Ascent of Bonanza Peak on 2009-07-02

Climber: Greg Slayden

Others in Party:Adam Helman -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Dennis Poulin -- Trip Report or GPS Track
Grant Myers
Date:Thursday, July 2, 2009
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:Car
Peak:Bonanza Peak
    Elevation:9511 ft / 2898 m

Ascent Trip Report


Planning a trip to Bonanza Peak is not easy. Ideally, you need a couple of partners with the skill and desire for this difficult challenge, a good weather forecast, and three days in early July. We were fortunate in 2009 that four of us all wanted this peak and could be flexible with our schedules. I had the most constraints and was limited to windows of July 1-3 or July 5-7. But by late June it was apparent that the long sunny streak we were having in the Northwest would last through the Fourth of July, so we agreed to meet on the first. We hoped to avoid the holiday crowds on the boat and the peak, and also the heat wave expected over the long weekend.

Wednesday, July 1:

So we all met at the Fields Point boat dock parking lot on Lake Chelan at 8:30 AM on Wednesday, July 1st. Grant, Dennis, Adam, and myself were coming from the four compass points (Bellingham, Oregon, San Diego via Idaho, and Seattle), so we had four cars and parked side-by-side to sort and organize gear for a while. The boat line had told us to get everything off our packs, so we had two duffel bags full of poles, pickets, ice axes, air mattresses, and other junk in addition to our four large packs. We carried this over to the boat dock, paid for our parking ($6/night/car), picked up our reserved tickets to Lucerne ($34.50 each round trip), and were soon sailing up the deep blue waters of Lake Chelan at 13 mph on the Lady of the Lake II.

Our boat ride was from 9:45 to 11:30 AM, and was not too crowded on this Wednesday morning. At Lucerne a single school bus was waiting on the dock, and our packs and bags were loaded right on and we hopped in. The ride up to Holden Village on a dusty road took about 45 minutes or so, and featured dramatic switchbacks up from the lake. We arrived at the Lutheran retreat camp village of Holden around 12:30 PM or so, and the guests staying there came down to the bus to welcome us. Our party and another single hiker were the only people on the bus not staying in the village overnight, so we walked up to the registrar and paid $15 for our round-trip bus rides.

We then organized our packs in the shade of one of the large Holden lodge buildings, and were able to stow our duffel bags with unneeded stuff in the “Hike Haus” hiker information/rental shop nearby. By 1:15 PM or so we hit the trail, headed for Bonanza Peak, groaning under our heavy loads. Adam had two packs lashed together, his summit pack on an angle atop his main pack.

The route followed the road out of town to the west, then the Hart Lake trail along the flat valley for a while, past mine tailings, a ranger cabin (no one there to sign out with), and some yurts. It finally became a trail, and maybe a half-mile later we came to the junction with the Holden Lake Trail. We turned right here and followed this path uphill gently in the heat. It was not too bad at first, but then it started climbing in an avalanche-slide area of low bushes that was broiling in the mid-afternoon sun. We grunted this out, passing a few dayhikers and a few trail work crews, likely Holden Village staff doing their part to help out the Forest Service. Views of the spire of Bonanza Peak ahead were inspiring, too.

After a few rests the trail re-entered cool forest and we picked up the pace a little, but after a while further we hit a massive avalanche debris zone where a huge slide had taken out a wide swath of old timber. There was still snow under the branches and pine needles, and a rough trail had been hacked though the blowdown. We were grateful when this makeshift trail regained the deep woods for the remaining gentle climb to Holden Lake.

At Holden Lake we took a break, but it was a kind of buggy and swampy place and not terribly inviting. We planned to camp up at Holden Pass anyway, so after getting some water and/or putting on insect repellent we continued. The trail was now unmaintained as it wound around past campsites on the north side of the lake, and eventually it became kind of indistinct and occasionally flooded. Then the path disappeared entirely in another avalanche debris zone, and we had no choice but to embark on a miserable bushwhack with our full packs. We thrashed about a bit, ducked under some fallen trees, and eventually aimed for some snowy areas ahead. Grant did a good job of routefinding and it wasn’t too long before we were out of the brush.

