This is Jeff. I’m going to take a turn writing the blog this week.
First of all: rest days. Rest days can be restful, but also demanding. There are items to be bought, things to be repaired, food to be eaten and planning to be done. The list goes on. At the end of our rest day in Winthrop we were shopping for food, and Langdon stopped dead and said “my brain isn’t working.” There’s just a lot to figure out.
Also, sleep can be very good but it’s easy to get preoccupied and not get enough. So I think for our next rest day, we will be writing out a schedule to make sure we get all the things that we need taken care of, but also reserve more time for naps and sleep. That’s why I’m writing a blog, because I think writing a blog took a lot of energy for Langdon, and he’s been pulling far more than his share of the social media duties.
We left Winthrop early in the morning heading up the Chewuch river. The road was paved and a gentle grade, and then we turned left at 8 Mile Creek.
The grade steepened and as we climbed up into the mountains, and eventually we arrived at the trail head for Copper Glance Lake and the Craggy peaks. We followed the trail for a couple of miles before diverting towards our objectives. We’ve come to appreciate trails that don’t mess around with their elevation gain, and the Copper Glance trail certainly fit the bill. We climbed Big Craggy first, and not finding any climbers trail, we just climbed through a burned area over fallen logs and open undergrowth. Some scree and talus, “scralus,” brought us onto the upper slopes of Big Craggy. Big Craggy gave us a very different perspective on the mountains we had been climbing, and it was really cool to see the view from that new angle.
View from Big Craggy of mountains for the week (left to right): Lake, Monument, Blackcap, sub-summit of Big Craggy, Lago, Lost and Ptarmigan.
Also in the valley north of Big and West Craggy there is a cool rock glacier!
We traversed to the notch with West Craggy and climbed up. Although West Craggy looked cliffy from below, our way up was pretty straightforward. More great views, especially of the Pasayten Peaks, which we would climb in the next few days. We headed back down towards the trail through spectacular fields of wildflowers: valerian, paintbrush, lupine, and larkspur. One thing about the Bulgers is that they’re so big that each one has a diverse geography, ecology, and of course fantastic views.
On the way down, we stopped at the old Coppermine, donned headlamps and explored the tunnels. Old tracks lead through different tunnels into the mountain. The overall length of the mine was about 300 feet. It’s interesting to see the legacy of old mining in the Cascades, especially with our push for renewable energy, and the materials needed for a net zero future.We are privileged to not have to mine these minerals in our pristine wilderness areas, but instead they often are outsourced to poor countries with lax environmental and labor policies. All of which seems a bit like environmental arbitrage. The biggest mining residue that we’ve seen on this trip is around Holden Village, which we saw from Copper Peak. There is a huge containment pond and wastewater treatment center to deal with the acid mine drainage from this hundred-year-old mine.
We hiked the rest of the way down to the bikes, loaded up, and rode back down 8 Mile road to the Chewuch. Turning uphill, we biked another 30 mile. The road was smooth and paved and got progressively steeper as we progressed up the canyon. I had once run a marathon on this road downhill, and while biking up it I realized the advantage that that gave. Nearing Thirtymile, we stopped at the memorial for the four firefighters killed in 2001. These were locals: Tom Craven from Roslyn; Karen Fitzpatrick, Jessica Johnson, and Devin Weaver from Yakima.
After paying our respects, we rode the last few miles to the trail head. We actually arrived well before dark, and had time for dinner, a bath in the stream, and an early bedtime.
The next morning, we set off up the Chewuch with a side trip to Windy Peak. Windy is the farthest east Bulger and it’s a bit of a detour to reach. Our first obstacle was that the maps incorrectly located the Windy Creek Trail, and we spent some time puzzling over the start of the trail, and if we should try to bushwhack through the burn zone or find another trail. We decided it was better to stay on the trail and we hiked on a bit farther and were grateful to see the actual start of the Windy Creek Trail. The trail wound up through burn zone in lodgepole pine, gradually climbing in a landscape that looked more like Colorado than the Cascades. As we neared the peak, clouds were building and thunder was rumbling. When we reached tree line, we had a short discussion about whether we should quickly tag the summit or try to wait to see if conditions improved. We decided to make a quick dash for it and had our shortest summit visit of the trip so far.
