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Mr H dreams of Kansas and we find the “Pugsley Way””

Toto/Dorothy Peak (4960', p440')

Mile High (5280', p1120')


Lake Dorothy/Toto and NW ridge

Nov 4, 2012

Stefan Feller, Greg Koenig

Weather: Drizzle, low visibility, temps in high 50s



It’s raining, it’s been raining since middle of last month.  After 80 some days of dry it’s raining.  Stefan was getting antsy.  I was out last week in the rain kayaking in a full drysuit -it was the right choice.  Now we were itching for a hike… and it’s raining.  Several flung emails around and looked like interested parties for the drier day of the weekend.  Sunday?  Or would that be Rainday?  Prime destination was chosen –Mile High via Toto (aka Dorothy) due west from the north end of Lake Dorothy up the Miller River road out of Skykomish.  Mile High is on the Front Court list There was little beta.  Jeff Howbert’s site had a 1995 TR of six making possibly the first ascent via Lake Dorothy and Toto.  Also found a TR From Mike Collins on WTA and HWH from a route up Smith Creek.  Being a Home Court Peak I figure many people would have summited and there’d be more beta.


So route in would be across the outlet of Lake Dorothy (possible ford), over Toto then to the NW ridge and up.  From there of Toto was a pain and we didn’t want to ford again, drop down from Pugsley  Pass and Lake Pugsley to a mentioned trail from a NWH tr by GeoHiker.


"The camping sites are overgrown and it doesn't appear that too many go up there anymore.  It used to be a popular trip across the lake when the mobs visited Dororthy.  I went across on my Curtis and hiked up the outlet stream.  Easy to follow trail for the most part."  -Geohiker 2005


Saturday was a nice day in town, and looked wet in the mountains.  I was thinking of going to the NSAS(NW Snow and Avalanche Symposium) instead of a wet hike.  I just couldn’t hold myself back.  After seeing Stefan Saturday eve I did not want to miss out on the fun.  Aren’t all his trips fun in one way or another?  Well, you almost always have a good story to tell about them later.


You can always read Stefan’s short and more concise tr and just browse the pictures here.  Oh, the slideshow link at top goes to larger images (and more)


Will we get past Cascade Pass

First carpool meeting was in Bellevue.  Janet happened to be meeting her carpool at the same P&R.  I called and asked if she’d seen Stefan.  She didn’t see Stefan, so he’d either already passed by, or got smart.  Even with the extra hour of sleep, I was 7 minutes late (6:25) pulling into Monroe via Highway 2.  Merging from Hwy 522 a silver bug pulled alongside.  It was Greg.  Well, that meant at least two of us.  If Stefan wasn’t there I’d wait a bit then vote to head home to nap: -)  At least it was dry down here.

As we both pulled around the corner, there stood Stefan in the dark, headlamp aimed checking out maps.  A little discussion, a look at the live radar image showed it was raining in the area we were heading.  Stefan gave us an out.  Silly as boys are, we were up for the hike and eagerly voted in for it –silly boys.


Forty minutes later we pulled off the highway at Money Creek (before the tunnel) and anther turn we were driving in the dark up the gravel Miller Rover Road (NF 6410).  I remember this road being long, it seemed like any moment we’d be on an onramp and I 90.  Instead we found a dark and drizzle trailhead.  Signs covered for winter.  Seems I’ve done this before.  Dark wet start… each time wondering why, each time whether wet and/or cold enjoying the walk in the woods.  The smell of fall, sweet decomposing leaves, fall colors littering the ground, the quiet of the wet foliage and knowing that even a popular location as this we’d not see another soul.


Bedecked in rain pants, gators, rain hat, pack cover…  Only way to protect more would be to crawl into a giant baggy…  We hit the trail just before 8:00.  Some merciless souls have put in a million wet stairsteps and wet planks most the way to the lake.  Out 40 minute hike in was testing wet steps on the wood and hoping not to find the slick spot.  I think for this stretch we all succeeded.  The 1.3 miles (760vert) to the lake was warm.  By the lake I was still dry, but Greg was starting to look on the verge of getting wet, he hadn’t put on rain pants and wearing his vest. 



