Three Pinnacles S (8,123ft), Three Pinnacles N (8,124ft), Passe Butte (8,140ft), Many Trails (8,241ft)
Dot (8,220ft), Ptarmigan (8,614ft), Sheep (8,274ft)
July 12-16, 2016
I was originally thinking of taking seven to nine days in the Pasayten. In my mind it’d be an epic peak grab in wonderful sunny conditions. But Kyle’s work decided they couldn’t be a man down and he couldn’t get the time off. I went back and forth on whether to go, whether to go solo, or whether to invite a friend. In the end I phoned a friend, or a new acquaintance in this case. Laurel said she was game for a multi-day peak grab. I asked her if she was game for a tough trip, long days, unflat camping surfaces, scree and bushwhacking. She said she was. Luckily she was very trusting and I just said to bring a pack, a harness and a sense of adventure and we were going to see how many peaks we could hit. And she agreed. That is how this trip got started.
Day 1 – Approach to ridge below Three Pinnacles
Rise and Shine – 5.00am
Depart Kirkland P&R – 6.10am
Arrive Billy Goat TH – 10.50am
Eightmile Pass – 12.30pm
Lost River Crossing – 3.50pm
Ridge Camp – 8.00pm
We met at the South Kirkland Park and Ride at 6am. Early but on a work Tuesday I suppose it wasn’t too far out of the norm. Kyle drove me to the Park and Ride where we met Laurel in her van waiting on the west side of the parking structure. Nice for her living in her van she just slept there. I gave Kyle a hug and a kiss and got in the van with Laurel. It felt nice to be going on a trip with another girl my age.
It was funny as we were driving over the pass on Highway 20 Laurel’s car couldn’t get up past 50mph or so and we saw a sign that said something to the effect of ‘Backups of 5 cars are illegal’ and Laurel went ‘Oph! Guess my car can be illegal!’ It took us quite a while to get out to the trailhead but we did make it! And this time I was a much better navigator than when I tried navigating with Kyle many years ago. It was funny, when we got to the end of the road, Billy Goat Trailhead, there was almost no room to park. We were really surprised that on a Tuesday this far off trailhead would have so many cars, but we were able to find a parking spot at the very end near a picnic bench. We pulled out our gear and started redistributing it. And while we did that Laurel dug around in her van looking for a pair of gloves for me since I’d forgotten mine. Good thing she lives out of her van because she was able to scrounge up a spare pair. It didn’t take long for the mosquitos to find us though and once that happened packing sped up.
As we were packing my sunscreen dongle exploded so we left it under the wheel. But we’d only got fifteen yards from the car when Laurel realized she’d forgotten something so she went back and put the sunscreen away and grabbed what she needed. False start but we were on our way now!
The trail (Trail #477) was in really good condition up to Eightmile Pass and over. It was just over four miles from the trailhead to the turnoff. The ‘turn off’ is unmarked and unmaintained. Essentially, follow trail 477 to Drake Creek. Where the trail intersects the river there is a campground and then a bridge to cross over the river. The GPS said that the unmaintained trail would start on the far side of the river but the map said it would start on the side we were on. I asked Laurel if she’d scout around the camp site area while I checked the maps. Fortunately for us she found what looked like a trail. Honestly, I was impressed she found this barely visible thread. I might have assumed it was a trail to go to the bathroom or something but it turned out to be trail 459 which was what we were looking for. It was not in good condition and we ended up crawling over and under lots of lots, and bushwhacking through several sections. What I’d estimate was a mile took us about an hour and a half. It was Laurel’s first taste at unmaintained trail, but it certainly would not be her last on this trip.
It started drizzling a little we were walking but fortunately for us it didn’t get too wet this first day. And after that first mile the trail opened up a little more onto a rocky hillside so we were able to travel a little faster. We made it down to the river and were able to find a solid log to cross. Laurel went first and I ran off to find a good place to go to the bathroom. I also wanted to go in a more open place because I thought I saw a tick on me earlier and was freaking out. Now I’m not sure if it was a tick or just my paranoia about ticks this year. I had brought the rope partially for this section because on the map it looked like it could be cliffy and when we got there I could see that was the case but fortunately it looked like it was only a short section and one that we could navigate around. Essentially from the river crossing we headed straight uphill with a slight rightward (northward) leaning. It was on steep dirt with some foliage and rocks so it was fairly tough going but overall not too brushy. And before we gained the ridge there was a large talus field we could work up. We intersected a ridge at about 5100ft and followed that up to the NE Ridge on Three Pinnacles. It was treed down low and at one point I saw a deer and then it saw us and freaked out and bolted. We were probably the first people it’s seen out there. We worked ourselves up along the ridge until about *7,100ft where we stopped at a lovely flat spot and pitched the tent.
As I set up the tent, Laurel worked on getting the stove going for dinner. I did a so-so job on guying out the tent. As it turns out it was a work in progress on this trip but I felt like I started to get better as the trip went along. As I changed into my ‘tent clothes’ as I call them Laurel told me she wasn’t feeling good. Initially I thought she just meant she was tired. But then she told me she thought she was really going to throw up and walked away from the tent and started throwing up by a tree. I was both worried and feeling terrible about the situation. We’d bushwhacked out so far it wouldn’t be easy to turn around at this point. Did I push too hard? Was it a nutrition or hydration issue? Perhaps she was sick before we started? I have to say though for not feeling well she took it all like a trooper. Understandably she didn’t want to eat that night but I kept telling her to eat. I tended to think it was a nutritional and hydration issue because when I work really hard in the mountains I can feel that way.
And that concluded our night. We had made it to the edge of the zone I was aiming for so that was nice. But as I thought about Laurel not feeling well and what the weather would be like and started weighing factors in my brain I found it hard to fully turn off and sleep.
Day 2 – Three Pinnacles, Passe Butte, Many Trails
Rise and Shine – 5.00am
Depart Camp – 6.15am
Three Pinnacles S – 8.15am
Three Pinnacles M – 9.00am
Passe Butte – 2.30pm
Many Trails – 7.00pm
Camp – 12.00am
And so it was. The morning came way too early. It’s always sad when you can tell that the light in the tent is growing stronger and it’s not just moonlight anymore. There’s no stopping the dawn and once you know it’s starting and the alarm will be going off soon it’s hard to go back to sleep. The alarm went off at 5.00am. We didn’t immediately get up, it was more of a slow rise and shine. We packed up and got going by around 6.15am. Laurel said she was feeling better this morning so that was a good start!
