Mt. Stuart - The Complete North Ridge

Mt. Stuart summit via the Complete North Ridge route, one of Roper/Steck’s 50 Classic Climbs of North America and one of my proudest so far. Click the pic above or most pics for a much larger version of Facebook. You can also like my Facebook page if you want to see my photography in your FB feed every now and then.

After a failed attempt on the North Ridge a few weeks ago, Audrey and I decided to give it another try this past weekend. Her friend Jack was in town and decided to join. Jack actually made the thing doable – he’s a really good trad climber and ended up leading the entire route. I generally suck at climbing, Audrey is an amazing sport climber, but doesn’t have as much experience as Jack doing trad. Neither had experience in alpine climbing (correction Audrey had done Der Sportsman on Prusik a couple years ago), but if you can climb a handful of pitches with a shorter approach, you can probably climb 30+ pitches with lots of extra hiking. I’d fill in the gaps around navigation, gear, etc., and how to work the walkie talkies (the “on” button can be hard to find on the pair I have).

I have to say this was the greatest climb I’ve been on. I was mentally high for a couple days after just thinking about it. I was very glad to have these two on the climb. I considered myself mostly along for the ride given my limited trad/rock climbing skills, but they proved just good enough to follow and simul-climb without getting anyone killed. I’d definitely go back and lead the upper with the Gendarme bypass.

I’ll let the pictures/and caption tell most of the story, but here are some high and lowlights:

  • We made Goat Pass faster this time, 5h, starting again in the dark to avoid the baking sun. 4h is probably a better, still realistic time.
  • Getting from Goat Pass to the base of the Complete North Ridge took way too long, almost 3 hours. We probably didn’t pick the best line and mostly avoided the snow, except for a sketchy section where it took a while to do the whole crampon thing. We also didn’t really know where the route started, but eventually found it. A picture printed out of the base from Steph Abegg’s TR was really helpful.
  • We filled up on water under the Stuart Glacier, the same place as our first attempt. I filled up 3 L, Audrey Jack did 2. I still needed more, they needed less.
  • There was a section below the Stuart Glacier that seemed to have frequent, dangerous softball-sized rocks coming down. We moved through this section quickly.
  • The Ice Cliff Glacier sounded and looked like it was coming down, which was pretty amazing to watch and hear. Massive ice and rock avalanches would pour down it’s lower slopes and the sounds would be deafening. It continued like this all day. Audrey has some video/shots that demonstrate a little bit of this she’ll probably post.
  • As I belayed Jack up the second pitch (5.8 slot), I let the rope slack hang and it ended up getting caught in a crazy tree that impressively swallowed  the rope in its tangled branches. Audrey had to rap to get it undone. We lost time.
  • The 5.8 slot really sucked even after I took the pack off and draped it on my right side. Very awkward for all of us, but we persevered.
  • The 5.9 hand/finger crack that follows is the hardest pitch on the whole route, except for maybe the last little face pitch near the summit. I say that because that last face pitch requires hand jamming, something which I haven’t really done. Due to lost time I was just going to prusik up it, but immediately found out that prusiking up slab is slow as hell. I climbed the thing, taking a couple times to rest and clean gear. 
  • Simul-climbing became more pitched-out, belayed climbing, mostly because I wasn’t yet super comfortable on the exposed low-mid 5th stuff and didn’t want to kill Jack and correspondingly he didn’t want to die. Thank god this changed the following day as we simul-climbed the rest less the 5.7, the Gendarme pitches, and the one 5.8-9 face pitch.
  • The original plan was to bivy on the summit, we actually bivied below even where the upper ridge starts due to some slow-downs. (7300’ vs. 8200’). That said we had an awesome view of the Ice Cliff Glacier and the surrounding valley. I ended up kicking off a night time-lapse and had to get up in the middle of the night to change the battery.
  • The next morning we got into a groove and simul-climbed up to the 5.7 pitch a bit above the notch pretty quickly. The climbing was super fun and easy and we made pretty good time.
  • The knife edge section below the “slab with crack” pitch (pic below on this pitch) was the highlight of the trip for me. There’s a big section of super exposed open space you have to step over and doing so freaked me out and excited me at the same time. Views from this area of the climb are also really breathtaking, and the slab pitch is so fun and easy, but super exposed.
  • After taking pictures of Jack on the “slab with crack” pitch with my big, bulky DSLR, I dropped it in a crack and my heart almost stopped beating. There were large cracks everywhere that seemed to empty into thousands of feet of exposure. Thank god it was wedged near the top of the crack and I immediately clipped it into a foot prusik for the rest of the climb. That would’ve been a $4500 mistake plus the loss of pictures already taken on the trip.
  • We were at the Gendarme in good time, and I followed Audrey and Jack up the first pitch w/o too much trouble, except near the very top where my arms got fairly tired.
  • An Asian party that we had passed took the Gendarme bypass route. We watched as small-medium sized rocks came down from above more than once very close to them. Some of these rocks would’ve certainly killed them immediately if they impacted, so I count this party as very lucky. If I ever take the bypass route I’m going to cruise through that section as fast as possible.
  • The offwidth pitch was super awkward – I can’t imagine leading it. Jack did an awesome job. The lower part wasn’t as bad I thought, but I got stuck in the middle of the pitch and had to take.
  • We opted to rap down shortly after that rather than traverse the V3ish moves, after this Jack lead the last more technical pitch up a face which required hand jams. We were losing time so I just pulled on gear and got up this thing as quickly as possible, Audrey climbed it clean behind me.
  • The rest of the climbing to the summit was fun, and the summit was visually striking. Audrey and Jack shared some Scotch while I snapped a few pics.
  • Getting down the Cascadian was so much nicer than I was expecting after reading a half-dozen TRs. It’s scree, sure, but it’s a pretty noticeable trail of mini switchbacks. With some little hiking gaiters the scree actually softens the blow to your knees. Too bad my hiking gaiters didn’t close up in the back so my feet filled up with rocks.
  • You don’t need crampons/axe for the descent, you can go around the snow.
  • We took a wrong turn on the Cascadian, but it still went. See the map below, looks like there’s a slightly more direct line to Longs Pass, maybe that’s easier (Update: My friend Cecil just did the pink line below descending from the West Ridge and he said it sucked).
  • Having rationed water, by the time we reached Ingalls creek I was done. A fever/headache and general dehydration slowed me more and more as we descended the Cascadian. Jack helped fill up my water, then electrolyte-mixed water, peppered salami, and wheat thins brought me back to life.
  • We cruised from Ingalls creek back to the car in the moonlight. At one point we saw large areas lit up on the hillside below Longs, and it looked like snow. It turned out to be slick boulders in a Talus field, but it looked a bit surreal in the moonlight and the blueish-glow of the surrounding landscape.

What an unforgettable experience. 

We reach bivy sites above Stuart pass in about 3.5 hours as the moon sets. Mt. Rainier is on the left, Ingalls Peak is on the right. Click for a larger version.