Lake Dorothy                                                                                                                                        Benchmark at outlet


Time for the real thing

At the north end lake outlet was a benchmark in the stone (3000’) and most importantly a nice logjam.  This could be good.  Stefan was already crossing as we looked up the dark gray lake that was not quite blending into the gray sky.  Then he stopped, looked around paused…  Darn, I knew what that meant.  Now what?  Before we could catch up, Stefan had de-booted, rolled up his pants and was well nearly thigh deep in the swift current and across.  It took me longer.  I stripped down hoping to keep the pants dry and also not drop my boots in the stream.  I’ve heard stories, and Greg and I laughed at the idea of walking back to the car barefoot.



Lake Dorothy Outlet logjam                                                                                                               Stefan fording –was over knee deep


The water was warm, then cold, then my feet were cold enough to start to hurt, keep going, one more step up to a rock, stable, don’t slip.  Wheh! Made it!  Took more time to hop putting pants on in the wet puddle.  Ever try putting socks on wet feet?  The crossing took a total of 20 minutes (8:55a,).  Amazing how much time for transitions.  From here it was up the ridge.  Navigation wise easy, brush wise a bugger.  Everything was dripping wet –except us (so far).  A few logs to work over and at first the brush was a pain in the butt, then a blessing to hang onto as the pitch steepened and the duff was slippery.  Even with trying to edge I found myself several time flying down the hill –luckily only a short distance.



The brush cleared a moment –Stefan hiking into the clouds                                        Greg negotiating some rock features


The air was still only a light drizzle as we hiked in the cloud, but each branch, needle and leaf was heavy with water.  We kept up the rib with a little jog here and there at some rack outcrops.  Left through the trees we could see an impressive rock wall with water running down the slabs.  Only a few weeks ago my main trip worry was where to find water.  Not a problem today. There were a few rock features to negotiate.  One was the first of blindly dropping through green to lower down a rock face.  Almost the high point, but a 200+’ traverse west brought us to mossy high point of Toto (aka Dorothy, peak 4960’) with large upright boulders (2.2m, 2696ascent, 2h30m -1h30m from outlet).




Summit rock of Toto (aka Dorothy)                                                   Relaxing in the clouds on Toto


I don’t think we are in Kansas

The summit showed no sign of ascents.  Looking around I didn’t find anything to make a little cairn and didn’t want to bother pulling out a register to leave.  So even though we all clambered on top of the boulder it still looks untouched. 



King of the rock piles: Greg, Franklin and Stefan


The ridge west was a pleasant walk.  Heather, an old blueberry (tasted mushy ;-), a heart shaped tarn… a third of a mile with less than a 30’ change in elevation.



Toto Ridge  and heart shaped tarn


Now a steep very slippery drop.  Did I mention it was very wet and VERY slippery.  The pitch was steep enough that if you started sliding you may not stop.  Some creative route details and use of vegie belays got us down to better angled walking and to the long flat of Pugsley Pass (2.8m, 11:14a, c4485).  To the left looked like a good option out.  It was 2h20m from the outlet to here (so far). Going up would not be fun and going down the east ridge of Toto would definitely not be fun.  Hard enough with no traction going up.  I cringed at the thought of the wet duff and trying to go down.  Erase that from my mind -that would be for later.



Puglsey pass push ups                                                                                                        Why are these guys smiling so much?


Time to traverse west on the north side of the ridge.  A nice wet heather walk around some wet spots. Up heather, then add granite with wet slime or moss.  Even in the flatter areas a slip was common.



The traverse on the north side of Mile High                                                                                                                     Beautiful views, sun or not


I slowed for the rock with special care to stay upright.  We rose to c4700’ and traversed the boulder fields.  A pause to look direct up at the trees on an upper ledge and the summit.  A gulley that disappeared into the fog, but no reports and the preliminary look had it a no go. 



