I met Douglas on CascadeClimbers.com looking for a person to do some summer mountain adventuring with. He and I are planning an Olympic-Mountain-trip-of-a-lifetime in July involving a traverse of the Valhallas, Olympus, Bailey Range, and High Divide. We wanted to meet each other before setting out on this ambitious adventure, so in April we planned a weekend trip in the Olympic Mountains. Douglas – much more familiar with the Olympic Mountains than I – planned a 2-day trip beginning with the Tubal Cain trail, climbing Buckhorn, traversing over to Marmot Pass, spending the night at Boulder Shelter, climbing Warrior Peak, and then hiking out via the Dungeness Trail. There was lots of snow up there this time of year - keeps the crowds away and makes for more interesting routefinding! The trip was fun, Douglas was an enjoyable and athletic guy to hike with, and judging by the way this trip went, I think Douglas and I will have a great time on our Valhallas trip this summer. Stay tuned for the trip report for that amazing high traverse from the Valhallas over Mt. Olympus across the Bailey Range to the High Divide!
Outline of our trip on a map. Red - Day 1. Yellow - Day 2. (FYI: We started hiking at 9:30am Saturday and got back to the car at 4:30pm Sunday.)
Route up the west ridge of Buckhorn Mountain, taken from the north.
View on the approach to Buckhorn Mountain.
Approach to Buckhorn Mountain (just off the left edge of photo).
Approach to Buckhorn Mountain (just off the left edge of photo).
Ascending the gentle summit pyramid of Buckhorn. Visability was poor, but the summit was easy to find (although my surveying equipment would have been handy to determine which of the several blocks of rock was highest!).
After climbing Buckhorn, we traversed over to Marmot Pass and a couple more miles down to Boulder Shelter, which was nice to stay in since it was pretty wet and snowy. I think this was the most comfortable "snow camping" I have every done! Douglas showed me his ultralight tarp tent by setting it up in the shelter.
Note: Due to the wet weather, my camera was having some condensation issues, so unfortunately most of my photos from the climb of Warrior Peak are kind of blurry....
Our route up the NW side of Warrior. The snow was quite soft and deep on these slopes, making for slow travel and avalanche danger later in the day.
Traversing the steep west slopes of Warrior.
Taking a brief break on the ascent of Warrior.
Only a few hundred feet from the top. The snow was pretty deep which made for slow travel (but fun since, believe it or not, I actually enjoy kicking steps and wallowing through a waist-deep trench of snow – I'll do that instead of sit in my cubicle any day!). My camera was having condensation issues, which unfortunately made many of my photos from the climb blurry.
The summit area of Warrior, low Class 5 (when it has no snow on it at least). We turned around a few hundred vertical feet from the summit because of time constraints (I had to catch a ferry), snowy conditions, and warming avalanche slopes on the traverse back. Next time!
View of the Olympics to the west of Warrior. Quite a pretty place.
Crossing the slippery broken bridge on the Dungeness Trail on the way out. Crampons work great!
The rugged Olympic Mountain territory we traveled through. Mt. Olympus is on the left side of the photo, and the Valhallas are on the right side, at the end of a ridge stretching to the SW of Mt. Olympus. This photo was taken from the summit of Frigga in the Valhallas. Click here or on the above photo to see my trip report for our amazing traverse of the Valhallas, Olympus, Bailey Range, and the High Divide.
The following is Douglas' trip report. It's a fun read, quite well written. Enjoy!
I'd never started a hike from a ferry dock before.
ButI'd also never gone on a trip with a partner that I hadn't actually metbefore, so this was just an all around new experience. Making a friendthrough cascadeclimbers.com, planning big things this summer, andplanning a small adventure just to get to know each other, was allnovel. Strange the mixture of the Internet and the mountains that hasbecome such a part of the modern climbers life. Lot's of e-mail andon-line research leading up to taking a walk in the snow.
Steff was un-mistakable when she walked off the ferry. Well-worn iceaxe and crampons on a Cold Cold World pack, fleece jacket and wool hat,feet already wet from wandering around in a swamp taking pictures ofbirds before the boat left. She looked like the perfect companion for ahard trip in the mountains. Sometimes first impressions are accurate.
So we hopped into my decrepit old van and drove up to the UpperDungeness trail head, leaving the rig there. Our plan was to hike aloop starting at the Tubal Cain trail, scrambling Buckhorn Mountain andMarmot pass, than down to boulder shelter for the night. Make a try forthe summit of Warrior Peak on the second day before beating a hastyretreat down the Dungeness trail to the car. Our hope had been to hitcha ride on the road portion, but so far there had been no traffic headedthat way. We decided to walk the four miles of road and take a ride ifwe could get it.
We briskly booted it up the road for about anhour or so before being overtaken by a shiny SUV; thinking we hadfinally found some good fortune we talked the three guys inside intoletting us ride along to the trail head, which turned out to be all of200 feet further. We had a chuckle about this, speculating that it tooklonger putting our packs into and out of the SUV than it would have tokeep hiking. I set a new personal record, shortest ride ever hitched.After getting back out of the car I discovered that one of my trekkingpoles had gone on strike and was refusing to lock, so I stowed it andcontinued single pole.