We had to work our way up and around the ridge. We stayed on the ridge or just to the south of the ridge and it was all very doable. There were a couple sections where we did a few Class 3 moves but otherwise it was fairly straight forward to gain the ridge just south of the southern summit. From here it was a little more interesting. Helmets on type of interesting. From the ridge we had to drop down a 40-60ft section of class 4 and then there was a little bit of class 3 up before it tempered out to class 2/3. Mostly walking up what we determined was ‘chunky bit scree’ we reached the summit at 8.15am. This first summit was the southern-most summit which resides at 8,123ft. I kept checking the GPS because a peak like Three Pinnacles it can be confusing to find which pinnacles are included in that three and make sure we were hitting the correct ones. Also, on the summit someone had made a lovely summit cairn that was a perfect little toilet seat. I took a seat on it and it was comfortable and with a solid hole in the center. We joked that it was the best toilet for miles. From there it was only 45 minutes for us to descend the scree and scramble up the next hump along the line which was the middle and true summit at 8,124ft. We tagged both because they were so close in elevation to each other it seemed wise. Don’t want to have to bushwhack out again! Laurel created the summit sign for us and made a great pirate map version of where the summit actually was. Couldn’t have been more accurate!
From there we were running very low on water and hadn’t had a break all morning so we headed over to the lowest northern summit and that had three possible summits. Lots of bumps on this ridge! We stopped just on the north side of the northernmost hump at a snow patch and melted snow for drinking water. It’s a slow process and feels tedious when there are daylight hours to be using but it was a good time to grab a snack. Somehow I got the last bit of water and looked down and found there were about five dead ants floating in the water. I looked over to Laurel and said ‘’Gee! Thanks Laurel! I get the ant soup!!”. Ugh! I tried to pour around those and get them out. As much as I needed water I wasn’t at the point of eating ants yet. After that we had a long section of ridge in front of us. Overall the ridge was very moderate but it did involve a lot of travel over scree and through one shrubby section when the ridge dipped low enough. In the morning we’d had some misty clouds roll in but by the time we had started our long ridge traverse the sun was out and it was perfectly pleasant. We had talked about whether or not Laurel wanted to try Lost Peak as well but she said she was fine traversing under it which was probably just as well because it would have added a good 600ft of gain or so and I wasn’t so tempted to go back. Instead we ended up traversing the western scree slope. This was the real deal scree slope. At one point I took a step and moved a rock and the whole slope of medium sized rocks above it started to slide. It wasn’t dire, I could move and it wasn’t going to sweep me away. But it just goes to speak to the stability of some sections in general. The traverse seemed to go on for ages and we still had a while to go and I could see if we traversed over to the ridge again we’d have to do a lot more up and down, so instead we dropped another couple hundred feet to gain a treed bench and followed that roughly north to a col between Pass Butte and Point ***. This was all Class 2/3. For the most part we just hopped over rocks etc. I kept nervously checking the GPS and map to make sure we were headed to the right bump on the ridge because several of them looked to be of the same height to me. Every so often Laurel would go first and if she asked where to go I’d just general point to Pass Butte and say“All roads lead to Rome”. It was kind of my way of saying there is no wrong way as long as you head in that general direction. It was interesting for me on several occasions to follow because often times I wouldn’t have chosen that way and it was hard to not comment on that. I’m sure it was annoying to Laurel at some point in the day. But we made the col and it wasn’t long from there up to get to Passe Butte. And of course, per what is now becoming too common, there were two summits that looked of general equal height. We went up and over one to get to the other but didn’t take our picture until we reached the far (WNW) point. They are very close. It only took us about ten minutes or so to scramble between to the two points.
It was on this point that I had an ‘Oh shit!’ moment. And it was a big one. My eyes travelled from the dark pyramid shaped peak in front of us and then along the ridge to a peak well off in the distance that I knew without checking the map was the actual Many Trails peak. “Ohhh shit!”. I felt bad even telling Laurel that was the case. It was disheartening to me to see that there were a lot of obstacles in our way between here and there. But sometimes, that disheartening moment also seems like a direct challenge to my willpower. I had it in my brain that we’d do Many Trails today and that’d free us up to move across the valley the next day. And it was only 2.30pm so it’d be hard to stop where we were and wait out the rest of the day. So we dropped to a spot between Pass Butte and Point ***** and dropped our packs. I pulled out my little Flash Pack and Laurel was able to turn her pack lid into a waist pack and tie the rope around her back. Away we went. It took us a little time to get through the thick shrubbery on the ridge and after that it was anyone’s guess. We opted to go right (east) around the point. In reality it present a lot of ribs and scrambling that could have been avoided if we had just dropped off of the ridge straight down to the lakes below on the east side. Instead we slowly made our way around the point only to run into a ridge that was cliffy and forced us to descend further. Eventually, after being forced to descend what I’d estimate as several hundred feet we were able to traverse over to a low spot on the ridge, regain it, and travel along it. Along this path we came across several fresh looking goat tracks and I had this panicked moment where I wondered if we should have tied our packs to a tree in case curious goats came poking about. I was remembering a tale from Chris and Radka where a goat literally ran off with one of their packs. And then my mind started thinking about what would happen if a goat ran away with one of our packs. I didn’t think we’d die. It’d be more an annoyance and loss of gear/money. But it would also effectively end the trip and mean an uncomfortable night or two.
At about 5.30pm Laurel said she thought she was done for the day but once we had gotten this far I wanted to continue. But I was torn. I didn’t want to do a party separation, especially right before the Class4/5 unknown section. But, the determined side of me won out and I left her with the stove (we’d brought to melt water) and told her to melt water and fill herself up and then melt another liter and leave it in the pot for me. We hadn’t had a lot of water that day and I was starting to feel the fringes of dehydration affecting me. I then took the rope, the rack, the GPS, the map and the PLB and headed off along the ridge. It was fortunate that from her nice gentle dip in the ridge she could sit near a tree or in the open sun and she could see the majority of the ridge that I was going to travel. And hopefully my red helmet, red jacket and pink top would stand out on the rocky landscape.
I started off and immediately hit the section that looked the hardest from a distance. At first I thought about giving up. I didn’t want to do a tricky section solo in case something happened. I then thought about going down and trying to get around. As I started to descend I had this moment where my brain asked “What are you doing?!” and so I went back up to the ridge and found what has to be the best way. It was a bit steep and somewhat exposed (but not terribly) Class 4 section. I managed to use a lot of little shrubs to veg belay myself up to the ridge and continued to use the little shrubs and trees to work along the ridge. I predominately stayed on the right (east) side of the ridge for this initial ‘technical’ section and in several sections scrambled just below the ridge. After this short section of ridge it opens up to be just a walk over talus. There are lots of faint trails from what I can only presume is mountain goat activity. Pang! Again, hoping no goats were eating our stuff but I knew there was no changing it at this point. I didn’t want to stop because I’d told Laurel my plan was to try and summit by 7pm and be back to her by about 8pm or so. I did make a couple quick stops to grab snow off the ridge and fill my Nalgene in the hopes that the sun would help melt the snow a little and provide a little extra water. Also, after I was certain I’d left the ‘technical’ section or at least the part where I felt a rope might be needed I dropped that and the rack and continued along up to the summit. I reached the summit a few minutes before 7pm, snapped a couple selfies and looked down the north ridge. If truth be told, the north ridge might be just as good of a route and then you wouldn’t have to go around the large point on the ridge. But! No time to contemplate that at the present. I was getting tired and still had some serious terrain to cover before a rest was possible. I scooted off quickly and tried to eat a few snacks as I walked. When I reached the point I’d dropped the rope and rack I decided to put my harness on and be ready to rappel if needed on that fourth class section. As it turns out I was able to make good time back tracking and I was off the Class 4 section before I realized! I think going down actually went better than going up!
I tried yelling and waving to Laurel as I got closer but as it turns out she didn’t see me until I was practically right back at that same spot. I quickly took the water she’d saved for me in the liter pot. It looked chunky. And I told her I just needed to sit down a minute. It was at this point that I was really feeling the hunger and dehydration. I generally felt strong but a combination of those too things were making me feel sick. I only sat for ten minutes and then we had to get going. It was 8pm and we only had a little over an hour before we lost the daylight and I was not planning on retracing our steps back. We were moving slowly on the way over and I didn’t think it’d be any better on the way back. And I really didn’t want to try to route find a brand new route in the dark. So we got to the point where we had gained the ridge and then dropped closer down to the lakes and wrapped around the base of Point ****. It was here I was kicking myself for not bringing our gear down with us and camping at the lake. We could have had fresh, pumpable water and we could have been done. I was really feeling my miscalculations and mistakes keenly at this point. But what made it worse was I felt bad for Laurel. We were moving but still not fast enough to make it around the corner base of Point *** and get eyes on the best route before dark. We were going to have to literally feel our way up this section in the dark. Crap. I was tired and felt bad. Laurel asked a couple questions about which way to go and I was a little too brutally honest, born from how tired I was feeling, and said something to the effect of “I really don’t know Laurel. We’re just going to have to try until we find a way.”. Just saying it aloud was heart breaking. Fortunately, we worked our way around the base until we found a way that looked like it’d go uphill. We scrambled up a short Class 3 section, being sure to stay very close to each other so as not to knock rocks down and to stay within sight. The first 200ft of vertical was fairly scrambly but after that the grade mellowed out a little bit and it seemed like we’d be able to follow this moderate grade all the way to the ridge. I could just see the faint outline of a ridge above us in the twilight. Every so often I’d turn my headlamp on to full power and try to scan as far uphill as I could to pick our route. We intersected the ridge and followed it back through the trees and shrubs to where we had left our packs. I had my fingers crossed we’d find packs when we got there. Praise the lord we did! But alas, we couldn’t camp where they were. We were extremely low on water and I was already feeling dehydrated. If we didn’t move now we’d have to do it in the morning. I had scoped out a few snow patches several hundred feet below before we’d left for Many Trails and we had agreed that we’d aim for those. By this time it was 11pm and we were dragging. If not from the mental exertion our feet and bodies in general were just calling for at least a short break. We found a snow patch but we were having trouble finding a flat enough spot to pitch a tent. We went down another hundred feet from where we found the first snow patch and called it. It was the flattest spot we could find (not really flats at all) but it had a snow patch. So Laurel wiped out the stove quickly and started melting snow and boiling water for food and I grabbed a rock and started to try and carve out a spot big enough for us to put the tent down without rolling off. I found myself wondering how I’d found myself digging into the side of the mountain after a long day trying to make a space to sleep. I was tired before, but digging around like a caveman certainly seemed to take the rest of my energy. It wasn’t glamorous but after about twenty or thirty minutes I had a space big enough to get most of the tent footprint down. I pitched it as well as I could, not that it’d matter at this point, and we threw our stuff in, grabbed our food and I think Laurel was out before she could eat much again.
I had a harder time going down as my brain was working through the numbers and the plans for the next day. Eventually I did start to fall asleep though.
Day 3 – Dot, Ptarmigan
Rise and Shine – 8.00am
Depart Camp – 9.30am
Dot Lake – 2.10pm
Dot – 4.00pm
Ptarmigan – 6.00pm
Camp – 8.00pm
I woke to that same morning glow, the sign that the day was starting despite my will. And if the daylight evidence wasn’t enough the loud crowing of the birds surely did the trick. There was one particularly noisy crow that seemed to be sporting with us. We got up at 8.00am and moved slower this morning. But I had told Laurel this would be an easier day today. Well, “easier”, it was still going to be a two peak kind of day. I was surprised that for the second night in a row I didn’t eat anything during the night. Quite frequently during these long day trips I find I get hungry in the night and can’t sleep but that didn’t happen at all during the night. And when I woke up in the morning and looked at my gluten free poptart, lacking any of that decadent frosting, I just wasn’t motivated to eat it. I knew I’d want the energy later but there was so much floating in my water at this point and the poptart was so dry that I only managed to get about half of it down to start.