Greg and Stefan assessing options                                                                                   NW Ridge visible past the boulder field


West, west, west to the NW ridge.  At c4800’ (3.6m, 12:05p) Stefan found a short weakness with a class 3+ move to gain the NW ridge proper  directly at a tarn (on the map). 


First NW Ridge tarn


Up the ridge was heather, rock and boulders.  Water flowed out of a hole in the side of the hill.  Weird so much water flow so near the summit.  A hundred feet up it was back into trees and slippery needle duff.  A choice at c5000 was up a ridge to a false summit and heavily small scrub fir treed ridge, or left past a tarn and across a boulder field, under a cliffy area toward the summit. 


Tarn #2 at c5000’ ledge


The general rule seems to be don’t go high to early.  We traversed the boulder filed east til an impassable gulley.  Maybe with dry weather and a rope it would be doable, but today a not go.  Greg and Stefan headed back west.  I tried another notch up cl3, then cl4, then a cl5 move that was not protectable.  I bailed back down and tried to follow where I think the others went.  Amazing how much easier it is when you are just following others.   Now though I could only hear noise above to know a general direction.


Try and try again, where’s the ridge

How to get through this crux?  I looked for greener looking scrub fir.  Greener meant the water had been knocked off.  Whitish was heavily water laden.  It worked in places, but I had several attempts to find a way through.  All of this would be easier when dry.  The most success was that I was cleaning the water from the brush.  I gained the boulder spiked ridge (c5120’, 12:35p). It was steep on both sides.  Only route was the ridge.  Tight trees to get through, boulders to climb up, over and lower off.  Places to feet first (if lucky) drop through the floor of wet green to who knows what is below. Several places crawling on hands or knees and almost belly. More tight squeezes. 



Easy part of the ridge                                                                                                          More ridge…


Did I mention it was wet?  It was not far to the high point, but the going was slow.  A precarious couple spots traversing and relying on vegie belay. A spot of tight large branches that felt like I’d be stuck and not get through.  Not only slow, the careful footing, trying to not slip, vegie protecting and not trusting any step was using a lot of energy.  Jeff’s tr had mention, “became more narrow and broken, with steep dropoffs on one or both sides, and lots of scrub fir occluding the route.”  This was an understatement. So far this trip was a big workout for a relatively short trip.  Greg followed Stefan east up the ridge, I tried a sucker ledge SE.  A few hairy wet moves and I could see the summit forty feet away.  Too bad I could get there past the narrow boulders and deep gaps. The east ridge looked impressive.  Sure glad we didn’t try that way.



From north ridge –that doesn’t go                                                                                    view of east ridge from north ridge


…I had to backtrack.  I finally dragged my now wet butt to catch up at the boulder spiked summit  of Mile High (peak 5280,  4.0m, 5h from car 2h30 from Toto, 3566vert). 



Greg at the summit of Mile High                                                                                                        Views from the summit


The promised land

My mind was keeping nice warm dreams.  Though this was not the promised land and nothing like Kansas. No sunshine, no wide wheat field flowing in the breeze, no grand views, no warm dry towels and hot lunch.  This was the top of a dripping wet mountain in a cloud in the middle of the cascades.  Welcome to real life, and life is good.  I’m glad I’m not in Kansas.



The wet registers. A film can looked like a Roper reg and the tube is a Fay register.


We could make out “Mile High 5280” and “nightmare”, the rest all faded.  Backside was Mitch Blanton, and 6/25/03, Mark Owen.

The Fay register: “April 30, 2007 Fay Pullen”, “Ken Hoffman July 22, 2010”. And now our new entries.


A slight breeze, soaking wet registers, in the drizzle of the clouds.  Not what most would call fun, but I was out in the mountains and life is good.  The registers had been properly placed, yet were soaking wet.  Maybe need to have little rock houses for them or... Register signed, I changed to my third dry shirt, ate.  Mr H came out of hiding for a brief moment.  He’s not a fan of getting wet, so a little look around and he was happily back in his rain protector to nap and dream of a play day with Mukmuk.  For the rest of us within a half hour we started down. 



