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“The Honey Badger goes solo for 39 hours of Dark (Peak)”

Dark Peak (8504', p296')

via High Bridge and Swamp Creek

Oct 7-9, 2011

Solo (Franklin Bradshaw)

map: USGS Agnes Mtn, McGregor Mtn; GT McGregor Mtn

Weather: Sun, some spotty clouds and clear

 

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Days are getting short

Of the peaks on the Bulger list, Dark is one I thought I’d  heard was one of the most difficult to summit.  Previous trip reports had the trip as a real “joy” of route finding and brush bashing -or was that alder wrestlin’?  I read reports from Matt and Paul, both lead to the approach being heinous brush bash.  How bad could it be?  The mystery to me is how to get up through the Dark Glacier.  Well, I guess it’d be like normal, figure it out as I go.  I found another forgotten part of the difficulty is just getting there.  The typical approach is via Stehekin. 

 

I had this peak scheduled for mid-summer.  Somehow it kept slipping by for other trips.  Days slipping into Fall the options for getting to the peak were diminishing.  The Stehekin area (aka The Valley) was closing down for tourist for the season.  Limited boat, limited shuttle, limited plane, none of which aligned anymore for getting up valley to bridge creek without a day or half day delay.  “Valley Day” Monday, shuttles last run next Friday (14th), Air service also ending in a few days.  Oh, and the weather.  From warm sun to new snow in a matter of days over the past few weeks.   I called, but received no answers from the Stehekin info service, no taxis, The Ranch closed and the restaurant was closing on Sunday.  This was the last weekend option before it got even more difficult to get to the trailhead.  And even this one just getting to the trailhead was going to have its pains.

 

Dark being #56 on the Bulger’s Big Boy list was planned to be my #99. Several people had expressed interests, but with the flip-flopping weather forecasts and onset of wet fall all backed out.  I tried incentives, but no takers.  This trip warrants four days and I figured I could take the seaplane in and knock it down to three.  Well, not quite that since the shuttle to return to Stehekin was at 9:00am.  Short daylight days and earlier shuttle…  Oh, and the weather  best guess was a day and a half to two days maybe no precip, but clouds.  Forecasts went sour, 80% rain for Saturday night.  Darn, this was it.  A no go and I’d need to wait til next spring . I’d planned Dark for the end of summer, not this late into fall, oh well.  With no takers (even with incentive) and the weather looking marginal.  Should I go anyway? 

 

Ever the optimist I had the van and pack loaded.  Hey, you never know.  Alarm went off at 4am.  A check of weather prediction was still not good.  Did I want to summit in a cloud?  All that way for no view.  It took much procrastination and the hard choice to say that was it.  I’d not do Dark this year.  Only two peaks left on the Bulgers Big Boy List.  It’d have to wait.  It would be better to do it in the sun and take in the views. An hour flip flopping and I found myself back in my warm bed.  Oh, so close, next year…  Dark would have to wait til next spring. 

 

 

At work I tried to bury myself in the puzzle of the design I was looking for inspiration on.  I was heavily distracted.  Second quessing if I made the right choice.  The damn list weighing on me.  The danger of doing these lists.  I’d thought, oh, that trapped by the list won’t happen to me. But here I was fretting and doing the wrong thing for looking for sings of the trip being a go.  Even a go, I was bummed that Carla would not be joining.  I’ve come to enjoy some solo trips, but this one is a longer one and it’d be nice to have the good company of my climb partner I’ve shared so many of these T100 peaks with.  Checking the webcam for Stehekin… looked gloomy though clear skies in Chelan.  Guess I made the right decision.  Oh, so distracted.  It was one of those maybe, well hmmm, maybe?  At lunch I checked the updated forecast. Precip chance at 10-12% with 60%+ clouds.  Rain still for Saturday after 5pm.  I couldn’t focus on work.  What a wasted day for designing.  Off to lunch, turned onto 520, then north on 405, right on 522 and picked up the phone.  Chelan Airways had one seat still open.  This would be close to get the old van to Chelan before the flight.  If I made it I go.  If not, well, that is what should be.

 

Ten minutes to spare into the parking lot.  Moments later the engine of the Beaver sputtered to life and with 5 other passengers we had a gusty 45 minute ride to Stehekin.

