Monday, July 28, 2008

High Alpine Traverse - Day Three

That Beckey guy is full of crap : Brian Rudd
Setting out - Day 3
Friday morning we woke to clear blue skies with some high high cloud like haze. We spent a relaxing early morning, taking photos and exploring. Dayhike Mike had drawn lines that showed us traversing the shelf southwest till we found a way down below the cliffs and onto the lower slopes Mt. Daniel. After breakfast I wandered south east, down the cliff from camp (47.56254 N, 121.19827 W) and was able to find a route that wound down and then north to the connect with the snowfield below the Hinman Daniel Saddle. From this lower vantage it appeared one could drop off the slope of Hinman onto the saddle, but I didn't go up to explore at all.

Leaping TarnationWe ate out breakfast (granola and milk for me) and broke down camp. While some where getting their packs ready Brian (the youngest at 23) did yoga, stood on his head and jumped over the small bathing tarn. By 9:15 after our setting out photo we followed the path I had scouted earlier and the cairns I had set up. After reaching the snow a quick boot ski brought us to 5800 feet and a huge erect glacial erratic (47.56224 N, 121.19631 W) left over from ice days long ago. The ground leveled out and this would make a nice spot for a campsite. I had scouted ahead and as I yelled back to the group above me on the slope, from behind the huge rock a wolverine popped up its head, when it saw me it went bounding up the talus field at an amazing rate of speed. It was so fast I couldn't get a shot of it until it was already a ways away, still a rare sight to see : a wolverine in the wild.

The Glacial ErraticAs we made our way down the slope of Hinman, we needed to cross the creek that flowed out of the draw between Hinman and Daniel and then two small creeks that flowed from waterfalls off the western slope of Daniel. We were heading for the saddle above Lake Venus, a big notch in the south spur of Mt Daniel that was clearly visible ahead of us. There were several vegetation fingers that extended between the creeks and waterfalls, we had a choice to cut through or go down and around. Joe wanted to cross down and around, the rest of us opted to cut through. When we got to the other side we were cliffed out and had to down climb anyway. So Joe got a big "I told you so". While making our way across the talus, a couple of times out of the blue screaming heart pounding F-18's would come ripping around Bears Breast up the draw and around Mt. Daniel. They were so fast and were so low it was an awesome ground shaking experience. They were close enough to see in the cockpit as they tore by us.

On top of the SaddleAs we approached the Venus saddle from the west side we kept looking for the way up. To the left of the saddle (west) up the high shelf? A way up the middle? To the right (east) at the base of the cliffs on the heather and a way around the cliffs and the big cliff at the tail of the south spur? When we reached the base of the saddle, I went to skirt the high shelf, while Brian scouted below. He quickly found a route up so I butt scooted down the shelf and up the middle we went. A couple of class 3 hand holds across some rock but only 10 feet or so before you gain the heather and amble on up. The top of the shelf was covered in heather, with several small tarns for refueling water. There were a couple of nice campsites and the views down on to Lake Venus were spectacular. We stopped for lunch and to refill our water bottles.

RefuelingFrom the saddle above Venus Lake, your standing on the south spur of Daniel and you can't really see up the spur as a large cliff rises straight above you. As we descended from the saddle, to make our way around and below the large cliff on the slopes above the route up the Daniel looked impassable. Beckey's description in his typical terse style offers not much help

"ascend the south slope of Daniel; keep right of a ridge
with a western face and left of low cliffs above the
lake (between 6,000 and 6,600 feet). Follow along the spur
to the true summit or via the slight depression to its right"
My interpretation was that the ridge to stay right off was the spur itself that we were on at the saddle, below us we could see a band of cliffs that rose from the lake on our right, so we were left of them. There was a steep and slopping route above these cliffs below us through a talus field, that made its way around spur that rose above us to the left. We scrambled up a very steep heather and rock filled gully toward the ridge line. We made our ascent carefully one at a time so as not to kick rocks down on the folks below.

Some Steep HeatherAt the top of the heather chutes was another small saddle at 6550 feet. From here another 500 feet above us rose another large cliff directly on the spur itself. We had to either go left of this or right. A large talus field lay to the right hand side of the cliff and traversed around its base. We didn't even consider going left as the topo map showed sheer cliffs. We chose right and made our way around the talus field. From there a narrow chute cut down to the lake and we were able to traverse around the chute with secure holds on the rocks. We rested above this chute on another small talus field. From here the rock rose above us with cliffs and waterfalls compounding the way. There seemed to be no route. Brian scrambled up some 20 feet above us and reported a snow filled chute with a waterfall and what he though looked like a steep ramp. We could see the steep ramp above us and it looked too steep, too slick and impossible without protection. I attempted to follow Brian up to get a look and couldn't get holds as my camera on my chest kept me from getting in close to the rock. I returned to our stoop on the talus, and things felt wrong, we were having to work too hard for a route that Beckey had described with so little detail.

