So my friend Marty and his friend Ben invited me to join them for an overnight photo feast at Perfection lake. The offer would receive a resounding Hell Yeah!! from most hikers. Alas, the peakbagger inside me hasn't quite died yet. I told them it sounded nice but that I was really gunning for Three Fingers. They were very insistent and when my plan became unreasonable (no extra bike for my potential partner - and if you're reading this, sorry man I just didn't feel like going all that ways on foot) I decided that McClellan would make a fine consolation prize and given the beta on larches around lake Vivian, we were in for a show.
Marty came by to pick me up at 6am and leaving Ben's house in Mukilteo at 6:30 am, we drove along US 2 in the fog and through the always majestic Tumwater canyon and hit the Snow Lakes trail at around 9:30am. It was surprisingly cool which was great for sweating up-hill. We passed a few parties and really just took our time. For my friends it would be one of the more difficult things they've done so we monitored our pace. Lake Nada was a great first sight and although we agreed not to stop any place too long, I had to have a prolonged lunch there.
As we slowly gained up to Snow Lake we noted a falls that we decided to call "Not a falls" a slight nod to Nada Lake but also because the thing was like a freakin' sideways version of the Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone. Ben mentioned he hadn't seen it when he was here last year. We all saw something new there.
NO WAY MAN WOW
The hike around Snow Lake was deceptively pleasant before the steep climb up to Lake Vivian. There were a few legit scramble sections that provided some uneasiness to everyone traveling through. A wasp nest randomly placed in a root-ball in the middle of the trail caught us by surprise but we managed to whisk through without a sting.
The upper slopes got confusing even though cairns marked the way and I got off route a few times but would find my way. (the next day I got lost). Fiery yellow larches speckled the horizon pulling us inquisitively farther. A large goat greeted us at the outlet of Lake Vivian. At first he wouldn't move for us. So we took the time to shoot some pics and eventually I asked him in plain English to step aside to which he strangely obliged. I warned through-hike dayhikers not to pet the goat due to its high intelligence (and because goats aren't pets).
McClellan Peak from Leprauchan Lake
Meandering around Vivian was an eye-opener. I had no idea that the larches had already started turning gold and the scrambling was a hoot. When I heard people talk about heading up to the Enchantments from Snow Lake they would always talk about the rock scrambling and I just assumed they weren't accustomed to crossing boulder fields but boy was I wrong. Following the path of least resistance we continued along the shore of Leprechaun Lake. Here is where I felt like we were under a spell taking pictures and gawking at the golden reflections on blue waters surrounded by high walls of gendarmes. Finally we looked at the map and realized we had made a wrong turn, lured in by the beauty. I personally blame the leprechaun who lives there. By now it was getting late in the day now and my friends were a little worried we wouldn't make it to our original campsite before sundown. I felt like we were okay but understood the fear that goes with being new to camping in the high country and facing the possibility of setting up after dark.
Marty and Ben at Lake Vivian
Perfection outlet reflection
Ben approaches Perfection lake
Little Annapurna from Perfection
After scouting the hillsides for barren ground we pitched our tents. It all came together just in time too. Our beautiful forecast did not hold up and the sky began going from dark, to dreary to drippy. Wind and rain finally greeted us as we downed some wine that Ben ported up. Beset by darkness and devoid of hope for star trails, we lumbered into our sleeping bags. The tempest did not relent through the night and periodical bouts of consciousness interrupted precious sleep. A wood rat managed to find its way into our confines at one point waking Ben, whose exclamation roused me. I cried out in sheer terror at that moment having just dreamed something awful and was convinced in the first few seconds that the open rain fly and headlamp bathed silhouette of Ben was a bear that had torn the tent in two and hungry for blood. Lucidity returned and my heart stopped jumping. Instantly embarrassed, I played it off by parroting his consternation for tent vermin.
rain on tent
A few more hours of tossing and turning and an occasional bad dream had me waking up to the atmospheric blue hue familiar to a sunrise on a fishbowl day. Admittedly I couldn't retain optimism and had to check outside to confirm my fears. It was still raining, cloudy and wet. Oh well, at least we had been warm enough and had plenty to eat. With all the blue fog I had my doubts about peakbagging and photography. Attempting to amuse myself, I had brought some leftover birthday cake from my brother Josh's Birthday Eve party. Out in the mountains after a hard hike in it felt like blissful sin to be consuming a giant slice of chocolate cake for breakfast. The first half was enough to reinvigorate my gumption for McClellan. And then the clouds parted...
Suddenly I was excited again. I beckoned Ben to get up and watch the sunrise. I knew there would be magic in the light. Unfortunately the lingering clouds, sprinkles and soreness in his body informed him to stay put. So I made the best of it with my phone. Sorry Ben, maybe next time?
