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Ascent of Amphitheater Mountain on 2018-06-16

Climber: Eric Gilbertson

Date:Saturday, June 16, 2018
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
Peak:Amphitheater Mountain
    Location:USA-Washington
    Elevation:8358 ft / 2547 m

Ascent Trip Report

Cathedral Peak and Amphitheater Mountain

40 miles solo car-to-car day trip

June 16, 2018, 7:45am – 11:45pm

Eric Gilbertson

I didn’t plan on hiking these mountains as a day trip. In fact, I hauled overnight gear with me the whole way. It just seemed like I was making such good time that I might as well finish the trip in one go. That, and I was hoping to do a smash-and-grab ascent of Mt Fairweather in Alaska soon, and was sort of nervous I might miss a weather window if I was out of communication for too long.

I left Seattle Friday evening and made it to the Andrews Creek trailhead on the edge of the Pasayten Wilderness by 11:30pm. There are three main approaches to climb Cathedral and Amphitheater, and it took a bit of research for me to land on this one. The Cathedral Drive trailhead is a similar distance, with a few hundred feet fewer elevation gain, but is at least an hour farther to drive to. The Thirty-Mile camp trailhead is a similar mileage and elevation gain and only 30 minutes farther to drive to, and has the advantage that the first 1.5 miles of trail are not in wilderness, and are thus mountain bikeable. The Andrews Creek trailhead is an 18-mile approach, but has the most elevation gain.

The weather.gov snow coverage map showed the least amount of snow on Andrew’s Creek, which meant progress would likely be the fastest. And, the road to the Thirty-Mile camp trailhead is currently washed out. Thus, Andrew’s creek it was.

The weather this Saturday and Sunday was supposed to be an “atmospheric river” on Mt Fairweather, so there was no risk of missing out on a weather window there. It was supposed to be rainy Saturday in the Pasayten, but that’s just what I would have to deal with.

My plan was to hike in to Upper Cathedral Lake on Saturday, camp out in the rain, then in the sunny weather Sunday I would bag the two peaks and hike out. I’d read Cathedral Peak had a 4th class section on the top that I didn’t want to do when it was wet.

I saw no reason to start early, since I wasn’t planning to summit til Sunday, so loaded up my pack with overnight gear and took off at 7:45am. The trail was well-graded, but extremely overgrown for the first 6 miles, as the area is recovering from a forest fire a few years old. I very often could not see my feet. The bushes were wet from the previous night’s rain, which meant I was drenched from my waist down all morning. The next 6 miles were not over grown, but did have many blowdowns which slowed progress. It looks like the trailcrew has been working to clear this, though.

After Andrew’s pass the trail is easy going, with great views of the surrounding snowy mountains and green meadows to the north. It looks like some of this area just burned last summer, while the rest of it all burned a few years ago.

I eventually reached unburned area near Spanish Creek, then broke out above treeline at the base of Amphitheater
Mountain. I could definitely see myself returning to this area, it’s so scenic. I encountered my first snow near Amphitheater Mountain, but it was only a few short stretches.

As I rounded the north face of Amphitheater I arrived at Upper Cathedral Lake, and a bald eagle took off from the shore. I was probably the first person in here in a while. It was only 2pm now, and the skies were partly sunny, so I thought I might as well go tag the summit of Cathedral while the conditions were good.

I hiked up to Cathedral Pass, dropped my pack, stuffed a bag of cookies in my jacket pocket, and started hiking up the south slopes. I soon reached a notch west of the peak, and just below the notch cut right. I scrambled up third class ledges until I reached the famed summit chasm. This is a deep chasm that must be crossed twice to reach the summit.

The first crossing was filled in with snow and trivial. I then traversed on the lip of the chasm and got to what I thought was the second crossing, but it looked way too sketchy. The drop was about 50ft, the step across too far to step, and the other side was wet with no foothold.

I figured I could find a better way across, so I turned around and scrambled higher up to the ridge, then dropped down above a chockstone. This looked like a much easier crossing. The gap was easy to step across (though still deep), with a good foothold on the other side. Without hesitating I stepped across. In my opinion it was no harder than anything else up to that point. I would probably rate it class 3.

From there I scrambled the short distance along a sloping ridge and reached the summit. The surrounding landscape was very colorful from up there. Lingering patches of snow mixed with green trees and orange burn-zone. Remmel Mountain was illuminated by the sun to the south, and British Columbia was just one valley over to the north. Weather was moving in from the east, though, and I could see a downpour in a valley approaching me. The last 100ft to the summit on the sloping ridge would actually be kind of sketchy if wet.

After a few pictures I descended. I took a movie of the chasm crossing, which was easier to just jump across on the way back. To help other climbers avoid confusion, I put a big cairn at the actual crossing. Within 20 minutes I was back to my pack, and it had started raining lightly.

It was only about 3:15pm by this point, with about 6 or 7 hours of daylight left. It had only taken me about 6 hours to get up to the lake, so I thought I might be able to get back to the car by dark. Even though it would be an awesome place to camp at that lake, it would also be nice not to miss a weather window for Mt Fairweather.

I spied a steep snow gully that looked like it would gain the ridge of Amphitheater, so I put on my gaiters and started over. At the base of the gully I put crampons on, but then it started thundering and raining. I seriously considered going back down to the lake and camping, but hunkered under an overhanging for 30 minutes to see how the situation unfolded. The rain changed to snow, then back to rain, then died down. It hadn’t thundered for a while, and the skies were clearing out a bit, so I decided to proceed.

I kicked steps up the gully, and was glad to have my whippet for the icy bits at the top. Once on the ridge, I took off the crampons and hiked up easy grass slopes to the summit of Amphitheater. In the register I saw one summitter (who I won’t name) had signed in on Sept 1 of last year (when the area was definitely closed for forest fires) that he had done 99 of the hundred highest and was just about to finish on Remmel! I saw on peakbagger that he did indeed finish.

The rain and wind returned, and I started my hike down. I descended scree slopes and crossed some snowy marshes before meeting back up with the trail. From here I retraced my route, back up to Andrew’s Pass, and down Andrew’s Creek. By 10pm I needed the headlamp, so didn’t quite make my goal of getting back before dark. My progress slowed in the dark, and my feet were developing some bad blister after being soaked for the previous 30 miles.

By 11:45pm I finally staggered back to the car, after 40 miles of hiking. If I had known better, I would have left all the overnight gear at the car! I cooked up some cous cous and went to sleep around 12:30am, just as it started raining again.

Sunday morning I drove back to Winthrop to get cell service, and it looked like a favorable forecast for Mt Fairweather shaping up. So, instead of staying out and climbing more mountains, I drove back to Seattle.

Link to full trip report and pictures and chasm jump video.
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