However, we could not find the trail anymore. We hiked uphill on the snow leftover from the avalanches, since that offered a nice route uphill, even if the footing was a bit slippery. At this point we were all pretty tired and hot and cursing our heavy packs, and my stomach was not feeling good. We took a break on some rocks, and debated where the trail went—the trip reports we had printed out all mentioned a good climbers trail to the pass that they all found without incident, but we were totally lost. I thought we might climb above a buttress to gain the pass above the valley floor, but we decided to head for a brook above. This was the right choice, since we soon found the path, climbing steeply alongside the brook on its left side.

It was very steep and full of sandy, rocky terrain, and we grunted uphill—Dennis especially was feeling the weight of his pack. When we got to an area where we could see the pass, the trail peeled off right, and here we took a long rest and filled up our water bottles, since we thought the pass might be dry. My Camelback water bladder mouthpiece was broken, so I had to duct-tape the nozzle and just use it as a water bag.

Once full with water we hiked the ten minutes up to Holden Pass. It was near 7 PM, and we were beat, so we had to get camp set up soon. The pass area was mostly snow-covered, and after some searching we found two mostly-flat areas of dry ground not too far apart, each with room for one tent. Dennis and Adam set up theirs in the bigger area, near some nice cooking rocks, and Grant and I set up my tent in a smaller area to the south, a 30-second hike away across the snow. No one else was there, so we were pretty sure we would be the only party on the peak tomorrow.

We cooked our meals, organized our gear, and agreed on a 4 AM wake up so we could hit the trail by 5 AM. I was a bit apprehensive about our climb tomorrow—Bonanza had a fearsome reputation and I was a bit concerned with routefinding issues, steep rock, snowbridges, and other issues. Down at Holden Lake we could see some pretty big snowpatches on the rock route above the snow thumb, and I was very concerned about them blocking our progress. I managed a few hours of fitful sleep, maybe.

Thursday, July 2:

My alarm chirped me awake at 4 AM, and Grant and I stirred, got dressed, and got out into the predawn twilight to get our gear together. We walked over to Adam and Dennis’s tent, made sure they were awake, and I cooked up some hot water for oatmeal for those who needed it. We were pretty efficient, since by 5 AM we were ready, and a few minutes later were hiking up the snowy crest to the west, towards the roaring waterfalls of the Mary Green Glacier. Sunlight already illuminated the great east face of Bonanza.

Once above the snowpatches at Holden Pass an intermittent use trail led us up the crest, past a huge cleft to the right and then to a small cliff, which the trail bypassed easily to the left, up to a place where we squeezed past some trees. Above this there was some nice heather, then snowbanks, then talus, all easy. Ahead was a cliff wall, and to the left was the huge area of waterfalls and sloping slabs below the retreating glacier. Our goal was to get up this cliff wall and avoid as many waterfalls and slabs as possible.

We got to a good viewpoint and had a route-planning powwow. I thought we should head uphill on talus to the very foot of the wall ahead, then cut left on a sketchy ledge system to the first waterfall, then try to scramble up alongside it—this is what most trip reports indicated. We all agreed, or so I thought, so we headed on up. However, I think Grant misunderstood, and he headed left across a snow slope towards the main slab area, while the rest of us went up to the wall and then left. I figured we were all just probing anyway.

The ledge was downsloping and narrow, but it was pretty easy to cross the first waterfall stream. Just beyond, the ledge suddenly disappeared at a corner. The rib uphill to my right looked climbable—it was no longer a cliff, anyway—so I headed up. Adam followed behind me, and after about 100 feet of class 3 terrain, with maybe a class 4 move thrown in, we were up on a nice heathery bench. Dennis had decided to follow us, too, and we next saw him crest the rib to our rest spot. Since our camp had no water, we needed to fill up, and the waterfall stream here was a nice source we didn’t even bother to filter.

Dennis said that he had seen Grant at the base of the rib when he was on top, so we expected him shortly. But we grew concerned when he didn’t show up after a while. I finally walked down a bit and saw him way below, on the snow below the ledge. It was hard to communicate with all the waterfall noise, but I did catch him yelling something about needing a belay. I yelled back that we’d set up the rope, and went back to my pack to get out our technical gear and put on my harness. Dennis spied some scraggly trees across the brook with a ton of webbing around them, obviously the rappel anchor we’d need to get down—this was nice to see, since it meant we were on route, and I could use it as a belay anchor, too.