As we started to pack up our gear I took the fly off the tent and hung it in a tree in the sun to help it get twenty minutes or so to dry. It helped a little and at least was a little drier than the night before but it was still somewhat damp when I rolled it all up and stuffed it into my pack. Of course as we descended we started looking at where we were and about two hundred feet below where we were we passed a beautiful flat, grassy spot. I knew it was bound to happen but still a bit tragic when you think of how dreamy it would have been to have camped there. But honestly, I don’t think we had it in us to get that much lower.
We wrapped around the hillside traversing down and over to *Shellrock Pass. We didn’t quite go to Shellrock Pass but we passed about twenty feet below it and made a descending traverse across the basin on the NE side of Lago Mountain. I originally had thought we’d stay higher to avoid the brush but Laurel wanted to try to drop down and go slightly through the treed section. It was really one half dozen or the other so we decided to drop. Laurel took point, spider guard, and led us off. Just about as soon as we hit tree line we also hit mosquito line. They weren’t terrible but they were annoying and biting. But we also found our first running stream in nearly two days!! It was glorious. We stopped and pumped water immediately. I was drinking as I pumped! I wanted to get as much water in me as possible and then I’d carry two full liters. I had brought enough NUUN tablets so that I could have two tabs a day. I quickly threw in my tablets and started trying to rehydrate myself. Its amazing how a little water can really perk up the day. And as we were bashing about in the shrubbery Laurel stumbled across a balloon that said “The Party is Here”. Surely it was a sign! But also weird, I tend to find lots of balloons in the backcountry and in this part of the state in particular. We found two more balloons on this trip.
We were aiming for a treed gully that broke up a ridge separating a basin on the north side of the one we were currently in. I just scoped it from a distance and it looked like it’d go so we went over to explore. And, it did in fact go. I told Laurel we’d stop at the top of that gully and so we did. But as soon as we stopped it seemed that the mosquitos found us and we suddenly didn’t feel like sitting much anymore. This slightly higher basin/cirque to the north of the one we had just scrambled out of looked a lot bigger. Laurel asked me what our general line was and I told her I was planning on staying fairly high on this one. I didn’t want to lose too much elevation by dropping down into the trees (looked like we could easily lose 1000-1500ft if we dropped straight down and over). I got the distinct impression she wasn’t impressed or greatly enthused by the plan but luckily she was willing to do it! And we actually ended up finding a really sweet spot that hugged the sree/open section above and the treed section below. I call it the ‘sweet spot’ because it’s not rocky so foot steps are easier to place for the most part, you can generally see the route and it’s not low enough that you’re truly bushwhacking. It was along this stretch that I kept finding threads of game trails and I realized it feels good to know that the line I was traveling was intuitive even for the animals. IT made me feel even more in tune, or part of the natural world around me. That my mind would think along the same lines as every other living creature in the backcountry. Laurel even commented that this section went faster than she thought it would. We hit Dot Lake at about *****pm and only briefly stopped for a bathroom break and to filter more water. I knew there was a tarn between Dot and Ptarmigan but you never know when something will dry up. Don’t take water for granted or as I said that day “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth!”. It was such a beautiful spot that I almost wanted to stop and camp and swim in the water. If we had had more time in the day I might very well have considered it. But alas, we started uphill, aiming immediately north of the lowest Dot Lake and scrambled up a lightly treed dirt and rocky section to gain the Eastern arm of Dot Mountain. It was very easy to gain the ridge here (Class 2). Once again at the top of ridge we took a quick break, and once again the mosquitos found us rather quickly. But this time we took more time as I tried to figure out why the GPS was sometimes showing tracks and sometimes not showing tracks. My best guess at the time was that it was running out of memory but I wasn’t entirely sure what to do about it so just crossed my fingers that we’d be able to pull the data afterward.
We followed this ridge west all the way to the base of Dot Mountain all the while having a really good discussion on religion, spirituality and reincarnation. It was getting deep, deep in the backcountry. We dropped our packs with the exception of my little daypack which Laurel hauled up Dot. We summited ‘Old Lady Dot’ at 4.00pm and stopped to take in the views. I was grateful that Dot Mtn was the peak closest to Ptarmigan because for a moment I started to second guess myself on the way over and thought it might be the next peak south on the ridge. The GPS was telling us Dot was next to Ptarmigan which matched my fuzzy memory of the last time I was there but I hadn’t brought the map for this part of the trip. I was really just making it up as I went along. It would have taken more time to scramble over to that peak to the south though. I remembered there being a Class 3/ 4 section on the ridge. Once again we descended, grabbed our packs and walked over to the tarn between Dot and Ptarmigan. Once again, a lovely spot to camp but not the place for us. We pumped water again, as I had a suspicion we might not see any more for the rest of the day. In fact, I filled up my space liter Platypus bag I had brought so we could use it for dinner that evening. It was around here that my ankle started really feeling it. I had a suspicion it was the sudden and hard use of it and all of the side hilling without a lot of quality stretching in the evening. I had meant to stretch the night before but ended up just rolling around pretending to stretch while I was in my sleeping bag. I threw back three ibuprofen (which anyone who knows me knows that’s a lot as I tend to only take two). And away we went. Up Ptarmigan.
The wind started to pick up while we hiked up Ptarmigan. I was going fairly slowly; a combination of long days and trying to find flat and rhythmic steps for my feet. The wind picked up as we went higher. I thought I remembered there being a register on top of Ptarmigan which I told Laurel but when we got up there we couldn’t find it. So far we were batting nil on the registers. Some creative cairns but no registers. We didn’t stay long on this summit. Just enough time to write a summit sign, snap some photos and get scooting. Laurel handled all of our summit selfies and did a stellar job. She always seemed to get us in the photo. And by this point we were getting a little better about getting positioned quicker as opposed to the first peak trying to figure out whose side we should be on and the uphill vs downhill. I couldn’t believe I was back on Ptarmigan but it is a lovely peak. We generally followed the ridge north and downhill. It was overall fairly moderate. There were a couple spots where it looked steep from a distance but when you got there or around to a better vantage point you could see it was fairly moderate just scree and talus. At one point we startled a poor marmot and it took off running at a good clip and just kept running downhill. I was wondering at one point it’d be a safe distance from us! Half a mountain away? It stayed fairly breezy as we traversed and traversed north. I could tell we were slowing and the GPS was telling me the trail was still one hill away when all of the sudden we were standing on a trail! Hooray! I was skeptical though. It looked like a real trail but at the same time it might have just been a really worn game trail through the grassy alpine. We followed it to a spot where there was a post being supported by rocks. I didn’t see a sign on it but Laurel later told me see saw a trail number on it.
