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North Ptarmigan Traverse attempt

Or…  Cascade Pass and no Cache Col ski fest

 -ski Cascade River road

July 8, 2011

Carla Schauble and Franklin Bradshaw


Weather – light clouds, changing to near whiteout with high winds –cold in the wind.


No short of it

Buried in trip reports to do and piles of images to sort through. This one is shorter, so maybe at least I can make a dent in the trs in my to write pile...

Heading into the Northern Ptarmigan for a few big boy peaks.  Forecast for no precip, but mm5 shows potential clouds.   Left Seattle after 1pm and made good progress getting dusted out following a looky-lou up Cascade River road dust fest.  We park at the gate at mp21 (c2475’), and nearly 2 miles of too warm not quite hot pavement humping skis.  Ugh, when will I decide ski season is finished and go with a lighter pack?  A hundred feet or so before the TH parking lot there is suddenly snow, lots of it (1.9m, 36min, c3516’).  A backhoe and trackhoe have been working their way to the TH in snow 6-12’ deep.  We booted down to the avy spill, took a 15 minute break and donned skis.


Snow clearing a hundred feet or so from the trailhead.

We booted up sow finger right of cliffs.


A little negotiation heading direct up the humongous avy field.  Looking down We see the Cascade Pass TH bare of snow, Outhouse high and dry, but the east end having much log debris.  Zagging around the rotted snow we head to a snow finger next to a waterfall (2.6m, 1h skinning, c4645’). 


Skinning direct to Cascade Pass. TH at snow pinch area on mid right ridgy area


To our left a small not so nice looking thread of snow heading north under the cliffs allowing access to the upper field.  Didn’t look so good, so we booted straight up the steep snow next to the waterfall… maybe would have been better going around.


The easy way up?  Didn’t look it, but it is MUCH better than booting the waterfall area


Seemingly heading left, and more left.  Another hour we pass the near Cascade Pass.  Skies have lowered and what is around is lost in the beginnings of a pseudo white out.  We’d had good glimpses of views up J-berg , but now what we saw was white, gray and shadows of trees.


                                A sneak of a view


Above Cascade Pass it felt like a veer right heading southerly up the ridge.  Easy pitch with a couple steep wind swales to negotiate.  My mind had been thinking as it does in its meditation of the climb.  Not feeling the spice, inspiration or motivation for this trip as I had last night and this morning.  It was summer and we were getting wet from fog, buffeted by strong winds and just dang cold.  Where’s summer?  Even winter was more enjoyable than this. 


Time to think this out

About 25 minutes (c5785) above Cascade Pass we came to a stop.  Time to think this out.  It was getting later than hoped (8:10p).  Normally up high it is late longer, but today it looked that it would get dark sooner and no lingering light.  The traverse to Cache Col is dicey to begin with in the summer even with good visibility.  There was a spot half way we could settle at if needed.  Our schedule needed us to be at least to Cache Col…  A biggy was the near whiteout.  Navigating by altimeter on the traverse east did not appeal to either of us.  Without much need for more thought we both decided it was time for an alternate plan. I felt a weight lift and just about teared up.  What gives?  Maybe just nice when you are not feeling that a trip is going to not push it.  Hiking and skiing should be a joy.


We bundled up in puffies and jackets, ripped the skins and felt the joys of the glide (8:35p).  Nice turns even with heavy packs.  Heading north a little walk up for a view from Cascade Pass (8:38p, deeply covered in snow).

Faint views toward Sahale Arm and a Holy Grail style beckoning of light and blue sky peaking a short bit way out east.  East looked like a great ski.  Too bad no arrangements.  It’d be fun to ski and hike to Stehekin.  We had all weekend…  But how to get back to the car?



                View east from Cascade Pass –beckoning…



The call of the Grail

Turning our back on the grail we made turns keeping right.  Hopes of finding that thin snow tendril under the cliffs.  Hard to tell where we were.  I remember trying to memorize landmarks and dirty snow marks for our way back.  Not much help now.  Great turns lightening the soul.  An impasse of a dense row of trees/brush.  Carla thought maybe we were too north.  I’ve learned to listen to her.  A high traverse south, dropping minimally and I found myself on the traverse under the cliffs (4m, 15m from turn-around, c4840).  Halfway through, I signaled back that this was the way through.  Much better than expected.  The snow still was continuous, not spotty as we’d thought from our look on the way up. Another mile of turns and short breaks to enjoy the increasing clearer views. 


The traverse under the cliff (c4850’)


Back at the intersection to the road (5m, 30min since turn-around, c3530’) and somewhat summer again  -warm and dry.


    Dirty avy snow up to the cliffs


Re-loading the packs with wet skis and boots.  A brief break before the drudgery of the downhill pavement pounding.  I like trail.  More up than down.  Roads on the other hand are hard on the feet and tedious to the mind.  Not the views to entertain spark the mind. 


Darkness extended a bit as we headed west away from the clouded in pass.  Just before 10pm we reached the gate and the car.  Not the trip we expected, but some skiing was a great consolation.  I felt relief listening to the little voices and turning given less than optimal conditions.  Factors weren’t stacking up and best we saved that trip for another day.

Big question we’d been discussing a bit was where now?  Somewhere more eastward.  Throwing a few choices a return via Entiat for Rusty burger enticed us…  First what seemed like the drive forever to camp up highway 20


Happy Trails!




Ascent:  3:15, 3.2m, 3310ascent

Descent: 1:25, 3.6m, 25’vert

TT:  5hrs, 6.8m, 3335 vert


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