“The Honey Badger avoids a river and meets a Jackass”
Little Jackass Mt (4371' p1027)
West Ridge route, SW Bowl ski
May 6, 2012
Franklin Bradshaw, Stefan Feller, Don Beavon, Greg Koenig, Mike and Carrie Helminger
Weather: Sun, hot for spring temps. Morn clouds to clear. Super Full moon
Click for Slideshow
Hot Spring and High Avy Conditions
Hmmm, what to do. Spring with more than ample snow in the mountains and skyrocketing temperatures. After weeks since the NWAC (Northwest Avalanche Center) had stopped forecasts they made a special announcement. Yeah, up to two feet of new snow above 4-5000’. Wet, heavy, hot sun forecast and just looking for a trigger. I could hear the metaphorical screeching of brakes as people were pulling out of planned trips and searching for something more promising of high peaks and not the severe avy issues.
Want to save time reading my rambling… just jump ahead to “morning”
I got word of what sounded more like a real adventure than the regular fun summit. Foreign country, river crossings, boats, unknown snow conditions, seldom ascended summit… and a historical story behind the name. Don (PJ) and I would catch up with Stefan and Greg Saturday eve and join the four (Mike and Carrie too) on a caravan to the north end of Ross Lake. The road reports was it was clear to the border with snow. Not sure of mountain conditions or how much snow up there. This may be a peakbag or may be just an adventure…
We leave Bellingham
…on a serpentine route along Hwy 9 to the Sumas crossing. Head east on the Trans-Canada Hwy (1). Turn off for Hope on the Flood Hope Road. Left across freeway, follow road east and under the Hwy, and a right before the bridge on the small Silver Skagit Road. Don and I made a quick stop in Silver Creek for some food and leg stretch. Still daylight turning to dusk, a good time to locate a coat and headlamp before darkness.
The Silver Skagit Road was in good condition. Minor potholes and washboard in a few spots. It’s like a new road to me, last time on it was 36 or so years ago. We pass several points of interests that have been just names and lines on a map. Darkness is upon us as we pass Maselpanik Creek road (I wonder how far it goes now), Silvertip (~41km)… Then right as the road gets really good… Holy Smokes! Almost a side-drift shutting down for a big washout… I guess there is still some roadwork going on in a few places. The large and bright super fullmoon is direct in front of s. Edges of clouds at times, around another corner another great view of it… eyes back to the road. At 58.7km Passing the Chittenden Suspension bridge. A few people camped and looming in the dark at 61km a reflective sign and gate. We are at the border. To our right a light keeps shining at us. Turning around we follow it back to International Point Day-use area.
The moon now hidden, behind hill or clouds. The surrounding lit up, but no moon. AND no lake. I went for a short night ride. Only had a hiking headlamp, so limited vision. Down the boat ramp, and down and onto dirt. Dirt! Then followed a road… that’s right roads on the lake bottom. A channel foreshortened my venture. My interest was perked. It would be fun venturing the lake bottom tomorrow.
Camp was simple. Just threw the sleeping pad and bag out and curled up. The brightness was too distracting and what if the clouds cleared enough for moon views? I got up and got the camera, too bad I had not tripod. I played with images a while, all hand held long exposures. Light in the trees, halos on the clouds, faint distant peaks… It’s always hard for me to sleep with such fascination about.
I couldn’t sleep much as I kept waking to get a chance to photo the moon. It rose about sunset and set about sunrise. For the whole night the only moon we saw was on the drive down the Silver Skagit Road. Awake at 4, warm but the outside of my bag was wet with moisture. I stayed in it and warm as I checked out the new day. The skies had a dense high cloud masking the peaks. Would the sun come out as forecast to overwarm the slopes or would it stay cloudy and cool for safer travel up high? Not sure when the others planned to get up I was up and starting breakfast at 4:55. Normally would be early, but when out hiking it’s easy to start “early”.
All up and ready to hike we set off at 6:40a. The clouds looked to be thinning. Maybe the earlier darkness was from the darkness of the pre-dawn. We mounted our bikes and headed south on the road, through the international boarder gate, past the A frame ranger station, past Winnebago beach. . Last time by this beach it was packed with RVs, noise and camp fires. This time it was peaceful and quiet. The view was of a huge depression full of large stumps. No lake to be seen, just stump after stump. Strapped to the back of Stefan’s bike an extra large black duffle containing an inflatable raft to assist our upcoming water crossing. Up the road past the ranger bunkhouse and sloping down back toward the lake. At the pull out ramp and gas dock we carried the bikes down 30’ (or something of the sort) down to the flat lake bottom.
