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A couple Southern Ptarmigan Peaks –or –

“Dome Doom and the Sinister Minister”

Dome Peak (8920', p3040')

Sinister Peak (8440', p840')

via Downey & Bachelor Creeks

July 21-24, 2011

Carla Schauble and Franklin Bradshaw


Title idea from Niko and great music from Bela Fleck & the Flecktones


Weather –rain to Downey CG. Approach to Itswoot Ridge High Camp, low clouds & wet brush 50’sF. Summit day –32F morning, hot and sunny with faint breeze. Sunday, deproach, 52F morning, 84F at Downey CG)


…sitting at the pass, Goretex boots long since soaking wet, legs cold from water brushed of the overgrown trails. We’d found an island of dirt to sit on for lunch. No views, socked in with clouds in the sky and our minds.  Dicey seemed demoralized thinking of our attempt last week with a cold turn-around in a cloud. Would a “Honey Badger doesn’t give a sh…” line help cheer?  Maybe not. This time we’d come 19.2 miles and close to 5000’ gain. Wet cold and feeling the long day, I believed the weather forecast would be correct. Having my faith in a better day to come, I wondered if my hike partner was feeling an optimism of better weather to come? As we sat there, thinking.  Maybe the other group had made a good choice to turn-around…


I didn’t even know of a plan “D”

During the winter I’d been trying to talk someone to ski into the Ptarmigan.  Things just didn’t pan out.  Maybe they were smart enough to know the joys of the approach from the south. Sometimes ideas don’t align.  Last week we tried for a ski into the Ptarmigan via Cascade Pass.  Red flags popping up we bailed for a trip with sun and views.  It’s not a going for peaks, it’s seeing the area and enjoying the scenery and mountains.  So when it comes to whiteouts and rain I save the trip for another day. 


This weekend I was surprised with an enthusiastic call for Dome and Sinister.  The past week or so a deluge of trips successful to both.  Tim’s group and Beth’s both from Stehekin, Jon and Eric from Cascade Pass and a week before that Jason.  No having to convince the routes were in.  Years of horror stories of Bachelor creek and many put off by an 8.5 mile road walk to get just to the trailhead (Downey Creek).  Never heard about the Bachelor Creek trail? Tales of trail covering brush and seemingly miles of slide alder to battle.  I’d thought that early season catch it snow covered.  Well, a little late from that, or was it?


We gathered beta from the usuals that have been in that area (Tom, Brett) and older trip reports from Eric Base Camp, Paul…) Some nice upper area route images from Brett and Steph.  Tom had a route to “avoid 90%” of the alder hell.  Many helpful hints on the summit block too.  A great bonus was the use of a bike trailer –hoping to make the trip to Downey Creek CG more a joy.  I’d made recon trips up the Suiattle in the winter so felt bikes were the cat’s meow. 


Oh, the weather…  Yeah, a tough one this year.  It was changing each forecast.  The same basic pattern, just when the window was the thing they couldn’t nail down.  First rain was supposed to stop before we rode in and the next day dry with partial clouds, then the weekend warming and on 8% potential cloud cover, then late Sunday clouds to rain by late evening and a wet Monday or something like that.  We had a small window for the size of this trip, enough to give it a go.


The wheels on the bike go round and round

Traffic out of town was a real doozy.  Besides being late off work the traffic slowdown got us to the trailhead later than hoped. One other vehicle at the gate and it was still warm.  Maybe we’d have company?  Loaded and riding by 8:20 at the gated road (mp12+).  It was obvious we’d be in the dark by the time we made the 8.5 mile ride to Downey Creek Camp Ground.  The rain and drizzle had stopped, then half way in started again.   I almost forgot going up rive meant uphill.  Wet from a rain we passed four FS trucks and a private car parked before Downey Creek. Over the bridge and pulled into the dark empty Downey Creek CG at 9:50.  Only thing moving besides the rain drops was the mouse in the outhouse.

Day 0, 8.5m, 1h30min.



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We walked up clouds lifting as we rose


Wet and the mysteries of the trail tale

Morning the sound of rain had ceased.  Loaded, bikes locked and on the trail by 6:50.  The sign in sheet showed a party of two had gone in to “climb” from Itswoot Ridge yesterday.  Wonder how far they made it yesterday?  As we gained elevation up the first steeper part of the trail and cruising along the more level old growth park like setting, my thoughts changed.  More of I was getting wet fast.


