This post represents two milestones: I recently had the opportunity to summit Mt. Rainier for the first time, and this is my 100th post on the Blog! I couldn’t have picked a more fitting trip.
We ascended via the easiest route on the mountain (the DC route) but Rainier is not an easy mountain and it was a significant challenge I’ll remember for a long time.
My team of 4 independent climbers geared up at the Wilderness Information Center at Paradise on Friday morning at 6am in order to get in line for a permit on the Ingraham Glacier – which we scored the last of!
We set off from Paradise at 7:30am or so, gaining over 2500′ on dry ground until we hit the Muir Snowfield for the last few thousand feet to our first rest stop, at Camp Muir (elevation 10,200′). We grabbed some food, rested for a bit, then roped up for travel across the mellow traverse on the Cowlitz Glacier.
After reaching the dry rocks on the other side (Cathedral Gap) we shortened the rope with Kiwi coils and continued up the loose but manageable switchbacks. Soon we stepped onto the heavily crevassed Ingraham Glacier for the final couple hundred feet to camp.
This weekend I had the opportunity to check out the world of ice climbing in a somewhat controlled environment at the Peabody Ice Climbing club in Fenton, MI. I had never climbed ice before, but learning on top rope was not as intimidating as I would have thought. There’s a 30′ tower and a 70′ for the more adventurous, along with a mixed climbing area. I had such a good time and I’m stoked to try it again soon.
Day 2 in Zion began with the sunrise at Lava Point campground. We walked to the overlook to see what the high country looked like in different light – it was a great view.
We then caught a ride back to the Wildcat Canyon trailhead for a couple of quick mountain climbs – East and West Northgate Peaks. It looked to be a perfect weather day – barely any clouds in the sky and no chance of rain in the forecast. We left the rain jackets in the car and packed light.
East Northgate Peak
Class 2 (walkup)
To access the Northgate peaks, we hiked about a mile along the Wildcat Canyon trail and then took a spur for about another mile. This led to an overlook between the twin slickrock domes. An easy bushwhack to the east takes you to the base of a beaten trail up East peak. We elected to pick a bit more interesting route left of center which stuck more to the rock than to the dirt and trees.
While most of the East peak is covered with trees and brush, the summit affords a 360 view of the Kolob Terrace. It is so accessible that I would recommend that anyone traveling through the area consider hiking to the top for a unique view. We were alone on the summit and it did not look like many visitors spend time up there.
We cooked an oatmeal breakfast on the summit, sat for a while, then headed down to tackle the West Peak. We followed the beaten trail down the center of the north slope, traversed below the lookout to avoid unnecessary elevation gain, then linked up with the base of the West Peak.
West Northgate Peak
West Peak is a massive slickrock dome with steeper dropoffs than its twin to the East. Apparently there is a scramble route on the steep east face – we chose the more moderate north slope.
From the base of East Peak, we traversed around the base of the West Peak dome along slickrock. It was cool to see how the rock interacts with the forest – a very stark contrast exists between the life of the forest and the dead zone of the mountain.
The climb was straightforward. We found a system of ledges to take us to the false summit where the climb steepened a bit, but nothing more than Class 3. The consequences of a fall wouldn’t be too terrible unless the slickrock were wet.
What made things interesting is that clouds started to roll in from the northwest. The clouds looked like they would avoid us, but Simon and I rushed to the top just to be safe. Right as we summited, I started to feel rain drops. Normally I wouldn’t have been too concerned (no lightning) but with the nature of slickrock, water can make the down climb super treacherous. We took a couple of photos and dashed down as quickly as safety would allow.
We avoided descending while the rock was too wet – it was still quite steep. I found the view down the route pretty exciting and vertigo-inducing.
Needless to say, we made it down in one piece, with three new summits in hand for the weekend. As we bushwhacked up the hill back to the overlook trail, we met up with a group of lovely ladies from Las Vegas who were similarly unprepared for the rain, so we all chatted as we dashed back to the trailhead to get warm. As we traversed the Ponderosa forest, graupel started to fall. I was not amused.
We left the park by about 1pm and were back in SLC by 5:30. It was one of the best weekend trips I can remember, and I hope that I get a chance to return to the area one day, maybe in the fall when conditions make the park look completely different.
On Friday night, my internship project partner Simon and I headed down to St. George, UT in preparation for a weekend at Zion National Park. We woke up early in the morning to avoid the rush and catch the first shuttle into the park, which ended up being a good move. There was plenty of parking, and the gates hadn’t started collecting fees yet, so we got in for free!
Our itinerary was as follows:
AM – Angel’s Landing
Various small hikes in Zion Canyon
PM – Backpack into Wildcat Canyon to camp
AM – Return to Northgate Peaks trail and climb East and West Northgate Peaks
PM – Return to SLC
1 hour up, 1 hour down
Angel’s Landing is a well-traveled hike to a sandstone peak right in Zion Canyon. The approach starts from the Grotto shuttle stop and takes the West Rim trail. The initial part of the trail follows the river, then begins to climb into a narrow canyon. The canyon was very quiet and distinct echoes could be heard. In the summer it would be very refreshing to walk through here since it is shaded and a bit damp. The trail then turns up the hill and follows about 10 switchbacks until the saddle of the Angel’s Landing trail. From here, the trail gets more rugged and quite exposed.