Goat Pass in the morning. Stuart Glacier is on the right. Click for a larger version.

Filling up on water below Stuart Glacier. Rockfall increased as we traverse down to the base of the North Ridge, which took longer than expected. We heard what sounded like a large jet liner coming out from behind the north ridge base for 10-15 seconds as we descended before seeing a massive avalanche on the Ice Cliff Glacier. These would become more powerful as we made our way up the ridge, providing an eerie soundtrack to some already tough pitches. Click for a larger version.

Jack and Audrey at the base of the ridge. I guess we’re finally really going to climb this thing…that is if the Ice Cliff Glacier doesn’t completely collapse and kill us, which it sounded like it would about every 15 minutes.

The lower ridge is harder than the upper ridge IMO. Pay close attention to the route we followed at the very bottom here, some pretty critical maneuvering is required.

Me turning the corner past our hanging belay on the 5.7 first lieback pitch. Around the corner is the 5.8 slot, which is the most awkward pitch I’ve been involved with in my short climbing history. Per Jack I took my pack off halfway, then I can’t remember, but it wasn’t fun.  Photo by Audrey Sniezek.

The moon disappears above the Ice Cliff glacier. Colossal ice calving had been sending a flood of seracs, snow, and large boulders down the glacier all day. Click for a larger version.

Jack belaying Audrey up some mid-5th pitches around 7300ft on the lower ridge. Fresh Ice Cliff glacier avy runout is seen over a thousand feet below, the moonlight over Stuart is reflected on the left, lower slopes. Click for a larger version.

Jack before a bivy on the lower North Ridge. The Ice Cliff Glacier and Sherpa Peak are in the background. Click for a larger version.

Jack in the morning before continuing up the ridge, connecting with the upper ridge after a handful of 5th class pitches. The Ice Cliff Glacier is missing a large section of its lower shelf due to an avy Audrey witnessed the previous day. Click for a larger version.

Getting my shoes all sandy before doing some exposed slab climbing. This is just before a 5.7 slab pitch above the notch (maybe 8300’). Upper Ice Cliff and Sherpa glaciers are in the shade. Photo by Audrey Sniezek.

Jack making his way up one of the most enjoyable pitches on a slab with crack. Just before this slab you climb a knife edge ridge with high exposure on either side. A large, exposed gap in the ridge can be stepped over with a large step and lean of faith, one of the highlights of the climb for me. This section of the route represents some of the most enjoyable alpine rock climbing I’ve ever experienced. Click for a larger version.

Another party making their way up the mid-5th class pitches behind us. Stuart Lake can be seen several thousand feet below. Click for a larger version.

Audrey coming up towards the Gendarme.

A climber from the party we passed took a few pictures of the Gendarme with us on it and got in touch with me after on cascadeclimbers.com. I overlaid some annotations. Photo by Jason Shin.

Gendarme bypass with rockfall hazard. You can’t really see them well, but there are people in the center of this photo. Click for a larger version.

Me following Jack on the upper part of the the first 5.9 Gendarme lieback pitch. This pitch was much easier than the lower 5.8 or 5.9 pitches, but as I reached the top I was running out of energy. Photo by Audrey Sniezek.

All three of us on the little belay ledge on the Gendarme. Photo by Jason Shin.

I clip a jesus piece for Jack’s lead on the second Gendarme pitch, an awkward 5.9 offwidth with a lot of exposure. Belay ledge here is small, exposed, and has great views of the Gendarme bypass route where we watched the other party nearly get killed from some of the fastest travelling small-medium sized rocks I’ve ever seen. Photo by Audrey Sniezek.

Jack leading the 5.9 offwidth, didn’t look easy. Photo by Audrey Sniezek.

I’m in the blue coat, Audrey is the short one beside me :), Jack is leading the offwidth pitch. Photo by Jason Shin.

Showing a bit of the upper section of the second pitch. A large belay ledge is on the right that precedes a rap down to avoid some hard moves. Photo by Jason Shin.

Me reaching the top of the offwidth pitch, very happy to have made it up. I had to take halfway through as I couldn’t figure out how to get over these weird middle section. I’m sure I was missing something obvious. For the lower part of the pitch I  used the lieback technique vs. hand jamming and it wasn’t too bad. Photo by Audrey Sniezek.

Jack on the summit with another party coming up from the West. Click for a larger version.

Audrey passing me to join Jack on the summit. Mt. Rainier can be seen in the far distance. Click for a larger version.

Audrey and Jack share celebratory scotch on the summit. The sun begins to set. We soon are hiking down the Cascadian Couloir, then up and over Long’s Pass by moonlight. Click for a larger version.

Summit shot just before descending. I’m shy. Photo by Audrey Sniezek.

Just enough damage to make the first couple showers sting a bit. Photo by Audrey Sniezek.

The original plan was to spend the second night on the summit so I could take a time-lapse and we could explore a bit more night climbing photography, but we lost too much time getting to the CNR base and on the lower, more difficult pitches. We also took what I believe is a slightly longer route down the Cascadian. The pink line shows what appears to be the more efficient route. (Update: My friend Cecil just did the pink line  descending from the West Ridge and he said it sucked).

Goat pass is on the right where we bivied after hiking 5 hours at night. Our second bivy was still on the lower ridge vs. the original plan of the summit. The pink line shows the traverse line across Stuart to start the climb ~2,000 feet higher on the upper ridge. My GPS freaked out on the lower ridge hence the schizo path.

I have some interesting Go Pro video from the first attempt I’ll try and share as well at some point. It includes the Go Pro punching through a hidden crevasse on the Stuart Glacier and seeing what was underneath. Also some footage in Ingalls lake.

Corona Arch, Moab, Utah

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Audrey Sniezek climbing above and rappelling from Utah’s Corona arch from 4pm (right side) to around 1am (left side) elapsed. A moonlit 140-foot free rappel takes you from the top of the arch to the smooth Moab sandstone floor below. All pictures were taken with her in those exact spots and merged together in Photoshop as part of an experiment/exploration. Click for a larger version on Facebook to see more detail.

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Zoomed-in version you can see her climbing the ridge-line to reach the the top of the arch. Split diagonally from bottom-left to top-right, the right side was shot during the day until sunset. The left at night.

I’d been searching for a large, spectacular arch for a while. My plan was to convince someone to climb an overhanging route underneath such an arch at night, but show a sequence of progression towards and up the arch during the day. The idea was inspired by Stephen Wilkes amazing day-to-night shots which take place in urban-ish settings. I thought the technique might be interesting for a climbing subject in a natural setting, and an arch would offer separation of the various day/night phases nicely.

My Las Vegas-based friend Audrey expressed interest in helping with the project, and after auditioning a handful of Nevadian arches online—one of which looked spectacular but turned out to be tiny when I found a picture of a person next to it—I finally recalled this rope swing video my brother had sent me. The video itself made me gag with it’s “look at everyone having fun and hanging out like we’re in a corny ad for soda or some sh$t”, that tone is really antithetical to personal taste. But the arch itself looked like a winner. I needed something with scale, something with uncluttered surroundings to support simplicity of composition, and something with a lot of sky in the background. This 140-foot beast seemed to fit the bill perfectly, cut to me on a plane to Vegas a day later.