 

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leaving Chelan

 

Now what to do? I found myself at Stehekin with 42 hours to be back to catch a ride back down lake. I’d had no luck with phone calls or email to find out about rides, taxi or car rental.  The shuttle busses reduce service would have me having to wait til morning not getting to the trailhead til 9am.  Not enough time to do the trip.  As it was I was trying to fit a four day trip into less than 40 hours if all went right.  Luck was with me. One of the passengers heard of my plight and offered a ride.  Thanks Jim!  The people living in the Valley are a great community.

 

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Stehekin arrival

 

Southbound Agnes…

What a blessing the ride.  I was at the trailhead and it was still daylight (5:25p).  Pack loaded a little heavy with extra clothes, raingear, too much food, winter plastic boots, umbrella… Darn it was feeling heavy.

 

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Agnes Creek TH

 

I started hiking, down to the bridge over the creek and east (c1600’).  Was this the right trail?  Checking map… not sure, not much detail.  Trail switch-backed 9 times gaining 300’ elevation (c1900’).  Nice fall colors and sunlight on the peaks around and impressively large ancient trees. 

 

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Entering the Wilderness –I liked this sign post

 

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Evening lights

 

Into the Glacier Peak Wilderness at 6pm (c1975’, 1.3m).  Ups and downs and many small trickling creeks.  By 5 mile cap it started to get dark (7:07p, 4.2m, c2245’).  Time for headlamp.  Should I camp here?  Would make a longer day tomorrow.  I’d wanted to hike all day and camp in the upper Swamp Creek Basin.  Maybe starting at Swamp Creek CG would give enough time for summiting.  Then would I be able to hike out in time for the bus?  The only option was 9am Sunday, darn that would be early.

 

8:10pm I arrived at Swamp Creek (8m, c2800).  I walked further south on the trail, no camp ground.  Hmmm, now up the wash from the half buried sign.  No trail even though the sign said “unmaintained trail”. Was a better spot 30 paces south of the “Swamp Creek” sign.  Less that 400’ from the trail I found a fire ring and a spot adequate for camp. 

 

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Half buried Swamp Creek sign.  Best trail is another 30 paces south.

 

Wanting to save time in the morning, after setting camp, I searched zig zagging for the trail.  I found it and wandered an eighth of a mile up then back to camp.  Looked good.  Some hot food  and I was off to sleep with the stars above and bright moon lighting up the tent.

 

Swamp Creek “trail”

Up early and “on trail” by 5:50am.  Headlamp lead me from blazed tree to blazed tree, finding a tread at times too.   Around 3300’ I lost the trail and continued up per Paul’s beta to about 3700’ to traverse left.  No sign of a trail and sidehill bushwhacking was slow.  Later I found the trail went left at ~3350’.  Past a weir in the creek I found the trail (1m, c3650’, 6:52a).  Trail lead into boulders.  Now where?  No sign of a route.  Needing a morning “alder paste” tooth brushing  gag, yuk…   I bashed the alder and soon found an iced over up sloping log to cheval –dicey (1.2m, 7:15a, c3700’).  The crossing got my adrenalin going for the rest of the trip. The alder and boulders plus the no trail had cost me a lot of time and would not be fun in the dark if the day went long.  On the way back I’d find the giant log to cross the creek at the trail just upstream of the weir.

 

Over the creek I headed east uphill to find a faint trail heading parallel (right) to the creek.  Then it was gone.  As Paul mentioned in his report it was basically about 200+ feet from the creek.  Some alder patches to break through, then the trail on the left side of the flat next to the creek.  The tread came and went through the mostly open woods.  More gone than there and sometimes through slide alder swathes.  Well, trail is a nice word for it.  Occasional tread could be seen, but the overgrown alder and brush hid it and made for me wondering why the heck I was doing this.  7:45 (1.7m, c3793’) I left the creek left and found more trail near the edge of the bank.  Then it was gone again.  First views of Dark at 7:56 –sunny up there. Back to more alder, then open forest, brushy, forest, alder, down to cross creek, alder, then more of the same.

