After many a recent weekend spent avoiding high avalanche danger and reducing ambition accordingly, it was pretty exciting to have a week of stable weather leading to a more consolidated snowpack. Kelsey and I searched all over for a decent forecast and the best we found was a 20% chance of snow for one day near Leavenworth. Good enough for us after weeks of cabin fever! We drove out after work on Friday night and bivvied in the car at the start of the closed road.
We started skinning up the road at about 5:15am. I had come down with a fever and cough the night before, so I wasn't moving at top speed, especially through the steeper terrain just below the lake. With some raindrops hitting us and not feeling awesome, thoughts of bailing ran through my head. After a little more than 4 hours from the car, we reached the lake where we took a break and ate some food. That helped quite a bit. The skin across the lake was a nice break from the vert we'd been gaining and got my mind back into a better place.
On our way up the moraine, we discovered that a pair of climbers booting up ahead of us were our friends Caitlyn and Craig—it's a small universe of people who do this kind of stuff for fun! We were floating on top of the deeper snow here and passed them on the way up. The snow changed from deeper and wetter below to windblown and icy above the moraine. We skinned up most of it, but eventually took the skis off to boot up the last bit. By this point, it was 11:15am, which was about 1.5 hours behind our optimistic estimated schedule.
We geared up there, putting skis on our packs and getting our harnesses and crampons on. We assumed that we'd solo up until the terrain got steep enough to warrant protection, which was the right call. The couloir was decently steep and had a few sections of firmer neve, but was mostly good snow with secure steps. Craig and Caitlyn joined our train and helped make faster progress. I hung out in the struggle bus back seat. Thanks for the steps, team!
We eventually made it to the lefthand cutoff and followed Craig up a steep snow section to a spot where it looked like a belay was prudent. I banged in a good pin for Kelsey and I here and then we hung out and waited for Craig and Caitlyn to finish up the route. Upon leaving the belay and making it across a steep snow flute, it was clear that we had made things harder for ourselves by sticking to the far-right wall—there was a vertical mixed step in our way.
We were able to get a cam and a pin below this step, so thankfully there was some protection in place because the snow wasn't holding steps well and had been kicked out a bit. I had a chi-centering moment after having a foot slip through the snow and almost taking a tumble. I was able to get a good stem in and take a few deep breaths as well as remove my glacier glasses which were covered in spindrift. After that point, it was still pretty tenuous with nothing for the tools to grip on, but I was able to stem my way up to the steep snow above.
I clipped a pin above the crux and then, when I sensed Kelsey simul-climbing through the crux, buried two t-slotted pickets as deep as I could get them. Beyond that, I just kept the rope tight to help keep her balanced in case her foot popped too. She made it through and we cruised up the last hundred feet or so to the summit ridge. A quick jaunt up from there, we tagged the summit at 4pm. Most of the climb had gone quickly, but going in serial up this last bit that was harder than expected took a good while. Thankfully we had skis!
We went down windblown crust to the Colchuck Col, skied down mashed potatoes with a breakable crust on the glacier (my absolute least favorite ski conditions), skinned across the lake, and started down the trail right around dark. We quickly realized that skinning down the tight trail through trees in the dark was ill-advised, so we A-framed the skis and began plunge stepping. The rest was just like every other trip I've done back there—long and painful, but hey, it must be good enough in aggregate that I keep coming back, right?