The drive to Moab was gorgeous. I’d never been and I now felt like I’d been missing out. About halfway through the 7-hour drive a cop pulled me over for speeding. He let me off with a warning. I took it as a sign of good luck. I’m pretty sure it had nothing to do with me.

The first night at the arch was a Saturday night, so I expected and found the arch had some visitors, which can always complicate night photography. Getting to the arch in the moonlight was beautiful though, I really can’t stress this enough. I wasn’t used to this smooth sandstone Moab seems to have everywhere, paving the landscape. It really is just asking for a mountain bike to be ridden all over it, in slow motion, under a full moon like this one, while listening to Chopin’s Mazurka in A minor.

A group of kids in a wilderness-based drug rehab program were hanging out near the base of the arch. Some had rappelled off the arch earlier that day with their experienced guides, and I guess they had sort of escaped camp to come out here. The moon lit up the whole area in a way that was a bit breathtaking, especially under a clear, starry sky. None were using headlamps due to the intense moonlight, which made my life a lot easier from a photography standpoint. Also they were all pretty cool and seemed willing to help or move or whatever.

Audrey’s friend Tom showed up to hang and help out, and before I knew it they were both rappelling down from the top of the arch as I tried a few shots from down below. This first night was sort of a test night to look at angles and scope the terrain. My experienced climbing-collaborators determined that climbing under the arch wasn’t going to work due to lack of adequate holds. Climbing up the arch—on top—from the more moderate end also wasn’t going to work. It was too steep w/o adequate holds/protection. I had to think of a backup scenario. It would have to be getting Audrey walking under the arch, climbing up the long way, rappelling down, then walking out of frame. Ideally it would start at sunrise and go until dark, but that was asking a lot of the climbers - it meant staying out in the hot sun all day not doing much.

The next day we woke up at sunrise under the arch and I accepted that we’d need to come back in the afternoon, then stay until after dark. Unfortunately the afternoon brought a lot of blah clouds that hid any sky, and a vibrantly-colored sunset I ordered never showed. Conditions weren’t working in our favor, but I held out hope. We took pictures of Audrey climbing under and up to the arch starting around 4pm. The clouds would slightly clear up a bit for a min, but then they would cover the entire sky, mostly where I had my camera pointed which was non-negotiable. 

As the sunset we all climbed up the sandy, low 5th class slab and gained the top of the arch. Note that while it’s not the hardest climb, but it’s not trivial either. The average person cannot do this safely, it’s very exposed on the right side (cliff drop for 1000 feet?), you’re best doing it with rope/gear (bolts have been  drilled). You then have to rappel down onto the top of the arch, which we did then promptly waited for it to get really dark.

The clouds weren’t going anywhere, and the shots weren’t going to work without stars. I asked that we wait a bit longer, and shortly after the clouds parted, the moon and stars appeared and lit up the landscape. It was absolutely beautiful. Tom rigged a rappel and I went first to get setup below. I had left my camera and tripod in the exact same spot since 4pm, and had brought a second camera up to the top of the arch.

Rappelling the 140 feet in the moonlight on that beautiful arch was something I won’t forget. I’ve never experienced anything like that, it was truly surreal. I yelled out in pure joy and excitement once I cleared the actual arch and was hanging there 100 feet above the ground. I manned the camera as the climbers backtracked to show a headlamp-lit approach to the arch before rappelling. It turned out to be a bit involved for Audrey to get positioned on the edges where I could see the headlamp, but they made it work with belays, etc. where needed.

At this point my twisted brain kept picturing the kid who died two months earlier in this exact spot by miscalculating rope length. 

After a short hike out and a celebratory beer, I was off back to Vegas. I hit a plastic bucket coming over a hill on the highway which messed up the front-end of the rental car pretty good. I stopped to fix it as best I could, and I guess I did a good enough job because the inspector said nothing when I turned it in.

Despite not having the conditions I wanted and having a more limited set of the day to work with, we still managed to pull off an initial experiment around this climbing terrain, day-to-night thing. I considered it a good first exploration, and was very grateful to my collaborators for making it happen.

Click any picture for a larger version on my Facebook page, which you can also “like” if you want to stay in the loop on new work.

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A group of kids who did some sneaking-out-of-camp during their drug rehab program. 

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Audrey lighting up the arch over 100 feet above me. Finding something realistically climbable here wasn’t looking good, so the backup plan was a rappel. 

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Audrey dwarfed by the massive arch.

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Me resting my legs after a grueling afternoon of pressing the shutter button a lot of times on my camera while Audrey climbed.

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Audrey on the way back from the arch on the naturally paved sandstone “path”. 

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Single version of Audrey’s rappel from the top of the arch. A rappel off that thing in the moonlight is an unforgettable experience. 

Johannesburg at Night, North Cascades, WA

This past weekend I rented some lighter-weight equipment for a Mt. Stuart North Ridge attempt. Unfortunately that didn’t turn out quite as planned (more on that later) and I didn’t get to test the equipment, so Sunday night I drove out to Marblemount. I chose Johannesburg Mountain as my subject. It’s pretty accessible and I’m fascinated by how dangerous it would be to climb. Every time I’ve been near it, I hear and/or see avalanches come down from its hanging glaciers. It must be quite the feeling to climb routes with such high objective danger, but for tonight I’d settle for the safety of watching the show from the base.

To see a larger version of any of these pics for my FB page. You can also like the page to keep in touch on new stuff.

As I was setting up my motion-controlled time-lapse setup with my MKIII just as it got really dark, I turned around and two glowing eyes were maybe 20 feet from me, staring. I shined my light around and outlined the shape of a deer. The deer stuck around as I tried different setups, then finally settled on one that rose from the grass above an interesting branch toward the sky and Johannesburg. I also setup a second setup with the lighter weight gear I rented, a micro 4:3 camera, the Panasonic GH3 and a 7-14mm F4 lens. This gear was so light I could hardly believe how light my pack was on Stuart. If it performed as well as my heavier stuff it would really be tempting to switch. I need more testing time, but the daylight shots seem to be pretty good. Unfortunately I don’t think it cuts it at night due to sensor noise and lack of fast, wide lenses, so it would be of limited use to me (maybe only full moons). Anyway as I was setting up the second camera, I caught the deer in a noisy test composition shot. It’s a horrible picture, but it appeals to me because it wasn’t intentional and it has a feeling of walking into something unexpectedly. 

I’ve never been around such a friendly and curious deer, they are usually the most skittish animals. He kept sneaking up on me, even getting withing 5-8 feet at one point. I have an irrational fear of being eaten by a cougar at night, so the glowing eyes that would appear/re-appear were a bit unsettling, but I got used to it after a while. I would see him once more in the morning as I drove off.

