For some incomprehensible reason, my buddy and I decided it might be a good idea to try the Tatoosh Traverse…in one day. For our purposes, this traverse consisted of a dozen peaks – Eagle, Chutla, Wahpenayo, Lane, Denman, Plummer, Pinnacle, Castle, Foss, Unicorn, Boundary, and Stevens. Roughly 20-25 miles and 10,000 feet of elevation over uneven ground with almost no trail to follow. We had been to the area several times before and already climbed half of these peaks, so we weren’t concerned with our ability to navigate successfully. However, this traverse is traditionally completed over 2 days and we wanted to do something special.
We decided it would be sufficiently insane to try to do the traverse in one push without stopping for the night. After reaching the far end of the traverse, we would ride bikes 15 miles along the road back to the starting point. The goal was to complete the loop in less than 24 hours.
Since we would be riding our bikes back to the starting line exhausted and at night, we decided to start at the low end of the traverse (Longmire) and cache bikes at the higher end (Snow Lake trailhead). This afforded us a mostly downhill return. We stashed the bikes late Friday night, and set up camp in the last spot available in Cougar Rock campground (about 20 feet from the toilets). The plan was to catch a couple hours sleep Friday night and begin the traverse from Longmire early Saturday morning to be on the ridge by sunrise.
Let the Suffering Begin:
3:30 AM the alarm goes off – time to get to work. After a little flailing trying to locate the trailhead, we started the timer at 4:35 AM and hit the trail. The 4-mile trudge up the Eagle Peak trail flew by in a blur and we were scrambling up Eagle peak as the sun came up. Shortly after Chutla fell and we were bushwhacking off in search of Wapenayo. It too succumbed without much of a fight and we continued on. After a short stop to refill water, rest, and chug Cytomax and Gu, we were off again in search of Lane.
We started passing day hikers as we neared Pinnacle and Plummer peaks. We ignored most of them, but stopped and chatted with groups on a couple of occasions. After confessing our plans, we were usually met with looks conveying a mixture of concern and confusion.
We bagged Pinnacle, Castle, Foss and continued on toward Unicorn as the evening approached. Unicorn is the most interesting of the peaks and we wanted to save that for last. The plan was to get Boundary and Stevens peaks, and then backtrack to Unicorn and head out via the Snow lake trail. The sun was setting as we reached the summit of Boundary peak and we eyed the route down to the saddle of Stevens peak. It didn’t look good. The best option we could see was a very long bushwhack around the south side of Boundary and down a steep headwall to the saddle. Then we’d be faced with an interminably long slog up the west ridge of Stevens peak. The idea of doing this in the dark with completely wasted bodies didn’t sound reasonable, so we decided to focus on getting up Unicorn and back down to the road. Climbing the spire on Unicorn in the dark was interesting but not too difficult. We took the last summit photo of the day and rapped off the spire, grabbed out packs and then rapped again down the headwall to Unicorn glacier. Without crampons, we had to traverse around the glacier on talus and boulders.
The descent to Snow Lake was torturous as our exhausted minds and bodies tried to balance on loose boulders. Eventually, we made it to the Snow Lake trail and then dragged ourselves back to the road, arriving shortly after 11:00 PM – 18 hours 36 minutes since we left the car. A couple of Red Bulls cleverly stashed with the bikes provided the necessary energy to pedal our way back to the crest of the Nisqually Basin and it was a nice downhill coast for another 45 minutes back to Longmire. We reached the car about 12:30 AM Sunday morning –official time: 20 hours and 9 minutes.
While our goal was to bag all 12 peaks and return in under 24 hours, we were quite pleased with ourselves having gotten 11 out of 12. The more important point of the exercise was to take our bodies and minds to the limits of exhaustion and see if we could continue. Several times we thought we were finished, but a short rest and a snack always brought us back to our feet. We learned that with enough Cytomax and Gu, you can push yourself almost indefinitely.