This anchor was not above the rib, but I ran the rope around a nearby tree and got in a good-enough belay stance and Dennis tossed the rope down to Grant, who had by now climbed back across the ledge from the snow below. He tied in at the base of the rib and climbed it easily—he admitted that the rope served as a psychological belay more than anything. Adam had gone ahead up the talus field above to wait in the warm sun, and after Grant got some water we all reunited up above. I felt bad about this little incident—we should have been better about keeping our group together, and watching out for those of us who needed a belay.

We were pleased with our route, though, since that little bit of climbing had taken us to easy terrain and it looked like we bypassed a lot of wet slabs, huge waterfalls, and undercut snowfields. We hiked up a little more talus to near the crest of the ridge, very close to Point 7487 on the topo map, where a large snowfield stretched out to our left, merging with the Mary Green Glacier. Here we roped up for glacier travel, since we could see our route was on snow or ice all the way to the snow thumb on the east face of the peak, plainly visible ahead. Fortunately, it looked like we could avoid the icefalls, crevasses, and seracs of the glacier by following a direct high traverse towards our goal.

Our marching order was Grant, myself, Dennis, and Adam, and we set off onto the snow. After a couple of minutes we decided to stop and put on crampons, since the snow was icier than we thought, despite being in the sun. After that we trudged along for a bit, and Grant picked out a nice route that easily avoided all obstacles. One slightly tricky stretch was a traverse from our entry snowfield to the main glacier body, but our crampons held well as we passed a steep slope downhill to our left. Then it was up and over some minor rises, through some old avalanche debris snowballs, and into the basin below the infamous snow thumb. There were some footprints in the snow from previous parties we picked up halfway across, and they led us through this basin and on a steepening arc up into the main area of the thumb.

The upper bergschrund of the snow thumb completely split it horizontally, and our path made a rising traverse just below this obstacle to gain the rock on the far side (the right side as you look at the thumb from below). I know that Adam was not super comfortable on steep snow, so at a rest break below the traverse I switched places with him on the rope, so he was second and I last, and then gave Grant a few pickets to place as he went across. I would then collect them as I passed. This worked well, and the traverse path had bomber footsteps, so we felt pretty confident on this steep terrain. Grant placed two pickets on the traverse we clipped through as we passed, and a third just before the rock. I collected the first one, left the second for our descent, and soon joined our party on the rock.

We had no issues leaving the traverse path to the rock, and there were some nice slabs here for a rest. So we cached our crampons and gazed upward at 900 vertical feet of steep rock. There were a couple of large snowfields we had seen from below, but it looked like they could be bypassed easily. All our trip reports said that you start out up to the right, then traverse left two-thirds of the way up, so we started scrambling up the steep, wide gully to the right of the first big snowfield. There was no obvious path and no real gully, so we just took the route of least resistance.

We stayed together the best we could during this rock scrambling, since we didn’t want any rocks we sent down to gain velocity. The terrain was mostly hard class 3 or easy class 4, but sometimes we blundered into hard class 4 terrain where we pretty much had to keep climbing up with no retreat options, but these sections were usually pretty short and led to easier going. If we went too far right, towards a crenellated ridge, the rocks were looser and the terrain sandier, so we tried to stay on the firmer rock. The area was so steep that, in general, loose rock did not have much of a chance to collect. I was happy, too, that Grant seemed OK with the scrambling and he never asked for a belay on the entire way up.

We saw some rappel anchors to our left near a smaller upper snowfield, passed them, and climbed toward a dark pyramid-shaped buttress ahead. I knew we would want to angle left about here, and above the pyramid we found easier terrain, maybe class 2, for a short bit over a rib (marked by a small cairn) to an indistinct gully system leading to more steep class 3 or 4 terrain. It was aiming for a small snowfield on the skyline, and we took a brief rest at a wide ledge before heading up toward the beckoning blue. This was pretty steep, and near the top I was following Adam and Dennis up a somewhat loose gully. The three of us reached the base of the snowfield and scrambled up the left side of it, while Grant climbed up the snow right next to the rock. He reached the ridge crest first, at a large boulder with rappel slings, while we went up some steep boulders to reach the crest above him to the left.

