When the fireworks explode, that can mean only one thing in Seattle – time to dust off the climbing gear and spend some quality time in the mountains. On Thursday, Manisha, Vineeth, Brian N, Patty, Sean and I headed for the border. Our goals were two peaks in the North Cascades – Spickard and Redoubt – but to get there, we would have to drive to Canada and hike back into the United States.
The border patrol people do not like it when you walk across the border for this type activity, so we spun some tale about backpacking in the Chilliwack area. Finding the trailhead proved to be a bit of a challenge. I’ll spare you the details, except to say we added about an hour of hiking to our approach. Once we were finally off in the right direction, we made tracks on the old overgrown road which quickly narrowed into an overgrown trail. In no time, we arrived at the obelisk marking the 49th parallel. The border was clearly marked by a clear cut through the thick forest.
After a brief snack break, we continued in the woods working our way up Depot Creek. In July the “creek” is actually a swollen river, full of snow melt run off. Conversation was kept to a minimum, simply because we couldn’t hear each other.
In no time, we arrived at the famous Depot Creek waterfalls. It’s hard to describe this and pictures do not do it justice. Imagine two waterfalls that cascade for nearly 800’ over rocky slabs, finally converging and disappearing in the thick forest below. Our route was somewhere up the middle of them.
We worked our way across the first waterfall and found a fixed line that previous adventurers had installed to assist climbers in ascending a slippery 15’ step. At the top of the step, we found ourselves in the equivalent of an icy car wash. Water from the waterfall on the right blasted us as we scrambled up another 100’ of greasy rock and into the protection of the forest. Whew!
From here, the relatively easy approach turned absolutely grueling. Like all good climbing “trails” the route went straight up. We climbed hand and foot up talus and forested trail with roots for balance. We topped out at 4800’ and took a well-deserved break. From there the route went up a moderate valley to Lake Ouzel at the head of the valley. After 8 hours and 15 minutes we had arrived at our base camp for the next three days.
The next morning, we slept in and made a lazy 9 a.m. start toward our first objective – Spickard. The snow cover made hiking up easy and quick. We walked toward the col between Custer and Spickard then turned right at about 6800’. We quickly traversed the slopes toward Peak 8140 and headed up to a notch on the ridgline. Our friend Brian and his friend Steph had been there the day before, so we followed their footsteps around the back of Spickard and up to the summit. Normally this peak takes about 5 hours to climb. Thanks to the snow we were able to top out in 3 hours 45 minutes. Not bad!
Many glissades later, we were happily back at our camp with plenty of time to nap before dinner and think about tomorrow’s ascent of Redoubt.
Morning came early and we were off at 6 a.m. We ascended the rock slabs southeast of Ouzel Lake. At the top of the slabs, the rock gave way to snow, and we worked our way up the Redoubt glacier. The slopes were moderate and we enjoyed the views. The ridge to the left of the flying buttress was almost entirely snow covered. It only took two easy 4th class moves to get over the top. From here, we traversed to the snow gulley that would lead us to the final rock scramble.
I’ve been on some unstable mountains, but Redoubt takes the cake. Every third handhold was loose and every second step resulted in a shower of pebbles and the occasional rock. Yuck! We worked our way up the gullies, staying generally left and before we knew it, we were looking at the “cannon hole” – a narrow slot of rock that leads to the final 50’ of scrambling to the summit. Snow made it pretty difficult to get through, but we made it to the summit in time for lunch!
The descent was unremarkable, except for the amount of rock that kept showering down the gullies as we descended. We made it back to camp at 5:45, thirsty and excited about having topped out on two peaks. The only thing left to do was make it back to our cars safely the next day.
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