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Wet foliage and mr. smiley


Those plants you don’t notice rubbing in the dry were each covered in large droplets of water.  The soft shell water resist pants took on the physics of a sponge.  Tactics of a trekking pole to knock off the water was only a psychological boost.  The trail started around 1450’ and within a third a mile gained 400’. 


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From here in it was a slight up and down, roar of the creek below, low  clouds, deep wet greens, lush mosses, bright new ferns and impressively majestic old growth trees.


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The first 2.5 miles of trail are in great condition with fresh WTA work.  A little brushing is in order though.


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Like a land of magic


After a camp area at 2.9 miles we found apt names for the next two.  At 3.6 miles a tent site next to the trail with a large pike in a stump –Camp Spike.  In another .3 miles a black boot next to another tent site.  That’s right you guessed it, Camp Boot.


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Camp Boot is here


Two log crossings.  One slippery as snot on glass.  Lower water would be good rock hopping, but I didn’t want to get wet.  I know, laugh… I was soaking wet from the brush already.  Another chunk of giant log fallen into the creek at a spot WTA had cleared the trail made a good crossing. 


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Another log crossing about 1.7 miles in (new from the WTA work)


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Downey Creek about 2 miles in


After that the trail became more overgrown and muddy in spots.  An open area entailed spreading the over head high brush aside to look for the tread. 


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A few spots have overgrown


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The third large creek crossing (on a great flattened log)


Beautiful Puncheons over many spots a mixed blessing. Before I knew It I was almost on my butt.  Standard of the day… slippery as snot.   27 puncheons a large flattened log creek crossing and we could hear another a loud creek ahead.  I’d been nervous about this.  Reports talked about a rotting cracked death log.  Would we be able to cross Bachelor creek easily?


Around the corner a raging creek… and, and , wheh! Logs.  A large top flattened one to cross and a much smaller rotted when upstream that I’m glad we didn’t have to use for the crossing. Across the creek several nice flat tentsites, one with a rectangular dry spot.  This must be Six Mile Shelter (6.2m, c2513, 10:00p).


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Bachelor creek in its lower tame mode and the old ratty log crossing


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The new Bachelor Creek log cross



Time to head up

A food break and we started up the great tread along the creek.  First steep, raging Bachelor creek a few feet away.  Shortly the pitch mellowed.  I was pleasantly surprised how good the tread was.  Then the brush covered the trail,  Blueberry bushes everywhere,  then logs, the trial gone in brush then more logs, then great tread again.  I grew to enjoy each section that was clear and easy to follow.  And a wonderful stretch with thousands of ferns.


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Another field of ferns


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 Newly budding                                                       and is this budding too?


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Bachelor Creek trail in an opening


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I love the sharp patterns and the shades


Some of the logs were huge and a pain to get over.  Most had well worn walk-arounds.  Then the brush got thick.  Enough that someone had flagged the trail. 



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Sometimes a log walk was the best way around


You could find the tread by moving the overgrown brush aside.  If the trail was lost it was a matter of backing up stopping and looking for it.  Seemed more looking for the trail then the scenery around.  Important to not fall in the mud, a creek or…


the slide alder. 


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Yes, this IS the trail before the real think slide alder


Not as bad as I’d heard –yet. It covered the trail, okay as long as you didn’t have skis or an axe sticking up of pad sticking out.  In 2.4 mile, c4000 we met up with the group of two heading down trail (R & D).  They’d hiked in the dark up Downey Creek trail in the rain arriving at Six Mile Shelter around 11pm.  Soaking wet from the morning brush fest, looking like someone had turned a fire hose on him, it had taken a look at the wet log cross to add the extra burden of just not being into it today.  After last week getting ready to cross to Cache Col we could fully empathize.  In the open it was low clouds, everything wet and a basically dark cool day.  Was this summer?  Another .1 mile and we were looking at the log across to ultra thick slide alder. 


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Wet log cross.  Slopes up more than it looks in the photo


The log wasn’t impossible, just not inviting.  A path lead the opposite way (north). (8.7m , 2.6m from Six Mile Shelter, c4080’, 12:20p).  


