as I made my way up to Heather Pass. The smoke was so thick that even though the sun was well above the horizon, the sunrise colors lingered on.
The plan was to climb the NE Ridge but the plan didn't work out so I picked a different route - same mountian. Due to technical difficulties I was going solo - one person from a two person team.
It was light out when I woke up - danged alarm. I really wanted to make it the Heather Pass at sunrise. As it turned out, the smoke in the air provided some excellent color anyway. The trail to the pass is gentle and in very good condition. In the shadows, Lake Ann apeared almost spooky. Surely there's a monster beneath those colorful waters?! The sun was at my back and the smoke acted like a filter. All of the purples and reds of the plants were amplified - it was really stunning. At the pass, I nearly lost my cookies. I was home sick two days last week due to stomach flu and was hoping to keep the aches at bay by taking a liesurely pace. I rested for a few minutes to get things settled then headed down to join the talus.
Black Peak was a blur in the lingering haze from the forest fires and it was obvious that I wouldn't get too many neat shots today. I started down the talus, staying right where there was an intermittent trail and following the cairns where they made sense. At Lewis Lake, I followed the left shore till it met steep talus once again then hopped up and over and bee-lined to the edge of the tree-lined ridge, where I once again picked up the path that led to Wing Lake. This was the hardest section of the route for me and by the time I reached the lake, I felt like going back to bed.
At the shore, I pumped some water and wondered if I really had enough energy to continue. A check of the watch showed that I had made excellent time so I decided to wander upwards and take long rest stops as needed. As I packed up the filter and stashed some gear, I noticed that the loose chute leading to the ridge looked.....steep. To the right I saw what looked like a cool scramble route that would dump a person higher onto the ridge but without the scree - probably 4th class. As I got closer to the scree slope, it started to mellow out and in the end, was very manageble. There were just enough embedded rocks to allow for a grip here and there. I do wonder about that scramble option to the right though - maybe some other time when I'm not solo. Anyone here taken that line?
As soon as I made the ridge I was greeted by a lukewarm, invigorating wind. I stashed my trekking poles and headed directly up the ridge, eventually being forced into a gully on the left side. I stayed right at every option. This strategy kept me on fairly good rock most of the way but avoiding the loose stuff all together was impossible. The climbing was enjoyable and easy even on the loose stuff. I ended up right at the bottom of the summit block and climbed up through the semi-exposed section to the top.
Halfway up, my pack caught in a corner as I was making a move and I think I said the 'F' word. I managed to yank it free then said a few more words to the crack...and the pack before pulling over the top where I was greeted by a smiling and no doubt amused rope team that had just summited via the NE ridge. We chatted for a few minutes before they headed off. I had the summit to myself. Seemed less smoky and I tried to identify some of the surrounding peaks without any luck. Hmmm, is that Mt. Spokane right there? Borah Peak to the left? I knew that Stuart was staring me in the face but having seen it only from the south side, I was clueless. I'm sorry to say that I have renamed all visible peaks within the range. The exposure down to the NW side was dizzying as I stood on the summit for my pouser shot(s). This took several attempts as I tried to race the camera's timer. Most of the shots were not complimentary :) Even the shot that was..was not. I ate my turkey sandwiche and soaked in the views for awhile then did the fun downclimb (avoiding the stupid crack).
Back at the chute, I grabbed my poles and enjoyed the ski down to Wing Lake. A short stop to pump some more water and soak the puppies in the cold water then on with the long grind through the talus back the Heather Pass.
By the time I reached the last glob of talus the sun was miserably hot and I was feeling like total crap. I needed a swim, a beer and a nap....and a Starburst. The shade at the pass was a welcome relief and I soaked it in for 15 minutes or so then set a fast pace back to the trailhead and an ice cold diet Dr. Pepper. Made it back to Spokane well before dark and just-in-time to watch Big Brother with the family.