From Victor - On Friday July 15th SAC member Jeremy Gish and myself with 2011 climb school students Bethany Taft, Jeff Schwindt, Joe Fitzgerald, Katherine Armstrong, Samantha McGahey along with Caitlin Cooley and Rory Wojciehaski left the Green Lakes trail head at about 4:30 pm for what was expected to be a relatively easy 4 mile hike to set up a base camp at or near Green Lakes. We planned on meeting SAC members Bill Nelson and 2011 climb school student Steven Graves who were coming in from the north on the Park Meadows trail. By the half mile mark we found ourselves in solid snow pack as deep as three or four feet in places. This was to be par for course all of the way to the lakes. Our trek took about three and a half hours.
We arrived to a clear view of the mountain, but the lakes were still completely frozen over. As others were setting up camp, Jeremy and I made a quick walk to where we originally expected to set up (but couldn’t due to heavy snow pack) to look for Bill and Steven. They had left their trail head at 12:30pm and we figured they would be waiting for us. They were nowhere to be found.
We started making dinner and enjoyed some well-deserved libations. After getting a small fire going, the group spent some time getting to know each other. At about nine thirty our lost hikers showed up tired and hungry, but in great spirits. They related their ordeal of deep snow and needing to take their boots off to cross a swollen creek with no snow bridge. It made our hike seem much more tame. With some stars out and the mountain in full view, one by one we headed to bed.
Having put the first four miles out of the way on Friday, our plan was to start at nine. Upon waking, we found all bets to be off. The clear weather we had was now clouds that barely allowed us to see the lake only about 150 yards away. The plan became to head up until it did not make sense to any longer. On the approach we were assaulted by moderate winds, rain and hail. For being so nasty I was really impressed by the positivity and eagerness of all involved; what a great group dynamic we had.
We gained the NW ridge around 11:30am. At this time Jeremy and I assessed the weather and felt we still had a chance at balancing safety and the want to get our team to the top. Our decision was to continue on and re-assess as needed. After about 15 minutes we started to realize a summit attempt with the weather involved would compromise safety. We feared wet rock as well as the strong winds up higher would create an unsafe risk on the "Catwalk." Jeremy and I waited for the balance of the team to catch up to tell them the news. I knew putting the climb off until Sunday (weather allowing) was going to remove the chance for those that had put so much into it and had to leave Saturday evening. I must say it was hard to deliver the news to such eager young climbers. Thank you to ALL of you for having such a great attitude even though you would have to wait for another time to come back and try again. It was not lost on us, especially knowing this was the second time in a row being turned around for a few of them. At this time we headed down and back to camp, arriving at about 1:30pm. Jeremy packed up and headed out, followed shortly after by Bethany and Jeff. Katherine and Joe chose to wait and see what the weather would do before deciding for another attempt on Sunday. The afternoon brought mixed sun and rain. We went into the evening enjoying each other’s company while watching the cloud layer ascend higher and higher. At about 8:20 pm I received a text from Fritz that he was in Bend and would arrive at the trail head shortly. When I headed to bed at midnight, we still had not seen Fritz.... I started from Green Lakes Trailhead on Saturday at 9:15pm.
From Fritz - I didn't mean to have such a stupid plan; Victor had too large a group, so we decided that he would lead half of them to the summit on Saturday, then I would guide whoever wanted to hike in to base camp to spend Saturday evening with them, and lead the second half of the group to the summit on Sunday. Turned out, nobody wanted to come in with me. My car was packed and I was leaving Portland at 1pm, but then a personal matter arose and I was stuck in town until after 4pm. I wasn't feeling very well, and almost gave up and pitched camp at the trailhead. But with a couple of belts of whiskey for motivation, I figured I'd at least get as far as I could, and if things went well I'd make base camp by midnight.
I made good time on the first part of the approach. Although there was a crazy amount of snow for this time of year, there were tracks that were fairly easy to follow. They diverged here and there, but Fall Creek makes for relatively easy guidance even in the dark.
Things got more difficult after the first hour or so; there are two bridges that we usually cross, and the tracks I was following did not find them. I have GPS routes for them, but I had neglected to load them on my device, not anticipating that they would be difficult to find.