The three and a bit miles to Tubal Cainwent by quickly and mostly snow free. We walked through a bit of whitestuff around the camp area and stream crossing but when we got out ofthe trees on the SE facing ridge it was quite clear, and we enjoyedgood trail and good conversation until we hit snow around 4000 feet orso. This slowed us down a bit, and as we got higher up we started toencounter some of the interesting snow layers that would entertain usfor the rest of this adventure. A layer of new snow anywhere from4''-18'' thick depending on wind transport over a pretty firm andslippery crust. Sometimes the top layer would hold you and sometimesnot. We put our ice axes in our hands and continued merrily onward, Iwith my axe in my uphill hand and a pole in my downhill hand, whichworked pretty well actually. I'll probably use that technique in thefuture.
We lost all track of the trail once we were on snow,and frankly we didn't much care. It was easy navigation at this pointon familiar terrain (for me). We gained the ridge crest and followed itaround to the east, kicking steps pretty easily in most places. Thewind was building and a bit of snow fell from an overcast sky. Weatheris always an issue in the Olympics, and the locals consider this"normal climbing weather," especially in spring.
At some pointwe donned windproofs, and we discussed crampons in one icy patch thatwas pretty much blown free but decided not. We stopped to eat in theshelter of some boulders in the saddle just below Buckhorn's summit.The wind was truly fierce and it was snowing quite a bit, now beyondthe realm of "normal climbing weather" with around 200ft visibility. Iwas thoroughly out of blood sugar at this point goldfish crackers withchocolate covered raisins never tasted so good. We had a briefdiscussion of weather to scramble the summit or not and decided to goahead. Ten minutes later we hopped up on the summit block and took inthe view of the inside of a cloud. Goofy pictures are a requirement atsuch times.
We scrambled down to our packs and headed forMarmot pass following the ridge line. The wind played hide and seekwith us. Mostly trying to blow us over and turn us around by tugging atour packs, than disappearing so suddenly behind some terrain feature wewould almost fall over because of the sudden lack of side pressure.
We eventually crossed Marmot pass sideways and headed southwest towardsboulder shelter, our intended camp for the night. This was thankfullysheltered from most of the wind but the snow continued merrily. Ofcourse we didn't even bother to look for the trail and followed myhabit of traversing up high and dropping down when I thought it mightbe the right drainage. We did find a stream, which was much desired,but we conclusively ruled out their was neither boulder field norshelter in that gully. So after some play with the map and compass(Steff is into that, I learned, and good at it too) back up and onwardwe went, past a couple of other gully's with fascinating fracture linesfrom past avalanches. Much of the winter's history was there to beseen. We dropped down into what all evidence would indicate was theright drainage and soon found the trail and at last our home for thenight, Boulder shelter.
I had not thought of using the shelter,and had packed along a tarp. But no one else was around and with thesnow coming down a three sided wooden shed seemed the height of luxury.So in we moved. Their was something quite novel about standing next tothe table where the stove was, watching the snow come down, quite dryand comfortable. We both agreed that this was "snow camping in style."
Morning dawned clear, beautiful but perhaps dangerous for snowpack stability. After breakfast we headed southwest for Warrior, asusual eschewing the trail and traversing higher up. We threaded throughthe trees for a mile or so before breaking out just below Cloudy Peak.There were some clouds rolling around, obscuring the summit of Warriorbut giving hope for more stable conditions through the day. We began totraversed around the West side of the mountain, wallowing in snow andsometimes fighting with the icy layer. Eventually I decided to cramponup while conveniently perched on a 50 degree slope that I couldn'tstick in boots. Steff made it up to a flat spot to put her spikes on.We continued with our "circle around the mountain" route with a bit moresecurity.
The snow was slowing us down to much, and we were on tightschedule because of Steff needing to catch a ferry. We had to turnaround just in the transition zone between snow and rock, a couple ofhundred feet below the summit.
So back we went, crossing all of those same slopes again. Thesun decided to put on an appearance at this point, at least in places.This was cause for concern, as the slopes started "sun balling"dramatically within minutes. We moved fast, crossing fifty and sixtydegree slopes with chunks of snow rolling down them as quickly aspossible. We had no better route option available than how we had come,which did have the advantage of being to steep for slab formation. Wehad moments of stress reduction as clouds blew in front of the sun andcertain slopes were shaded by terrain. All in all we were glad to getback to the safety of the trees.
Hiking back to the shelter was pretty un-eventful, save for theinteresting observation that quite a bit of snow had melted thatmorning. Things looked quite different. We found trees and downed logsthat hadn't been visible just hours before.
So we packed up, figured out what was the right trail out ofthere, and scooted on down it. Our only obstacle on the way out was thebroken bridge over the Dungeness River. I was expecting wet feet, butSteff managed to cross the remnants of the old bridge with dry boots,so I decided to test the idea of crampons on logs and it went verywell. I was able to walk down one side of the broken log, negotiate thegap in the middle, and walk up the other side with little problem.
Overall, I had a great weekend. We didn't tag the summit onWarrior, but it will still be there next time. We did deal safely witha variety of difficult conditions and get to enjoy the sheer luxury ofa back country shelter in the snow. I got a new friend and climbingbuddy.