|Page Type:||Trip Report|
|Lat/Lon:||48.01589°N / 121.50263°W|
|Date Climbed/Hiked:||Aug 23, 2014|
When I moved to Washington state in 2008 I knew there would be great opportunities to explore some pretty amazing mountains. I had done some trips to the Olympic range as well as the Goat Rocks so I knew there were some great peaks to be climbed here in Washington. What I didn’t know, was how awesome it was in the North Cascades! I really got North Cascades fever in 2012 after summiting Mount Thompson and Columbia Peak. Since then I’ve been heading up north as often as I can to explore more of the area. Living in Chehalis (half way between Seattle and Portland) it’s quite a long drive for most North Cascades peaks so I have to leave early. The goal for this weekend was a double summit of Vesper and Sperry Peaks. Two gems with a decent amount of class 3 climbing, my favorite!
I woke up at 3:30am and hit the road around 4 for the drive to the trailhead. I arrived there about 7:30 with three other vehicles already in the parking lot. I set my GPS to record, signed the climber’s register and hit the trail! I made pretty good time despite feeling like I was going slow. I passed all three parties who had arrived before me before the switchbacks up to Headlee Pass. The last couple had full overnight gear and ropes for a north face ascent of Vesper. I wished them luck and made my way up the switchbacks to Headlee pass. For some reason my phone kept crashing when I would check my GPS or try to take a photo, so eventually I just turned it off. I knew the route anyway and fortunately I brought a regular camera so I was set. I had heard stories about Headlee Pass, but I found it pretty easy. The trail is heavily switchbacked up the narrow gully which made for some steady cruising. Once I reached the pass the trip really got fun!
The Lake Elan basin is stunning! From the pass I made my way to the Elan outlet stream where I stopped to top off my water for the summit. It must have been around 9 or 9:30 by that point and the world was just waking up. Bright blue skies, the sun was just beginning to warm the skin. The outlet creek rumbled gently by as I filled up with water, and a marmot hopped across some boulders in the meadow and basked in the sun. It’s moments like this that draw me to the mountains. Being able to experience the natural harmony of such a beautiful place is truly touching, and something I am very grateful for.
After topping off my water, I made my way up to the Vesper granite slabs. There was still a bit of snow but it had melted enough to be able to avoid the snow with the exception of a couple short sections. I really enjoy being able to hike on solid rock weather its boulder fields, slabs or ledges. Vesper’s slabs are certainly nice but I have to admit I was a little disappointed that the route wasn’t just a little bit steeper with a bit more class 3 terrain. I did manage to find a couple fun line that required a bit of climbing which made the summit push a little more enjoyable.
I reached the summit in a little less than 3 hours and was pretty impressed with the views. The summit area is pretty pointy and not much room to hang out unless you descend a little. With the sun bearing down I didn’t spend more than 10 minutes on Vesper’s summit before heading down to the Vesper Sperry saddle. On my way down I ran into a couple hikers on their way up before leaving Vesper’s main route for the saddle. I skirted some rock ledges for a while before deciding to drop down into a snow field to reach the saddle. I got to a spot where there was a narrow snow finger, but a slight drop of about three feet separated me from the snow finger. I could reached it if I jumped. I stood there for about five minutes weighing my options. It would have been pretty easy to climb back up a bit and continue on rock, but I really wanted to hit the snow for a bit. I considered all the factors, soft snow, mellow run out, pretty much no chance of killing myself and eventually I made the jump onto the snow finger. I landed softly with a few quick steps before plunge steeping / standing glissading down to the saddle. It was a fun little adrenaline burst and got me to the saddle quickly.
From the saddle I followed the recommendations of a couple trip reports and stayed high on the ridge, sticking to the rocks and avoiding vegetation until I got to the base of Sperry. This required some elevation gain of 100 feet or so but was worth it to avoid shrubs and trees and stick to solid predictable rock. Once at the base of Sperry I began the climb to the summit. The initial goings were easy following some steep boot path until I reached the brushy section. Here things got interesting. It was very difficult to follow any particular path. There were cairns and boot paths everywhere but no obvious way to go. Plowing up steep tree and brush was challenging, especially with trekking poles and an ice axe sticking up out of my pack. Part way up I thought to myself, I’m never doing this one again! After clearing the trees and brush there was a short scramble of boulders which was pretty fun before reaching the summit. The views were amazing! Big Four, Vesper, Morning Star, Del Campo, Gothic, Glacier… amazing mountains all around! There was a nice section of flat boulders just shy of the summit which made for a perfect lunch counter. I spent about 50 minutes there eating lunch and having some Chinese tea while taking in the scenery. It was one of my favorite summits of the year, and might be worth going back for despite the terrible class 2+/3 tree and shrub section. After packing up, I headed back down.
The way back down was much easier to follow. I was able to stand up straight while making my way through the branches and was able to keep my poles and axe from getting snagged. As I reached the bottom I skirted around a snow field where a mountain goat was relaxing in the snow. He gazed my way a couple time but we were far enough apart that he didn’t appear to mind my presence. I dropped down the boulders and slabs to the north shore of Lake Elan and made my way across a section of snow on the lakes east side. Heading back to the outlet creek afforded some amazing views of Morningstar. I was tempted to hand around and wait for some clouds to pass to get a better picture, but grew impatient and headed back to the trail. The way down was a little tedious, passing several groups of hikers and navigating the trail which was heavily strewn with rocks and roots. Aside from being tired the rest of the hike back to the car was relatively uneventful.
All in all, it was an amazing trip! It took me roughly 3 hours to reach Vesper’s summit, 90 minutes to get from Vesper to Sperry, and 2 hours from Sperry back to the car. With about an hour spent on both summits combined the trip took 7 ½ hours car to car. It was a beautiful day, and one of the best hikes of the year so far. I think Vesper is about the perfect hike to introduce someone to scrambling when done late in the season when the snow has melted, something I’ll have to keep in mind as my kid(s) get older. :)