I signed up to do a new scramble with the Mountaineers.
I have hiked to Annette Lake numerous times and scrambled up Silver Peak to
the east half a dozen times. I have never scrambled up Humpback Mountain which
sits just to the west of the lake. Today was not to be the day to finally
get up Humpback. We met in Issaquah and Jay, our leader, was not comfortable
with the avalanche conditions on Humpback. We kicked around a few ideas and
decided on Pratt Mountain. I have scrambled up Pratt 6 or 7 times in the summer
and several times on snow. I had not been up in at least 4 years. This trip
can be done from either the Talapus Lake or the Pratt Lake trailhead. We
chose the Pratt. Much of the drive from Issaquah was rainy so we headed out
with slim hopes of a dry trip. The first mile to the Granite Mountain turnoff
is nearly snow free. There is a little snow for the next 1/4 mile to the
big creek crossing. This time of year the creek is an easy rock hop. After
the creek snow begins to cover the whole trail. That would be the end of
dirt until we returned to this point.
The next section of trail was well packed down and did
not require snowshoes. Soon the earlier rain caught up with us. The good news
was that we were already high enough for it to be snow and not rain. I will
take snow over rain any time. The snow didn't last very long. Soon we were
back to just a gray misty hike. In one spot there is a small creek which
has melted out all the snow. At this point we had to climb down about 6 feet
and back up the other side. Otherwise, there are no problems to negotiate.
One bridge is out at about 3 miles but it was possible to drop down and cross
a snow bridge. This should not be much of a problem when the snow bridge melts
out. I have hiked the Pratt Trail in all seasons and knew about where the
Ollalie Lake turnoff is. The sign is just showing above the snow. At this
point we dropped down roughly along the route of the summer trail. When we
reached the Ollalie Lake outlet creek we had a bit of a problem. No snow bridges
are left but it is about an 8-10 foot vertical drop to the creek and the
same to get up on the other side. We tried several possible spots but could
not get across. One adventurous party member did manage to cross but he tore
out several of the steps up the other side. The rest of us followed the creek
up to Ollalie Lake and had an easy time crossing at the outlet. I remembered
that in the summer there is a huge log jam there. Now it is covered with
many feet of snow. Nobody postholed at all when we crossed.
After a brief break it was time put on snowshoes and
start climbing. By the lake we had traveled over 3 miles and gained about
1900'. The next 1+ mile gains 1300' more. The snow was wet and heavy. With
10 people we tore up quite a trail. This was good for setting nice steps to
follow up. It was not so good for our descent. The route goes straight up
from the Ollalie outlet. We did a good job of staying in the open as much
as possible and avoiding tree wells. Sinking to your waist in soft snow is
not much fun. We ground out the elevation to the ridge coming down from the
summit of Pratt. This steep section allowed for a bit of separation between
the members of the group. Everyone did quite well on the climb. Once on the
ridge we waited for everyone to catch up. We were now well up in the clouds.
The white of the snow and the sky merged into one. I know there are great
views from this ridge but today we were lucky to be able to see each other.
There is one spot on the ridge where I have been turned back several times
on snow scrambles. The ridge is nearly vertical to the left and corniced over
the right side. You usually must drop off the ridge on the right and then
climb straight up once past the cornice. Today the conditions were perfect.
We were able to climb right up the ridge. From there it was just a nice ridge
climb to the summit. On top the wind was blowing at about zero mph. My last
trip up here it was about 15 degrees and blowing 25 mph. That day we stayed
on top for about 2 minutes. Today we had a leisurely lunch and spent about
45 minutes on top. For just a brief moment the sun did shine on us (a little).
The afternoon clearing never did occur.
The descent was easy on the ridge. The steeper section
down to the lake was a little more of an adventure. With the soft wet snow
torn up by ten climbers and now 10 descenders it was slick and bumpy. I think
nearly everyone had at least one fall. Several deserved some kind of award
for style points. I kept up my part with several out of control falls. Once
down to the lake it was an easy trip back. While I was a little disappointed
to not get up Humpback Mountain, the second choice was great. We had a good
strong group of Mountaineers and good conditions over all.