Last January Bob, Kolleen, and I did a winter scramble
up Pratt Mountain. Visibility was minimal and the trouble spot on the ridge
proved to be too risky to continue on. It was the second time in four previous
winter attempts on Pratt that that spot turned me back. We set out this day
to give it another try. I was at Olallie Lake the previous weekend and the
snow was soft and plentiful. We met at the trailhead at 8:30 and were on the
trail by 8:45. Joanna and here dog Holly joined us for this trip.
The snow was very hard. Even with all the snow we had in the last week there
was only about 2 inches on top of rock hard snow. It seems that we had a thaw
before the deep freeze set in. In fact it was only 19 degrees when we started.
We warmed up soon enough as the trail climbed. After a few downed trees in
the first 100 yards the route was in fine shape.
Just beyond the three mile mark and the wilderness boundary is a tough creek
crossing. Last week we easily tromped steps down to a log and stepped across
then climbed back up the other side. This time the sides of the creek were
hard ice. I was almost ready to put on crampons to get across. We gingerly
worked out way down and across in a different place than the week before.
It was one of the hardest parts of the trip. Once across we continued on and
quickly reached the Talapus and Olallie Lake intersection.
We headed left on the new route. We were not even close to needing snowshoes.
At the Olallie Lake outlet creek a trail headed downstream but our track from
the previous trip was not visible. We headed up along the creek on two inches
of new snow and hardly made a dent. At the lake we had some blue sky. It
was much brighter than my earlier visit. After a quick bite to eat we were
back on our way.
The route from here is more or less straight up the slope from the lake
to the Pratt ridge. I expected to need snowshoes but instead we soon chose
to go with crampons. I also brought out my ice axe. The snow was hard but
great for the crampons. We had absolutely no balling of snow on them. I led
a route right, left, and straight up making sure to avoid all the trees.
We managed to not get stopped by the densely packed trees at any point. 650
vertical feet later we reached the top of the ridge.
We had views down to Pratt Lake and out to Kaleetan and Chair Peaks. We
even had a look at the summit as the ridge turned to the right. The ridge
is forested and we picked our way through staying near the crest. In a few
places there were cornices on the north (right) side. It did not take long
to reach the problem spot. Last year we found sketchy snow on the left and
soft steep snow on the right. This time the ridge had a good sized cornice
overhanging to the right and hard steep snow on the left. The middle of the
ridge was snow covered at a reasonable slope. We climbed right up the middle.
Joanna had only instep crampons and she and Holly stayed at this point.
The rest of us headed on up. At about this point clouds began to roll in.
In just a few minutes Kaleetan Peak was gone. The rest of the ridge was not
technically difficult at all. We just kept climbing up. At about 5700' the
snow began to alternate between rock hard and soft. Bob and I began to posthole
6-10 inches all to often. It would have been better to switch to snowshoes
but we did not want to stop to make the change. It was too cold to stop.
We could not see the summit and reached and passed several candidates before
the real summit finally came into view. Now we were really postholing. A few
more minutes and we topped out. We could see down to Rainbow and Island Lake
but views out were lost in the clouds. My third winter summit of this peak
and still I have not had any decent views. At least we had views when we
first reached the ridge.
Our summit stay was short. It was very cold and Joanna was patiently waiting
for us below. The descent of the ridge was several times faster than the climb.
In only 14 minutes we were back at the problem step. Dropping down to the
lake was easy with crampons. Once back at the lake we finished lunch and
Bob and I removed crampons. My fingers went numb in that time and hurt like
heck until they warmed up again.
The trip down was fast. The only problem was getting back across the icy
creek. It was steeper and even icier from this side. Lower down the trail
it was getting very slick. We all had a few slips. Near the one mile mark
we met two climbers coming down from Granite Mountain. I did not find out
until the next day that one of them was Cheakamus from nwhikers. The rest
of the descent was quick and easy.
This turned out to be a fun trip. The conditions were much different than
I expected. We carried snowshoes all the way up and down. I did not expect
to use crampons but they were crucial to making a safe ascent. From Olallie
Creek we had untouched snow with no prints except those make by rabbits. It
was fun to see Suzanne, Bob, and Kolleen reach the summit on their second
attempt and it was nice to meet Joanna and Holly. All in all it was a great