Eanie, Meanie, Minie, Mo

Tom had mentioned a route north to woods and keep heading up stream.  Which route would be best.  Would a north route really go?  Carla was all for crossing the log.  I paused a moment since I know log crossings are not her favorite acrobatic act.  I liked the idea of the woods.  We took the north trail others had started.  After less than 100’ of alder it opened.  A patch of large trees above, we followed the open area parallel to them (right).  In another 100 feet up into the next narrow patch of large trees.  North side of this clump it opened and we kept heading up valley into the main woods.  A sigh looking at the wide open easy walking in the woods.  Up a slight ridge with little creeks coming down from the left (north) and the noise of Bachelor creek a hundred feet to our right (and down the ridge).  I rather enjoyed the walk since now no wet brush swatting against me.  It looked like deer and other animals also used this as a route.  c4500’ the pitch flattened and we were on snow.  A half mile from the log the creek began to level near our elevation and another .1 miles the creek was a wide flat meadow look.  With all the snow, not sure how it’d look, but my mind could see happy deer, heather, flowers… nice to have a sunny imagination on a dark cloudy day.


Through the trees at this flat creek area before us a grand-daddy of logs for crossing.  Old growth lying from bank to bank and with bark! I nearly jumped for joy.  Creek crossing can be the cruxes of a trip for me.  (9.3m, c4525’,  6h20m, 1:10p). 


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Higher up c4525’ a much better log to use to cross


Oh, we crossed to the south side here. Obvious to our right (west) was the snow buried location of the camp above the slide alder field.  Through the trees we could see that avy snow was still partially covering much of the slide alder.  Thanks Tom, we’d bypassed more like 98% of the Slide Alder Bachelor Brush Bash Fest.  I’m sure if I thought on it I’d come up with a good acronym for it.  Most the Alder we hit was the last 200’ or so before you’d cross the lower log anyway.


A few hint of trail, a cut log, a bit of bare tread, animal tracks, bear scat, a faded flagging and a reminder from Tom’s not the trail was within 100’ of the creek.  We stayed no further than 100’ from the meandering creek.  Tried bypassing a swampy area and punched through in a covered boulder field.  Ouch, this would get me the rest of the day.  I seemed to have tweaked a tendon in the lower leg.  Hours later It still had me thinking I may have to pull the plug and head back. It would be a heck of a long way out.


It just keeps coming

Our relief of surviving the lower Bachelor Creek trail and joy of bypassing the slide alder was short lived as we looked up to see the mother of avy swaths and the steep hill to the ridge above.  Heading advice we hung climbers right into the woods.  No snow and occasionally the tread of the long abandoned trail between piles of logs.  Further right was better, though c4900’ (10.1m, 1:52p) we left the woods heading direct for the steep hill. 


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Heading up the Avy swath –easier than we’d expected


Up near the top of the ridge a few small buttresses to aim between.  The ascent went easy with open dirt, rock and minor trees to walk over and around.  It looked like a faint zig zag of animal paths, though steep.  Much better than following the trail further north on the shallower pitch.


650’ up we topped out onto snow on a flatter ridge with minor basin heading up to the south (c5550’, 10.3m, 2:35p).  Pretty obvious the way to go and the small hill to Cub Lake Pass had a set of faintly visible ski tracks.  Or maybe I was hallucinating in the wetness.  .4 miles from gaining the ridge we were at Cub Lake Pass.  Wet, leg hurting, hungry and wondering about our sanity (10.7m, c5878, 4765’ ascent for the day).  The hope had been quick travel and maybe make Dana-Dome Col.  More likely Itswoot Ridge, but the Col would allow for issues on summit day.


To pass or not to…

…sitting at the pass, Goretex boots long since soaking wet, legs cold from water brushed of the overgrown trails. We’d found an island of dirt to sit on for lunch. No views, socked in with clouds in the sky and our minds.  Dicey seemed demoralized thinking of our attempt last week with a cold turn-around in a cloud. Would a “Honey Badger doesn’t give a sh…” line help cheer?  Maybe not. This time we’d come 19.2 miles and close to 5000’ gain. Wet cold and feeling the long day, I believed the weather forecast would be correct. Having my faith in a better day to come, I wondered if my hike partner was feeling an optimism of better weather to come? As we sat there, thinking.  Maybe the other group had made a good choice to turn-around…


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View south to Cub Lake from the Saddle


Now a focused goal of Itswoot Ridge and tomorrow bringing better weather.  I stashed the climbing pro to lighten the load.  Faint hopes of a Gunsight climb dashed.  We’d save that for another trip.  Re-energized and cold from the break we headed down the snow to Cub Lake.  Nasty tree wells and steep hill direct below moved us left to the better open slope.