From here we gained the ‘pass’ and we dropped our packs to scope out a spot to camp. I was keen to get over the pass and find a place that was a little more sheltered from the wind if at all possible. So I hiked off around the corner to go and see if the trail dipped and there were flatter spots down a little lower. About five minutes down the trail I ascertained that it generally looked positive and went back to grab Laurel. After all, just about anything was going to be better than the night before! I staked and guyed the tent out, it was getting better and better! And Laurel started the water for dinner. We could see clouds building in the distance to the East as we got ready for bed and as a general rule I like to try and keep my stuff at least close to the tent so that if it does rain I can easily grab it and pull it in. So in this case I had all of my stuff under the fly and we put our food in Laurel’s black industrial trash bag and wedged it into a little tree about 3 feet off the ground because we’d seen evidence of rodents in the area. Laurel went down for the count right away and again I was having trouble getting right to sleep. But I did employ a new trick I discovered that I’m keen on and wrapped my now nasty and dirty buff around my blow up pillow so that my sunscreen and bug spray covered face wouldn’t stain the fabric on that and it made it like some retro throw pillow in the tent! Win! Sometime in the night I woke up to the pitter-patter of rain on the fly. I listened a little longer and confirmed that it was in fact rain and rolled over to tell Laurel to grab her pack from outside and pull it in under the fly. I got an ‘Unh. Yah. Oh okay’ before she was asleep again! So I unzipped the tent and the fly and pulled her pack in under the fly and went back to bed. It was a mess of stuff in the vestibule but the important part was it stay dry. At least neither of us ever got up in the night to go to the bathroom so we didn’t have to worry about crawling over all of it. Then I just hoped that the food would remain dry and the weather would clear up.
Day 4 – Sheep
Rise and Shine – 6.00am
Depart Camp – 7.30am
Hidden Lake – 9.40am
Turn off – 11.10am
Point 6912 – 4.20am
Depart Camp – 7.00am
Sheep – 8.00pm
Camp – 9.10pm
When the alarm went off this morning my first thought was ‘What’s the weather like?’. But at the same time I didn’t want to open the mesh and unzip the wet fly. But alas. I did. And it was still raining lightly and misty. I couldn’t see more than fifty yards or so. So we zipped the tent back up and stayed laying down for another fifteen or twenty minutes waiting to see what the weather was going to do. After that time I can’t say that it cleared up much but we didn’t really have much time to wait around. It’d either clear up while we were walking or it wouldn’t but either way we still had places to go.
Packing up at least it wasn’t raining but everything was wet. And packing the wet tent up was ‘delicious’ as I kept saying this trip. Slimy, wet and cold. As I rolled it I tried to wipe off some of the dirt so it wouldn’t be really muddy but it was making my hands freeze! And I packaged it up and put the wet tent in my backpack and given how the weather was behaving both Laurel and I tried to put everything in our pack inside plastic bags to try and make sure our stuff stayed dry. As we were finishing up the last of the packing and I wandered off to go to the bathroom a deer wandered close to our camp. It didn’t seem too scared, perhaps a little nervous, but it wandered around fairly close to us. After we took off, grateful to be on the trail, we stumbled across more deer! There was something mysterious and magical walking in the misty morning air and having deer wandering around. We saw a male and two females up higher. Early on, almost immediately after we got on the trail that morning, I noticed there were footprints. Which was a little odd and almost disconcerting because I thought I had heard noises in the night and early morning hours and I chocked it up to the deer but by the looks of the tracks at least one person came along that morning. It was a bit odd after not having seen anyone for two and a half days and to see footprints way out. We never did find the person associated with the footprints but they did seem quite fresh. Honestly, not sure where they were going out there. It almost seemed creepy though.
Since we were walking on the trail, which was recessed into the ground anywhere from half a foot to two feet, the brush on either side kept rubbing up against my pants and getting them wet. Ugh. Id brought Kyle’s new ultralight half gaiters but the brush was higher than that for most of the descent down into the valley. So I got wet. There were also quite a lot of down trees on this ‘maintained’ trail. In hindsight it should have been our first clue, our first warning. I was expecting that when we reached the valley and the Hidden Lakes trail (#) there would be a very wide well established trail. But, lo and behold, it was just the same looking if not worse than the one we had gotten off of. Clue number two. Now, we had talked about evaluating the weather and how we felt and making a decision on whether to turn around at this junction or to press on towards Sheep Mountain. I was quite keen on Sheep but I didn’t want to push too hard. I felt like we didn’t stop and have a discussion we just turned northward and continued on towards Sheep. That very well may have been my fault for forgetting to have a real discussion. We briefly talked about it but the weather wasn’t too bad so far and we were hopeful that the trails today would be much better so we’d move faster.
