This past weekend I climbed Mount Daniel in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington with a group of Mazamas. The climb leader, Bob Breivogel, asked me to be the assistant leader, which is gonna look great on my climb resume, but for this trip mostly just meant I was sweep, hiking and climbing at the back of the line, the last duckling in the row.
It was a three-day trip. On Saturday morning I met my carpool buddies in a parking lot, like you do, and drove for five hours, first north on I-5 and then east on I-90. The last 45 minutes of the drive was 12 miles of potholed dirt road that dead-ended at a very crowded trailhead in the wilderness. We were relieved to pile out and stretch our legs, then wait at a picnic table in the sun for the rest of our group.
A bit before two — our wilderness permit filled out, sunscreen applied, everything unpacked and repacked — we headed up the trail towards Cathedral Rock. My pack was heavier than it’s ever been, loaded down with camping gear plus climbing gear (harness, ice axe, crampons, helmet… and my beggers-can’t-be-choosers, $100-at-an-REI-gear-sale, kinda-pinch-my-toes mountaineering boots slung over everything and swinging around a bit behind me; I chose to do the approach hike in in my trail runners) plus too much food.
We gained a lot of elevation quickly, then took a snack break, and then joined a little section of the PCT I remembered from last year — Cathedral Pass, with Cathedral Rock looming awesomely above us. We almost immediately left the PCT again, though, on a little trail marked “hiker trail — closed to stock.” This trail was narrow and sketchy in places as it traversed a slope above a lake, but we picked our way along and eventually arrived at our destination for the night, Peggy’s Pond, another pretty little alpine lake surrounded by steep slopes. It was a popular spot, but we managed to find some spots to tuck ourselves away for the night. It started raining shortly after we all had our tents set up, and we all pretty much crawled inside till morning. I slept cold and fitfully, wearing all my clothes, regretting leaving my puffier puffy jacket at home in an effort to reduce the size of my already-bloated pack.
We got going on Sunday at 6:30am, heading up steep climber trails… and up and up and up, eventually gaining the southeast ridge of Mount Daniel, which we’d follow to the summit. I tromped along at the back of the pack, admiring the views and thinking quietly to myself about my life, simultaneously looking forward to and dreading the way back down these steep slopes later in the day, when my quads would be tired and sore and I’d have to focus only and completely on where to place my heavy feet.
Further up the ridge, the trail, such as it was, got more exposed and scramble-y. Being sweep, it turned out, was great for me — there was an abundance of spots where, were there someone behind me at whom to freak out a little, I probably would have freaked out a little, but instead I just watched everyone pick their way across this or that freaky problem spot, and then, with no one to watch me, I monkeyed my way after them like it was nothing. It was fine!
Mount Daniel has several summits, with the furthest (west) peak being the true summit. We traversed our way past the first two summits to reach it, and dropped our packs twenty feet below the top before scrambling up. The views, of course, were spectacular. We ate cookies (I’d brought homebaked chocolate chip) and took photos, lingering for a while before heading back down. The fog blew in just as we left the summit, and then blew right out again.
On the way down, we crossed a couple snowfields to avoid some of the ridge scramble. Most of us didn’t put on crampons, and slipped and slid a bit as we made our way down and across and back to the ridge. I tried to practice my standing/boot glissade, but the snow was not ideal: soft for a few inches on top, and rock hard below. Plunge-stepping didn’t work too well either. I know all this stuff means I’m accumulating experience that will help me feel more confident on future climbs, though, and mostly I laughed every time my boots slipped out from under me and I fell on my butt. And hey — since I was sweep, no one saw.
Our team got a little spread out once we hit treeline and broke into two groups, but all roads lead to Peggy’s Pond, and we regrouped at our little tent village. I’d taken down my tent in the morning since it pitches with my trekking poles, so I retrieved it from where it was stowed in my teammate Bill’s vestibule, repitched it, and crawled inside my sleeping bag to warm up and doze.
On Monday morning we had a more leisurely start time, but I woke up early anyway to make myself coffee and pack up my gear. We hiked out around 8 and retraced our steps from two days before. My pack felt extra-heavy and my legs were sore; I was relieved to see the trailhead when we arrived, though not excited about the five-hour drive ahead of me. Thankfully, we all met up an hour in (after the twelve miles of potholed dirt road) at the Roslyn Cafe in Roslyn, Washington, where I ate a spectacular breakfast sandwich (fried eggs, red onion marmalade, cheese, and guacamole on sourdough — amazing!!!) and we cheersed and showed each other photos and talked about what we’ve got planned next.
A few bonus photos from my phone and others’ cameras: