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Gardner Mt (8898’)

East Gardner (8725’)

 -ski SW Col East Gardner

May 4, 2011

Franklin Bradshaw


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Weather – Sun, no clouds high 30s-60s, winds low 3-6mph on summits.

Celestial – Sunrise 5:41a, Sunset 8:18p; Moonrise 6:08a, Moonset 10:21p, 1 day from new moon


Short of it

As usual this season the weather forecast is ever changing.  A one day weather window to take advantage of.  I’ve had a long day trip to the Gardners on hold waiting for more daylight hours.  Went up Wolf Creek early Am, Soft snow down low and firm up in the meadow.  Kick-stepped to summits in clear blue skies and skied the south Couloir of East Gardner.  Great corn snow turns for 3100’ vert.  Then a long traverse and on snow, then dirt, then snow, then dirt then… walk out.  Topped off with grub at the Twisp Pub.


The plan…

With snow trips taking longer than summer trips I wanted to start early.  Flipping a coin on a two day trip or could it be a day trip?  Not sure of snow depths or Cedar Creek approach or north col to the summit.  I knew the Wolf Creek route was long, but a sure thing.  Picking the right time was a toughie.  TH is higher than the trail and could be a walk into the TH (Wolf Creek). And not sure how long a walk into snow.  Well, Wednesday was for low wind and clear skies with moderate temps.  No new snow in the past couple days and next day was predicted to be cloudy and high winds (30mph+). Start early for firm snow to summit (12-1:30 goal), and softer snow to ski down.  No interested takers for this trip, so off I go solo…


Who’s afraid of the Wolf

That’s Wolf Creek.  Seems many are scared off by the long approach.  This one should be interesting with more snow than last year’s trip (May 4 this year vs. May 30 last year).  I had to use the handsaw to cut a few windfalls blocking the road to the trailhead.  Guide books said plan a three day trip.  So… I set the alarm for 3:00.  Slept through it to wake at 3:25am, a hot breakfast –brought hot water in a thermos so no waiting for a stove.  And hit the dry dirt trail at 3:55am by headlamp (c3020).  Skis and boots on pack and approach shoes with gaiters on feet.  Temps didn’t get cold last night, maybe mid 30’s?  Down the hill to the creek (c2780’), duck under a windfall and over another.  Started hitting snow patches after a mile and a half (4:30a, c3060’).  A little crust and rode on top, then break through, on top, break through…  Then relief of bare ground, then the trail is a creek, cross a creek while crawling over windfall, then another over a thin snow bridge.  More snow, float on top, break through, bare trail again.  Amazing how much slower when walking even on the snow that held me afloat.


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                                                Obvious where the trail is                                                                                                                   just look for the downed trees


Still dark the trail was easy to follow.  At 2.5m (c3160’, 4:55a) after a set of bear tracks in the snow the new log bridge over the North Fork Wolf Creek (masked by windfall).  The trail was hard to find, even with the lightening of dawn.  After the log crossing with more intermittent snow patches (6”-18” deep).  The theme seemed to be on and off snow and windfall after windfall covering the trail.  Hmmm, so, look for the windfall and thus there will be a trail… lol.  The snow patches were becoming more frequent and deeper.  Now more careful step, step and a relief til, woof! A break through. 


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                                                Wolf print                                                                                                              Bear Print


Oh, the woof… frozen in the snow were two sets of canine paw prints one small and one about 2 ˝” wide.  When you are looking for the trail, just follow the prints.  They like the trail, even when covered. 


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                                Canine  tracks


After the steep small gravel traverse high above the creek (6.3m, c4300’, 7a) the snow became much deeper and floated even better on top.  I had a couple times being off route and scrambling up hard snow to find its slight indentation in the snow, and of course fallen trees.  I knew I was making progress as I passed the sign for the South Fork Wolf Creek trail 527B (6.9m, c4570’, 7:25a) and another set of bear tracks from the day before heading south toward the creek.  And on I went finding more canine tracks to follow toward Gardner Meadows.