Stefan shows his love of cloud hiking as Greg wrings out his socks                             Mr H likes Orange jacket day


Going down the ridge was no easier.  Just reverse all the stuff I mentioned of going up, ducking, crawling, clinging, foot jammed, slipping...  At one point I stopped to look behind.  Stefan was making his way from a green floor to cracks in boulders.



Heading back west on the ridge                                                                                        Greg popping up through the green


I heard a voice and from the middle of the green floor Greg popped up like a sea monster from the deep.  It was a priceless moment.  We followed the ridge back to the 4800’ ridge tarn and lowered through down the little chimney.  Some dirt then a long boulder traverse.  Well, always seems at least twice as long going back. 


Back across the boulders


Greg lead us on a lowering traverse, very pretty area.  This would be a nice visit in good weather.  Less than an hour we were at the low point of Pugsley Pass (5.0m, 2:38p). 


Up or down

Unlike the 1995 party, we decided to drop to Lake Pugsley and avoid the extra up and nasty brush of our approach.  It started out standard NW brushwhacking, then I spent the next 2 ½ hours brushing my teeth with huckleberry, evergreen and salmonberry branches.  A few hundred feet below the pass a set of tarns.  Followed the outflow and worked right to avoid the sheer cliffs to the east.  C3960 we crossed south a decent size creek and more steep careful down making full use of any and all belay options.  Some spots were easier to walk down the creek than beside it.  We weren’t worried about getting wet. Skirted glorious slide alder to the flatter area above Lake Pugsley. The brush was persistent, we were more so.  The weeks of rain filled in the marshes.  Stefan didn’t mind and just walked through them like it was a sandy warm beach.  Over a creek (Greg and I used a log) and out of the trees to the west marshy end of Lake Pugsley (5.7m, 3:35, c4105’).  The gray water and skies, green trees and vertical lines of the grass didn’t hide the round circles created from the rain on the lake.  We kept after Stefan as he walked through the marsh and across another creek almost knee deep.  Greg and I were still pretending to somewhat dry and found a good log to use to cross.  Funny since I could see Greg’s pants were heavily sodden and looked like lead weights.  There’d been much talk earlier about whether our inner pants were dry or even up. 


The west inlet end of seldom visited Lake Pugsley


Lake Pugsley express trail, or not

We’d hoped with this lake being so close to popular Lake Dorothy (and the trip report mention) there’d be a trail around the lake.  The circling CCW of the lake was a mix of water, mush, brush, trees, teeth brushing, boulder and moss –no trail new or old.  Along the way we found ample evidence of beaver activity, but no sign of any animals.  Even the water lovers were bunkered down.  About 35 minutes brought us to the east end of the lake.  No sign of camps or lake on the south side of the creek, only heavy brush.  Time for creek crossing #3.  Again Stefan just walked across the deep spot, while we pretended to try to stay dry rock/log hopping.  In the outlet was an old Shasta Cola can.  Maybe there was a trail.  We tried to imagine a trail.  All I felt was salmonberry thorns in my hands, brush in teeth and trapped laces and ankles.  I have no idea how many times a slip would find me picking myself up.  I was bracing more on my pole.  If nothing else today was going to be a good workout.


Less than a half mile to Lake Dorothy took less than 20 minutes. Even downhill was a lot of work.  We were happy to reach the lake in “daylight  Another creek cross as we started the ¾ mile trek south to the find the “real” trail.  Along the lake wasn’t easy going.  Some rock ribs reached all the way into the water.  Inland was more tangled brush.  Over a taller headland and down the south gulley we found more of the same with the addition of hugely mutated sized mushrooms, fungus and puff balls.  They were larger than a head –amazing.  It was darker, all part of a heavily clouded day. 


