Yvon Chouinard once said “it’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.” I found myself repeating this quote to Kelsey when we found ourselves on Forest Road 2329, about 2-3 miles or more from the Killen Creek trailhead, looking at an impassable section due to snow that had just high-centered a jeep in front of us. That theme repeated itself throughout the weekend and an adventure we certainly had.
Armed with a GPS, we walked down the road a mile or so before turning into the woods and "making like a bear" through the forest. A little over a mile of bushwhacking brought us to the actual trail. While we'd cut off two big legs of a triangle and likely saved ourselves about 3 miles, we were completely soaked from tramping through the wet woods.
The rest of the approach went without issue, save for the wind and rain which stirred up as we got above 6,000 feet. Another team of 3 was setting up camp at 6,500 feet, saying that the additional 400 feet to high camp wasn't worth it in the rain and close to zero visibility at times. We were soaked already, so we decided to brave it. It wasn't any worse up at the high camp, so we set up our tent quickly, melted some water, and dove into the tent in a wet heap.
Morale was low and pretty much everything was damp to soaking wet, but we warmed up with a hot dinner and quickly settled in to try and get some sleep. It was about 7pm and we had alarms set for 3:30am. It rained that night. It rained a lot. I woke up a few times and cursed my decision to bring the Firstlight instead of the Eldorado.
At 4am (I must have hit snooze in my sleep), we awoke and Kelsey took a look out of the tent. We were completely socked in. In the minutes that followed, we almost bailed, but then I took a look outside and saw things clearing up, and then the party of 3 walked by. We had to give it a shot.
We packed quickly and were on the move at around 4:45am. It took about an hour to cross the moraines and reach a flat area at about 8,000 feet. Things were clearing up at this point, with the clouds pinking up nicely, and we started putting our gear on when I let out an "oh, shit." My new aluminum crampons came in a nice little black bag, which I'd left at the tent in the dark of the morning. We briefly debated what to do. I couldn't bear the thought of bailing with the weather clearing and being so close after our crappy night. I decided to jog back and retrieve them. 1,100 feet and 1.4 miles down and back up and we were back in business in an hour, but Kelsey's wet feet had gotten pretty cold while waiting, despite bundling up in both of our parkas and walking around to keep warm.
The route itself turned out to still be pretty filled in with snow, which had been rained on overnight and re-frozen, so it mostly involved side stepping and front pointing with little penetration. It was secure enough that we didn't place any protection and moved quickly, only stopping every so often to chop out steps to rest our burning calves. We never stopped for long, though, since our feet were still soaked and would get quite cold when standing still.
There were a few sporty crevasse crossings, including one I crawled across for fear of breaking through a thin snow bridge. Beyond that, it was smooth sailing and we quickly reached the upper slopes at about 10:30am.
The North Ridge descent was not bad at first, but quickly turned to verglas-on-rock treachery. As soon as we spotted an exit gully to the North, we pulled a mixed move or two, down-climbed steep snow, and then romped down the snowfield, likely saving ourselves hours of painstaking descent on the ridge.
The rest of the descent was without incident and we were back at the car by 4:30pm, feeling somewhat dumbfounded that we'd successfully done the climb despite all of the issues we'd encountered. In retrospect, I think this route would be more fun later in the season. I was hoping for some real alpine ice on the way up and think the ridge descent would have been better with less rime and verglas.