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                                Tall hiker in morning sun


The sunlight had changed from the warm orange morning glow to a long shadowed brightness as I entered the clearing of the burn area (7.5m, c4750’, 7:46a).  Stunning views.  Solid snow covering a beautiful blanket.


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                                                                                Looking west into Gardner Meadows


 Hillsides covered with tall trees looking like the hair of a dog standing on end.  Long shadows from each and me the flea walking amongst them. 


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                                                Short hairs on a big mountain


Looked like clear sailing, so a half hour break for breakfast number two and boots (8.2m, c5250, 8:15a).  Shoes were hard to traverse not penetrating the surface.  Tried skinning and not too much fun.  Edges wouldn’t bite in and not a good glide.  So, skis back on the pack and onward I walked.  Faster going and no windfall trees to crawl over/under/around.


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                                                Life in the burn                                                                                                                     like tentacles’ reaching out


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                                                                                                                                                                                                Ghost arm shadows


Up and up

A slow rising traverse to above Gardner Meadows to the first gulley (9.7m, c6150’), then up and zig zagging up and over left (west) two more ridges staying left of the buttress c7000’.  Didn’t like the easier pitch closer to the buttress so stayed a little left as the pitch got steeper (+45deg) and slower as sometimes breaking through to knee deep.  Around 8400’ the pitch eased rolling out of sight ahead.  To the right the impressive rock summit block of the east peak.


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                                From the meadow heading up                                                                                                           View of East summit


 I made many stops for shutter delay and to let the heart rate settle.  At times using the rest step, but liking the stopping to turn around and take in the amazing view.  Abernathy Ridge, Lamont… Memories of last year being here as a special trip.  My mind wandered as it will.  Solo trips are nice, the meditation of the mind grabbing a thought, playing with it and moving on.  A song played a thought glancing, a smile from the view or memory of a trip up one of the distant peaks I saw around.


Kick, kick, huff, huff… pause, take in the view, repeat… The slope kept leveling and there I stood on the rounded summit of Gardner (10.9m, 8898’, 12:50p, 5952ascent). 


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                                                Gardner summit



Now what

Gees! What a walk, Skis on back the whole way.  Not what I expected and also slow going.  But, oh, the views.  Amazing!  I’d picked the day perfect.  The ascent from the meadows had been with pants zipped open and in a thin single top.  Now a slight breeze on the summit bright and toasty in my puffy.  A little exploring and much shutter delay.  Always fun to play name that peak.  Remembering the unique features of some and how they look different from another angle.  The NW col to Gardner looked less steep than my pictures from last year and would have been quick and easy.  Across the void to the west was North Gardner I’d done last year.  We’d not done the main summit due to postholing to the knees in snowshoes and not willing to take a chance on the warming snow.  This time even more peaks looked familiar.  I’d explored much more in this general area last year.  West Big Snagtooth and Ragged Ridge, mighty Jack, The Pickets... To the south Reynolds, Abernathy, Star… And northward the Pasaytens, Hozemeen


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                                                                                Looking south



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                                                                                Looking west



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                                                                Across to North Gardner


I dug around in the 4-6” of snow finding only pieces of splintered rock and no register.  Packing up I headed east for the east summit.  Had cell service and called dicey to check in.  She probably only heard the rush of the wind.  And yes, there was a reg on Gardner.  Heck with it, I had the east summit to crawl to and skiing to get to.


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                                                East Gardner Summit                                                                                                                  Pick a Col


Over a bump, in a saddle, down south side around another.  Left the skis, checking a sweet looking couloirs to the south.  They started shallow then dropped off.  Couldn’t see if they went.  Ah, the joys of class 3 and 4 rock in ski boots.  This part is not easier in winter.  I kept checking out the couloirs, looked like one may go.  But where?  There was a sharp south bearing ridge that swept east blocking access to the slope I’d come up.  If I went down would there be a way out?  Would I get cliffs and have to work through?  Looked so good I knew I would be giving it a go.  Some more rock and thin (4”) snow scramble to the summit (11.3m, c8854’ per sat., 2:00pm). 