Once on the crest of the ridge, views to the north and west opened up, and we had a short, fun, and interesting stroll on an extremely exposed knife-edge that led to the summit rockpile. A few more steps and we were on top—what a great feeling! It was a little past 11 AM, having taken us 6 hours up from camp to the top, about 1.75 hours of that on the steep rock.

We rested on top for an hour. It was perfectly clear, with not a cloud in the sky, and the entire North Cascades surrounded us. We congratulated each other, took pictures, ate, perused the summit register and signed in, and made sure we touched the highest candidate rocks. The only downer for us was the thought of the hazards of the descent.

So around noon we headed down. The summit crest was easy at first, but then a bit tricky to get to the large boulder with rappel slings where Grant had cached his ice axe. Once there Dennis donated another long sling to back up the one already there, and I set up our first rappel. Then the four of us rapped down about 90 feet or so, partly over the snow, to some slightly easier terrain below. I instructed Adam here on the use of the ATC I loaned him—he was used to figure 8s, which I didn’t want curling up my rope.

After our first rappel we didn’t see any anchors, but we felt comfortable downclimbing, so we carefully hiked, crabbed, and butt-slid down the steep terrain for a bit. I tried carrying the rope around my neck and shoulder, but it got in the way of my downclimbing and I felt much safer with it in my pack. After a little bit of this we saw another anchor, up above us on a small buttress above a cleft, and I dropped my pack to scramble up to it and set up our second rappel. From there I rappelled first down the cleft, put on my pack below, and then continued down to where the rope ran out. The others then followed.

From here it was more downclimbing, leading to the short stretch of easier terrain. Here we decided to stay to our right (south) of the snowfields, even though we had climbed up the other side. We thought we’d find more rappel anchors here, since we hadn’t seen many on our route up and the terrain was pretty steep in spots, maybe too steep for downclimbing. So we went down an ill-defined rib, pretty steeply, and then saw two rappel anchors ahead. One was on the rib, partly in place with an old bolt, and nearby there was one on a horn above a snowfield. Dennis arrived first and we thought we’d best use the one on the horn, so I scrambled over to him to set up our third rappel.

However, Grant was still on the rib, across the small snowfield, and he got a bit spooked with the smooth slabs the rest of us had downclimbed to get below the snow and over to the slings. He clearly needed a belay, so I gathered the rope and tossed it up to him—he tied in and then climbed down on the snow, right next to the rock, while I held him in a belay from the rappel slings. Again, the help was mostly psychological, I think, and the force vectors of my belay stance were not the greatest, but would have at least prevented a fall of hundreds of feet.

While getting ready to rappel, Dennis dropped his water bottle, so he went first and miraculously retrieved it from an undercut snowfield below, in the middle of his rappel down to the very end of the rope. He seemed to find easier terrain below, so the rest of us followed. I went last and pulled the rope again with no incident, then followed carefully downhill. I was amazed and happy to see how close we now were to our crampons stash, down at the start of the snow thumb. The terrain eased up, so we did not need any more rappels and were back at our rest stop without incident. It had taken us almost three hours to descend the 900 feet of rock, almost twice the time to ascend, testament to how carefully we downclimbed and how time-consuming three rappels can be with a party of four.

While resting on the rocks I tested the first few steps of snow thumb and they still felt hard, so we put our crampons back on as we roped up for the glacier. Again Grant went first, and I gave him some pickets for the initial traverse. He put one in before the one I had left, and I was last on the rope and gathered them all up again. The footing was good and the pickets were there really just to make us feel a bit better. Once down in the basin below the snow thumb we rested together on a rise to take off our crampons, since the snow was now very soft. I also redistributed the pickets so we each had one.

We then hiked down the glacier easily for a while, enjoying the scenery and pleasant going on our upward footprints. Again Grant did a good job of routefinding. The only tricky part was the steep traverse over to the area near Point 7487. The footsteps that Grant and Adam made had become a bit slippery by the time Dennis got to them, and he slipped a little bit a couple times—I saw this from my position last on the rope, and dropped into self-arrest. Once I saw he didn’t go far, I yelled ahead to Grant and Adam, on safer ground, to get into arrest position until we were all across this traverse. I felt better knowing that they were ready to stop a fall as we made our way across.