 

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Swamp Creek and trail on left side of creek (really… not kidding)

 

 I tried going up and over, but not a good call. Found better on the way back to go down to the stream bed and pull up at a washout area minimizing the alder to a short distance. This was heinous!  They were right.  I think you do this trip with another so you don’t turn around.  You’d not want to admit the painful (or pleasure?) to your hiking partner.  Solo, it’d be easy to say the hell with it.  I was ready, but being still early morning moved on. 

 

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Water had frozen – nice it was only down to 40F at camp

 

At a point along the left side of the creek on flat ground and eviley (is that a word) growing tangle of brush and alder. Looked like a flat road, but obliterated by overgrowth.  Then up on the bank left side of the creek, past some debris from maybe an outfitters tent stove.  Now down to cross a creek literally diving into more slide alder.  This stuff was the real thing.  Like a Harry Potter story, wrapping around the legs, feet and pack.  This took full Honey Badger determination. 

 

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First views of lower basin and waterfalls

 

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Into the frozen basin

 

8:46 first views of the waterfall and by 9:12 (3m, c4300’) I was in the frosted lower basin.  Magnificent world class waterfall and plenty more brush to enjoy.  Beautiful fall colors and the waterfall worth the trip (?).  No flat areas around, not good camping.  Grasses and brush over large rocks.  The far end was heavily brushed, even the weakness to get over and left to get around the cliffs.

To the right is a spot that looks likely for an ascent.  All reports warned against it, so I followed Paul’s route going to the cliff then left up brush, talus.  Go up left of the cliffs, past the small trees on right, up talus and more brush.  I’d been following downed brush. From the scat it was a track of a bear.  I resisted the temptation to go right into the cliffy area early on what seemed like a good ledge.  Ahead the route narrowed even more.  Before the narrowing (3.2m, c4760’, 10:12a) the route goes right.  Again just following the deer and bear tracks.  I’ve found the animals know the best ways up the tricky areas. Up steep about 40-50’ with rock slab and trees.  The trail went straight up, I went right on a flat ledge with deteriorating log laying along the route.  Then in a hundred feet (or something like that) switched back left taking the obvious track up to find a trail again at c5000’ right .  The more open woods became small trees and brush with a 100’ or so descent into the upper basin. 

 

A beautiful basin, large and flat.  This looked like a supreme place to camp.  I see why Pat, Don and crew camped here last year (3.4m, 10:30a, c5000’). Best camping is on the north end as you enter –a higher flat open spot away from the swampy middle. 

 

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The upper basin

360 degree interactive upper basin pano. click and drag in viewer -also zoom in (shift/scroll) and out (ctrl/scroll) 

 

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From the upper Basin looking up the Dark Glacier and Dark Peak on the left. (The boulder left of center at the grass edge is about 20’ tall).

 

Now an up close view of the Dark Glacier ahead looking bony and crevassed. The sun was out and skis mostly clear.  I could see my entire route in front of me.  Could I remember the twists and turns to negotiate the slabs, boulders, moats and crevasses?  I took notes (drawings) plotting a potential route.

 

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The Dark Glacier.  Goal, the saddle on the left.

 

New snow made it look clean and a recent serac breakoff had cleared some avy issues.  Hmmm, this looked steeper than I’d expected.  , I could do this (but the glacier did look intimidatingly steep from this angle). Across the wet basin, up the left on the lateral moraine to the next small basin and start of the snow (3.9m, c5500’, 10:40).  Time to change to dry clothes, eat and don crampons.  My estimates had me summiting by 2:30, looked like I’d make it, and maybe sooner than that.

 

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Another look back on the upper basin from the top small basin

 

 

Up the Dark

The sun was lighting up everywhere but where I was.  It was cool enough for nice hiking, but it’d be nice to have a break in the sun.  The snow started off low angle with 2-3” fresh on top.  Then into a narrowing constraint slide from the fall of seracs a few thousand feet up.  Blue ice chunks and firm snow.  Zig left, zag right under rock.  Thin snow on slab, then at right a zig left in deepening snow.