After everything was setup I went back to my car. Some headlamps at been coming down from Cascade Pass for the last hour, and I knew I’d have to warn the climbers to go out another way as to not ruin my timelapse. I chatted with them a bit, they were having a beer after an epic on Buckner’s SW face (I climbed it a few weeks ago). They were really cool about not shining headlights over in my area. I appreciated the fact that we were in completely different mental places, as anyone returning from a climb at 1am must be. 

I climbed into my car and tried to get some reading in before going to sleep. I’ve been re-reading Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment very inconsistently. I highlighted the following passage, read a few more pages, then was out:

In spite of his recent momentary wish for at least some communion with people, at the first word actually addressed to him he suddenly felt his usual unpleasant and irritable feeling of loathing towards any stranger who touched or merely wanted to touch his person.

The drive back in the morning was peaceful and beautiful. I pulled over to stretch my legs and noticed some interesting clouds back towards the pass. I ended up getting a time-lapse with the new camera that doesn’t have any strong stills, but the play of light behind the clouds in the time-lapse version turned out nicely. Both time-lapses will likely be included in my time-lapse project that I’m finally getting more time to try and finish.

Johannesburg before the moon rise. Click on this or most pictures for a larger version on FB.

The moon lights up the mountain around 3am.

Noisy shot (on purpose for composition) from the rented Panasonic GH3 camera. I spent most of my time to the right setting up my dolly, where this deer would sneak up on me. He scared the s#$@ out of me the first time, but after a while I welcomed the company.

Pulling over to stretch my legs, another time-lapse opportunity presented itself at dawn just off the road.

Marblemount gas station. Nobody answered after knocking for 45 minutes so I just filled up the tank and took off. I’m not sure if any gas actually came out of the nozzle though.

Me playing around in PS, imagining what a painting of the scenery might look like. Someday I’ll have to learn to paint.

Bonanza Peak, East Face, North Cascades, WA

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Alin at Holden Lake (5200’), looking up at the remote Bonanza Peak (9511’), North Cascades, WA, pretending not to mind getting eating alive by mosquitoes. The Mary Green Glacier melts into waterfalls that spill over the cliffs above.

Bonanza is the highest non-volcanic peak in WA, and the 5th highest overall. We are the only climbers to attempt/summit this year AFAIK.

There are some larger photos on my Facebook page, which you can also follow if you like.

OVERVIEW

Access, route-finding, and general variety + complexity of terrain/logistical challenges were unique for me on this climb, and overcoming them was rewarding. To climb Bonanza, you can’t just drive to a parking lot and start hiking a trail or glacier to the top. There were several stages of this adventure, each with their own unique challenges: Ferry access confusion, transportation challenges from a remote port to an isolated mining village, thick, seemingly impassable bushwhacking through an alder-filled swamp, general route-finding challenges, 4th class climbing over waterfall saturated rocks, heavily-crevassed glacial navigation, 1000ft of 4th to low 5th-class rock climbing to the summit, then navigating back before darkness set in and a mining road filled up with heavy equipment…I enjoyed all of it even when it was difficult. 

I read quite a few TRs on this peak, but they didn’t seem to capture the challenges I faced, nor did any have one map or picture with a line drawn on it. Part of the reason is likely time-of-year attempting the peak. I suspect it’s much easier earlier in the year when the glacier is filled-in and snow covers more of the thick alder between Holden Lake and Holden Pass. One TR from a “County HighPoint” climber seemed especially bitter of the peak and his obligation to climb it, and I can’t say I agree with much of what he says. I’ve come to the conclusion that climbing a peak solely due to peak height within arbitrary man-made borders (counties, states, whatever) misses the point. IMHO, you should climb a peak for the qualities you love in alpine climbing. For me that is primarily the visceral beauty of the landscape and terrain, and a feeling of originality about a place and its surroundings. This is probably why I don’t have a strong interest in climbing Elbrus, or Aconcagua, or other peaks that are merely known for heights within geographical boundaries. This is not to say climbing those peaks aren’t great accomplishments or special experiences for those climbing them, they simply don’t interest me personally based on what I love about the mountains. Anyway, Bonanza def. fit the bill for me in terms of beauty and originality and intensity of the whole experience. 

I’ll provide maps and route descriptions here to help anyone trying this thing in the future. That said, it was fun to figure things out for ourselves. 

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GETTING TO HOLDEN VILLAGE AND BACK IN 2013

Due to a mine remediation project which began this year, communication about ferry access to the remote port of Lucerne (northern part of Lake Chelan) has been a bit confusing. Bus transportation from Lucerne to Holden Village is also now limited, with only Sat. and Sunday options, the last bus leaving at 10:45 AM on Sunday. The road between the Lucerne port and the village is technically closed to all traffic—including pedestrian—and the school bus itself requires a pilot car to guide it up and down the 11 miles and 2200’ elevation change on a rough road. Because it’s mostly impractical to get into the village on Sat at 1pm, climb Bonanza, then catch the bus at 10:45 AM the very next day, nobody has attempted the peak this year. The summit register lists Kristian and Bryce Erickson from Issaquah and Naches as the last to climb Bonanza July 29th of 2012. 

So what is happening in Holden Village, and what is the very brief history of the place? I’ll only relay what a Stehekin local told me on the boat ride to Lucerne. From the 1930s-50s the Holden mine was a very active copper mine, with a lot of the copper being used for ammunition in WW2 (it’s interesting to think of copper being pulled out of this remote place on Lake Chelan and then shot into German nazis almost 70 years ago). After depleting the mine, it was sold to some Lutherans for $1, who made it into sort of a religious, isolated retreat village. Since then the village has been very active for 60 years, with hundreds of people coming to visit or stay on a frequent basis. As I left the boat a man said that Holden village is “a special little gift from god”, and I’m sure for those who have been affected by their stay and the people there, it certainly has had a profound effect. 

Cut to recently when one of the largest mining companies in the world bought the mine and embarked on a large-scale, environmental clean-up project. What was wrong that needed clean-up? According to the Stehekin local, “tailings” from the mine included arsenic which made it’s way down into the Lake. The mining company bought this depleted copper mine in the middle nowhere for tax benefits and to show that they have capabilities to leave mined areas environmentally sound. This will enable them to acquire other large-scale mining projects in other parts of the world.

Anyway, our plan was to circumvent the lack of buses by biking through the night Sunday from the village 11 miles back down to the port before the heavy mine equipment blocked the highly coordinated road traffic starting around 6am. After digging a bit with the Holden staff who just recently have satellite internet after being reliant on snail mail for 60 years, I determined you can access the road after 7pm if you wear a brightly colored safety vest. I also called the Lady of the Lake and determined they still go to Lucerne daily, which I don’t think most people understand. The Holden village bus driver—who also clears 23 feet of snow from the road in the winter—had said that at least one party abandoned their plans due to the new ferry schedules. There doesn’t seem to be a change in the ferry schedules, so I think some misinformation is going around. Anyway these issues seemed to benefit Alin and I as we had the mountain to ourselves and were the first and potentially only party up there this year.

