I made another attempt to climb Mt Angeles yesterday. Jim and I tried it last year, and we were successful in climbing the peak we set out to climb, but it wasn’t Mt Angeles. I really needed some snow and scrambling in my life, so I set out yesterday to do the same route but solo.
The Hurricane Ridge Road was open — but not until 8 am. I sat there for a while waiting for the NPS rangers to open it. My clothing is a little better now than it was a little less than a year ago, and it worked much better than my earlier few alpine experiences. This is what I am trying for layers now:
Synthetic base layer (lightweight yesterday due to warm weather)
OR Radiant Hybrid hoody
Arc’teryx Atom LT hoody
MH softshell or REI Kimtah eVent hardshell (hardshell yesterday)
MH Compressor hooded synthetic puffy (left in the car yesterday)
Synthetic base layer (midweight yesterday)
OR Cirque softshell pants
REI light hardshell pants if necessary (left in my pack unused)
OR PI Base Sensor liner gloves
OR Arete Goretex gloves with liners
OR Verglas gaiters
Zamberlan 4041 Expert Pro GT RR boots
Anyway, with the road open, I drove the ten miles further to the Switchback Trail parking area. Did not get stuck this time, despite driving the fwd Saturn. Got suited up and took off around 840 am. It was cloudy/foggy the whole time — the couple of blue holes above did not grow as I hoped. The snow got deeper and the view less expansive the higher I went. About a mile up the trail, the tracks that made the trail clear disappeared, so I broke the trail a bit further, guessing and going by the GPS.
As the trail made it last slow sweep to the east before climbing to the top of the ridge, I paused and looked straight head at a wide gully. What the hell. As long as there was a little snow in it and didn’t have any considerable exposure below it, I might as well see if it would go. So I added a layer and pulled my axe off my bag and headed northwest toward the gully, dropping a bit to get around some trees.
I hugged the left side of that one then crossed right to continue up a narrower bit of snow. Couldn’t see much of anything higher, but whether that was due to fog or steep walls I don’t know. GPS said I was headed for the top of the ridge between Mt Angeles and Middle Peak, closer to the latter.
I came to a cliff band and looked around it to the left, thinking I could maybe get past the end of it and then continue. In retrospect, maybe that would have led to a gully closer to the main peak. But it could have cliffed out, so I headed up and right, scrambling up a small cleft in the band. On top, I headed back to the left/west following the top of the band and staying below another band. That second band curved and cut up-slope, so I followed. The snow didn’t stick there, so on manageable scree I hugged that curving wall as it turned up. That led to a wider, snowier slope, and on that snow and some rock I got to the ridgetop.
It seemed I was taking a long time, and I know Port Angeles was now down in the fog off the north side of this ridge, so I turned on my cell phone and texted an update. I moved west to the first real obstruction on the ridge and thought about making tea, as the conditions were not bad despite a little bit of drizzle in the wind, but the damned GPS still showed the summit of Mt Angeles a considerable distance away, despite my being at 6400 feet. I shut off the phone and set about making my way west.
The first tower was not a big deal. I think I went around it on the south side, avoiding the more sheer drop on the north. The second was harder. I tried to go on easy rock on the north side, but without a belay and in alpine boots I (probably wisely) downclimbed a bit and circled back to the south side. That entailed dropping off the ridge, and I did that and reclimbed the ridge, where I was confronted by another tower the width of the ridgetop.
Checked the GPS again the verify that this damned tower wasn’t the highest thing out here. It wasn’t. Mt Angeles was beyond it. But it was not my day to go further, since the safest way I could see was to drop significantly into another south-side gully, cross into another and reclimb that second one to what I thought would be the summit. I didn’t have time for all of that, so I turned back east to retrace my steps and head down.
The first part was hairy, because my quads had started to cramp. I stretched a bit and got back to where I had gained the ridge. From there, a couple of slow glissades in the soft snow got me most of the way down the trail, with just a few spots where I had to walk my way down. That helped rest my legs.
The trail, though, was rough. Snow was still deep, and my cramped legs would not loosen up. I spent a lot of time sitting back on my feet stretching. Had a tea stop, drank the rest of my two quarts, and still nothing helped. I gotta put more steep miles on my legs, apparently.
Made it out a little after 2 pm and headed to Port Angeles for some sustenance, having not eaten much since am early breakfast. Exhausted and happy to have been on a mountain solo for the first time and to have followed my own way up the mountain, even if wasn’t the best route or the right route.
This is what works for me. It’s alpinism, when the internal discipline necessary to push myself physically is dimmed both by the mental effort necessary to find the route and by the joy of the experience. When I wonder if I’m going to make it to where I want to go. When it’s not simply trudging up a trail but exploring somewhere no one (according to the blank snow) has ever been. I’m not speedy and probably never will actually enjoy running or other activities of pure endurance and achievement. I’d rather explore and stop occasionally for a leisurely tea than get to the proper peak any day.