Posted by GeoTom on August 14th, 2013 | 1 comment
Sammy Hagar couldn’t drive 55, but I managed to climb 55. Of the 100 highest peaks in the state that is. “Wow!” you say? Well, hold that wow for now. Almost 50 people have already finished the top 100 by the standard Bulger List version (no, not Whitey Bulger’s list). And I know of many more that are way ahead of me. But, I’m still pleased with my progress so far since I actually decided to tackle this list in earnest in 2011. I have visited areas that I had not previously been, and challenged myself a little bit physically.
Last weekend I originally had plans to climb a couple peaks (yeah, also on the list) in the Glacier Peak Wilderness. Then a friend asked about climbing Sloan Peak instead, so I decided to join him. No, it’s not on the list but it’s an impressive looking peak. Then the weather forecast tanked, so we cancelled the Sloan trip. I decided to head back to the Pasayten and an area that I had visited a couple times last year in August and September. This time the main goal was Ptarmigan Peak, with a possible ascent of Dot Mountain as well. I would also walk over the high point of Tamarack Ridge and Tatoosh Buttes, but those aren’t really summits by some people’s standards.
With our anniversary dinner Wednesday night then a visit to see baby Elias afterwards, I didn’t get my stuff packed until late. Meh, packing for a trip has become one thing I’m actually good at in a hurry. Not perfect though. Somewhere between Arlington and Darrington I realized that I forgot the extra batteries for my GPS and my Crocs, the favored camp shoe. Neither one of these omissions was a deal breaker though, so I kept driving. I had other sandals and this trip would be mostly on trail so I only was using the GPS for tracking mileage and elevation gain.
The road to Harts Pass then beyond to Slate Pass seemed quicker than last year. Maybe because I drove the truck this time and didn’t need to be quite as cautious as I was with the Civic. I managed to squeeze into a spot near the actual trailhead and soon I was hiking down the trail. Yes, down. Any idiot (including me) would conclude that you would need to hike uphill at the end to return to the trailhead. I couldn’t worry about such trivialities though as I had somewhere between 15 and 19 miles to go before I could set up camp for the night.
After ~14 miles I started looking for the junction with the Tatoosh Buttes trail. I looked. And looked. And checked the map and GPS. Hmmm. I must have missed it as I was turning towards the Middle Fork Pasayten River and I should have hit that junction already. This is where the lack of pre-trip research slightly altered my plans. I stopped to better check the map and the GPS, and came to the conclusion (wrong as it turned out) that I had indeed passed the junction. I recalled hearing of a burn in the area in the not so distant past, so maybe the trail suffered some damage. I headed back for a few minutes, and stumbled across a faint trail. I figured that this must be it, so I followed it. Ha! It was only a game trail, but being the stubborn SOB that I can be at times (yes, really, ask Dani), I continued on in the general direction of Tatoosh Buttes. There was brush. And downed trees. And a swampy area with tall grass. And more downed trees. Then a burned area with even more downed trees. My pace was slowing, it was getting hot and the bugs were out. I eventually came across Lease Creek, and knew that I needed to cross it at some point, so I found a suitable place to cross and did.
The other side of the creek didn’t have as many downed trees, but it didn’t seem to have a trail either. And I was getting low on water. The slopes far above looked more open, and I made a decision to find a decent tent spot and call it a day. I was still only a few minute walk from the creek and I had no idea if there would be a good water source higher up. Finding a relatively flat spot without too many rocks, burned branches or brush was not as easy as it sounds. At this point I wished that I had brought my bivy instead, but eventually I stumbled across a workable spot to pitch the tent. With the tent up I went after water, and filtered enough to fill my drinking bladder and a bottle. And I managed to clean myself up a bit in between swatting flies.
Sleep came quickly after the sun set beind the ridge, and I dreamt of…well, I don’t rememebr what I dreamt of, but I woke up a little before sunrise, feeling much better than I had the previous afternoon. A quick breakfast and some coffee was all I needed to power me up the hillside above my camp. Suddenyl I tripped over the trail. It was there after all, just not quite where I expected it to be. So I followed it all the way to Tatoosh Buttes then turned south towards Tamarack Ridge and Ptarmigan Peak.
There was a slight bootpath much of the way up Ptarmigan, and I didn;t have to think too much on this ascent, just put one foot in front of the other until I hit my shin on the summit cairn. I found the register under the cairn and signed my name on the last page. Another register placed by Fay Pullen. Big surprise there. I took a break, ate a light lunch and gazed southward towards Dot Mountain. It was less than a mile away, and a few hundred feet lower, but my enthusiasm for it was waning by the minute, Eventually I decided to abandon my Dot plans, and return to camp early enough to pack up and move back up the Middle Fork Pasayten valley. Thunderstorms were predicted, and I could see some cumulonimbus building to the south. I did make sure to walk across the highest points of Tamarack Risge and Tatoosh Buttes on my way down.
Back at camp I topped off my water supply and packed up quickly. I was hearing booms in the distance and wanted to reach a better campsite before the rains came. I did manage a more direct route back to the main trail by staying closer to the unburned forest. By late afternoon I was at the area marked Pleasant Valley on the map, and dropped my pack in search of a good tent site. Only a couple minutes beyond a good creek crossing I found a great spot and settled in for the night. Dinner and the rest of my wine helped me sleep through the night, and I only woke a few times to thunder in the distance.
The rain started at 5:00 am, and continued until 7:30, when I decided to quickly pack up and have a quick breakfast and coffee. By 8:00 I was on trail. While the rain had stopped, the brush overhanging the trail was soaked, and my shoes and socks got drenched. There were three stops to take off my shoes and wring out my socks. Then I changed into the other dirty but dry pair. Finally I found myself limping up the last bit to the trailhead well before my 2:00 estimate. A change of clothes and a still cold beer awaited me in the truck. Yeah! Since it was early enough I decided to drive the last mile to the road end and make the short hike to the top of Slate Peak. Another summit, sort of.
The drive back down to Mazama was more crowded than I had experienced before, but it went without incident, and I was shortly at the Mazama store buying one of their wonderful sandwiches and a Coke. They were out of Cherry Coke, my usual post hike non-alcoholic drink. Regular Coke would have to suffice. The sandwich was so good I could have been drinking a mushroom smoothie and I wouldn’t have cared. I placed a quick call to Dani to let her know of my survival, and I resumed my drive back to Pugetopolis.
Approximately 45 miles with ~8,500 feet of cumulative gain. Just for #55. At least it’s a pretty area.
Photos: Ptarmigan Peak, Tamarack Ridge, Tatoosh Buttes, Slate Peak; Augus 8-10, 2013