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Cub Lake


The view ahead changed rapidly with the rise and fall of the low clouds.  Cub Lake below snow covered and blue around the edges.  600’ down, we traversed on its left side having missed a small patch of trail tread 40+ feet above the lake (11m, c5275, 4:06p).

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Traversing  the east side of Cub Lake


Past the lake the basin was  an ocean of avy flow ridges, sun cups and chunks of tree and dirt swept off the mountain.  We got a view of the ridge and a route left then right to avoid the wet granite slabs.  More boot/kick stepping and we gained the ridge (11.8m, c6168’, 5:14p).


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Itswoot Ridge


Still no views and nowhere to camp.  Heading east a point of rock, then further up before a sharp rise a bare spot.  Once at that spot we found a flattened tentsite on dirt.  When the weather breaks this could offer a grand view. 


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Walking up the ridge, Cub Lake far below in the middle


No doubt this was as far as we’d go today (12m, c6326, 10h45m, 5:30p, 5816’ ascent).  It’d take at least two hours to the next spot (Dana-Dome Col) and it was buried in the clouds.



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Home sweet home

Minimal wind and semi dry ground.  This felt like a luxury.  At the saddle a dripping snow pile provided fresh water.


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Fresh running water


 I’d printed a pic showing the route with sun, that Carla used to imagine a nice warm hike to Dome versus the gloom we were experiencing now. 


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I think we go somewhere up there…


Dinner made and eaten we didn’t dally long before seeking the warmth of our bags.  Still hoping for views I kept hanging my head out the tent.  Clouds would move a moment with a slight hint of tomorrow’s route and some setting sun in the direction for Dome.


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 Dome Peak peeks out


The sun glowing the clouds before dropping behind a ridge gave me hope the morning would bring clear skies.


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Sun setting, I zipped up the tent closed my eyes to meditate on the day.  If our plans panned out, it would be hard earned reward.


Dome cometh

Was it me or was it cold?  I had my summer bag and maybe I should have worn my puffy rather than use it as a pillow.  I pulled my head from the bag to see frost and ice on the tent.  The watch showed it was below freezing in the tent.  Brrrr!  Eyes blurry looking up before me a grand view looking to “Yes! Peak” and pre-dawn clear skies.  Sweet!


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Frozen boots on feet, water, food and gear in pack, we were heading up the last bit of ridge to the ridge buttress by 6:20a.  Hard snow ankle busting traverse across and down under a buttress at c6170’, .3m. 


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And uphill after the second buttress at c6242, .9m, 40min).  The ascent up the west side slope was shaded. Scratching up the slope got steep in a few places then flattened around 7400’. 


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 Snow was hitting the snow far south on the steep Dome slope and a reflected glow lit the area.  An amazing effect. A large low gap in the peaky ridge brought the first sun in days (Dana-Dome Col, 1.5m, c7500, 1h30m).  Good time for a break in the sun. 

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Dana-Dome Col


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Looking north into the Ptarmigan Traverse  -Eldorado left of center


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Glacier Peak (aka Yes! Peak)


Then south on a direct slight rise towards Dome Peak onto the immense flat upper Dome Glacier (c8000’).  Important trick here was heading to the steep slope on the north of Dome and left to the col at c8600’, (2.5m, 2h45m). 


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Leaving the col


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The route across the upper Dome Glacier


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Cracks in the upper glacier


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Barely a mark


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Dome Col ahead left


From the col great sunny views east and west. The southern Ptarmigan Traverse, close by Sinister, Gunsight, Agnes and the west side Glacier Peak… and a “canon hole” in the west running ridge of Dome. 


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Canon hole in the shade


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Baker and Shuksan in the distance


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Looking back our route on the left, Dome col on right


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Heading up from Dome Col


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Up looked like a… well, a dome


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Last stretch to the final ridge


Above us southward the hill looked like, well, like a big dome.  Up to a ridge drawing us rightward to a narrowing ridge.


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Looking back east on the summit ridge. Agnes, Gunsight and Sinister on the right



At a point where the ridge steepened with a precipitate drop north and a steep slope with drop south we set a belay from a boulder.  Probably could have just walked across, but the penalty for a slip was too high.  The snow was rock hard on one side and starting to soften on the sun side. Set a picket midway and slug a boulder at the change from snow to rock within 20-30’ of the true summit.