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                                                                                Gardner Summit (looking west)



More shutter delay and the usual sitting and taking in the surroundings.  A tm to tell my down route “will ski south gulley from east summit…”  More water melting (used almost 2 liters so far) and a monster sandwich.  In a way no hurry to leave.  Snow was softening nicely, sun was warm and slight breeze cooling.  Views outstanding and not tired.  Heading up peaks is hard work this time of year with asthma, best thing for it getting me to breathe deeply, with lungs for air and eyes for views.


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Starts out, then drops…                                                                                                       Didn’t even use the skins



The couloirs, where does it go

Only a short half hour break, a long way out.  A short downclimb to the solid snow and clicked into the skis.  Weird the rigid feel of solid boots after the tennis shoe feel of “walk mode”.  Snow eval, ski cutting.   Nothing moving.  A few turns and try another cut on a convex, nothing  slightly narrow turns with rocks on each side and a narrowing gap.  Another ski cut doing nothing and opened slightly for more turns, duck right around and then under a rock, wide open sweetness of spring corn,  Woowee, sweet,  all smile I kept linking turns.  Turn, turn, turn, smooth as butta’ baby!  Pulled to the far right (SW) then down, down, down pulling off right to the saddle west of point 7316’ (.9m from summit).  Great views south, valley heading lower east and north above me the col was painted with the art of my curving lines.  I like curves ; )


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                                1100’ of goodness                                                                                               Happy skier



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                                                Saddle at point 7316’                                                                                                                          Like butta’ darling…


Easy pitches heading down the valley, dropping then leveling out, larch, pine, open glades.  A pinch gulley skirted in the trees on the south and another wide open low angle slope.  Too good to stop, but eventually I did just to admire the terrain and take a picture.  So far the best spring skiing this year.  The slope pulled from eastward to southward into the east end of the burn and ready to traverse at c5600’ (2m from summit).


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                                Some tree dodging                                                                                               Last look into Gardner Meadows


Are we having fun yet

The traverse started well. Past fresh bear tracks a half mile east of the south fork trail. Around downed trees and the surprise of going over a log bump to find a drop on the backside.  Snow was soft down here (c4400’) leaving a track 9-12” deep.


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                                Slushy                                                                                                                     Still smiling


I called it the end of happy skiing at 4.5m, from the summit (c4260’, 4:15p).  Longer bare patched than the way up.  The very warm day down low had melted significant amounts of snow.  Some bare patches skied over, some dismount, some go around.  Bare patched longer and longer.  Tried to boot through some for faster walking.  Just posthole knee to thigh deep and a few places deeper.  This was going to get annoying.


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                                                New and old log bridges


My morning tracks were gone except for the spots of morning post holing.  Some new canine tracks to keep me distracted and loosing the trail before the new log bridge (8.2m from summit, c3170’, 6:25p).  I was more carrying the skis than skiing.  Long patches of snow too much a pain to posthole through so used them for floatation.  Finally at 6:40p (half mile after the log bridge) I stowed the skies and changed to trail shoes (sans gaiters) and a food break.  Of course around the corner much more postholing snow.  I felt like a Honey Badger, damn the torpedoes… on I trod.  Did I mention the log after log, after tree, after tree to go over and around on the way out?  Up the last hill happily at the trailhead, ready to be done hiking, but not tired (10.7m from summit, 7:44p).  It was a good day : )


Started out with just a long walk in the woods to transform to a truly breathtaking tour.  Great couloirs to ski, giving me pause being solo.  Knowing what I feel comfortable with I felt at ease once clicked into the skis.  And a perfect weather window and bonus of gorgeous scenery and peace in the high mountains. Another great cure for the Seattle gray. Don’t be afraid of the Wolf…


Happy Trails!




In:  11.3m, 10h8min,  6216' ascent

Out: 10.7m, 5h14min,   340' ascent

TT:    22m, 15h54min, 6556’ ascent


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Description: gardner meadows 11_0504



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