Ptarmigan Traverse Extended Trek Part 2
by Bill Wicheta
Our eigth day started bright and sunny as we hiked through the Hanging Gardens. The area lived up to its reputation, consisting of a wide ridge with scattered high alpine meadows, flower fields, small lakelets, copses of trees, expansive views, and many idyllic campsites. Animals like the area too, we saw all manners of tracks.
Mark Shipman and Will approaching the Hanging Gardens. Dome Peak behind to left.
The Bannock Lakes were visible in the distance and we could see that accessing them would not be easy – no wonder they get few visitors. This made our choice of routes easy, we continued south and dropped to Ross Pass. Staying high and keeping south on the flank of Bannock Mountain we reached Totem Pass and dropped to Canyon Lake as the skies split open and dumped heavy hail and rain upon us.
With a little scouting, we found the path leading away from Canyon Lake. Technically we were no longer traveling cross country and were on official trail. The trail was easy to follow at first as it crossed high terrain, but it was apparent the Forest Service had severely neglected upkeep in the forested sections. We crawled over and around lots of deadfall.
Crossing an unnamed pass on Miners Ridge and dropping south to Image Lake, we had an abrupt kick in the face. We just had 8 days in the complete freedom of the backcountry, hiking and camping wherever we pleased while not seeing another soul except members of our group. Now we were greeted by a profusion of signs dictating “don’t hike here” , “stay on trail”, “area closed” and “camp in designated areas only.” We also ran into other hikers.
Dutifully we set up our tent in one of the designated camp areas located under sap-dripping trees that were blocking the view of the sky, a setting I’d never willingly pick for a campsite. I understand the need for limiting ecological damage in popular areas like Image Lake, but it was a strong juxtaposition to our wilderness sojourn.
Image Lake was indeed beautiful and it is easy to see why it is over-loved. And our next two days of hiking out from there along the Miner’s Ridge trail to Cloudy Pass, across the outlet of Lyman Lake, and over Spider Gap, with a final superbly located camp, was wonderful. Civilization isn’t all bad – in fact, it was pleasant to put the route-finding part of the brain on auto-pilot for the last segment of the trip.
We exited at the Phelps Creek Trailhead with the joy and satisfaction of a long and wild trek
over some of the loveliest terrain in the Cascades. Still, I was happy to embrace civilization
again with some calorie loading at the 59’er Diner and a hot shower at home.
I hope to go back… and to spend three weeks along the route, climbing more and side tripping more. Colin Fletcher said to make the world bigger, go slower. I am getting older and, behold, the world keeps getting bigger.
Time of year – This will depend on one’s priorities as well as the preceding spring’s weather,
specifically the snowfall. Earlier in the summer, travel would be much easier with snow covering much of the loose rock we encountered and also covering the bare glacial ice, but perhaps at the expense of the ability to camp in nice green meadows amongst flowers.
Weather – I try and avoid outdoor trips in poor weather and carefully check forecasts before
setting out. However, on long trips in the mountains the forecast is never a sure thing beyond the first few days. We did not encounter much rain, but clouds kept us from climbing several peaks.
Food – With advance planning one might be able to leave a food cache somewhere. Ten days of food constitutes lot of bulk and weight. I lost weight despite the load I had.
Bears – We did not use bear canisters and, aside from an attack marmot that destroyed one of Will’s socks, we had no animal problems.
Bill Wicheta and son Will on the Dome Glacier.
Gear – Except for bare ice, our aluminum tools were fine. We did not carry technical rock shoes, and carried lightweight Black Diamond Couloir harnesses. We carried a few pieces of climbing protection that was not used but would have been used climbing Spire Point. We carried climbing helmets and brought a 30-meter rope for glacier travel. No one had a GPS – we relied on compasses and detailed maps custom ordered from mytopo.com.
Permits – None were required for travel as we did not camp in the National Park. A parking pass is needed at many of the trailheads.
Shuttle – One way or another you need to shuttle a vehicle to your end destination and to have the vehicle at your starting point picked up.
Food for thought – In hindsight it might be better to drop north off the col near the summit of Dome Peak to the Chickamin Glacier and curl around the west then south face of Sinister to the ridge leading to Kaiwhat Pass. We were aware of this, however we’d been unable to scout the glacier on the day we went up Dome and our experience on the Le Conte Glacier had us worried about how much bare ice we might encounter on the Chickamin during this low-snow year.
For more map information visit http://mytopo.com/
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