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Yikes look at the view down –Oops, better yet, don’t look!


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View from the ridge traverse north over Dome Glacier and our route up



From here old footsteps went down the snow to a book/crack.  At eye level the rock ridge looked spicy.  Once on the ridge it was much better than it looked.  Just a mind game with the drop north.  Across I tied the rope off to a sling on the summit and Carla made her way across (2.6m, 8920’, 9:45a, 2755ascent). 


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Smiling on top


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But this was the look crossing (just kidding:)


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The traditional arm length summit group shot


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South summit


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Dome Reg


And the rewards  oh, yeah… Awesome!  Warm rock, low wind, and views.  Did I mention the great views?  When you go make sure it good skies.  I feel sorry for those that summited in rain and clouds to no views.  We hung around a long time on the summit, drying socks, footbeds and boots in the sun while reading through the register.  So many familiar names and so many people I’d shared a trip here and there with.  It stuck out many Bulger list peak seekers signing off as one of their final summits.


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Into the oven, Sinister bound

We’d left our packs 50m away at the other end of the rope and I was getting hungry.  An hour and fifteen on the summit (11:02a), now time to head to our next goal –Sinister.  Across the rock ridge was a walk in the park compared to the first crossing.  And the snow had softened for a much more secure walk across the knifey ridge back to the packs.  Pack up gear, eat, drink and heading down in the softening snow to Dome Col. 





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Happy, Happy…


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Oh, my…


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View back to Dome Col and the Summit ridge



A good view from a rock outcrop to Sinister.  And a major drop off at the col (11:12a).  Far left and north faint tracks showed a route around a massive open gap.  The steep soft snow was easy walking, but one slip would send you into open crevasses below.  We tried small steps to set an up route.  It was getting hot and I hoped we wouldn’t be trying to post hole up deep glop. 


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It was a bigger crevasse than it looks


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Gunsight looking inviting


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Closer up of Gunsight


Dome col is at 8600’ and Sinister col at 7600’.  So just a 1000’ drop… Wrong! We wound around avoiding crevasses and covered dips cut higher on a steep traverse dropping to 7200’ (4m, 12:10p).  Ugh, not the funniest thought of a hot sun trudge up an extra 800’ today.  One step at a time we crossed the Chickamin Glacier toward the north face of Sinister.  It looked steep, more than I felt like doing when an easier route was available closer.  Closely above a crevasse on a steep hill side traverse veering left to Sinister Col (4.4m, c7590’, 12:45p).



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Arrived… Sinister Col


 Ah, a sigh, next objective… Where is the dirty gulley Beth used last week?  It looked like one could just scramble up the ridge.  Must be a reason why people don’t mention it so we went CCW heading SE.  The short ridge started to grow.  Brown dirt and black rock changing to gray steep walls.  A small break with snow to the ridge we bypassed.  Then a faint trace of old footprints –seven tracks, could be four people up and back.  The wall on our left grew taller and more browns to the color.  A large snow/wind dip and at a book in the wall a less than 100’ tall gulley.  Snow most of the way with a chockstone. 


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The Dirty Gulley –yuck…


The snow hadn’t seen much sun yet and was still hard.  Just added spice to the meal.  Above the moat we made a precarious exit left into the dirty part of the gulley.  The rock was crap, hold fall off and not putting me in a happy place.  Best bet is one person at a time.  Atop the gulley an extended rap station with rap rings.  After coming up that gulley, no way was I going to waste a good rope in it.  And the risk of pulling the crap down.  There must be another rap down.


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Ridge Running, well scrambling.  Dome in backdrop


The ridge on the right heading up was mostly melted out.  I welcomed dry rock scrambling a change from the steep snow.  A hundred feet or so below and SW of the summit we transferred to low angle flattening snow, reaching rocks again at the summit (4.7m, 8440’, 2:35p, 8h15m, 3996vert).  In a gap between rocks on a high point 70’ south of the highest point I found an old rusty can. I’ve found many like it with registers in them, not this time. 


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Not a reg…


The highest point is a boulder jutting up on the NE end of the rolling top.  Carla happily touched the peak and now time for summit treats.  I stood on the top, but by the time of a picture decided better to just sit.