I’d thought it’d be muddy or convoluted, it was flat and there was a gravel-dirt road. I wished I taken a pano picture as we headed west to be surrounded on all sides by the mono color of the clear cut stump forest. At a T in the road we took a left. The road eventually disappeared. A fresh ATV track went further til the convoluted bottom halted our bike progress. Bikes parked, we started our by foot adventure. Little did we know how our trip would morph. First a stream we had to cross. As each step touched the middle mud/sand bump it disintegrated in the flow of the stream. And the bank also started to crumble. A little log, root gathering and we had a more solid step to assist the crossing. About 2/3 or so across the lake bed we were stopped by the deep and swift Skagit river. A gap of less than 200’ to cross with an eddy on the far side. I had a second thought seeing the raft for the intended crossing. This was a swift water crossing, not a flat lake. The raft was a “2 man” of lightweight material. On the rivers I’m used to a hardshell plastic kayak or river style rafts. I kept positive and hoped for the best.
We followed Stefan’s plan. Drag ropes across and set a line to pull across. Packs to go into the large duffle to protect the raft from sharp objects. Stefan was to be the first. Starting from a calm inlet on the east side he rowed full speed out into the current. Making good progress and just starting to get the pull of the current. Just shy of the current he started slowing from the rope drag. Now barely in the eddy the climbing rope sagged in the current and started pulling him back into the current. Rowing hard and putting his back into it to no avail. The raft pulled back into the full of the river and downstream til his drift stopped by the ropes. Guess what happens then? Yeap, water over the raft getting him wet. We found out the black duffle was far from a drybag.
If at first…
…you try again. Reset and with modifications to the plan we Stefan made a modified repeat. This time we were very vocal in our support as he pulled and put everything into it to make the eddy. All was looking great. Then… the rope sag-drag started its thing. Stefan was ready and rowed hard. Near shore he jumped out lifted the boat out of the water and pulled against the strong tug of the rope making shore. From our side was all cheering. He’d had to work for that crossing.
Now to set up for the crossing. The thicker climbing rope proved to be too short to get to the intended tie-off. Stefan attached to a slid log on the west and our side to a large stump. The line to pull the raft back had slipped out of fumble fingers hands. Stefan would ferry back with the boat and we’d start the group crossing. Intent on the action I finally noticed the sun was starting to burn though the clouds and light up the mountains and southern lakebed. This was going to be a great day, Not sure about the snow up higher, but it looked like we could get to the ridge without any avy issues. Then we’d have to evaluate as we went.
Back to our crossing, Stefan loaded into the boat and started across. Everyone in high spirits…then... Part way across for some reason Stefan returned to the west shore. What? Our side was quiet, what was going on. Stefan looked upset. What the heck? Must be bad… He hauled the mighty “Club 300” out of the water and onto shore. Now we could see it was a little limp. Uh, oh… it had a rip.
Much discussion and soon a repair kit was on its way across the river by rope express –seam grip, a variety of tapes… Maybe we should have sent some food too? While Stefan worked on the patch we scouted up the river for other options. More the same, deep swift and wide. Seemed a long time, but not long enough. The patch wasn’t going to hold enough for safe crossings. Not much choice. Stefan untied the ropes for us to recover. We packed up to meet him back at camp. He was going to have to walk three to four miles upriver to the Chittenden Suspension bridge. At least there was a bridge. It’d be a darn cold swim. Now a case of musical bikes and packs. An extra pack, raft bag, rope and bike. I humped Stefan’s still wet and dripping pack. With the smallest extra pack strapped to a bike rack we made our way back to camp. I took the challenge of riding with one hand on my handlebar and the other guiding the spare bike along the sand and rock lakebed. The hardest part was getting up and moving. Then not letting the bars lock together creating a bear trap contraption that would take me down hard, bikes pack and all. Don hung back either to help and make sure we made it back or for the amusement factor.
Back at camp we laid out the wet stuff to dry. With Stefan’s bike, I headed north a mile or something like that to hopefully find the suspension bridge across the Skagit River (10:00p). Potholes, washboard, gravel, washout… aarrrghhh. What a pain. I finally just hoisted the spare bike on my shoulder –whew! So much easier. Through the woods then an opening of light at the bridge (no pull offs for cars –go figure?). The trail from the bridge is a nice flat interpretive trail that follows an old road to the Meadows of an old homestead. Not a chance to ride with log after log crossing the road. Ahead another patch of light like the end of a tunnel. Almost at the opening a movement from the left. A man in a life jacket! “Hey sailor, want a bike to ride?” Great timing meeting Stefan at the Chittenden Meadows. We high-tailed it back to the campground for lunch and to figure out where to go next (10:45p).
