Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mount Washington

This was not a hike, this was a climb. It rates 35 on the hike difficulty calculator

I finally got my big mountain for the summer.  This makes up for not making it up the Brothers.

Washington is next to Ellinor but it is a little higher and it does not have a nice trail going up it.  It has a boot path with roots, rocks and then scree and solid rock with a bit of exposure.

The descent is brutal!

4.4 miles round trip with 3,200 feet elevation gain

That white speck is my car

Above the clouds all day

One of the scary exposed sections

The mountain in the distance all clouds below

I drove my little one to school at 8:20 am,  because the bus service is always late and then I went back home to gather up my gear.  I met two hikers from Bremerton at the Hoodsport ranger station.  They were both strangers to me and the were nice people.  One male aged 27 and one female maybe a little bit younger.  They were both car salespeople in Seattle.   I led the way from the ranger station, to the trailhead in my gas hog.   We were on our up the trail at 10:15.
This just happened to be on the heaviest day of my cycle and I was not happy about that, but I found a good way to cope with it that lasted for the entire hike.  I was also just getting over a sinus infection with the help of antibiotics and still recovering from my backpacking trip in the Brothers wilderness.
  I was worried that I would slow the group down as I am a slow hiker at the best of times and I’m not in my 20’s.  But it turned out that the woman I was hiking with was not a climber and she was actually slower than me.  It was a relief for me not to be a burden by slowing everyone down.  Sam led the way and did a good job of route finding.  At one point about 500 up in elevation, we got a little bit off route in a ravine and were wondering what to do when we heard a male voice above us informing us “The main trail is up here”  we were glad to have his help.   We never saw him through the bushes, but he said he had summited and was on the way back down.
We steadily ascended a steep ladder of roots and rocks for about two hours until we reached a beautiful meadow above the rock called the pinnacle.  At that point Jessica said she was done. So she waited in the meadow while Sam and I headed up.  In the meadow or basin the trial takes three forks, we took the middle fork trail like we had been told to do, but the trail forked again and then we were unsure where to go.  The path to the left looked too tough with lots of loose rock, but the path ahead looked too scary with a very narrow and exposed ledge topped with loose rock.  We had to find a way to get up this headwall but nothing looked good.  At that point we discussed the possibility of  turning around without summiting.   

 I suggested that we at least get a close look at the tiny ledge before we turned around.  I know from experience that sometimes trails look much better (wider)  up close.  So we treaded on a narrow path made of roots and shrubs that hugged a rock wall on the left and had a sheer drop of about 200 feet on the right and slowly worked our way to the scary looking ledge.  Once we reached the ledge we saw that is was much wider than it looked from a distance and we decided to go for it.
It was a bit scary and very exposed, but we made it just fine.  Above the ledge we had to run across a scree slope to get the other side and that was scary too.  Slowly we worked our way up rock and scree to the saddle.  I could see this saddle from the road and from the road I said that I might chicken out and stop at the saddle, but I was able to keep going.  The saddle looked much more scary from the road than it really was.  We thought we were looking at the summit  when we topped the saddle, but the summit was actually just behind and slightly higher up than  the rock we were calling the summit.  We worked our way around the false summit on a narrow exposed ledge and  then went up a rather exposed scree slope until we reached the base of the true summit.
At the base of the summit we snaked  our way around  almost completely circling the false summit, until we got to the top.  That last section was a bit was nerve wracking for both of us.  We made it to the summit about 1 hour and 15 minutes after we left Jessica, I think we summited at about 2pm.   There were a bunch of interesting cyano-lichens on the summit that looked like Collema  to me.

Lichens on the summit

There were low laying clouds to the east that never burned off,  and all the way up we were worried that the clouds would come up to us and make it difficult for us to see to hike back down.  Due to the clouds, we could not see the Hood Canal or the cities below us but we could look out across a sea of clouds to the top of Mount Rainier and the rim of Mount Saint Helens and it felt like we were out in the middle of the wilderness.  The view to the interior of the Olympics was great with no clouds obscuring it.  We could see Mount Olympus, Cruiser, Constance, Skokomish, the Brothers and more. 

I looked down and saw the ridge above Wagon Wheel Lake and marveled at how low it looked compared to how tough it is to hike up.  I had gained more elevation hiking up it than I gained climbing Washington but it tops out at a much lower elevation.
We were happy to be on the summit, but also a bit nervous about down climbing and we did not want to leave Jessica for too long.  So we spent about 15 minutes at most on the summit, signed the register and then slowly began to pick our way back down.  I was glad to follow Sam down as he knew the way back down and I did not.  I should have paid more attention going up. We were quite relieved once we had descended the scary looking ledge where we had almost turned back.  I had packed a full hydration bladder of lemon water up the trail, but I drank it all before we made it back down to Jessica and never once stopped to excrete any of it.  I must have sweated and exhaled it all off. It took us about ½ hour to get back down to where Jessica was waiting in the basin. 
With our group reunited we headed back down the ladders of roots and rocks and scree to the trailhead.  The descent was brutal.  I could not believe I had climbed up that route!  It was basically just a ladder of roots and loose rock with alder and cedar trees to hold on to.  I felt lucky to make it down with just one bum plant.  The steepness of the hike was pretty much the same for the entire route.

I could hear the waterfall at the top of Big Creek before we reached our cars and reminded me that I was out of water.  We reached the cars at about 4:45.  At the cars we dropped our packs, picked up water bottles and headed for the waterfall.  The waterfall had a delightful little pool around the corner just out of sight from the road.  We enjoyed that for a moment and then we went back to our cars and parted ways.  I tore down the road so I could get home to my kids but soon I was driving down through the cloud layer and the cloud layer turned out to be VERY thick.  I did not get below the clouds until just before the last big switch back in the road that leads to the FS road 24 that goes past Big Creek Camp.
Making this summit made up for me not making the Brothers!  I’ve wanted to go up Washington for a long time but was always afraid to try it alone, and did not know anyone to do it with.  Also, thanks to our long dry summer I was able to get into good enough condition to tackle Washington.  The first rains since August are expected to hit this weekend and then the mushrooms should come.
4.4 miles round trip with 3,200 feet elevation gain

Jess heads up the "trail"

Sam signs the summit register

The "trail"

Looking over at Ellinor, it sure looks steep from here!  The snowbank below is the start of "Big Creek"

Sam negotiates one of the exposed sections

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