Down and AroundJosh meanwhile attempted another route up to Brian but ended up cutting his knee as he climbed up. We stopped to take survey; we were jangled and out of our element, and we knew we couldn't continue; so we decided to turn around go back down. I pulled out my cell phone and was surprised to find 4 bars of cell service. I put in a quick call to Cliff Hammond, our ride for the next day, and told him our out had changed and instead of coming out at Cathedral Rock trail head we'd be coming out further down the road at the Pete Lake trail head at Cooper Lake. Josh with Brian's help took off his pack and down climbed, as he did so his pack above him came loose and tumbled down the gorge. Brian retrieved it and we made our way back across the chute and across the talus field. I crossed first ahead and scrambled to the top of the Down and Around Chutetalus field to 6600 feet at the base of the cliff and dropped my pack and decided to head to the left and see what was there. While sheer cliffs dropped off below me there was a miraculous shelf that ran in the cliff wall that was between 9 to 4 feet high. I could see goat droppings and foot prints along the shelf. I scrambled up it, several times on all fours and eventually there was a place where you it appeared you could reconnect with the upper west slopes and snow. It was unclear if you could "continue up the spur" further as Beckey said, but that exploration would have to wait for another day.

Horn and TalusHow did we get into such a pickle? For day 2 we had set our sights on camping at the Venus Saddle. We ended up not making this as it was too far off trail to travel in a single day, or at least more than we were willing to push ourselves to go. So the saddle was our goal, on day 3 when we woke up there was no question that was where we headed. Based on my divining of Becky in my mind the route up the south spur of Mt. Daniel was always from the east side above Venus Lake. In pre-trip discussions with Dayhike Mike we had talked about several routes up the south spur: he'd drawn a route up the south spur, he'd crossed out a route I had drawn low on the east slope of the spur on the west slope of Lake Venus and he'd drawn a route that was on the west side of the spur. I think I was so focused on Beckey's description and he was so perfunctory magic shelf, but its not clear, The Magic Shelf?that I assumed the route was straight forward. From the warmth and safety of my home computer looking back over correspondence with Dayhike Mike I completely missed that Mike noted that we had to cross back from the west at 6800. What I had thought was the alternate route appears to be the recommended route. But it ran so counter to the way I interpreted Beckey that it didn't register. Though as you search the net for trip reports of the south spur route there aren't any, at least that I could dig up, so the information is sparse. More than likely that is the result of the approach being from way off trail. Possibly, as Mike noted in post analysis a route goes from the east side of the spur above Venus, maybe the another exploration will have to await.


From the high 5500 saddle above Venus we could see a thin goat path down through the heather, I followed this down and was amazed at what a cool outlet Venus has. The huge aquamarine alpine lakes narrows to a 6 foot wide outlet that cascades over a rock chute in what is probably a cool waterfall in the summer but was a still a late season snow bridge. I crossed over the outlet and made my way along the east side of creek out of Venus, staying high above the water I came to an amazing granite slope that was polished and deeply scratched by an ancient glacier. Walking straight down the granite a short trail leads down through the trees to the huge meadow in front of Spade Lake.

Southern SpurWe were so tired and beat, camp was the only thing on our mind. Near the middle portion of the lake before the peninsula, is a large rock outcropping. We found some nice camps in front of the rock. The sun was still just barely peaking over the west ridge. Brian and I dropped our packs and went for the lake. Brian opted to jump off the top of the rock, while I went around to the side. I shot a couple of pics of Brian jumping off, screaming after entering the water from the cold. I walked off shelf till the rock slipped out from under me and I went under and came up gasping from the chill. It felt good to wash the grime, sweat and fear off from the day.

Spade LakeBack at camp we unpacked, set up camps and boiled water for freeze dried dinner goodness. Dessert for the evening was hot jello, all that warm hot sugar warmed my veins. I had been carrying my frying pan, rod and reel for 3 days. Spade Lake was the first lake I'd been at that wasn't covered in snow and it was my one chance to fish, but I was beat and didn't even try putting my pole together. I had also on a whim as we left our garage to start the trip stuffed a set of sparklers in my pack. Everyone but Scott was already asleep but I was at least gonna light them off so I told Scott to sit up in his biivy and I lit them in the snow field at the edge of the meadow. After wards I threw the sticks in the garbage and climbed into my sack; the next day we'd aim to start by 6:30 am as we had a long long 15 miles out to the trail head to catch our ride. Exhausted from the day I feel into a fitful sleep, only to be woken up several times during the night by Brian rummaging around for a sip of water and Josh attempting to go to the bathroom.

Day Three Stats

4.21 Miles
2064 ascend vertical feet
2808 descend vertical feet
Time on the trail : 9 hours and 41 minutes


Set on

In re-reading Becky's description, I was dead wrong, I mis-read him (and probably Mike, though I have to go back and check) he clearly said western face and we were on the eastern side. Sigh. Mistakes are hard to make especially in territory like this. I remain curious whether that magic shelf "goes", but some day I'll have to go exploring again in the area.


Anonymous Tom Schroeder said...

From up high on the SE Ridge on Daniel, I was totally eyeing Venus and Spade Lakes as places I'd love to camp - totally jealous!

9:24 PM  

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