 

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Glacier getting steep around 6600’

 

Steeper going up under a face at 7000’,  Gees this seemed to be going on and on…  After that face a right and jog a few crevasses and found an open one covered in 8” of fresh snow.  I was marking each potential bridge and probing.  One step at a time.  Slower going, but time to keep alert and be safe.  The marks would also help on the way down.  Onward steepening even more toward another higher face.  Under it left as the lower one. Traversed east then hung a right up across two more crevasses. 

 

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Only 500’ to go : )

 

Altimeter indicated only 500 more feet.  This 500 took longer, altitude, steepness, crevasse avoidance and up final at the ridge.  Well, not over the ridge, just at the ridge.  A un-inviting moat and class 5 rock.  I turned east and up a steep pitch to a moderate wide open and thinly (6”) snow covered rock ridge. 

 

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Almost at the ridge looking back down Swamp Creek

 

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At the saddle

 

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final wide flat ridge to summit ridge

 

Ridge run

 

 

Steeper going up under a face at 7000’,  Gees this seemed to be going on and on…  After that face a right and jog a few crevasses and found an open one covered in 8” of fresh snow.  I was marking each potential bridge and probing.  One step at a time.  Slower going, but time to keep alert and be safe.  The marks would also help on the way down.  Onward steepening even more toward another higher face.  Under it left as the lower one. Traversed east then hung a right up across two more crevasses. 

 

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Only 500’ to go : )

 

The view were stunning.  No need to go further, but hell, it was 2:10pm and I was on schedule.  The ridge was mellow, but a bugger with crampons on trying not to twist an ankle. 

 

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First Bonanza views

 

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The saddle top of the Dark Glacier

 

Topping off, and looking to the NE along the ridge a slightly higher point.  Boulder hopping the final bit a happy the next high point was lower, it’d not be a fun one. 

 

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final ridge to the summit

 

 

A sense of awe

I’d done it, well, almost half of it, it’s a big part just the getting down.  A beautiful day, sunshine and stunning views.  I felt Like Zeus looking down on the world far below.  The Swamp Creek valley a blaze in fall colors and inviting sunlight.  Bonanza along a ridge to the south, Dome and Sinister behind.  Stunning lighting on YES! Peak (aka Glacier Peak), Devore creek peaks east, Inspiration to Goode peaks north… I felt I was in the center of the universe.

 

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Dome  and Sinister

 

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Golden Larch on the NW flank of Bonanza

 

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Bonanza and Martin Peaks

 

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Devore creek peaks in the center (Tupshin, White Goat, Devore, WyNorthMartin on right). 

 

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Martin Peak

 

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Inspiration Glacier peaks (Eldorado) to Goode.  Baker in the far back

 

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Looks like winter to the south

360 degree interactive summit pano. click and drag in viewer -also zoom in (shift/scroll) and out (ctrl/scroll) 

Food, pictures, more pictures, puffy jacket and some substantial digging to find the summit cairn and on its north side a brass Mountaineers register. 

 

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Summit reg under the cairn (lower left)

 

The signatures were almost all very familiar, except a couple NOLs groups.

 

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Reg pg 1

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Reg pg 2-5

 

I guess you have to be crazy and doing the Bulgers list to go through all the hassles to get here.  Down lower I had doubts.  Now on the summit, more than the satisfaction of summiting, this was a spectacular point.  And the way up many scenic rewards building.  Just enough to keep it a great ascent. 

 

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YES! Peak (aka Glacier Peak)

 

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Eldorado

 

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Stormking, Goode and Black

 

 

Following the bred crumbs

Keeping on schedule I started down at 2:45.  The steep sections trick with the new top layer giving way.  Careful and slow, not wanting to slip toward the crevasses.  All the way down I watched the sun in the upper basin.  By the time I got to the basin it was in shadows.

 

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Route down

 

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Can I get to the basin while there is still sun?

 

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Upper basin in shadows… darn, missed the sun.

 

I retraced back to the cliffs and tried a recent bear track (knocked down brush) angling down and more toward the center of the lower basin.  I left the lower basin along the streambed to avoid alder bashing.  As I back tracked, my goal was to get across the log and as much trail toward camp before dark.  Dark comes quick in the deep woods… 

 

It was harder to find where I had come in than I thought walking out.  I kept the creek nearby and kept an eye for the talus slope on the other side.  I found where the old trail went through the alder, wish I’d found that coming in.  By the time I saw the talus the trail was pretty nice (ignoring the blowdowns).  Saw cuts through giant windfalls and good tread.  When the trail vanished I followed a track to the creek to pass a 4-5’ diameter log that reached to the talus slope on the other side.

