June on the Ptarmigan Traverse

After a cold and demanding expedition to Denali, fellow guide Dustin Byrne and I decided to enjoy the end of ski season back in the Cascades by visiting the Ptarmigan Traverse. This high route connects the Cascade Pass area with Spire Point and the Dome Peak region to the south. I had never visited the latter, and decided it would be a nice treat to see a new corner of the Cascades. It delivered everything we hoped: fun touring, t-shirt weather, and a strong sense of movement through the mountains.

We set up a car shuttle at the southern end, which unfortunately means the gated Suiattle River road. It's a very long walk from the current snow line down to the car. But of course we could put off dealing with that for a few days.

Our start was much more direct and exciting. From the upper gate on Cascade River road, it was only two miles to the Cascade Pass lot and the start of the snow. As it was late in the day, we chose to camp near the Pass and hope the snow-rotting clouds would vanish. They did, but only an hour or so before dawn. We set out on already mushy snow, over the Cache glacier to Cache Col. Eldorado, the Inspiration Glacier, Forbidden, Sahale, and Buckner formed a magnificent backdrop.

From Cache Col we made a chunky glide down below Red Ledge, booted up, then continued gliding over to the Middle Cascade Glacier. Mt. Formidable lives up to its name, especially with a few lovely snow arĂȘtes in place. On the way, we found some big bear prints heading straight down toward the Middle Fork. And they seemed to be coming from the col between Hurry-up and Art's Knoll. Bears like high mountain touring, too!

From Spider-Formidable Col, we hurried across soupy slopes to Yang-Yang lakes. After some debate we elected to call it a day; clear skies would hopefully bring safer and more enjoyable conditions the next day.

A 3 AM rise paid off: perfect firm snow, fast gliding, cool temps. I was wearing a t-shirt at 6 AM, but still skinning a firm crust. The miles flew by: over Le Conte Glacier, the South Cascade glacier, down to White Rock Lakes, and up the Dana glacier. At 9 AM we were sitting up beside Spire Point, contemplating the headwaters of Bachelor Creek. This was truly a perfect day of alpine touring. We were even able to ski down to 3800 feet on Bachelor Creek, leaving only 18 miles of lovely walking. It was a quarter to 8 PM when we arrived at the car, footsore and aghast that someone had stolen the beers we left chilling in the creek. Curses.

The Ptarmigan visits some of the wildest mountain country in the Cascades. Forest Service plans to re-open the Suiattle River road this summer have been shelved following environmental objections; it looks like it will be no less wild any time soon. I hope to return before long.