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East ridge of Sinister


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Sinister summit looking NE


In a small cairn next to the boulder an aluminum tube with a Fay register from 2006.  Sinister was her 99th Top 100 peak.  Last year Signe brought down damaged pages from the register to send to the archive.  I had re-printed images of them and added them into the tube.  Only a partial set of the old pages.  Wish I had seen more of the older pages.  Reading the new register, it looked like this year Sinister and Dome were already very popular compared to past years with four parties registering already (and another summit porn playing card).


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Tag, you’re it


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Arms reach summit shot


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Our route from Dome


Out of the slight wind we relaxed after much shutter delay.  This was a great day for images.  Too bad I forgot to charge the battery or bring a spare.  Gunsight was so close and inviting.  Bummer we didn’t have another day or leaving to the east. 


 Click and drag to interactive pan. Shift and Ctrl key to zoom in and out


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Martin, Dark and Bonanza

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Looks mellow


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But it was steep!


There comes a time to go

By the time we headed back the way we’d come the snow was much softer sinking sometimes past the knees (2:50p).  Picked up the stashed rope as we passed the dirty gulley heading west (2:59).  The ridge widened, low angle and a rich brown in color.  So different from the white snow below.  I wandered around looking over the edge and seeing if we could find another rap station.  We were sure going down the gulley was not “standard”. 


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Another route detail image


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Looking for the rap station


The wide spot narrowed and at a pinch on my left I found the rap station with a copious amount of tat.  Looked like a 50 – 60m rope would get down (5m, c7824, 3:10p).  Why rap if you don’t have to?  We continued west on the ridge as it narrowed.  Watch what you step on, there are many loose rocks/boulders.  One spot brought pause so we protected around and down a boulder.


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Passing the rap station (above her head) to head off the west ridge instead


From here I walked down an one to two foot find hall type gap with 6’ of cl3 to step onto the snow at the point we’d seen earlier where the snow lead up gray rock to the ridge (c7760’).  A nice alternative to the Dirty Gulley.


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Where we walked off the ridge.  Dirty Gulley a few hundred feet east.


From the Sinister Col (5.2m) we retraced our tracks in sloppy warming snow over and around crevasses (roped up again).  A half hour from the col we had descended to the low point and started up the looonnngggg trudge (5.6m, c7200’, 4:00p).


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Lowest point we crossed the Chickamin Glacier


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Up, up, up, in the hot sun and no wind


It was hot, the snow soft and the hill steep. Couldn’t use the down track, but it allowed me to go to occasional zombie mode working up the glacier.  I think I was more entertained due to the views, textures and impressive crevasses we passed.  Time flew by as much as sweat dripped off my brow.  An hour and twenty plus minutes we sat on the rocks at Dome Col to remove crampons, eat skittles and enjoy the cool breeze and sun (6.4m, 11h5m, 5:25p, 5350ascent).


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Bye Sinister


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Almost at the Dome Col


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Dome Col and summit ridge


It was 2h35m from Sinister, how long to cross back to camp?   What would the snow be like?  Would I have energy for the last up?  Looked late in the day so no chance of moving camp for a shorter day tomorrow.  In my mind I ran the math of distances, vert, time…  I kept it to myself.  The miles needed tomorrow after two big days seemed daunting to my weary legs.


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Looks like glissade tracks off the summit ridge –kinda


Left Dome Col at 5:40 seeing three skiers crossing the flat Dome Glacier.  Once at the snow I looked again.  I must be seeing things, because it was only two skiers.  A quick glissade and we met Andy and John from Wenatchee on day two of their Ptarmigan Traverse.  They went the sane way (north to south) and were heading up to tag Dome Peak before heading out our way.


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Andy and Tom making good time up the Dome Gl


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The broad flat upper Dome Glacier


The walk was lighter, even after the long day with the rewards seen and being on the two peaks.  Mind just reveling and a much easier trek back to a warm dry camp.  Near Dana-Dome Col we say a third skier waiting in the rocks. 


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Hey, I want to go there, yeah, right there


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Our route with some sun on it


We followed our route back (tracks gone or never existed) with a couple long fast glissades, traversing under a buttress then following goat track north.  I’m amazed how the animals now exactly where the trail is even when under feet of snow.  The hot sun had melted out more heather patches.  Our walk back now presented us Marmots and a few short pieces of real trail tread to relieve from the soft snow sidehilling.  After the last buttress it was a slow 120’ up to the ridge, then down to camp (8.7m, 7:20p, 13hrs, 5471ascent).


