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Ascent of Crater Mountain on 2019-09-28

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Saturday, September 28, 2019
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Crater Mountain
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:8128 ft / 2477 m

Ascent Trip Report

I thought the northwest cascades were supposed to be sort of rain shadowed starting Saturday morning, though the weather might still be questionable. So I set out to hike an 8,000 ft peak, Crater Peak. It supposedly had a trail to the summit, and the above treeline portion was on a ridge, so I figured I could navigate up it even if it was whiteout and nasty weather.

I got to the Canyon Creek trailhead by 9am Saturday morning and it was still raining. I waited around til 10am, and it was still raining, but decided to start hiking anyways. The bridge was washed out 1/4 mile up the trail, but it was easy enough to tip toe across a log. As I hiked higher the rain and damp bushes encroaching on the trail got me thoroughly soaked.

By about 4,500ft the rain changed to snow. Most of the plants still had green leaves and many were bent over the trail with the weight of the snow. This appears to be an unusually early snow event. Around 5,000ft I got a bit turned around at a campsite with some fresh boot prints in the snow heading up the Jackita Ridge trail. I eventually found my way onto the correct trail for Crater Peak.

The snow got deeper and I neared the edge of treeline at a tarn at 5,800ft. The larch trees were just starting to turn yellow. I followed the trail up the ridge, and above treeline the weather deteriorated. It had been raining and snowing all morning, but now it was very windy and the visibility was maybe 20ft.

I couldn’t find a trail in the deeper snow, but I knew it just followed the ridge to the summit. Higher up I encountered a cliff I skirted on the left, then scrambled up right following a cairn. I think there would have been more cairns, but they were covered in snow. It took a while for me to figure out a safe scramble route up the cliff, but after a few false starts I saw some yellow painted on a rock half covered in snow, and scrambled up that way.

It was a bit spicy with all the snow, scrambling in crampons, but worked out. I passed an old wooden structure, then wandered through the whiteout to the summit, marked by a 10ft vertical metal pole. The snow drifts on the summit were about knee deep.

After about 5 min I turned around at 2:45pm. I definitely did not want to be caught above treeline at night in those conditions. My tracks had mostly drifted over, but I was barely able to follow them. I soon made it back below treeline, and hiked back to the car by 5:45pm. It was still raining. A few packs of ramen noodles warmed me up, though.

I camped in the car in the trailhead that night, with plans to hike West McMillan Spire the next morning. I got up at 3am, but it was still raining. The forecast for Sunday had been the same as for Saturday, and the peaks are in the same general area, so I thought there was a good chance it would be raining and snowing all day again and whiteout above treeline. Unfortunately from what I’d read the above-treeline portion of West McMillan Spire sounded more difficult to navigate in a whiteout than Crater Peak, so seemed like a low probability of success.

I ended up just going back to sleep, then the next morning did a few easy below-treeline hikes at Washington Pass (up to Blue Lake), and down near Diabolo (Thunder Knob). It was still raining and snowing all day as I suspected, and I got back early to Seattle that afternoon. I later heard Mission Ridge, a ski resort in eastern Washington, got 21? of snow over the weekend!

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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