|Car-to-car time||9 hours, 25 minutes (starting at 4:40am)|
|Ascent time||6 hours, 15 minutes minutes|
|Descent time||3 hours, 10 minutes|
|Round-trip distance||7.14 miles|
|Gross elevation gain||4346 feet|
|Net elevation gain||4111 feet|
|Water consumed||2L/person (just about right)|
|Equipment||MSR snowshoes, ice ax. Brought crampons, but didn't use them (as usual, it seems...)|
Me on Cascade, June 2005 Hyrum and me on Cascade, September 2005
Cascade Mountain and I have a bit of a history. I first tried to climb it with my friend Hyrum in June 2005
, but we didn't make it. We had started too far down, and we ran out of time and energy. Our next attempt, in September 2005
, was a (long, grueling, but worthwhile) success. My latest encounter with this rugged mountain was on 15 February 2008.
A group from SummitPost planned
a winter ascent of Cascade via the northeast ridge, and I hopped on board for the climb. The weather was expected to be beautiful, and the snow conditions weren't too bad, either. I knew that my friend Brett, who was in my winter camping class last year, had wanted to do a winter climb of Cascade, so I gave him a heads up about the trip, and he also hopped on board.
Hiking into the sunrise
Brett silhouetted by the pre-dawn light
The plan was to meet at South Fork Park at 4 a.m. to begin our climb. I showed up right at 4, and Brett was the only one there. We waited for a few minutes, wondering where the other three climbers were. After a while, Brett drove further up the canyon to see if we had somehow met at the wrong place. He returned without finding anyone else.
At 4:30, we decided to get going, hoping that the others would arrive and catch up. The first hour and a half of the climb involved lots of routefinding through scrub oak, which isn't the most fun thing to do in the dark. In contrast to my brightly moonlit climb of Lone Peak three weeks ago, there was almost no moonlight yesterday morning. Since we were on the east side of the mountains, we didn't get any light from the cities below, either, so our headlamps were all we had. I was glad that the snow was deep so that we could mostly walk over the scrub oak, rather than having to wade through it.
Timp at dawn
We emerged from the nests of scrub oak as the eastern horizon began to glow with the first faint light of dawn a little before 7 a.m. The hour around dawn is my favorite time of the day, and yesterday was no exception. We had beautiful views of the south massif of Mount Timpanogos as the first diffuse rays of the sunrise peeked over the horizon to gently illuminate its summit with soft orange light. We could also see the south ridge of Little Cottonwood Canyon in the distance, with the Pfeifferhorn poking up just above the east side of Timp.
We rounded a corner on the ridge that gave us our first view of Cascade's summits (it has three major peaks) just a few seconds before sunrise. Its corniced ridgeline and eastern cirque were a breathtaking sight in the early morning light. After a few minutes of picture taking, we pressed on, following a rocky ridge that dropped off steeply on our right.
First view of the summit
Corniced ridge Cornice with icicles
We soon came to a steep section of ridge. I pulled out my ice ax on one section just below point 8835 where we traversed under a steep cliff. The slopes below were steep, smooth, and long, and I didn't want to go for a ride down them. We went one at a time through this section to avoid loading the slope too much to minimize the danger of triggering an avalanche.
After a few more minutes of climbing up the over-30º ridge, we reached a level ridge capped with beautiful, huge cornices. Many of them were larger than boxcars, and one had icicles growing underneath its overhang. We enjoyed an easy traverse along the ridge, making sure to stay well away from the unstable edge.
After a while the ridge turned to the right and began gaining elevation again on the way up to point 9660. Six to eight inches of new snow had fallen the day before, and the winds had been calm, so we were packing down several inches of heavy power with each step. The ridge soon became quite steep, and the snow conditions made travel difficult. In one section we worked for about 15 minutes to ascend about 20 feet. We first tried following the ridge straight up on the north side of a tree, but the tree's shadow had kept the snow cold and powdery, and travel proved to be impossible there. We made another exhausting attempt on the south side of the tree and barely made it up. Each step up was a small victory.
Looking for a route
The difficult travel was starting to take a toll on our energy and spirits, and we started to slow down. We continued up the steep ridge to point 9660, where we found an automatic weather station. We stopped to eat and rest for a few minutes while we looked at the next section of the route. At this point I was starting to wonder if we were going to make it to the summit. Our energy was running out, and the day was becoming warmer, which was bad news for snow stability. I didn't say anything to Brett, but I was pretty sure he was thinking the same thing.
The next section of the route consisted of a traverse, followed by a very steep climb up to the main Cascade ridgeline. A little while before, we were wondering if it was even possible to obtain the ridge. There was a steep, impassable couloir that shot up through cliffs on the left, and there was an incredibly steep cirque on the right that could maybe be traversed, but the danger of a fall or an avalanche made that option unviable.
After eating and resting for a few minutes, we pressed on in another traverse, still unsure if there was a safe route to the summit, and unsure if we could made it even if there was one. On the traverse we had to stay on the northwest side of the ridge to avoid cornices, where the snow was very deep and very powdery. Even with our snowshoes, we were postholing with every step. The ridge was also lined with trees in this section, which made the snow even more unstable and the travel even more difficult.
A little way across the ridge we got a better view of the path in front of us. We saw that there was a possible route straight up the ridge between the couloir and the cirque. However, we would have to pass through dense trees on the north side of the steep ridge, and we weren't looking forward to postholing through deep snow on terrain with a lot of exposure. At this point I finally said something to Brett, expressing that I wasn't sure if we were going to make it. We decided to finish our traverse and turn around just before the next steep section, where we would have a better view of the summits and the cirque below.
Travel only got worse from that point, and we decided to turn around after a minute or two of falling through snow-covered branches and super deep powder. We were both disappointed that the mountain had beaten us, but we thought up a lot of excuses. I was just getting over being sick, and Brett was just starting to get sick; snow conditions were not ideal; the rest of our group was AWOL, leaving us with fewer people to break trail. Even with all of those excuses, though, I felt a little disappointed. Cascade had beaten me once in the summer, and now it had beaten me once in the winter.
Steep terrain Wet slide
We followed the same route down that we had taken up, for the most part. The traverse under the cliff below point 8835 was a little more sketchy on the way down. The snow was warming up, and I was worried about triggering a slide in that area. We decided to go one at a time, and Brett went first. Right under the cliff he triggered a small wet slide, and would have ridden down with it, but for a trekking pole that bent as it anchored him. There were 6–8 inches of fresh snow on top of a smooth sun crust, and the fresh snow broke loose in a slide that was 50–80 feet across, and several hundred feet long. It wasn't deep enough to bury someone, but it was enough to make Brett stop and pull out his ax.
The rest of the descent went mostly without incident, other than lots of postholing. The snow conditions were pretty variable, from windswept crust, to powder-covered crust, to deep powder. Conditions sometimes changed every few feet, which made travel a little harder. As we descended, the snow became softer, and it started sticking to the bottom of my snowshoes.
We decided to take an alternate, more direct route down the last hill before the trailhead. We traveled quickly for a few minutes, but soon became tangled in a thick forest. Our travel slowed as we crawled under and over branches, constantly knocking snow from the trees down our necks. We eventually found a drainage that was a little more open and continued down to the stream below. After a quick walk along the stream, we reached the bridge and were back at our cars.
I found out later that the rest of the group started from a different trailhead, and since I wasn't sure if I could go until the last minute, they didn't know to contact me and let me know about the change.
Despite not reaching our goal, I'm glad I went yesterday. The weather was ideal, and the route was beautiful and challenging. I got a good workout and enjoyed some amazing scenery. A fourth encounter with Cascade may be in my future.