From my apartment in Seattle, The Brothers are a prominent landmark on the Westerly horizon. During clear days in the winter and spring, the snowy East Basin looks like an alpine playground, so I just had to check it out.
Kelsey and I drove over on Saturday night after dinner, arriving at the Lena Lake Trailhead at about 10pm with enough time to enjoy a beer before going to sleep in the back of the car. We woke up at 4am and were on the trail with skis on our backs by 4:45am. It was an hour on the dot to the sign at the South end of Lena Lake. We made a bit of a wrong turn here in the dark, thinking we needed to stay right along the lake and realized our error after hitting a pretty bushwhacky section right next to the lake. We doubled back and regained the normal trail, only losing 15 minutes or so, which took us exactly where we wanted to go—past the Lena Lake campground and to the Northwest corner of the lake, where we crossed the river and headed up the Valley of Silent Men.
We started encountering ice and snow on the trail, but it wasn't consistent enough to start skinning, so we plodded along, sometimes in foot-deep snow, until we were in the lower-angle area at about 3,100 ft and 3 hours in or so. It started snowing very lightly at this point, but was calm. We skinned up, past a campsite, and to the head of the valley where the route finding began about 4.5 hours in at 3,600 ft. While it looked tricky, with a series of cliffs and tighter trees, it wasn't actually that bad. The snow was an unfortunate breakable crust, which was pretty slick, but could be packed just slightly, so we took turns bashing our way up. A couple of sections were too steep and tight to skin, so we booted those brief bits, breaking fully through the crust and post holing up to our knees. A few curses were uttered for sure.
Halfway through this section, the weather started to get worse—visibility reduced and the snow started falling harder. While it wasn't pleasant, it also didn't feel unsafe, so we kept going, hoping that things would clear up for us. We eventually made it to the top of the steep section and entered the basin at about 5,000 ft 6 hours in. It was a total milk bottle up there, at times so bad that we felt vertigo not being sure if we were about to be going up or down the slopes. Still holding out hope, we kept going up and got to the high bench at 5,800 ft about 6.5 hours in. At this point, we were quite close to the top and couldn't see it at all, so we sat down and decided to have lunch while waiting it out. Going up the couloir in the whiteout didn't seem wise and would only be to tag the summit—not really the goal.
45 minutes later, the visibility hadn't improved, so we started skiing down. About 1,500 feet lower, as we were in the middle of the cliff band section, it cleared up significantly and the sun came out. Damn! We decided it was hard to know if the summit was actually clear and it wasn't worth heading back up, so we kept going down, reversing our tracks, switching back to shoes at the same point where we'd left them (and the whiskey), and hiking our way back out to the car, reaching it about 11.75 hours after we'd started.
While it was a bummer to not get on top, I'd rather do it when the views are clear and I can look back at my apartment as a spec on the horizon. It was a good training mission regardless.
It was not lost on us that we'd been fooled on April 1st. We drowned our sorrows at the Hamma Hamma Oyster Saloon.