The rest of the snow hike was uneventful, and after a little confusion over exactly where we had roped up in the morning, we found the right talus field and shed our glacier gear. A short downhill hike on dusty talus, scree, and heather led us to the scraggly trees above the waterfall cliffs, where a ton of slings around low trees was the rappel anchor we had seen in the morning. While I set up the rappel, we filled up all our water bottles for our dry camp tonight.

Adam went first on the rappel, and I second—it was a very long and tricky rappel, since the cliff was wet with slimy algae and my feet slipped a bit as I slid down. Also, my 60 meter rope was just long enough to reach the ledge we had traversed this morning, just before the first waterfall (which we crossed as a stream on the heather above). Adam had already hiked the ledge to wait on the talus slope beyond, but I stayed nearby to pull the rope. There were some large loose rocks at the base of the rappel, and I knocked a big one down to the snow below, thankful we were the only party on the mountain today.

Grant came down next, and when he started across the ledge, he got spooked again, due to the downsloping smooth slabs with no footholds combined with his wet, slimy boot soles. He waited near the base of the rappel, and Dennis arrived as the last rappeller. I pulled the rope while Dennis, too, sent down a huge rock from the same loose pile I had hit. Grant was hoping for a belay across the ledge, but there were no anchors or protection visible on the water-scoured slabs. Eventually he decided that he could dry-tool his way across, putting his ice-axe into tiny cracks as he walked the sloping slabs, and both Dennis and I followed using this technique, too. I resorted to a horizontal butt-slide near the end. Somehow Adam had crossed this ledge easily, and he watched our dry-tooling with amusement—we looked like miners to him.

Now we were finally off the technical terrain, and we happily and easily hiked downhill across talus, heather, and snow to our camp, visible below. We did lose the climber’s trail a bit, and were forced into another wet-slab traverse at a small cliff, but that was trivial. At about 6:45 PM we stumbled back into camp, after over 13.5 hours on the trail—6 hours up, 1 hour on top, and 6.5 hours down.

There were now two other parties camped at Holden Pass, aiming for Bonanza tomorrow and eager for beta, but we told them to come back once we had unpacked and eaten. So I went to my tent, threw off my pack, changed into my sandals, put on some DEET (the bugs were still bad), gathered my food, and walked over to our cook area to get some water boiling for my pasta and salmon freeze-dried meal. Adam proudly unpacked his cinnamon babka cake as a post-summit treat, and we enjoyed lounging and eating after a most productive day.

One of the other climbers came over and we gave him our route advice—there were two groups, and one of them was a party of two hoping to move fast, so they would not be on the rock section at the same time as the three-person group this guy was in.

The last order of business this day was deciding about Martin Peak. Adam never had any interest in this 2000-foot prominence peak up the other side of Holden Pass, and once back in camp Dennis declared he was too tired and not interested, either. I was on the fence--I didn’t want to carry harness, rope, ice-axe, and crampons, and Adam was willing to loan me his lightweight summit pack, but I was tired from a long day. Grant was kind of ambivalent, too. The beta we had was that Martin was class 3/class 4 and the summit gully was steep, so we might need a rope, even if I was willing to try it without one. And once the rope comes out, time flies by quickly, and we did want to get down to Holden for the bus and ferry the next day.

By bedtime Grant and I decided against Martin. We were tired, and we’d have to leave at 4 AM and do the round trip in 5 hours in order to get back to camp, pack up, and leave in time to get the bus in Holden. And we didn’t want to get almost to the top and be stopped by a class 4 section with no time to use a rope. We both needed to be with our families on the 4th of July, so we didn’t have the extra day that would have been optimal. Ideally, you could do Martin, return to camp, and hike down to Holden to camp near the village. Then, the next morning you could get the fast boat back to Fields Point by 2 PM.

So we crashed out and slept a lot better than the night before, our goal achieved and our apprehensions gone.

