Traverse to Hell'n Back

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Trip Report
Washington, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Feb 19, 2005
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Traverse to Hell'n Back
Created On: Feb 22, 2005
Last Edited On: Apr 10, 2007
Continued from this report......

Don, Greg, Stefan, and myself (Klenke) had the peakbagging worm squirming in our little heads devouring what tiny morsel of brains they could find. Randy and Craig were smart enough not to join us.
It was 1:30PM when we left the NE Peak of Helen Buttes. We figured it would take 90 minutes to get to Pk 4960+ ("Hell'n Back Peak" to that punny John Roper).

Almost immediately we ran into a problem. The north side of the NE Peak narrowed to a ridge and shortly came to a deep notch. I descended a short snow swale and, gauging the snow conditions and steepness, decided use of an ice axe was in order. This at least meant the ice axe wouldn't be dead weight for the entire day (unlike those unused snowshoes). I descended the snowy arĂȘte exposed to both sides rather easily because the snow was deep (up to my knees) meaning I was being held firm. I scrambled up the adjacent snow bank on the other side and watched my compadres deal with the downclimb. It must have been harder for them, for they decided to face-in downclimb.

After the notch the terrain improved and the elation of downhill plodding in good snow conditions had us hopping. But this didn't last long. For a few minutes later we found ourselves at another problem. We had decided to try and get into the NE basin of the NE Peak to take a snowy bench over to Pk 4960+. To get into the basin we went down an east-trending spur ridge. But this spur ridge became a steep rock arĂȘte about 40 feet in height. It was almost free climbable down but we didn't have the guts--at least not when we knew we could have the safety of Stefan's 25m length of rope. I prusik-downclimbed first then waited for the others. Stefan went ahead, meanwhile, to take care of "personal business." This technical section wasted 30 minutes of daylight--30 minutes we could have used later on.

With the major difficulties apparently behind us, we managed a fairly straightforward traverse over to the final West Ridge of Pk 4960+. Note that I said it was straightforward, not easy. It was an interminable snow slog (average of 8 inches of sinking in) all the way. Of course Greg did it the Koenig way: he lagged behind so he wouldn't have to kick any steps. Don apparently also subscribes to the Koenig way. I will cut them some slack, for they did have to retrieve the rope after the prusik-downclimb. At any rate, I kept pushing on knowing that Stefan would catch me eventually and take over the kick-stepping lead. Well, Stefan did catch me...3 feet from the summit! I was beat. I asked if he had a gun on him so he could shoot me.

It had taken us 2 hours to get to Pk 4960+. We could see where we had just come from. The north and eastward views from there are about the same as Helen Buttes (example 1; example 2). We were having a good 'ol time sharing risibilities (yes, that's right, we had to put up with Don climbing in his underwear all day!) However, we knew we'd have to amscray. There were only two hours of light left and we were a long way from the trail and cars.

At about 4:00PM we left the summit. An open slope made for a nice glissade down the south slope. The upper extremity of this slope was bare grass and very steep. I started my glissade in this grass. After the glissade we decsended forested slopes for a long time, trying hard to stay out of the canyon draining Olsen Lake. More than once we had to cross the creek. On the first of these Greg showed off his clown training by stumbling backward into the creek, landing on his fanny. With only his buttocks' spirits dampened and his pride bruised, we carried on.

Eventually, we arrived at the confluence of the two tributaries of Olsen Creek (c. 2,700 ft). Large downed logs provided convenient bridges over the icy waters. It was now 5:20PM. Only about 40 minutes of light left and still about a mile of forest sidehilling to go.

We contoured southward toward Pt. 2605 at around 2,500 ft. Mostly the terrain was open but a few brushy, windfallen, and/or cliffy bits slowed us down. Stefan guessed 7:00PM for the time when we would come across the Cow Heaven Trail. I said, "No way; 6:30 maybe."

It got dark enough for headlamps at around 5:50PM. At 6:23PM I announced that we were within 10 minutes of the trail (the terrain just looked right to me. At 6:36PM Greg found the trail. Now is I smart arz wut?

Just because we had found the trail it did not mean the going would be easier. Sure, we knew how to get back to the cars now, but the downhill trail was so jarring (not at all like forest contouring) that my knees felt like bricks by the time we got back to the car at 7:30PM (12 hours round-trip). Even so, it was another fine outing in the mountains. Who could ask for anything more?

--Paul Klenke


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