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Ascent of Mount Deception on 2011-07-02

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Grant Myers
(Dennis Poulin)
Date:Saturday, July 2, 2011
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Mount Deception
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:7788 ft / 2373 m

Ascent Trip Report

Saturday, July 2:

Our original plan, based on a superb Fourth of July weekend forecast, was for a 4-person trip where we would start hiking at noon on Saturday, camp out that night in Royal Basin, and on Sunday climb Mount Deception and then return all the way home. However, the weather forecast for Sunday deteriorated pretty badly, and unfortunately one of us couldn’t make it at all. The remaining three of us eventually decided to press on, but with a plan to start hiking early on Saturday, set up camp, and try for the summit that evening, hopefully avoiding the bad weather that was coming in Saturday night.

So I woke up at home near Seattle at 5 AM, left by 5:30 AM, met Grant at a park-and-ride in Shoreline a little bit after 6 AM, and we were in plenty of time for the 7:10 ferry from Edmonds to Kingston—we had been a bit worried about holiday weekend traffic, but had no problems getting on our desired boat. From Kingston I drove to US 101 and then up to the Dungeness trailhead via Palo Alto Road, arriving at 9 AM. We found Dennis resting in the back of his truck, quickly got all our stuff together, and we were all hiking at 9:20 AM.

The trail to Royal Basin was through pleasant and shady old-growth at first, and we made pretty good time. About 2.5 miles in there was a huge pile of avalanche debris—icy snow and tree trunks—that was blocking the trail, forcing some minor scrambling. After more gradual uphill snowpatches started appearing, and we lost the trail a couple times, forcing some bushwhacking. We had been warned about another avalanche debris section, and bypassed it via some swampy fields and an annoying steep bushwhack.

Once past the scenic lower Royal Basin area, we crossed the main creek, but the terrain was now totally snow covered and we meandered uphill through the mostly open forest with no trail, and then climbed an open gully and a steep snow slope. Using our GPSes, we then headed right and came to Royal Lake, descended to its north shore, then down its west side. Two women dayhikers who knew the area pointed us to a nice campsite where the ground was still bare, so we decided to pitch camp here. I had originally thought of camping higher, in the upper Royal Basin, but we were tired of our heavy overnight packs and knew this was likely the last dry ground we would see. It was 2:20 PM, 5 hours uphill from the trailhead.

We quickly set up our tents while chatting with the two women as they ate lunch, and we got our packs together for an evening summit attempt. After filtering some water in the nearby lake, at 3:10 PM, we set off up the basin over snowy fields and open forest, soon breaking out into mostly open terrain that was entirely snow-covered. We climbed a slightly steep snow slope up the headwall of a small ravine, and at the top Grant and I waited for Dennis to catch up. When he arrived, he announced he was dragging and out of energy, and would turn back. Grant and I felt bad, since with a night’s rest Dennis probably would have done fine, and our aggressive plan might have been too ambitious. Dennis’s body was also likely still recovering from a 7500-foot vertical climb of Mount Shasta the previous weekend.

Grant and I still felt OK, so we took off and climbed over easy snow humps and dips to the base of the northeast face of Deception. A huge snow fan, dirty with rockfall, was the main feature, and we knew that standard route climbed to the Deception-Martin col and then dropped over the other side of the ridge. The col, though, was not obvious at all due to all the rock towers, so we decided to head to the snow fan and aim to our right a bit, finding the easiest line. We soon found lines of footsteps, and started following the most promising ones. We stayed to the right side of the fan, away from most of the rocks and dirty snow, and traded off step-kicking duties as the slope steepened. The face was now in evening shade, and the snow, while still a bit soft, made for deep, solid steps with minimal kicking effort. The main snowfield looked very steep straight ahead, and a good line of existing snow steps took off to the right, winding between rock bands, so we followed them.

The next 400 vertical feet was the crux of the route. The snow was extremely steep, maybe up to 60 degrees—the wall was really right in front of our faces. Using full ice-axe self-belays and bomber kicked steps, we pretty much went straight up. Our main worry was all the rock bands we were navigating through—most of the runout was snow, but we didn’t want to bounce over any rocks if we fell. A couple times we went on to rocks, and once I couldn’t climb over a rock with a very thin cover of snow and went right to a rock rib for a very short stretch. The steep climbing also gave me a minor leg cramp and I had to wait a couple minutes in a precarious perch while it went away.

Without too many other issues we crested the ridge at 7200 feet, and took a short rest as we looked out at the Deception Glacier. We could see the infamous snow finger on the left (east) side of Gilhooley Tower, but it had a nasty overhanging cornice on top—it didn’t look any steeper than the snow we just climbed, but it seemed prudent to take the “variation” route that made a counter-clockwise loop three-quarters the way around Gilhooley Tower. That’s the way the footprints went, too.

So we dropped about 150 feet onto the upper Deception “glacier” (no crevasses) and climbed easy snow to where we could turn the corner, and then traversed bands of snow and talus towards the quite gentle summit dome of Deception. This was all easy going, with some short stretches of mildly annoying loose scree the only real issue. The final ridge was all snow, and we topped out at 6:45 PM, about 3 hours and 35 minutes from camp.