We caught the 9:45 AM, slower Lady of the Lake II ferry from Fields Point Landing and arrived at Lucerne just before noon. We loaded up  on a Holden Village school bus, and I felt like I was 12 again. Not so much because it reminded me of being in grade school, but just because I’m generally immature. I also felt 12 before and after getting on the bus.

In town I really wanted to learn more from the locals about what it’s like living in such an isolated place, but we just wouldn’t have time. I guess I knew the story anyway, having myself grown up in a religious environment that was a bit intense/isolated. I talked to a couple people, one guy claiming to have skied a bit around Holden Pass recently and had some concerns about the Bonanza bergschrund being passable this late in the season. He did not mention—at all—any beta on getting from Holden Lake to the pass, a trek that seems to be underplayed in all reports and verbal relays of the climb, and which turned out to be a mini-epic. He did say we were the first climbers up there this year attempting the peak. 

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Mt. McGregor, near Stehekin, is seen ahead on the north end of 55-mile-long Lake Chelan from the “Lady of the Lake” ferry. Stehekin has 75 permanent residents, including the guy on the right who knew a lot about the mine project and about climbing Bonanza. With 2 bikes and a “Lady of the Lake Express” return trip, we forked over $167 total for the ferry rides. Ouch.

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This is what you will see on either side of Lake Chelan as the “Lady of the Lake” slowly creeps towards Lucerne for a couple hours. Un-populated barren hills that get higher the further north you go. the “Lady of the Lake” made one stop to a private cabin by simply breaching the shore, then backing away. We did pass over the deepest part of Chelan, which is about 1300 feet deep.

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Alin helping to load our gear and the day’s freight into the Holden Village school bus named “Honey”. Holden Village was a copper mine during WW2 that was sold to the Lutherans for $1 in the 1950s after it was depleted. Bullets were made from this copper that were likely used for ‘killing nazis’ (read that last part in your mind using Brad Pitt’s southern accent from Inglorious Basterds).

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Our two bicycles are seen on the right inside the bus as we push of the dock up 11 miles and 2200’ of elevation to Holden Village. A pilot car from the mine escorts the bus, which now only runs Sat/Sun officially.

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Arriving in Holden Village to a group of Lutherans waving at the returning faithful. Were they also waiving at me? I’d like to think so. I’m easy to wave at I think. $20 fee for 2 for the bus ride. We got some help pumping up a bike tire then took off toward Holden Lake. I met a few Lutherans, but didn’t get a chance to find out more about living in such an isolated place. Everyone seemed pretty open though, I didn’t get much of a “cult” vibe at all. Only one goat sacrifice was made while I organized my gear (joking, everyone seemed really nice - great people).

FROM THE VILLAGE TO HOLDEN LAKE

I borrowed my friend Cecil’s bike, he noted the front tire needed air. Alin brought a pump, and while I was inside paying for the bus fare,  Alin was going to put just a bit of air in the tire. When I came back out 10 minutes later he was still pumping, and the tire was now completely flat! Things were off to an interesting start. The bike had one of those super skinny valves we knew nothing about. After borrowing a compressed air hose from the a Holden village workshop and trying to force air into the tire, one of the locals helped us with the adapter on Alin’s pump and within seconds we had the tire inflated. My nightmarish visions of walking the bike 11 miles after hiking 20 straight faded as we rode to the trail head a half mile west of town.

The trail to Holden Lake was actually really pleasant. I was a bit high on the fact that we were actually doing this when some said it was impossible.

There were a lot of large trees, the type that I don’t typically see on my alpine climbs. I wish I knew the name. Anyway, the wind would move through the leaves and the long grass that lined the trail, cooling us off as we made our way up 2000 feet to the lake. It was very peaceful being out there without seeing anyone else, and listening to the wind.

After making it up several switchbacks, through a forest, and then out into an open heavy stream area, I saw Bonanza’s summit far in the distance. Using my telephoto lens I could see the upper bergschrund which appeared to be massive, overhanging, and completely disconnected from the glacier except for possibly on the very far right. There was hope. We pressed on.

We reached the lake in a couple hours, and took in the scenery and scouted our route. The mosquitoes were pretty relentless, so the trick as always is to just keep moving. We started making our way around the north (right) side of the lake per TR beta. Once the trail disappeared, we ran into some trouble. 

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On the trail to Holden Lake. We had a nice breeze for much of the switchbacks and the scenery of Copper and other surrounding peaks were nice. Photo by Alin Flaidar

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Alin making his way through a forest with a grassy floor near Holden Lake. On our way back through here at night we heard something pretty large just off the trail in the bushes. Bear? Elk? Not sure. 

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Before Holden Lake I see Bonanza’s upper mountain appear in the distance for a brief moment. I take out my telephoto and zoom in on the upper bergschrund and see that it looks potentially passable on the far right. My biggest worry was that it was too late in the season to cross this, and it still wasn’t clear if it was doable.

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Arriving at Holden Lake, Alin poses while being eaten alive by mosquitoes. The brush you see across the lake to the right of Alin is Alder, and it’s super thick and really hard to get through or see past once inside. Add a swampy floor to this and you have some of the worst sustained bushwhacking I’ve experienced.

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Marmot guarding the lake. I didn’t dare try to go past him, I mean, look at that guy’s face.

HOLDEN LAKE TO HOLDEN PASS

Of the many cruxes of the climb, this was arguably the most challenging. The trail disappears shortly after you hit the lake, and you’re left to veer a bit blindly up toward Holden Pass. How do you get up there? No one seemed to have a map or good beta. We did the best we could, but were soon encased in alder trees so thick you had to muscle, claw, duck, and jump your way to move a very short distance. Add to that there were streams zig-zagging through the alder/swamp floor at every turn, some of them deep. Add to that alder trees are dirty thieves, and they’ll steal anything off your pack or body that isn’t in total lockdown. Just ask my left hiking gaiter if you ever see it in some seedy alder-sourced pawn shop.

We pressed on through one of the worst paths, but I was able to steer us hard right to escape what could’ve been a slow, mile-long, alder death (see map below). I vowed to make return route-scoping top priority upon reaching higher ground. Little did I know there isn’t any one great path to avoid all alder, and we would end up having to battle even fiercer alder in darkness the following night. 

Sometime later (much longer than I liked), we were moving across talus fields and through less threatening trees and shrubbery. I was moving significantly faster than Alin, which worried me because it was getting dark and there wasn’t much time buffer on this climb. We finally picked up a trail and were at Holden Pass just as the sun was setting. I found a drip from a snowfield where we used my filter to fill up on water. I then scouted ahead solo the path up to the glacier, which was happily fairly straightforward after ducking through some dark trees and up over a steep cliff. 

We buried ourselves in our sleeping bags, our only defense against the mosquitoes who would go for any exposed skin.

Despite being tired, I set my alarm for 11pm and got up under a full moon to take pictures, before returning to sleep. The moonlight glistened off of the waterfalls below the glacier, and a crack and thud of seracs and settling ice could be heard above. A heat wave passed through Holden pass, and I soon found myself in just shorts in my bag.