 

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The weir as seen coming up creek

 

Just upstream of the weir another younger ( and large) log crossing direct to the trail.  Now elated to summit in the sun and a fine creek crossing before dark I high tailed it down the trail.  Lost it several times at large windfalls, then found again as it traversed leftish c35-3400’.  After a long stretch I lost the trail as it started to get dark, darn! I was at 3350’, hey, the same place I lost the trail on the way up.  A little zig zagging and I found the scuff marks I made on the way up, so I could find my track back.  No bread crumb track for me: ) 

 

 

Keeping the dark theme

I found camp 20minutes after sunset.  Feeling ready for some mindless easy flat trail, I packed camp and headed out. In an hour passed 5 mile camp.  Still feeling good I kept going.  The moon was out casting eerie lighting in the forest.  If the forecast was right I wanted to put the miles behind me while it was dry.  About 2.5 miles before the trailhead I found a nice flat camp spot just past a creek and decided to call it a day.  That’s a 15h40min day.

 

Late night I imagined I heard rain, I smiled, I’d had a good trip with sun, and it was only an hour or so out.  Then a dream that it was mid-day with the tent lit by the sun.  Damn, I’ll miss the bus… waking, the light was just the bright moon.  Whew! Back to sleep.

 

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morning sun

 

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Crossing the Agnes Creek bridge

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Agnes Creek (down stream)

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Agnes Creek  (upstream)

 

 

Day 2, a PCT walk and meet David

Being close to the trailhead I was able to sleep in and have a casual walk out with stops to take in the morning sunrise views.  High Bridge gorge is very scenic and I had nearly an hour to wander around in the morning sun checking it out. 

 

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High Bridge

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Stehekin River from the bridge

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More high bridge

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FS camp waiting for the bus

 

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Soon David walked down the road.  He was on his last 80 miles to finish his trek of the PCT.  We talked and some of his good thoughts stuck.  The trips are nice for scenery, but with the PCT being in the valley so much without views, it’s the side adventures and people you meet that make the trip. 

 

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David and I at Rainbow falls

 

This trip was great for the meeting of Jim for the ride, his wife admiring her new refer sitting on the dock waiting, for the generous and cheerful bus driver, the cozy feeling at the bakery, the group waiting for their first seaplane ride down lake and for David’s shared thoughts. The weekend had gone by all too fast.  I felt a calm gazing out the window as the plane accelerated for takeoff. 

 

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glassy water

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My ride awaits

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reflecting on the weekend and the last couple years

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typical lake shore view

 

Bright yellow fall colors reflected in the glassy lake surface.  Like time standing still for a brief moment.  41 hours ago I was landing in choppy waters not knowing if the weather would be turning me back short. The past couple years have gone by fast too.  Have any of you been counting?  Dark Peak was #99. An odd feeling to think that one more peak and I’d finish the Bulgers list.  Then what?  Do them all again on skis?  Or by different route?  Most likely time to find pleasure in all those other destinations on my own personal list.

 

BTW, anyone I haven't told figured out what #100 will be? Hint, cervesa and tequila : )

 

Thanks for reading and Happy Trails!

Franklin

 

Stats: 

Day 1 PCT:          7.7m, +1624’, -501’, 2h50min

Day 2 Climb:     5.3m, +5870’, -240’

Day 2 down:     5.3m, +240’, -5870’

Day 2 PCT:         5.1m, +200’,   -824’

Day 2, total:   15.7m, 6310’, -6934’, 15h45min

Day 3 PCT:         2.7m, +306’,   -850’, 1h15min

Total:                26.1m, 8240’, -8340’

 

Gear:  crampons, winter boots, ice ax, maps, beta, luck and an optimistic outlook –oh, money for food at the bakery

 

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The PCT approach

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Up Swamp Creek

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Lower Swamp Creek – red line is good route                                                                                                                                   Upper Swamp Creek

 

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