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Shadows starting to grow


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Camp ahead!


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The last downhill to Itswoot Ridge camp


Party on, dude

The snow around camp was trodden with hoof prints everywhere.  I could imagine hundreds of goats hanging around like a beer party.  Amazing enough no gear was upset.  Pot still on stove, everything as we left it, except hoof prints every inch around. I felt like I showed up late to find we weren’t invited to a party.  After collecting more water and changing to dry socks we watched as goats came from higher up the north slope to the buttress on the ridge above us.  Four, then it was six, then skiers coming up from the south.


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The goats waiting above the skiers


Then nine goats atop the buttress looking down at the skiers looking up at them.  It was a standoff.  What now?  The stories of goat goring in the back of my mind.  Armed with cameras the skiers had the upper hand and one of the groups would have to blink.  It was the goats that backed down, trotting back the way they’d come.


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The skiers swung by for a brief chat then skied down to Cub Lake Basin as the sunlight changed from bright to red-oranges.  What a difference from last night.  Now we sat and enjoyed the views and setting sun.  Also a light feeling that we’d had a great trek and now to just head out.  A long day, capped with a mellow sunset. I was smiling as I closed my eyes and soon asleep.


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Shadows growing on Dome


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Last light on Itswoot Ridge


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Jellyfish clouds


“Hey, hey, do you hear that”?  huh”?   “I think I hear goats”.  I sat up and stuck my head out the tent.  Yep, totally surrounded by a herd of goats.  Not thinking I started at the top of my lungs to bark like a dog.  Then my sides started hurting I was laughing so hard.  OMG.  Have you ever been in a damp east coast building and lifts a piece of plywood off the floor.  Cockroaches taking off in every direction.  It was just like that.  Then they came back and totally ignored us.  After that it took a while to get back to sleep.


A long way home

The eve was warm, even in a summer bag.  I glanced a few stars, but spent the eve sleeping well after the stellar day.  Something about sleeping high on a ridge.  Up and about in the early dawn to watch the rich morning sky change color and hope for alpine glow on the surrounding peaks.  Kinda’ like at Christmas waiting for the tree to be lit.  The morning did not disappoint.  I nearly wasted the last of the camera battery on the glowing Yes! Peak (aka Glacier Peak). 


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As packed the goats returned.  They were seeking precious salt and minerals. To the rocks for them…


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My mind was playing the “Jaws” music


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They patiently waited, hoping we’d have to  pee


The first step onto snow I sank to my knee (6:30a).  It’d only dropped to 52F last night.  Bummer to get snow up the pants and down the (still wet) boots.  Though nice for plunge stepping down to Cub Lake basin.  In the basin the temps cooled, glad we stayed on the warm ridge with the views.  Passed the skiers with a good morning and headed north.  The basin was like a rough sea.  Ridges like large waves and sun cups like smaller ones.  I was reminded of the feel of windsurfing out into the ocean off the Oregon coast.  The rattle of the small waves and the roll going over the large waiting to see what was in the depths. 


At Cub lake, (.9m, c5365) 6:57a Carla spotted a piece of melted out trail 40-50’ above the lake pulling us into the trees.  Still snow in places made for “interesting” transitions.  The hill up to the pass had melted out quite a bit.  Not sure it made it any easier due to lack of traction and by the top the snow was getting harder.  Maybe should have donned crampons. 


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Last view of Cub Lake (sun this time)


After the 500’+ ascent to the saddle we found my stashed pro and had a little break to say bye to the area (1.2m, c5884’, 7:42).  Unlike our way in there were views this time.  A direct (ish) line to the ridge above the avy cleared slope (1.6m, c5433’, 8:03a) going a little further north for a less steep start.


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The ridge north of Cub Lake Saddle.  The col is the low point mid frame.


Here there were short trees and a lot of weaving in and out.  It proved better hanging left and moving to the south side of the slope for the more dirt barren goat paths and log walks down to the flats.  Looking up high in a tree I noticed a blue web sling (1.8m, c4960’, 8:20a).  What?  Weird for flagging and why?  What’s the story?