That idea was shut down fast. The trail was not in good condition at all. It was still visible enough to follow but there were lots of down trees and sections where the trail had broken out and as a result it really slowed us down. Again I found myself being hopeful that once we got to the next trail itd be better. As we walked along the northern Hidden Lake I heard a sound. It sounded like huffing. I started looking around and saw a mammal in the lake water. It was either a beaver or an otter. We later came to determine we think it was a beaver. At the headwater of the lake where the river entered it there seemed to be a buildup of logs and sticks. This section of the trail seemed to go on for ages. We stopped just before the trail crossed the river at a lovely campsite. There was some old, presumably, mine equipment here. But there was a log we could sit on and have some snacks so we took a moment. It was here we took a picture of my pants which were down around my hips. They kept sliding down the whole trip and by this day they were really sliding down and it was making it hard to walk. Laurel took a picture to commemorate my gangsta look. When the mosquitos came we decided to call the break and get going again. We had to cross this river which wasn’t too big but required us to do this awkward shimmy across a log and some gymnastic moves at the end of it. All of the moves up and over the trees was really taking a toll. We followed the dwindling trail to just past the river and another campsite to a fork in the trail. There was a stone arrow pointing down the trail (the way we had come). We turned right onto Trail #451 and promptly came across some orange tape that looked like it was once across the trail and an old Forest Service sign that was dated 2014 and said the trail was closed. We figured it was for a fire or something and that the danger was past. Well. We were partially correct. There wasn’t any ‘danger’ per se. But lots of widow-makers. We crossed uncountable downed trees. It was tedious, frustrating and very physical work. At first the trail was at least able to be followed but after only a half a mile or so it became very difficult going. Hundreds of downed trees. We would occasionally get a ten or twenty yard section of no downed trees and want to celebrate but quickly have that dashed as we came across more downed trees. We were tiring and going slower and slower through the downed section because we were having to crawl under and climb over. Laurels long legs were doing a little better than mine. I was having to through my leg over the higher ones and pull with my thigh muscles to get over them. In the midst of this messy trail we came across a water crossing we couldn’t quite do without getting our boots wet. Laurel’s boots were already leaking water from the toe so she considered just wading it but I wanted to stop and just walk across barefoot.
Not long after the water crossing we lost the trail entirely. Crap. The GPS was of little help because it was trying to tell me the trail was on the other side of the river. That would be a negative. And the map wasn’t detailed enough to help me find the non-existent trail in a sea of down trees. We came across an area with some old tin cans and it looked like it may have been a camp site at one point a long time ago. But we couldn’t find the trail. Poor Laurel was going first to break for spiders most of the day but wasn’t used to this type of bushwhacking so I felt like I did a lot of back seat navigating which, undoubtedly is no fun for anyone! After what felt like hours and making minimal progress and knowing we still had way more miles to do I started to rack my brain for a way out. This wasn’t going to work. The only thing I could come up with was to head straight north, up and over a small point on the map, down a couple hundred feet and then back up a couple hundred feet to gain another trail on the map. My brain was warring within itself. Almost no trail we’d experienced on this trip so far had been good. Was it worth risking a very steep up and over to gain another trail that might be just as bad? My gut said it was significantly higher and therefore should at least in theory have less brush but it was hard to know for sure. Finally, after talking it over with Laurel we agreed to just go up and over. Hoping for the best. At this point I feel we were both trying to put on a happy or at least neutral face but it was just downright frustrating. So we turned from traversing the valley eastward at about ***ft and turned northward and went straight uphill. It took us several hundred feet to get out of the down trees and into the loose soil and rocky section. It was steep going as well. And just to add a bit of insult to it the weather started to lightly mist on us. I told Laurel we’d take a break on this ridiculously steep hill once we hit this treed section in the hopes it’d provide some shelter and at least provide something for us to lean up against and rest. And when we got there I felt like she briefly stopped and was kinda like ‘yah okay Im going to just keep going!’. I don’t think actual words were exchanged but that’s the impression I got. Im over it and lets get ‘er done! So we pretty much went straight up this. The misty wet continued as we literally climbed into the cloud. And we found yet another balloon on this backcountry detour. This was a Happy Birthday balloon. It was mocking us. We made it up towards the top of Point 6921 and it was quite beautiful actually. Lovely open space with the occasional trees. We actually took a summit selfie and immediately pressed on. We used the GPS heavily here to navigate through the mist and get down the easy arm. I was so glad that we only had to lose about two hundred feet or so because we didn’t have to drop back into the brush or deadfall and then we had to go uphill another three hundred feet. It was a bit brutal here but we made it up and before I even knew what was happening we were standing on a trail. An actual trail! It wasn’t as wide as I thought it might be but it was a clear and present trail and it was above the majority of trees! Yahoo! I ran over and hugged Laurel! It seemed like the right thing to do to celebrate. We followed the trail towards Peeve Pass. At one point we almost made a wrong turn but I checked the GPS and Laurel, credit to her, said it didn’t seem right. We did have several sections of down trees but nowhere near as bad. And somewhere along this Laurel was ahead of me and said ‘There’s a person!’ to which I said ‘No way!!’ but sure enough a young guy in trail tennis shoes walked up and said he was doing the Boundary Creek Trail all the way to the Olympic Coast. He did also inform us that there was a trail crew back towards Peeve Pass. Interesting. So we might see others out and about in this mess. We didn’t stay to chat long as the weather was staying misty and wet. My gaiters were pretty much just holding water in at this point and the bungee cord on them (used to tighten them up) had ripped somewhere back in all the brush-bashing.
