Painting a route for comfort
This is my face after finally finding a summit route I was comfortable with.
Sometimes when I look at a map I can be briefly overwhelmed with anxiety by all the things I’m not: comfortable with exposure, a technical climber, young, and fast… I'm sure I could think of more, but that seems like a good place to stop the list.
When I find myself looking at a known route that travels through an area I’m very interested in but has aspects that make me uncomfortable, I set about making it a little more Scott friendly. Such is the case with my July trip to the Glacier Peak Wilderness to forge a modified version of the Painted Traverse.
I escaped home and made it to the trailhead later than I’d have liked due to Seattle traffic, getting started around 2pm. A steep climb of 4600 feet over the next 8.5 miles followed, until I scooted above the Lost Creek Ridge Trail to an off trail lake.
Views of the traverse proper lay in front of me, including Painted Peak and Black Mountain. I got to turn in for bed with a look at the upcoming travel and a great sunset.
I awoke in the morning early to knock out my few remaining on trail miles to Lake Byrne. The rollicking ridge trail was full of ups and downs, but even obscured by morning fog the scenery made for a fantastic sub alpine start to the day, with a few lakes and meadows along the way.
Upon reaching Lake Byrne the cross country shenanigans began in earnest. The below map shows my line in blue, and the traditional Painted Traverse in black. My plan was to basin and pass my way alongside the traverse until it reached an area where I felt good about joining it.
The map immediately reveals the drawback to this approach, which is the high effort involved. There are pluses though, which was the joy of route finding with no beta, and a close up look at drainages that few will ever travel through. The fog still obscured my view across the White Chuck River, where I knew Glacier Peak sat looming. I wasn’t too sad about being robbed of the big vista, figuring it would clear up eventually. In the meantime I focused on the immediate terrain, full of scree, slick heather, and snow fields:
For the most part I was able to keep the high angle snow travel to a few careful chopped steps here and there, and took a few slick heather tumbles, but otherwise enjoyed steady progress. The sun eventually made an appearance, and the larger surroundings opened up around me. From a vantage point below Black Mountain I spied what would be my last pass climb of the day with a little skepticism, hoping that the USGS hadn’t suckered me into a sketchy climb. I’m aiming for the waterfall fed by the snowfield in the center of the picture below:
Though taxing, the climb through and around the waterfall was a joy:
It was at this moment I had a little bit of an “everything is because of water” reverie. The White Chuck River separating me from Glacier Peak, the snow fed drainage that sculpted out a path for me to make my ascent, the basin I was climbing out of, the shape and the texture of the rock I was climbing on. Many water themed pop songs floated (pun) through my head, and the ear worms that took the greatest hold were Float On and Once in a Lifetime. The latter is always in my head, as I find myself climbing a remote off trail pass and ask myself “Well, how did I get here?”. The question never gets old, I owe David Byrne a lot of beers.
I descended into the basin below Skull Cap, the peak I’d climb in the morning to join the Painted Traverse’s traditional route. This was the right time to call it a day, I’d already done 4700 feet of mostly off trail climbing, and getting hung up on the ridgeline at the end of the day with no water seemed a poor alternative to my picturesque basin camp.
I awoke in the morning socked in by fog once again, unable to see much of the planned first climb of the day. I nursed my coffee while waiting a bit for it to start to lift, and then made my way up to the Skull Cap Summit. It was an easy climb, and waiting to be able to see where I was going paid dividends.
Having gained the summit, the walk from Skullcap to Purple was a mile of mind boggling scenery as the clouds slowly gave way to more and more scenery:
A glance back at my track on the map above will show I flailed a bit in my attempt to hold the ridge on the way to the Purple Peak summit. A few moments of airy class four convinced me to contour underneath the summit and regain the ridge again further south. Once I floundered my way up I had great views into the North Cascades, Glacier Peak, and the remainder of my ridgeline walk that would take me over Portal Peak and descend to Red Pass on the PCT.
Having made my way back to the PCT, I calculated what my fiancee and I always refer to jokingly as "our chance of survival" as very high. I camped off the PCT that evening before making my way back to the car in the morning.
Reflecting on the jaunt as a whole, I was quite happy with the extra effort involved in my route versus the ridge traverse. It may be a rationalization, but I feel like I came to a finer more granular understanding of the area than I would have on the traditional route, and gave myself the joy of planning something of my own instead of Painting... by number. (Sorry, couldn't resist).
The basin below Portal Peak