Ptarmigan Again

This time I went to the Ptarmigan on foot, with more time to take in the sights and enjoy the seclusion. I planted the seeds for this trip last year while spending time in Boston Basin with my guest Michael. We had some clear views to the south from Forbidden, and I told him what I knew about the area.

Michael has wide and varied interests as a climber. I've been on Denali with him, the north face of Shuksan, the north ridge of Stuart, and other fine climbs. He really appreciates wilderness and a chance to get away from the crowds. The Ptarmigan at this time of year was just the ticket--we saw not a soul for 6 days.

We enjoyed an auspicious start to our traverse when we scored a free ride up the final, gated 2 miles of road to the Cascade Pass parking lot. We let Johannesberg do its usual mind-blowing thing and enjoyed the ride.

The snow is still deep in the mountains, of course, and the well-beaten summer tread of the Ptarmigan was nowhere to be seen. In places this transformed a gentle hike into a mountaineering challenge. Mixup arm, as always, formed a crux, with steep snow slopes traversing above cliff bands.

We camped at Kool-Aid lakes and then again at Yang-Yang. This made for a short second day, but the forecast threatened thunderstorms, and we didn't much feel like being forced to camp somewhere between Yang-Yang and White Rock Lakes.

The next morning we awoke to a biting cold wind and driving snow. It looked--and felt--like winter. A good 7 hour push saw us to White Rocks: all whiteout navigation, and most of it roped. Exciting!

We found bare ground and a rock wind break at White Rock, which was a delight. The wind kept blowing, and the temps didn't climb a bit. But finally, the morning of the fourth day, the clouds lifted and the wind died. The peaks of the Chikamin and Dana glaciers shone out in the morning light, and we headed onward.

After stashing our gear at the Dome-Dana col, we spent the rest of day four climbing Dome Peak. It was such a pleasure to finally climb a peak I'd been reading about for half my life. Looking south to Glacier Peak, I wondered if we might be sitting in the center of what is effectively the biggest chunk of wilderness in the state; the road closures on the Suiattle, White Chuck and Sauk river roads have rendered the place quite remote.

The next day we slept in and climbed a spire next to camp. I began to think of the place as the Mini-Bugs: attractive rock spires rising out of relatively friendly glaciers, all just a short walk away. After our fine little climb, we packed up and headed toward Itswoot Ridge and the descent toward the Suiattle.

Michael very wisely had chosen to break up the long walk, so as not to end the trip with a blistery death march. As it turned out, however, he lost track the days and and padded the end of the trip with an extra 24 hours. So we lingered on the descent, camping at 4,600' on Bachelor creek and again at the Downey Creek trailhead. It made for some pleasant walking in the woods. I did my best to capture some of the Cascadian magnificence in those ancient forests. It was my turn to lose track of time, kneeling in the shade, fiddling with my camera in a decades-old quest to capture wild ginger flowers in a decent photograph.

Thanks to Michael for a grand week in the wild mountains--looking forward to next year!