As we descended, centimeter-size hail stones pelted us, and claps of thunder sounded overhead. The valley on the other side of windy peak was in the thick of a storm, but the edge had spilled over to us. Pleased to have made the summit (and still be alive), we headed back down the Windy Creek Trail. We were all feeling a bit groggy so after a 10-minute nap on the side of the trail, we continued our descent. We reached our packs, and began hiking up the Chewuch and Tungsten Trail. As we climbed, we saw evidence of the thunderstorm, which we had mostly dodged. Parts of the trail had turned into a stream and collected 6-inch deep drifts of hailstones. After a long stretch, we arrived at the Tungsten mine, an old operation at the junction with the Pacific Northwest trail. We saw a couple through hikers and a trail crew there.
After poking around the buildings for a few minutes, we hit the road towards Cathedral Pass.
A stunning section of trail above tree line led us to the pass and a lovely campsite on bare rock.
We woke early and made the short climb up Cathedral. The summit is guarded by a deep chasm with a step across move. A fall here would be unfortunate. Great views in all directions!
We descended and climbed Amphitheater mountain just across the way. The summit plateau of Amphitheater has a beautiful tundra surface. Dwarf lupine was a favorite flower. We continued down south towards Remmel. We had planned to shortcut over a pass, and shortly after stepping off of the maintained trail, encountered lots of blow down and brush. And bugs! We toiled up the mountain side to the high pass, trailing a huge cloud of mosquitoes and flies, descended to Four Point Lake, and dropped our packs for the ascent of Remmel. We were surprised that there was a trail the entire way up! Remmel must have been a fire lookout, and the smooth trail made the ascent quick. We saw a person on top, the first person we had seen on the summit of a Bulger since Rainier. After admiring the views from the monarch of the Pasayten, we descended to our bikes, a long 15-mile journey on trails. We were thankful to have gotten these six peaks climbed because this is such a fire prone area. We arrived in Winthrop just in time for a huge dinner at Washington’s oldest tavern, Three Finger Jacks.
We were on the road by six with a pitstop at the Mazama store and on to the Monument Creek trail head. The forecast was for severe thunderstorms, but we figured we would get as far into the hills as we could and see what happened. The Monument Creek Trail is relatively flat for 3 1/2 miles before crossing Eureka Creek where we had a nice sponge bath. Then the trail turns uphill spectacularly climbing towards Pistol Pass. As we climbed thunderclouds built and the afternoon took on an ominous feel. We had some discussion and decided the wisest course was to wait at Lake of the Woods instead of tempting fate in the high country. We set up camp and fell asleep at four for a nice nap. At 4:45 I was awakened by bright sunshine on the tent. I went outside and the storm had cleared: no thunder and blue skies! We quickly packed up and took the gully up Lake Mountain. We traversed the north ridge of lake to a pass, dropped our packs and headed towards Monument. The main route up Monument involves dropping low in the basin, but the east ridge is more direct. The east ridge involves some third and fourth class scrambling andwas a spectacular evening outing. We summitted Monument in the golden minutes of sunset with spectacular light on a few lingering clouds.
It was certainly one of the most dramatic summits of the trip. There is a cannon hole between Monument and its sub summit, which is quite wild. We wouldn’t want to fall in there!
Mt Lago through the cannon hole.
We reversed the down climb just before darkness and took out headlights to work our way back to our packs. Our packs were in a nice flat spot, but there was no water so we had to drop down a steep and loose dirt gully to get to the basin under Blackcap peak, where there were streams. This gully was pretty gross, especially at night.
After dropping about 800 feet of loose moraine, dirt and rocks we were in the basin proper and climbed up till we found the flattest spot we could find. Our campsite had amazing water. There are snow fields in the upper valley which drain meltwater into talus. The water comes out of the talus at the top of the Meadows into deep, narrow pools of crystal clear water.