Friday, July 3:

We “slept in” to 6 AM or so, and leisurely woke up, ate breakfast, and got packed up. It was another nice day, and hotter than when we hiked in, so we were glad to be heading downhill. We left camp a little after 8 AM and first hiked down to the brook below Holden Pass, where Adam rearranged his lashed pair of packs and we filtered some water for the hot hike downhill. Then it was steep hiking down the climber’s trail, which ended at an old avalanche snowfield. Here we stayed on the snow past brushy terrain on either side until it ran out down near the lake.

Then we thrashed our way through the downed trees of the avalanche zone, miserable going but brief, and Grant happily found the climbers trail that wound about a bit past swamps and flooded areas to the braided campsite access trails that led to the southeast end of the lake. There we rested, happily gazing up at the impossible-looking summit spire we had scaled yesterday.

The trail from Holden Lake down to Holden was uneventful. The cool forest was nice, the huge avalanche zone was a slight bother, and the hot switchbacks lower down were scorching. We saw no hikers headed up, since the boat/bus had not come in yet, but there were still some trail crews hard at work in the heat. It was not much past noon when we got back to Holden Village.

We rested in the shade of a building, got our duffel bag back from the Hike Haus, and organized our gear. Grant and Dennis went in to the mess hall for the village and got a free lunch among the happy camping families, but the food didn’t look that appetizing to Adam or me and when we asked, they told us it was not free, but costed $7 each for lunch. Otherwise we hung out in Holden—I walked around a bit, looked in the surprisingly large bookstore, and checked out their lodges and their spartan rooms. It was a strange place, this religious retreat town, with its transient population of friendly people. Our main complaint was that the ice-cream parlor didn’t open until 2 PM, after the bus left.

Today was the first day of the holiday weekend and three buses and a cargo truck were needed to get everyone up from the boat landing, and they arrived at 12:45 or so to a throng of waving campers. There were about three Bonanza-bound parties in this convoy—one pair of climbers recognized Grant, and we gave some route beta to another party of four. At 1:30 we piled into one of the two school buses going downhill, and by 2 PM or so we were down at the dock in Lucerne.

The Lady of the Lake II was late today, due to the holiday traffic, and we had to wait a half-hour for it to arrive—Grant, Dennis, and I soaked our feet in the cold waters of Lake Chelan while we waited. The boat ride was another scenic 2-hour cruise, but we were kind of tired by now and it was mainly just transportation to us. The tourists on board liked it when we slowed down to look at some bighorn sheep on the shore nearby.

At Fields Point we debarked, carried our heavy gear back to our cars, and sorted it out. It was about 95 degrees out down here, and we were happy we were not struggling uphill towards Holden Pass now. We said our goodbyes, and Grant left, and I followed once I had used the payphone at the dock to call my wife. Adam and Dennis were off to the Skamania County highpoint on the west slope of Mount Adams, after car-camping on Chelan Butte tonight.

Final Thoughts:

Of all the county high points in the 48 contiguous United States, Bonanza is often regarded as the hardest in the pure mountaineering sense. This is probably true. Other peaks have more glaciated terrain to cover (Rainier, Baker), steeper snow (Gannett), more steep rock climbing (Grand Teton), more difficult rock crux moves (Big Horn), or longer approaches (Gannett, Olympus), but only Bonanza has a significant glacier to cross in addition to 1000 feet of steep rock, a good portion of it exposed class 4. Many skilled parties do climb Bonanza with no rope on the rock (downclimbing carefully), and in early season the glacier can be relatively trouble-free. But the crevasse danger is real, and rappels make the decent much easier. And the rock on Bonanza is no place to be in a storm.

I’d say that Bonanza is like Olympus with no Blue Glacier, a steeper and shorter climb up to the Snow Dome, and a summit pinnacle about 10 times higher but not quite as steep. It’s a big mountain that throws a lot of sustained climbing at you. If you can comfortably scale Bonanza, it is safe to say that you should be able to handle any other USA 48-state county high point technically.

Summary Total Data
    Elevation Gain:6285 ft / 1915 m
    Route:Mary Green Gl
    Trailhead:Holden Village  3226 ft / 983 m
    Grade/Class:Class 4
    Quality:9 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Bushwhack, Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Rock Climb, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb
    Gear Used:
Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Tent Camp
    Nights Spent:2 nights away from roads
    Weather:Pleasant, Calm, Clear
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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