We didn’t stay long. The weather had clearly been deteriorating as we climbed, and we could see clouds on Olympus and “mare’s tales” of incipient rain over the whole range. The clouds were still high, though, and we could still see many prominent Olympic peaks. Grant took some pictures, and we ate some snacks, but after 15 minutes, at 7:00 PM, we headed down.

The easy summit dome and traverses around Gilhooley Tower were fun and trivial, and we even found a hard-to-see high path across the worst of the scree. Our main concern was the steep snow of the northeast face, and we did not want to descend our ascent route, due to the steep snow and rock bands. So from Deception Glacier we followed a set of old footprints to another notch in the ridge, a bit south of the one we had crossed earlier, and saw a cairn and faint paths heading down a steep, loose rocky rib. We decided to give this new route a try.

The rock was a pretty heinous mixture of hard dirt and loose rock, but we were able to crab down it with no huge issues. After a hundred feet or so Grant decided to bail out onto the neighboring steep snow and back down, kicking steps with ice-axe self belay. I elected to stay on the rock and paralleled him down, carefully stepping on the rare solid rocks and butt-sliding when necessary. When my rock rib ran out, I traversed on the very steep snow underneath Grant’s path, across a runnel of questionable snow quality, and over to a spot with good snow run-out. Unlike our ascent route, this snowfield offered mostly snow in our fall line, meaning a slip would involve an involuntary glissade for hundreds of feet and (likely) no serious injury.

Grant passed below me as I negotiated the runnel, and he tried a glissade, found too much ice-axe pressure was needed, instead plunge-stepped down a bit, and finally glissaded to safety. I found plunge-stepping too scary, so I backed down quickly without full self-belay until Grant’s glissade path, where I, too, slid down on my butt to the gentler slopes below.

We never used the crampons, rope, pickets, and harnesses we brought, even though Grant seriously thought this route was good prep for a climb of the legendary snow of Lincoln Peak near Mount Baker. It was indeed pretty dicey in spots, but the snow was just right for really good steps. Also, although we heard some rockfall a couple times off to our left (facing uphill), we never saw any on our route and never felt threatened—all the snow and the lateness of the day likely helped keep things in place.

Happy to be off the dangerous part of the mountain, we now plunge-stepped easily down to the very base of the peak, took a well-deserved rest, and then cruised downhill towards camp as the sun was setting. We followed our footsteps and were soon in a nice meadowed area, following snowshoe tracks (which seemed very silly to us). We expected to find the lake easily, but somehow missed it as we passed what might have been Shelter Rock and a dug-out pit toilet. My GPS batteries had died, so when we came upon the ranger cabin, we surprised the ranger in there and embarrassingly asked directions to the lake. Another younger ranger showed up, and he was happy to guide us back to our campsite, uphill a ways.

We were back at camp at 9:30 PM, tired after a very busy day. Dennis was waiting for us, and as we unpacked and ate some food we exchanged stories—he had watched us from near his turnaround spot, and, back at camp, had seen us on the summit. Grant and I were too tired to bother cooking hot food, so we crawled into our tents about 10:45 PM for some serious sleep. A few minutes later, it started raining, and we feel asleep to occasionally torrential bursts on our Gore-Tex shelters.

Sunday, July 3:

We all woke up about 7:15 AM, happy to see the rain has ended overnight. The weather was a mix of swirling clouds and blue sky—it probably would have been OK to summit today, but not ideal. We later saw low clouds in the valley, and some light rain as we drove down the road, so overall at least Grant and I were happy with our plan to summit yesterday.

We had discussed doing another peak today (Mount Fricaba, a nearby Wilderness Area high point), but our fatigue and the weather scotched that plan. Dennis was headed to Mount Saint Helens tomorrow, so he was not super keen on a big blowout day today, especially not a solo attempt on the steep slopes of Deception.

So we packed up camp and hiked out uneventfully, taking about four hours (from 9 AM to 1 PM) to hike the seven miles back to the trailhead. We only took one real rest, although Grant stopped to take many photographs. At the car, we swapped our gear, and Grant and I bid farewell to Dennis. We drove to Kingston by 2:45 and were able to get on the 3:10 ferry, and after dropping Grant at his car I was home at 4:30 PM, a nice early return time for a trip like this.
Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:5698 ft / 1735 m
    Elevation Loss:5698 ft / 1735 m
    Grade/Class:Class 3, Steep Snow
    Quality:7 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Open Country, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground, Snow Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:1 nights away from roads
    Weather:Cool, Windy, Overcast
Ascent Statistics
    Elevation Gain:5498 ft / 1675 m
    Extra Loss:200 ft / 60 m
    Route:NE Face
    Trailhead:Dungeness TH  2490 ft / 758 m
Descent Statistics
    Elevation Loss:5498 ft / 1675 m
    Extra Gain:200 ft / 60 m
    Trailhead:Dungeness TH  2490 ft / 758 m
GPS Data for Ascent/Trip


 GPS Waypoints - Hover or click to see name and lat/long
Peaks:  climbed and  unclimbed by Greg Slayden
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Note: GPS Tracks may not be accurate, and may not show the best route. Do not follow this route blindly. Conditions change frequently. Use of a GPS unit in the outdoors, even with a pre-loaded track, is no substitute for experience and good judgment. Peakbagger.com accepts NO resposibility or liability from use of this data.

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