Starting to get dark traversing south at Lake Dorothy


Our goal was the reach the trail before dark.  This was going to be close since sunset was now 4:47p.  Out of the woods it was lighter with a good view of the lake and many islands.  The gentler sloped hill wasn’t a cake walk.  Boulders under fallen bracken fern.  Previous BFZs (bracken fern zones) were pleasant compared to the other brush.  This BFZ was treacherous with slips and boot grabbing rock gaps.  So much for any sign of an old trail.  Not sure what was waning faster, the light or our energy as we topped a rise and Greg spotted the “real” trail (45min from Pugsley creek, 5:03p, 7.2m, c3050’).


Easy trail all the way back, right…

We sat down in the trail for a break.  Ate and drank as the lights were switched off.  The rest of the trip would be by headlamp.  It was going to be 3.5 miles out, the best part is it was all trail.  Or so we thought.  Walking the trail of wet exposed roots and rocks was slow.  The trail went east and south.  The car was north.  Was this the right way?  Crossed a creek on a bridge –wheh, that was easy.   More winding and, and, ah, darn.  The air was misty enough to block good visibility.  Did I miss the trail.  I pulled out the map.  Only one trail on it.  I’d stopped at a wide stream, where’d the trail go.  Southward was blocked with downed branches.  By headlamp no visible bridge and no rocks to hop.  With all the time and effort for the steps and bridges why was this left untouched?  We explored back up the trail at a smaller trail –only lead to a dark wet camp.  Back to the creek and Stefan was disappearing into the dark mist with no bother of the water.  I rock hopped then ran the deep section.  It was a wide crossing and going fast seemed to work.  Another nearly 2 miles of wet roots, rock, ponded trail and darkness a ways above the lake to steps leading back down to the north end lake outlet. 


No pictures, in the dark as we waited to make sure everyone made it this far.  Maybe this was the crux, the million or so steps down, across the giant bridge over the raging creek that was more a river and the trailhead just never appeared.  Did I mention that we’d proven years ago that a repeated trail out is over twice as long as going in?  At least seems that way.  The Wilderness sign hidden on the north side of a tree and finally, the wintered trailhead signs and the parking lot.  Amazingly enough on such a nice evening it was empty except for Stefan’s car (10.9m, 7:00p, c2040, 5h40min from Mile High summit).


I’d been smart enough to bring a towel and dry clothes.  I was surprised my “inner pants” were dry., just the shells soaked.  Stripped down, dry and wet stuff crammed in the back we were happily all safe, and heading down the road as it finally started to rain.   Driving west on Highway 2, it was dumping by Everett.  Even with new top of the line water repelling, who cares about the snow… tires it was a full attention drive.  I think a boat would have done as good.  Looks like we were lucky to have only drizzle for our “drier day” trip.  Rain, blizzard or sunshine, there’s always a good story to be told.  On this trip we didn’t want Stefan to have all the fun by himself.  We know of all people he’d go for it and be successful.


Post log

Monday found me tired.  I still climbed the two floors to work rather than the elevator.  Hands tender, swollen and cut.  I used a microscope and blade to remove over a dozen salmonberry thorns.  Popped some IB and drank copious amounts of water.  It felt like I’d had a nice hike, way more than the short of 11 miles.  Most sore though were my triceps. I’ve never done so much pulling brush apart, vegie belaying and un-successful edging on a trip.  Now to get the energy to stay awake long enough to vote.  I think that was the biggest crux –keeping awake though all that legal description reading.  I awoke in my office chair.  Up the stairs and lights off, my bed and sleep never felt so good.


I think at this point I say thanks Stefan and Greg for the adventure…  And thanks to Stefan for carrying the pro, and Greg for carrying the rope that must have gained another 5 pounds of water weight.  Good thing it didn’t rain –lol.


Thanks for reading, and happy trails,




TH to Toto/Dorothy: 2.2m, 2696vert, 2h30m

Toto to Mile High: 1.8m, 870vert, 2h30m

      (car to MH 4.0m)

Mile High to Car: 6.9m, 5h40m.

Total: 10.9m, +/-3996vert, 11h8m


Gear:    pro and rope –not used. Rain gear and pole -used



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