We stopped at a water source to pump water. It was so nice to have water and stay at least semi-hydrated. After that we pretty much continued straight on up to Peeve Pass. At the pass we looked for a place to pitch the tent. My guess is we reached the Pass just after six. We poked around a little bit and found a reasonable flat spot under a tree but it had lots of low hanging branches so Laurel and I went to work snapping off the dead little under branches so we could pitch the tent. The tree would hopefully serve to keep the tent and immediate environs dry and wind protected. I knew Laurel was tired. Heck I would have been happy to call it a night at this point. But I also knew that we’d talked about heading out the next day if the weather wasn’t improved and if that was the case and we were hoping to make it out by dinner time we’d want to leave right away in the morning both emotionally and physically from a time standpoint. I ran it by Laurel and I could tell she wasn’t keen on it but she did agree she’d rather do it tonight because she wasn’t going to be motivated in the morning. So at 7pm with our kit mostly in and around the tent we set off uphill, once again guided by the GPS in a cloud. We had about 1300ft to go and we crushed it out in an hour! Most of the way up was hiking through alpine meadow and it was lovely, despite the drizzly grey weather. My boots were officially soaking wet at this point. There was a short section of boulder hopping and scrambling that was Class 2/3 but it didn’t last long. Laurel was talking about how it wouldn’t be good when it was wet and I tended to agree as it kept on and off drizzling. It was definitely going to be wet on the way down and it was hopefully not going to be dark. We got up to the top at 8pm and found the summit cairn, took our summit selfie and I walked over to take a look to see if I could see over the side (I could not we were completely in a cloud that was slowly darkening). Very shortly after that we headed down. It was a nice two minute summit break. But it was for the best. Actually the descent went better than we’d thought over the boulder section and we managed to stay closer to our original tracks for half of it. Side note: the northeast side of Sheep Mountain is quite a bit drop. On the way up I was walking about ten feet from the edge and a gust of wind came up that moved me slightly to my right and closer to the edge. I saw it and promptly moved further away! I didn’t think I’d get blown over but just to be safe I still put a couple more feet between me and the misty unknown cliff. On the way down I was navigating mostly by remembering the route and GPS and when it came time to turn off of the ridge from Sheep and head downhill towards Peeve Pass once again I missed the mark a bit and we ended up intersecting the trail slightly farther to the northeast than the way we’d gone up. But in actuality we were going to hit the trail so I wasn’t too worried and it actually worked out very well because we didn’t have to go through a treed section at all. We made it back to camp at 9pm just as we were losing most of the light (the cloud we were still in seemed to be sucking the light out of the day quicker). And just as we got back to the tent the rain really started to come down, so we hobbled under our tree and started to get ready for bed. As we were changing and doing things about the tent a spider kept trying to crawl in and I kept making odd noises and pointing and Laurel kept moving it further back. Finally we got wise and after we’d boiled the water and made our meals zipped up the mesh to try and prevent it from happening again. I probably wouldn’t have been able to sleep knowing a spider was lurking in the tent; even if it wasn’t that big. I had earlier in the day (not long after we’d departed camp and well before Hidden Lake) stopped to rinse out my bra and underwear in the hopes that the cloudy weather that morning would dissipate and reveal a gorgeous day but that hadn’t happened so my underwear was still wet. So I was stuck between wearing the pair I’d been wearing all day or wearing a wet pair to bed to dry it out. I briefly thought about going commando but then I’d have to put on and wear the wet pair tomorrow. So I put on a wet pair. Ugh. We then proceeded to eat our dinner and I spent twenty minutes looking for everything I kept losing in particular my toilet paper and ibuprofen container. I felt like a hot mess!!
Laurel crashed but for some reason this trip I wasn’t able to sleep much. I just listened to the sound of the weather. The slight drops of precipitation that were getting through the tree to our tent. This night we did wake up in the middle of the night. Laurel was sleeping with her head towards where the feet would be. I started that way but in the night swapped spots. We were both thirsty at one point so Laurel grabbed her hydration pack when she got up to go to the bathroom or do something and we both were sipping off of that during the night. And it’s funny after we both got some water we were both able to sleep again that night. Guess we were just really thirsty.
Day 5 – Getting’ out of dodge
Rise and Shine – 6.00am
Depart Camp – 7.30am
Billy Goat TH – 4.00pm
Well. When I woke I immediately pulled the tent open and lo and behold the weather was still misty, grey cloud. I was glad we had gone up Sheep Mountain the day before because we were then just going to get up and hike out today. We were looking at somewhere between 18 and 19 miles of out depending in which sign post we read where. A solid hike out. I thought it was mostly a traverse and in reality in practically was but there were several sections where we had to go up several hundred feet at a time and I felt my body protesting. It wasn’t protesting like I couldn’t do it. Just moving slower.
I pulled off my ‘tent clothes’ and pulled on my wet, humid, sticky feeling pants and hiking clothes. Without the ability to wash and dry stuff in the sun day five clothes were feeling pretty nasty. The sleeves on my long sleeve top where dark with bushwhacking and dirt. So I decided to use my sleep bra and long sleeve wool top which worked out well because it was fairly cool and blustery for the better part of the day.
We did get lucky because it seems the trail grew had been through before us and cleared a significant portion of Trail #502. In the higher alpine sections it wasn’t bad at all because there was no downed trees but at one point about halfway along we passed a section where Laurel counted fifty plus trees in a bundle that all went down on the same section of trail and there were more ahead. So glad they were cut! Makes me appreciate trail crews even more now. We did pull out the GPS on several occasions because it was hard to tell the real trail from game trails or just ‘view point’ trails or ‘horse trails’. Poor Laurel had to question whether or not I could navigate by this point because twice in as many days Id gotten us a bit mixed up. But luckily we hadn’t gone too far before I suspected something. But the misty cloudy weather was taking away a bit of my ability to navigate based off the terrain.
I did at one point have trouble passing by Two Point Mountain. I kind of wanted to summit it as it’s on the T200 List. But I had to remind myself that I wasn’t trying to start another list. It had been a long four days prior and it was wet and there wouldn’t be any views. So we continued on by. And surprisingly I did better with it than I thought I might.
On this hike out we saw a marmot and its offspring and a ptarmigan with lots of baby ptarmigan birds that ran and nestled under its wings. It was adorable. And at one stop we saw three curious deer that were munching around us. I had to stop because my feet had been in the now wet plastic bags around my feet for nearly four hours or so and they were starting to get irritated to the point of being painful. So I stopped took off the plastic bags and dug around in my bag to find my ‘sleep socks’ and changed them out so I could have a dry pair for the rest of the day. Foot care is so important. That dry pair of mostly clean socks felt great. Gave me the pick me up I needed to go down and then back up the 1200ft or so we had to do to get to Billy Goat Pass. So far that day we’d been at Peeve Pass, two unnamed passes, Three Fools Pass and then Billy Goat Pass. As we neared Billy Goat Pass the weather started to clear a little bit. Typical. As Laurel kept saying this trip. Typical! It was okay though, the weather still looked cloudy north.
