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Ptarmigan Traverse 1999

Mount Formidable from Cache Col

Mount Formidable from Cache Col


24 July 1999 Garry Stephenson leaves his pickup at the Downey Creek Trailhead, while I check out the weather forecasts and Ptarmigan Traverse trip reports at the Marblemount RS. It is drizzly at the RS, reportedly wet at Cascade Pass. We decide to wait out the weather until tomorrow. The five of us, Garry, me, Keith Garlinghouse, Pam Otley, and Bill Saur rent a mobile home at Clark's Cabins off the highway. Since we pay with Garry's credit card we name this "Camp Stephenson".

Keith, Paul, Garry, Pam, Bill
Approaching Cascade Pass
Approaching Cache Col
Mt Formidable from Cache Col

25 July Hike to Kool Aid Lake (6100') via Cache Col (6900'). Meet a party of four (from the Portland area) at Cache Col who had spent a wet night camped above Cascade Pass. Camp on snow beside the snow-covered lake. Climb to just below the summit of Magic Mountain in the afternoon, but turn back due to steep snow since we left our ropes and crampons at camp. We note the Red Ledges just beyond camp, the crux of the traverse according to a ski party two weeks earlier.

Crossing the Red Ledges
LeConte Mtn from Spider-Formidable Col

26 July Climb through the Red Ledges to find the Portland party breaking camp. Traverse steep snow to the Middle Cascade Glacier and climb it to the Spider/Formidable Col (7320'). Note a steep traverse below Le Conte Mountain to reach the Le Conte Glacier tomorrow. Descend to Yang Yang Lakes (5830'), crossing wet, steep snow to reach the lakes. Camp on heather at the partially frozen lake, noting also the steep snow gully above camp. The Portland party pass by in the evening and ascend the snow gully above, apparently unroped.

Traversing onto LeConte Glacier
Traversing above South Cascade Glacier

27 July We start the day by climbing up through the gully, then traverse below Le Conte Mountain to the Le Conte Glacier. Meet the Portland party and another party before climbing the glacier to Sentinel Saddle (7280'). Le Conte Glacier is just starting to open up but is not a problem to cross. We traverse above the South Cascade Glacier until below a snowfield leading upward to Sentinel Peak. Bill and Keith climb Sentinel Peak, but Garry and I turn back below the rock to avoid crossing above a deep moat without a rope. We rejoin Pam and wait for Bill and Keith to return. Continue on to Lizard Pass (6800') and drop down steep snow to White Rock Lake (6200') to camp. This steep descent would likely have been a problem in the morning, so we are glad to have pushed on to the lake rather than camping in the sunshine above. Also, it gives us ample time to puzzle out how we are going to try to reach the Dana Glacier tomorrow morning. The easiest approach seems quite steep from camp, and we are concerned about tomorrow's route.

Dana Glacier from White Rock Lake
Glacier Peak from Itswoot Ridge

28 July Leave White Rock Lake ahead of the Portland party. Drop down looking for a trail but find steep icy snow slopes instead. Bill and I start traversing one steep slope without crampons, but advise the others to use crampons before very carefully continuing across the icy snow above a cliff band. Traverse down further to access the Dana Glacier and discover the slope is much less steep than it appeared from White Rock Lake. Ascend the Dana Glacier to Spire Col (7760') which we identify using a GPS and map. Here is our first view of Glacier Peak and it is very impressive and scenic. Drop down the other side of the Col and find a camp on Itswoot Ridge (about 6300'). We have finished the high traverse and feel very satisfied.

Dome Peak from Itswoot Ridge
Dome Peak from Dome Glacier

29 July Climb Dome Peak from our Itswoot Ridge camp. Return to camp where the Portland party has arrived. Break camp and descend steep snow to Cub Lake, then climb over the pass to drop down into the Bachelor Creek drainage. Try to find a campsite at timberline, but don't find anything pleasant. Find the trail leading further down the drainage and follow it to a campsite along Bachelor Creek lower. Light rain that evening.

Keith fording Bachelor Creek
Descending Downey Creek Trail

30 July Continue down the Bachelor Creek Trail. Fight brush, then discover we need to ford the creek. Water is high and flowing fast. Decide to keep our boots on and wade across one at a time. Empty out our boots on the other side, then follow the trail downward to Downey Creek. Here I mistakenly think we need to cross Downey Creek to find the trail out to Garry's truck. We try to ford Downey Creek with arms locked, but the water is too high and Pam is getting lifted off her feet. We find a large log across the creek and shuffle across one at a time. We check the map and discover we should not have crossed Downey Creek, so we retrace the crossing and find the trail just downstream of where the Bachelor Creek Trail ended. The Portland party catches up with us and leads out. We were warned of a lot of downed timber along Downey Creek, so I begin to count each tree we need to step over or squat/crawl under. I count 68 trees. Pam counts more. We finally arrive at Garry's pickup and enjoy a celebratory beer. What an adventure!


Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
North Cascades National Park

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