The Temple From Perfection Lake
Piece of Cake
The light was spectacular and McClellan was finally clear. This moment made the whole thing feel worth it as light danced around on the lakes and turned the larches to fire. A look at my planned route on McClellan confirmed it for me since it looked dry enough and free of clouds. I decided to go for it, telling them my ETA would be about 2 hours later. I chugged some water, grabbed my puffy, a tiny first aid kit and headed up as light and fast as possible through the early morning landscape.
Here's where I made a few minor errors:
First, I was not fully acquainted with where the North Ridge route goes exactly. I assumed it was best accessed from Leprechaun lake because of its gentle slope which meant I would have to backtrack that mile. I jogged most of it to save time, jumping creeks and slabs, arriving at barren rocks above Leprechaun Lake 20 minutes later. The scrambling was fairly easy until 15 minutes in when I started to end up on wet ledges that were increasingly exposed. This would be mistake number two. Beneath the mountain's shadow I began to question whether it was going to happen today. I almost lost my balance on an exposed class 3 move across wet slabs and had to calm down and begin descending having almost accidentally climbed The Prong. I resolved to try a different route along side a snow-finger that led to a col between the easy looking summit and the pinnacle. This turned out to be correct and I felt the stoke return as I followed easy broken rock to the col.
above the col
The sun shone on me once again and from here it became obvious that the true summit was the scary looking pinnacle. I knew it shouldn't be above class 3 so I felt I could tackle it alone. The wet rock and wind did bother me a bit though. And this is where I made my third mistake. Instead of corkscrewing around the summit I tried to tackle it head on, scrambling over huge blocks covered in wet black lichen. I was doing good until I came across a huge gap that needed to be stepped over. Unfortunately the terrain on the other side was a giant wet down-sloping slab. The exposure was unforgivable if I slipped and I was not confident that I could avoid slipping. Some hemming and hawing got me walking away from it to a chimney further South. It looked class 4 but I thought, "Well, some parties won't even mention a single class 4 move if it's easy and maybe the terrain is easier above it". I did some slimy foot and hand jams and found a rock embedded in the granite that stuck out just half an inch for a foot hold. Pushing past this I realized I had made a huge mistake: I climbed up something I didn't think I could climb down. After cursing myself for a few minutes I walked around on the slimy ledge I put myself onto and to my horror was surrounded by overhanging drops and chasms covered in wet black lichen with no decent holds.
mind the gap
I gathered my courage and slowly crab walked to the top of my class 4 chimney. I jammed my arms into the top of the crack and swung myself around to face in and made each move slowly. My feet would slip a lot because of the black slime and my heart would jump. But my arms held steady and I made it back down to earth. I shout for joy upon reaching stable ground and I realized I still had the option to walk around to the mountain. Perhaps everyone else just corkscrews around it? Relieved to find the true route a breeze up stairs I made quick work of it and had a short stay on the summit rocks while poring over the summit register trying not to loose the pages in the gusts.
Teanaway on the other side
Rainier, Argonaut and Little Annapurna
Dragontail and Upper Enchantment basin
Leprechaun and Lilian lakes
Anish in the register
On my return I decided to make up for my first mistake by running down the ridge leading to Perfection Lake. And I literally ran down it because my earlier mishaps had sucked up time and I wanted to get back before they started calling SAR. To my surprise I was only 15 minutes late but due to a misunderstanding of the time they had expected me to return much earlier. I had to have some water after all the extra exercise and finished off the cake. By now it was about 10:30 and so we had to break down camp to start our journey back. Since I had senior experience in this field they decided to go ahead and I would catch them later.
Here is where I made my final mistake. I was a little out of it after all that running around and soaked my head in Lake Vivian to cool off. The day was proving to be much warmer than the previous and my stamina was not what I had expected it would be. Descending the slabs we came in on I somehow lost the trail at a major cairn where it turns skier's right toward the outlet falls. I turned left and to make matters worse, some fellow hikers followed me into some steep scrambly terrain. Luckily one of them had a GPS and the foresight to second guess my decision making skills. We traversed back the other way and ended up back on the trail inside of 10 minutes and I caught Marty and Ben 10 minutes after that. By now the sun was really beaming hard and I slapped on the SPF 30. We breezed down the trail passing and getting passed by fellow hikers until the last few miles. Then it became a psychological grind. This is the view you have of your car but you know it's an hour away. I didn't realize going in how painful it would be but when I got my feet soaking in Icicle Creek the pain subsided.
The car was a welcome sight and after a quick trip to the local Safeway for caffeine I elected to drive us back. But the adventure continued to my doorstep. We reached Steven's Pass at sunset and this is where we discovered the headlights had burned out. Had to switch on to high-beams and annoy the hell out of everyone that came the other way or passed us. I kept making a sad expression to all on-coming traffic to apologize but really there was nothing I could do since we all had to go home. I'm sure some of them thought I had left them on by mistake. The drive home felt like a purgatory sentence with the constant cringing at what I knew I was doing to everyone's eyes. An eternity later the final relief came when I pulled into my driveway.