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Ascent of Big Craggy Peak on 2020-02-09

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Sunday, February 9, 2020
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Big Craggy Peak
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:8470 ft / 2581 m

Ascent Trip Report

Big Craggy (8,470ft), West Craggy (8,366ft), Sherman Peak (8,204ft)

On the summit of Sherman

Eric and Fred, Feb 8-9, 2020

Saturday – 11 miles, 3,000ft gain, 11:45am – 7:45pm
Sunday – 27 miles, 8,000ft gain, 3:45am – 12:45am

We left Seattle Saturday morning headed for good weather and stable snow in northeastern washington. The goal was to climb a few top 200 peaks and get some winter Bulger ascents of the Craggies.

I found that Big Craggy had been climbed in winter (Feb 2000 by Don Duncan), but I couldn’t find any records of winter ascents of West Craggy or Sherman.

Fred planned out a route starting at the Goat Creek sno park near Mazama. It would be about 10 miles up a snowed over road, then we could do a loop going hitting Sherman, the Craggies, and Sunrise.

Normal access to the Craggies is from the Eightmile Creek road to the east, but in the winter that road is snowed over for many miles and would require starting at the Eightmile sno park. Because we wanted to hit Sherman and Sunrise in addition to the Craggies, it made more sense to start in Mazama at the Goat Creek sno park. Unfortunately we didn’t have a snowmobile, but at least the roads were very likely to be packed down by snowmobile traffic so the 10 mile approach would likely not require breaking trail.

We spent some time planning out how to make the loop work, and after combing through pictures of the steep east face cliffs of Sherman we finally decided on a gully that looked skiable and safe to link up Sherman and Big Craggy. We decided to hit Sherman first so we could descend that gully, then loop over the Craggies and over Sunrise, then back to camp.

Saturday morning we left the Goat Creek sno park around 11:45am behind a bunch of snowmobilers and a few other backcountry skiers. We made fast progress on the packed down road, eventually turning up Goat Creek on FS 300. Unfortunately that was the end of the packed road, and we were breaking trail a few miles to the road’s end. At the end of the road we bushwhacked upstream another mile to the Panther Creek confluence and stopped to set up camp around 6pm. This was at the base of Sunrise Peak, and would be the beginning and end of our loop the next day.

After a few hours of melting snow and making some snow fortifications from the wind we went to sleep in our bivy sacks and mega mid tent.

The next morning we were packed up and moving by 3:45am. We wanted to start early to fit the loop in during the day and make it home at a reasonable hour, but we were limited to starting too early by doing Sherman first. We wanted daylight to be able to find the right gully to ski down the east side, so didn’t want to summit before sunrise.

It actually wasn’t too dark, though, since the skies were clear, the moon was nearly full, and the foliage from the trees was all burned off from a 2018 forest fire. We took turns breaking trail up Goat Creek for a few hours, then turned up the drainage on the west face of Sherman. We followed the gully all the way to the ridge, then turned south to tag the summit of Sherman at 7:30am. There was a huge cornice which we stayed away from. The views of the surrounding cascades lit up by sunrise were amazing. But it was very windy and cold.

After fixing a minor ski binding issue we started down. Our original plan was to traverse Isabella ridge northwest to our descent gully, but Copper Glance Mountain, the next peak along the ridge, was too steep to navigate without a rope. So we instead had an amazing ski descent back down the west gully. We then traversed below the ridge crest and regained the ridge just before point 8011 around 9:45am.

We peered down our intended descent gully and it looked like it would work. We took off skis to downclimb a steep part from the ridge, then put skis back on and started down. Fred went first, navigating through some rocks sticking out near the top to reach the less-steep but broad gully below. We descended to just above Copper Glance Lake, then traversed over to Copper Glance Creek.

From there I led the way breaking trail through the recent burn zone zig zagging up to reach the southeast slope of Big Craggy. The sun had come out and it was finally warm enough to stop wearing all of my layers. I soon reached the slope and some trees that had survived the fire. I ascended to the edge of treeline, then Fred took over for the steeper part. We had to take skis off and kick steps up, but eventually reached the summit of Big Craggy around 2pm.

We tagged the highest rock next to a huge cornice hanging over the northeast face, then looked down our intended ski descent. Unfortunately the snow was all blown off the southwest face, and many rocks were sticking out. We put the skis on our packs and ended up booting down to the col.

The wind was ripping through the col and it was very cold. There we put the skis back on and skinned along just below the ridge on the south side. The slope was steep, and I put my whippet dagger in the snow as I traversed. We traversed to a gully below the south ridge of West Craggy, then I took skis off and kicked steps up the steep slope. I soon topped out on the south ridge and was blasted by the wind.

It was starting to get later than we had hoped, and was already 3:30pm. Fred decided to skip West Craggy since he’d already done it, while I quickly skinned up to tag the top, then skied back down from the summit. From the ridge we got one of our best ski descents of the trip. We skied through fun powder 2,000ft down the southwest face with amazing views of the sun setting over the cascades.

By that point I was working out a projected return time to camp, and there was definitely not enough time to tag Sunrise and still make it back to Seattle that night. I was starting to worry whether I’d even make it back in time to give my lecture first thing the next morning.

It looked like a shortcut back to go through a col northeast of Sunrise, which would hopefully save a few hours. We rounded the northwest ridge of point 8011 at 6,000ft then started steep side-hill bushwhacking up towards the col. By sunset we had a final steep tree-filled slope which we bare-booted up, gaining the col by 6:30pm.

From there we descended down Goat Creek, eventually meeting back with our up tracks. We followed our tracks back down, stopping to fill up some water in the creek. By 9pm we made it back to camp, and quickly packed up and headed out. It was going to be tight with 11 miles back to the car and a 5 hour drive back to Seattle, with me needing to be at work at 6:30am ready to give a lecture.

We soon reached the road and started skiing down our tracks. We could mostly propel ourselves with our poles, but sometimes had to scoot. We then reached the main road, and skied down the snowmobile-packed powder. Unfortunately most of the road was too flat to ski, and progress was slow. Finally the last few miles were downhill and we zipped back down to the car.

After packing up we started driving out at 1am. We took turns driving and napping, and made it back to Seattle around 5:45am. I had just enough time to take a quick shower then drive in to work and give a morning dynamics lecture.

Link to full trip report and pictures.
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