At places along the hike, the drop off is almost 1500 vertical feet, but the trail is only a few feet wide. I didn’t find it too scary but some people definitely would.
The hike past the saddle and along the knife-edge ridge was pretty exciting. There are chains to hold on to for nervous hikers but I actually found it easier not to use them. We appreciated getting an early start, as no one else had reached this part of the trail on this particular day.
We soon found ourselves alone on the summit with an unbelievable view:
A few people arrived after about 20 minutes, but we had a chance to eat breakfast and enjoy the solitude on our own. There were a couple of pesky chipmunks which wouldn’t go away – they wanted to eat our crumbs. Don’t feed the wildlife!
Soon more people started to arrive, so after close to an hour on the summit we descended. The route was pretty quickly turning into a zoo, and we spent more time coming down due to people passing along the narrow sections of the trail. Nevertheless, we found ourselves on the canyon floor with the entire afternoon to kill, so we decided to do some side hikes before lunch.
Emerald Pools and Weeping Rock
We picked out a couple of additional sights to see before leaving the canyon – the Emerald Pools and Weeping Rock.
The Kayenta Trail took us from the Grotto over to the pools. The trail to the pools was crowded and flat, with not a lot of shade. We did see a cool cactus flower though – what a great time to see the canyon!
The Emerald Pools were sort of cool but a little underwhelming after the views on top of Angel’s Landing. In the summer the cooler temperatures by the pool would be a treat though.
Next we hiked back to the shuttle and went to the next stop in order to see the Weeping Rock. The rock is formed by a layer of porous rock in the midst of the sandstone which allows the aquifer to leak out all year long, creating a sort of hanging garden. The best place to see the rock is in the overhanging “cave” accessed by the main foot trail. There were many people around but the cave was still worth seeing.
After seeing the highlights of the canyon, we were tired of tour guides with microphones, screaming kids, and cranky people, so we headed into Springdale for burgers at Oscar’s (highly recommended). After lunch, we hydrated and headed for the high country for some solitude.
The Kolob Terrace is located in the northwest section of the park, and is accessed by a road out of Virgin, UT. Zion is known for hosting several microclimates. The Kolob is higher and wetter than other areas of the park and makes an interesting change of scenery. The drive out to the Kolob took us through arid desert, badlands, cattle pasture, and even a weird family compound.
We arrived at the trailhead for Wildcat Canyon about an hour after leaving Springdale, and hit the trail at around 4 pm. We made good time across the mostly flat ground along a wide pack trail. Highlights of this part of the Wildcat Canyon trail included the Ponderosa pine forest and views along Russell Gulch, a vast slickrock canyon.
After passing Russell Gulch, the trail descended across a recently burned meadow. Man did I miss the beautiful big Western sky living back east for the gloomy months. Originally we planned to camp in the meadow but we still had a lot of energy so we decided to press on.
Wildcat Canyon had great views of the rock features to the south. There was a well-marked, flowing spring just before the mouth of the canyon but we didn’t elect to fill up water since we already had plenty with us. Above us, we saw a large plateau with imposing drop offs and what looked like a great view of the park. We got out the map and picked out Lava Point as our final destination for the night.
The trail to Lava Point was a bit longer than anticipated, and after almost 15 miles of hiking for the day and 2000 ft of elevation we were a bit worn out. We were happy to find a camping space at the Lava Point campground, cooked dinner, then walked over to the overlook to watch the sun set over the park. Here at the edge of the Colorado Plateau, one can see the erosive forces at play in the park and the massive geological formations which shape this area of the country. We lingered for around an hour, and made conversation with Zeke, a retiree who was traveling the country from park to park in his van. Sounds like a pretty good way to spend the summer. He agreed to drop us off back at the trailhead the next morning which was a great alternative to backtracking six miles.
After the sun went down, the clouds cleared up but the moon was too bright for good stargazing. After a chilly night, we woke up ready to finish out the park with a little bit of slickrock scrambling.
Today started off promising – I had to go into work extremely early so I got out by noon and had lunch. After that, I figured I’d hike Olympus again. Unfortunately, some clouds and rain rolled in and I turned around about halfway to the top. I cut my time to the top by about a third since Sunday though, so progress is being made fitness-wise.
The upside of getting rained out on Olympus is that I got home in time to change and head out to the Wasatch Mountain Club’s weekly Thursday night climb at Penitentiary Wall, in Big Cottonwood Canyon. This is the second time I’d climbed on real rock, so it was exciting to do some quality crack climbing.
From left to right, I climbed three routes: Climb and Punishment (5.9-), Tax Evasion (5.7) and Speed is of the Essence (5.7). Climb and Punishment in particular was great – my first exposure to crack climbing. The rock was grippy, everyone was very friendly and the environment was novice-friendly. I’m hoping to go back weekly to keep getting better at rock climbing.
Tomorrow, a buddy and I are headed down to Zion National Park. We are planning to hike Angel’s Landing on Saturday, do a quick backpack Saturday night to Sunday afternoon with a couple of quick mountain hikes, and returning Sunday night. Should be a blast! Look for a long post then.