The sun was out with only a few wisps of louds in the sky. Warm with a slight chill. The perfect temperature. We poured over some great ideas. Looked at maps and beta. We needed something shorter since the day was half through. Some good options were rated at 11 hours. Those were out. Next to us was a short trip. Most of us had yet to do Little Jackass. 1027’ of prominence and just under 4800’. It was also the closest peak to camp.
Repacked we were back on bikes heading to the Hozomeen Lake TH by 11:20 (c1630’). Our third border crossing of the day. Past the bunkhouses, left and to the cabin at the trailhead (11:30p, 1.3m, c1765’). Stash the bikes and up the Hozomeen Lake trail. A small bit of windfall as we climbed, then the path was gentle and calming. So much nicer being cool, the last time going up this trail it was mid-summer in sweltering heat. We figure we needed to go about half way to the lake to get around the cliffy NE buttress. If we went too far it’d be steep again. We passed a group of hikers with binoculars, a small stream, a large log about ten feet above the trail and then another small stream. 35 paces more and we took a right to start bushwhacking up the east face of Little Jackass (12:12p, 2.9m, c2505’). Were we right? The terrain was nearly flat. Soon that was alleviated with the terrain starting to pitch up. Wet, moss, rock, oh, ouch… darn thorny brush. Stefan was off like a shot up with some vegi belaying, some rock cliffy areas on the left. A little zig sagging and not getting my hand under the persons foot in front of me. The slope got more reasonable then opened to a creek, wet rock area, then back to trees and now some soft snow. Stefan and group veered left (east) while Martin and I headed straight up. Definitely scrambling as we started toward the ridge east of the summit we could see the rest of the group. We all converged about the same time and headed NW along the flattening summit ridge and flat area to the dry high point (3.7m, 1:30pm, 4371’, +2753’vert ).
Watch out for bears
The sun was blazing and the views out of this world as usual for the Cascades. North in front of us the seemingly too steep slopes of the SW col of South Hozomeen and the sheer south face of North Hozomeen. Far below the dry lake bed of Ross Lake and nestled under the south peak was Hozomeen Lake nestled in the woods and a little bump to its west that was the stirring of many a joke while we lounged in the sun. Well, except Stefan. He was out like a light for a perfect power nap. We ate, chatted, wandered the summit and leered at Rayburn. We’d spent the morning and not made much of a dent getting to it. Maybe next time a different approach.
Eventually we started heading down (2:50p), after leaving a register and Stefan waking. Basically, following out up route. SE along the ridge to a saddle dip, then left (north) and down moving leftish. I lost track of the group extricating myself from a posthole incident. Found my way through the middle of the cliffs (c3320’, 3:20p) and to the trail about 10’ from where we’d left it (3:42p). A few hoots, but didn’t hear anything. Only a few windfalls to crawl over and a nice warm walk out for early spring. Greg and Don were already at the trailhead cabin (2.5m from summit, 4:17p, c1760). Shortly, Stefan Carrie and Mike arrived with a story of having found a dead bear while bushwhacking –and they had pictures to back up the story.
The rest of the story was pretty much the usual. Ride back north across the border for another crossing. Get a brochure for reading about the park, load up the cars and head out. It’s been 35 years since being on the road out, so it was like a new experience. I’ll be back…
Another fun adventure and one that could have gone so many ways. Thanks for the invite Stefan! : )
Thanks for reading and Happy Trails!
We spent 4 hours and 9.6 miles with about 50’ vert playing near the river trying to cross
Stefan total: 16.6 miles
My total: 17.4 miles
Others total: 13.8 miles
Little Jackass Mt. stats:
Up: 3.7m, +2753’vert, 2h10m
Down: 4.1m, -2753’ vert, 1h50m
Gear: Raft, crampons, ice axe, ropes… hmmm, maybe not the best combo. Add life vests for a complete kit
Avy forecast poem from NWAC:
It’s almost mid-May and snowdepths are dropping—
Temperatures are climbing and La Nińa is stopping.
But still lots of snow left to warm, melt and settle—
A natural process in which you don’t want to mettle.
Glide cracks and cornices are opening and falling—
And require extra care so its not you they are mauling.
There is ample wet snow that slides gouge and entrain—
Forming big debris piles and maybe death or great pain.
And a large spring slide cycle may yet be in the works—
As ripe snow by the ton on steep slopes still lurks.
Light winds, sun and warmth may be great for your mind—
But are not so good for the snowpack you’ll find.
With freezing levels reaching 12K or higher—
Copyright 2012, FWB, all rights reserved