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We reached Holden Pass (6400’) just in time to see the sunset and a full moon come out over what I think is Copper Peak. Thank god because if we had to find Holden Pass from the lake in the dark, I fear our climb would be over.

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Alin staring up at the Mary Green Glacier and Bonanza’s summit from a cliff on Holden Pass at dusk.

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Despite running on 3 hours sleep, I woke myself up at 11PM Sat night to get some night shots and a time-lapse. Alin graciously loaned me his Pentax camera to get the time-lapse as I didn’t bring Canon’s external timer (stupid Canon, build it into the camera like everyone else). This is me looking up at the Mary Green Glacier, it’s waterfalls, and Bonanza’s summit block.

HOLDEN PASS TO THE MARY GREEN GLACIER

We left camp around 4pm and cruised up to the waterfalls. I found a good place to cross a fairly dangerous moat and started climbing up the 4th class waterfall ledges. At the top we took pics/video and geared up for what I thought was going to be a mild glacier. 

We lost a bit of time on the video/pics, but that’s all part of the game. I sometimes envy people who don’t even bring a camera, so much less to worry about in terms of getting compelling shots and carrying extra equipment that’s bound to fail at some point. 

On the way back these waterfalls would become very problematic as the sun disappeared and there wasn’t a clear, safe way down to the very bottom.

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Me in the morning making my way up to a moat crossing to some 4th class waterfall climbing to take the glacier. Photo by Alin Flaidar.

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Holden Pass from on top of the waterfalls, at the foot of the Mary Green Glacier (7200’).

THE MARY GREEN GLACIER CROSSING

Mary Green definitely takes a beating in mid-late July forward. Someone should call her the “Tina Turner Glacier” this time of year (too soon?). She was so tattered I was convinced early on we’d never make it across. An impressive icefall guarded the lower glacier, and the upper glacier looked like one large crevasse after another would deny passage. On top of that we were jumping crevasses with regular frequency, one jump was def. a bit sketchy due to the width.

We decided to head for a notch in the icefall and get an up-close-and-personal look at our options. Maybe a  ramp behind one of the giant, arched seracs would appear. We got there. It wouldn’t go, well not without stepping into some serious shit with the sun coming up. Giant seracs with holes and arches that called to mind icy cathedrals loomed over this section and dared us to enter.

Retreating, we then zig-zagged around the icefall finding promising, previously hidden passages with each white hill we crested. By this time I was blow away at the scale of this “little” glacier. bottomless crevasses 50 feet wide spanning hundreds or thousands of feet kept appearing. Still not certain the glacier would go, we were pretty determined to exhaust every possibility. As we headed up the steep section toward a series of 2 bergschrunds, the navigation was looking more and more doable. 

After crossing a massive crevasse at bergschrund #1 on a sketchy bridge, we headed up even steeper terrain toward bergschrund #2, which I’d seen earlier from below Holden Lake. As Alin got closer it appeared it would indeed connect to the rock. Minutes later we were taking off crampons on solid rock and putting our hard scrambling faces on (mine is sort of a cross between Duane Johnson from GI Joe: Retaliation and Jessica Tandy from Driving Miss Daisy). Excited that our worst fear of a likely un-crossable bergschrund wasn’t coming true, we were more and more convinced we’d reach the top. Crossing that bridge on the way down, however, wasn’t something I was very excited about. 

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An icefall on the Mary Green Glacier we explored passing through, before finding a way around up high. Notice the arch in the center-right, there were many of these cathedral-like arches in this extremely broken up icefall that cut across most of the glacier. Photo by Alin Flaidar.

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Alin traversing around a very deep and wide crevasse that cuts across the entire glacier. Only a 20 foot-wide snow bridge crosses it just over this hill. Stay off the right side of the snow bridge as it’s thin and undercut as we saw from above. I doubt the bridge will last another week, then you’ll have to find another way across. It may be possible to do some steep crevasse-wall climbing further toward the south peak. We brought a second ice tool just in case we had to get creative to get off the glacier or cross a bergschrund, turns out we didn’t have to use it.

ABOVE THE GLACIER, 1000’ OF SUSTAINED 4th/5th CLASS FREE SOLOING

The rock was solid down low, and overall it wasn’t bad. There were definitely loose pieces, and soloing the thing meant you can’t make a mistake or you would die, so we climbed carefully testing pieces and not putting all of our weight in one basket (metaphorically, we didn’t bring any baskets, although one full of KFC wings would’ve been nice).

The climbing was sustained, and it did get into low 5th class here and there that we didn’t feel comfortable down-climbing, which concerned me a bit. What mitigated this concern were the rap stations we kept seeing on the way up. I marked all of them on my GPS, and we used this as a guide when descending. Unfortunately they were mostly setup for people using a 50-60m double rope rap, but we tried to fix that on the way down as we had one 60m rope. 

One axe and one pair of cramps came along just in case we hit a dicey snow patch (learned that lesson on Horseshoe 2 weeks ago). We did hit one or two patches, but they were easily avoided.

I ended up leading and protecting a final pitch below the summit, although it wasn’t much different from the pitches below it. Probably just a bit chossier if anything.

When we reached the summit it was such a relief and a feeling of accomplishment I don’t often feel on peaks. It felt like we had overcome a lot of odds, and pushed ourselves responsibly on this peak and deserved to feel a bit proud. Glacier Peak to the southwest was huge, the biggest I’ve ever seen it from another peak. We could see Rainier and Baker in the distance. I had climbed all three of these previously, and I guess it was kind of nice to tag the 5th highest as well. 

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The massive overhanging chunk of snow on the upper glacier connecting to the summit block at 8500’, now fully split from the lower glacier. Thankfully on the far right the snow connects to the rock (or enough to jump). Beware of a deep moat below the lower section, and the upper looks like it needs just a good kick in order for several tons of snow and ice to fall on the lower.

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Looking down at the upper Mary Green Glacier from rap station closest to the glacier. You can see the glacier-wide crevasse cutting across with a snow bridge directly in the center. The bridge is very thin on one side and would likely collapse if weighted. The crevasse it bridges is wide and deep. We free solo’d the next 1000’ except for a mini pitch before the summit.

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From a chossy narrow ridge just before the summit, I believe this is the North side of the mountain which flanks out west. Is that Dark Mountain? I’m not sure. The Company Glacier is below.

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Summit shot of me looking out at Glacier Peak’s North-east side. I climbed Glacier Peak 3 years ago. Photo by Alin Fladair.

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Me signing the summit register which appeared to be inside an old WW2 ammunition metal box? Someone might know more about this. Photo by Alin Fladair.

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Just in time for lunch. Gu, salami, and wheat thins. Yum. No other entries from this year.

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The last entry before ours from July 29th of last year, which I believe was a significantly higher snow year. What a way to spend your birthday, certainly special.

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Alin on the summit looking out at Baker, whose North Ridge we finally conquered last month. I think of that route in the same league as Bonanza. A different set of challenges, but has some of the same intensity/higher risk factors. 