The closer we got to the cars the more my feet and knees were feeling it. On the descent from Billy Goat Pass I had to really go slow. My knee felt like the pounding was finally starting to pick up and I hadn’t taken any ibuprofen that morning. But finally we made it to the car and the chips and Gatorade therein! We made it to the trailhead at 4pm. Laurel hopped in the van to move it because a car had parked really close to us and there wasn’t anyone else around so she moved it to the middle so we could throw the doors wide open, change and arrange our gear. But as she went to move the car I smelt gasoline and saw something coming from the bottom of the car. I walked over to the stain on the ground and put my finger in it and then put it against my nose. It was definitely petrol. I asked her if that was normal and she said now. Crap. We looked under the car and thought that it might be leaking something. It wasn’t gushing forth at the moment but it seemed to when she moved the car. Now feeling more than a little worried, and getting bit by mosquitos, we changed and hopped in the van. Fingers crossed we’d make it to Winthrop. We had half a tank of gas. As we started going down the road it became clear that the gas gauge was dropping a lot faster than it should have. Crap. It seemed like when she started the car and hit the accelerate in the trailhead parking lot that it leaked more. So I asked her if she could coast more. Perhaps that’d use less gas or at least stop it from leaking as much. Laurel handled it like a boss and we were coasting quite fast down Billy Goat Creek Road. At one point a car came up behind us, and we knew that we were losing gas fast, and I told Laurel not to let them pass. She asked me what to do if it died. “Just let it die in the center of the road so they can’t pass us?” and I said “Try to pull slightly over and I’ll jump out and wave my airs and try to flag them down.” Seemed like the best plan we could do. It may have been a bit rude to not let them pass us but at one point I think we were careening so quickly down the road that they started to fall back whether or not because they thought it was an unsafe speed or we were just unsafe. But while we were still on Billy Goat Road the van hit E. Oh crap. We were only halfway and we’d gone through half a tank. We weren’t going to make it. So we continued on. At least it was a Saturday and we had made it back to where there were more campgrounds so our likelihood of getting help was better.
I turned my phone on to watch it and see when we got back into reception. And as I watched the phone Laurel kept her thumb to her mouth and looked extremely concentrated. I think we were just moving this car on sheer will. At one point we missed one of the forks in the road and took the right which I think was slightly longer we debated turning around but thought that might take too much gas to stop, turn around and gain momentum again. So we kept going. We got back into reception and I breathed a semi-sigh of relief. I did want dinner though so I was hoping we would get to town.
We made it back to the main road just outside of Winthrop and had to wait at the stop sign as there was a lot of traffic on the road. I started yelling. We did manage to get into town and to a gas station. We parked right above what turned out to be the refueling area as we were leaking fuel. We went inside and asked the woman if there was anyone who could help us and she told us no and that the sign above the gas station was just an antique fun thing and they didn’t actually offer car repairs. She then told us we had to move the van because it couldn’t stay there. We told her we weren’t sure if it’d even start and she told us we had to move it. So we said a prayer and got in the car. This woman in the gas station had told us to head straight down main street and try to find parking but it was so busy in town I told Laurel to go to the gravel lot on the west side of town. We made it and parked and then Laurel asked if she should straighten the van out more and I said if she could it might help and as she backed out the car died. There was nothing left. We tried to push it a little bit but in our flip flops and sandals and newly tired we couldn’t make it move. So that’s when I said people could get around, worst they’d do was leave a nasty note. We could work out our problems over dinner at the little Red Schoolhouse. I felt bad but at least we were out a day earlier than planned and had time to handle this. So we ordered dinner and called AAA. Thank the lord Laurel had AAA. We then had to try and find out how far we could get with 100 miles of tow. The woman from AAA wasn’t overly helpful but she did dispatch someone to help us and they were going to be there in about an hour or so. Perfect. We had time for dinner. So we had dinner, strolled around town, saw the US Marshals arresting people (someone had a knife and it looked like they were breaking up a fight), went and poked around a hat and souvenir shop and then went back to the van. Just as we got there the tow truck arrived. The gentleman who was helping us was named Liam (he was from Mazama) and he agreed to take us to Wenatchee.
We had a lovely car ride the hundred miles to Wenatchee with Liam. And some interesting conversations on politics, rescue in the area, mine remediation at Azurite Mine, and a whole host of other topics. I called Kyle and he agreed to drive out to Wenatchee that night to get me. So we met in Wenatchee and he took me home and Laurel slept in her van until she could try to find someone to do repairs the next day or the day after which was a Monday. I felt bad leaving her but it was really nice of Kyle to come and get me. We made it home at about 12.20am and we were both wrecked. I had a quick shower and then we both passed out. But it was sure nice to be home and snuggle up with him.
Northwest forest pass (we used America the Beautiful Pass)
Trail Conditions –
Um what trails? New trail lingo. Code 451 means crappy trail or non-existent trail.
Trail #477 – Good for four miles heading West to Trail #459 turn off.
Trail #459 – Hard to find the turnoff. First mile is very brushy, down trees and generally hard to follow in some spots. The start is on the east side of the bridge, head directly south through the campground to what almost looks like a game trail.
Trail #485 – From Ptarmigan Pass down to Hidden Lake it is in generally good condition. Handful of down trees and in sections the trail is starting to give out and collapse. But overall passable. The closer you get to Hidden Lake the worse the downed trees gets.
Trail #477 – From junction just south of Big Hidden Lake it is significantly damaged. Lots of downed trees make for very slow and difficult going all the way to the junction with Trail #451.
Trail #451 – Just gone. You can follow it for about a mile or two before it gets completely lost in the deadfall but those first miles are tedious and absolutely blanketed in downed trees.
Trail #533 – Boundary Creek Trial. From directly West and below Quartz Mountain where we bushwhacked over to gain it the trail is fine. There are some downed trees but it is manageable. There are quite a few unmarked turnoffs which can be confusing but overall decent trail.
Trail #502 – From south of Sheep Mountain to Billy Goat Pass it was recently cleared and in good condition. This too had a couple sections where there were lots of break off trails, horse trails, etc that made navigating a bit challenging on more than one occasion.
Objective Hazards –
Perhaps rock fall (but fairly minimal), lack of water, trail debris!!
Helmets is all we used. 30m 8mm cord, small rack and harness as a precaution.
Snow patches for the ridge up to Three Pinnacles all the way to Shellrock Pass. After Shellrock Pass as we traversed over to Dot Lake there was running streams. Then no water from the ridge up to Dot and until we were about halfway down the trail to Hidden Lake.
Lots! Goat tracks, lots of deer, a marmot and marmot baby, beaver and one very colorful finch!
Mosquitos on and off.
Flora and Fauna –
Beautiful wildflowers!! At one point we walked through a field of mostly red and then later, lower, we walked through a section of almost exclusively blue!
- Trails don’ exist I the Pasayten. They’re just myths used to lure people. In all honesty, I just think they’re too many to be maintained especially at this juncture in our socio-political time. So it seems lots of trail back here have started to go back. Be covered over by fire, windstorms or just general lack of use.