The weather seemed to be holding so next morning we headed up Blackcap Peak and discussed strategy for Lost and Ptarmigan, both long out and back trips from our main course. We decided to take one light day pack and try to do the out and backs as quickly as possible. We made it to Lost, which is several miles east of the rest of the peaks. Being so isolated, Lost had a fantastic view. We were doing math with times and wondering if we had time to make it out to Ptarmigan when thunder rumbled. The universe was telling us: “Your plans are stupid! You do not have enough time to make this trip! (Thunderclap!)” We traveled down to Eureka Creek and set up camp in pouring rain.
We went to bed at 4 PM, so after a healthy eight hours of sleep woke up and headed up Mount Carru at 1 AM. We struggled a little bit with the route finding in the dark, at one point, ending up below a cliff and not knowing which way to go. It turned out to be a very easy problem, and when we looked in the daylight saw that it was a small cliff all off on its own, and we could easily go around either side. We climbed up into a cloud, and the only reason we knew we were on the summit was because we found the summit register. We descended towards the Carru-Lago col, and began climbing Lago.
The summit of Lago at 6AM was also in a cloud, but the sun was trying to poke through. But the clouds meant we couldn’t see our route towards Ptarmigan. I first went down a possible snow gully before realizing it ended in cliffs. We worked farther to the east, and found a proper descent, an easy scree field and snow route to the most amazing ridge walk . The ridge was shrouded in fog almost the entire way and we navigated with our phones, mostly staying on the crest of the ridge where the walking was easy. A couple of times we skirted to the side and once, unintentionally, I began down the wrong ridge off of Dot mountain. We corrected that mistake with a lot of scree side hilling. The sun was still trying to break through the clouds and we had hopes for a beautiful afternoon.
The final stretch to the summit of Ptarmigan Peak contains some of the most spectacular tundra I’ve seen. An incredible diversity of tiny plants crowds into this frigid environment. I was walking along and saw movement in front of me- a ptarmigan chick. Then another. I was surrounded by baby ptarmigan! The mother was clucking and distracting us from her chicks.
The sun cleared as we climbed the tundra slopes to the summer of ptarmigan peak. Clouds lingered over the western Cascades, but the views were opening up.
Ptarmigan is a long way from anywhere, and I had last been to this mountain in 1996 instructing an Outward Bound course. The thing that is so cool about these Bulger summits is that every one is different. The problem with doing them all so quickly is that we can’t spend hours on every summit.
We reversed the ridge walk with much better visibility, and we were back on the summit of Lago by 11. We chose an alternate descent down a scree gully, made it back to camp, packed up and headed towards Lake Doris, the gateway to Osceola. Osceola seems to get climbed a lot more as it has a reasonably good climbers path most of the way up. We descended to Lake Doris and took the well maintained trail past Fred’s Lake to the Pasayten River Valley. By 630 we have been hiking for 17 hours and decided it was time to stop. My feet didn’t hurt that badly while hiking, but as soon as I stopped, they informed me of the punishment I put them through. After a delicious Phad Thai dinner, we were in bed by 7:30.
A refreshing eight hours of sleep later and we were on the trail towards Robinson by dawn. One of the things about being human powered is that our routes are different than if we had cars. So instead of a shorter hike and a car ride to the Robinson trail head, we hike another 9 miles down Robinson Creek and then we would come out about a mile from our bicycles at the end of the day.
The penalties of human powered- we have to hike through valleys like this!
We stashed our overnight gear at the Beauty Creek trail junction for the climb of Robinson. Under blue skies we decided to go light with one rain jacket. There was a good trail most of the way up to a beautiful basin with a small lake. From here we ascended scree, and a ridge that Fred Becky calls “a classic Alpine scramble.”
Summit group pic on Robinson
The views were amazing, as is par for the Bulgers. On our way down, it began to rain, keeping a perfect streak of rainy days on this segment in tact. We biked down to Mazama, where we visited with the Larson’s who were vacationing right along our route.
Now we are in Mazama and preparing for the big trip.
Calculating calories for the Big Trip
The big trip is our 17 day trip to some of the most remote reaches of the cascades. There’s a lot of food to buy and logistics to take care of. You won’t see a blog post for quite a while because we will be OUT there!
Our total mileage for the last 6 days is 258 miles and 58,323 ft of climbing. 56 Peaks climbed to date.