Ascent of Belknap Crater on 2010-10-09

Climber: Michael Wanberg

Others in Party:James Gillette
Date:Saturday, October 9, 2010
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Belknap Crater
    Elevation:6872 ft / 2094 m

Ascent Trip Report

James and I camped out the night before at Lava Lake, then made the short drive to the PCT TH just west of McKenzie Pass. It was raining, but we were resolute. The trail is very easy to follow, even across the miles of volcanic wasteland. I've never been some place (without snow-cover) that was that desolate, including a few deserts. It was fantastic in its own right, but kind of eerie due to the low clouds and limited visibility.

We started out through a small woods, then hiked through the lava fields for several miles before coming out on soil again. Just after landing on the solid ground, the faint climbers' trail to the summit of Belknap Crater split off to the left. It kind of disappeared on us, but we kept going generally WNW and finally began to make out the outline of the peak through the thick clouds. At this point I could make out a trail again, so we picked our way along that upwards. The cone proper is very much like a massive sand dune with scattered small rocks. We ascended to just below the summit, where I could tell the winds were going to get severe. I told James to hold onto his poncho, and that we were just going to go up, tag the summit, and return. Even though I knew it was coming, the force of the wind was incredible, and I had to be very deliberate about maintaining my balance. I'm guessing the velocity was somewhere around 70mph, +/- 10mph, as a rain front was pushing up from the west. For how fierce the wind was, it was remarkably constant, which made the 100 yard section in which we were exposed to its full fury a bit more manageable than it would have been in gusty conditions. It's good to be reminded of the power of the weather once in a while, just to avoid underestimating it during future endeavors. This was James' first peak during bad weather, so it was an enlightening experience ("That was CRAZY!") for him.

We regathered ourselves (and our ponchos) just below the summit and descended the cone to enjoy 'lunch' and take a few minute break, then started the return trip. The wind had picked up since the fairly calm approach trek, just enough to keep us constantly asking each other "What'd you say?" because of the rustle of our poncho hoods. Just before we came to the junction for Little Belknap I heard (or at least thought I did) a woman's voice at some distance. We stopped to make sure it wasn't just the wind, and we heard it again. I was concerned that someone may be in need of help, as they would have had to call out loudly for us to hear them over the wind, so we decided to investigate. We moved up the Little Belknap trail, scanning to both sides, and came to a split just below the summit. I noticed a decently sized cave and went over to look into it when a group of a half-dozen people emerged. They seemed to be having a good time and were making quite a bit of noise, and I gathered that this was what We had heard. After making sure no body needed assistance, we departed back down the trail.
Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:1772 ft / 539 m
    Total Elevation Loss:1772 ft / 540 m
    Round-Trip Distance:8 mi / 12.9 km
    Grade/Class:Class 1
    Quality:4 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Maintained Trail, Unmaintained Trail, Open Country
    Gear Used:
Ski Poles
    Weather:Raining, Cold, Windy, Low Clouds
Extremely Windy at summit, consistent rain
Ascent Statistics
    Gain on way in:1672 ft / 509 m
    Distance:4 mi / 6.4 km
    Route:PCT to climbers' trail
    Start Trailhead:PCT TH at McKenzie Pass  5200 ft / 1584 m
Descent Statistics
    Loss on way out:1772 ft / 540 m
        Loss Breakdown:Net: 1672 ft / 510 m; Extra: 100 ft / 30m
    Gain on way out:100 ft / 30 m
    Distance:4 mi / 6.4 km
    Route:PCT to climbers' trail
    End Trailhead:PCT TH at McKenzie Pass  5200 ft / 1584 m

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