Did this trip as a fairly large group, started with 10 people. We had largely been a group of rock climbers, this was our first try at alpine mountaineering. We significantly overloaded ourselves with rock pro and ice/snow pro, thinking we were going to be spending lots of time approaching the route as we usually approached trad routes on rock. We also brought along the usual cold weather gear that one would bring, even though the weather report was hot and dry all the way through the trip. We started out with packs from 75-88 lbs depending on how much the individual had invested in lightweight clothing/sleeping gear. We had planned for 6 days of walking and 2 extra days for weather or rest days. Ended up using both extra days as rest days due to some incidents, and used all the other 6 days walking for a total of 8. Due to the weights of our gear and a lack of confidence working on steep snow, we used up 9-12 hours a day just getting from one bivouac site to the next, so we never even got to use all the rock gear we brought to climb anything while we were our there. However, the clear weather gave us some amazing views and it was a great trip overall. Lots of hard work, but the best mountain scenery I've encountered so far.
Day one we drove, parked at Johannesburg parking lot, and got on the trail around 2pm. It was a straightforward walk uphill to get to the first bivouac site we had planned, which was one of the national park backcountry camp sites at cascade pass.
Day 2 we made sure we all could self arrest with our packs on, using the snowfields lower in cascade pass and then headed out towards cache col. We got sidetracked on a climbers trail heading up to Johannesburg, so we traversed across towards cache col quite a bit too high and it was some slow going across the steep snow. We got to Cache glacier, spent a bit to get roped up for glacier travel, although the glacier was pretty open and the crevasses we could see were maybe 6-8 inches wide at most, just cracks. Being our first ever glacier crossing, we decided to rope up anyway. Pack weight was already a noticeable issue by the time we made it to the top of cache col. The walk down to Kool Aid lake was not hard, descents were generally awkward with the heavy packs and there often wasn't quite enough snow to glissade thanks to a very light winter here in Washington.
This morning one of our members was feeling very sick, threw up a few times. We discussed waiting it out one day, but given that he couldn't keep food or water down, and it was extremely hot this week, we decided that he would not be able to hydrate adequately to survive the next 5 days in good condition. We decided to have 3 others break up his gear, move him back to the Johannesburg parking lot to drive home. The other 3 would rest overnight at the parking lot, then come back to kool aid lake the next day. This worked out in favor of the sick guy, but it would later prove to have been a potential downfall for another member of our party. Those of us that stayed at Kool Aid made an attempt at Hurry Up Peak and worked on some of our crevasse rescue skills and took pictures while we waited.
Day 4 we woke up and ate, and waited for the 3 guys to get back from bringing our sick guy home. They arrived around 1:30 pm, pretty tired from having just done Kool Aid, to the parking lot, and back to Kool Aid in 24 hours, even with minimal gear. We discussed the option taking another rest day, but no one wanted to hold up the group again, as we still had the goal of Dome Peak as a possibility if we didn't lose another day. We took off from Kool Aid by 2:45 pm. The red ledges were pretty fun, great views en route to Middle Cascade Glacier. Middle cascade glacier proved to be pretty big, and we had to go lower than we thought we would to get onto it, so it turned into a much bigger ascent than we had planned. As we neared the top of Middle Cascade Glacier, one of the guys who had walked our sick member back, started to show a significant amount of fatigue and other symptoms that lined up with the indicators of Rhabdomyolysis. We determined that we needed him evacuated ASAP so we moved at as good a pace as we could up over middle cascade glacier the rest of the way, dropped down the col on the south side, and got to a spot for Airlift Northwest to land. They responded quickly to our request, and within about 40 minutes of our call the helicopter arrived to get our guy. This was around 9:55 pm, the pilots did an okay job locating us in the dark, as well as with getting down to our spot. Turns out they weren't going to take any of his gear, so we had to split up his 80lbs among the remaining 8 of us and move in the dark the rest of the way to Yang Yang lakes. We got to Yang Yang around 2:00 am, and we made the call to take the next day as a rest day, to ensure that the other 2 guys that had done the extra kool-aid to parking lot walks didn't meet the same fate as our recently evacuated member.
This was just a much needed rest day after the previous events. Yang Yang lakes is certainly not lacking for scenery as a place to spend the day. A little buggy though.
Today we took off for White Rock lakes. Thankfully we were getting better at snow movement so we only took about 10 hours to complete the walk from Yang Yang to White Rock Lakes. At this point a couple guys had packs over 90lbs, thanks to having to split up our evacuee's gear, so we were moving slower and had to take many breaks, especially since it was over 90 degrees F this day, without a single cloud. The crevasse field on Le Conte wasn't bad, just two snow bridges and one walk-around to get up this glacier. South Cascade glacier was as smooth as could be, didn't even rope up for that one. Coming over the South Cascade glacier col to see white rock lakes was really impressive. The best view of the trip! I'd say that the Ptarmigan Traverse is worth it just for this view. White rocks was my favorite bivouac site, great water, and perfect for an icy swim. Some guys swam at every lake on the route, and this was by far the coldest. This leg also had the most-vertical rock scramble along the route. We saw another trail that led us to believe we had chosen the hard route, but just be ready for a good class IV scramble if you follow our GPX, getting up to the ridge line from Yang Yang. With 80-90lb packs, it was a little difficult but not needing to be roped up. The glissade from South Cascade glacier to White Rock lakes was a nice reprieve from the usual knee-breaking descents.
Today we set out and headed along the route taking you below white rock lakes, to the base of Dana Glacier and over near Spire point. The movement from White Rock Lakes to Dana Glacier went down lower than we thought it would, somewhat disappointing as we were hoping for a bit less ascending for this day. The entry onto Dana Glacier was much easier than we thought it would be when we looked across the valley from White Rock Lake. It isn't as steep as it looks from afar. The slog up the glacier was long and uneventful, since we were easily able to map a route avoiding the crevasses before leaving White Rock lake. It took a few tries to find a good crossover point at the col, but once across there was plenty of glissading to get down towards Cub Lake. However Cub Lake is not as close as it looks, it seemed to take forever to get from the Dana Glacier crossover to Cub Lake. Once there, Cub Lake was the warmest lake and was actually pleasant to swim in, but also buggy. We ate our second to last meals and checked our route out of the woods for the next day. I was fairly tired at this point in the trip, so not many en-route pictures.
Got up and started our walk our to Suiattle River Road. Nothing much to say about this section aside from the fact it was looong, not that many great views once you get into bachelor creek and beyond. Total distance was maybe 12-13 miles. The trail isn't that easy to follow this early in the season in Bachelor, but we were on track about 75% of the time. The times we were off the trail were, of course, quite rough with our giant packs. The 6 miles along Downey Creek were just a regular old walk, which got us back to the end cars around 8:00 pm, where we loaded up and headed back.
Aside from the spectacular mountains of Washington, the biggest thing we took away from this trip is don't overpack, but never skimp on food. Almost everyone only packed 2 x 2.5-serving Mountain House / Backpackers Pantry meals a day, totaling at most 1925 calories. We made up daytime eating with sport gels, granola bars, jerky etc; but everyone would have been far, far better off with a dedicated mid-day stop for a whole 2.5 serving meal. We may have spared ourselves both the sick guy and the evacuation if we would have had more nutrition right off the bat on this trip. It was 80-90 degrees every day during this trip, so we were burning up everything we had like crazy and sweating it out as fast as we could get it in.