AND BACK DOWN 

After singing the register we started heading down. We decided to primarily rappel due to fatigue and some tricky down-climbing. Intermediate rap stations needed to be improvised, which honed our technique/efficiency, but about 10 or so raps later we were at the last rap station before being forced to down-climb the rest. On the way down I kept looking the gear we had stashed at the top of the glacier. It often looked so ridiculously far away I thought we’d never make it down.

There were a couple sketchy rap stations, one of which was on a smaller boulder that had been wedged into a large crack. I didn’t trust it, so I gave up a #6 DMM nut in a perfect, bomber neighboring crack and rapped off that with the boulder slings as backups. $10 is worth my life for sure. 

Now that the steep rock section was over, we still had many stages of danger and physical trials to go through to get back to Lake Chelan. Next was getting down the crevasse and bridge-ridden glacier, then the waterfalls, then getting back to the lake through the wild terrain below Holden Pass. Once we hit the Lake the only challenge would be staying awake and getting down to the dock on bikes before the heavy equipment hit the road at around 6 AM.

We handled the glacier descent pretty smoothly, except for Alin’s crampon coming off on a steeper section. A debate ensued about going back the way we came, or traversing the glacier high above Holden pass, then rappelling off a tree over a cliff to avoid the waterfalls. There was a rap station on a large boulder above the waterfalls, but it seemed sketch to me and I knew there was no way our rope would be long enough. Plus the hardest down-climbing was at the base of the waterfall. 

I relented and we went back the way we came. I had forgotten how many crevasses we jumped and weaved around…there was a lot. If we would’ve went the other way I could easily see it being blocked by large crevasses. It was getting dark, we needed to reach the base of the waterfalls before the lights went out.

We reached the top of the waterfalls and scouted descent routes. The boulder rap station indeed was too high to be useful. We filled up on much needed water and finally decided to start down-climbing, looking for rock that would take gear. The upper section’s down-climbing was easy, but the last 50 feet or so was a bit tricky, so I scoured the landscape for cracks that would take gear for a rap. We found only one rock horn in a faster moving waterfall that emptied out under a deep moat below with a lot of white water. 

Down-climbing a bit lower got steeper, wetter, and more sketchy. We were so close to getting out of the vertical danger zone we didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks. I was leaning toward the wet rock horn + trying to control the rap descent to avoid the sinister deep moat. Alin then spotted a ledge above across several waterfalls that appeared to go right toward the base of the cliff that emptied into more moderate terrain, just below the tree high above I wanted to rap from earlier.

This ledge worked. It added a shorter section of sketch down-climbing into a moat, but the vertical drop was much lower. We were elated to be out of that situation before the darkness really set in.

Cruising back to camp at Holden Pass, we knew the difficult route-finding through alder was coming. We also accepted we’d be descending in the dark. After packing up and unintentionally taking a 20-30 minute nap, we were off toward the lake. I knew we wanted to hug the cliffs to our left high for a long time, before passing through two fir/pine (?) section tree sections, then after hitting the 4th-5th talus crossing, head down to the lake. I also knew we couldn’t completely avoid alder, but I wanted to minimize exposure.

Alin was getting very tired and moving probably a quarter or less of my speed. I knew it was going to be trying to find the lake trail, but I knew once we did we could go on auto-pilot back to Holden Village. Once we hit alder patches I had to do a lot of convincing for us to continue. It was dark, the alder was thicker than the day before, and at times it felt literally impassable. I kept pushing through, then leaning toward the lake. I leaned too early and discovered myself on a cliff above the lake. Holding onto the alder I climbed back up and decided to go high instead (I’m a genius). Just when things looked their worse, we broke through to a clear pine/fir forest. After enjoying the fast movement, I found something resembling a trail. Then I found remains of a campfire. This was a good sign!

Before long we picked up the Holden Lake trail and were headed towards the village. Fatigue set in hard, and I found myself tipping over on the trail at times, falling asleep literally while hiking. Somehow we stayed upright all the way back to where we’d stashed our bikes at the trailhead around 4:30 AM. 11 more miles on bikes, downhill, we could manage this. I asked that through the village we don’t stop or talk to anyone. The last thing I wanted was someone telling me it was too late to use the road, I wouldn’t hear it. After going through all of that I was going to make it to the lake to catch the ferry, or die trying. The thought of staying in the village an extra day in that heat sounded miserable to me, it simply wasn’t an option in my mind.

I rode past 5-10 large rabbits, probably the largest I’ve seen. They’d stare at me in the early morning, blue light, then run away just as I passed. I thought of the film Watership Down. The bike was uncomfortable, I was cold. There were mile markers every .3 miles, and I kept saying after this mile marker I’d stop and put on my coat, or I’d stop and rest. I wanted to get far enough along where a miner couldn’t reasonably ask us to turn around. Finally at mile marker 4ish I stopped and put on my coat to curb the bitter cold wind. Alin was much more exhausted and was pretty far behind me. The tires on this little bike could not take much in terms of bumps, so I had to be super vigilant in avoiding all rocks and potholes.

I passed a miner near his truck, he was super friendly as was I. Passing a few more smaller trucks as I started down the steep switchbacks didn’t spark any incidents. I nodded at the drivers. It was approaching 6am and I picked up some speed. I didn’t know exactly when the heavy trucks would start using the road, but I knew it was soon. The switchbacks were numbered. 10, 9, 8…finally I reached 1, then the bottom, so I pulled over to wait for Alin. I fell asleep waiting, the sun started coming out , the heat was uncomfortable. Alin showed up, big trucks started making their way up the road, a speaker system blared road coordination conversations. We slept uncomfortably and set our alarm for 11:30 AM. The ferry would show up at 12:20 PM. The heat worsened, I got up and found a perfect location right by the shore, in the shade, with access to the water.

Soaking our damaged feet in the cool water, we then napped until 11:30 AM before heading around the corner to the dock. The first ferry showed up. To my surprise the bus driver was there with a van, and other Holden Village residents said that even the bus still comes down if enough people are coming in on the weekdays. I guess it just doesn’t run for non-Holden Village affiliated people. I bet you could pay the guy to pick you up on a weekday…perhaps. I wondered if that bike ride was even necessary. He was coming down there anyway in a van Monday morning, but he never offered to take us. I bet if we would’ve asked/pressed more he might of given us a ride and lessened the epic. Possibly.

Boarding the Lady of the Lake Express 30 minutes later, we immediately noticed you trade comfort and money for speed on this ferry. Fine with me, a shower and sleep was all I wanted at this point. Fields Point Landing was scorching hot. I waited with the bikes in the shade for Alin to bring the car around, then we took turns driving on the 3-hour stretch home, somehow not falling asleep. Alin must certainly be in therapy right now for post-traumatic stress syndrome associated with 1am alder bushwhacking J. That said it was a great mini-adventure, not to have been missed.