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The Avy field and upper Bachelor Creek (route is left and into the woods at the flat


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The area was melting out significantly since we came in


Trail, what trail

As we worked left we saw traces of the old trail under years of swept down logs and debris.  Hanging further skiers left into the woods bypassed much of the large log blowdown and below that found the good tread of the trail.  Lost again at the swampy flatter area we crossed over snow and the trail here and there.  Amazing how much melt out since we walked in.  Past the bear scat and found the wide open area with the great log crossing to the north woods (2.6m, c4567’, 8:54p, 2h23m from camp). 


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Easy walking back through the north woods, except for one point breaking through a thin snow bridge to be standing calf deep in icy water. 


---camera battery finally died. Must have been the scat ---


A little trickier remembering how to get to the south log crossing and trail.  Went too early to see what a mess the slide alder would be.  Back tracked, went further west in the north woods then found our route we took in.  Whew! Break time at the trail (3.2m, c4120’, 9:30a, 3hrs from camp).  That was the best half hour pls part of the hike out.  Now for the 2 ˝ mile downhill trip to Downey creek.  Normally I’d think I’d go fast, but we were soon to find the log crawling and mud slipping and stopping to look for the lost trail would add drama to the trip.  The tread is great, just a game keeping on it. 


I’ll spare the language I heard heading down. The last quarter mile was great and sitting next to the creek at Six Mile Shelter was a nice welcome break (5.6m, c2550’, 11:00a, 4h30m from camp). 


Down the Downey

Not much to report the trail out.  Same as the way in with mostly dry brush.  The open areas still had dew drenched brush, but the increasing heat of the day dried us off quick enough (except the boots).  The Puncheons had traction so no wild acrobatics shown.  Past Camp Boot, past Camp Spike, over the slippery log crosses, 27 puncheons, great new WTA trail work as the trail side-hilled southward.  Sunlight streaming through the tall trees highlighting the young ones.  Giant old masters looming, moss carpeting.  Patches of sunlight harboring cities of swarming no-see-ums.  This is a stunningly beautiful area to hike.


The terrain flattened then the trail started down the last third a mile or so to Downey Creek CG (11.8m, c1550’, 2:20p, 7h50m from Itswoot camp).  I checked the trail reg and no new sign ins. 


The wheels on the bike go round and round

We recovered the bikes, inflated the flat tire, fixed the shifting problem, loaded the trailer and baked in the hot sun (84F).  It felt more like being on the eastside.  Riding out a last look around.  Giant trees and quiet, I can still remember many years ago in the winter hauling my kayak down the bank to the river while it was snowing.  That’s a whole other story.


At the Downey Creek bridge we surprised a lone hiker.  Then surprised myself peddling non-stop up the hill dragging the trailer.  Wind in the face the miles sped by.  Carla had a good comment that trips like this should end with a nice downhill bike ride.  Well, next time I’ll bring bike shorts…  We passed a couple playing with their electronic devices on the Buck Creek Bridge.  Shortly after Huckleberry trail another hiker heading out.  Riding up to the gate after the short 8.5m ride (c930’, 3:50p, 55min from Downey Ck) the most amazing thing was the number of cars parked on the road –over 14!  I’d not guessed how popular the Suiattle was.


Knuckles and smiles from a great trip.  Odd though lately getting out to the trailhead so early and in the daylight. I like it. 


Thanks to all for the great beta and Carla for sharing in the adventure.  I’ll be back to the Ptarmigan, but will try avoiding the “joys” of the Bachelor Creek trail approach.  A beautiful area and true “backcountry”.  So hard to find areas that aren’t a short day jaunt from a highway or trailhead.

I can’t believe you read all this.  Now go rest your eyes, or get outside.  There’s good hiking to be had.


Thanks for reading and Happy Trails!





To the Downey CG:         1h30m,  8.5m,   740ascent

Day 1:                                    10:45m, 12.0m, 5816 ascent

Day 2:                                    13h4m,    8.7m, 5471 ascent

Day 3:                                     8h49m,  20.3m,   940 ascent

Totals:                                    34h8m, 49.5m, 12967ascent all in a 67h30m window

  By foot 32.5m, 12107, 31:42

  By bike 17.0m,     860,    2:26


Gear:       Double slings, 50m rope -for glacier travel and belay/handline to Dome summit, glacier travel gear.     ice ax, crampons…



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Downey Creek to Six Mile Shelter

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Six Mile Shelter to Itswoot Ridge



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Itswoot Ridge to Sinister



Sinister Reg:

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Dome register:


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