I found a pretty good snow bridge to get across the western fork, which is the smaller and lazier one, but for the next hour or so I couldn't find a way across the eastern fork, which was a raging torrent, nearly impossible to cross. I was forced up onto the ridge to the west, where I had to pick through steepening snow and boulder fields. I kept forging upward, alternately taking an easier high route and a lower route where I could look for passage across. The struggle cost me at least 45 minutes.
Just when things had got their most dire, and I had to pull out my ice ax to cross an exposed icy face, I found a crossable snow bridge. I considered leaving my pack behind for a test crossing, but it looked pretty safe, and it was. Once I was on the east bank of the creek, the trail was good again and passage was easy to camp.
When I got up to the flats, I saw a campfire and approached it, thinking it was probably our group, and was greeted with a rather rude "may I help you?" as though I was strolling into somebody's garage on a Saturday and they were fixing their mower. Whatever happened to "Hello, fellow traveler! Sit a moment by our fire!"? But to my query, they did say there was a group just to the south, headed by a red-haired guy, and with some girls. That sounded like my group!
I got into camp about 12:15, and though everyone was already asleep, Bill had generously marked the camp with three tiny camp lights. I tried to blow them out before realizing they were electrical. By the fire I saw a half-full flask, which of course I took a healthy swig of, just to help lighten tomorrow's load. It was 151, hideously vile stuff to drink straight, so it took me a minute to recover from that before setting up my tent for the night.
Victor had suggested a 7am departure, but my late arrival was enough excuse to sleep in a little. I woke at 6am and didn't hear anybody around, so I slept until 7 and then got up and made some coffee.
Camp started waking up, and we assembled a climb team for a departure at 8:30. The team for the day was myself, Victor, Samantha, and Rory. Today's weather was looking a little better than yesterday's, if only slightly. There was a high cloud cover, and the weather forecast (for the first time, I had internet connectivity in the basin) showed stable conditions, perhaps worsening a little throughout the day.
We made excellent time across the snow, making for the low saddle in the ridge. We gained the ridge in about an hour, walking entirely on snow except the last hundred feet or so. However, the ridge was almost entirely clear of snow, so the next segment of the climb was as always, except for the huge snowdrift peeling back from the north side of the ridge, which eliminated the exposure in that direction.
We reached the nose about 11:30, I scrambled up it and set the usual anchor to belay everyone else. It was there we met the only other summit team we saw that day, a couple who were just rapping down off the summit. Apparently they hadn't known the easy route around the gendarme to the south, so they had taken a much more dangerous face route. And then rapped down off a single tiny rock-climbing sling, which they must have pulled their rope through, because there was no piece on it. We should have pulled it so that someone else wouldn't try to use it, but we didn't think of it at the time.
As we were conferring with them I saw a bright flash, which I thought at first was lightning, so we picked up our pace lest we get caught in an ugly storm. But there was no thunder, and we later decided it was probably a flash from a camera.
From the nose, we brought the rope and a couple webbings, but we didn't end up setting any more pro. It was dry and there wasn't much wind, so we all felt safe on the exposed sections above. At 12:12pm, we were standing on the summit!
We didn't spend much time there. The view was obstructed by thick cloud cover, it was cold and breezy, and the weather was worsening. We took our pictures and headed down, and almost immediately felt a light rain.
At the nose, we rappelled down, adding a belay for those with limited rapping experience. We left a fresh webbing and rap ring for future teams.
The rest of the descent was normal. It rained intermittently but gently, and the breeze was pleasant. Back at the saddle, we descended on the snowfield and returned to camp about 2:45pm. After a few minutes of rest and refreshment, we packed up our tents, departing camp at 4:20pm, and arrived back at the trailhead at 6:30pm.
Another great SAC outing! Congratulations to Samantha, 2011 Climb School student, on her very first summit! And Rory on his second summit, after only Mount Adams! Condolences to the rest of the team, who made such a miserably valiant effort on Saturday - don't worry, the mountain will still be there! Hope everybody had a good time!