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Dying of thirst, I climb under a tenuous moat piece at the top of the glacier and wait under 3 drips to fill up Alin’s plastic water bladder. It took forever. I downed half, and gave him the other half, only to find out later find he hadn’t drank any of it 1000ft lower. Murder was contemplated :). Photo by Alin Fladair, who didn’t drink his water :).

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Making our way back over 15 miles in the dark was certainly trying. By the time we reached the unavoidable alder and were lost, Alin was done. I kept persisting and finally found our way out, not before almost falling off a cliff in a nasty alder section. Once it cleared and we were in a pine/fir forest, it felt like we were walking on a cloud.

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Feet in Lake Chelan while waiting for the Lady of the Lake Express. This …felt…good. I also had a pair of clean socks, deodorant, a clean shirt, and a tooth brush and tooth paste. Damn all of those things really put me in a good mood. I was expecting a swarm of mosquitoes eating us in the hot sun while we waited 6 hours for the ferry. Instead we found a shady camp spot with no mosquitoes and access to this sandy shore.

APPENDIX: ROUTE MAPS/DESCRIPTIONS 

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Steamboat Prow on Mt. Rainier

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Brendan on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Winthrop Glacier at about 9700ft, ‘round midnight. The Puget Sound lights up the horizon to the north. Taken with an impromptu tilt/shift version of the Canon 16-35mm lens (the left foreground and right background are in focus). Larger pic of this and a few others on my Facebook page. 

Steamboat Prow…mysterious, kind of high up…steamboat-y. Can blog entries be nominated for Pulitzer’s? 

Brendan and I made our way up there Saturday for the sole purpose of taking pictures of the beautiful scenery. Brendan hadn’t been to this side of the mountain, and when I told him it was more visually striking than the Muir-side, he spit in my face and called me a liar. That left me with one option: Pretend not to notice the spit to avoid any awkwardness, then take him up there to prove it’s a cool locale.

I also wanted to get some pics of him snowboarding in this terrain, but fear of too much weight killed that plan. Next time. Before we left the parking lot I also figured I should test my motion-controlled time-lapse dolly. I hadn’t used it in a while due to my ankle injury. Good thing I did that, I realized I forgot a power cord from my battery to the Oracle controller, rendering the whole thing useless. Testing saved me from carrying 10-15 extra pounds up around 6,000ft. of gain. I can only imagine my anger and disappointment finding that out around midnight on the side of some cliff, exhausted. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I don’t think my ankle can yet take carrying over 50 pounds. Anyway I brought my steadicam instead as I still need footage for my film project. I ended up getting some decent shots of cliff edges over large drops to the extremely broken up Emmons and Winthrop glaciers. 

Cut to us on the top of Steamboat, having ascended the Inter Glacier, which had no open crevasses up the middle…very tame. Rope/harness never came out. We passed a couple guys half-way up who were going super slow. One had a hunting pack, and I guess they had a full grill with charcoal and big steaks. We found out later his pack weighed 95 pounds! They had been carrying that pack and another 70-pound pack since midnight the night before. The whole thing was an homage to a buddy of theirs who had passed on the Emmons last year, which I thought was a really cool gesture. 

I was doing laps up and down the really sh$%tty rock between the top of Steamboat and Schurman for different shots. Climbing this 4th class terrain with awful loose rock started to get old quick. I finally setup my time-lapse halfway down and freed myself from camera responsibilities for the night. We hung out with the grill guys and watched the northern lights come out briefly. This is probably the worst location to take pictures of the aurora as there are no features and a ton of light pollution north of Steamboat. It was still cool to see them,however, and Brendan took some pics that might turn out.

I went to bed on the ground and realized that I really didn’t have enough warm clothes, so sleep quality wasn’t great. We woke up at 7am to leave. It’s always a bit surreal to wake up with a massive glaciated peak right in front of you. We painfully glissaded down the entire icy Inter Glacier. Looking back up after about 1000 feet I did notice one crevasse we narrowly avoided that spanned half the glacier. There were a couple other small ones you easily avoided by just staying in the center. Glissading the last several hundred vertical feet was fun as it started to soften and there was a glissade track. Unfortunately Brendan lost control a bit here and I barely jumped out of the way in time. He got pretty scraped up, but he’ll live (although probably not w/o nightly flashbacks and night terrors for at least the next 7 years).

I was really hoping to see a bear as they frequent this hiking route, but I’d have to be satisfied with a few sightings of bear sh$t only (one pile pretty fresh). As we shared the two beers I hid in an icy creek near the trailhead, we did get a visit from an animal I’ve never seen before. It looked like a ferret, or weasel. It cruised right up near us, stared a few times, then bolted off into the wilderness. I wish I could’ve taken a picture, but the camera was unwisely tucked away in the pack. 

Overall a great mini-trip for pics and video. I realized too late, however, my lens was broken and therefore many pics and my time-lapse were sort of ruined, but oh well…there are more adventures to come.

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Camp Schurman can be seen as a rock outcropping mid-right. Another slightly higher camp can be seen upper left. The visually spectacular surroundings resemble something out of a fantasy epic IMO, and make Camp Muir look plain by comparison. 

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Burroughs Mt. area as seen from the Inter Glacier, which despite it’s seemingly small size has a volume of .6 billion ft of ice, per Wikipedia (“actually, it’s pronounced ‘mill-e-wah-que’ which is Algonquin for “the good land.” —Alice Cooper, Wayne’s World).

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Climbers, dwarfed by the massive scale of the Emmons Glacier, return to camp late in the day. Hopefully they all brought jackets, all that ice looks kinda cold?

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The Schurman ranger hut from Steamboat Prow’s overlook. This hut boasts the worst bathroom experience I’ve ever had in my life (2 years ago when I did this route). They don’t even have a bathroom attendant or cologne samples!

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Brendan high above the Winthrop watching the sunset. Cell phone picture. 

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Self-portrait after dusk, watching climbers below prepare to summit the mountain. One week ago my understanding is that a skier fell on this route from above 13,000 and later died from his injuries (RIP). 

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Mt. Rainier lights up under the stars. The moon set behind the summit a hour or two ago.

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Brendan, Steamboat Prow, Russell Cliff, and lights from the Puget Sound to the north.

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Still photo from my compromised time-lapse which required some sketchy class 4 climbing on sh$# rock. My broken lens causes a tilt/shift effect, the left side of the frame is out of focus. Pain and disappointment were felt yesterday when I saw the results. These trips are never easy, so when I hit unexpected gear issues it can be a bit disheartening, especially when I don’t realize them until after-the-fact.

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Photo of me acting as shutter-button-pusher for Brendan’s composed self-portrait on Steamboat Prow.

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Cell phone photo of my rig on the edge the Steamboat Prow cliff several hundred feet over Schurman. I got a pretty cool time-lapse of shadows cast across the glacier as the sun set.  

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I took apart my lens to see that 2 places where the rear electronics piece screws into the lens body were broken, causing the lens to shift slightly and f-up focus. The lens gets to go back to Canon for probably the 5th time tomorrow.